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Why Television and Radio Won’t Die

Last night I started watching The Wolverine. Before you judge, let me state that it happened to be on Amazon Prime, and I’ve read, re-read and indeed re-purchased the Wolverine Graphic Novel after mistakenly lending it to people over the years.

It was late and I was weak.

In fact it was late enough that about half of the way through the film I decided to take a break and get some sleep. So when I stopped working to grab some lunch today, it seemed like a good time to finish the film off. Except that I couldn’t.

The process went something like this:

  • Go to Amazon Prime Video and search for Wolverine, as the main pages only want to show me new films/TV shows.
  • Click to view.
  • Wait ages.
  • Get a Silverlight error message.
  • Try again.
  • Get the same Silverlight error message.
  • Sigh deeply, then go to Settings, and select the Flash player.
  • Go back to Amazon Prime Video and get a Silverlight error message. Return to settings, and back to the video and then it loads in Flash.
  • Watch approximately 2-3 minutes of the film with 60 second intervals for it to buffer.
  • Go back to Settings, revert to Silverlight and spend a minute or two reading the Troubleshooting Guide.
  • Download the Silverlight Diagnostic Tool as recommended and watch as it fails to find the problem.
  • Restart Router. Restart PC.
  • Realise that I’ve finished my lunch and gone way over the time I’d planned to spend.
  • Cry a little inside.
  • Decide to give it one last try just to see what happens. Silverlight etc doesn’t have a problem, but in the process I seem to be watching the film from the beginning again
  • Cry a little more inside.

And this is exactly why broadcast television and radio won’t die.

Television

In order of problems viewing:

  • Amazon Instant Video – 1-2 problems per month
  • Virgin Media Digital Box – 1 problem every few months
  • Broadcast TV and Radio – I can remember 1 problem when someone stole cabling supplying one of the transmitters in Peterborough a few years ago.

But it’s not as simple as blaming Amazon, Netflix, Hulu or Youtube for a poor video experience.

Or Silverlight, Flash or HTML5.

Or Virgin, Sky, BT or other ISPs.

Or someone else in the house using a different device for gaming, streaming or downloading Wikipedia en masse.

Or all the neighbours deciding this is the exact time they all want to stream something as well.

Because the problem with internet television and radio is that it could be any part of the chain that causes an issue, and generally it’s down to the individual to figure it out.

The rationale is easy to understand – no service can provide effective troubleshooting for every individual combination of internet, viewing device and browser. But even as someone who has picked up reasonable technical knowledge over the years, it’s a massive pain in the arse.

Is it the software, the browser, the PC,  the wifi, the router, or the ISP? The diagnostics told me it was Silverlight, my observations were that my connections seemed to be running slowly, and restarting an entirely different piece of hardware fixed everything, and Silverlight runs fine again.

*facepalm*

Meanwhile I can turn on a television or radio in a matter of seconds and enjoy whatever is available with simplicity and reliability. And if there’s a problem viewing, it’s either:

  • The TV is broken. Replace.
  • The transmitter is broken.
  • The end of the world has begun.

I love streaming films, TV and music on-demand, and accessing shows and artists I’d have never discovered and spent money on. But it’s hard to defend something which takes a working knowledge of IT to operate.

It’s why I worry about Net Neutrality, and the horrific idea that the EU could be moving towards accepting a two-tier internet. Access to a decent broadband speed is an infrastructure required by everyone – without it you limit the ability of individuals and startups in favour of the dominant players being able to mask the fact their services are inefficient.

It’s why I worry about curbing the BBC as a free-to-air service which is able to share information, education and news to anyone regardless of their devices or ISP.

And it’s why a part of me worries every time Spotify unveils new features, or Amazon tries to deliver a new technological innovation. Because it means that there are less people working in the boring ‘Just make it work’ department.

Years ago, I would have happily predicted the imminent demise of print and broadcast media in favour of digital services. All this time later, and I’m still waiting for something approaching reliability to make it conceivable.

On the plus side, the original comics are still awesome. And still work perfectly 33 years after they were first released.

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Thom Yorke + Bittorrent = $26 million?

Turns out 4.4 million Bittorrent downloads between the end of September 2014 and the end of the year can be pretty profitable – with a 90-10% split of revenue in favour of the artist.

Only flaw is that there’s no breakdown between free and paid downloads, so $26 million is the potential maximum, and the potential minimum could be $0. Matthew Ingram quotes a 50% payment rate for a figure of $20 million, which seems potentially a little high, although hardcore fans tend to convert better than random strangers. Still, shows experimentation can be profitable if you have a big enough following. (Source: GigaOm)

 

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10 Albums which changed my life…

I was recently tagged in one of those ‘List 10 seminal albums which changed your life’ memes on Facebook. Instead of just replying on a social network which may or may not exist in the future, and just giving them more content to memorise, I figured I’d go into a little more detail here.

These aren’t all my favourite albums. Or those that contain my favourite singles of all time. Or what Last.fm tells me I’ve listened to the most since 2007. But they’re what I believe had the biggest impact on me, blurred by the mists of time.

 

Otis Redding: ‘Otis Blue’ (Spotify) (Amazon)

My dad was a bit of a DJ and soul fan in his youth, so I associate classic soul with vinyl being carefully placed on his Sony record player. It was an early link between us, particularly as we both favoured the rawer sounds of Stax Atlantic over the superficial gloss of most Motown. And it’s a link that has lasted almost 40 years. I could have chosen Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, Eddie Floyd, Sam Cooke etc, but Otis Blue is probably the album that stands out most for me, because it’s Otis Redding, it’s got a range of styles and covers as well as original songs, and it’s got ‘Change Gonna Come’ and ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’ rather than ‘Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.

 

Suzanne Vega ‘Suzanne Vega’ (Spotify) (Amazon)

As a child, I was fascinated by ‘Marlene on the Wall’ without having a clue what the lyrics meant. As I got older, ‘The Queen and The Soldier’ remains one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs above the tragedy of love that I’ve heard. And it also opened my eyes and ears to the beauty of one person and a guitar, as well as sparking a love affair which is rekindled every time I hear a female singer/songwriter. In an alternate reality, a 20-something me is a struggling novelist in a New York loft with a beautiful songwriter girlfriend…

 

Metallica ‘Kill ‘Em All’ (Spotify) (Amazon)

I was 9 or 10 when Top of the Pops played the video of ‘One’ by Metallica. Four guys in a circle in a warehouse playing music with the weight of concrete, combined with a subject and lyrics which probably led to my interest in history and war poets. After a weekend of headbanging around the living room, I went out and ended up with their first album instead, which was fortunate in terms of chronology, and also contained some of the loudest, most enthusiastic thrash metal ever. Thus began my years of leather jackets, blank jeans, long hair and playing guitar.

 

Pantera ‘Cowboys From Hell’ (Spotify) (Amazon)

I bought this album on the first day a school friend took me into the local town centre to meet a group of metal fans who hung around together. It marked the first time I’d gone and joined a load of people by choice, my first real encounter with underage drinking, and my first real kiss with a teenage girlfriend, who left her mark by sitting on my then brand-new CD and cracking the case. The romance lasted a couple of weeks, my drinking became legal and virtually non-existent, but the album is still great. And now gets requested by my young son for Cowboys From Hell…

 

The Lemonheads ‘It’s a Shame About Ray’ (Spotify) (Amazon)

Just a brilliant album with no filler in 33 minutes which was learned by heart, sung in it’s entirety with my best friend at school as we’d walk home, and inspired various attempts at school bands which were great fun even if it didn’t lead to stardom. Led to going to gigs, discovering the earlier, punkier records, and eventually getting to interview founding and departed member Ben Deily, whose current band ‘Varsity Drag’ is also highly recommended.

 

Singles (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (Spotify) (Amazon)

Not just an album with Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Mother Love Bone, Screaming Trees, The Smashing Pumpkins, Mudhoney and Hendrix, but also some of their best songs (State of Love and Trust, Nearly Lost You and Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns). I’d heard most of them before on their own records (Ten, Nevermind, Siamese Dreams all could have made this list), but this album led to discovering The Replacements via Paul Westerberg, living near to Seattle for a year, and visiting the cinema which first opened the film. And swapping leather jackets for plaid shirts occasionally. Without this album, I might not have lived in America, met my now ex-girlfriend, and become a father to a wonderful son who loves some of the songs on the soundtrack.

 

The Charlatans ‘Up To Our Hips’ (Spotify) (Amazon)

The constant companion to my cousin on a family trip to Centre Parcs, only alternated with Credit to the Nation on the stereo. I’d fight for it against all the later albums, or anything by The Stone Roses or Oasis. It’s the organ playing by the late Rob Collins that does it. And the memory of causing all kinds of carnage on that holiday.

 

Kenickie ‘At The Club’ (Spotify) (Amazon)

Another compact slice of heaven, in this case pop-punk. At the age of 19/20 in the South East, the combination of the music, the Northern accents and the accompanying first year of student life up North were a potent combination. Ash were also my age, but could never really be described as glamorous – Kenickie could.

 

Max Richter ‘Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi, The Four Seasons’ (Spotify) (Amazon)

In 2012 I wasn’t just trying to run a business on my own. For various reasons, it was also the year that I separated from my partner of more than 12 years, which meant leaving my young son in the family home to set up alone. So although my ex and I remained on good terms, I was left with a massive void throughout every waking hour.

I have no idea how I originally came to hear this album, or why as a non-classical music buff it’s become a regular companion to my day, but the mix of familiarity with one of the most famous pieces of classical music, along with the new twists and turns as it’s been re-assembled and composed definitely helped me to get through the last couple of years sat at a small desk in the corner of a largely empty room.

 

The Tallest Man on Earth ‘Shallow Grave’ (Spotify) (Amazon)

Proof that Suzanne Vega left a love of folk, along with the Irish influence of my family (e.g. Christy Moore), and the Swedish influence of my ex (Although actually her tastes were more mainstream pop, and I’ve been discovering Swedish and Scandinavian folk, punk etc due to the love she left me with for Swedish culture).

I still love unusual voices which carry emotion, rather than polished, professional and dull performances. And the whole album is pretty good, although The Gardener is the clear standout track. But really it’s a symbolic choice to cover all the new music I’ve heard over the last couple of years, and all the new music I intend to discover in the future, as I’m confident there will be a lot more defining moments and albums around. That’s what I intend anyway…..

 

Well, that’s how to turn a 5 minute Facebook meme into a 1200 word biography. So many songs and bands ended up being left out because although they made great music, they just didn’t happen to coincide with something happening or changing. I could have probably added in Guns n Roses ‘Appetite for Destruction’ or Skid Row’s ‘Skid Row’ as they accompanied my arrival at grammar school, my first guitar lessons and becoming a more rebellious teen. Or the likes of Therapy?, The Manic Street Preachers, Oasis, Blur etc for accompanying my teenage nights out and infatuations. But I did avoid the temptation to retro-fit perceived ‘classics’ in there.

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Treasure an age of individual beauty

Rather than mourning the loss of the classic canon of literature, music or film, we should be embracing an age where those interested can create and share their own ideals of beauty and art more easily.

Reading an article on the death of the novel by Will Self, followed by a reflection on Britpop and the anniversary of Blur’s Parklife, both seemed fueled by the end of gatekeepers rather than the end of great literature or music. It’s all too easy to mourn the loss of the past when you’re getting older.

The fact is that it’s never been easier or cheaper to immerse yourself in beautiful or thought-provoking art. Or to stumble across something thought provoking. And to find what speaks to you.

Although it’s best to look for yourself or get human recommendations rather than rely on the primitive suggestion attempts that big data is still providing. One day a data scientist will figure out that someone can like and loathe films by the same director or albums by the same band.

BookSnakebyAlanLevineFlickr

Book Snake by Alan Levine (Cogdog) on Flickr – CC License

Pinning Will Self’s term of a ‘serious novel’ down is difficult, but you could probably go by the standards of English teaching throughout the years. And while Jane Austen is justifiable as an example of a writer, I struggle to recall anything except boredom from studying her work.

Whereas George Orwell, Douglass Adams, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller etc have stayed with me. And they’ve been joined by the likes of William Gibson. Re-reading some of his books recently (Pattern Recognition onwards), I still find myself utterly captivated by the way he weaves his otaku obsession with the detail of inanimate objects into his stories. He can open with the idea that jetlag means your soul isn’t capable of flight and is still traveling to catch up with you, and inspire an interest in researching Curta digital mechanical calculators.

At the same time, I also re-read Cory Doctorow’s Homeland. If the concepts of mass demonstrations, unlawful arrests and technology-based conspiracies doesn’t provoke some interesting thoughts, it also includes afterwords written by the likes of Aaron Swartz, and links to starting a Hackerspace, building 3D printers and more.

Given the current technological issues impacting on the world alongside economics and politics, there’s a ‘serious’ argument to be made. Or for those of a more historical bent, I remain fascinated with Hagakure – Book of the Samurai and Letters from a Stoic.

Not all novels, granted. But the breadth of mediums, formats and styles underlines my point. My serious reading comes from blogs, websites, eBooks, printed books, graphic novels, comics, cartoons and more.

Harp music in the library by Henk Kosters Flickr

Harp music in the library by Henk Kosters Flickr – CC License

But besides the delivery mechanism, what has changed is that it can be a completely individual and multifaceted canon. And one which I can explore and share. And by exploring, I can easily also find people who appreciate even just one of the same choices.

I’m still discovering music today from genres I loved, bought and obsessed about 20 years ago which I didn’t get to hear at the time due to the availability of American alternative music in Kent in the early 90s, or my limited budget to risk on metal bands I’d never get to sample on the radio. As much as friends could provide some recommendations, it’s amazing how much was shaped by watching specialist music shows on at 2am in the morning.

And I could never have had enough teenage friends to cope with my desire to listen to classic 60’s soul, 80’s hiphop, 90’s grunge and thrash metal, and a few folk and country songwriters, often in the space of an afternoon.

The internet hasn’t caused the end of mass youth trends. It’s simply accelerated the process started by television, radio and access to history which meant Britpop and Grunge in the UK largely led to questionable clothing and hairstyle choices rather than attempts to try and change the world. It also means I can create a playlist of songs that make me happy that includes Alphabeat, Jimmy Cliff and The Cure. And not only potentially meet other people that somehow arrived at a similar list, but even use it to find dates or love.

If the loss of mass consensus is the cost, I’m happy to pay it. And it”ll be interesting to see how that applies to politics, for example, as parties finally realise that for every one issue which I might align with, they have several that repel me. In the meantime, I’ll be exploring the history of pirates and vikings to share with my son, the latest marketing and technology news for work, and the most beautiful writing and music for myself.

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Music to work to…

Working in a home office has a number of benefits, including a relatively short commute of about 30 seconds in the morning. It also means I can be more flexible with my hours, which is a great advantage, although it means I’m often typing away alone.

Being an only child and spending lots of time reading, writing and playing with computers means that solitude is a fairly natural state for me, but it’s also meant I’ve invested some time in working out the best soundtracks to have as background noise. I’ve got reasonably varied tastes from classic soul to punk and thrash metal, but I’ve found two types of music work particularly well.

Firstly, classic music seems to provide the right soundtrack for working. In particular, Vivaldi: Recomposed by Max Richter, which is familiar enough to be relaxing, but more enjoyable than the original for me.

That’s worked well for a fair while, but I’ve also found some other music that’s ideal for working.

For years I’ve been trying to improve my Swedish, but I’ve never really knuckled down and got to the stage where I’d be able to claim I’m fluent. So it turns out that listening to Swedish vocals means that I’m familiar enough with the chorus, but don’t end up distracted by the verses.

This song in particular has been on repeat play a lot recently.

So if you’re working somewhere and need a musical background – and don’t fancy classical or ambient type tracks – then what about picking your favourite style of music but in a different language?

Got any of your own tips for coping with the solitude of working at a home office?

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ThisIsMyJam: Dinosaur Jr ‘Start Choppin’

A few reasons for picking this. Firstly we visited the Natural History Museum recently to see some Dinosaurs. Secondly I’ve just found out that Dinosaur Jr are playing the Hop Farm Festival near my hometown in Kent. And thirdly, I always loved the weird mix on Channel 4’s The Word, which seemed to delight in picking semi-obscure (at least in the UK) grunge acts to play to a crowd picked from a local High Street nightclub. Which normally led to some confused shuffling around.

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For musicians

I have a fair number of talented musicians as friends. Quite often I’ve seen them posting some of the popular image memes around people not paying for music anymore, despite paying for a cup of coffee.
I explain that I don’t buy CDs much any more, aside from the occasional secondhand bargain. But I do pay directly to a variety of artists for their work, even if I can already access it via Spotify or I’ve already downloaded it, and I’m increasingly buying gig tickets, merchandise and other items.

This TED talk by Amanda Palmer has just been posted, and I think it’ll be my default response in future:

 

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This is my jam: ‘Blue’ by First Aid Kit

Folky Swedish songwriters to coincide with the first sunny weather promising the hint of Spring on the way…

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This is my jam… Eddie Vedder – Sleeping by Myself

 

As a bonus, here’s Eddie Vedder singing ‘Comfortably Number’ with Roger Waters:

 

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This Is My Jam: Pearl Jam ‘State of Love and Trust’

A favourite song of mine for about 15 years+, it always fires me up and inspires me…