Category Archives: Videos

An early webcam TV appearance

In October 1999, I was interviewed by Leo Laporte on ZDTV’s ‘Call for Help’ programme. Yes, this is just another interview about the Trojan Room Coffee Pot, but it’s interesting to me for several reasons.

Firstly because, even though it’s nearly 20 years ago, I’ve only just seen it! They kindly sent me a VHS tape of the episode at the time, but (no doubt with good intentions) they encoded it with a rather unusual 50Hz variety of NTSC, and I’ve never been able to play it. It was only last week that, before throwing it out, I went to the trouble of tracking down somebody who was able to tell me that, yes, indeed, there was actually something on the tape…

Secondly, it was quite a challenge to do the recording. They sent me a camera in advance, and I had a slightly older PC which didn’t have the brand new USB ports that were just starting to appear, so I had to dismantle it, install an ISA card, and then repartition my hard disk and install Windows 95, because neither the Linux nor the Windows NT operating systems I had on there were supported by 3Com’s software.

But chiefly, it’s a nice nostalgic snapshot of tech life not too long ago. The rest of the episode provides helpful hints like: you’re probably used to installing hardware in your machine before inserting the CDROM or floppy with the drivers, but with USB it’s a good idea to install the drivers first. Files you download over your modem may be compressed and you’ll need a thing called WinZip to see what’s inside them. And Chris Breen (later an editor at MacWorld), comes on to explain that if you’re trying to play DVDs on your computer and they keep skipping, it may be because you’re connected to a network that does something called DHCP. The PC can’t do that and play back smoothly at the same time, so it may be worth disabling DHCP before you start watching. Oh, and there’s also a section about how, if you have a laptop, you may find it a pain to be tethered to your modem, but there are some wireless networking options becoming available, and the one that looks most promising for the future is this thing called 802.11…

The clip I’ve uploaded shows the interview from the studio in California, with me in Cambridge, and we’re joined by Don Lekei from Canada a bit later. It’s hard now to remember just how rare it was at the time to see people on TV live from remote locations. That normally needed satellite linkups, or very costly kit attached to extremely expensive international ISDN calls. For Don and I to talk casually from the comfort of our own homes on opposite sides of the world was enough to get the hosts of a tech show pretty excited. You’ll note that we both use telephones as well, though, because there wasn’t any suitable audio channel…

Anyway, Leo is now the head of the substantial TWiT netcasting network, so I guess networked video worked out well for him too 🙂

Eyes in the back of my head

Just before Christmas, Tilly (my spaniel) and I went to the Dordogne and back in our campervan. I made a video about it, which, while it may be of interest only to travel vlog and ‘van life’ enthusiasts, does have a bit of novelty value, because I filmed it on a spherical (360-degree) camera.

This means that after you’ve watched it, you can go back and watch it again from a completely different angle and see what was happening behind you!

I’ll put the link here, rather than embedding it, because this is something you want to watch on the YouTube site. Or, better still, in the YouTube app on your tablet, or phone, or VR headset…

You can find the video here.

If I had had more time, I would have made it shorter 🙂

This was really just an experiment for me, and I learned a great deal about the challenges and opportunities of filming and editing this particular medium, which I may write about in due course.

A healthy glow

Here’s a little video selfie of me breathing. Pretty exciting stuff, eh? The reason I look so strange is that it’s taken with a thermal camera: the white and yellow areas are warm, the blue and black ones colder. I haven’t decided whether or not it’s an improvement on my normal appearance.

One reason for our interest in this at the Lab is that you can clearly see my nostrils getting cooler as I breathe in, and warmer as I breathe out. So a thermal camera is a pretty straightforward way for a computer to measure my breathing rate.

But I had some fun playing with the camera at home, too. Pointing it at my hall floor showed glowing tracks where the hot pipes run under the tiles, allowing me to see how the radiators in different rooms are connected up.

When I was looking around upstairs, I noticed some light patches on the floor and wondered what they were. It took me a moment to realise that Tilly had trotted up behind me to see what I was doing, and had silently departed, leaving only warm paw-prints behind her as evidence.

All you need is Lovie?

Last night we went into London because the kind people at the Lovie Awards, the European branch of the (rather better-known) Webby Awards, had been good enough to give me an award, mostly for the work that friends and I had done in creating the first webcam.

I was a bit embarrassed about this, partly because I didn’t think I deserved it, and partly because of the name, but I got over the latter, at least, when I discovered that it’s in honour of Ada Lovelace.

Anyway, the tradition is that you have to give a little speech containing the word ‘Love’. The other tradition, which nobody told me, is that the speech should be about 30 seconds, which is why I look a bit more flustered than usual here! I was trying, not very successfully, to edit my speech on the fly. But I got away with it because mine was the last award of the evening.

It was a great and responsive audience, which, sadly, you can’t hear on this video.

Computerphile

Sean Riley creates the Computerphile YouTube channel, which has clocked up nearly a million subscribers, and produces some great stuff, especially for the geeks among us.

I had fun talking to him about the early days of the Trojan Room Coffee Pot.

Setting non-standard screen resolutions on a Mac

I wrote about this a few years ago but it’s still a handy and not-very-well-known hidden feature of the Mac’s System Preferences.

NOTE that on some Macs, especially recent Mac Book Pros, this only works if you have external displays attached.

Having a ripping time

A quick recommendation of the dBpoweramp software, if, like me, you should find yourself ripping large numbers of CDs.

PDF Tips and Tricks for Mac Users

My latest little screencast shows some of the things you might not have discovered in the Preview app on the Mac.

Also available on Vimeo here.

Stand-up Maths

This is brilliant…

From Webcam to Webcar?

My car now has a web page. Sadly, it’s for my own use and not for public consumption, but I made a little video about it anyway!

Also available on YouTube if preferred.

Thanks are due to Terence Eden for his work on documenting the API. Oh, and before anyone asks, no, I don’t normally leave the cable draped across the pavement. 🙂

Earning my R.E.S.P.E.C.T

Wow. She’s still got it, hasn’t she?

Thanks to Rory C-J for the link.

Science, religion, atheism, lawyers and politics

The discussion below between Neil deGrasse Tyson and Richard Dawkins is mostly about atheism and belief, and the degree to which the atheist viewpoint can or should be promoted.

But at one point, about 1 hr 3 mins into the video, Tyson talks about why he’s worried that there aren’t more scientists in politics. Everyone seems to be a lawyer. And his concern is not for the perhaps more obvious reasons of, say, ensuring sufficient funding for research. It’s that lawyers are people trained to be good arguers of a point of view, regardless of whether it’s the view they necessarily hold themselves.

I want people who know how to make decisions in Congress, and I’m sorry, but I don’t count lawyers among those…

When we have two scientists, if we disagree, it’s because one of us is wrong, or the other is wrong, or we’re both wrong… and we both agree with that fact — that those are the three possibilities that exist, and we’re both waiting for more or better data, to resolve it — so that we will one day agree, and then go out and have a beer.

Lawyers don’t… it doesn’t happen that way… any time I’ve seen lawyers in conflict.

Now, I’d be a bit more generous to lawyers than that, perhaps because I’m married to one! Good lawyers are at least trained to examine all the possible arguments, which is a very valuable skill, not taught to everybody. In some ways, I think, they’re almost scientists. But this doesn’t change the fact that, at least outside the academic sphere, they are usually exploring these possibilities on the behalf of a client, so they’re looking to turn their awareness of the other arguments into a reinforcement of a predetermined point of view. This makes them effective, but undesirable, politicians.

It’s nice to think that, in theory at least, good scientists would be better…

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser