Crowdfunded documentaries

I’m aware that my blog has evolved… these days most of the posts are about transport, reflecting my current interests.

I wonder if this is a bit dull for those who have been on the old Toxic Custard mailing list, which is the descendant of the humour-based email list I started while at uni.

Yet transport posts get by far the largest number of comments. Hmmmm.

Here’s a post to mix it up a bit.

Crowdfunded documentaries

Last year I helped crowdfund two documentaries:

Bedrooms To Billions — the story of the beginnings of the computer game industry, from the perspective of UK developers. In the 80s, the first games were written by schoolboy (mostly boy) coders with cheap computers in their bedrooms, manually copying tapes and sending them out by post. I was in that age group, and tried to write my own games too…

I knew much of the story, but the extensive interviews with those involved at the time made this really interesting, especially the first half or so.

I probably got a bit carried away: I contributed enough money that you’ll find my name in tiny writing in the credits somewhere.

Well worth a look if you’re into retro gaming.Thumbs up!

The Outer Circle — Melbourne’s forgotten railway — many would know that the Alamein line and linear parks and bike paths are all that’s left of a line which once ran from Fairfield via Camberwell to Oakleigh.

This documentary manages to have a lot of detail in it, without ever being dull, and has some terrific accounts from actual users of the line, as well as archival footage and photos. I for one had no idea that John Monash built the line. Well worth catching.Thumbs up!

I’m pretty happy my contributions helped these two get made.

I’ve since donated to the sequel to Bedrooms To Billions, and I’ll be on the lookout to see what others get proposed which are worth a look.

Back in the mid-70s when Monty Python was developing The Life Of Brian, they got a sizeable contribution of funds from George Harrison, because he “wanted to see the movie”. That’s not an option most film makers have, of course.

Crowdfunding is something that has probably only become practical since the spread of the internet. The long tail of interests means a special interest group like this can reach the numbers of people necessary to make it viable.

It’s nice to see technology being used in this kind of way — something that would have seemed unimaginable just a decade or two ago.

Photos from March 2005

In my continuing quest to post ten year old photos, I went looking for good stuff from March 2005. There isn’t much of interest, alas.

It was the month that the new revamped rebooted Doctor Who started — on 26th March 2005 — and I did find this photo of Jeremy — not watching from behind the sofa per se, but close to it.
Doctor Who - watching from behind the sofa... almost

Oh, here’s an (official?) tenth anniversary video:

Small eggs — I think this was on a walk with Marita’s dog at Altona Beach. Any idea what type of bird laid these?
Small eggs near the beach

Finally, I have no idea why I did this, or why I filmed it: shaking up a bottle of Coke in the laundry, and seeing what happened. Perhaps I thought it was past its best by date and needed to be dumped, and decided to experiment with it? I honestly don’t remember.

That’s all I’ve got for this month. April’s looking much more interesting.

The West Wing and widescreen

This is one of those blog posts which is mostly for my own interest.

We’re up to the start of season 2 in our West Wing DVD (re)watching. That season 1 cliffhanger is brilliant… only spoilt by the excessively perky end theme music (I love the opening title music, but I’ve never liked the ending piece, to be honest).

The West Wing is one of those shows that lasted across the transition from traditional 4:3 television to widescreen 16:9, and the DVDs reflect this.

Season 1 and 2 — the episodes are in 4:3, but oddly the menus are in 16:9. Interestingly, the opening theme changes from the first few episodes — it gets a lot more pomp and circumstance at about episode 5. In this Q+A with composer W.G. ‘Snuffy’ Walden, he says: As a matter of fact, the first couple of episodes don’t have the orchestra version, they have a synth version as we had to get on the air and couldn’t get the main title done in time.

It was from Season 3 that they started making the show in widescreen. I found this media announcement from 2001:

BURBANK – July 19, 2001 — NBC next season will broadcast its popular, critically acclaimed and Emmy Award-winning “The West Wing” (Wednesdays, 9-10 p.m. ET) in a special format – “Presented in Wide Screen” – just as the network has done with television’s top-rated drama, “ER” last season.

The audience-friendly process will feature a 1.78:1 aspect ratio (or more commonly known as “16×9”) as opposed to the basic 1.33:1 (or “4×3”) ratio that is standard on almost all television programs. Because the more rectangular picture encompasses a wider swath of action, a narrow black strip will appear at the top and bottom of the screen that is a form of the letterbox format often used to present feature films on television.

So on the Season 3 DVD — the episodes are in widescreen, but letterboxed (“non-enhanced”), which means they need to be zoomed to fill the display on modern widescreen TVs, and consequently you lose some resolution. Presumably they’d fix this the next time this season is remastered.

Seasons 4 to 7 — full widescreen.

Interestingly, the series was made on film, and in 2010 the entire series was re-released in high-definition… but not on Blu-ray, only on iTunes, for $24.99/season, or $3.49/episode.

It’s not actually the first time it’s been around in high definition. I seem to recall the later seasons aired on ABC1 digital when there was an ABC1 HD channel (before ABC News 24 launched), and though I didn’t have a digital TV at the time, I did sneak a look on the computer with an HD tuner card. It looked gorgeous.

But rather than buy on iTunes what I already have, I think, for now, we’ll stick to the DVDs.

Related: the conversion of old shows to widescreen can be controversial. This fascinating blog post about The Wire reveals that the whole style of the show was based around 4:3 images, and they stuck with it through the series run — but now the push is on to remaster it into widescreen high definition, which in some cases works well, and in others changes the feel of some scenes.

SVOD: Stan, Presto, Netflix, Quickflix

I’ve been pondering Streaming Video On Demand (SVOD) services.

The thinking goes like this:

Let’s say I want to watch Breaking Bad. I’ve heard great things about it, and I love high-quality long-form drama that good television provides.

Blu-ray is the best way to watch this type of drama, for the ultimate in (domestically-available) quality picture and sound. But I don’t want to buy all the Blu-rays as I’ll probably only watch it once, then will have paid a bunch of money for a bunch of discs I have to find space for in the bookshelf.

And discs aren’t always perfect. I started watching my Newsroom season 2 Blu-rays, which I got last year. The first disc has a fault. Episodes skip. I have no idea if I have the receipt anywhere. Mind you, in a decade of buying DVDs and Blu-rays, this is actually the first time I’ve struck such a problem.)


The emergence of SVOD services offers a solution. Pay a monthly fee of about ten dollars (even a year’s worth would be a lot less than buying all 5 seasons of Breaking Bad on DVD) to watch video streaming onto my television.

Most of the services will work with computers, and also through Android/iOS apps via Chromecast onto a TV.

As it happens, I just bought a Chromecast. At $50, it’s cheaper than the official WiFi adapter for my television, and infinitely more flexible. Neat device. Youtube looks great on it.

I’ve also tried iView on it. It’s choppy — the ABC know about this, it’s only a beta version. Hopefully it’ll be fixed soon.

So anyway, which SVOD service to go for?

Stan (Fairfax/Channel 9)

  • $9.99 per month. Works with ChromeCast. Includes HD. Uses Silverlight if watching on a PC browser — ugh!
  • Includes Breaking Bad and the prequel Better Call Saul.
  • Looks like they’re considering original programming too.
  • There’s a 30 day free trial


  • They make it really hard to find the price, but it’s $9.99/month if you just want streaming, not the DVD rental option.
  • Includes HD. Great content, but most HBO material seems to be premium, eg $2.99 per episode.
  • Trial offer: 3 weeks free


  • Set to launch on March 24th, and expected to be about $10 a month — at least for Standard Definition — there apparently will be HD and Ultra-HD plans as well.
  • Presumably will include Netflix exclusives such as House Of Cards — which I’ve started watching on Blu-ray, and am loving. It looks glorious in HD, by the way.
  • Safe to assume it won’t include HBO content, given they are competitors in the USA.
  • Unmetered on iiNet (which I use), as well as Optus and presumably more ISPs to follow

Foxtel Presto (Foxtel/Channel 7)

  • Apparently no HD. $9.99 for TV, or $9.99 for movies, or $14.99 if you want both. (I’m probably more interested in TV than film.)
  • Presumably a lot of channel 7 content will be on here, including a lot of ITV stuff, since they have content deals.
  • Also seems to have some Foxtel-produced television on it, such as the adaption of Cloudstreet.
  • Speculation this will include Game Of Thrones, but that’s far from certain, as HBO apparently doesn’t allow it on SVOD services. If it does I’m probably sold. It does seem to include older HBO material such as Boardwalk Empire, the Newsroom (season 1 only, drat) and The Sopranos (all).
  • I’m quite keen to see Tony Robinson’s (Australian) Time Walks, which was made for Foxtel — I can’t see it on there though. You’d think they’d put on as much Foxtel-exclusive content as they could, to differentiate themselves.

ChromeCast and Presto had a free 2 month subscription offer (it expired at the end of February), so I’ve signed up to Presto and had a little look. The range isn’t huge — there’s probably more shows on iView, though fewer episodes — but is growing all the time.

The playback quality seems okay. The iPad app is a bit beta-ish when using it with Chromecast though — normal playback onto the iPad shows, as you’d expect, a Pause or Stop button. When sending it to the Chromecast, all you can do is Stop Chromecasting. There’s no actual Pause — all you can do is stop, then if you want to start again, it’ll give you the option of resuming. Even skipping back doesn’t seem to work.

Which is/are worth paying for?

HD would be very nice to have, though bandwidth might be an issue with the services that offer it. Stan recommends 3.5 mbps for 720p, or 6.5 mbps for 1080p, and I’d expect the other services to be similar. (Hmm, I just ran a test: line speed 9.2 mbps, download speed 1.12 MB/s).

I’ll keep playing with Presto, and given Stan also has a free 30 day trial, try that out as well. But I’ll definitely try Netflix when it’s available too.

One more thing… if you like House Of Cards, I suspect you’ll love this Sesame Street parody:

Buying shirts online

As I’ve noted in the past, I no longer wear ties to work, and have a range of different shirts.

Apart from regularly stocking up with Van Heusen and Gloweave shirts when the sales are on, I’ve been trying out Charles Tyrwhitt shirts — you know, the online shirt company that at one stage seemed to be placing endless ads in newspapers.

Some observations on Tyrwhitt shirts:

The orders have come through within about a week. Be aware that once you order from them, you will receive a truly incredible amount of advertising in the mail from them.

The quality seems quite nice. The 40/41 neck, regular sleeve length, slim fit seems to fit me well. They also do an extra slim version which I suspect wouldn’t sit on my slightly pudgy body so well. Classic fit is also okay, but I prefer the slim fit.

Charles Tyrwhitt shirt label

Despite proudly boasting their Britishness on all their literature, and pointing out items in the catalogues that are made in the UK, none of the shirts I’ve bought from them have clearly stated where they are made on the packaging or labels.

And despite appearing at first glance to be steeped in the tailoring tradition of Jermyn Street, London, they have only been around since 1986. Mind you, that’s still almost thirty years.

My most recent order was made when I probably wasn’t paying enough attention — I accidentally bought two of the identical white with blue stripes design. Whoops, But given Karl Stefanovic’s little experiment wearing the same suit on TV for a year, which went unnoticed, I doubt it’ll be a problem.

It appears that Tyrwhitt takes the Kathmandu approach to specials, but moreso. Basically nobody in their right mind would pay full price if they can possibly avoid it. Shirts evidently go on sale at full price for a while, then are heavily discounted down to a more “real” price, which most people end up paying. As Wikipedia notes: Tyrwhitt uses a high MSRP, high discount model (also called high-low pricing).

That said, the strategy has me sucked in. I’m happy to pay $35-40 for a good shirt. You could pay a lot more, though I suspect you’d get better quality.

I’d be more reluctant buying other items such as suits and shoes from them, given sizing issues, though I have bought a few pairs of shoes from Florsheim online, as they seem to be pretty consistent in their sizing (and I hate shoe shopping).

But I’ve been happy with the shirts I’ve ordered from Tyrwhitt, and will keep using them.