Monday, January 04, 2010

Led Strip Lighting Around Flat Screen TVs

Led Strip LightingThe Philips Ambilight LCD HDTV range have lights around the edges and on the back which claimed to reduce eye strain and make the colours look better. There are numerous online discussions of using Led Strip Lighting for a similar effect, including suggestions by Ikea with their DIODER lights. Most of these do not automatically adjust the light level and colour as Phillips claim to do. But the effect might also be useful for desktop LCD computer screens, with the lighting strips providing subtle and efficient lighting for a desk. The lighting strips are now commonly available.

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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Celtx screenwriting software for e-learning

Recently a friend in the mass media asked for advice on preparing documents for presentation to executive management. They asked if they should use Powerpoint or Microsoft word. But perhaps something like the Celtx free screenwriting software is needed. This might also be useful for conference presentations and e-learning.

Celtx is designed for writing plays for stage, screenplays for movies and TV, AV scripts and radio plays. It allows setting out who says what and what is seen and heard. It also allows the creation of an animated storyboard, which is used to give an idea of that the final production will be like. This is conceptually similar to an animated Powerpoint presentation: the software steps through still visuals with text and audio explaining what is happening.

Celtx has versioning and collaboration features using a central server, conceptually similar to the Integrated Content Environment (ICE) courseware tool. A seminar or lecture partly involves giving a performance, and so it might be interesting to consider how the techniques used for live performances might be applied to academia and education.

E-learning can include audio, animation or video. But much of the audiovisual material produced for education has low production values and looks clumsy when compared to professional multimedia the students will have seen. This is partly due to the limited funds and time available for producing education content. But it may also be because educators are not provided with tools or training needed for audio-visual production (I did a course at TAFE to make education videos). Perhaps tools like Celtx could be used and integrated into other e-learning tools.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Hollowmen Solid

The ABC TV's new satire "The Hollowmen" got off to a solid, but not that funny start. The series is about a fictional policy development unit in parliament house, working for the prime minister. This is Australia's equivalent of "Yes Minister", if not "The West Wing". The first episode was about development of a policy on obesity. The prime minister first announced that the government was going to do something and then the policy people had to quickly respond to give the impression there was a policy.

The point of view expressed in the show is much the same as Frontline, produced by the same crew and with some of the same actors: there are those who are cynically manipulating the system with no interest except what helps them, there are those who are largely clueless as to what is happening but have the communication skills to make it appear they know, and there are experts who care and do know what to do but are kept from doing it by their lack of ability to manipulate the system.

The show explores the power relationship between the people in Parliament House: the politicians, the party staff, advisers, media, lobbyists and public servants. The message seemed to be that the only way to stay in political power is to spend your time trying to stay in power, with the result you actually have little real power.

As a former public servant I have been on the edge of this process, having very occasionally visited parliament house and a few times having to be involved with ministers offices. My experience was not that shown in the show: the people working there were sincere and did concern themselves with the public good. They did take advice from public servants. But they did have to balance this against political issues. The public servants did have a high level of frustration, but were not as naive as portrayed in the show.

Later as an ex-public servant I have been involved in the political process, helping with policy on ICT and the internet. What I found most heartening, was when an issue was the politicians were willing to work together across party lines in the public interest. They genuinely wanted to know what to do. But they then needed to temper that with what would be politically and publicly acceptable.

One activity I was involved in with which might be seen as a cynical political exercise was the 2020 summit. The critics called this a talk fest, which it was, but was still of some use.

The level of cynicism expressed in the show kept me from enjoying much of the humor. I found the plot with the manipulation of an important public health hard to believe. However, I then heard a real news report about the opposition's policy on climate change, which is that they support carbon trading but not if it increases the price of petrol. Given that the purpose of carbon trading is to reduce carbon emissions from sources such as petrol by using price signals, this makes no sense in the real world. However, in the political world a policy which would cause the deaths of millions of people in the long term makes sense if it temporarily fools the voters into thinking you are doing something.

What will likely save the show is the level of authenticity: the sets look like the corridors and meeting rooms of the real parliament house. The characters look and sound like the people working there, to the point where at a casual glance it looks like a documentary. However, this may turn into an inside joke, with only those involved in this process enjoying the joke, at the expense of themselves and their colleagues, with the rest of use just confused as to what it is all about.

ps: Perhaps it is another inside joke, but the web site for the show, demonstrates a cynical disregard for the viewer, having some flashy animation and graphics, with very little actual content. The design of the site is so bad that it probably illegal. If this is intended to be a comment on government web sites, it misses the mark, with the Prime Minister and Cabinet web site being informative and well designed.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Calculating the Ditigal Dividend

The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy has issued a Request for Tender for a consultant to estimate the value of spectrum being freed up by the conversion of Australian TV to digital. However, you would be hard pressed to work that out from the language of the tender, which refers to the commercial value of the potential ‘digital dividend spectrum’.

The analysis being asked for is very limited, in that it only looks at the financial return the government would receive. The consultant is not asked to look at the contribution the spectrum could make to the Australian economy or its value to the community in terms of culture, education or improved health. Radio spectrum is one of those public goods, where it can be very difficult for a commercial entity to capture all of the financial benefits of its use. As a result the government will likely no allocate the spectrum to its best use if it uses financial return as the sole criterion for selecting the use for the spectrum. The value of services to the community which might be created should also be considered.

The Department requires a Consultant to undertake a desktop analysis to estimate the commercial value of the potential ‘digital dividend spectrum’ for a specified range of scenarios.

The analysis should use relevant international and Australian comparisons of value and circumstances, particularly the relevant policy environments relating to the major services that are likely to use the spectrum. Commercial value means the amount of money buyers may pay to purchase the spectrum when it becomes available.

The successful tenderer is to also undertake a desktop analysis of the financial return to the Australian Government of maintaining existing spectrum arrangements for the broadcasting services bands assuming a continuation of the present policy settings that govern the key uses of this spectrum. The analysis should use relevant data on current and projected broadcasting industry revenue to identify trends over time and any potential financial impact on Government revenue...

From: Digital Dividend Technical Consultancy - Stage 2, Section 59.1 "The Services", Statement of Requirement, Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Request for Tender DCON/08/64, 2-Jul-2008

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