“No legal restriction on taking photographs in public places”

So says Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary. But, there is a big but.

See Spyblog, the BJP  and The Register. (Don’t miss the El Reg article comments).

Meanwhile, the Plod demonstrate why they are in need on guidance. Schoolboy terrorists in Cheam, Middlesborough Jobsworths, snapping Letitia, Curly in Shields and harrassing the press.

Today is Halloween and the inevitable Trick or Treaters. Children, enjoy it while you can, because by next year, you may only be allowed to knock on doors that have a large Tick sticker on the door, showing that the householders have been approved by the Criminal Records Board for young persons interaction. Also, on no account take photographs of the people who come whether tricking or treating.

The way things are going in Britain, soon the only place you will be able to take photos without getting treated with suspicion is in Second Life.

Speaking of which, here is a delightful photo of the Wicked Witch of the Great White North. Apparently Halloween is big over there. 

Shouldn’t you have a crooked pointy nose & warts? You look cuter than Mrs. Shrek here!

South Lakes Wild Animal Park

This is a small zoo in the Lake District, visited by Karen and David yesterday, along with David’s Cousin. (I was at work!)

Ring tailed Lemurs had the run of the park and the strapline for the place is the ultimate interactive animal experience as you could do lots of close-up stuff like feed the giraffes. It was a cold day however and the taps in the toilets were cold, as were the hot air hand driers. Kids in halloween dress or with a Jack o’ lantern could get in for free so David had scooped out a pumpkin a couple of days before.

Flickering Shadows

Somewhere in the house, I have a rather poor set of disposable camera shots taken on my trip to Salalah in Oman mentioned yesterday. It is an oasis in the middle of the desert and a lasting memory is of long palm tree lined roads complete with occasional roadside tables selling fruit & coconuts, also complete with small guys & large machetes. (To hew open the coconuts!)

So, how do you commission a projector? You unpack it and assemble it in-situ, fitting the various belts and pulleys then finally filling the mechanism with the oil supplied. Even though the machine had been in long term storage, it had been well enough packed and protected that little more than a dusting was required. As projectors tend to be in projection boxes at the back of the cinema high above the audience, the assembly needs to be tilted so that the optical alignment is centred on the screen. The Victoria 5 model has an adjustable angle lamphouse and the pedestal has height adjustable feet for fine tuning. The next bit of advice was to wire it up temporarily and get the Xenon lamp working. The lamps are mounted axially, with the large rear reflector focussed onto the light source so as to deliver a near-parallel high intensity light beam through the projector gate. I was told to leave the lenses out of the turret for the initial setup and when I eventually got the unit fired up and turning, the reason for the advice became apparent, as I now had a picture of the innards of the lamphouse shown on the screen and it was a straight-forward job to align the central hot spot in the middle of the screen.

Did I say straight-forward? Well, there was the small problem of there not being any projector ports, there being a decorative timber wall at the front of the box. (There was a large opening in the concrete on the other side). Fortunately, I had been assigned a team of Indian technicians to implement the project and these guys were top rate. Not only were they electricians but carpenters as well. On requesting some furniture for the lighting desk, they asked me the best size then they made it from scratch, including staining and sealing to a quality finish.

So, “where should we cut the hole Sir?” resulted in my outlining a small rectangle on the wall at lens height, along with another viewing port above. Then, when we actually turned the thing on and tried to centre the beam, we found that the tilt adjustment was insufficient on the projector without bricks under the back (& we had to skim a bit more off the bottom edge of the hole & the beam was catching on the concrete sill). At this point I got hold of a section plan and calculated the actual tilt required then specified a plinth pre-tilted so that the projector sat with its feet mostly retracted and the lamphouse adjustment was mid-range. The Indians obliged by knocking up a reinforced concrete plinth and I worked on something else whilst the concrete set and cured.

A couple of days later, we were ready to mount the projector properly, fit the lenses and lace up the film. This was an interesting moment for me, as the last time I had laced up a 35mm projector had been as a schoolboy at the Newcastle Odeon (and my efforts had been carefully checked afterwards by the projectionist as it was easy to get it wrong). The cardinal rule I had been taught was that the film never touched the floor as that resulted in scratches. (Not that it mattered too much for a gash reel of Kismet!) Eventually I was satisfied that we could start up the machine and I was delighted when I opened the douser and moving pictures appeared on the “sheet”, even though the characters looked short and wide because it was a Cinemascope film and we were using the Widescreen lens. That was when we worked out that the screen masking was set wrongly, it could close completely but didn’t open wide enough. (This required a re-roping of the masking drum motor and the Chief was rather annoyed that the could no longer fully close off the masking because the drum wasn’t big enough to allow for the entire travel of the side masking). After we had adjusted it the masking did go small enough for a square picture which was fine for slides and of course the entire screen could be readily raised into the grid to give a clear stage if required. 

For the precision alignment, a 20 minute reel was a bit on the short side, so I spliced up an endless loop of film that could be ran continuously through the projector. For this, I had to do my first ever tape splice using the splicing machine supplied. I was pleased to find that this was as easy as it looked when i had seen other projectionists do it. (For my schoolboy training, we had to use film cement and it required careful preparation with a razor blade as well as the loss of a frame every time you did a splice. The film loop also came in handy for when we got the optical sound working and worked out the best settings for the PA system.

Once the projector was handed over, I then found what they intended to use it for- censoring films. I then met the Salalah projectionist from the local flea pit who was an Omani (surprisingly, because most of the practical jobs were by guest workers, but there again, being a projectionist is often a calling). He told me that it was a blessing not having to change the carbon rods here which was a hot, dirty job back at his own cinema. (It was, I could remember doing it as a schoolboy myself). Despite not having seen a Cinemeccanica projector before, he had no problem at all lacing it up, although he was a little puzzled which takeup spool to use. (The version we had used two larger 2 hour spools side by side on the plinth as well as 1 hour spools above and below).

The actual censoring was rather peculiar- three locals turned up and sat in the middle of the stalls whilst the various spools were shown with a short break for relacing every twenty minutes. They didn’t ring a bell in the style of the priest in Cinema Paradiso, but simply conferred after each reel. The film was some form of Bollywood movie and I was pleased to see it fully fill the screen, although the jury-rigged aperture plate vibrated itself back into position exposing the sound track until the projectionist jammed some film leader in to stop it moving. (this eventually started smouldering, as aperture plates get very hot!)

Large screens

I spent a few minutes browsing in Currys White Rose on Saturday, waiting for Karen to return from the Opticians. The back third of the store was given over to large screen TVs and it was interesting to note the subtle variations in picture between the models. All of the sets were flat screen and some were very large indeed. It seems that black is the new black at present as far as styling goes, but one set broke the mould. Instead of a black frame surrounding the screen, it had a back-lit white border. At first this struck me as a bit silly, but as the picture changed, I suddenly realised that the surround was mimicking the picture in colour and intensity.

At £2,299 I’m certainly not going to pay such a premium for a fancy telly and the idea still strikes me as a bit odd, as it flies in the face of cinematic experience. When you go to the pictures you want the Cinema itself to disappear as it intrudes into the fantasy world if you become overly aware of the surroundings. If I want a fuzzy picture round the edge of the screen I’d simply go to a Cinema chain with low presentation values, which regrettably these days is most of them.

Philips, however, think that the immersive lighting effects enhance the experience and this is the fourth generation of the Ambilight system. What I didn’t realise was that as well as lighting the screen surround, the set also skim lights the wall on all four sides with colour and intensity to match the picture.

I once commissioned a theatre in the Middle East and the equipment had actually been delivered several years previously. However, when Ian Hume, the Service manager went out there the first time he was very surprised to find the building only partially finished and open to the elements.

The theatre was in a place called Salalah, an oasis city in Oman. It was attached to a substantial museum and the Contractors were now in a position to get us to go back to commission the equipment, train the users and hand over the systems.

I dug out the file. The project was extensive- an extensive lighting rig, lighting bars, dimmers, a large control desk, a 35mm projector, an induction loop and a simultaneous translation system. I arranged to spend a day down at Sound Associates, the Company who had supplied the projector, a Cinemeccanica Victoria 5. Now I knew how to operate cinema projectors, but I didn’t know the subtleties of installing one. They made it very straight forward and graciously gave me a spare reel of film to use to set up the machine, the 1987 Ishtar. (Had I taken a reel of film into other Gulf States, I would probably have been detained, but the customs at Muscat was rather cursory).

Now something every large projector has is something called an aperture plate. This has a rectangular hole somewhat smaller than the image area of a 35mm picture image. Part of the commissioning is to file this hole so that the image fills the screen as much as possible but the fuzzy edges are concealed by the black masking round the edges. The trouble in Salalah was that one of the lenses supplied was the wrong sort- it filled the lens turret hole rather than fitting into an eccentric collar so that the sideways movement could be adjusted. The consequence of this was that Cinemascope movies also showed the soundtrack down the side of the screen, unless you pulled the aperture plate slightly out of its mounting clip. (Widescreen films were fine).

Just in case you have never seen what 35mm film looks like here is a sample. I used to have a small collection of random frames but they have been lost or passed on to collectors now.

Pomp and Circumstance

We had a family trip to the Morley Proms Concert on Saturday night. In some ways it was a bit amateurish as some of the musicians were still arriving five minutes before the show was due and the dignitaries were ushered in after the orchestra had started, very unprofessional in my book as they were sitting in the front row.

The flags were certainly out in the hall but St. George ones mostly with only a smattering of Union Flags. The Legion people had St. George flags on sale and we also brought a Union Flag from home.

Downstairs was somewhat empty, although the balcony was busy. Even the great and the good in the posh seats were a bit thin on the ground, lots of Councillors being absent.

There were 56 musicians listed in the programme, however, I worked out that there were about fourty squashed onto the platform, more a Chamber Orchestra size. It was the West Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra (WYSO) and I was bemused to see the strapline in the programme promoting equality and diversity in classical music. (Chasing PC grant aid, perhaps?)

One thing that the programme did NOT say was that this an amateur orchestra– this totally changed my perception of the event on reading this afterwards on Sunday. This is because I thought they were very good for amateurs but rather ordinary for professionals. Some music they played very well, others they didn’t quite carry off quite so well because they weren’t big enough or some of the musicians weren’t quite polished enough. The strings were generally fine (often a weak point in lesser orchestras, although I felt that the #1 violinist solo was lacking in timbre) but the brass wasn’t always smooth enough and they didn’t have enough percussion on occasions. The orchestra was well conducted (by two conductors, one in each half) although it sometimes felt that the orchestra weren’t always following him and his baton work was sometimes more controlled and subtle than the musical output.

(I didn’t realise that I was quite so perceptive about the quality of orchestras but all of those “Classical Spectaculars” must have rubbed off, along with the TV series of Maestro!)

The first half featured several pieces from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro along with his Symphony No. 40 first movement, Vaughan Williams’ English Folk song suite (Seventeen come Sunday), Puccini’s O Mia Babino Caro and Souza’s Stars & Stripes forever, finishing off with an extract from the 1812 Overture. When I saw this on the programme I suspected that they would not be able to do it justice and I was right, they struggled a little and it wasn’t a rich enough sound. It was also distinctly lacking in explosions…

The interval was muddled somewhat by some non-existent refreshments being announced. It also became apparent that many of the audience were friends and family of the musicians so the Morleian turnout was even lower than I initially thought. I was hoping that the dignitaries would make a late entrance again but they were in their seats early this time- shame really, as there would have been an irony in their entrance, the first piece being Sousa’s Liberty Bell, better known as the Monty Python theme tune!

Most of the pieces in the second half were standard last night of the Proms stuff, although the two soloists were able to excel with Delibes’ Flower Duet, the so-called British Airways advert tune.

When it came to the patriotic stuff the enforced jollity was a little contrived and there weren’t exactly a sea of flags waving in the air. It was still good fun though. Here is a shot of the orchestra in action and a brief footage of Rule Britannia. (Apologies for the focus & colour temperature, the Kodak makes a very mediocre Camcorder).

Christmas Concert
 13th December at 7.00 in Morley Town hall. The music includes Swan Lake and 1812 Overture as well as Christmas Carols featuring the choirs of local schools. Inkeeping with the music there will be an soldiers and faries fancy dress competition for young audience members.

We’ll be there. Karen suggested I offer to do the bangs but 16 hydrogen filled balloons along the front of the stage would be asking for trouble…