Monday, 2 December 2019

Social Media Addiction [SOLVED] (Facebook and Twitter)

2 weeks ago I went to a training session on 'Digital wellbeing' for schools. One of the things they discussed was how social media platforms get you hooked. Before that, I'd watched  'The Great Hack' on Netflix - well worth a watch and information from these two occasions got me thinking.
First of all, there is a reason why we become hooked. It's designed that way. Your data is big business, Companies hold about 5000 data points about each and every individual using their services. So when a husband or wife searches for a new mattress, their partner is likely to see that sort of product appear in their ads. They literally know us better than we know ourselves. Our religion, our spending habits, our interests, our political and sexual persuasion, our family members, who our friends are and which ones we don't really like, everything, they know it all. Each share, each like, each angry face tells them something more about you, and it's all collated and used to program algorithms that determine what appears on your 'news feed'. and yours will look totally different to mine or your friends.
Because they know this, they can keep our (and your) feed interesting. Jumbled up, and..... most importantly, infinite.
It's the infinite loop that is key to a part of our addiction. The 'infinite loop' is created from algorithms that keep your feed looking something like this
  • An interesting video from 3 days ago.
  • A funny advert from 2 days ago. (dopamine hit)
  • A friend's post you might find interesting. 
  • An advert you'll be interested in.
  • An other friends post from a few hours ago you might like.
  • A post that will make you happy. (dopamine hit)
  • A post that might anger you
And this, on a loop that never seems to end, even when you plow hours and hours into scrolling up, fresh content is always delivered, dopamine hits are frequent and we continue our scrolling, it's addictive? FOMO anxiety is high (fear of missing out), but primarily we're addicted because it's a well-designed, incredible complex and sophisticated money-generating advertising platform, and we're all simply punters who unwittingly (or consciously) subscribe to it. 

So how on earth are we supposed to stop our minds from wanting more? Well, there is a way but clearly, it's not the default way Facebook and Twitter want you to use, you have to choose it. Many years ago, before social media became super clever, we could log on, check new posts, and then log off wwhen we'd cuaght up, we had no reason to keep scrolling. Life was good.

Twitter, on Mobile devices; Tap the little stars on the top right, and you can change your view to 'latest tweets'. Instead of the carefully manipulated 'top tweets' (which can be 4 or 5 days old that show top) you'll see everything chronologically. If things aren't interesting, unfollow them, or mute them.

On Facebook it's called 'Most Recent'. Tap the three lines and simply select 'Most Recent'. However on Facebook, you've got a back arrow.... to tempt you back to the 'normal' way to see stuff'. Their way, the super addictive way!

Simply changing my 'feed' to these two ways of seeing my stuff has drastically reduced the amount of time I've spent looking, scrolling, refreshing, checking. It's like my addiction is being sated, but reduced dramatically, I know, without checking that I'm not turning it on as often as I used to, My battery today is still on over 50% and it's rapidly approaching time to go to sleep.

Any other tips, on how to reduce the amount of time we spend on social media? Share them below.

Saturday, 23 November 2019

The very best way to turn a Raspberry PI into a looping video.

So while waiting for a meeting in a local school, I spotted a redundant TV on the wall.

Sometimes my mind is it's own worse enemy and I started to think about how we could put all of the old videos we've made together on it, using a Raspberry PI. Obviously the start of this is Google. So I got studying.

The simplest and most functional way, wasn't the first way I tried. Surprisingly the current release of Raspbian (Raspberry PI OS) is huge, it almost fills an 8Gb SD card. Although I could have used a USB to store the video files I wanted to have it all on the one device, and I didn't really want to use a bigger SD card. (Like I say, my mind is my own worse enemy).

So I found a command line version of Raspbian and tried a command line player called OMXPLAYER, but I struggled to get it to work initially; which paid off in the long run.

After installing the barebones version of Raspbian (buster-lite) using balenaetcher on Mac. I found I needed a GUI a graphical user interface, so I installed LXDE LX panel which combined only came to ~4.5Gb, plenty of room for the video files. From here I installed VNC and tried to use a few hacks to get that working. But it wouldn't start, and even if it did, I doubt it would do it in full screen mode.

So I re-wound and went back to looking at command line prompts and this is where the magic happened. Editing the RC.local file (which starts on boot up) allowed me to add the line

omxplayer --loop /home/pi/video.m4v

(video m4v was a special big edit of all of the videos, with splash screens of the school name in between).

And that was it, on boot, the video played and looped indefinitely, BUT in the background, the OS was also booting. By this stage I'd already installed Real VNC, but logging in again I could see the OS. But amazingly the video on the main display was still showing the loop. I actually couldn't get it to stop.

What does this mean?

In the real world. The users can boot their TV and the PI will play in the normal way. Remotely, this will enable me to to edit the master, transfer the master to the device (this is what I am testing now) replace the original file and reboot to start playing the new file.

I'd accidentally stumbled across the most perfect solution.

Now I have to manually add the SSID for the school network, so hopefully it will connect, without being able to access the GUI, then it should work exactly the way I want it to, forever.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Amazing Smartphone Cameras.

I'm currently chatting with a good friend about their (new) phone options. They have an iPhone 7, but aren't happy with the picture quality of it. This means, there is something wrong.

The first time photographers started taking smartphones seriously was around the time of the iPhone 4. Since then, cameras have only gotten better. So if your images aren't coming out the way you want, then perhaps the technique is wrong. So here are my top tips for getting much better images with your current handset.

The first thing, with ANY smartphone, before you take a shot is to clean the lens. While the delicate optics will be behind a hardened glass cover, the glass will likely need a clean. This simple action in itself will produce sharper results, will cut down on glare or haze and allow the camera processor space to calculate the best exposure for the image. If you use a DSLR, then you will always want to ensure that the lens is immaculate, and your phone is no different.

There is a glut of information on the internet about proper composition - including the rule of thirds, dutch tilt, and diagonals. If you're not familiar with these, have a look at this short video for great examples of the principles, and practice them.

Quite often the phone might decide it wants to focus on something else, espcially if you have a creative composition. When you're looking through a 'mask' to concentrate on a subject, you will often find that the mask is the 'in focus' aspect of the image. In this case, on 90% of smartphones, you can simply tap the screen to refocus on the part you want sharp. If you're not sure, when taking an image of a person, tap the eye, the eye's should always be in focus for a portrait shot.

Although you can pinch to zoom while taking an image, you really should just move closer to your subject. Digital zoom will make sharp edges blurred and dramatically reduce the overall image quality. Avoid it at all costs.

Try to get into the habit of being your best critic. You will always find when you take a number of shots of the same thing, that one is more pleasing on the eye, the focus might be better, the clarity improved, the composition more pleasing. Take a couple, select the best and delete the others.

And that's pretty much it. These 5 tips will ensure that you get better results from the handset you currently have, no matter what smartphone you own! Anything you think I have missed? Comment below.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

How to get free Smart Plugs, sort of.

In the not too distant future, most households should have the ability to generate and store their own power supply. Solar Panels installed on rooftops, which drip feed energy into a wall-mounted battery will supply power to the home. This is a principle recently brought into alternative-reality in the gaming world courtesy of No Mans Sky. (If you find this stuff entertaining, you can play it on the Playstation on a planet of your choice!)

When our energy-ownership world happens, people will inevitably become much more switched on to the power they're using and how efficient their homes are. For now, we're all pretty much at the learning stage.
To be honest, it's only in the past few years that I've become interested enough in our Gas and Electric supply to get the calculator out. But in a nutshell, it's pretty simple maths.
Every device in your home draws power, measured (by in-home displays) in watts.
If you're using 200 watts, then every 5 hours, you'll draw 1000w or 1KWh (One Kilowatt-hour) which is how you're billed.
Depending on your agreement, this could be anything from 10p to 14p per kWh.

When everything was switched off in our home, (as it is for a large portion of the day), our IHD was showing us that we were using ~260-270w.
Forgetting about the big occasional appliances, dishwasher, washing machine, (which run up the bill the fastest and in the shortest time 85% of our bill in fact), I was still keen to get this number down. Using the logic that a 100w lightbulb is now grossly inefficient, 270w seemed like a lot.
So, I made a quick calculation to see how much the 'dormant' home was costing us.

270w x 18 (hours approximately) = 4.86KWh / day or ~ 53p a day.

53p x 365 days ~ £193 per year for ... essentially nothing.
This is around 15% of our annual household bill.

So I looked into the smart plug option. I also had a look into getting a more efficient fridge freezer, as our Zanussi (from the 80s) was getting hot. Great for drying clothes, not so good for keeping the costs down. We invested around £200 in a more efficient freezer and that brought the usage down by about 90w.
Of course, the Freezer isn't always running (although the old one might have been) so occasionally, we'd see a spike of around 100w when it was working. But dormant, the house was now around the 190w mark.

Then I installed some smart plugs, I paid £25 for a set of three (pictured). One went behind the TV, one went to the upstairs TV and Playstation, and the third I put where the printers are connected. We set them up using the Smartlife app (no hub necessary) and then integrated them into the Google Home app. I checked our Laptop chargers too, which are pretty much always on, but from what I can tell, they're smart switching, IE, they power down when not charging - as should all devices really.

The draw from the various devices around the house came as a surprise. The two TV's especially, although these have amplifiers, subwoofers, a games console, Blu ray players and Freesat boxes attached when off, each area was still drawing around 30w. Although it's clearly not as convenient as leaving them on all the time and scheduled TV recordings fail if the Freesat box isn't on and connected to the internet, the net result is that the usage when off has hit the satisfying low of 64w!

Using the same maths, 64w x 18 hours a day = 1.15KWh or around 12.6p a day, or a 41p saving! Multiply this 41p saving by 365 days and we're looking at a reduction of almost £150 per year. Admittedly, this first year has seen an investment of £200 in a new freezer, the savings from the plugs alone have paid for themselves.

There is also the added satisfaction of saying - "Ok Google - Turn off the TV" into your phone and watching the almost immediate effect of the IHD dropping by around 30w!

Sunday, 13 October 2019

How to save paper in school.

If, like me, in the past, you've dabbled with Google Classroom, it's perhaps time to have another look. Although you may feel like the amateur or the pupil again, the payoff is well worth going through the learning curve pain, and as I've learnt today, the kids will really help you through it.

Lessons are grouped together on the welcome screen.
In addition if you're struggling, (like with so many things on Google;), you can collaborate, meaning a willing teaching assistant, or another Teacher can share the workload and you can do everything together.

While the layout of Classroom hasn't changed, some of the functionality has made it a powerful tool for any Teacher with additional benefits for the school.

If you're unfamiliar with Clasroom, it's a portal that allows you to collate all of your school lesson plans, activities and resources, and now it indexes childrens work, provides detailed (albeit simple) reports showing who has 'Turned in' their work - (it's an Americanism) as well as an overview of the marks you have given each pupil for their submitted coursework.

When your Google Classroom is created, you will find a corresponding Classroom Folder that's created in your Drive. This is a good place to dump relevant reference files to that subject. This is also where documents uploaded to Posts created in Classroom will be stored.
(Simply - doesn't matter if you're using Classroom, or Drive, stuff should go in here). 

The layout is the same as it's been previously. Once a class is set up, pupils will initially see a 'STREAM' or flow of information that you provide. The stream is made up of posts, and assignments. Posts can have attachments, links or videos embedded, or just plain text.

The second tab is the (classwork) assignments tab. This is where YOU create assignments for your pupils.
Whilst assignments don't have to have anything attached in order to be 'Turned in' (IE they can be used for simple notifications that must be read and understood) they are best used when linked to a piece of work.
When you attach a document in google drive to an assignment, each pupil will get their own copy of that piece of work. The filename will become a combination of the Pupils Name, Filename. So for example, todays 'Solar System Research' became 'Pupils name - solar system research'.
When the pupil submits their work, they cannot re-edit it, unless they withdraw the submission. (which they can do).

When you open a pupils submitted work, a simple selection box gives you three options (which you can change whilst you have the file open).
VIEWING - removes all edit functions and gives you a clean view of the submitted work.
EDITING - allows you to directly edit the pupils work
SUGGESTING - this turns everything you type into clear marks for feedback and improvement.

Once you're done marking, you can return the work to the pupil for them to correct and resubmit
The MARKS tab in Classroom gives you an 'at a glance' report of all of the submitted work, and shortcuts to everyones submitted work. (See pic)

Marks can be assigned to papers, the default is 'out of' 100, but you can change it, you can mark each pupils piece of work once you're done with it.

This could not only simplify and reduce Teacher workloads (although it will require an organised Google Drive) but it could also significantly reduce the amount of paper and photocopying costs that currently dent School Balance sheets.

Reusing an existing lesson plan, simply means tapping the three dots on the Classroom welcome page and choosing the copy function. You could rename the lesson with the new class. When a classroom is copied, the resources and assignments are copied, but not the pupils or the stream.

In conclusion, it makes much more sense to use Classrooms to create lesson plans, than it does Slides. Which I had been doing proviously.

Let me know your thoughts.

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Rough Cuts Ltd - end of aerial services.

Before the end of this year Rough Cuts Ltd, permission for commercial drone operation from the CAA will expire. In 2020 we do not intend to renew this license for a number of reasons.

It has been a genuine pleasure to serve some of the regions finest estate agents and we have been passionate about creating the best quality videos for the lowest costs, we've seen some truly stunning properties. But the annual cost of insurance, the time required to maintain and operate the drone, the constantly changing parameters for (and cost of) licence renewal and lack of recurring business in this field simply mean it's no longer sensible for us to continue.

Moving forward we will look to maintain our relationship with existing partners to provide event photography and video services, as expected, but we will also focus much more on educational and social projects. Sharing the Knowledge we have of technology with pupils and people across Flintshire.
We will still be a part of the Do-Well band, supporting projects such as the 2025 movement with event photography and Public Narrative video capture.

Although we have been teaching primary school children technology for 3 years now and have a wealth of polished courses to offer, we feel it is necessary to be recognised as experts and will undertake Google for Education certified training, which we hope to complete before the end of 2019 or early into 2020.

This will enable us to design new lesson plans and to support classrooms better. To advise schools on the best ways of working and to maximise the impact of technology in the classroom. We've already started the certification process and it's impossible not to be inspired by some of the examples set by other teachers from around the world.

From this unique position we can help up-skill teachers, devote time teachers don't have, to learning new ways of working. We can become the masters of technology and bring those exciting new skills into classrooms at a pace that suits the schools, the teachers, the parents and most importantly the pupils.

We will also continue with our technical support and management of school devices and peripherals.

In the long term we foresee learning projects happening outside of schools. For people that might be suffering with poor mental health or social isolation, for the pupils and perhaps too, for the parents. We hope that in the foreseeable future every pupil in Flintshire, by the end of year six, will have the Digital Skills required to tackle high school in the most engaging way, having the knowledge and skills they need to Do-Well in twenty-first-century workplaces

We thank our aerial customers from the past 3 years and hope you will understand our reasons for this decision.

Monday, 23 September 2019

How to enable 'night mode' on your Smartphone Camera.

So the iPhone night mode is really pretty cool, yes? For all those times you need to take a photo in near dark conditions. Having this feature could prove useful. But the chances are, if your phone has a manual mode, or 'Pro' mode, you can probably do something pretty much as good.

Let me tell you how in a few simple steps.

1. Start your camera app
2. Open the settings and look for Manual or Pro mode and select it.
3. Look for ISO and put it as high as you possibly can. I have the Samsung S7 Edge and 800 is the limit.
4. Look for the shutter speed and set it to 1/20
5. Hold your camera very still and take a photo.

If you kept the phone still enough, you should find that, in very low light, you get a well exposed image. If it's over exposed, you have more light than you need and you can set the shutter speed higher, try 1/40 or 1/60.
If you have very steady hands, you may find you're able to drop the shutter as low as 1/5 of a second and still get a clear brighter image.

The two photos below show you what I was able to capture in low light. The first image is to illustrate how dark it was, and the contrast in brightness from the photo. The second is the actual photo from the Samsung.

iPhone night mode challenge
This is how dark the room was - photo captured on iPad on auto setting.
iphone night mode vs s7 edge pro mode
Image taken on S7 edge on Pro mode ISO800, Shutter speed 1/20

Friday, 13 September 2019

Computer knowledge and inequality in Primary School.

There are several rudimentary tech skills that every year 7 pupil should start High School with.
By this age, it would be beneficial if a pupil knew how to complete their school work with a minimum of anxiety. In my experience, we currently do not have parity or equality when it comes to children transitioning into high school. Knowledge levels will be varied depending on the school that the pupil came from and the structure that the school has in place. Some children will complete their first assignments with minimum effort, focusing on the topic, instead of the technical problems, and others may become overwhelmed and anxious, which would lead to a loss of confidence and worry.

What skills do I mean? I'm talking about advanced skills that reduce anxiety and pressure when the expectation is put on a child to complete a specific piece of work. Just using presentations and an example, (feel free to use as a checklist) in order of complexity;

  • Adding slides
  • Adding text boxes
  • Adding images to a document
  • Using 'undo' instinctively
  • Rotating an image
  • Adding a border to an image or text box
  • Changing the line spacing
  • Fine adjusting the transparency of a text box
  • Adding a shape image mask
  • Adjusting the order of objects 
  • Fine control moving of objects
  • Animating a presentation or adding transitions
  • Editing a master slide 
  • Grouping objects together
  • Exporting as a different file type
This is not an exhaustive list, but my guess is, most pupils can do the first three, whereas, knowledge of the others, would make them expert and more able. Similar lists can be made for word processing, publishing, spreadsheets, digital art, and block coding. 

Having two children one in Year 11 and the other in Sixth form, I know that they have required skills across a variety of different programs, starting with Google Docs they've mostly transitioned into MS Office online, or the more affluent have retail versions of Office. Usually, the cheaper Student Edition or copies given to them by their Teacher.

There's also the question of increased workload. The jump from infrequent homework assignments to regular, time consuming and in-depth means time management becomes more important, so it would make a lot of sense to introduce the children to online calendar apps and ensure they're making time for self-care.

The skills required for using spreadsheets, presentations, publishing, and word processing, are however mostly the same. So regardless of whether a school uses MS Office, HWB or G-Suite, the opportunity to up-skill pupils to the same level does exist, the question is, how do we tackle it and how do we know when we've got it right.

From a younger and younger age, pupils are starting to use these programs. But as parity is absent in pupil knowledge, the same is true of KS1 and KS2 teachers. We have some caring, amazing and genuinely inspiring teachers who are let down by the huge and swift advances in technology and the lack of training and development. From my 4 years volunteering and teaching, I know that the skills pupils require are alien to a significant proportion of great teachers.

However, the knowledge with teachers is hugely varied and as learning styles are different, this makes group training often frustrating. One on one training with a checklist and as long as it takes is the most effective method, but this would mean an army of trainers, working full time.

And it isn't going to get any easier. As technology refuses to slow down (who'd have thought children would be making movies in Key Stage 2 20 years ago?) the need for a more focussed approach to the problem is required. I am certain in the not too distant future, tomorrow's children will be using simple 3D modeling software and 3D printers. The accessibility is already there; Windows 10 comes with Paint 3D and the printers are sub £200.

So the challenges are clear.
We need to support our teachers better and enable them to share their knowledge.
We need to focus our efforts on ticking the boxes and ensuring all children have their knowledge pots filled with tech basics.

 The question is, where and when are we going to start, and what specifically are we going to do to achieve it?

Thursday, 29 August 2019

Survival horror games - Resident Evil 7 - The Mental Health impact.

18+ content only

Do you find that films nowadays just don't scare you like they used to?
For those not aware, the Resident Evil games have been around for over 2 decades. They've always been a blend of jump scares, complex puzzles and realism. To overcome the lacklustre processing power of earlier computers and consoles, they would paint an ultra realistic scene, where the only 3D animated aspect of the image was the main character.
The hero, would collect items explore mansions or scientific laboratories and solve complex puzzles to progress. In between at key moments, usually when the players mind would be in a state of inquisitiveness, dogs might crash through a window, creatures might appear from nowhere or plants might burst into life to attack. These jump scares are usually infrequent enough to make the game enjoyable, but frequent enough to keep players on their toes. Relaxing, they are not.
So far, so normal.

Over the years, as consoles have become more powerful and technology has moved on, the games have naturally become more realistic. Scenes have become photorealistic 3D playable worlds, graphics have improved to make the game become far more believable, and now, the last offering has full support for Virtual Reality.
It was inevitable really, but now we're here, what's it like?

Well to be frank, it's terrifying. It's scary enough when the character (that is the source of fear) appears suddenly on a TV screen, but it's a whole new dimension when, after you've crawled your way under the floorboards to escape, the same character that was chasing you, appears inches away from your face! It's also different when you can see their teeth up close, their facial features and you're looking into their eyes! However, in order to defeat these monsters, like in the previous games, you have to slay them. Either with a gun shot, usually to the head, aimed by physically moving your own head to look them in the eye before pulling the trigger, or if you don't have a gun, more graphically the player will need to use the next best thing, like a knife.
The realism is becoming more and more immersive and with that, comes some inevitable ethical questions. It's a virtual simulation of killing another being, and that's weird, right?
So what is the point?
Well after playing for around 6 hours or so. I can tell you, I feel great. There's a benefit to real 'virtual terror' that I don't think we understand. I need to be careful here, I'm not suggesting at all, that experiencing kidnap, false imprisonment, or being threatened in real life does anything besides traumatise and damage victims, and I'm also not suggesting that doing the killing is great for your mental health. But being in a safe place, and playing games that stack adversity against you, limit your freedom and scare the bejesus out of you from time to time, and fighting for your own success, is invigorating. Solving puzzles and traps set to hold you back, being brave, feeling the fear and doing it anyway (copyright - Susan Jeffers), overcoming and escaping demons? That's empowering stuff.
There is also research (2010 Texas A&M International university) that concludes playing violent video games can reduce aggression. Survival Horror especially teaches players to become resourceful and tenacious. And finally, they help with anticipatory anxiety, as the scares are frequent enough to give you time to prepare yourself for the next shock. Something anxiety sufferers are prone to. The few sessions I've had where I've played, I've experienced goose-bumps over, and over again. A whoosh of adrenaline and fear. Something is happening when people play these games, something that scary films fail to deliver unless and my initial educated guess is, it's good to have a proper scare once in a while.
Ironic, but I think we need to face these demons, open the debate and find out what the positive (or negative) implications of these games are.

Want to understand more check out this video of users playing it here

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Drone Hire - considerations for your pilot hire.

The word 'stunning' is used far too often in the world of drone photography. Sometimes 'stunning' shots that make it into local newspapers wouldn't make it past a discerning content creator. Likewise, 'stunning video' can often be straight off the camera or poorly produced.

In order to get high quality video for your project, before you hire, (once you've established they're licensed and insured), contractors should look for a number of skills that drone operators must have. Use their own previous content from their website or YouTube channel in order to judge their abilities and look out for these issues....

1) Smooth movement. 
When you watch drone footage back, keep your eyes on one moving object. Sheep in fields are great as they stand out. Does the object glide smoothly across the scene, or is it jerky? Smooth panning only happens when a number of things are set up correctly. Whilst some of the problems can be caused by playback devices (iPads are great for having smooth playback) a lot of the time, it can be because the film has been rendered and filmed in the wrong or different formats. A great drone operator will already know how their drone films best, and what formats are the best for producing. This can also be down to poor piloting skills though. Sometimes a shot is left in a final edit (that should have been cut) when the drone pilot simply changed direction of their drone or camera suddenly.

2) Consistent colour and brightness
Beginner drone operators will likely pop their video settings on auto. This can cause a number of problems when creating video content. As the light from a moving drone is always changing, so too will the camera settings. This can be identified by regular changes in the colour or brightness, as the camera will use it's ISO setting to adjust the brightness for the scene. One encoded onto the video, this is impossible to smooth out. You can spot this with regular step changes in the scene as it retains the correct exposure.

3) Overblown whites or too much black
Photography, and especially exposure is something of an art. Getting the ISO and shutter balance right for a scene can be difficult. Once footage is acquired though, with the right professional software, a lot of detail can be pulled out from a correctly exposed image. However, it's not always easy and sometimes (when a shot is moving) a complex adjustment will be necessary to ensure the exposure is right, and also smooth if it changes throughout a scene.

4) Composition
The final thought for your drone operator is how well they frame all of their shots. Several rules about diagonals and thirds apply to video as much as they do photography. And while some drone pilots may be great photographers, framing a shot with a drone is much more difficult. Having the ability to adjust the altitude, attitude, movement and camera angle whilst maintaining a satisfying image is a skill that some people just can't get right (in the same way that I'm unlikely to ever be able to skip, or hula hoop).

5) No fly, no fee
Finally, before you book someone, check what their policy is for bad weather. It is common to book a pilot for a day and if the weather prohibits a flight, then they still charge the client. This is common practice in this sector.

If you've seen a pilots example videos of their work and they don't have any of these flaws, then you're safe to assume they know their kit and will be able to get you high quality video that you deserve. If you see these issues, on recent videos they've made (we made these mistake we we were new) then perhaps look elsewhere.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Mac Owners - The end is nigh - Catalina. Don't UPGRADE until you read this...


This morning (10/7/2019) I have taken the shrewd advice from Apple's beta program and installed the Beta of Mac OS Catalina on my secondary Mac (an Air), not my main iMac.

And I'm really glad I did.

Apple have had subtle warnings that have said 'This program will not work with future updates of Mac OS - The developer needs to update this app to work".


So Why? What's happening? 

The new version of Mac OS is going to be for 64 bit programs only. 32 bit programs will no longer work.

So what will be affected? 

This depends entirely on what you use your Mac for and which programs you use. This list is what has happened on my Mac and what it will mean I will have to do now.

0) ** Microsoft Office 2011 ** At the time of writing I hadn't noticed, as the apps for this are in a folder in the applications folder. But this is the big one. Many people rely on Office for work, and an upgrade could cost as much as £200. But the simple fact is, all of your work and documents may have to suffer a clumsy conversion to pages, keynote or numbers. Which would mean formatting awry and missing fonts.
Office 2011 is NOT compatible with Mac OS Mojave.

1) Logitech Harmony Remote Software - I have a Logitech remote which I have used for many years. It serves us well and although it's a pain to set up, it did work well when it was new.
However, if I want to change the settings of the remote, the only way to do it was via this app. I've checked the Logitech website and there is no 64 bit version of the software - (even the 32bit uninstaller doesn't work)
So this technology will likely become obsolete.
Upshot - The new remotes of equivalent function are around £100 each. Eeeek!

2) HDRtist - This is a simple program I used for combining multi exposure images to create a stunning HDR image. Indeed my desktop wallpaper I'm seeing as I type this was made with it.
No update available - last update 7 years ago.
Upshot - Will need to hunt for and purchase new software for this.

3) iDVD - Ok, so my use of iDVD was very infrequent, although one school I work for still asks me to create DVD's for their Year 6 leavers service.
Upshot - Will need to find new software for burning DVD's, creating menu's; opportunity to find BluRay burning software. May buy a Blu Ray burner/software bundle.

4) iWeb - I have one client who I still use iWeb for. This is a very old, but perfectly effective program for managing website, but Wix do the same thing, almost as well (seriously iWeb was REALLY simple).
Upshot - I have emailed the client and let them know we will need to do something before Autumn.

5) Digital Viewer - Simple software I use in school, to let pupils see what a TTS - EasiScope digital Microscope uses.
Upshot - Found free updated software on TTS website as the device is still on sale. Phew!

6) Grand perspective - Software used for visualising content on a computer.
Upshot - Found updated 64 bit software on website.

7) Netgear powerline software - This software let me see if the power line adaptors I have on my home network are connected, encrypted and working ok.
Upshot - I no longer have Netgear power line adaptors, I swapped to Devolo. Not a problem for me, so I just uninstalled it.

8) Google Photos - Using for synchronising images off my Mac to the google photos service.
Upshot - stopped using this a while back. Would be useful though as google photos service is changing from Drive - will need some investigative work for a good solution.

9) Google Music Manager - This I still do use. It synchronises my Music with the Google Play Music service.
Upshot - Update available - done.

Conclusion - Mojave is the last version of Mac OS that will support 32 bit programs.

What to duo now?

Click the Apple Logo - About this Mac - System report and select (under software) Applications to identify those apps that are 64bit (see pic), and have a plan for updating or replacing them. If your work relies on you using 32bit applications that are no longer being upgraded.
Hold off upgrading to Catalina until you have an alternative program you can use.

If I can help at all, let me know.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

The Challenges for Primary School Teaching in 2019

I've had the pleasure of dipping my toes into the teaching circle now for three years. Whilst I love what I do, I currently only work 1 and a half days over 2 schools (excluding the time I put into my lesson preparation). I've seen first hand and learnt a lot about the challenges and struggles the education system is fighting. It may not be a surprise to learn that the biggest are Money and Time, but in addition, a big concern is the increasingly rapid progress of technology.

Technology depreciates quickly, yesterdays interactive whiteboards will soon become as archaic as chalk, new digital touch screen displays will be the future, with children and teachers able to demonstrate technological workflow at the front of the class. Whether that's art, working with layers, editing video, creating slideshows; 'showing' the how to process is much more powerful than telling or displaying screenshots of what the process looks like. But the screen tech is still in its infancy and far from fool proof.

Teachers can demonstrate, and then ask fellow pupils to replicate in front of the whole class. Before they try it for themselves. But these screens are costly, and to fill a school with 10+ classes, the money simply isn't there. It will take time to acquire and learn how to use these machines confidently, and before then, the older iPads, or tablets will need replacing or the teachers laptops will need replacing. County or Microsoft will end support for older Operating systems and Head Teachers will be forced to fund the most urgent hardware needs, not necessarily the most important.

There's also the extortionate cost of leasing printing solutions, but that's another blog post altogether.

And then there is the other problem.

Digital creativity is in a boom-like state. I know this, because (from a gamers perspective), I've seen it coming. Look at Cool paint VR for Playstation 4. The 'player' don's a VR headset, and uses 2 handheld controllers to 'paint' in 3D; in a virtual environment, a three dimensional object can be created. Windows 10 has just had an update to paint called - 3D paint, ever used it? My £650 computer wasn't powerful enough, so neither have I. But it will do a similar thing.
Then, when the virtual object has been created, it could be printed using a 3D printer. Ever used one of them? I haven't. But I can guarantee I will, one day, hopefully soon.
Look at Kodu for Windows - Programming your own games using an Xbox 360 controller.

What's starting to appear in High Schools, will, (due to improved simplicity and software familiarity) soon become commonplace in Primary school. Maybe drone technology will be common too?

So how can we support todays teachers, passionate about teaching, but perhaps less passionate or adept with technology in this increasingly complex world?

Step one has to be to recognise the issues and opportunities that a primary school can tackle. What will the jobs of tomorrow look like, what are likely to be the skills that are required for high school.
As teachers, we only really need to light the spark, to know the basics. Once the passion for a new technology kicks in. The pupil will teach themselves the rest; but we have to have the skills to teach rudimentary aspects of each topic. How coding languages work, how controls work, how sensing works, how algorithms help computer programs run, how to make a mark in a virtual world, how to print a basic object, how to add clips, use transitions and produce moving image files.

Once we've agreed on the basics, and the opportunities, we can focus time devoted to up-skilling. It may be 1 to 1, it may depend on the teachers confidence and existing abilities, it may just be sitting in on a lesson delivered by a prepared expert to a class. But we must appreciate that passion for teaching and passion for technology are not the same thing and approach it with a sympathetic and helpful mindset.

Challenge, expectations and goals without support could be catastrophic for well being and retention.

But, approached in the right way, it will be beneficial and exciting for us all.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Understanding Star Wars.

A few people have said to me recently that they'd like to watch Star Wars, but they don't know where to start. I get this, instead of a neat 4,5,6 part trilogy, (as it was last century) it's now grown arms and legs and my attempts to simplify it (I made a spreadsheet) only seem to cause more confusion. But recently, I saw things slightly differently that may help the saga become more understandable to an outsider.

So here's a brief summary of the stuff that happens and how you might want to watch it (Rated OK through to EPIC). It's assumed you know what a Jedi is, but a Sith (you may not know) is the Dark Side equivalent.

I've tried my best to be ambiguous to avoid spoilers.

Before we start - Clones, Stormtroopers and Droid Army's. 
This can get complicated.
1) The Droid Army we see in the first films belongs to the Trade federation. They're used to enforce an illegal trade war against a small planet.
2) The original Clone army (the first to look like Stormtroopers) were made in secret from the DNA of one man. These were first put into action by the disintegrating Republic before it became the Empire. When it did become an Empire, the order was given to destroy all of the Jedi.
3) The Stormtroopers were the replacement for the Clone Army and have always been the strong arm of the Empire.

This is why in the prequels, you will see good folk, fighting alongside (what appear to be) Stormtroopers, but later on they're fighting against them.

Episodes 1-3 - The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith. (OK)

In a nutshell, this trilogy which was made around the turn of the century is the story of Anakin Skywalker and how his journey goes from innocent (but gifted) slave-child to become Darth Vader.
There's some complex politics as it also describes the birth of the Empire (dictatorship) and the death of democracy, decency and a desire for fairness and equality (the Republic). This is due to some clever politics played by a seemingly good ambassador of the Republic, Palpatine, who is actually just a career politician with some dirty secrets. (I'm simplifying).
It's the first story of how temptation can lead us to dark places and how selfishness and greed can ultimately become our downfall.


This standalone film made in 2016 explains the origins of the Death Star and how the Rebel Alliance came to possess the plans, and find a weakness in the design. There are a few crossover characters from the main story who play a part in this film. Paths cross as the powers that be attempt to prevent the theft of the plans.

Episodes 4,5,6  - A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi (EPIC)

The original trilogy and still the best in my opinion, this is the story of Luke. We understand from the prequels why he's on a desert planet, but in this trilogy his journey to becoming a Jedi is journaled. The Rebel Alliance are evading the Empire with setbacks and wins, but ultimately it's the story of Luke's attempts to defeat evil and avoid the temptation of the dark side with Ewoks (think teddies).

Episodes 7,8 & 9 - The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker. (GOOD)

This trilogy is (so far) the story of Rey. Of unknown origin, she possesses the power of the force, but doesn't know how to use it. We also learn the backstory of Ben Solo, Son of Leia and Han, who possesses the Skywalker blood, but was lured to the Dark Side to become Kylo Ren. He's Darth Vader's biggest fan (or 'Grampa' as Ben probably called him), no one knows how, but it would appear from the trailer for 9 it's something to do with Palpatine.

SOLO - OK (2017)

Simply the story of how Han Solo came about, how he met Chewbacca, and how he acquired the Millennium Falcon. Of no significance to the bigger story.

So, there you have it, the three trilogies really just track the lives of three individuals in the Star Wars universe.
Anakin - 1-3
Luke 4-6
Rey 7-9
Rogue One is a key element of the story, but best watched as a stand alone film.

Solo is a little self indulgent, perhaps, for die hard fans only?

My advice - 
Start with - Rogue one, A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

If you still want more
The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi (and wait for Episode 9 in December)

And if you still want more
Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, then Solo if you're 'down with it'!

May the Force be with you.


PS. The Mandalorian is a film scheduled for next year (I think) which is simply the back story of Boba Fett, a popular Bounty hunter from the series who's Dad, plays a key part in the development of the original Clone Army.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Article 13 and 11 And the EU.

The EU just passed legislation aimed at increasing revenue for news sources and decreasing copyright theft.
This  effects of this directive (not a law yet anywhere - but it will be) are as yet unknown. But change is inevitable.
The main impact of these regulations are two fold.

  • Copyright theft responsibility shifts to the platform (IE Twitter, YouTube, Facebook), not the user who uploaded the material. 

(Memes, are exempt).

  • Links to news articles will be liable to a tax. 

The upshot of this is as yet unknown, many things could change. But the implications of copyright theft on the scale of operations like the social networks above are impossible for them to ignore.

It's possible they may put in place charges to keep their services the same as they are now (to cover news link costs etc). It's possible they may block all links to news articles unless the user pays a fee. It's possible that they may halt all media uploads, or put in place measures to recover costs from the user if they're pursued for copyright theft. Many things are possible, all of our YouTube content may be scrubbed and deleted if it's found to contain copyright material.

But one thing is certain, the internet as we know now, is unlikely to be the same in the future.


Tuesday, 12 February 2019

The MOMO Challenge.

MOMO, Blue Whale and Slenderman are all quite frankly sick. I've just this morning read a post from a mother who is distraught that her young child has been exposed to Momo and is now struggling to sleep, living in fear and causing distress with other children in school.

If you have young children and they mention any of these, you do need to intervene. Having now finished the end of this blog post, I think it's probably best to talk to them about it or at least clue yourself up, before they suffer the same.

So what are these new modern urban legends? 
In a nutshell, they're all pseudonyms for bullying. Anyone can, in reality, pretend to be the Slenderman, Momo, or the operators behind the Blue Whale challenge. I guess that's the frightening thing is that anybody could chose to be any one of them by changing their Whats App name and profile picture.

The Momo character is based on a vulgar sculpture called Mother Bird by Japanese effects company Link Factory.

So how does it work?
The enabler here seems to be Whats App. The sender confirms the identity of the victim via What's app and divulges information that they know, to think they have power over them, or they just tell them Momo will get them in their sleep (if they tell their parents). For a child, this makes them think that the bully, [the perpetrator behind the mask] has more power than they actually do. Reports state that victims have received creepy calls, scary video messages and dares to complete.
As these children feel that Momo is real, and that they have power over them (the urban myth grows arms and legs) they fulfil the dares, which get progressively worse and have (reportedly) resulted in suicide.

Back when I was a child, in the 80s this would have been the stuff of horror movies. A random phone number calls you they know your name, things about your and they know what you look like!
As they're using a pseudonym, these bullies may be close 'friends'. This friend will know a lot of things about you, like the school you go to, maybe even where you live, which would of course be terrifying to a young child.

Even if the bully didn't know the child personally, with the internet being what it is [a super information highway], the perpetrator could google other facts about you, or your child. The more of a social presence the individual has, the easier it will be for the bully.

I think from a parents point of view, the most terrifying thing is the 'unknown' aspect of it.

What we can do is educate our children. But when this 'game' seems so complex and mysterious, how do we explain it to them in a way that won't leave them terrified of Momo, or Slenderman?

Perhaps this (and the graphic below) will help. Behind every terrifying encounter is a bully. Through What's app (or perhaps because they were a friend) they may be able to get someone's phone number, which in turn (thanks Whats App) will give them the identity of the person, and their image (perhaps).
Using that information, they could find out other things about you, in order to make you think they know more about you than they do. But at the end of the day, the scary thing, is just a mask, it's not real. The real person is just an idiot with nothing better to do that scare children.

There is also a skin for Minecraft that is called the Momo skin, and although it's not particularly nice, it doesn't change the dynamic.
In order to infiltrate the victims Minecraft game, the victim would have needed to have divulged their gamertag (if you're unlucky enough to be involved in one of these situations, it's worth checking old Whats App messages). Of course, as is more likely, if the victim personally knows the bully, then they may already be friends through the console, and situations where friends of friends are involved in the same game could enable an encounter with Momo.

So all of this recent media attention, all of this scaremongering makes for great headlines. The UK loves a good scare story, and in addition, YouTube creators love hits. The Momo search is one of the most popular on youtube, and honestly, some kids also love a scare. This obviously helps no one though, as one of the top hits is "5 times Momo was caught on camera in real life" but as it's had over a quarter of a million hits, it's easy to understand why the creator made it. Definitely an argument for more strict censoring of Youtube videos though.

So what can you do?
1) Talk to your children.
2) Don't let your children use Whats App at all (extreme but it would help, although this could be done via text or facebook messenger).
3) Ensure your child knows Momo, Slenderman, the Blue Whale challenge are all myths/urban legends.
4) Ensure your child knows Momo, Slenderman, the Blue Whale challenge are all pseudonyms for modern day bullies.
5) Log any details (phone number) of people pretending to be one of the above and report it to the police and your school. 
6) Audit your child's friends via their games console, ensure that they know who each and every one is and block those who they don't. 
7) Check what they're watching on YouTube, many YouTubers have enforced these urban myths, by creating videos of their 'encounters' with Momo, imitating calls and scary things happening (for hits). 
8) Be careful what your child shares online. Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, it's all in the public domain and could be used by bullies against them. 
9) Stay anonymous. Until your child is old enough to manage, it may be best to either avoid completely or create profiles with no identifiable information. 

Of course there is the problem that if this is raised in a school assembly, then some children will pick the idea up and run with it. 

Stay safe and if you have any suggestions, comment below.

Google Drive for Desktop.