Elecam 360 (review) – a cheap 360 video camera

I recently bought an Elecam 360 video camera from banggood.com for around NZ$200. It has a lens on each side of the camera so it can shoot spherical video (1920 x 960) and photos (5mp). It’s easy to use, does what it says on the box, and is a neat entry-level camera.

Here’s a great review of the camera with some helpful links: http://pevly.com/elephone-elecam-360-review/

And an example video I shot:



The camera has wifi and the Android app is good for taking photos and videos, downloading footage from the camera to the phone, and playing back photos and footage. It doesn’t appear to have any sharing functions built-in though. To get photos and video onto the web there are some extra steps.

  1. Get the footage onto a computer (either by taking the microSD card out and copying the files across or, as I tend to do, by sending the files over wifi to my phone then copying from phone to computer while my phone is getting a charge.
  2. If the clip you have doesn’t need editing then you can convert it with the Elecam Converter, then upload it to Youtube (which should detect it as a 360 video – it has for me) or Facebook (which may detect that it’s 360, but if it doesn’t there’s an advanced tab in the upload interface where you can tell FB that it is).
  3. The Elecam Converter worked for the photos I took too, and Facebook was happy to recognise them as 360 photos as part of status update – but not in an album.






Creative writing: Statements of Intent

As part of teaching creative writing we sometimes get students to write a ‘statement of intent’. It’s a planning tool and can also be very helpful when giving feedback to a student on whether or not they’ve achieved what they set out to do. I wrote an example, then wrote the accompanying story, to show the class what I meant:

Type of writing: descriptive character piece

Idea: describe the reaction of a shy teenage girl to hearing some mean bullying of a transgender student

Statement of intent

I am going to write a short story from the POV of a shy teenage girl, reacting to transphobic bullying. I want to describe the inner conflict of not knowing how to help, the indignation and anger at injustice, and I want to highlight the idea or issue of transphobia. My target audience is teen readers, teachers and parents. I want to make them think about ways they can help show support for diversity, even if they are not ‘brave’ or tough.


Standing Up

I’m in a hurry and every year 9 in the school is in my way. The corridor is as crowded as a Tokyo subway as I push my way past shouting, shoving boys and make a beeline for my locker. Mrs Jenkins isn’t going to be happy if I’m late for English but it’s been an emotional morning and my mascara has run. I need to get wipes from my locker, and maybe grab my brush so I can fix my hair. Shakespeare has been dead for four hundred years. Surely he can wait a few minutes more.

I grab a compact mirror and flip it open to check whether I can get myself sorted here or if I need to make a trip to the bathroom. My eyes are still a little red – reading the end of The Fault in Our Stars in the back of Biology class wasn’t my best idea ever – but my mascara is not as bad as I feared, and my hair is almost normal. A quick touch up and I should be fine to go to class. The manic traffic in the corridor is starting to thin out as teachers herd students into classes.

I’m running a brush through my hair when Jesse walks past. She slips past me and opens the door to the single-stall unisex bathroom. The one they changed from a teacher toilet to a student one when Jesse arrived and the old system of boys and girls didn’t quite work any more. She gets changed in there for PE too. Nobody complained about her using the girls changing room but she knew some of the other girls weren’t comfortable about it. How could she not know? I watch in my mirror as her long, dark hair disappears into the bathroom. Her head is down and she holds her arms close to her sides as she walks, makes herself small. The door closes and I look back at myself, my blue eyes lined with dark mascara. Jesse’s lashes are longer than mine. That was the first thing I noticed about her.

“Do you reckon she pees standing up?”

For a second I think Matt is talking to me and I want to throw up – not because Matt is horrible or anything, but because I have no idea how to answer a question like that. I turn around and he’s standing beside the toilet door, talking to Cody.

“I dunno, I mean, I heard he was a dude at his old school. Who knows if he’s…” Cody raises his hand and makes a scissoring motion with his fingers.

I cough, stage-cough loud, and try to shoot lasers at them out of my eyes. They ignore me.

“Why does she get a bathroom all to herself anyway?” Matt asks. He reaches down and tries the handle, but it’s locked.

What are they planning to do? Do they even realise Jesse can probably hear everything they’re saying?

I look around the corridor and realise that we’re the last three people here. Of course we are – it’s class time. I flip my compact closed, shove it back in my locker, slam the locker door and hook the padlock back on.

“I mean, it’s weird if you ask me,” Cody says, leaning against the wall.

I cough again. Matt and Cody look at me, then back at each other. Their expressions don’t change. I might as well be invisible.

My stomach is tensing up and I feel a tightness in my throat. This isn’t the bittersweet emotion of a sad novel, this is hot fear and anger rising inside me. I want to slap both of them but I can’t move. I stand there watching them, waiting to hear what they’ll say next, unable to step in but unwilling to walk away.

The toilet flushes. There’s movement inside the bathroom.

“You should ask him.” Cody says, throwing a fake punch at Matt’s stomach. Matt shies away and smiles.

What are they doing?

The door opens. Jesse steps out, right in between Matt and Cody. She’s tall for a girl, but not as tall as Matt or Cody. She’s broad-shouldered too, but you wouldn’t notice it from the way she holds herself. Her hair is thick and wavy and beautiful and those lashes. It’s unfair. It’s ridiculous of me to think it but I can’t help myself. And her makeup is neater than mine.

Cody laughs, and Matt sniggers. Jesse glances at me and I shrug, try to look sympathetic. Why can’t I speak?

She smiles back and her shoulders seem to relax a little. She looks up at Matt and flutters those lashes at him.

“Did you want to ask me something?” she asks. She makes eye contact with Matt and doesn’t let up. He squirms but doesn’t look away.

“I, uh, not really,” he replies. He throws her a weak smile.

Cody laughs and she swings around to look at him. She takes a step toward him, a step closer than he looks comfortable with. “How about you? I heard you waiting out here.”

Matt’s backing away slowly, leaving Cody on his own. I still haven’t found my voice but my feet have started moving. I fill the space Matt was in, the space behind Jesse. I look up past her shoulder into Cody’s face, and see his nerve falter.

“I gotta go, ladies. Matt, see you later, yeah?”

Matt and Cody clear the corridor in opposite directions, their steps unhurried. Neither looks back.

“We have English?” Jesse asks.

“Yeah,” I reply. “Shakespeare.”

“A rose by any other name, right?” she says.

I can’t work out the emotion in her voice, but I’m glad to be standing beside her.

Persuasive essays

My classes have been writing persuasive essays quite a bit in the last couple of years. Here’s an example I wrote to model the kind of thing we were aiming for.

AS91101 EXEMPLAR A: A persuasive (argumentative) essay on whether all NZers should study Te Reo Māori at school. (Excellence)

It is sadly commonplace for New Zealanders to wallow in the privilege of acceptable ignorance when it comes to Te Reo Māori. A pākehā New Zealander can wave their hands and smile and say, “I had no idea”, without a hint of shame. Should this be so common? Should our collective cheeks be burning when faced with our nation’s ignorance? Should we be embarrassed not to know?

Students in New Zealand schools are exposed to a plethora of stimuli. Their artistic aspirations are affirmed, their culinary skills sharpened, their minds and bodies are put through their paces in an effort to transform them into smarter, fitter, wiser members of society. What then is the place of Te Reo in this rigorous schedule of compulsory betterment? What place do languages in general have in the New Zealand education system? In 2007 New Zealand adopted a new national curriculum, a guiding document (with a partner document in Te Reo Māori for Māori medium schools) which set out what education in New Zealand should look like. This document’s vision lays out a plan to raise children “who will work to create an Aotearoa New Zealand in which Māori and Pākehā recognise each other as full Treaty partners, and in which all cultures are valued for the contributions they bring.” All cultures. Treaty partners. Four words with big ramifications. The curriculum is divided into eight areas, with familiar favourites such as English, Science, Mathematics, Social Sciences and, crucially for the question of Te Reo, Learning Languages. With an eighth of the curriculum dedicated to learning languages, and Māori as a treaty partner in an increasingly multicultural nation with a bicultural heritage, how much time should Te Reo get?

Māori is not spoken in other countries. It is a taonga of Aotearoa, one which our education system should be safeguarding by sharing. Yet the number of students who are exposed to even half of their eighth of their curriculum is woefully low. If time were split amongst the curriculum areas evenly, then students would receive something like three hours of instruction in languages per week. Even with an emphasis on reading, writing and arithmetic there should be time for an hour or two a week of language study. Sadly this is not the case for many New Zealand students. A lack of expertise among educators and a lack of vision from national leadership leaves New Zealand students languishing in schools with underdeveloped language teaching capabilities. A smattering of Te Reo in primary school is not sufficient, and the language departments of many high schools are stretched across Japanese, French, German and other languages while the language of our country, one of our official languages is underserved. That New Zealand Sign Language, also an official language of Aotearoa, is given even less attention is a tragedy which does nothing to justify the lack of Te Reo in our schools.

A moral imperative is one thing, but proof of the cognitive advantages of bilingualism lends further weight to the argument in favour of widespread Te Reo Māori teaching. Recent research from Judith Kroll, Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Penn State University shows that “bilingual speakers can outperform monolinguals–people who speak only one language–in certain mental abilities, such as editing out irrelevant information and focusing on important information.” She described an advantage in multi-tasking for people, young or old, who have learned to speak a second language. According to Ellen Bialystok and Michelle M. Martin of York University, Canada, bilingual people “have better inhibitory control for ignoring perceptual information” which allows them to outperform monolingual people on certain kinds of tests. If learning another language builds better brains, why would we resist it?

Proponents of a multicultural approach will celebrate the diversity which exists in New Zealand schools, and there is much there to celebrate. Languages, the arts, technology, science, vocational pathways – diversity is thriving in Aotearoa. When the core business of schools is discussed, however, attention often falls on the three Rs – reading, writing and arithmetic. It’s time to add a fourth R – Reo. Evaluating our schools on this broader basis will allow us to see if we are really honouring our nation’s bicultural heritage and whether the Treaty partners are getting a fair deal.

There’s a whakataukī, a Māori proverb which states: “Ko tāku reo tāku ohooho, ko tāku reo tāku māpihi maurea. My language is my awakening, my language is the window to my soul.” The Māori language is a gift, a unique treasure – it’s time to share it with all Aotearoa.

Book Review: Macbeth

This week my students have been looking at book reviews. One of them challenged me to write a damning review of Macbeth. Actually he asked me to freestyle rap a damning review. I politely declined his offer, fired up Google Docs and bashed out the following (up on the screen so the class could read along as I typed):

Book review: Macbeth Level 2 Writing Portfolio AS91101

The Tragedy of Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, but the real tragedy is that the play was not allowed to die with its author in 1616. For more than 400 years the English speaking world has suffered the blight of Shakespeare’s tedious play about morose Scotsmen and their internecine naughtiness. Literary hipsters in a variety of guises have pretended to enjoy and even understand the Bard of Avon’s impenetrable, execrable output, while the rank and file have been bludgeoned by his bloated verbiage and pained by his poetry. It is time to admit that the Emperor has no clothes, and that Shakespeare’s day is done.

Macbeth (or ‘The Scottish Play’, as theatre-luvvies like to call it) is purportedly a play about a power-hungry power couple’s efforts to seize and hold the throne of dark ages Scotland. In reality it’s a lifeline for a literary elite’s persistent need to cling to opaque and confusing language and outdated traditions in the face of an obviously baffled and unengaged public. Shakespeare’s eponymous Macbeth is a blood-thirsty killer who suffers from intermittent bouts of a conscience, who laments that his mind is “full of scorpions” before setting out to murder innocent men, women and children. By the play’s end he has “supped full with horrors” – and so have we. The horrors of Macbeth’s actions are matched by the mangling of the language perpetrated by the man whose reputation would have us believe is the greatest ever writer in English. Having waded through references to “Pale Hecate” and “Tarquin’s ravishing strides”, having scratched our heads at “maggot-pies and choughs and rooks”, and having had our minds well and truly “mated” by a cacophony of sound, we find ourselves agreeing with Macbeth that it is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Taken as a text, Macbeth is a dry affair. Presented with a glossary page facing each page of Shakespearean text, the publishers (Heinemann in this case) admit from the start that the play cannot be read and understood by a modern audience. Each page of the script is accompanied by a summary, by translations and notes, and in some cases by illustrations – all an admission that the text can’t stand on its own two feet. Even with all this help there’s a key element missing from any reading of the text – the living breath of a cast of actors to bring the words themselves to life. While Shakespeare’s plays make dreadful reading, they make slightly less dreadful experiences when seen performed on stage. This is true of Macbeth, though few will ever find this out for themselves. Screen adaptations may thrill English teachers and theatre nerds but they hardly draw in the crowds. Not surprising when the text of the play is the worst advertisement possible for any adaptation.

If stories of ambition, murder, doomed love and the supernatural float your boat then there are many modern alternatives which would fit the bill. George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones series takes all of Shakespeare’s lofty themes and cranks them up to 11, replacing soliloquies with battle scenes and confusing dialogue with in-your-face crudity. At least, the HBO adaptation does. I haven’t read the books, because in the final analysis, books are for squares, Shakespeare is for try-hards, and TV and movies are where it’s at. Put down the centuries-old script, sign up to Netflix and live in the 21st Century. You’ll have a lot more fun here.

Toil and Trouble – a Macbeth Noir mashup short story

Toil and Trouble by Matt Cowens

It was past business hours when the dame walked into my office. She didn’t say anything at first; she just stared and frowned and weighed me with her eyes. She had dark hair and pale skin, and the dress under her coat was finely made. She was beautiful all right, but there was something cold in her eyes, something which flashed a warning sign to my tired nerves. If I hadn’t been two months behind on the rent I’d have thought it wise to hear the details of her case before taking it on. Money being the root of all evil, I knew I was hired, whatever mess she was set to drag me into.
“Take a seat, Miss…?”
“It’s Lady, actually, but you can call me Gruoch.”
“That’s an unusual name,” I replied.
“Not where I come from.”
She sat and I leaned back in my chair, looked down at the .38 revolver strapped to the bottom of my desk. The barrel was pointed square at Gruoch’s chest and the safety was off – the safety was always off. I reached down and spun the pistol to point at the wall. Clients tend not to pay their bills once there’s an extra hole in their rib cage.
“You want me to find someone?” I asked. “Your husband’s cheating on you and you need proof before you divorce him?”
I figured it wouldn’t be anything that simple but most of my cases were cheating husbands. They were easy to solve and I usually didn’t end up needing to visit the hospital.
She shook her head and I felt my muscles tighten in anticipation of the tough spot this case was almost certain to get me into.
“I want you to find three women.” She slid a folded piece of paper across the desk and I felt hope rekindle. Three women was a whole other level of cheating but it still meant the guy was thinking with his little head, and I might be able to get the jump on him.
“I’m sorry to hear your husband’s been unfaithful…”
I unfolded the paper and stopped talking. No mid-life crisis would see a man run to the arms of three bearded, haggard crones. I remembered a case I’d worked few months earlier, a dame whose husband had been lost at sea. She thought his ship had been sabotaged by a bearded woman. I hadn’t been able to prove anything, but I had a name.
“The Weird Sisters? You’re sure you want me to track them down? They ain’t exactly what I’d call friendly…”
Her hands were restless, rubbing against each other. She forced a smile and clasped them together. “My husband has been consorting with them. I need to know what he has heard. I need to know…”
She paused and I stood up, turned my back to her. Through the blinds I looked down on the street below the office. A dirty street, barely lit by greasy streetlights. There was grime out there in the city, grime and violence and corruption. But it was my city, my sewer to wade through. This dame wanted to drag me to a blacker place, an underworld where getting shot was the least of your worries.
I heard a metallic clank on the desk behind me.
“He knows something, and I have to know too. His mind was full of scorpions but now, now he is… resolved. And I…”
I turned around. She looked tired, and was rubbing her hands again. The coldness was still there but I saw past it, saw a sadness, a grief. There was an open pouch of coins on the desk, the old fashioned kind. Gold. A small fortune.
“Dead men don’t need rent money,” I muttered to myself.
Lady Gruoch started. Her hearing was good. Her knuckles went white as she gripped the arms of her chair. She straightened and all the feminine charms she wielded as weapons to disarm me seemed to drain from her. It was like a cloud of blackest night gathered in the office and I knew she could do anything, could dash my brains out, and heaven wouldn’t see a thing. I felt a chill run through me but I reached out and took the money anyway.
“Nothing. I’m on the case. I’ll find the sisters, find out what they said, and you’ll know whatever your husband does.”
“Perhaps then I will be able to rest,” she replied, standing. “Do not fail me. I would not be pleased, and you do not look much like my father.”
I didn’t understand the words but I got the message loud and clear. The coins weighed heavy in my pocket as she walked out. The case ahead of me weighed heavy on my soul. Something wasn’t right with Lady Gruoch. She didn’t need a detective; she needed a doctor, and maybe a priest. I popped the catch on the desk holster and slipped the .38 into my pocket. Wherever the case lead me, wherever the Weird Sisters were, I was leaving the safety off until the case was over. I was headed out of the city, out of the streets I knew so well, into a wide darkness. It was time to be bold and resolute, and hope that I wasn’t just teaching bloody instructions.
I feared I was, and hoped a hospital stay was the worst thing that lay ahead.

Heart of Daftness

Debbie and I wrote a few sketches back in 2010. I’m giving a presentation on mashups and fanfic on Friday and I rather like this – it has held up well for a 5-year-old idea:

The Heart of Daftness

Principal Hargreaves:  Ah, Marlow, glad you could make it.  Take a seat.

Marlow:  Principal, what’s all this about?

PH:  It’s a delicate matter, Marlow.  Very delicate.  I need someone to go all the way up to H block, into the heart of the technology department.

Marlow:  That’s a pretty dark block, sir.

PH:  The darkest.  Duty teachers don’t go there, half the students are afraid to even walk past.  It’s one of the darkest places on this earth…

Marlow:  What do you need?

PH:  It’s the head of the IT department, Professor Kurtz.  He’s been hidden away in H block for years now, one of our best men.  He’s always sent out good test scores, able students, but lately he’s been…

Marlow:  What?  Slacking off?  Failing to mark test papers?

PH:  Worse.  Much worse.  He’s out of control, Marlow.  Out there at the edge, away from civilisation, with only Youtube and Facebook for company, he’s changed, Marlow.  He went out there to teach something noble, something good.  He was going to be a light in the darkness of those students’ lives… that’s all gone now.  Look at this!  Read what this child’s report says.

Marlow:  Jayden is one of a number of students who has not completed this term’s assignment, but he has over 50,000 hits on his beached whale animation on Youtube.

PH:  And there, scrawled on the side of the paper?

Marlow:  Exterminate the brutes!

PH:  The kids are worshipping him like a god, there are computer monitors on spikes all around his office, and with every account he deletes or password he changes they worship him more.

Marlow:  So what do you want me to do?

PH:  He’s out of control, Marlow.  He’s looked into the human soul and that heart of darkness has changed him.  Yesterday he froze the internet accounts of half the staff.  Today, he blocked Twitter for every user of the school network.

Marlow:  The horror, the horror!

Pride and Prejudice and… Sherlock Holmes?

murder-matchmaking_debbie-cowens_front-cover_lores_thumb2 It has been great to see the warm response for Murder and Matchmaking, a new novel by Kāpiti author Debbie Cowens released by Paper Road Press. It’s a retelling of Pride and Prejudice where Mrs Bennet, worried that her daughters might not be able to find husbands, starts murdering the prettiest young ladies of Hertfordshire to give her girls a fighting chance. The eminent detective Sherlock Darcy is summoned to solve the murders, something Elizabeth Bennet has been working on in secret.

The book is available on Amazon, where it’s currently #8 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Mashups 🙂

More information is available at Paper Road Press.