Monday, May 30, 2005

The joy of Creative Commons

Delighted to have my first experience of the Creative Commons in action last week when I received an email via Flickr informing me that one of my photos had been used in an article on podcasting in the The Zimbabwean newspaper. Great to think that one of my amateur snaps can appear in a publication based thousands of miles away, that I've never even heard of, without the need for any legal shenanigans. Let's hope it's the shape of things to come.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The digital expectations of the younger generation

Nice anecdote from my mother who was finishing off a roll of film on her 35mm camera in the company of my almost 2 year old niece. After taking a few photos, my mother had to relinquish control of the camera to my niece who immediately turned it over and began inspecting the back with a look of puzzlement and mild irritation on her face. After a moment, the penny dropped and my mother realised that my niece was so used to digital cameras that she couldn't understand why she couldn't immediately review the photos on a built-in display. My mother tried explaining that the photos would come back in a few weeks time printed out on bits of paper but apparently it fell on deaf ears...

Monday, May 23, 2005

Convergence: not all it's cracked up to be

I inadvertently joined the growing legions of 3G mobile phone owners last week when I called up Vodafone to request my PAC number (to facilitate a move to Orange and their similarly hued Wednesdays) and was talked into staying put with a free handset upgrade and £10 off my monthly bill (sucker!). Interestingly, at no point during my protracted conversation with the sales rep about the handset's technical spec did he mention that it was 3G (perhaps its company policy to talk content not technology after the WAP fiasco...?)

So, what do I make of my new phone? (a Motorola v980). Well, it's certainly not love at first sight. The friendly sales rep was somewhat economical with the truth when it came to relaying the dimensions of the handset and I'm resigned to a few 'is that a 3G handset in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?' comments over the coming weeks.

Of course, it's what's inside that counts and I could easily overlook a chunky exterior if the features pushed my buttons. Unfortunately, it's decidedly underwhelming in almost all departments. The cameras, the integrated MP3 player and the interface all left me disappointed.

Maybe its because, in my mind, I'm comparing a multi-function device to successful single-function devices. Should I be surprised that the integrated MP3 player isn't a patch on my iPod mini or that the interface lacks the simplicity of the early Nokias or that the images produced by the VGA camera sent me running, weeping, back into the arms of my Pentax Optio S4? Probably not.

Industry pundits have been predicting the triumph of the converged device for as long as I can remember, but until the caliber of the individual components increases significantly I, for one, would much rather take 3 devices into the office...

Monday, May 16, 2005

Everything has a price (even this blog)

Intrigued to see whether Google's algorithms deemed this fledgling blog more link-worthy than the lyrics of a vintage Beck song (O Maria, from the criminally underrated Mutations album), I typed fabricoffolly into the search behemoth. In amongst the links to my LastFM and Audioscrobbler profiles, I was surprised to discover a link to the fantasy blog share market, BlogShares which values my musing at 1,000 blog dollars.

Eager to place my net worth in context I searched for, the award-winning blog of BBC colleague Tom Coates and was suitably humbled by the B$230,314 valuation. Time to pull my blogging socks up methinks...

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Silver Sun @ The Garage

Silver Sun at The Garage

I went to see Silver Sun at The Garage last night which turned out to be a most happy reacquaintance. For the uninitiated, Silver Sun are purveyors of a rare breed of perfectly polished power pop who dipped briefly into the mainstream in the mid-late '90s with minor hits such as 'Lava', 'Julia' and 'Golden Skin', before disappearing into obscurity soon after the release of their second album, 'Neo Wave'. As is often the way of these things, the only track of theirs which troubled the top 20 was a cover version - a gloriously overblown reworking of the 1978 Johnny Mathis classic 'Too Much, Too Little, Too Late'.

Seven years later and the boys (now very much men) are back with a new album, Disappear Here and, according to singer James Broad, "there's loads more where that came from". Which is distinctly good news, as they appear to have lost none of their songwriting verve. 'Lies' is as headily harmonious as anything they've written, whilst 'You Can't Kill Rock & Roll' recalls The Beach Boys at their best.

Whilst the album is unlikely to win many new converts and sniffy musos will no doubt continue to sniff, Silver Sun have delighted their patient fanbase by delivering another great pop record. Surely this is how pop music is meant to be: melodic, infectious, disposable and most of all, fun.

Playing to a half-full 250-capacity venue on a grey Tuesday night in May is not the easiest gig in town and the boys (sorry, men) gave it their all. After a blistering hour of high-octane guitar riffs and faultless vocal harmonies they closed the set with 'I'll See You Around'. I certainly hope so. And next time, don't leave it so long...

Sunday, May 01, 2005

What is radio in 2005?

Radio on TV on PC

A big question, admittedly, but one which 10 or 15 years ago wouldn't have been half as difficult to answer. First and foremost, radio was a communication technology, or, in dictionary speak: "the transmission and reception of electromagnetic waves having a frequency in the range 104 to 1011 or 1012 hertz, especially those carrying sound messages" ( However it also came to refer to both a physical device ("an apparatus for receiving radio programmes") and, perhaps most interestingly of all, the content broadcast to it (the OED lets me down here). Whilst the first two definitions may be more dictionary-friendly than the third, my strongest and most immediate associations with the word radio are almost all related to content.

The advent of digital distribution technologies clearly challenges the first of these three definitions. Radio is no longer an exclusively analogue technology, reliant on the transmission and reception of electromagnetic waves. It can now be broadcast in binary via a plethora of broadcast/communication technologies (e.g. DAB, IP, satellite, cable). The radio programme I am listening to as I write this (Radio 4's excellent Reith Lectures) is being delivered to me not 'over the airwaves', but via the internet, as a string of 1s and 0s.

This expansion in delivery methods is mirrored in the range of ways in which it is now possible to receive radio, which brings into question our second definition. Is my computer/television/mobile phone/MP3 player a radio because it is capable of receiving radio programmes? As multi-function devices become more and more commonplace, the notion of radio as physical apparatus becomes increasingly problematic.

So, if radio can no longer be comfortably defined as a delivery mechanism or as a physical device, that leaves us with content. Is there something intrinsic about radio content that marks it as 'radio'? The diversity of output disseminated under the banner of radio suggests not. In which case, does the producer/broadcaster get to decide what is and isn't radio? Inevitably, the digital revolution is blurring the lines here too. The nascent podcasting industry is promising a democratisation of the radio production process, wresting control of what is and isn't radio from the hands of established broadcasters.

Maybe we should look instead to the audience to try to understand what defines radio in 2005. Is it the perceived communality of the listening experience? Or the concept of 'liveness'? Is genuine interactivity between listener and broadcaster the new hallmark of radio?

One thing is clear; our current definitions of radio are inadequate. Perhaps the time has come to redefine radio for the digital age? Or then again, perhaps not. Perhaps attempting to define radio is to miss the point, failing to acknowledge its ultimately ethereal nature. Maybe we should put the semantics to one side and be content to enjoy the manifold pleasures of a medium assured of a bright digital future.