(un) Acceptable spam

We all hate spam don’t we? Don’t we?

Just like all of the junk mail that drops through our letter box at home, the spam we receive in our email inbox and the spurious comments made on our blogs, fill us with a mild annoyance. 

The junk mail goes in the bin and the spam gets deleted – it’s just a short time out of our lives, but time with which we could very well be doing something more useful. Or, at the very least – time which the spam sender has stolen that we might otherwise count as ‘our time’.

But what about those emails we all get from the likes of Amazon (please rate your recent purchase) or Linked-In (such and such a ‘friend’ wants to ..)? They are spam too you know! Unlike (e.g.) Martin’s Money Tips and Tesco, I haven’t specifically asked Amazon or Linked-In to send me emails (often on a daily basis), their emails are uninvited.

However, I play the game by deleting about 50% of their emails and responding to the rest.

But no more!

Amazon recently asked me to rate an earlier purchase – fair enough. This would be one of the latter 50%, where I played the ‘social’ game. I was asked to tick a ‘star’ list on the email and instead of just accepting my choices there and then it took me off to a page on the Amazon web site. Here there were a series of questions to be star-scored 1-5: Again, fair enough.

But then there was also a comment box and it wouldn’t let me leave the page without making a comment. Being fair for the final time: I didn’t want to leave a comment, that would be a minute of my time too much – and at the end of the day, given that I’d given each of the previous four questions a (5) = ‘brilliant’, it would only be blowing more smoke up the vendor’s arse – which I have no wish to do. They, the vendors, don’t really concern me that much – they are shopkeepers, no more than that, I don’t write to W.H.Smith (M&S, Boots, Poundland etc.) and tell them they are wonderful – why should I do that for someone who sells me stuff through Amazon.

Linked-In are always sending emails telling me that such and such a person wants me to be their friend – but then when I click yes I’m taken to the web site where another five minutes of my time is wasted trying to see the relevance of the aforesaid email. STOP. I’ll visit the site and tidy up my contacts etc. when I feel like it!

And finally, when did the science behind advertising change from; ‘annoy the customer and they will not buy’ – to – ‘annoy the customer and they are sure to buy’? 

Why do the web robots think that because you searched for something back in 2011, bought that thing, did that thing and blogged about it in 2012, that you might never have heard of it? The Coeur de France is all over my laptop like a rash! Everything I open on the ‘net has an advert for them. STOP, I’ve been.  The same with Amazon (again), why do they advertise (via spam emails) the same thing I bought last week, as if I’d never seen it/them? STOP.

(oh and I’m now getting adverts for Gites in France that I’ve already seen – )

Picture credit (Tin of Spam) – http://www.flickr.com/photos/ajc1/519906069/ [Thanks for using creative commons]


Stop Motion Animation

This week, I created my first stop-motion animation. I’m really proud of my end product despite the fact that it only runs for 8 seconds and that it took me over three hours to make.  My real reward was that the (salutary) learning curve was fun, rewarding and worthwhile.

The reason for it taking this length of time to create can be attributed to my cocky incompetence. In my eagerness to complete the task I completely disregarded all the rules of planning, storyboarding and good practice. Here’s the animation – then let me explain

I’d been asked to deliver someone else’s PowerPoint presentation entitled ‘New Technology in the Classroom’ to groups of school teachers in Salford: Five repeated one-hour sessions. One of those technologies was ‘animation’. As I’ve demonstrated examples of stop-motion in workshops before and I do get the theory behind it, I didn’t feel that there would be a problem doing the same thing again. However, because the presentation was very much based on what my employer for that day (RM) was offering to this particular school I felt the need to take a little ownership of the slideshow and decided that I would also further my own CPD at the same time: I would make my own animation to show the teachers. So far so good.

I quickly decided that the subject matter wasn’t important and that it would be the process that counted. I fetched my Panasonic Lumix TZ10 (camera) from my backpack, selected a few tools on my desktop (my real desktop – not the computer desktop), turned on all my lights and set to work. I took the photos (the snaps) and decided to make the animation on iMovie. What could be hard about that?

Take-1 reflection: Putting theory into practice isn’t as straightforward as it seems. First of all: lighting – I turned on my two desk lamps and my ceiling light (in my eyrie, the ceiling is less than 4” above my head and way behind me) and I felt confident that the light would be ok. It wasn’t, but I’ll come back to this. The next problem was the way I held the camera – which was the problem – I HELD THE CAMERA. As I moved each item (actor?) on my stage I also inadvertently moved the camera so the resulting snaps were taken from different angles. Those were the two main problems with Take-1, although I also had to overcome iMovie’s default 4-second timing for individual images too.

I went and retrieved my camera tripod from the boot of my car, where it had been since the last lot of Pathfinder videos I managed to film for RSC-YH. I set up my camera on this and planned what each of my actors would do on stage. The rudimentary beginnings of a ‘story’board can be seen here. However, this was another failed attempt!

Take-2 reflection: I was taking 20-30 photographs at a time and moving my actors around 1-2 centimetres for each shot. Then, when I’d loaded the photos into iMovie and repeated my changes to the default image timing I played it back and found the camera angles were still changing. I’d reduced the default image time to 0.4secs so the 20-30 images would make a movie/animation of around 8-12 seconds. But it was still rubbish. Back to the drawing board.

I double checked the tripod and I checked all the camera settings to make sure that the photos were getting as much light as possible, that the flash wasn’t working (flash throws shadows) and that it was set on manual. I even planned a more believable ‘story’.

Take-3 reflection: I’d realised by now that I should have planned this better and earlier. The resulting iMovie animation was no better than the previous two and I was left scratching my head.

So, why did Take-4 work (at least) as well as it did?

  • I’d investigated iMovie’s defaults a little further and realised that it puts a Burns Effect onto each image! Doh – that’s why the camera angles on Take-2 and Take-3 were so erratic. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_Burns_effect I had to highlight all of the snaps and make sure that they had no attributes added to them by iMovie. 0.4secs seemed to be a good length of time though.
  • I’d moved things around on the desktop so that the light was pretty even (again, I’ll come back to this).
  • By now, I’d actually scripted an activity where the pot cat would chase a startled computer mouse from the desk mat. Similarly startled pens would also run away in the background.
  • I didn’t plan to take 20 snaps, but that’s what turned out.

I am probably lucky that the distance moved between each shot was about right and the ‘jumps’ between frames are not too big.  The end product is a bit short (20 frames @ 0.4 seconds each has turned out to be 8 seconds) but good enough for a first publication 🙂


I said that I’d come back to lighting. If you watch the animation you’ll see light coming and going from the top left of the screen – the laptop! Well, that was something I’d overlooked. The mouse (actor) was a Gyro-mouse and I’d neglected to remove the receiver from the laptop. Therefore, every time I moved the mouse, something changed on the laptop screen – which was half closed and which I therefore didn’t notice until the final product was rendered.

Also, because I had (what I now realise was) too little light, different shadows were thrown each time I moved an actor. This doesn’t distress my clip too much, but it might be an important consideration for others making animations.

Then of course, I looked at the product being supported by RM in the school: I Can Animate. This does all the hard work for you! Grrrr. Thanks too to James Clay for introducing me to iMotion for iPad and iPhone.