Digital Creativity

It’s official… Ultralab are going to be providing staffing for the forthcoming BBC Blast tour of the UK!

BBC Blast have commissioned a truck to be built which converts to a studio and workshop area. This is quite amazing on its own, but add to that twelve PC laptops, three MacBook Pro laptops, High Definition DV cameras, networking, A3 colour printing and scanning, a sound studio, video editing capabilities and all manner of digital creativity tools, and you have some idea of what can happen inside the vehicle.

And that’s not to mention what goes on outside! The outer area is going to form a workshop space with a stage for performances, too. Covered by a large awning, the space has room for about 100 people when showcasing work, which is quite a number.

So what is Ultralab’s role?

We have been working with the Blast team for a while in different capacities. At the BETT show last January we were part of the collaborative venture between BBC Blast and Apple computers that became the ‘Create at BETT’ stand. Since then, we have been talking about how to take the ideas ‘on the road’ and the BBC wanted to run a creativity roadshow… seems like the two were destined to meet!

Ultralab staff will form the lead facilitation team on the tour, with one person at every location acting as the head of a small team of local freelancers brought on to run the workshops. This will then provide for a good deal of continuity between cities as the tour takes place, ensuring someone with a clear understanding and years of experience of the creative opportunities is at every venue.

I am delighted to be a part of all that, along with colleagues Matt Eaves and Hamish Scott-Brown. Between June and September the three of us will be on the tour taking on the lead role between us. Starting in Liverpool with Matt, then going over to Northern Ireland with Hamish, the tour then moves into Scotland and works its way south through Sheffield, Norwich, London, Reading and many other places along the way. The North East is hosting the truck as well, with Hull and Newcastle carrying the responsibility.

Each location will have a mix of dance, video, audio and graphic creative activities, running over a number of days and culminating in a showcase day. This is going to be a 15 week tour, and if all goes well then next year becomes a 30 week tour!

Amazing to be part of something so exciting, and I am thrilled to be working with such a forward thinking team at the BBC.

More news as the tour progresses!

Sigma 18-200 vs Nikkor 18-55, Nikon D50 lens, D50 with Sigma lens

I was extremely pleased to receive another Sigma lens for my camera this week. I have been enjoying using the telephoto 135-400 lens but it is way too long for most day-to-day photography. As a result I’ve been relying on a Nikkor 18-55, but I’ve found the results to be very ‘soft’. Don’t get me wrong – they are perfectly adequate, but lack a degree of sharpness that the Sigma lens has got.

So, how does it compare?

First off, the sigma lens has a metal case which the Nikkor lens doesn’t. The added weight is somewhat reassuring, actually, but it is considerably heavier. If you are thinking that a lighter lens is better, stop reading now 🙂

It comes with a petal shaped hood, but when this is in place it is tricky to get the lens cap on and off, since the release clips are at the very edge of the cap and not recessed into the centre as the Nikkor is. I find this a nuisance and much prefer the Nikkor system. However, the hood is easy enough to remove and does fit back onto the lens in a reversed position (whereupon the lens cap is easy enough to operate).

In use, the Sigma lens responds well. It focuses quickly and responsively, and at the shorter lengths really does give a nice crisp image. At the longer lengths, certainly over 150mm, the image quality tends to fall off very slightly. It isn’t dreadful, by any stretch, and even at 200mm it is producing some nice results. There just seems to be a hint of vignetting… maybe it’s me being overly critical, but you should check it out for yourself to see if it is OK for you.

Overall then this lens is a good piece of kit to have in your bag. It performs well throughout the range but is better at shorter lengths. The weight could be a factor for some, but the images are more crisp than the Nikkor ‘kit’ lens that comes as standard on a D50.

Spammers are winning

OK – a sad day. I had well over 70 spam comments put on the blog in the last 24 hours. This is probably linked to the fact that the server was hacked recently by some muppet trying to offer ringtones for download. What I am getting is an immense amount of ring tone based comments.

Every day I pretty much go into the Drupal database and delete the spam comments, but today was a hefty job to do.

Sadly then, in order to post comments, I think you’ll have to register an account. I didn’t want to do this, but I really can’t see a way around it at the moment. perhaps when the blog gets moved to a new server I can implement a better way, but moving a blog is no simple matter… for a start there is the whole issue of ‘googlejuice’ to consider. Many of my pages are linked by the server address and not the framed web URL address… which means that if I move, links that others have bookmarked will not work, Google will have to re-trawl the site and instead of appearing in the top ten for searches I’ll probably be back right at the bottom. Sigh.

If you are a spammer, or have ever been one, then congratulations. You bottom dwelling pond scum are wrecking the internet for the rest of us.

Blue Man Group, London theatre, West End Shows, New London Theatre, Drury Lane

I’ve just got back from one of the most amazing west end shows I’ve seen in a long time. The Blue Man Group, showing at the New London Theatre in Drury Lane (where ‘Cats’ was for so many years), is a 100 minute extravaganza of light, rhythm, humour, poignancy and audience participation.

It is very hard to describe what happens in the show. Three main characters mime their way through a vibrant series of sketches to a powerful backing provided by four live musicians. The three are the ‘blue men’ wearing what looks like blue latex coverings over their skin areas. They have expert comical timing and convey so very much through looks and body language alone.

They do come in to the audience – right in! At one point they had a small camera inside a viewer’s mouth and showed it on a large screen. The clever bit was the subtle cut to video as they pretended to push the camera into the man’s throat and onwards… yuk! Very very funny, all the same.

The entire auditorium becomes the stage and the audience become willing participants in a feast of visual effects. Far from being tiresome, this show is fascinating to watch, great fun to be in and has an amazing drummer!

I guess it’s a mix of excellent fringe theatre with west end glamour, rock music and a message about electronic communication…

An internet cafe is described as a place full of people who are not going to talk to each other, whilst staring at a screen talking to people who aren’t even there. Seems a bit like any web space to me!

The finale is nothing short of awesome. Yards and yards of paper… revolving plastic pipes, audience participation, music, humour, wonderment! I can’t really describe it as well as it deserves. If you want a great show that is beyond the normal story telling song and dance act, then go and see the Blue Man Group at the New London Theatre in Drury Lane. You won’t be disappointed.