Gadgets, Music, Tech, Television

Timeshift

I can admit when I’m wrong, I don’t always like it but I can. When companies started talking about internet based on-demand TV I thought that the bandwidth requirements would overwhelm the technology, I was wrong and I’m really quite glad about that.

I haven’t signed up for any of the paid-for services but have found uses for the free ones. I’ve said before that I watch Antiques Roadtrip and as this is on while I’m at work I use the BBC iPlayer to watch it via a Roku on my TV, or on my tablet. Similarly I tended to relocate other shows to a time when there wasn’t anything else on the TV – or more recently on the radio, as I hardly use the telly anymore, or when I’m not busy doing something else.

It’s a far cry from when I was growing up – when the only technology we had to timeshift a programme was a VCR and a selection of tapes. The major problems, I remember, were remembering to set the timer; hoping that a power cut didn’t wipe the machine’s memory before it recorded whatever it was you wanted; finding a blank tape, or one you could reuse and ensuring that nobody wanted to record something else at the time. There was always the worry that someone would record over something you’d not watched yet. I do vaguely remember the broadcasters’ and manufacturers’ reminders that the VCR was only intended to temporarily timeshift shows like this.

After the VCR came other tech including hard-disc recorders, often including multiple tuners so you could record programmes from two or more channels at once, but these were soon rendered obsolete as well by streaming and catch-up services.

Recently I took advantage of an Amazon Prime free trial to watch Star Trek: Picard, and then signed up for a month so I could finish it – not being a binge watcher myself. This was an extreme example of timeshifting, being almost a year after it came out – a bit easier than waiting for it to be repeated on normal TV. Not that TV repeats are all bad – I usually end up watching QI a year after it’s shown on the BBC on the Dave channel, which has itself been so successful in repeating that it now gets referenced on shows such as, er, QI.

Catch-up and live internet radio is just as useful for listening to a show that’s on too early or late at a time when another show you’re not interested in is on. It also comes in handy when you’re listening to live radio, for example last week’s Liza Tarbuck on BBC Radio 2, and you miss something that someone’s said. In this case I grabbed my phone, fired up BBC Sounds and rewound the show by a minute. Which is one of the benefits of all these internet based services – radio and TV: you can go back and look at something again, pause it and write something down, or, most importantly, take a break and make a cuppa.

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Tech, Television

Remote Selling

Auction

Image by succo from Pixabay

I watch the BBC’s Antiques Roadtrip which, for the uninitiated features antiques dealers and auctioneers travelling around the UK and Ireland buying antiques to sell, hopefully for a profit, at auction. In between spending cash the experts visit interesting local places along the way.

I thought that this year’s series wouldn’t be possible due to Covid-19, because of closed antiques shops and auctions not being allowed due to social distancing but another online innovation and the production team’s ingenuity has saved the day.

Auction houses have, of course, accepted commission bids and phone bids for some time but over the course of the Roadtrip’s twenty previous series more have accepted live online bidding.  Having an audience of not just potentially a couple of hundred in the room but thousands across the world benefits the auction house and sellers alike, often the online bids well outstrip what those present in person are willing to pay.

In the case of the Roadtrip itself there is still plenty of opportunities for Covid-safe shopping but social distancing has meant that we are now treated to our experts travelling in separate cars and sometimes by bike and then sitting on the edge of a field or car park watching the auction on tablets, losing a little of the atmosphere of the past, with the auctioneer in an empty room talking only to webcams and assistants on phones, but at least we still get our entertainment. 

It’s even thanks to the internet that I can watch it at all as it’s shown when I’m at work and I watch it later on iPlayer.  As such as they watch the auction on their tablets I watch them watching it on mine, if you see what I mean.

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Gadgets, Health, Home, Society, Tech

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.

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Health, Meta, Politics, Society

The Lighter Side of a Global Pandemic

Right from the early stages of this Covid-19 Pandemic there has been a number of film and TV show selections of the schedules that have been, shall we say, interesting. I’m not sure if these were deliberate, I know schedules are worked out in advance but, as we’ve seen with the plethora of lockdown-specific TV shows, can be changed.

The ones that I noticed have included:
  Channel 5 showing “28 Days Later” regularly
  Channel 4 showing “The Return of The Black Death”
  Channel 5 showing “The Great Plague: Digging Up Britain’s Past”
  ITV2 showing “Contagion”
  Horror Channel showing “The Andromeda Strain” – the obligatory “it’s aliens” story.
  Another channel showed a documentary “Pandemic: 1918” about the Spanish Flu outbreak.
  Horror Channel showed “Daylight’s End” “In the aftermath of an outbreak that turned humans into rabid creatures” – much like the scenes in supermarkets shortly before the lockdown.
Either it’s a sick sense of humour or an attempt to say “things could be worse”… Elsewhere DMAX have been showing first Paranormal Lockdown UK and then Paranormal Lockdown US. Which I’m sure is a coincidence but if anything can be called a paranormal lockdown this can.

I have noticed that shopping has ceased to resemble Supermarket Sweep and now feels like the start of a Tour de France time trial or a World Rally stage – being let go into the aisles at intervals – at least they don’t time you, or if they did what would you win? A bottle of hand sanitiser?
  There was a man in a shop who was offered his receipt by the cashier and his reaction was to insist that she put it on the counter before he then picked it up, saying “you can’t be too careful” despite the fact that she’d already touched it, she’d put it down on a surface which could have even more contamination on it than her hand and if he’d taken it from her he’d know which end she’d touched and as such he could have just stuffed it in his wallet uncontaminated. In the same shop they’d had to put signs on the shelves where the handwash had been, and had been replaced with loads of bar soap, saying, effectively “this is soap, it works the same as handwash, it’s just solid.”
  In a light-hearted post the photographic film manufacturer Ilford suggested stockpiling rolls of film not toilet roll.

In Psychology there is an effect whereby if you touch and object you want to own it, supermarkets have now reinforced this with their instruction to not touch anything you’re not going to buy therefore if you pick something up to see what it is you feel you really should buy it – or is that just me. Ok, just me then.

The Grand National was replaced by a virtual version and bookmakers profits were donated to NHS charities. For years we’ve been saying that some motorsport has become more like a video game, in 2020 Formula One and Formula E literally did, and finally the fans who were convinced they could drive better than the professionals got a chance to try to prove it.

TV and radio have become strange as many programmes presenters have taken to the equivalent of “phoning it in”, sat in their living rooms, occasionally interrupted by kids or pets while some new shows have been made specifically for lockdown such as Jamie Oliver’s cooking tips and Kirsty Allsop doing a programme on crafts you can do while at home.
  One of the channel idents for the UK’s Dave said “Who’d have thought that staying at home and watching TV would count as saving the world?”

In a slightly mistimed new Lynx Africa advert, a young man at college picks up a can of Lynx Africa in 1996 and immediately he gets transported to 2020 where he emerges on the lawn outside in front of a young woman who sprays the Lynx on his t-shirt then drags him away. The reality of course would be he would either emerge into an empty college lawn or if she was there she’d have told him to get back and observe the social distancing – and either way he’d wonder what they hell was going on.

At mealtimes we’ve all been transformed into amateur Heston Blumenthals experimenting with what we’ve got left in the fridge and freezer until we go and queue up at the supermarkets again. All this aided by the aforementioned Jamie Oliver. After the toilet roll stage of the panic buying came the beer and wine stage while in South Africa they are looking to impose a ban on drinking hand sanitiser. Talking of supermarkets a newspaper in hull shared the amazing news, nearly a month into the lockdown, and even longer since the panic buying began, that you could get most of your groceries at shops which aren’t supermarkets, gasp. I, today ventured into a supermarket after work for the first time in seven weeks, there wasn’t a queue, it was half-past-five of course.

And we’ve gained a new phrase and concept of course – social distancing, two words that we’ll take a while to forget and a habit that we’ll probably still subconsciously maintain after this is over, I’ve even noticed that I’ve seen people on TV adverts and thought “they’re not two metres apart”…

Facebook and Twitter have been a mine of Coronavirus humour since day one, as expected.  Especially as we were told to not stay home anymore but “stay aware” – of what, nobody’s really sure as yet.

Of course there’ll always be songs to keep you going and I’ll leave this post with an appropriate one Radio 2s Liza Tarbuck played on the 11th of April by Ethel Merman, Jack Klugman & Sandra Church “Together Wherever We Go”:
“We may not go far… We’ll always get through this together”

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Health, Psychology, Science, Society, Work

Reclaiming The Evening

Fairground At Night

Fairground Lights

Another of the reasons my blog turned silent for eight months was the fact that I didn’t have time to write it.

There we go, that’s a good enough reason, so let’s move on.

No, actually, let’s not. The reason was that when I got home from work, by the time I’d eaten, by the time I’d watched two hours of TV repeats I then wanted to catch up on some online reading, and I felt tired, so I thought “I haven’t got time, and I can’t think straight” and I went to watch some more repeats on TV instead.

Seven hours passed like nothing and the next thing I know it’s the next morning. A couple of months ago I finally made plans to do something about the cycle of believing that I hadn’t got the time, or the energy. Firstly the tiredness; I bought a new mattress as I thought that the old one (creaking all the time, springs jutting into me) might be disturbing my sleep. The new one is much more comfortable and combined with cutting down on excess light (I tried blacking out the window first to no difference then moved a bedside clock-radio) has made a difference, I feel much less tired and more energised than before in the evenings.

I have been eating Bananas religiously in the mornings which has possibly helped, although getting better sleep has similar benefits for memory, concentration and creativity so it could be either. The other dietary change has been returning to something I used to love when I was younger – a piece of toast and marmalade at supper time (9pm) as such carbohydrates eaten in the late evening can improve sleep some studies have shown.

Finally I changed my behaviour; I told myself to always go home at five o’clock, don’t think “I’ll just sort this out now”. It’s a little thing but it makes me feel that my life is my own as I’m going home to do what I want to do when I want to not when the job lets me, it’s empowering. I’ve also learned not to worry about work issues which drains you emotionally and leaves you feeling mentally exhausted.

I then told myself that I do have time to do stuff in the evenings and proved it – rather than watching a repeated TV show while eating and then watching the whole thing, the mental equivalent of eating one chocolate digestive and then thinking “what the hell, I’ll finish the packet” I told myself to switch the TV off after I’d finished eating then get on with the online stuff – reading, writing etc. Starting earlier gives you a buffer and once it’s done you’ve still got two or three hours left and can even watch a new tv show or two and listen to music or read before going to bed. There’s even time for decluttering if you feel like it.

As I’ve learned that new experiences and learning new information, exploring new frontiers even in an intellectual way can help with cognitive function I’ve also made space in my day for watching the late evening news, something I used to avoid as I felt that I’d just forget everything I’d seen – the side benefit to this is it gives you topics of conversation, something else I always felt I lacked.

I’ve rearranged things too, making tomorrow’s sandwich at the same time as I’m waiting for dinner to finish cooking, and the same with washing pots still in the sink. It’s about efficient use of the time available and the more time you have left over the better you feel, your leisure time feels less like a high-pressure job and you can enjoy it more.

So, right now it’s 20:54 (GMT), I’ll just finish this off and go and get a slice of toast.  Goodnight.

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Politics, Psychology, Society, Tech, Uncategorized, Work

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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Film, Society, Tech

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.

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