Sunday, 30 September 2012

20th Century Battlefields

The recent series on the BBC entitled "20th Century Battlefields" has been utterly fascinating.

Presented by John and Dan Snow, the series has covered key battles across the globe covered battles across the globe.

For BFTF, the most interesting feature of the series is the clear and concise way the presenters describe the battle, which is a change from some other progeammes. In particular, the programme uses innovative graphics that aim to give the viewer an understanding of the battle, instead of aiming to be as flashy as possible.

A couple of screenshots are shown below, from the episode on the Falklands, to give a feel for how well the graphics conveyed what was going on.

Graphics showing Harriers dropping cluster bombs on Argentinian artillery,
with Argentinian(blue) and British(Red) forces in the background

Graphics showing British(Red) forces during the attack on Mount Tumbledown,
making it really easy to understand what happened during the battle

A really good effort from the BBC, and exactly the kind of informative programme that BFTF likes to see.

So chuffed was BFTF this it sent an email to the BBC thanking them for the clarity of the production.

(Images captured from iplayer)

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Sunday, 16 September 2012

Moustafa Ismail and his biceps

BFTF has noted numerous articles in the press (for example, see here, here, here and here) about one "Moustafa Ismail" who has been recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as having the worlds largest biceps in the world. You can see just how large in the YouTube video below :

And indeed, they are of prodigious proportions.

But they look really weird, and are out of proportion to the rest of his arms and body.

Invariably, the comments sections of each articles if full of people commenting that far from being due exclusively to hard work, Mr Ismail's biceps are the result of injecting his upper arms with an oil such as "Synthol" which inflates their appearance, partly due to the inflammation that it causes. According to Wikipedia, these oils "can cause pulmonary embolisms, nerve damage, infections, stroke,and the formation of oil-filled granulomas, cysts or ulcers in the muscle."

BFTF wonders whether the REAL story here relates to the use of oil injections as a bodybuilding aid, and whether the Guinness Book of Records has checked to see whether Mr Ismail has achieved his impressive upper arm girth through natural means.

So BFTF has asked the Guinness Book of Records exactly that.

With astonishing swiftness, BFTF received a response from Guinness World Records pointing out that the record was for ‘largest upper arm circumference’ rather than the size of biceps or triceps, or how this size is achieved. And added that:
"Based on the feedback we have received from members of the public we are considering looking at this record category in different ways and to this extent we have commissioned specialist research on the subject."

So there you go.

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Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Olympics and Paralympics 2012

The 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics have been quite a ride!

Everyone will have taken their own memories away from the Olympiad, and BFTF is no exception, which are shown, somewhat self-indulgently, below :

REALLY HEARTWARMING - NHS at the opening ceremony
With the recent NHS reforms threatening to change the very nature of the NHS, an institution that BFTF (as a parent) values almost beyond measure, it was great to see the director of the opening ceremony, Danny Boyle, give the NHS such a starring role. You can see just HOW starring a role here. Certainly sent a message to the US audience!

REALLY EXUBERANT Nicola Adams and Jade Jones
BFTF was charmed by the sheer exuberance of two of Team GB's most ferocious Gold medallists, Nicola Adams (Flyweight Boxing Gold) and Jade Jones (Taekwondo, 57kg class Gold) on winning their competitions. Like Tiggers, they bounced around with megawatt grins on their faces as they celebrated their victories. BFTF wishes them many more years of success in punching and kicking, respectively, the living daylights out of their competitors.

REALLY CLOSE cycling finishes
Some of the velodrome Gold medals were won by the very thinnist of margins, such as this photo-finish in the Keirin that gave Sir Chris Hoy on of his Gold.

REALLY FAST Paralympic sprinting
The Ambulatory Paralympic sprint events were every bit as exciting as those in the "ordinary" Olympics and it was great to see that it was no longer a show dominated by Oscar Pistorius, with Jonnie Peacock dominating the T44 100m final to bring home the gold with a time of 10.90seconds.

BFTF hopes that the future sees Paralympic sprinters getting faster and faster until they are not just the fastest paralympians, but rather the fastest men (and women) on on the planet - full stop.

REALLY ENTERTAINING Paralympic Presenters
One unexpected aspect of the Paralympics was that it also gave paralympic TV presenters a change to get on the airwaves. Their uniformly professional and energetic performances genuinely left BFTF wondering why they were not more widely represented in TV generally.

Adam Hills, presenter of Channel Fours Paralympics related chat show, was a star previously unknown to BFTF- and it would be great to see him more often on TV.

You can find out more about the C4 Paralympic presenting team here.


The Special Olympics
>BBC Four once again fulfilled its role to inform and educate by recently broadcasting a programme about the "Special Olympics".

Part of the Olympic movement, but separate to the "ordinary" Olympics and the Paralympics, the Special Olympics is for athletes who have learning difficulties. The programme, titled "I Love Special Olympics" was narrated and directed by Thomas Leader and followed four people on their Special Olympics journey:

Hannah Dempsey, 24, has Downs Syndrome and is a gymnast and dancer who performed in the opening ceremony.

Oliver Everest, 19, who is autistic and blind in one eye - and is a Special Olympics Judo World Champion

Jonathan Frett, 45, suffered brain damage as a child due to measles - and is a medal-winning Ten-Pin Bowler

Tom Brownsword, 17, has aspergers, hates crowds and finds it difficult to mix in a team - yet won Bronze at the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens

Thomas narrated how the spectrum of disabilities for competitors at the Special Olympics can range from people who live everyday lives to those who require a lifetime of specialist support.

The programme was allowed to develop at its own pace, and really gave an insight into the Special Olympics movement and the feeling of the athletes - who work just as hard as other Olympians to reach their full potential.

One aspect of the programme that really tore at BFTF's heart was the story of Jonathan - his mother explained how she had used a borrowed pushchair once when visiting relatives - but what Jonathan's Mum didn't know was that this pushchair was being used for a child who had measles - which Jonathan then caught and which was the cause of his brain damage. Clearly feeling partly responsible (as any parent would - even though it was not at all her "fault") she commented that the effort she put into his Special Olympics competitions and training was her "repayment to him"

Lawrie Mcmenemy, president Special Olympics GB, commented that "When I got involved I thought it was the Paralympics and I soon learnt how big it is - in America it is bigger than the Paralympics"

And it was great to see "ordinary" Olympians such as gymnast Beth Tweddle, being part of the coaching team for the Special Olympics competitors.

Special Olympics GB formed in 1978 as part of the global Special Olympics Movement, and currently supports 135 Special Olympics clubs in Great Britain, run by over 2,800 volunteers, and involving 8,000 athletes.

The website gives some context for the movement by pointing out that there are an estimated 1.2 million people in Great Britain with a learning disability. A further 200 babies with learning disabilities are born each week.

And Special Olympics GB has high hopes, aiming, by 2013, to grow the programme from 8,000 to 20,000 athletes and from 2,800 to 6,500 volunteers.

This is part of a three-part series on the Olympics:
Comparison of Olypmpic and Paralympic Team Sizes
Olypmics and Paralympics 2012
The Special Olympics

Sent email to BBC thanking them for raising awarenesss of the Special Olympics by airing this programme and for the tone of the programme itself, which gave the time and space for people to tell their stories.


Watching the Paralympics opening ceremony I wondered what the size of a countries Paralympics team, compared to it's able-bodied Olympic team, said about the values of that country.

Perhaps having a relatively large paralympic team demonstrates that a country cares about ALL its citizens?

Perhaps, in contrast, having a relatively small paralympic team demonstrates that a country has a very narrow view of who has worth in the country

Interestingly, comparing the two numbers (paralympians vs olympians) for a country cuts through a lot of the variables like wealth, sporting tradition, conflict etc.

So BFTF took the top twenty(ish) counties (based on number of olympians sent), together with a few wild card entries that seemed interesting and worked out the numbers. ..

Here is the resulting graph.

Is interesting. No?


The African Boycott of the '76 Olympics
Having had a bit of a pop at the BBC over their sloppy reporting of the 2012 University Application statistics, BFTF is chuffed to be able to big-up the BBC over a programme that is screening on BBC4 even as I write this : "The World Against Apartheid".

The programme looks at the battle against Apartheid that was fought on the sporting fields of the world and is an absolute revelation.

One, frankly gobsmacking, story that was told related to Peter Hain, who was a prominent UK anti-apartheid activist in the 1970s. He was accused of robbing a branch of Barclays in 1974 but was aquitted, with his family claiming that he could not have left his house in time. Hain believes that the South African Bureau of State Security was responsible and that they had used a double to carry out the robbery. Hain wrote a book about his experiences called "The Putney Plot". You can read about the incident here and here.

And another event that BFTF has been unaware of occurred in 1976 and was focussed on New Zealand. . .

The 1972-75 Labour government had adopted a policy of blocking contacts with the South African Springboks rugby team. For a country where rugby is the major sport, this caused some division in society and the next election, in 1975 was won by the National Party, led by Robert Muldoon, who had campaigned on a policy of restoring sporting ties with Apartheid South Africa. In 1976, the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team undertook a tour of South Africa. This caused such outrage in Africa that 28 African counties boycotted the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal in protest at the presence of the New Zealand team at the event (South Africa had been banned from the Olympics since 1964).

If you were black, how angry would this make you?

The programme contained interviews with New Zealand sports correspondents at the '76 Games. They explained how they had been shocked to find that many of the black athletes at the Games had simply not wanted to speak to them becaues of the All Blacks tour. The correspondents had trouble understanding why anyone could think that the All Black tour was anything other than a wonderful sporting event! More info about the Sprinkboks in the 60s and 70s can be found here.

On the other hand, a BBC article states that the New Zealand Olympic Committee felt it was unfair to single them out as there had been 26 countries playing sport in South Africa that year.

As an aside, Austalia did not win a single gold medal at the '76 Games and threw such a collective wobbly at this failure that they set up the Australian Institute of Sport - which is one of the reasons they win so many gold medals now !

In more recent times, the All Blacks training has used out-of-the-box techniques such as this Marcel Marceau tribute routine

Image Source : All Blacks, Sign

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

WW1 from the Air

BFTF recent watched a fascinating programme on BBC called “WW1 from the Air”. It was was based around footage from an airship that travelled along much of the front line, just after hostilities had finished, filming the devastation below.

And “devastation” is the right word, with towns and villages having being reduced, in their entirety, to rubble by the remorseless artillery fire that was a characteristic of the conflict.

The presenter, Fergal Keane, did an excellent job of explaining how the introduction of aircraft into the war gave commanders - for the first time in history - an aerial view of the battlefield and allowed them to direct artillery fire and assess its effects.

Fergal also talked to experts about the conditions that the soldiers faced, painting a grim picture of life in the trenches.

If you read the BBC article about the programme you will notice that there is a picture at the top showing the effects of the artillery bombardment on the village of Passchendale, the image shows “before” and “after” shots of the same area, clearly showing that there was not a single square centimetre of ground that was not now part of a shell crater, and that there not so much as a garden shed had survived the assault intact. A similar image, this time from Wikipedia, is shown below. Note how both images are of the same area, oriented in the same way - so that the reader can quickly and easily compare features in the two images.

Passchendale - before and after shelling.
The white spots in the lower image are water filled shell holes
The reader can see how the the shell craters had become filled with water and it was this kind of mud and water-filled crater landscape that troops had to cross when attacking enemy lines.

Imagine it just for a second.

And then imagine being a soldier in those conditions for months at a time.

What’s with the pop video camerawork.
In contrast to the article, with it’s simple, clear image; the actual programme chose to show these key photographs held by a person, with a camera moving around, and reflections making it hard to see the detail, and only for a few seconds.

"Can you see the Church" - well, no I can't because your hand is in front of it.(Via iplayer)
In another section of the programme, the presenters wished to show how examination of aerial photography had allowed commanders to identify a hidden barracks and then target it with artillery. The presenters then showed the effects of the attack, not by placing the relevant image on screen but rather by displaying it on a wall, having someone stand in front of it and then zooming right up.

Lets inform the viewer by projecting an image onto a wall, zooming right in and then having a bloke stand in front. What could possibly be clearer? (Via iplayer)
It was hugely frustrating to see these important sections of the programme being directed as though they were a pop video.

Incredibly, during this section of the programme, the director chose to spend a lot more time showing the audience the presenters talking to each other than the actual images, as illustrated in the chart below:

Time (in seconds) spent looking at the images vs time spend looking at the presenters.
Of course, the opinion of BFTF is neither here not there, so BFTF took a quick straw poll of friends, family and work colleagues, asking them 5 questions about the Passchendale section of the programme. The questions, together with the possible answers are shown below. Most popular answers are shown in bold:

1) Overall, how do you feel about the audio commentary?
a) Good
b) Bad
c) Indifferent

2) Overall, how do you feel about the visual presentation?
a) Good b) Bad
c) Indifferent

3) Overall, how do you feel about the balance between the time the images were on screen and the time the “talking heads” were on screen?
a) Too much talking heads
b) Too much images
c) About right

4) Regarding the time the images of Passchendaele before and after the attack were on screen, do you think the images:
a) Were on screen too long
b) Were on screen not long enough
c) Were on screen for about the right time

5) Regarding the use of hand held photos and camerawork vs rigidly held photos and camerawork, would you :
a) Prefer hand-held
b) Prefer rigidly held
c) Don’t mind either way

BFTF has been here before:
Back in late 2011, BFTF was so frustrated by similarly "pop video" style camerawork in a science programme that it had contacted the BBC to complain, receiving the following response:

"Thank you for contacting us about ‘The Search for Life: the Drake Equation’ broadcast on BBC Four on 29 December. I understand you feel the camerawork made some of the detail in the programme hard to follow and the graphs should have been presented more clearly.

I am sorry you feel the camerawork was obscuring some detail. This was not an Open University programme where data is everything, while the dialogue did explain the overview of what the data meant. All programmes must strike a balance between content and presentational style and I am sorry you felt the style detracted from some of the detail.

I do understand you feel very strongly about this, so I’d like to assure you that I’ve registered your concerns on our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that's made available to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, programme makers, channel controllers and other senior managers.

The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions on future BBC programmes and content.

Image Source:

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