Friday, December 28, 2012

Bonnie and the crow

This was one of those serendipitous videos that I could just throw together and upload as sort of bonus extra. My wife shouted at me to “look at this”, which normally means I’ve done something really stupid. In fact, Bonnie was being teased by a pair of crows.

Bonnie, for her part, was just trying to catch a vole she’d failed to liquidate a couple of hours previously. The crows, though, decided to have a little fun with her. By the time I’d got the camera and started filming, one of the crows had already flown off; but the other was milking this for all it was worth.

What’s interesting here is the body language, as two very intelligent creatures try to outwit each other. The crow knows exactly what he’s doing and stays just out of lunging range: you can see him bracing himself when it looks as if Bonnie is about to attack. Bonnie, for her part, very quickly cottons on to that and tries to launch a surprise attack: nearly impossible in an open meadow, but she gives it her best shot. She pretends to be disinterested, and then she pounces. Right at the end, she walks up to the tree the crow has just flown into as nonchelantly as she can. It doesn’t help.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

And what a year that was

As you can probably tell by the frequency of my posts here of late, maintaining an online presence takes a lot of time and effort, and I really need to do better. However, I have an excuse: I was busy building, and then moving into, a new house; a process which, in this country, takes about a year.

The trouble — or part of the trouble — is that not only are there so many different places on the web you need to be active, but they’re constantly changing. A few short years ago, MySpace was the site everyone had to be on. MySpace was then eclipsed by Facebook, and Facebook in turn is being challenged by Google+; each performing approximately, but not exactly, the same sort of service. Around the edges other things pop up and either grow (Twitter), get bought up (Instagram) or vanish (DailyBooth).

As it is, I find myself switching around between YouTube, Twitter, Google+, Facebook and, of course, Blogger. Of course, some of these services can share things with each other, although that doesn’t always make things easier. I don’t let YouTube automatically send tweets, because the tweets always turn up in German (a language most of my followers don’t understand). On the other hand, Twitter will post tweets to my Facebook profile, but not to my Google+ profile; Blogger will share with Google+, but... Well, you get the picture.

It’s a bit of a mess, which takes quite a bit of sorting out. And one of the benefits of not being active so much recently is that I have had the chance to take stock and try to work out what I want to do with all these different platforms.

My YouTube channel, of course, is for video uploads. And I think my relatively recent idea, to concentrate on videos specifically about Germany and life in Germany for the benefit of non-Germans, was probably the right one. I’m thinking of refining it a little further, and giving people a feeling for the village I live in: a more... intimate insight, I suppose, enabling you to get to know the village in its own right. I already have a few ideas about this: we’ll have to see how it goes. This won’t be to the detriment of videos about other places — my “Destination” series, for example, has had a bit of a hiatus not because I’ve retired it (I haven’t), but because this year I simply haven’t had time to go anywhere.

I feel I should make better use of Twitter, with more updates on what’s going on around me. I don’t want to be one of those bores who tweets about every inane thought that pops into his head and every little chore he’s doing, but something to hold interest and enlighten or entertain in 140 characters should be doable, even for me.

My Facebook profile is for more private contacts, for keeping in touch with people I actually know. For networking with my audience, my platform of choice at this point is Google+ — don’t take this the wrong way, but having a Twitter-like system where people can follow you without you having to follow them back makes Google+ a far better platform than Facebook for this kind of thing. I’m still not sure exactly what shape this networking will take, or what I’m actually going to post to my profile, but I’m sure that will crystallize in due course.

I have recently started one of those new-fangled Google+ Communities called Germany for non-Germans: it’s a place where Germans, foreign residents in Germany and people expecting to visit or live in Germany can swap help, advice and tips. There are several Facebook Groups doing the same, mostly for military, but as far as I can tell, mine is the first Google+ Community doing this. It’s had a surprisingly good response so far, given that it has only just got started.

And finally this blog. I think that what I’ve been using it for so far — from video production notes to thoughts on current affairs — is right, but I obviously need to do it more often. In keeping with the whole “rewboss” theme, I ought really concentrate on things relating to Germany, but I feel I can be more flexible. For example, I probably could have said something about the Sandy Hook shootings and gun violence in the US in general, comparing it to the situation in Germany and seeing what light that can shed on the issue (Germany has had several very bad school shootings in the past, for example).

In any case, I hope to be able to improve and expand on my online presence from now on. Not having to spend every weekend plastering and painting is going to be a big help, there. If I were the type to make New Year’s resolutions, this would be it: but I’m not, so it isn’t.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The art of dull

One thing I’ve come to realise over the years is that even things that are boring are, in fact, interesting. The very fact of their boringness is a point of interest, which is nothing if not paradoxical.

To be sure, the village depicted in this video is very small, and there’s no budget for municipal decorations. The locals do what they can, but they can’t do a great deal. And of course, it’s really the weather that makes everything seem drab; a week ago, with all the snow lying around, it actually looked quite fetching.

Still, cue a video poking gentle fun at the lack of obvious Christmas spirit, always with the caveat that people here know how to have fun, and inside their apartments and houses they have lots of tasteful (or not so tasteful) decorations.

More interesting from the filming perspective is that for the opening to-camera bit, the lighting looks pretty good, and this is because I now have a second floodlight. What you’re looking at in those first forty seconds or so is thanks to eight hundred watts of halogen power. One light is fairly close to me, to my left (the camera’s right), while the second is a little further away, almost level with the camera.

There is also a reason why I insisted that my office be painted white, even though doing so made me snow-blind. One of the things you have to do when taking this kind of video is to set the white balance. Halogen light may look almost white to the human eye, but to a camera it’s yellow: white balance corrects for this so that the video looks closer to what the eye perceives. Automatic white balance simply isn’t up to this particular task, so it has to be set manually, by pointing the camera at something white — in this case, a wall. (Well, it’s not the only reason I wanted them white, but it’s a good one.)

Having Bonnie in the background was an unexpected bonus. I’d already done several takes when she jumped up onto by desk, and I liked the image so I did one more take. And that’s the take in this video.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Light, camera, action!

In order to at least keep my YouTube channel from falling into a coma, I have uploaded yet another vlog. It does, though, contain some footage from the little village I have now moved to, as well as some almost-fancy lighting.

“Almost-fancy lighting” means a single halogen floodlight, of the sort used when painting indoors on gloomy days. Which is indeed what we did use, and now it’s being pressed into service as studio lighting.

Ideally, I’d need two of these: one as the main “key” light, the other, slightly further away, as a “fill” light. Eventually, once I have my studio set up, I’ll need two more to light the greenscreen evenly.

The reason you can’t usually use only one light is that it throws very sharp shadows: half of your face is brightly lit, the other half almost completely black. But it is just about possible if you point the light at the ceiling, which then acts as a reflector, giving you a much more diffuse (but dimmer) light. It’s not perfect, but for now it will do.

It is, though, just enough to allow me to sit in front of a window. Without any light at all, one of two things would have happpened: either you would have seen out of the window in perfect clarity while I remained a silhouette, or you would have seen me against a way-too-bright background. Using bright artificial lighting, I can let you see my face and the scenery at the same time.