Portable TV

Television

Image by 동철 이 from Pixabay

In the past the term “Portable TV” just meant the set had a handle and was small enough for one person to lug into another room, it wasn’t truly portable as it still had to be plugged in, to the mains if not an aerial. Today though, again through the multipurpose devices we call smartphones, TV is everywhere.

Again the sheer volume of output sees people feeling the need to watch wherever they are and mobile networks, of course, trumpet this as a virtue of their 4G and upcoming 5G networks – you can binge watch the new series that supposedly “everyone” is watching on the train, on the way to work, on the toilet, or all three. The previous menace of people not watching where they’re walking because they’re texting or facebooking or tweeting has now become people not being present in the real world because they’re watching fictional ones instead. Similarly on holiday people want free wifi everywhere so they can watch boxsets that it would be cheaper to simply spend a fortnight watching at home.

It’s not all bad though. With digital TV and internet streaming came catch-up services which I use regularly. Often the Cricket or Formula 1 clash with other programmes and as such I can sit later and watch it on my tablet or stream it to my TV via the Chromecast, or even watch two things at once such as the British Touring Cars and F1 British Grand Prix which due to the current back to back races were on at the same time. In the recent hot weather I’ve enjoyed being able to prop the tablet up somewhere cooler than the living room and watch the Cricket highlights – by which I mean the kitchen, not the downstairs toilet. Another advantage is while streaming either live or catch-up is being able to transfer the programme from the big TV back to the tablet and take it into the kitchen while making something to eat and still keep watching. Sometimes of course it’s nice to be able to lay on the sofa and prop the tablet up on my knees and watch the cricket highlights, QI or something similar in even more comfort than normal, especially in winter when pyjamas, a dressing gown and blanket may be involved as well.

When internet TV started I wondered whether broadband would have the bandwidth to cope, it seems to, even on the mobile networks and even on my 4Mb broadband at home I can stream effortlessly and in high quality.

There used to be an image of a family gathering round the TV of an evening, now they might watch the same thing in different rooms, even different houses and still chat about it on social media. Strangely though during and since the lockdown I’ve found myself turning the TV off more and reading, listening to music while looking out of the window or just, as the summer allows, the breeze and the sounds of nature outside. Some people seem to revel in the constant availability of entertainment but I’ve found it overwhelming and as much of it is repeated relentlessly I’ve become more selective and have felt better for it – this blog has certainly become better for it.

For someone like me it’s bliss to turn off, to be quiet, knowing that the now ever-present telly is there, if and wherever, I want it.

The Joy of Clouds

Cloud and Tree

Image by Bessi from Pixabay

When I was at school thirty years ago I learnt all about mainframe computers and binary code, today they probably teach kids about how to use templates in Word to do everything for you and how to get emoticons on their iPads. When I left school I was sent on a YTS scheme placement at a letting agent whose computers were green-screen dumb terminals connected to the aforementioned mainframe-type network. These terminals didn’t store data themselves but stored what you entered on a central server computer, and we had to enter data from index cards onto the computer and write the record number the terminal gave you on the card, if you forgot you had to ask everyone else what numbers they had in order to work out which number you’d missed.

Since then we’ve been through a long era where the data you’re using is either held on the computer you’re sat in front of or a local server which creates a problem of having to transfer data to a new computer when the old one becomes too slow or losing it altogether when it dies completely. Then there is the problem of the software that accesses the data – constant upgrades, new file formats etc. The solution is cloud computing and is amazing. At home I use gmail which I can access from my PC, laptop, phone or tablet, at work we use Office 365 for email which removed the problem of having all our email on an old and creaky email server and even worse problem of some machines downloading the emails so they were not on the server at all. Now a new PC just means a download of a decent browser and log-in. I can even access my work emails from home if necessary – when we’ve had internet outages for example.

Even accounts software is moving online now so businesses can have the added security of not having all their eggs in one vulnerable server, so to speak, with the same benefit of being accessible anywhere, even from a phone app. There is the risk of hackers but that’s the same with a local internet connected server and usually the company providing the software will have good security on their servers, you’d hope.

The downside is often that unless the service is advertising funded the you’ll have to pay for a full-fat version of the service, free users will have limitations – such as the Evernote I’m writing this on which limits me to two computers. Before this limit was introduced I could start a post on my tablet, edit it on the laptop in Norfolk and finish and post it from the desktop at home. Now it’s just the laptop as a sofa based solution.

All these modern “terminal” solutions have removed the need for an all-for-one computer holding everything, I can put my best photos on Flickr, my writings on Evernote and so on, all backed-up online and accessible anywhere. Other services such as Google, Siri and Cortana enable you to bring a map up and then send directions to your phone from your computer, or send them to anyone else. I can instantly take a photo of something I need to describe and email it from the same device to whoever needs to see it.

Some software still, for me, works best as what was called a native app on a computer – such as a standalone word processor, spreadsheet, desktop publishing app or photo editor due to how web pages are constructed but as web languages continue to evolve and new technologies blur the lines between web pages and apps further maybe it will finally become unnoticeable. The idea of Software as a Service is how Microsoft distributes Windows 10 now, charging for new licences for each new computer but an existing PC will always have the most up to date version until it stops working. Web based office suites, online word processors and so on, are the basis of the likes of Chromebooks – where everything is stored and runs online and perhaps this is the way computing is going, software will never be out of date your data will never end up in a format you can’t open but you have to keep paying a subscription to access it, unless you accept banner adverts whenever you’re editing your latest monthly report.

Cloud computing has its advantages but also potential pitfalls, privacy is a concern for some but as so many online services have just shut up shop, with users’ photos and so on disappearing into the ether you do wonder whether the convenience is entirely worth it. It may be, but only if there’s the option to download your documents and use them without an internet connection, as you can still currently do with the likes of Evernote and OneDrive which synchronise locally automatically. Most importantly I’d prefer to be able to create home backups against a hacker holding everyone’s data to ransom, a mouse chewing through a power cable in a datacentre or a massive solar outburst wiping out the internet – in which case, however, we’d have much worse to worry about.

So cloud computing is the future but like tightrope walking it’s better with a safety net.

We’re Jammin’

Traffic Jam

Image by torstensimon from Pixabay

Or not, perhaps.

I’ve just been reading an old Aircraft Annual from 1962 I picked up for a couple of quid in a charity shop a couple of years ago – I have quite a backlog of such books – and in it was an article about the latest developments in traffic monitoring from the UK’s Automobile Association (today’s AA). They were using light aircraft to fly over various main roads, the approaches to special events and so on to then help patrols and local government organise the traffic and provide warnings of delays.

Since then of course we’ve had, the world over, aerial traffic reports, most famously in US cities where the “eye in the sky” reporter is part of news programmes, often as an aside filming crimes and car chases. There are also police and highways agency cameras monitoring certain stretches of motorways, feeding reports to local and national radio stations, which became even more useful with the advent of RDS (Radio Data System) radios which could not only tell you what you were listening to but automatically re-tune to another station giving traffic reports while you were driving. This was fine if you needed it but annoying if you were part way through a favourite song or perhaps a drama like The Archers and suddenly find yourself redirected… “So what happened to Matt’s cows then, was it aliens? Well, you see.. There’s heavy tailbacks leading onto the A45…”

Now of course we’re streaming our favourite music and the often derided “snooping” of Google and Apple’s servers, beaming back our phones’ GPS and mobile signal based locations to HQ allows their Maps software to determine if the phones are on a road, moving, likely to be in a car and how many of them are within, say, twenty feet of each other. Once it sees a big group of slow moving hardware going the same way it can determine that there’s a bit of a hold up and plots it on the maps it sends back to you as a red line on the road. This seamless collection and analysis of crowdsourced data is another one of the wonders of our connected times.

Who’d have though back in 1962 that fifty years later you could have a small box in your pocket that could tell you where to go, how long it’ll take and if there’s a big queue in your way. I wonder if they could, one day, do the same for supermarkets.