Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Gordon Brown - face like thunder

Walking down to the bmi lounge at Heathrow Terminal 1 a few minutes ago, a small crowd came bursting towards us.

Out in front, making no eye contact with anyone, strode a thunderous-looking Gordon Brown, presuamably just off a flight from Glasgow.

A few paces behind in pyramid formation came aides, minders and airport police. All silent, glum and looking like they were getting in some practise for the Speed Walking event at the 2012 Olympics.

With yesterday's re-arrest of Lord Levy to add on top of the continuing unsubstantiated newspaper reports of smoking guns, handwritten notes and trails of fivers leading to the heart of Downing Street, the heir to the New Labour throne may have been comtemplating the mess that he could conceivably be taking over sooner than Blair originally wished.

Maybe Channel 4's The Trial of Tony Blair will prove more accurate that audiences imagined ... the writer just needs to replace war crimes with offences under the Honours Act and it could be rereleased.

Maybe Blair's handover to Brown will be as tainted as Clinton's legacy to Gore? Enough to make the Chancellor look grumpy.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Patterns of life

Douglas Coupland's novel Jpod (and Microserfs before that) points to the potential for most workers in the Silicon Valley IT industry to be somewhere on the autism scale.

I suspect we can extend this beyond San Francisco, and include most of the world's software industry.

Certainly there are parts of my life that seem to follow familiar, comforting, repeating patterns.

I'm typing this on a PDA keyboard ... sorry for the lack of regular posting, but the email gateway to Blogger's the only way I can post this week as our intranet blocks blogger.com ...

Anyway, I'm typing this on a PDA keyboard with my thumbs, sitting at the same seat at the same table in the same branch of TGI Friday's I sat in last Thursday night. Not entirely my fault that their table for one isn't too busy ... but certainly my fault for walking past my favourite Chinatown Chinese, realising that it's still closed for renovations, and defaulted to TGI's around the corner.

The pattern will continue with a trip to the nearby Curzon Soho - need to upload a review of The Last King of Scotland (done) from last week, excellent film, though I've still got itchy nipples!

After the madness of work (getting to bed at 0145 this morning and then up at 0600 counts as mad), settling into the same area of the cinema (back right) and melting into the director's celluloid world is a relief and a much needed rest!

I'll post a couple of reviews soon ... and then get back to my routine!!!

What Would Escher Do?

It made me smile!
(via xkcd, a webcomic of romance,sarcasm, math, and language)

Monday, January 29, 2007

How would you back up your precious digital media?

Ok. As the resolution of digital camera increases, and the ease of creating video clips continues, the need to securely preserve digital content is on the rise.

In the days of film, people didn't often bother. They kept their negatives alongside the prints. But in a digital age, the potential number of ways to lose your content seems to be higher.

Options include

  • Buy a high capacity external hard drive to store your content. Some dual drive RAID1 devices are now available, giving you hardware resilience. Pros: can be easily moved between computers as you upgrade. It's a one-off cost, and you stay in control. You can store video as well as pictures. Cons: the burglar may steal both your PC and the backup drive, or a fire could destroy both RAID drives since they're in the same case in the same room. And the RAID disk format may be locked down to FAT32, making it impossibly to backup large video files (NTFS preferable, but not Mac compatible). Oh, and you don't do much to deter accidental deletion.
  • Using services like Flickr Pro to upload your photos. Pros: you can sleep easy safe in knowledge that your content is being stored in someone else's data centre. Cons: companies come and go, as do their policies. How long will Flickr last? And it's yet another bill to add to your monthly outgoings.
  • And then there's the awkward solution of backing up to CDs or DVDs, but with the pain of having to check that you can read the disks back in more than one drive (otherwise when you change computer, you run the risk of losing the one drive that could read the disks).

At some stage over the next few years, I reckon I'll switch from PC/Windows to a Mac. So I'd like a solution that will last.

Your comments and ideas welcomed. What do you do?

Big Brother - not just a tabloid fascination

Maybe it's got something to do with the size of the pages, but the tabloids are falling behind with their apparent blanket coverage of Big Brother.

Today's Media Guardian published the word count that the national press had devoted to describing and discussing the reality show between 19 and 25 January.

You'd expect the red top tabloids to be top of the charts. But no. The didn't commission long opinion pieces to discuss the state of the nation like the quality press - who so often like to look down on reality TV, yet critique it at the drop of a hat!

The top four places go to serious papers:

  • Guardian/Observer (30,291)
  • Independent/IoS (23,081)
  • Times/Sunday Times (21,545)
  • Mirror/Sunday Mirror (20,921)

Only then do the tabloids make an appearance:

  • Star (17,376)
  • Sun/News of the World (17,045)
  • Daily/Sunday Express (16,716)
  • Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday (15,931)

And finally the Telegraph - which must have been boycotting the whole BB fiasco (despite having the biggest pages to fill) with a mere 8,113 words.

No mention of the FT! Though it definitely covered the row when I picked up a free copy last week. Maybe the Guardian's Research Department - who provided the stats - ran out of patience!

Apple ads

Each time Steve Jobs takes to the stage to introduce the drooling press and public to the latest Apple gizmo, he shows a "PC and Mac" advert.

Now Apple UK have produced a local version - which can be checked out at apple.com/uk - using Mitchell and Webb from the Channel 4 comedy show I can't remember the name of! (Update: "Peep Show" I'm reminded.)

But from the look of the ad in this morning's Guardian, Mitchell makes the perfect uncool and boring PC, while Webb has the flair and X factor (OS X factor!) to be a Mac.

Except they're both twits.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Planes, trains and automobiles … but will there be a Ka?

Sunset at Stansted airportThe setting sun reflected prettily in the terminal window as we taxied away from the stand at London Stansted last night. The last leg of the latest three day journey that saw me enduring a total of two flights, four trains, 2 trips on the tube, six taxis, two bus rides and a one way hire car to get back to Stansted last night.

Plane, train, tube, taxi … you can sit back and enjoy the ride. No steering. It’s all out of your control. But the drive back to the airport? It’s only 55 miles, so I’d booked a Class A car, the smallest in the Hertz range.

So when I picked up the keys from the building’s reception on Friday morning, what did I find? Class A could have been a Ford Ka, or a Fiat Panda. (I’ve been booking Class A cars for the last few months in a bid to get to drive a Ka, but have ended up with a selection of dud Pandas and the odd Ford Focus.)

Would my dream be fulfilled today?

I walked out the car park, scanned the licence plates until I found the number on the key fob. Class A today = a stonking big Vauxhall Vectra. Some how they’d skipped from A up to D, and delivered a tank.

The dream continues. However, to make up for the disappointment, moving through Stansted airport at 3 o’clock in the afternoon was a delight compared to previous experiences. Air Berlin were even on time, and I got a snooze as it flapped its wings back to St George’s Belfast City Airport.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Belfast ... it's in Scotland, at least according to Milton Keynes taxi drivers!

Doing a whirlwind tour of London - Milton Keynes - London - Ipswich at the moment. Got off the train at Milton Keynes Central yesterday lunchtime and hopped into a taxi to get across to the training centre.

It's about a 15 minute journey. Chhatted with the driver about the snow that had fallen overnight and caused its traditional travel chaos in the South East of England.

"So where are you from with that accent?" the driver asked.

"Belfast"

"Ah ... I once went up to Scotland. Visited one of the bigger cities."

But the funny thing was that today I headed back to the station in another taxi. This time the driver was rejoicing that the snow had brought him extra business the day before and that the work had been constant.

"So where you from?"

"Belfast"

"Ah, no snow up in Scotland. Just down here in the south"

So it's official. Two out of two Milton Keynes taxi drivers - both wonderful characters, but geographically confused. Either that or they've a bet on in January to try and confuse Irish visitors!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

2012 days to get their website sorted out - hunt the podcast!

2012 days to go until the 2012 Olympics. Start queuing now!

The London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games(LOCOG) have promised that it will be the greenest ever Olympics. And given the rate of global warming combined with the reality while it’ll be hotter we’ll not escape the rain, the grass around the London sporting sites will no doubt be a lush, verdant green.

According to the BBC News ...

"London Olympic Organising chairman Lord Coe and Mr Blair responded to the strategy in a joint podcast."

How modern of the London organisers! But while Seb Coe and Tony Blair may have recorded an interview to let the world know about the Games green credentials, will anyone ever hear it?

After five minutes I still hadn't found it on the London 2012 website. to find it on their website. Even using the search facility (try it yourself) didn’t throw up any results.

Ah … Blair’s involved. So maybe it’s a Number 10 podcast. Strangely not part of the existing Downing Street podcast feed listed on iTunes No, not that one. But there is a news story on their awful-styled pages. Turns out it’s on a completely different feed that errors when added to iTunes!

Nicely signposted. Ummm … might have been a waste of their time to record the interview if no one can find it or listen to it.

Update: Turns out that if I’d gone straight to the 2012 blog, I could have downloaded the MP3 of the Coe/Blair interview/podcast, but no link to an RSS feed.

Reading on further down the blog, I came across Kevin Woolmer’s story. (Not that the post actually mentions his surname!) Kevin's the vicar of St Pauls - in Stratford, not the cathedral in EC4M - and the official chaplain to the construction workers building the London stadium and other venues.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Captain Planet – teaching us all to use our loaf

It’s Belfast’s first viral video of 2007.

Captain Planet … visited Belfast … and helped people forgive and use their loafs [sic] to set up bakeries. From a real 1990s cartoon series - first broadcast in the US in late 1992 (episode 64, series 3, "If it's doomsday, this must be Belfast" of Captain Planet and the Planeteers written by Doug Molitor).

You can view the edited-down taster video on YouTube or Bebo (sharper) and then go over to GUBA to watch the original 21 minute version. It’s no spoof.

Via Letter to America, Sociable Geek, and Rather Snazzy.

Photographing a Carousel at night … nightmares

Note to self: colourful carousels and spinning horses are difficult to photograph, particularly at night.
This one was spinning in Covent Garden before Christmas. Just getting around to downloading the photo now!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Skateboarding at the Waterfront

And not far across the road from the shiny windows of the Laganside Courts, the local skateboarders are still managing triumph over the Lanyon Place Management Company! No longer able to use the steps and raised ledges in from the Waterfront Hall (anti-skateboard bumps were screwed on a year or so back), they continue to make good use of the bridge across from Central Station and the stairs at the end.

Two summer’s ago, a group of skaters using this area even made a DVD (sponsored by Belfast City Council I think) outlining the lack of decent skating facilities and highlighting how they were treated. (If anyone reading has a copy, I’d live to see what they said.)

Anyway, last week someone in LPMC’s employ stood and watched the daredevil jumps … not sure if he was adding to the safety or security of the proceedings!

The gleaming heights of justice

Like most buildings built in Belfast over the last ten years, the Laganside Courts complex is a shiny glass-clad monument to modern architectural style.

Only problem is that the wall of glass faces the River Lagan and the biting wind. So the windows are always dirty.

Enter a team of cold, brave window cleaners. And given the high winds this week, they must have been working just below the limit that would ban cleaning at that height.

Oops ... dropped my chamois!

And watch out for space in-between the old and new courts that is being landscaped at the moment to build a bus lane (yes, limited traffic through the once oh-so-secure inner sanctum of justice) and lay a green lawn.


Friday, January 19, 2007

Tomorrow’s papers

So what will be on the front pages of tomorrow morning’s papers. There are so many stories and loose ends that the press will want to tie up and explore.

  1. The arrest of Ruth Turner, a Downing Street official, in connection with the cash-for-honours inquiry will surely deserve some column inches.
  2. Next door at No 11 - is he back from India? - Gordon Brown has put his size 10 football boot in it by “appearing to back England to host and win the football World Cup in 2018 - and not his native Scotland”. Politically embarrassing, but nothing serious (like inflation and interest rate rises).
  3. Oh, and British Airways has a new uniform policy allowing all religious symbols, including crosses, to be worn openly, and also allowing Nadia Eweida to return to work (having been off on unpaid leave since September.
  4. And finally, in a UK-wide referendum on racism, 82% voted to eject Jade Goody from the Celebrity Big Brother house.

All important stories. Will the Independent have room to run all four on its front page?

2007, à la Web 2.0

(c) 2006 J.D. (Illiad) Frazer http://www.userfriendly.org

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Big Brother, Carphone Warehouse and does it question us all?

Put a diverse set of people together in work and some will hit it off, some will get on each other’s nerves, some will talk behind their backs, some will even become quite insulting to each other faces. And that’s in a professional “work” environment.

Put people in an enclosed space and make it difficult for them to have personal space, and you’ll amplify the disquiet that’s there in normal society.

Put celebrities in that enclosed space ... and you’d be forgiven for thinking that they should know better than let their guard drop in the pressure cooker of the Celebrity Big Brother house. But it strings out for so long that they let their guards down ...

This is the first series of BB/CBB that I haven’t seen any of. And yet again, it’s creating a stir in the not-so-tabloid press (the Berliner, compact and Daily Telegraph-sized “quality” papers) ...

Point 1. Not having seen the footage, I don’t feel qualified to offer a comment on whether there is actual racist behaviour or not. But there’s certainly clear reports of an unease in the house, and the minority group affected is the Indian actress and model, Shilpa Shetty.

Racism can be partially defined as:

  • Aggression or discriminatory behaviour towards members of a certain race or races.
  • Aggression or discriminatory behaviour based upon differences in ethnicity.
  • Ethnically or culturally discriminatory behaviour exhibited by members of the racial, ethnic, or cultural group dominant within a society.

On her way into the CBB house, she commented:

“I have zero expectations. The only thing I really hope to keep is my self-respect and my dignity”

I hope she manages to achieve that objective.

Point 2. The cynical part of me wonders if Charles Dunstone and the marketing department at Carphone Warehouse reckoned that a decision to suspend their sponsorship of CBB now would generate more favourable free publicity than paying out good money for the bumper ads they place around the CBB show each night.

Free publicity for being seen to set a moral standard. Sounds like the Corporate Social Responsibility policy kicking in with a commercial incentive. The BBC are carrying the story tonight, and CPW’s name and comments will be all over the papers tomorrow.

Point 3. Let’s hope that in the furore we don’t lose the silver cloud: exposing the fact that racism and discrimination is bigger than just being confined to a house on an Elstree film set in Leavesden.

Some of the people who have emailed into Ofcom and Channel 4 will have said the same things as the celebrity housemates. Some of the reporters writing up the story in newspapers will have made inciting comments in the past (including those at the Daily Star who so nearly ran a “Daily Fatwa” page describing “how your favourite paper would look under Muslim law” and including a “Page 3 burqa babes special”).

Closer to home, the sectarian issues in Northern Ireland may be diminishing, but polarisation of housing continues apace right across Belfast. The Chinese community around Ormeau are not the only ethnic minority group in Northern Ireland to get a hard time from the “locals” (or the dominant cultural group as the definition above would phrase it).

And in all our hearts, deep down, aren’t there cultural preferences and engrained reactions that we continue to have to deal with and suppress and alter each day?

“Everyone’s a little bit racist”

... to quote a song title from the puppet musical Avenue Q (read the review and go and see it if you’re near London’s West End - there’s even a Midnight Matinee on Mon 22 January).

Torchwood - end of the first series

Well, Torchwood certainly went out with a bang. (Spot who’s been catching up on recordings from over Christmas and the New Year!) I’ve previously commented that about the half the episodes were good, and the rest felt poor.

Episode 10, “Out of Time”, was amongst the best for the series. It’s a completely different style of episode, reminding of the odd Doctor Who episode that peppered the first and second (new) series and split the fan base by being less Doctor-based and more driven by the other characters: Father’s Day and Love & Monsters. It was slower, more reflective piece, looking at how situations affected lives, rather than focussing on aliens and gadgets.

For those who haven’t been following the series, the story begins when three people from 1953 accidentally fly through a rift in the time-space continuum and land at an airstrip near Cardiff in 2006, breaking goodness knows how many CAA regulations. The story then unravels the complexity of the 1950s characters as they live in a world that had moved on, and no longer feels like their home, and watches as a member of the Torchwood befriends each visitor.

  • John Ellis is crushed when he discovers that his son is an old man and has Alzheimer’s, unable to recognise his father. John chose suicide as a way out of his nightmare. (It’s a brave production decision to portray John’s desperation in this way, and one I question a little given that it’s only science fiction.)
  • Diane finds love (with Owen) but won’t settle and flies off to try and find the rift again.
  • Emma is the most naïve of the three, and yet is the only one to stay. With 1950s styles back in fashion, her insight is in demand, and she hops on a train to London to join the rag trade!

Each character is confronted with different problems and we watch them working through them. It’s a sensitive episode, and worthy of a place amongst the other twelve in Torchwood’s first series. And before we get too intense, it’s still only science fiction and to get too wrapped up in it would be to take it too seriously!

The final double bill (episode 12 “Captain Jack Harkness” and 13 “End of Days”) places the stress back on the Torchwood team. What risks will they take for each other and those that they love? Is Ianto the only male on the show that Gwen doesn’t carry a flame for? The villain, intriguingly named Bilis Manger, is incredibly creepy.

The final couple of minutes is weak. It felt like they’d cleared out the studio and filmed it with only the minimum of crew around to keep the storyline quiet. And after the noise and bustle of the previous hour and a bit, it contrasted badly, feeling tacked on the end as an afterthought. The wheeze of a TARDIS and the disappearance of Captain Jack surely a cue into the third series of Doctor Who that is due for UK transmission in the Spring 2007. (In fact, Who Spotters already predict that Captain Jack will appear in episode 11 called “Utopia”. Too much detail.)

We can look forward to the second series.

Snow, trams and light rail heading for East Belfast

So while we brace ourselves for a few flakes of snow that will make moving about on the roads, rails and through the air a misery, we can also contemplate the arrival of new forms of public transport in Belfast.

Dublin's LUAS

The Department for Regional Development have commissioned a feasibility study into the introduction of a rapid transit system through parts of Belfast. The study will look at trams as well as the more expensive option of a light rail network.

The old railway line between Dundonald and the city centre, now partially converted to a footpath and cycle track, would link up with the routes running through St George Belfast City Airport, the Harbour Estate and the new Titanic Quarter.

David Carins on his first day in Parliament

In the DRD announcement, David Cairns, the Regional Development Minister, stated:

“While bus based rapid transit was previously assessed at the time of the Belfast Metropolitan Transport Plan in 2004 as the most cost effective and operationally flexible, I am conscious that the situation has not remained static and that it is prudent that the studies examine other rapid transit options including light rail.”

“Such schemes are expensive and it is important that they are fully and properly studied before decisions are taken.”

The report will be published mid 2007.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Gourmet Burger Bank - scrumptious lunch

Had a lovely late lunch in Belmont Road’s Gourmet Burger Bank yesterday.

The blue cheese burger was utterly delicious and duck salad was enjoyed too.

Radio Ulster Wallpaper! Wonder which image is most popular?

Anyone fancy putting in a Freedom of Information request to see who gets the most downloads from the BBC Radio Ulster wallpaper download page.

Does the fresh-faced William Crawley out perform Uncle Hugo?

And is it surprising that there’s no option for downloading a tacky mug shot of Stephen Nolan? Maybe too much of a risk that he’d be defaced by staff at local recycling centres!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Savage Shepherds – Adam Harbinson

I caught up with a fair amount of reading over Christmas and the New Year. One book I haven’t commented on was Adam Harbinson’s Savage Shepherds.

Adam unexpectedly joined a church fellowship in the 1980s. He refers to it as “The River of Life Fellowship”, though that wasn’t its real name. Part of the shepherding movement that came out of the charismatic church in the US, and had quite a following around Belfast and Bangor.

Members of fellowships were accountable to a shepherd (an elder or suchlike) who was their point of accountability. Except that it was a very structured and all encompassing accountability. Sheep were discouraged from having their own original thought about the Bible and about God. Instead, their revelation was to come through their shepherd.

The relationships within The River of Life Fellowship also involved the sheep putting the needs of their shepherd above their own. You’d be expected to cancel your evening’s dinner plans to come across and baby-sit for your shepherd and allow him (always a him) to go out. Gardening, painting, lots of work to go around. And your 10% tithe was funnelled through your shepherd.

God’s amazing love funnelled into weak human structures and constraints.

While there were positive aspects to the shepherding movement, there were also abusive relationships and corruption. Some of the original US leaders (two of the Fort Lauderville Five) apologised and publicly distanced themselves from shepherding.

Despite having reservations about the way the fellowship ran, Adam remained attached to the fellowship for quite a long time. When he tried to leave, the ranks closed and he was hounded. Rather than leaving things in the hands of God, personal criticism and human intervention seemed to rule. His business was wrecked by allegations of financial irregularities, his family was put under immense strain, and his health suffered.

As well as telling Adam’s story, this book highlights the dangers of life that can lie in a close-knit fellowship, and discusses some of the tell-tale signs that point to spiritual abuse and unhealthy power structures. Adam remains surprisingly balanced as he recounts his experiences and describes the problem. His grace and forgiveness make the warning so much more powerful.

You can catch Adam on his website and blog. He was interviewed on Sunday Sequence a couple of weeks ago too.

The death of linear television? More like downsizing that complete annihilation.

As part of my general clear out (our blue recycle bin was overflowing this morning when the bin men (bless them) came around to collect it), I’ve been deleting podcasts from iTunes and listening through backlogs of ones I’m still interested in hearing.

The Media Guardian podcast provides a weekly insight into what’s tickling London’s media luvvies, and in particular the Guardian’s Media team. I’ve got through the September editions, and am nearing the end of the October batch now. It’s been fun to look back at events and hear their take on them.

Every week Emily Bell talks about “the death of linear television”. (If she’s got a Google alert set for “death-of-linear-television +Emily-Bell” then Emily may well be reading this post! Hi.) And if Emily’s not in their podcast studio, someone else normally mentions it on her behalf.

So what is she talking about? And should you care?

Better start with some definitions. Linear television means scheduled TV. The sort where you look up Ceefax or the TV pages in the local paper to see what’s on. You control which channel you hop onto, but have no control over what the broadcaster has scheduled to transmit at that time. In the mists of time (ie, about five years ago), this was all we had and we lived with it.

Tune in at 7.30pm to see Coronation Street on ITV - should I be loyal to our friends at Ormeau Road and say UTV? - or you’ve missed it. Over the years it has been responsible for those water-cooler moments where everyone in the playground or work (is there a difference?) talks about what they saw the night before: Den beating up Angie in Eastenders, Blackadder, Cracker, Big Brother (the early series), football matches.

With the advent of Tivo, SkyPlus, BT Vision, and other PVRs (Personal Video Recorders), viewers who invest in these boxes can record shows they are interested in and then watch them back at their convenience. (And in Tivo’s case, it will also record stuff that it thinks you’ll be interested in with some success.)

And with additional kit like Slingbox, you can watch your PVR by streaming its contents to wherever you are in the world over the internet. So you could sit in your hotel bedroom with your laptop running on the hotel wifi (or plugged into the dressing table’s network port) and watch whatever SkyPlus has been recording for you at home.

Alternatively, you could go downstairs and have a nice meal and talk to real people or read a book. You might want to do that now as this post is probably only about half over!

So is Emily right? Is linear television dead? Well, as Director of Digital Content/Development on the Guardian’s board, and editor-in-chief of Guardian Unlimited (their website), she’s certainly qualified to have a strong opinion!

The ad industry is worried that we’ll start watching everything as recordings on PVRs and we’ll skip through the ads and not watch them. (You can even programme one of the buttons on the Tivo remote control to skip forward 30 seconds. Hit it six times and you’ll get through most irritating ad breaks and get right back to the action.)

It’s exactly what I do. The only live TV I’ve seen in the last month has been CBeebies. And that’s because its schedule makes sense. The Bedtime Hour kicks in every night at 6pm. Guaranteed to show a relaxing Blue Cow story about quarter past six. No need to record it. Just watch it when necessary. Even better, get daughter up to the bath without having to resort to switching on the goggle box with its anaesthetic qualities.

But everything else is been pre-recorded. So I’m bad news for advertisers.

So should you care? Well if this post goes on much longer, it’ll be Christmas before it finishes. Some friends—who also travel crazy amounts—just watch what their video at home has recorded onto Long Play and Extended Longer Play videos. So they come back at the weekends to a compilation of the latest science fiction on Sky One and a few other choice snippets from terrestrial channels. No ads for them.

So advertisers will be looking for other ways to get your eyeballs in the direction of their products.

Now where this trend falls down is with soaps and sport. If you want your nightly fix of Corrie (uppers) or Eastenders (downers), you need to carve out space in your life to make it possible. Most likely you’ll make time at the point where it’s broadcast. And if there’s an ad break in the middle, you can make a quick phone call or a cup of tea before rushing back to the second part. You’re unlikely to record it and then watch it later while Newsnight is on. I bet there’s very little PVRing of soaps.

Now if live sport is on, people seem to make the time to watch it. There’s currency in knowing what the score is at the end of the match. And if you don’t know and are waiting until later, someone you talk to in the interim will tell you, and spoil your delayed viewing. So I suspect most big sporting events will continue to attract live audiences. Though minority sports like sailing and horsy stuff are quite capable of going on-demand as there’s less immediate discussion amongst

To me, it seems likely that within the next two years television production will start to focus on two areas:

Expensive

  • Big live events that will get lots of production (and advertiser) money thrown at them to be must-see live programmes. So expect more Big Brother, more sporting events that you neither knew existed now knew you needed to watch. Lots of High Definition (HD).
  • A small number of big international drama series like Lost that are so high profile that the next day’s papers will be writing about the storyline and you’ll have to see it live. (Though I managed to stay half a series behind in Lost 2 without reading about the plot.) And these shows will be so lucrative that they’ll be quickly snapped up by Sky who need something other than Premiership football to attract subscribers to their expensive product.
  • Pay-per-view films that will be released in the cinema, on DVD and on pay-per-view channels simultaneously. You can choose where you want to watch them. (Though if they’re made for the cinema, I recommend you go to your local cinema and see it there. No matter how big your TV screen, and how impressive your digital surround, a good seat in a cinema with a huge screen makes such a difference.)
  • Shows with Ant and Dec that defy categorisation. No reason why anyone should watch Saturday Night Takeaway. But people do. In their millions. No reason for this to stop.

Cheap

  • Lots of (throwaway) shows whose makers will only expect to attract an audience of less than half a million people. So lower production values, no HD, cheap sets, cheap story lines. But still a way for talented writers, actors and technical folk to make their mark and be noticed amongst the swamp of mediocrity.
  • Shows based on user generated content. A bit like You've Been Framed only worse and more of them. It'll be called You've Been Youtubed.
  • The kind of shows that can be watched on demand at any time. Niche programming. Lots of science fiction that can be dubbed and sold around the world.

Am I right? Who knows, time will tell. But if it's an accurate vision, the contents of the box in the corner will be very different.

Essay over and out (for now).

Monday, January 15, 2007

Steve Jobs ... back in 1984 ... with a new product

When I first saw this, I couldn't believe it and thought it was a spoof. Steve Jobs' presentation style and delivery hasn't changed in 22 years!



From The Daily Warthog.

Two annoyances - permanent or temporary?

I've turn on two annoyances on the AiB blog tonight ... they may be too annoying to last longer than the weekend.
  • One is the de jour Snap Preview feature on links. I'm not convinced it's worth the hassle. No doubt you'll let me know. Update: I've turned it off. Too intrusive.
  • The other is adding a Flickr badge to the right hand column. Which will force me to get a selection of decent photos uploaded to appear in the constantly busy badge.

Anyone for tennis? Solving ITV’s widescreen / 4:3 aspect ratio problems!

In the good old days, TV screens were all the same slightly off-square shape. But nowadays, there are multiple shapes even in widescreen ranges. Not to mention that programmes are produced with a much wider variety of picture shapes (aspect ratio, if you want to be more technical).

If they have the pleasure (?) of a widescreen set, most people probably leave it switched to a compromise setting—something like Toshiba’s Super Live setting which works for most programmes and films.

As a broadcaster (or someone editing video footage), getting the aspect ratio correct is even more complex. News programmes shot in 16:9, but with 4:3 feeds coming in from overseas or other news organisations.

All those different feeds of picture, all potentially in different sizes. Tricky. Particularly it seems for ITV whose automated broadcast play-out systems seem to pay little attention to the shape of the picture.

Frequently you’ll notice the picture lurching and juddering as it stretches or shrinks a couple of seconds after an ad break ends as someone remembers to hit the button to move from 4:3 material to 16:9 etc. I can remember whole 15 minute runs of high quality dramas like Cracker, shot in glorious widescreen, but transmitted (on UTV anyway) in 4:3, stretched to fill the full frame, making Robbie Coltrane appear positively thin!

But ITV are working hard … as reported in last week’s Media Monkey column in the Guardian.

Anyone for tennis?

ITN camera crews are being taught the vagaries of filming in widescreen with an essential new piece of kit—a tennis ball.

Crews on ITV and Channel 4 News are required to film the ball at the start of each report so it is clear to producers whether they are filming in widescreen or old-fashioned 4:3. The ball must be held six inches from the lens—this is getting complicated—for 15 seconds. Phew.

“In order to achieve this we are issuing tennis balls (no laughing please) to all cameramen,” says an email.

Camera crews are reassured that the balls can easily be carried in their kit bag. Failing that, Monkey understands a croquet ball, an orange, or a genetically modified tomato will do just as well. Just don’t use a rugby ball.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

How to make church brilliant

In a follow-up to an earlier Church 2.0 post ...
Copyright (c) 1999-2006 Dave Walker, CartoonChurch.com

Irish Blog Awards - why not nominate a couple of blogs?

Nominations for the Irish Blog Awards 2007 are now open. So why not look around the local blogosphere and nominate worthy blogs for the different categories.

The awards’ organiser Damien Mulley offers some simple tips (rules really!):

  • Nominations are free. Anyone can nominate an Irish Blog.
  • The definition of an Irish Blog is quite loose. If you are listed on IrishBlogs.ie or Planet.Journals.ie or are Irish and blog or live in Ireland and blog, then you can enter. We may even consider you if your only tie to Ireland is that you like stout.
  • Don’t wait for someone else to nominate you, do it yourself, others might be assuming someone else nominated you. Don’t be modest.
  • You can nominate more than one blog or blog post for the same category. Encourage your readers to nominate you or a specific blog post of yours that they liked the most.
  • For Podcast and Videocast, it is one specific podcast/videocast in particular that is to be nominated.
  • Specialist blog is a blog on one particular subject or area. There needs to be a core topic for your blog. A blog on everything any anything will not qualify.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Friday, January 12, 2007

A Prairie Home Companion

A Prairie Home Companion is a real National Public Radio show in the US. Each week, it brings an eclectic mix of music and humour to a loyal audience. The nearest thing locally would be the slightly eccentric music hall show, Friday Night is Music Night, on BBC Radio 2.

Garrison Keillor is well known as the author of the Lake Wobegon series of books. Unconventional tales about a screwball community. Rambling, comforting stories, with occasional laugh-until-you-hurt moments. He also hosts the Prairie Home Companion’s weekly radio show, broadcast live from the Fitzgerald Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota for over thirty news.

With just twelve other people spread across the 249 seats, I settled back into my usual seat in the near empty screen at London’s Curzon Soho to enjoy A Prairie Home Companion, the film based on that real radio show, and includes many of the regular performers and musicians.

The film’s fictional element comes from the twist that the radio station has been taken over and their weekly show is being axed. The action follows those involved in producing and performing this last show, before the demolition team arrives in the morning to dismantle the set and turn the theatre into a parking lot.

As well as writing the film, Garrison Keillor plays himself. His manner and demeanour are so unlike that of a Holywood star. He doesn’t play to the radio theatre’s audience (who we never see up close). Instead he throws himself into the show’s content and music, donning a “face for radio”. His bumbling and covering up for mistakes may even be more authentic than acted.

Some big names have been drafted in to boost the commerciality of director Robert Altman’s film, his last as it turned out - Altman was 79 when he made it. And they can all sing. Meryl Streep plays a histrionic sister, one of the Johnston singers, with Lindsay Lohan as her daughter. So that’s who Lohan is! Given Lohan’s off-screen party animal persona, she plays a surprisingly normal girl, except for the dark suicidal poetry she writes, reminiscent of Sylvia Plath’s Bell Jar!

There’s a little too much narrative at the film’s beginning from the show’s security man Guy Noir, played by Kevin Kline, to get the audience up to speed with the story. It spoils the opening, making it drag out with little action and creates an odd atmosphere. There are times when you feel that the film is set in the 1950s, and then you see modern mics, talkback and people talking into mobile phones and you remember that this really is set in 2005 - just that some people prefer the way life was!

With Keillor involved, the surprise isn’t that there’s a surreal element to the story. The surprise is the form that the surreality takes. A woman in a brilliant while raincoat and high heels who walks about the radio theatre, back stage, on stage and through the stalls too. Some people see her and talk to her. Others don’t. An ethereal angelic performance that keeps you wondering most of the way through the film.

If you want to spend an evening tapping your toe, not worrying about the odd line that you can’t quite catch, and enjoy some tuneful and at times really clever entertainment, track down a cinema showing A Prairie Home Companion, and settle down into a comfortable seat. Watch out for the stars in the deep blue sky during the opening scene/credits … you’ll not see those on High Definition TV! And lots of clever shots using mirrors.

It’s hard to beat good cinema.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Line Rider - the cheap way to ski in the slopes

Bored? Looking for a distraction? Make sure you have the time before you try out the Line Rider website.

Only created in September 2006 by Slovenian student Boštjan Cadež, it’s a fast growing cult online game (or “toy” as the author prefers to call it).

So what is it? Basically, you draw a sky slope with your mouse, and watch a cmall character on a sled try and sleigh down your creation. If the slope isn’t smooth, he’ll fall off and it’s all over.

Simple?

After a couple of goes, the feeling of frustration will mount. Pause, and check out the example movies showing what some advanced users (ie, addicts) have achieved. Frightening!



Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

White smoke: Primate-elect Bishop Alan Harper

The white smoke has risen from the Anglican St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. The eleven bishops were meeting to elect the successor to Lord Eames as Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland.

Drum roll ... and the winner is Bishop Alan Harper, currently Bishop of Connor and at 62, the oldest of the bishops. He will officially take over on 2 February 2007.

Last week in his form tips to the runners and riders on his blog, William Crawley suggested:

Alan Harper (62) is ... known for his liberal approach to some social and theological matters, and although he has lived in Northern Ireland for 40 years his Englishness may stand against him. He is said to be highly regarded by Archbishop Eames, and acted as media spokesman for the bishops recently when they challenged the UK government over its “oppressive” approach to controversial legislation in Northern Ireland.

This afternoon, the Archbishop of Dublin, John Neill, announced Alan Harper’s election, saying:

“Bishop Harper is a man of deep faith, great ability and pastoral insight and I am certain that he is the person that we were guided by the Holy Spirit to elect to this office. He will represent the Church of Ireland in situations in Ireland and beyond with great courage and clarity, and it will be a joy to work with him.”

And Primate-elect Bishop Harper said:

“I am deeply humbled and honoured by the trust placed in me by my colleagues. I pray that God will guide me in fulfilling the responsibilities of the role of Archbishop of Armagh. I am conscious of the privilege of serving the Church in this role.

I look forward to meeting the people of my new diocese and those members of the Church throughout the island of Ireland.”

Monday, January 08, 2007

David Ervine

I picked up a copy of the biography David Ervine: Uncharted Waters in the Book Nook secondhand bookshop just before it closed when the Victoria Centre was demolished.

It is a fairly warts and all description of Ervine’s life around East Belfast, paramilitary involvement and subsequent political life. It describes his effort to help change opinion across the loyalist community, including influencing UVF prisoners and its leadership.

Under the eye of Gusty Spence in Long Kesh (which reads more like a Great Escape-like Second World War prisoner of war camp), Ervine worked towards his O-levels and an OU degree. Education was a key to achieving loyalism’s goals through political methods.

Ervine came across as a creative politician in a country needing imagination, courage and determination. To me he was genuinely trying to move forward, aware of the reality of our country’s past and the need to bring the more extreme organisations with the rest of unionism: bringing them from a military idealism towards one that can see value in slower, more subtle, political lobbying, or else face their non-participation and disruption.

He seemed frustrated that the larger parties kept so tight a grip on the Stormont hand-brake, and were so quick to criticise his party when he was actually putting in the graft to engage with folk that the mainstream parties wouldn’t so quickly bother with.

David Ervine tragically died this afternoon in hospital following a sudden heart attack on Sunday, and subsequent a brain haemorrhage and a stoke. His family’s statement said that he “passed away quietly, peacefully and with dignity”. Which sums up the man. His tenacity and patience (frequently tried, only sometimes stretched to breaking point) will be missed. So too will his candour and humour.

It says a lot when not only the current Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Hain passes a message of support to your family, but the previous Secretary of State and now Home Secretary John Reid speaks too. Sincere messages of condolence are now being voiced from right across the island’s political spectrum.

We can only hope that others will help fill his vacuum and will help loyalism to remember its bloody history, and keep steering it away from violence and towards a path towards peace that Ervine so desperately wanted.

Talk about Blake’s 7 revival … and a quick mention about seven/eight-times weekly Nolan

I learnt two things from Rachel Cooke’s column in this week’s New Statesman magazine (which I rarely read, but a Google alert had pointed me that direction).

Firstly she doesn’t appreciate Stephen Nolan’s weekend Five Live phone-in, particularly now that it’s gone three nights (Fri–Sun) each weekend! To quote:

“His technique is vile, by which I mean that he would not sound out of place on TalkSport. Playing to his callers’ prejudices, Nolan often manages to sound both less liberal and less sophisticated than the borderline lunatics and insomniacs who bother to ring in. Believe me, that is some achievement.”

But secondly and much more interestingly, she brings news that there is a Blake’s 7 revival. An audio-only revival at this stage. But as a Blake's 7 fan (with a backlog of DVDs to watch through) I'm intrigued.

Script executive (and author of the first episode) Ben Aaronovitch comments in an interview:

“We’ve retained a surprising amount of the original stories but retold in a new way and of course adapted for audio which is quite a different media from television.

The characters should be instantly recognisable to fans of the original series, especially Vila and Avon. But what we’ve tried to do is bring some depth to those characters that were less well drawn in the original—specifically Jenna and Gan.

Our aim is to produce something so compelling that people end up listening to it at 3 am in the morning because they want to hear one more segment (the stories are split) into short segments - before they sleep.”

It seems possible that a live action (ie, film or television) version may follow on if the audio are successful. Keep an eye on the sometimes random Horizon fansite for opinions on the audios when they are released into the podcastosphere in Spring 2007.

One interesting fact (it's becoming a habit) from B7 Media’s website to close …

“During its original four season run (circa 1978–81) Blake’s 7 consistently achieved higher ratings (9 million+) than its iconic counterpart Doctor Who and has sold to over 40 countries worldwide.”

Bet you B7 don’t get Billie Piper to play Jenna!