TV Dinners

Pizza

Pizza

Earlier this year I experienced something that made me think about how we appreciate food. I tend to watch TV while eating meals, I have done for many years and on this particular evening I was watching The Worlds Most Dangerous Roads while eating a pizza, suddenly I realised that the pizza had pretty much disappeared. I didn’t remember eating it, by which I mean I didn’t remember what it was like.  I did, however, remember the TV programme.

I realised that because I’d been concentrating on the events on-screen my mind had simply allowed the eating to be done autonomously, as though it were simply food for survival rather than enjoyment.  I felt distinctly disappointed as it was a kind of food I like to taste and savour.  For some people the TV is more important than enjoying food but not me.

There are restaurants where you eat in the dark and when I first heard about the concept, about how it enables you to appreciate the food more and experience all the nuances of flavour fully without even the distraction of seeing the food I thought it was just a fad, until the lost pizza.

Perhaps this is why we enjoy food more in restaurants or outdoors, whether it be a bacon cob or a picnic, with fewer distractions.  TV is often a constant stream of events, taking your full attention as opposed to having it on in the background, or listening to music, or having a conversation with family or friends at the dinner table like we used to – all of which let you pay attention to everything in turn, including the food in front of you.

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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…

The Sum of The Parts

Old Radio

Old Radio

I’ve replaced the overly energy efficient CD player I wrote about in January with a superior Sony system I bought on Ebay and not only is it much better sounding (and less prone to nodding-off mid song) it was a bargain thanks to a little pick and mix purchasing and DIY.

The system is from 2010 so is ancient in tech terms but it’s a good-looking, well built piece of kit, a similar one in a local second-hand store would have cost me £80 as opposed to the £250 new price.  I found one on Ebay for £11.95 plus a bit of carriage.  This one though had no speakers – no problem, searches on Ebay found many sets but I thought that with some patience I could do better and sure enough the same local store as before provided me with some lovely Sony speakers for £10.  The only problem was incompatible, proprietory connectors on the main stereo unit, but this was easily solved with a couple of crimp terminals on the speaker wires fashioned into a plug that would fit the sockets.  Works a treat.  Plug in my previously underused bluetooth reciever and I now have a thoroughly modern music player that can access the thousands of tracks on my phone, my tablet, CDs and even digital radio.

All for less than £40.  Having the latest shiny technology is all well and good but it’s still satisfying to repurpose or hack-together discarded bits to make something usable again.

Many Soapboxes, Many Voices, Many Audiences, Many (Similar) Messages

Radio Dishes

Radio Dishes

One of the reasons I gave for abandoning this blog in my rallying cry to myself to start again was that I couldn’t say anything that wouldn’t have been said elsewhere so who would be interested?  Well, that’s the thing, you could say the same thing about TV shows, magazines, newspapers and even big, mainstream websites.

I’ve just read in Wired about how people have been using new social video streaming services Periscope and Meerkat to stream stuff that seems unusual, their fridge contents are popular, apparently.  The article is about how new technologies are enabling people to create and broadcast niche, innovative and compelling content.  The thing is that there are lots of people doing this, they generally have a small audience, but there are many of the broadcasters.

The same can be said of any media on the internet.  Perhaps it’s because I was brought up with four TV channels and a handful of newspapers, or because I have a natural tendency to dismiss my own creations as worthless (a whole other can of worms) but I’d not realised that not everyone reads the same websites.  In the old media magazines (whether they be computer, fashion or football related) would print the same news, tips and articles in their own way and the internet enables us to do the same, we might say the same thing as someone else, but we say it our own way to our own audience.  Like with old media different authors have different tones, different voices.

This is the joy of the internet, everyone can have a voice and an audience of their own, without the need to stand in their local park, shouting at the pigeons.

Blogging The Information Tidal Wave

Rubbish Tip

Rubbish Tip – Courtesy Serif Image Collections

That’s how it seems sometimes, the internet, that is.  Well it does to me.  In the earlier days of the net the media and politicians trying to look “with it” called it the Information Superhighway, a term bringing visions of an orderly flow of everything you’d need to know, four lanes of neatly arranged news and entertainment.

The truth today is a torrent of cat pictures, Facebook posts, Tweets, Instagram pics, blogs, oh and news, all coming at you via the computer, phone, tablet and TV.  It’s a cliché but to paraphrase a famous quote: Never in the field of human endeavour has so much data been available to so many to be consumed in so little time.

It is in the face of this wave that I stand and try to write a blog about modern life and therein lies the problem and the first reason I’ve been getting nervous tremors at the thought of even peeking at this blog editor.  The problem is called Information Overload.

If your blog has a wide remit but you have limited time to write it then information overload can be a major issue, there are so many outlets to find things that would be relevant to what you write about but you don’t have time to both read them and write about them, you feel that you can’t write about the first thing before the next thing turns up.  Another problem with overload is having a subject to write about and either not being able to remember to put in everything you had previously thought would be good in it, or worrying that you’ve forgotten something, before hitting the publish button.  Some people can process, order and retain everything they see and read, many of us can’t.

So what’s to be done.  Firstly you have to simply accept that you’re not going to be able to cover everything you could write about.   Secondly it’s best to find a time that is conducive to writing.  For quite a while I’d not been in the mood to consume any knowledge at all and as such I’d filled the Pocket add-on in Firefox with things to read later so for the last six months I’ve been trying to catch up.  This means that in the evenings I’ve set aside an hour or so to read regular websites but by the time I’d finished doing that my brain had become tired and I couldn’t think of anything sufficiently worth putting in the blog so I thought “I’ll do it tomorrow.”

The “tomorrow” in January became October 16th in no time at all.

So for me the solution is write early, when I’m in the mood, read later.

The other thing I’ve been trying to do involves organising the information I have and the ideas that pop up through the day.  I have two notebooks, one is A4 and I write long notes.  The other is A5 and contains one-liners by which I mean titles or brief ideas for blog articles, which can be quickly flicked through for inspiration.  In the small book this article existed as simply “information overload” and related notes also existed tagged with the same wording in Evernote – which is where everything from the big notebook ends up eventually.  I recently read an article on Lifehacker on how it’s a good idea to go through notebooks like mine on a monthly schedule to keep the ideas flowing.

So, how to cope with the overload; let it flow past you, take in what you can, and don’t worry about the things that pass straight past or through your mind.  Fishing boats don’t catch every fish, you can’t see everything on the electronic net either.

Don’t Panic…

…I tell myself.  I recently ordered a number of items from retailers on Ebay, all small, couple of pound items some from the UK some from China.  I haven’t ordered anything from Amazon though – this is important.  I received confirmation emails, then despatch confirmations for all items, from Ebay.

Then I received an email from Amazon saying my order had been despatched.  WHAT ORDER!

Before opening the email I googled the company listed in the email header, it was real, a well-known marketplace seller.  I tentatively opened the email, knowing that in spam or phishing emails the “from” address (amazon.co.uk) can be spoofed.  It was a normal Amazon despatch message containing my home address and sent to my usual email address.  The thing was that there was no products listed at all but there was a link to parcel tracking that I didn’t click of course.

When I eventually checked my real-world mailbox this morning I found a large flat cardboard envelope with Amazon.co.uk emblazoned across it.  Uh, huh?

I opened it and immediately understood.  Inside was a despatch note from the company listed in the email, on Amazon stationery so to speak, and the item I’d ordered from the UK Ebay seller.  I finally realised – the email had said it was from the Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) section – I’d bought from a seller under one name on Ebay but the item was despatched from their stock held in Amazon’s warehouse under a different name.  I hadn’t realised that FBA extended beyond purchases from Amazon Marketplace to Ebay and elsewhere too.

If the product had been listed on the emailI would have realised sooner but as it was I spent yesterday morning changing my Ebay, Paypal and Amazon log-ins and passwords to be on the safe side.

The strange, confusing world of online shopping logistics.

Dear Google…

Very dear Google, at the moment, it seems.  In both money, time and torn out hair.

Two years ago my folks bought me a Google Nexus 7 (by Asus) for Christmas as I couldn’t afford the £200 cost myself and over those two years it has remained a terrific gadget, so useful to me, checking emails, quick notes into Evernote, streaming my entire, extensive, music collection over a bluetooth speaker system etc, as I’ve mentioned before.

Then Google announced Android 5.0 – Lollypop.  A new look, a new heart, faster, leaner, better – for every device that would take it.  Until I clicked on the download button on the update my Nexus 7 rarely stuttered, only very occasionally did it slow down, usually down to an errant website or, very rarely, a misbehaving app.  Now though it can’t even display Google Earth street views without crashing completely, touches are completely unresponsive, though sometimes it’ll do what I’ve asked a minute or so later.  Google Maps zooms out when I make the gesture to zoom in, bouncing back out to the original map size like it thinks I’ve changed my mind.

I’ve read the forums where others afflicted like myself have tried to suggest fixes – I’ve cleared the cache by booting into its safe mode” and it seemed to work, for a day or so and then we were back to the same sorry state of affairs of frustratedly stabbing at the screen like it’s going to suddenly notice that I’m doing something.  The Jellybean version of android introduced Project Butter which made Android smoother and slicker, I think Lollypop must refer to a toffee apple as this feels more like Project Treacle.

In tech parlance our Nexus 7s (Nexii?) are as good as bricked, and it’s all the more annoying that it’s on Google’s own device – they should know their own hardware.  The Nexus line was originally a kind of reference hardware of sorts, the first out the gate with a new O/S to show how other manufacturers should make their devices.  The thing is that the Nexus devices have been so good and such good value for money that they’ve not been just bought by techies who will accept that they’re using a beta-test device and can get round any bugs, these are mainstream devices with respected names engraved on them, a major update like this shouldn’t effectively break the hardware or ruin the user experience.

To be fair, briefly, it’s not just Google as Apple too have had a similar experience with iOS 8 making many iPhones etc unusable after the update, issues which took some sorting out via various updates.

I have a Sony phone which will never be updated beyond Android 4.3 because Sony doesn’t feel that 4.4 (Kitkat) would run well on it, this I can accept and because of this the Xperia still runs beautifully and unless something I load onto it changes that it will for some time.  I also have a laptop which sometimes loads to a black screen and I can’t log on until I put it to sleep and wake it again and it sometimes crashes yet I don’t mind one bit – because it’s running Windows 10, which is currently only in its experimental, technical preview stage.

That’s the thing pre-beta test operating systems will inevitably contain bugs, that’s the point of beta test software, you use it, you accept it, but Android 5.0 on an older Google device feels like a piece of beta software pushed out as finished.

So Google, please make it work, I can’t afford a Nexus 9, I want my Nexus 7 back.

[Really Google, I mean it, I can barely type at the moment, I’m pleading, hands clasped, on my knees, which are starting to feel sore…]

 

Update:  Ok, so it’s a couple of weeks later, Christmas has been and gone and I’m now less than charitable, my Nexus is still next to useless, every time I go to use it the battery’s flat, it’ll work fine for a while then I’ll try to browse the internet and it’ll start locking up again, sometimes Maps will work, sometimes it won’t.  All I’m thinking now, while looking for contingencies of cheap non-Google tablets (I did find myself thinking “if only I had an iPad” the other day but in reality I’m thinking more the Asus/Acer route), is how long will it be before someone sues Google over this.

End of January – the 5.0.2 update came in, all was fine, it was like having a new tablet again, woohoo!  Then after a couple of weeks it was back to being unresponsive most of the time again.  Seriously, Google, I want my £200 back, plz, k thx for nothing, bye.

March 15th – Android 5.1 “Bug Fixes” Ooh, they’ve fixed it.  No.  Now it’s just as unresponsive as ever and now the Ebay app won’t connect to the internet while Gmail will – it’s fine though if I switch the router off and on again.  Oh joy.

May 26th – There’s an article on Gizmodo about the future of Nexus devices.  I know the future of one Nexus device and it involves a rubbish bin, as I couldn’t in all conscience even give away this now almost bricked slab of glass and plastic to anyone.  It works for looking at Ebay, oh and Gmail but only if I leave it for twenty minutes after it connects to my WiFi in order to let it sort itself out.  If I try to search for something it goes into 1998 PC speed mode when any browser loads, I can barely use the internet on it basically.  Google Maps is the same, most of the time it just locks solid when I try to zoom into a map, after half an hour of forced reboots and trying to ignore it the thing will suddenly work ok, for a while.

I’m at a loss to explain it, as is anyone else.  If this was an Apple device their reputation would be taking a battering.

Anyway, time to save up and move on – Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 it is then.

Square Eyes

Netflix

Netflix (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hi, it’s been a while, how you doing?  While I’ve been away from the blog (it’s been so long I see that WordPress have been in and redecorated the Editor screen) I’ve been watching a lot of tv.

Now I remember when Channel 4 started and Channel Five naturally, then when Freeview digital tv began I wondered whether there would be anything worth watching on. Before digital I used to watch more dramas and things I don’;t watch now because there’s more choice and I can find something more to my taste, the last drama series I think I watched was series two of Lost before Channel 4, er, lost it.

Now thanks to BBC2, BBC4, Dave and Quest I have plenty to watch, unfortunately.  Just in the last six weeks there has been something I’ve wanted to watch on every night from seven to nine and the interesting thing is that they were all episodes of the same programmes every night.

This seems to be pandering to people’s cries of “I want more and I want it now”.  Once, when we had five channels, a tv show was on once a week, except the news and weather of course, there was too much of it for one show and we’d forget whether it was going to rain on Thursday.  Soon though soaps started being shown a couple of times a week, then Channel Five brought in striped programming where the same type of show was on at the same time every day.  Now though channels will show a whole series in one go, often a brand new show, an episode a day, seemingly to avoid forfeiting the viewers’ easily distracted attention – oh, won’t somebody please think of the advertising revenue!

Then there’s the extras – first Big Brother gained a post-show pseudo-analytical, comedic Little Brother, as if an hour of housemates wasn’t enough, the X-factor now takes up two evenings as does Strictly Come Dancing in a show of further ratings rivalry.  A cynic might say that all this also cheaply fills up all those fifty channels of digital bandwidth but I couldn’t possibly comment.

Much of this is related to the modern concept of Binge Watching brought about by online and satellite tv Box Sets – which are now even available for brand-new shows so rather than watching a series over half a year (as in the old days of The West Wing or Frasier for example) you can sit for a whole weekend watching episode after episode only stopping for food and toilet breaks, though with some services you can transfer the show to your tablet and keep watching in the loo too – another argument against buying second-hand tablets.  There is even advice for how to wean yourself off the box sets (spoiler alert:  it’s about watching episodes from half-way through, so avoiding the cliffhanger).

The thing is that satiating peoples’ impatience takes away the appreciation and anticipation of something you have to wait for.  If you’re watching the next episode of a drama straight away you’re missing the excitement of finding out what happens next steadily building.  That was what cliffhangers in tv dramas were invented for so next time you’re watching a drama on Netflix remember that the end credits are there for a reason.

Got to go , the repeat of Salvage Hunters is on.

Smarterphones

SAM_0227

Sony Smart Tags

It has been a dream for decades of having computers that communicate with each other seamlessly, that can access all your data anywhere and could even be used to communicate.  Now, of course, it’s not a dream, we are living in that shiny, space-age, future… just without the flying cars and moonbases and spandex for everyone – pretty certain I can live without the last one though.

The smartphone is becoming the hub of that new age and they’re becoming smarter at an incredible rate.  My phone for example is location-aware, when it detects my car stereo’s bluetooth receiver I’ve told it to increase the screen brightness and it automatically launches the remote control app so I have full swiping and voice control of my tunes rather than having to look away from the road.  It could also switch on the GPS, launch the sat-nav or whatever else.  It can be set to run the music app when I plug in headphones, automatically adjusting the volume, turning notifications off, changing screen brightness etc, then changing it all back when I unplug them again.

There are apps which can unlock your phone’s lockscreen and set it up for home use as soon as it detects your WiFi, or if it knows you’re home based on GPS, Google Now (and equivalents) can even work out where home and work are.  I’m surprised the thing doesn’t say “ahh, home at last, how about a cup of tea.”  One day it will, and through the Internet of Things it’ll instruct the kettle to switch on too no doubt.

Another technology I was mistrustful of when it’s main use (in tech) was for contactless credit cards is NFC (Near Field Communication) but since buying an NFC equipped bluetooth adaptor for my old home hi-fi and a set of NFC tags to go with the phone I’m a convert to that too.  Once programmed the same app on the phone that detects the car’s bluetooth detects a quick tap of the back of the phone against a specific tag and changes settings or runs an app as required.  I have one that I can tap before leaving the house which activates the mobile data, once home I can tap it again to switch it off – which means I’m not disturbed by emails about sales and “recommendations” from retailers in the middle of the night (I switch the WiFi off at night too).

Apple’s iBeacon technology is allowing retailers to know you’re in store and can provide relevant information to your phone, which has inevitably created some privacy concerns but such is the way with new technology like this.  As I’ve mentioned before apps such as Siri and Google Now tailor the information they give to you based on where you are, pre-emptively giving you travel info for your journey home or tomorrow’s weather.

All this location and context aware gadgetry isn’t just about clever tricks any more, it’s becoming genuinely useful and convenient, giving us devices that adapt to the situation they are in rather than being set up manually at every change.  I used to say that computers aren’t clever enough to know what you want them to do, now though, it looks like they’re getting there.

Crappy Writers

Typebars in a 1920s typewriter

Typebars in a 1920s typewriter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t want to sound all Holier Than Thou in this post, but I’m going to anyway.  I write this blog, by myself, for no money, I am a blogger.  There are many other commercial blogs out there that contain writers who like to say “we’re journalists” but “we’re bloggers” if someone questions their professional standards.

One thing that always provokes the latter is when someone questions the tone of a piece or the non-impartiality of the writer.

One thing that keeps cropping up that bugs me is the use of the word “crappy”, in fact the title of this piece is actually “‘Crappy’ Writers” –  you see, I’m not being personal.  At all.  Honestly.

You see it regularly when describing gear that the writer feels is not to their liking, or is a bit old, and seems to be said in a kind of nod to the knowing audience who would of course all be agreeing.  Recent examples include a preview of an un-released tablet from a company that wasn’t Apple being described as “another crappy tablet” even though the spec hadn’t been announced and nobody had seen it and a photo taken from one aircraft of another which was taken not with a high-end DSLR worth thousands but with a “crappy Canon ELPH”.  Was it an appallingly bad photo?  No, especially as it was taken from a moving aircraft and was a photo of two other moving aircraft.  As we all know “at the end of the day the best camera is the one you have with you.”  In reality at the end of the day the best camera is the one with a tripod, or a flash, the rest of the day anything will do.  Sorry.

The crappy word isn’t always said, I’ve seen articles about a new phone or chipset saying “but if you’re reading this website you won’t want it because it’s a budget phone” oh so being interested in tech is limited to the well-off now is it?

If there’s a justification, then say it’s not a brilliant piece of kit, review it properly but to say that someone’s camera is crappy just because it’s not this year’s wi-fi connected, app enabled wondersnapper is unfair.  As is describing something that’s aimed at the less well off as crappy just because it’s not got a Ultra HD Full-Eyeball Neural Screen.

Not everyone can afford (or be given) the latest, top of the range kit, so how about holding back the longer c-word for the genuinely crap.