Birdlife

One of the things you notice when you come from Manchester city centre to a small village out in the country is the birdlife.

Sure we have magpies, pigeons, starlings and even parrots where I live in Manchester. But here there is just so much more variety and so many of them: swifts, swallows, thrushes, blackbirds, finches, wrens, occasionally geese and birds of prey and, unlike some parts of Britain, there is no shortage of sparrows here. All of these can be seen from the house. Recently I posted a video of a woodpecker that was outside my window.

When I lived here fulltime I had two cats and there were many others in the neighbourhood, with inevitable consequences. Now there are no cats and the birds are thriving. But it can still be harsh at times.

Last year I was watching a beautiful thrush hopping about on the lawn. An hour later I found it dead. It had either choked to death on something (a slug pellet from one of the other gardens?) or maybe it had just happened to drop dead for some reason.

I arrived to find the swallows nesting in the passageway between the houses, as they have done for decades. I could see three or four little beaks peeking over the edge of the nest and they were a few days from fledging. One year I got this great shot of them just after they left the nest.

Swallows just after leaving the nest

Sad to say, last week, I found all the chicks dead on the ground below. I don’t know what happened. There was no sign of any damage to the nest. But we did have workmen outside the house cutting up the pavement with one of those noisy saws. I wonder if that kept the parent birds away and when they returned the baby birds were dead, so the parents threw them out of the nest?

Nature can be tough. I’m starting to feel like the vet in The League of Gentlemen!

 

Rushes: bluescreen test – mailbag

UPDATE (October 2008): this video has ‘retired’ into the archives. I’ve left the production notes below.

Posts that begin with the word ‘rushes’ contain unedited footage, tests, bloopers and experiments.

I mess around with a lot of stuff which, up to now, has never seen the light of day. Also I’m a bit of a perfectionist and can easily spend twelve hours editing a four-minute video.

But, in recent months the tapes of master footage have been piling up, with not enough time to edit them.

I’m not sure how this will work or where I’m going with it. Some edits always have to be made for privacy and copyright reasons. But at least this way you get to see something. I think it can be fun to see what does and doesn’t work.

Either you can take a look at the rough stuff or ignore the posts marked ‘rushes’ and wait for the polished final products :-)

I wanted some practice at building a sequence using a bluescreen effect. It’s fairly simple if you stick with one wide shot only. But what happens when you cut in for closer shots? You need extra backgrounds from a narrower angle, possibly blurred to give that ‘zoomed in close-up’ effect.

We were thinking of including a mailbag section in our Bargain Hunters show, where we would read some of the email we receive. I shot still pics for the backgrounds (video would be nicer) and we ad-libbed this. The ‘indoor’ sound quality is a dead giveaway (as it was a test we relied on the camera mic).

It’s also a bit more experience of what lighting works best. I used an amber filter on a backlight. This warm rimlight is meant to help the separation between the subject and blue background to give a cleaner ‘keying’ effect. Strangely the backlight seems to work best at head height, even though that isn’t very naturalistic. Though in theory it could be from the sun setting I suppose.

 

Free Download Manager

I’m using Free Download Manager with RSS Bandit.

Life is good. It’s the most painless method I’ve found for grabbing file enclosures from my favourite vlogs… RSS Bandit presents the enclosure link nice and clearly. Just right-click > copy link location (shortcut), Free Download Manager pops up, hit OK and the file is saved in my downloads folder.

Windows always seems to offer the wrong file location when I save a file the usual way. The worst is when you are opening from one location and saving to another.

However, for years I’ve been using a little utility called File-Ex, which enhances the file dialog with lists of favourite and recently-used files and folders. A big timesaver.

 

Alternative Manchester Pride

If you’re tired of the commercialisation of our Pride event in Manchester, check out this.

‘An alternative queer carnival running counter current to the main pride parade, happening in Manchester on the 26th of August (the bank holiday weekend)- needs you! We are recruiting an army of old dears in twin sets and on soap boxes. Our aim: to poke the gay conscience with our knitting needles… we object to gay ghettoisation, the selling off of our pride to corporate sponsorship and the absence of any awareness raising about gay rights and gay activism history as the source of our pride.’

And from 1-3 September 2006:

Get bent! is our answer to the commercialism of the mainstream pride event. in response to our pride being sold back to us by consumerism we are putting on a weekend of free events, food and fun.’

 

BBC Newsnight video podcast

BBC Newsnight weekly video podcast

Newsnight has launched a weekly 25-minute video podcast. It’s a round-up of the best stories from the nightly show.

This seems to be one of the first downloadable files that the BBC has offered in MP4 format, so it’s iPod-compatible. Indeed, the podcast is already number one in the iTunes UK news chart and in the top ten on the worldwide news chart.

Despite the sceptics, I definitely think people are going to watch video on the move. On the train coming here I caught up with some TV I had recorded. It makes the four-hour journey much more bearable.

But the price of portable players needs to come down and the most successful ones in future will be those that play all the popular formats: Windows Media, XVid, DivX, Flash and MPEG as well as Quicktime and they will be based around removable Flash memory cards.

The new high-capacity cards that are coming along, which can deliver the data as fast as a hard drive, will revolutionise the portable player market. Hard-drives are too fragile, cables (for transferring) are annoying and no one wants to be limited by a fixed-capacity internal memory.

 

30 minutes of sunset in 30 seconds (video)

30 minutes of sunset in 30 seconds - timelapse video

I’m up at the house near the England/Scotland border. The back overlooks fields, hills and crags and has always been a prime location for some spectacular sunsets. I recorded 30 minutes of one tonight and then reduced this footage down to the 30-second-long time-lapse movie that you see here.

If you want the technical how-to-do-it: load the video into VirtualDub (free software). Go to the menu Video > Frame Rate. There, set Source Rate Adjustment: Change To 1250.00 frames per second and Frame Rate Coversion: Decimate by 50. This will speed things up by 50x (this is working with 25fps PAL video).

Render the video out as a new AVI in the usual way.

 

Great RSS feed reader

For quite a while I’ve been looking around for a good feed reader. I was using the one that is built into Opera, but the slow-down while it updated the feeds every so often bugged me when I was busy looking at web pages at the same time. Sadly this is just one of the problems with Opera lately. I’m using Firefox much more these days.

I tried quite a few RSS programs then, finally, found the humorously named RSS Bandit. It’s open source (free).

I like the way it presents the feeds and file enclosures and it has a nice integrated, tabbed, web browser.

RSS Bandit - RSS feed reader for Windows