provisiondirect, buy video camera, camcorder purchase

Today I was caught up with the need to buy a decent camcorder and a few accessories. In the past we have used Sony HVR-Z1 cameras (the same used on the BBC Blast tour) which are well featured and durable, and produce great shots for video work. Sadly, they are now discontinued, and although there is a strong second-hand market for them, it is sometimes better to upgrade.

So up steps the Sony HVR-Z5. Almost identical, but with better optics, more considered ergonomics and additional settings in almost every feature it is a direct replacement and all of the Z1 accessories will still fit. This looked like the right piece of kit, but who to buy from? With almost every site in a google search for camcorders returning some price comparison or review site it is easy to find these things reasonably cheap (OK – £2,500 isn’t cheap, exactly). The thing is, they are mostly offered for sale with the standard one year warranty, and I had hoped for slightly more.

As usual, for all things video we call a select list of suppliers. Today we were delighted with the service from Jeremy at provisiondirect.co.uk. This company has an enviable reputation for great value and excellent product range. We have recommended them to clients looking to purchase kit, and indeed we have made one or two modest purchases there ourselves. Today was the day for buying again!

Jeremy is one of the most knowledgeable and friendly folk when it comes to pro and prosumer video gear. He is often very busy, but when you do get him, he finds the most brilliant pieces of kit for you, and tells you exactly ‘how it is’ with everything. After talking to Jeremy today I was satisfied that they still provide one of the best routes to buying kit, and the value he gives is second to none. So it was that we bought a Z5 with 2 year warranty at probably the most competitive price available. Not content with that Jeremy also added a few extras for us, which was brilliant… unexpected and not asked for. That’s the kind of person you are dealing with – full of information and very willing to help.

It is with great pleasure that I recommend to anyone looking to purchase a decent video camera, lighting, accessories, sound equipment, anything related to video, really provisiondirect.co.uk.

BBC Blast 2009, learning off the back of a lorry

The concept for the main truck
The concept for the main truck

One of the most delightful projects I’ve been involved in recently has been the redesign and recommissioning of the BBC Blast touring vehicles. In October 2008 Cleveratom were asked to put together a proposal and we were frtunate enough to be asked to undertake the work. This has been a huge undertaking, but ultimately incredibly rewarding. Starting off by reviewing the Blast trucks both from our experiences of them as facilitators in 2006, and by visiting them in Salford we were able to detail the various shortcomings and strengths, and work on how to improve the experience for young people.

Much of what I have been involved in has been the physical layout of the main truck, amending the spaces and changing the orientation and mechanics of what is possible. One of the more subtle changes was a realignment of the internal partitions to provide more versatile spaces. What we had noticed before was that the main workshop room was used as a throughfare and the constant interruptions were a real disadvantage. Additionally, the small circular tables being fixed in four locations really restricted the way the room could be used. By moving the main partition wall across the truck to reduce the workshop space, we removed the ‘corridor’ that was actually dead space. By rotating the space ninety degrees we re-orientated it so that the door in to the room became part of the back of the space instead of being at the front left. However, we also wanted to change the flow of people through that truck and introduced a small ‘porch’ which had access directly into the edit suite from the outside instead of having to go into the main workshop. This immediately calmed the flow of bodies in and out of the main area. We then moved the studio wall to enlarge the third space and this has had a massive impact.

The edit suite originally had the main server cabinet in it which considerably restricted what could be done in the room. By moving that out into the main workshop area, and positioning it as part of a large ‘storage wall’ concept we created a physical and virtual store in one place. This freed up the edit suite and has introduced incredible amounts of room in what was once a fairly claustrophobic facility. There is now a door through from the edit room into the studio, too. Previously, to get from one to the other you would have had to go through the main workshop. Now, that space is protected and can be a much calmer area.

Storage was a major consideration and much of the time in redesigning has been spent on creating storage where there was none before. The storage wall has been developed and will hold every last wire, connector, tripod and camera that is needed on the truck. In the studio space a new set of cupboards have been created and these are superior in every way to the previous ones.

Lastly, the main truck operates in two modes now – with three spaces as described, or with just two. The studio wall can be folded back to add to the main workshop space if necessary.

There are two other vehicles joining the tour this year. The first is a ‘Discovery’ space where visitors can drop in and sample some of the activities they

The Discovery vehicle concept drawing
The Discovery vehicle concept drawing

will be able to undertake in the main  workshops. This vehicle also houses the tour office but must fold up into a major storage unit for hauling the kit to each location. This has been one of the biggest challenges Рto provide an exciting and dynamic space for the young people and visitors, but to give as much storage for the tour paraphanalia as possible. I think we reached a suitable solution!

The third vehicle is an outreach van, which will visit schools and communities ahead of the main tour. It is a much smaller unit but has the capability to deliver as many workshops albeit for fewer numbers of people. The idea is for it to stir up the interest ahead of the main visit, and I think this will be a very busy bus indeed!

There are literally hundreds of other changes this year, far too many to list here for you. The flight cases that are now the main welcome desk (a great idea by Tony Kavanagh) and the new tables and chairs provided by MJF, the mood lighting, the rear projection windows… the technical infrastructure we have specified that should provide ample opportunity for creativity and much, much more!

The 'Advance' vehicle - a smaller truck for outreach work
The 'Advance' vehicle - a smaller truck for outreach work

You can get a feel for the space in these images, taken recently just as the last fit was being completed in White City:

http://homepage.mac.com/halgernon/BBC_Blast_2009/index.html

I hope that as the tour progresses many people will be able to enjoy and experience the BBC Blast programme. It’s a winner!

A month without? BBC Blast, NHS, BETT

Ever tried going a whole month without? I wasn’t consioulsy trying to, but I looked at the date and was suitably taken aback that it is nearly a whole month since the last time. That’s not quite a record, but it really doesn’t feel so good.

Of course, I am talking about blog posting.

Cleveratom has been a really busy place to be around of late, with many things going on that are simply taking huge amounts of time. This is all good, but it does mean there isn’t enough time left to do things like write blog posts.

So what’s been taking the time away?

First up, BBC Blast are recomissioning their wonderful touring entourage, and extending it somewhat too. The amazingly innovative truck and marquee are to be joined by a further space on each location (where it is possible to fit it in) and have an advanced vehicle visiting locations in advance. It will all make sense when you see it, even if it doesn’t right now, but suffice to say the project continues to go from strength to strength and should be an astonishingly brilliant tour in 2009 – 2011.

Next, the NHS are developing a professional networking solution that should complement and extend the learning management systems, and provide greater opportunities for dialogue between all of the various parts that make up the health care provision we all enjoy. Creating a robust solution that meets everybody’s needs is quite a challenge, but with many years experience to call on, and colleagues from our old university too, we feel confident of getting it into shape by the deadline of 5th December.

The BETT show is fast approaching and as ever Cleveratom will be there, this time partnering with City Cllege Norwich to develop an excellent stand space and provide a rich insight into what happens in the college ‘RUGroom’ space which we helped develop. This development has been exceptiionally successful in providing a rich and creative experience for all of the RUGroom students. We are considerably proud of the fact that our involvement in Norwich has been over such a long time, and that one of the outcomes has been a ‘Beacon Award’ for CCN. Can we now say that we have helped develop an award winning space? I’d like to think so! In the mean time we have to prepare the space for BETT, design the stand, arrange for the hire of the necessary kit, organise merchandising and leaflets and generally get it all into a viable project. We will be on stand U130 (and U120) in the New Technology zone where we will be showing products such as ‘Spoke’, ‘Thought Park’ and ‘Mobi Stick’… all wonderful creations! There is more information about these tools on the Cleveratom Website.

All in all these things take time to get right, and with three major pieces of work like this it is no surprise to find a distinct lack of blogging going on. As soon as there is enough of a space I’ll report about each of these projects in turn.

BBC Networked Identity, Science Museum, Serpentine gallery

From 19th to 23rd February The Networked identity week was running, which was a creativity week for young people aged 13-19, based at the Science Museum and later in the week the Serpentine Gallery. During this time I worked with a number of other people, including Christian Nold.

Christian has been developing his work with Biomapping – essentially a small device which measures your reaction to your environment (an emotional response), a little like a lie detector. Combine this with GPS data and you can make a really engaging activity out of walking around a location and mapping your responses to it as you go.

Rob Skitmore, assistant director at the Science museum also¬† gave us some time and worked with the group to make a simple telegraph device – from the ultra modern biomapping to a two hundred year-old communication device… but the participants all really enjoyed it!

Sophie Higgs was great, too – she worked with us at the Serpentine Gallery and showed us around the Karen Kilimnic exhibition. I was a little dubious of the reactions we would get to the work, but it was astonishingly good, and when Sophie explained some of the deeper meanings it really helped embed the experience with everyone. I certainly didn’t expect to respond to the art in the way I did, and it was an enjoyable moment or two for me! I would urge you all to visit Karen’s exhibition there and see what you make of it.

My thanks to Katy Holbird from the BBC, who was a pillar of support, but also to Sue Dewey and Chiara Hall, who worked tirelessly through their time at the event. Finally, thanks to matt and Alex who started the week off whilst I was at Gillingham! I’ll try to put some images together as a web gallery and publish them here as soon as I can.

Cleveratom at BETT, The BETT show 2007

matt demonstrating istopmotion at BETTLast week I worked for four days at the BETT show and helped run the Create at BETT feature stand at the top of the stairs in the National Hall, Olympia, London. It was probably the busiest BETT show I’ve known in the last five years, and a delight to be working on such a high profile stand.

A number of partners made this stand exist. Apple computers gave their support with Alan Bennett from Apple Education Europe on the stand each day to answer questions and talk about the education market for Apple. Nick from AT Computers provided a stunning range of kit for us all to use (thanks Nick – really good!) and John from Reflecmedia provided a state of the art chromatte station with live chroma keying happening direct into iMovie. BBC Blast helped establish the stand and Learning Central were there to talk about innovative work with the BCS.

Matt from Cleveratom organised a group of children from King Harold School to be on the stand for four days to run the equipment and talk to the visitors. As ever, King Harold School pupils were brilliant! Their enthusiasm, infectious energy and determination to succeed meant that the stand never had a dull moment. Many thanks to Malcolm Burnett for organising the group and being there with them, promoting both their activities and our new company!

The image shows Matt giving (yet another) impromptu demonstration to some of the many, many visitors. We used iStopmotion from Boinx software to run some stop frame animation activities.

Both the stop frame animations and the chroma keying were used to create instant podcasts on the stand. It never ceases to amaze us how complex some pieces of software would have you believe a podcast is… don’t be fooled! With relatively little skill and only simple software everyone can be podcasting at will. Email or phone us to find out how we can get you podcasting like a pro! We will happily run sessions in your place of work or school and show you exactly how easy it really is.

In addition to the Create at BETT stand, I was also working on the ‘Tomorrow’s Learners Today’ stand, organised by Stephen Heppell of Heppell.net and situated in the middle of the Grand Hall on the main floor. This was a brilliantly interesting stand with a continuous flow of speakers all talking about building schools for the future. Some amazing presentations from people including Stephen himself, I was available to answer questions from the audience to follow up on the content and get people talking more about how to use the BSF programme in their own school. More about BSF another time – BETT was huge, and a great success!

More images from the stand can be seen by CLICKING HERE. This should open a new window with a web gallery in it.