Flying action presenter g33k

This weeks Cool Stuff Collective future tech was a bit of a departure from the usual studio explanations to Sy. A few weeks ago I went off with the crew to Milton Keynes to Airkix to film a piece about indoor skydiving.
Arriving at 7:00 am ready to do my first ever solo pieces to camera of this type was a little nerve wracking but having watched the guys at the Toy Fair it was a little easier to understand and feel how this would pan out.
I was expecting to do a few little intros, hover a bit and then say goodbye. It got a little more complicated than that of course 🙂
The pro sky divers and coaches at Airkix had come in specially to perform for us and were brilliantly helpful for the whole shoot. They have amongst their ranks world sky diving champions indoors and out. It was quite a shock to see just how high up they went (about 30 feet almost instantly).
World Sky Diving Champ
and then the precision with which they came hurtling down towards the camera again.
World Sky Diving Champ
I got to do some links to the chamber full of the guys performing as my first piece, but before I knew it we were up some very tall ladders at the top of the very large building and through a few hatches into where the fans where.
So if I look a little scared on this I was. They have 250 bhp turbines at the top of the structure that push air down and then round and up into the chamber where it gets up to about 150mph.
How it works
We shot a piece in the control room too as it is a precision operation to keep the wind stable.
Control Panel
Of course eventually I was thrown into a flight suit and doing what I expected to be doing, just hanging around close to the floor.
It was not hard to look like I was enjoying it because I was it was amazingly exhilarating.
Flapping face
It is a strange experience that requires you to be relaxed and not fight the wind, but at the same time control it. The closest thing is Tai Chi, force and grace together. (Though not so much grace nor force in my case).
I am not sure if it was the look of surprise I saw vanishing into the distance, on the shows Creative Director’s face (John Marley) or the feeling of an utter adrenalin rush that hit me that I will remember the most, when the instructor decided to grab me by the arm and run in circles up the wall Matrix style until with were 30ft up in the air. Of course we ended up having to then do that a few times just so they could shoot the right angle. I think presenter torturing is all part of the gig 🙂
That's me though
The stills of course do not do it justice. The edited up piece looks really good, along with Frankie’s Two Tribes as the soundtrack 🙂
It should be on the official site next week (UK only though still).
*update The full piece is now on the site here (UK only)
I think I got to feel another way of delivering information. It is strange the various mental models you have to engage when sharing things with people.
Talking to customers and giving small presentations about facts tend to be one flow of self expression. The bigger the conference the bigger the movements and stage pacing etc. Talking to Sy on the TV has tended to be like that but with the confusion of occasionally stopping and starting, hence maintaining and ad lib train of thought. This presenting required a different approach. Mainly that involved doing as I was told, as the director has the vision of the shots he needs and takes multiples of everything. Trying to focus the passion for the subject down the camera feels very different to a human reaction. Holding the for a period of time after you have finished talking to allow space for edits too is a more un-natural approach. I found I had to clear my brain more, not to think of the flow of the next few sentences but just to keep focussed on the one I had to deliver.
Before the studio record I also had to do a piece to camera pretending to be stuck in the screen of the SMART table, and the link back out of the VT was me sneaking up behind Sy and him asking me to help me get me out of where I was locked in 🙂
It was really enjoyable though, the experience and the filming slot we did straight after lunch too (more on that later) was great. The pulses of adrenalin needed to enthuse about the subject in tiny bite size pieces between lots of planning and walking/climbing/flying was probably more tiring than doing a single hours presentation on stage on a subject.
Not only did I get a levelling up in presenter skills, but I also got a certificate for flying 🙂
So thank you to the crew for being so patient and helpful whilst I get to grips with this sort of thing. There is still much to learn but now I have recorded four of them I feel I have some idea of what to do and how to do it 🙂
They make the magic happen
You can follow The Cool Stuff Collective on twitter @cstuffc and get an insight into whats going on at the office and what monkey is doing with all those gadgets.

More TV – 1st Question Quiz Show in SL

I was honoured to be asked by Pooky Amsterdam to appear on her 1st Question quiz show filmed live in Second Life last Sunday. I was with some great panelists Zya Zavira and Avantgarde Frequency. Both of who are very well respected in their metaverse fields.
It was a late night as the show is recorded by Treet.TV with a live audience around midnight UK time. However we are such a multi national bunch from Australia to UK and mainland Europer to West coast US that it becomes part of the fun.
The show is a set of quick fire questions, some buzzer rounds and some intros and talking by the contestants.
1st Question
It was brilliant fun, though being a competition and relatively techie I felt a certain amount of pressure. It all came out alright in the end.
My first question was on Watson ! I wont spoil the show but I still can’t believe I got the ones wrong that I did 🙂
The full show is on itunes or you can watch it here on Treet.Tv

It was great to have an invited audience too as they shout/type out answers and Pooky Amsterdam and Hydra Shaftoe do a great job wrangling us all.
It is run as a TV show would be an Petlove Petshop briefed us and sound checked us beforehand. It is then recorded by Texas from Treet.TV and edited up with various insets and visuals too as you can see

There are also live scoreboards and a portion of audience voting as we try and get our panel words we bring along to be the most popular.
1st Question
There is an ad break too. Not your usual advert though as this one shows an incredibly important use of virtual worlds. Fearless Nation provide Post Traumatic Stress Disorder support in Second Life. The potential for anonymous counselling as well as directed role play to help people come to terms with real experiences is incredible powerful.
1st Question
Anyway, thanks all you came along and thanks again Pooky, in particular for the plug for The Cool Stuff Collective in my intro, and I managed to get the link out there to my showreel in the post event mingle 🙂
As I am recording an Opensim virtual world piece for the show very soon it was great to be part of such a professional and fun operation for the show.
Tomorrow its back to the BBC for more “traditional” TV not that @Cstuffc is traditional !

The science of the Sun – Solar Flares

There was some slight confusion on Saturday for TV viewers when The Cool Stuff Collective moved from 9am Sat ITV1 to 8:10am so a few people think I have changed into Hannah Montana. Hopefully the various repeats the rest of the week will rectify the problem.
The show this week was space themed and so it was worth trying something a little more scientific in future tech. So I got to discuss Solar Flares and Coronal Mass Ejections.
Given the current activity of the Sun and the fact that the main news is covering such solar events it was a real honour to do big science. NASA provided some great footage too.
As usual there were several points I wanted to get across. The rationale for covering CME’s was the potential harm to all our gadgets. Large waves of energy bombarding the Earth could seem scary, in fact they are. I think we avoided any scaremongering in talking about how there were ways to shield devices. In order to demonstrate the power of this invisible wavescollection of particles I used a picture frame of iron filings lined up nicely in a row, then passed a magnet over the row and caused breakages in the visual of an electronic connection.
Explaining Solar CME's
To show that all is not lost I then had a piece of wood covered in Aluminum foil to act as a shield. (I made it perfectly clear it was Monkey’s attempt and that wood and foil is not the ideal thing to blog a CME but it does block a small magnet. (The foil was of course for that home made science effect 🙂 )
Shielding a CME
The other part of the piece that I thought was important was that scientists need help investigating solar flares. The is effectively a crowdsourcing science website. It has made an achievement driven game out of us all being able to look at solar observation footage and spot unsual activity. It is the gamification of science and very educational too. It is well worth a look.
It is always good when we are able to mention something that has some follow on activity, I love the fact that the viewers can go and try something, just as with the Wikipedia show.
There is much more of that to come the next few weeks mixed with some of the big gadget adventures we have filmed on the road.

Holographic Laser Projection

We are up to S2Ep4 of The Cool Stuff Collective already ! Time certainly flies. This week I got to be @StephenFry, well not exactly but we had the wonderful Holographic Laser Projector from Cambridge based Light Blue Optics. In this explanation of how it all works the dulcet tones Stephen Fry explain how it all works so I wont have to type it all in here again. However this is pretty much what I explained to Sy in the studio. Diffraction patterns are created and the lasers are shone through those meaning the form of projection used is really radically different to a regular projector.
The device basically creates a very bright touch controlled screen on an surface from a free standing self contained box. It also uses less power than your average laptop screen to achieve that.

We had to have a couple of goes at the piece. This was in part because the very bright display works great in any normal situation but obviously with the bright lights and cameras of the TV studio we had to dim the lights to get the right effect. The first time the lights were dimmed a tad to much and whilst it was a great take I am sure it featured only our silhouettes and looked like some crimewatch confessions or similar. I think I am getting used to having multiple takes, though its difficult to ad lib exactly the same thing each time.
The format changed a little too as Sy ended up having to sit next to me as it made it easier to show the device working to camera. It’s nice to mix it up a bit.
The rest of the show was about monkey’s birthday, some mad and funny moments like monkey riding a scooter with sparks flying out across the BBC car park. Rich had spent ages making a very large horse shaped present and wrapped it in gold foil. This was part of the gag about all monkeys presents were banana shaped and turned out through the magic og TV to be something else when unwrapped. I ended up carrying the horse onto the end of show party though as Rich was in his full Lady Blah Blah with turntable, but I think we did it justice 🙂
More next week 9am Sat ITV 1 and now on twitter @cstuffc

Diminished Reality – S2Ep3

The current Cool Stuff Collective running this week I got to show a few things. The main theme of the future tech was based on having seen this video about diminished reality (which we did not get to show on the show)

It struck me that the best way to show this in action, and to explain the complexity of it was to use Photoshop CS5. The full version of photoshop has an amazing content aware fill. This is used to automatically replace something in a picture by calculating what is likely to be behind that object. There have been ways to do this in photoshop manually but it is the simplicity of the process that I found interesting.
I took a photo of monkey by a patterned wall.
monkey banana
In photoshop (live in realtime) I magic wand selected the bright yellow banana and then did a content aware fill and this happened.
Now this was 3 clicks and almost instant. It is not perfect, there is still a little outline of the banana and the wall is a little wonky, but it is amazing!
For a joke I then highlighted monkey (I already had selected most of him but not precisely as this was a quick take 🙂 )
This again is not perfect but as a proof of what it does it is ideal. I also like the predator like image we generated.
Part of the piece I also got Sy to look at Wordlens on the iphone. This replaces words that it sees via the camera with other words. Translations, reversals, removals etc. It is a mix of augmented and diminished reality.
Yes I did do some other things in the show, yes I did put some sports kit on and play Mario Sports against monkey and yes he did beat me at basketball. (My gaming cred is now reset to zero but I will have my revenge Monkey!).
That will be going into the series 2 showreel I am sure 🙂 checkout showreel one though 🙂

My series 1 TV showreel

I got to hang out in the edit suites at MTV Camden today where the magic of TV gets crafted together from all our bits of film. John was making a showreel for the entire show to take to New York and the Kidscreen summit a version of that will get posted soon.
Afterwards though I got to suggest some pieces for my own personal showreel. This is all very exciting as much of the official website doesn’t work outside the UK. We stuck to pieces of series 1 (apart from the end as a taster of the current series). It keeps the comedy spirit and shows a range of things. My acting is getting better I promise over time 😉

See what you think.
Dont forget The Cool Stuff Collective ITV1 9:00am Saturdays

G33k on tour part 1 – Falling down, levelling up

I think I will remember Tuesday 8th Feb 2010 for quite a while. A series of experiences all came together at once and it made me feel incredibly fortunate. It is still work though!
The day was spent in Milton Keynes as part of a road trip feature for The Cool Stuff Collective. There was a very early 7am start, which given I live 120 miles away meant it was sensible to stay over the night before. It also meant I could catch up with my mate Mike Edwards, who normally ends up visiting us. It is amazing to hear his stories of keeping his racing motor bike team going, Mist Suzuki. As a team they do amazingly well with their results, but sponsorship and funding is always tricky. The passion, drive and results are stunning!. (Just in case anyone out there wants to get involved in making the team even more successful just give Mike a ping )
On Tour
So what was I there to do? I was there to talk about a couple of giant gadgets, to camera for the show. This in itself was a new experience. It is very different talking to Sy in the studio about something I have brought in, compared to addressing a camera directly about someone else’s stuff. The individual pieces to camera are also broken up into all sorts of orders, multiple takes, cut aways and given its a kids show some gags too. So take away the rest of what the day was about and I feel I personally levelled up in TV presenting, but there is always more to learn! It is different to the flow of standing on stage at a conference and presenting too. I tend to present, when on stage at a conference to an audience, a stream of consciousness. I have points to hit with a beginning middle and end, but very often I don’t recall exactly what I said. These mini bits to camera have to be much more punchy, whilst you get a few takes and goes that in a way puts more pressure on concentrating on the piece. The sort of filming we were doing also was being timed with some external events too. It sounds a doddle, turn up and talk, it is fun, but not what you expect it to be.
It is also a brilliant study in teamwork. The presenter is really just another paint on the canvas. The location, the look, the movement, the sounds, the paperwork/permissions and the vision of the combined piece all have to be combined by these guys.
They make the magic happen
Then of course afterwards all the footage goes off for editing, so lots of what is shot will not be used, but together everyone gathers enough extra material that can make a piece work.
So what were we filming? The aim was to create to on the road pieces about large gadgets and also do some action style filming.
The morning was spent indoor skydiving at Airkix. Yes that right I was thrown into an indoor skydiving chamber and had to learn quickly how to do it to some degree of competence, or fail horribly and make it funny for the camera. The production team at Archie had arranged for some demonstration flying too which included the World Champion, who held indoor and outdoor titles.
They went first, and to say we were all gobsmacked at the speed, precision and seeming madness of them would be an understatement. We did a filming tour of the building too, it is a massively impressive gadget generating huge wind forces.
I then got kitted up and my instructor got me going straight away. It is a surprising experience to suddenly be suspended in mid air. You body position becomes critical, you are a wing. The instructor stands, and sometimes flys in there with you. It is like Tai Chi at 150mph. You have to hold a position, both with and against the wind. The instructor uses hand signals to suggest moving arms, straightening legs. once a bit stable you can turn with the slightest twist of your shoulders. Straightening your body a little and you climb.
The chamber has a net you start on covering the lower section where the air is accelerated. There is a 30ft roof space and yes I did end up there in quite a surprising way, which I hope makes it to the film! Luckily it was so noisy I was not supposed to commentate or talk to camera whilst doing this too! It was incredible and a huge thanks to the Airkix staff and coaches for making the visit (and my first filming) go so well.
I did OK too I think 🙂

That would have probably been enough for the day, but…. we had some lunch and then went next door to the indoor snow slope, the SnoZone
So fresh from the rush of indoor skydiving and pieces to camera I jumped into my snowboarding gear and we spent a while on the slope doing more an more elaborate pieces to camera. John Marley (the director) was giving me some great advice on how to approach some of these. It was a brilliant lesson and I tried to absorb as much as possible. You can just talk to a camera and be natural, but there is a lot stagecraft to that. So I know there is lots more to learn.
After all the links, facts, figures, getting covered in snow I then had to see if I could still snowboard. It has been a good few years since I was up a mountain on a board.
Boarding View
When I was kitted out one of the guys there saw my g33k shirt and asked if I had a l33t too. Maybe I upgrade the shirt to l33t g33k?
However I thought I would still have the muscle memory and be able to give it a go. I have also been using the Kinect to exercise a lot, so i was confident that I had the strength (even after the sky diving) to get on with it. Still though it was a very nervous moment click the bindings and going down a moderately empty slope, but being filmed! Back heel turns were the easiest as usual but as I ride goofy and the filming was from the right hand side of the slope I was happy I could carve in. Though it all came back and I felt a toeside turn and it worked. I was pretty ecstatic 🙂 It may not be the smoothest riding but to drag that back after all the years and do it in a confined space with people definitely watch was a massive #win. We did not stop at snowboarding we did some headfirst sledging and bin lid sledging and a bit more boarding, then some more larking around shots. I probably should have stayed a while longer and boarded some more, but once we had wrapped the shoot I was pretty much done for. More mentally than physically. The day had been a blur of experiences, and I had to switch mental focus a lot. Another huge thanks to the guys at SnoZone
So yes that could be considered a jolly, and rather like all the other things that look like jolly on the outside, on the inside they are exciting, entertaining and hard work in completely different ways to how you might expect.

That TV effect – Wikipedia hacks

I know from my previous work at Wimbledon that when you put a URL on the TV you get a massive influx of activity to a website. It shows how intertwined computer use and TV watching actually is and something that has grown with the use of commentating channels like Twitter. It is not internet connected TVs just zooming you off to the URL but people bothering to type into their device that they have with them whilst they watch TV.
Yesterday we started airing a piece on The Cool Stuff Collective’s wikipedia page and mine and Wikipedia in general.
Cool Stuff Wikipedia
Almost instantly we had updates getting made on the page. we did not even publish the URL on screen. I should have mentioned in the TV piece that whilst anyone can edit, not saying you are when you do edit records your IP address on the log. Clean up bots put back any hacking or vandalism. We got lots of IP addresses logged!
It is an interesting feeling of letting things get on with it. Just as my page went through a noteworthy/not noteworthy discussion and passed. Watching the Cool stuff page get blanked and some offensive remarks added, having some nice, but not factual, comments added to it and even a bit of blatant self promotion from one of the schools featured. All in the matter of a few hours.
This morning though it looked like the bots had got a bit lost, or maybe just given up and the page was half there so I reverted it, under my ID, to one of the more regular ones. I restrained myself from removing any of the odd extra additions such as the school reference because I wanted to stay true to the Wikipedia ideal.
**Update – One of the more experienced editors spotted the “attacks” and took some action “(Protected The Cool Stuff Collective: Persistent vandalism ([edit=autoconfirmed] (expires 17:23, 7 February 2011 (UTC)) [move=autoconfirmed] (expires 17:23, 7 February 2011 (UTC))))” which was interesting. Due to the number of edits, the page also ended up at number 6 for the day on Wikirage which counts and tracks wikipedia activity
This is definitely one of those experiences you have to feel and watch unfold. You have to relinquish control and ego and let it self organise. It is a very different feeling to the one you get publishing to a blog, posting to twitter, making a tv show, delivering software to a customer. They all have a something about them, and they all create a different emotional response in the creator and in the receivers of that content.
Wikipedia is an amazing social and technical experiment that over the past 10 years has flourished through the diligence of all its contributors and editors.

Wikipedia S2Ep2 – Banana, Beret and Toilet

The Cool Stuff Collective show 2 just started airing this week (also now on twitter as @cstuffc). The plot features lots of comic special effects as Monkey has a magic genie in a phone and keeps wishing for bananas.
Sy asks the Genie, “how many wishes does Monkey have?” the reply “9 wishes”, “a bit of an odd number?”, the genie then replies “that’s the right number of wishes for all the jokes in the script” 🙂
In keeping with the madness of the show in general I had a few extra pieces to do over and above future tech. Monkey had too many bananas so we had to find good uses, mine was a screw driver for fixing a PS3.
Banana Screwdriver
We also had a piece on the Wii tablet and pictionary so Monkey and I were busy drawing bananas on note pads.
Drawing with monkey
Sy then sparked up a game of pictionary and drew the clue he was given (which was not fixed just serendipity at work). Monkey keeps guessing bananas and I finally get to guess and have the dubious honour of having shouted out “Toilet” on national television sat next to a beret wearing monkey with a beret of my own. Not something I ever thought I would type.
Shouting Toilet

The main Future Tech piece this week was on wikipedia. Yes it has been around for 10 years but I thought it was important to talk about the principles of the wiki. With all the wikileaks news stories too it was good to get across the difference and the positive benefits of wikis. One of the gags was that every time I said Wikipedia, Sy would stop me and it pans out to Lady Blah Blah scratching a record whilst Sy said Wiki Wiki Wah Wah. As we try and do these a a flowed single take it was both funny and annoying to do but worked 🙂

As part of the explanation we put the Cool Stuff Collective wikipedia page up, and it was interesting to see an instant flurry of sensible edits, hacks, bizarre paragraphs and some self promotion appear on it shortly afterwards. The important edit was the currency of the new series. We shall see how it survives the rest of the week. This though shows the power of the process. Anti spam bots were protecting us as were some individuals.
My page also made it up on screen so no idea what is going to go on there now.
Part of this was to point out Sy Thomas did not have his page and to show the empty edit page so I hope someone takes up the challenge on the biographies needed page and writes him one.
It would be an interesting school project for some enterprising teachers to get their kids involved in the contributory web to have a go at this.

More journeys into 3D

Wednesday was another studio record day for The Cool Stuff Collective. I will talk about what we did when the shows air in a few weeks. These were shows 3 and 4. Show 2 starts its run this Saturday.
This show there were a few more lines to do, only short ones for atmosphere but that is very different from having the control of my tech slot where its pretty much down to me doing an adlib riff on the tech. Sy and I have had more time to prep as it is good to explain what the point of a piece is. Though for one of them it was a piece of kit that I had not had in the run up to the show, luckily it all worked out after a slight power hitch.
What was even more interesting though was another camera crew from the BBC turned up. They were given permission to try out their camera kit whilst we were filming. This was a live production 3D camera, as you looked down the lens even from the set you could see the two giant lenses capturing the separated images.
3D monitors on test
There was a monitor stack (above) set up with some very expensive sony monitors and very light passive glasses. So they panned around us whilst we did the future tech piece and afterwards I got to see some of the other shots live. The baubles and surfaces of our set makes for great 3D. This was not for broadcast it was the production services at the BBC testing and we are an ITV show anyway 🙂
I was tempted to see if we could just do a feature on the camera and kit as a behind the scenes piece but that was all a bit short notice I think. It was great though to have such a cool set of gadgets used to show us talk about such a cool set of gadgets. Very meta!
This week the floor cleared event quicker than last time as people start to get into a routine. The set is broken up in hardly any time at all.
Breaking the set down
It was a always going to a challenging shoot as Producer Matt was not there this week. Losing one person from the production team makes a massive difference, but huge congratulations to him and his wife on the birth of their baby boy. Yes its a Cool Stuff Collective Baby.
The videos clips from last weeks show including the cloud computing and gaming piece we did is up on the official website, it is probably still UK only, and is topped and tailed with the Nerf sponsorship idents. It is of course slightly odd out of context as there are stories for each show and this one was the one we had all forgotten who Sy was, hence calling him Sid and being slightly dismissive. You can still catch the full show on CITV tonight at 5:30pm before the new show runs on Saturday at 9am.
Roll on the next shoot some even more exciting things to come (though probably less picture of the set 🙂 )