The Speed of Feedback

Radio Daze

Radio Daze

Once upon a time if you wanted to complain about a tv show, or make a suggestion, enter a competition, or send in a drawing you’d done to Blue Peter, you’d send it “on the back of a postcard” or in a “stamped, addressed envelope” to the Beeb or whomever and after a couple of weeks you’d see or hear it on the telly.

Taking off my nostalgia hat and rose-tinted specs I return to today and find that as with so much media feedback or interaction is now lightning fast. Any live show on tv or radio will have email, text and a Twitter feed in front of the presenter so they can receive on the fly praise or abuse dependant on the subject and opinion of the viewer. Sports reporters carry tablets to field questions and comments.

The internet as a communication medium is making media more interactive than ever and allows faster access to those in front of the cameras – particularly useful when it is, for example, politicians being grilled in real-time; no more need to queue up for a place on a Question Time audience.

Of course it’s just as well that not every tweet appears on-screen, or on the speaker – as the Rev Richard Coles said on QI of his twitter feed for Saturday Live on Radio 4 he often received some less than complimentary comments, which I imagine could get distracting and even depressing while trying to present a programme.

The other aspect of course is public voting, though not a new idea (it was phone voting in the old days of course) it seems that everything has to have some public choice built-in rather than the decision as to who’s the best cook, candidate or singer being left to experts. One of the latest examples is that Formula E motor sport features the potentially race-changing Fan Boost, powered by online votes, by popularity, hmm. The problem is when the choice is made with the heart rather than an expert head. But at the end of the day it’s all just entertainment.

As we move towards increasingly connected, two-way tv, I can imagine that these features will become integrated into the remotes, new buttons to like or dislike and as for voting people off shows like Strictly Come Dancing, I’m a Celebrity or Big Brother then the Red Button could have a use metaphorically more like it’s Cold War namesake…

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Return of the Red Tape…

Red Tape

Red Tape (Photo credit: Free Press Pics)

…And this time it’s digital.

It’s been a difficult few years for most of us, economically speaking, and as such it’s great to see how government departments do everything they can to make it quick and simple for employers to employ new staff, to help provide growth in the economy and give someone a purpose.

Oh, wait, no, sorry.  When I said quick and simple I meant difficult.

Once upon a time when we wanted to advertise a job we’d ring the local job centre and give them the details, they’d be typed on to a little card and slotted onto a holder on the wall.  More recently we’d ring a centralised call centre and they’d take the details and put them on the computerised version of the little cards and virtual wall.

But the last time I rang I was told that we couldn’t do that any more, all job adverts have to be placed using the online system, the woman I spoke to put the ad on but I was aware that really she was breaking the rules to do so.  I was sent information on how to do it in future and this week the reality of this futuristic way of doing things hit me.

This is meant to improve the service, and meant to be more secure – after all, we’ve all heard stories of rogue individuals pretending to be HR staff from small glass companies and posting fake job adverts.  Okay, so first step, log in to your Government Gateway account.  That’s all well and good but when it was set up the one used for the company is in the director’s name and when I try to add the Universal Jobmatch tool then I get asked to answer security questions, for verification.  Right, how would I know our director’s first girlfriend’s name, his first teddybear’s name, which school he went to?  I’m not kidding, these are the personal questions you need to provide answers to in case you ever ring them and need to prove it’s you.  He’s not here to ask and to be honest I wouldn’t ask him anyway.

No problem, as this government gateway thing turns out to be more specific to a person rather than a company I’ll set one up in my name, at this company, and I can tell them what my favourite childhood toy was.  All good so far except I can’t add Universal Jobmatch to my profile because it’s already on the director’s even though it’s not fully set up.  Ok, so I log back into the other account, remove it from there and add it to mine instead.  Now it’s true that I could only do all this because the Universal Jobmatch had been already set up and had a private ID number allocated by the woman I spoke to last time so it’s good in terms of security but it’s still an hour’s faffing about rather than a ten minute phone call.  You bored yet?  I was.

But it’s not over yet, once I was able to enter the job details all was good, in so many ways it’s easier to manage your own adverts, I’m sure the government can be happy it’s saving money by having employers do it themselves too, but what made me laugh was at the end of the process when the system told me I hadn’t entered enough characters in the job description – minimum of 200.

Ha, I thought, I go to advertise a job and they want War and Peace instead, do they think I’ve got all day?

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Lifelogging

The rear LCD display on a Flip Video camrea

The rear LCD display on a Flip Video camera (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Often today people worry about surveillance by the government with CCTV everywhere and intelligence agencies able to view what we do online (hi, Mr/Mrs NSA/GCHQ person) but there’s another side to the technology which is becoming ever more popular.

Many of us carry some form of video camera, I have a smartphone and a good compact camera that can record HD video, in fact I used this the other day to record a worker at our factory who was adamant he could cut a worktop with a saw that everyone else said was clearly blunt.  The resulting video is a possible candidate for YouTube, complete with Top Gear style “four hours later…” captions, as I joked at the time.

We now have the ability to record everything we experience in some way or another and people feel the need, or the desire, to do exactly that and share it with the world, even in their most intimate moments, as if to prove that they did it, or how good at it they were, so to speak.  It’s a standing joke that Instagram and Facebook are a repository of photos of people’s dinner but in some ways it’s true.  In any pub you go in there are groups of drinkers gurning at smartphone cameras, never again will you be able to get utterly pished without it being recorded.  I once had my glasses “borrowed” by a woman whose friend took a photo of her, wearing my glasses, with me kissing her cheek.  Months later a woman stood by me at a bar turned and said “I’ve got a photo of you on my Facebook.”  Same woman, same glasses.  Technology has made it simpler, quicker and cheaper to create a digital photo album or slide show that, without needing shelf-space or the setting up of a projector, can be virtually infinite in size, accessible anywhere, searchable and sorted by date.

The next stage is again in the area of wearable technology.  Google’s Glass project, along with other similar techie-eyewear, promise the ability to instantly record anything you can see, which has worried many privacy campaigners despite the devices clearly having a red, Borg-like, light on the side when they’re recording.

The other type of device is specially designed for recording just about everything you experience – the Lifelogger.  Two devices have appeared so far, Autographer and Narrative, which are intended to document your life while you’re wearing it of course.  While you’re not you can imagine it sitting there wondering where you’d gone.   The two have different approaches, Autographer uses five sensors to detect location and changes in light and motion to take a photo when you change location of when it thinks you’re doing something interesting like running after someone.  Narrative takes a picture twice a minute.  When downloaded you can then look through what they’ve logged and perhaps see things you’d missed or remember something you’d forgotten – which might be both a blessing and a curse depending on the event.

One day we could all be carrying a multi-sensored device that, in the event of an emergency, could log what’s happened to you and call for help – a kind of personal Black Box Recorder.  This is happening in cars already, as the Russian meteorite impact last year showed – the event captured by an unprecedented number of witnesses thanks to dashcams and smartphones.  In-car video is also useful for insurance companies, TV clip shows and YouTube, recent personal experience of idiot drivers makes me want one more than ever.

Whether the current Lifelogging technology has a use is down to whether it’ll record anything useful or interesting but the idea has been picked up by emergency services who have considered something like Glass to both record an incident and how it’s dealt with (possibly for legal, in case of being sued, reasons, inevitably these days) while also providing vital information to the medic or police officer in real-time.  Already trials have shown that police wearing body cams are seeing positive results in terms of arrested criminals accepting their guilt.

So we hurtle onwards into the recorded future, the problem could be having time to sort the wheat from the chaff of all these Lifelogged images and indeed where to store them all.

Looks like we’ll need a bigger server.

Waste to Watts

Teesside Waste to Energy Power Station at Have...

Teesside Waste to Energy Power Station at Haverton Hill near Billingham. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the UK there have been regular plans to build waste incinerators which have always failed because locals near where they were planned always made the same arguments “what if they burn something hazardous”  “the smell will be unbearable” and so on.  Often it seems to be just a case of “not in my back yard” a phrase that afflicts so many development plans in our country.  Though in the past many incinerators in this country haven’t had the best record for cleanliness.

Such plants were generally only for waste disposal but in northern mainland Europe they think differently about their waste.

As Gizmodo reports Norway’s capital, Oslo, has a waste problem – they don’t have enough.  Half of the city’s population is powered and warmed by rubbish.  In the area there are 400 waste-to-energy plants converting household waste, industrial scrap and even medical waste into power.  Northern Europe produces about 150 millions tonnes of burnable waste to feed plants that were built to take 700 million tonnes and now they’re looking to import waste from other countries – the UK for example exports about 1,000 tonnes annually.

The plants operate in a similar way to fossil fuel power stations: burning fuel to heat water into steam to drive turbines and they’re between 14 to 28 percent electrically efficient but they also use the waste gasses to heat water and then condense the fumes to produce biogas used in metro busses.  What remains is ash and some remaining gas, contaminants and toxins tend to be destroyed in the process.

The system clearly works yet were still cramming more and more waste into landfills.  Our local councils’ recycling schemes help with reducing the level of dumped waste but actually using the waste as a resource instead of something to be buried, out of sight, out of mind until the area is eventually redeveloped into a combined recreation area/ticking time bomb of methane-fuelled fury would be even better.  There are waste-to-energy plants in this country, such as the one pictured above, but really we need to get behind this concept on a wider scale.

But again we come up against the nimbys who want power plants to be out of sight, out of mind too, preferably large, fossil fuelled, pollution spewing and far, far away, in someone else’s back yard.  The thing is that many smaller plants, although costly in setup, could eventually reap benefits for us all – cheaper electricity, cheaper heating and less trash heaps.

We’re demanding more and more power but we’re not willing to pay the price financially or in terms of our urban landscape.  Designers can make even the most industrial of buildings look attractive so the argument against the plants comes back to the idea that “they’re burning dirty waste near my home” – but as the Oslo example shows that argument is becoming, well, rubbish.

Online Democracy: Death Star Edition

Death Star Memorial

Death Star Memorial (Photo credit: sabertail)

Both the UK and USA have websites where the populace can start e-petitions to highlight concerns on subjects as diverse as immigration, the health service, troops in Afghanistan and whether the US should build a Death Star by 2016.  Er, pardon?

To quote from the petition:  “By focusing our defense resources into a space-superiority platform and weapon system such as a Death Star, the government can spur job creation in the fields of construction, engineering, space exploration, and more, and strengthen our national defense,”

Admittedly noble sentiments but a Death Star, really?  Seems some people just can’t let go of the Star Wars programme.

I’m reminded at this point of the end of Dr Strangelove…

[Washington Post]

All Work, No Play

The new downtown of Songdo International City,...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The BBC reports on a so-called Think Tank, The Centre for Economics and Business Research, who have come to the conclusion that the British public aren’t working hard enough to rebuild the economy and that all Bank Holidays should be abolished.  Myself, I’m enjoying a lazy long weekend, drinking tea, eating chocolate eggs and writing this blog post when I really should be at work – according to these people who are paid to come up with these ideas that our current government will no doubt think are fantastic.

We already have less holidays than other countries and as many people in retail, including me and my regular trade customers (builders, cabinetmakers, glaziers and so on) have said the economy needs people who can to spend the money they have in order to boost confidence (much of this spending happens on bank-holidays, when people have nothing else to do but go round the shops).  When businesses have money coming in the staff feel more secure and will, in turn buy things they might not have done when in fear for their jobs.  Little by little we recover, eventually with more demand comes pay rises and more job vacancies, this takes time but it is possible.

The media are not helping though, with constant doom-mongering about how things can only get worse.  Combine this with abolishing what for many are their only guaranteed days off then you have a recipe for a disillusioned and disheartened workforce that can see no silver lining and only have the feeling that the light at the end of the tunnel must have been switched off to save money.  It is well-known that people in such situations are often less productive so therefore this would be causing more harm than good.  (Edit: I know many people work on bank holidays but most should have an offset day to make up for it so they would still lose out.)

The think tank points to South Korea whose economy is recovering faster and whose people work on average 500 hours per year more than we do, which is 9 hours per week.  They haven’t specified whether this is two hours per day more than those who work the longest or shortest hours in this country.  They also don’t point out that much of European manufacturing is done in Asia.

Would taking away valuable, morale boosting extra days off where we get to recharge our batteries and forget work and spend time with family and friends or get away and have a change of scenery really make up for the extra couple of hours per day some South Koreans work?

(BBC News)