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The coming weekend sees the return of Maker Faire to Newcastle. SciCast will be there running a stand, making films and trying not to trip people up with tripods and lighting stands, but last weekend we filmed another group’s preparations:
Of course, in our book cardboard and wood are engineering materials. While this particular film is rather too long to count for SciCast (not to mention that entering our own competition is probably against the rules, or something), we’d just love it if someone submitted a film of a game like this.
Meanwhile: see you in Newcastle this weekend?
A new climate survey began last week and everyone in the UK is invited to take part. There’s a list of four things you can do to help:
- Look out for aircraft trails (contrails)
- Watch cloud movement to record wind direction
- Record how hot or cold you feel, and
- Blow bubbles to measure wind speed and direction near the ground.
Yes, you’ve read number four correctly: blow bubbles. You don’t even have to buy a bubble blowing kit — just watch this video from Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) and learn how to make your own bubble blower cone using only a couple of sheets of paper:
OK, fun and easy, but… why? It’s not as loopy as it sounds — if you blow bubbles outdoors, the way they move can help you determine airflow patterns and speed close to the ground. The meteorologists at the Met Office and the Royal Meteorological Society have written a well-illustrated field guide to show you what to do, and explain what they hope to learn from the data you and thousands of others submit.
Also: lovely idea for a film, no?
One of the things I never managed to bring into the How2 studio was a rubber-powered free-flight model aeroplane. They’re amazing things: gossamer-light, profoundly fragile, yet flying slower than seems remotely possible.
Float is a documentary film that’s in production, but while we’re waiting for it — grab yourself some plans, make a simplified version of one of these models, and put together a SciCast film of your triumphs and disasters. There might be other plans out there too — I found the ones at that link after just a few minutes’ Googling.
Jaded old coot that I am, I don’t often see demonstrations that are new to me. So this film has made my day. Things I think could be better:
- Clamp or at least brace a (probably rather slow) power drill. I think the movement of the centre of rotation rather spoils the effect, or at least clouds the argument.
- A long-exposure photograph should show very lovely trails, which might make it easier to see that the sparks are moving radially (plus or minus a little momentum as they’re ejected from the sparkler). Even better if you can arrange everything vertically.
Sounds like a wonderful idea for a beautiful and useful SciCast film. We’re too good to you.
Obviously: burning things, so schools will want to complete a risk assessment and at home you’ll want to keep anything flammable well away, even with ‘indoor’ sparklers. Eye protection would be a good idea. Think carefully about other things we may not have caught here.
I’ve been watching some of the BBC’s College of Production material, looking for things that might be useful for SciCast film-makers. It’s a bit tricky to ferret out, though, as they’re still struggling a little with what tone and level to pick — their films tend to use quite proper jargon, but cover material that you probably know already if you understand the language they’re using. Odd.
I did like this, however, which illustrates a range of angles that you might take of, say, somebody doing an experiment on a lab bench:
Ignore any bits of the voice-over that don’t make sense, and have a think about how working like this might affect the film you’re making. Chances are you don’t need to get this technical for SciCast, but sometimes knowing what’s possible and how to think can either solve a problem for you, or add that little extra something that lifts your film above the competition.
We won’t post notice of every new film to the blog, but this one’s a bit special — an animated rat dissection. We receive relatively few biology films, so one of this standard is all the more welcome. It’s informative, entertaining, and short, so it has the SciCast rules covered, then.
Animated Rat Dissection. No rats were harmed during the making of this film.
Iain travels to the Naica Cave in Mexico, where he and his crew battle 50°C temperatures and 100% humidity to bring remarkable footage of the world’s largest crystals, in a deep underground cavern. It’s phenomenal stuff.
[update 20th Jan: 3.5 million viewers! The highest figures for a science programme on BBC2 in four years, according to the Guardian. Fantastic news — congratulations Iain!]
“What camera should I buy?” is just about the most common question I get asked by prospective SciCast film-makers. My usual reply is “What have you got already?” — most people, it seems, have a mobile phone that can record video, or a stills camera that has a video mode, or a mate who has a video camera, or there’s something stashed away in the back of the cupboard in school, or…
When people actually want an answer, however, things get trickier. Broadly, you get what you pay for. We’ve some basic notes on the main SciCast site to get you started, but it’s hard to know what you’re actually getting for your money.
Enter the BBC. Springwatch last week featured an excellent story with a pair of teenage brothers who are keen wildlife cameramen. It’s a lovely piece, but it’s also interesting (and useful) since it sets footage from their cameras alongside professional equipment. The brothers are using cheap-and-cheerful Sony miniDV cameras, and the footage from them looks rather flat and blurry, and somewhat purple-edged, next to the shots from the ‘proper’ camera.
But you know what? Once the clips are compressed down to web video quality, it doesn’t make anything like as much difference as you might expect. Having a good eye is more important than having the ‘best’ camera gear.
Don’t believe me? You’ve three more days to catch the film on iPlayer. It starts about 24 minutes in.