Robert Freeman's whole Media, Business and Technology thing. Sorted.

My radio apps choices for Radio Festival’s Techcon14

leave a comment »

On behalf of the BBC Blue Room, I’m presenting a couple of sessions at The Radio Festival and Techcon (for engineers and technicians).

This morning I outlined some apps I think show interesting trends for the radio and audio industries, and for reference, here they are, with a couple of additions I didn’t get a chance to show.

The first three are all examples of text-to-speech developments. There are many organisations trying to achieve reliable mechanisms to automatically create speech radio.

Soundgecko – for Android and iOS

This takes any webpage or RSS feed and turns it into speech. The computer voice is surprisingly listenable!

Newsbeat – for Android and iOS

Newsbeat adds many more options for customisation and features a combination of computer speech and real human voices to. Weirdly, I find it hard to tell the difference sometimes, not because the computer voices are so good, but because the human voices can be very robotic.

Umano – for Android and iOS

This requires subscription to unlock all the features, but even without a mobile you can get a good idea of what’s it’s like by looking at their website.

Umano is fully human speech. How do they achieve this? The power of crowd-sourcing! You can audition to become an Umano reader, and then upload your finished readings. The users themselves select the stories they think should be turned into audio.

A couple of examples of content companies who have looked at the trends in online music listening and are seeing how they can use those in speech radio.


NPR diligently tag all their live radio and their app creates a live-sounding news and current affairs station. You can tell it what you like, it will start to give you more of that. I like it a lot.

CBC Radio – just for iOS so far

It doesn’t have the personalisation features of NPR, but if you want programme segments, rather than hour-long chunks of radio, this is a nice way of doing it.

Storytelling with audio at the core

Operation Ajax – a comicbook-style docustory. Listen with headphones. I would happily plug in and spend hours going through, not just the story, but all the supporting material as well. An excellent example of genuinely multimedia storytelling.


Vio, is a live vocal processor for iOS. Headphones are a must. Hate the sound of your own voice? You won’t with this!

There must be many other interesting apps for audio and radio, if you know of others that you think are progressive or innovative, do let me know in the comments :)


Written by Robert

13 October, 2014 at 10:27 am

11 things about geography everyone voting in Scotland’s referendum should know

leave a comment »


Dauvit Alexander / Flickr 

You know when you hear something and you just have to respond?  

This is one of those posts … 

News this week in Britain is full of the imminent independence referendum in Scotland. BBC Newsbeat has been covering it too, with a particular emphasis on teen voters. The 9th of September edition heard from two 19-year-old girls in Edinburgh, both called Sarah.

One was for independence, the other not.  Here’s what the first Sarah said when asked why she thought Scotland should leave the United Kingdom.

I feel like Scotland should be independent, there’s not really other unions in Europe.

I thought this was a slightly odd reason, and it wasn’t challenged by the reporter, so let’s examine it now in a rough blast through Europe and with apologies to history scholars everywhere! :-)

1. France

France has been getting bigger gradually with various unions since 843 AD. Many gains came from marriage, such as Brittany in the north-west of France. (One might say ‘speared’ onto the side of France, lol) Brittany was semi-independent but joined France in 1491 when Anne, the heir of Brittany married the King of France, Charles VIII.

2. Spain

Spain as we know it has been around since about 1492. Before it united, much of Spain was run by Muslims from north Africa. Historians called it an unusually tolerant society where Christians and Jews and Muslims lived in relative peace. Oh to be back there now.

3. Belgium

Tiny Belgium is currently a union between French and Dutch and Flemish speakers. It used to be an even smaller collection of around 6 independent states. There are occasional calls from the Dutch-speaking side, that they should make a union with the rest of the Netherlands.

4. The Kingdom of the Netherlands

Netherlands was created from a group of provinces under the Union of Utrecht in 1579, after a fight with Spain over religion. (The war theme – actually quite a strong driver of unions in all these countries to be honest!)

5. Greece

Greece is particularly difficult to summarise, the story of this country goes back thousands of years, Ancient Greece, natch. Philip of Macedon started unification during 300 BC. His son was Alexander the Great, who continued in the unification tradition by marching into new places with a large army and saying: “You’re all part of us now”.

6. Sweden

Sweden was probably consolidated from separate towns into a single nation around 1200 AD. It’s hard to say for sure, because no one in Sweden appears to have written anything down.

7. Switzerland

Switzerland is a union of self-governing Cantons. Assessment: Mostly harmless.

8. Italy

Italy as we know it didn’t exist before 1861, it was created by a union of dozens of different regions and city-states. Important factors: All spoke same language and enjoyed olive oil with everything.

9. Germany

Before 1871, Germany was a series of large separate states including Bavaria, Saxony and Hanover who were united by Otto von Bismark, who was running yet another separate Kingdom, Prussia.

Germany was artificially separated after WW2 and East Germany was run by a communist government. In 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell, East and West Germany united into a single nation again. Also, Berlin is fun. You should go.

10. Russia

There have been two significant breakups of country unions in recent times. The big one is the break of the USSR in 1991. Russia had run out of money.

11. Yugoslavia

This contributed to Yugoslavia falling apart the next year. It was a federation of republics that had been pushed together after World War 2. When they broke apart in 1992, it led to another conflict with over 100,000 deaths.

Bonus fact for getting this far …

Not part of Europe of course, but let’s not forget the USA.  Starting in 1776, it is a gradually growing union now with 50 separate States, each with their own parliament and laws.

Written by Robert

14 September, 2014 at 3:12 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The sale of stuff from TV Centre – Valuable? Or Junk?

leave a comment »

Useless things – worth more than they cost to make

The contents of a building where I used to work are being slowly sold off.

The closure and sale of BBC Television Centre has ignited strong emotions and there was a protest to prevent planning permission for a redevelopment, involving some high-profile celebrities of British culture, to no avail.

As an armchair economist it’s fascinating to pick out a couple of results of some of the completed parts of the auction, because for me at least, the prices just don’t make any sense.

Take for example, lots 1455, and 1456. These are what’s left of some of the interior signs.

TV interior sign sold for £660

Lot 1456 sold for £423

They sold for a combined total of over £1,000!

I’m amazed, particularly as there’s not much about these which is scarce. The BBC still occupies three buildings across the road from TV Centre – I’m in one of them most weeks – and there’s still a machine that makes these signs and labels. If they’re worth this much money, someone should be running that machine night and day cranking more of them out!

How about lot 1444:

SFX door


£55 for a door to nowhere, and you could surely make this for half that price with bits from a DIY shop. With this piece though, I can understand more why it is valued highly

It would be interesting to know the history of this door. It’s possible it was originally made for radio drama and came over to Wood Lane if it was needed to re-dub sound effects for TV. Or it could have a longer heritage and started life in a film dubbing suite, maybe in Ealing, or in Lime Grove. It could however just as easily been knocked up in 20 mins by a TV Centre carpenter in the 1980s.

It’s clearly the possibilities of this history, and the unusualness of the item which make it worth more.

Time for a reality check though.  TV Centre was also full of functioning valuable equipment. Great for radio stations, universities, or small TV / film companies.  Let’s take a look at the going rate for something still being used, like a professional digital videotape recorder.

Sony digi beta recorder

New, they are sold for thousands. Even second-hand, you’ll get hundreds for them. There were many like these for sale in TV Centre’s auction. Here’s lot 1505.

Lot 1505 - Digi beta recorder

I think ‘thetoplens’ got a bargain there!

The sale of stuff from TV Centre isn’t over yet!  Two more auctions are scheduled, more equipment here, and you can still buy the satellite dishes and comms equipment. Although being unmaintained and exposed to the elements for well over two years, I’m not sure how much operational value there’s left in them. Plus for a domestic bidder in need of a new birdbath, you’re going to need a very large garden, and probably planning permission!


flickr / peterdaniel

Let me know in the comments if you got a bargain, or whether you consider you got something valuable, no matter what you paid.






Written by Robert

21 August, 2014 at 4:07 pm

Found in a drawer: Palm m125

leave a comment »

Palm m125And it still works perfectly!

While rummaging in the back of my odds and ends drawer today, I came across my old Palm device.

Welcome back to 2001! Palm called this a ‘handheld computer’, although I think I thought of it as a digital diary. I put in a couple of AAA batteries and it powered straight on (no proprietary batteries or connectors – yay!).

The m125 had a 33Mhz processor, was the first Palm to include an external memory card. It sold for $250 thirteen years ago, about the cost of a top-end Nexus 7 or a mid-spec iPhone 5S today.

Incredibly, you can still buy them new from between $50 and $150!

Although, before you decide you should read this excellent review from Ed Hardy.

The memory card in mine was still in place and still had applications installed!

Let’s see what we have:

Palm m125 screen and applications

AK Mirror: Could turn your palm into a torch. Maybe on a different model. This has no camera, no flash and a black & white screen. AKeysoft now nothing more than an abandoned WordPress page.

Avantgo. Now part of Sybase and appears to be some kind of mobile content pushing system, if it’s even still being used. That’s a shame. Avantgo was the RSS and Instapaper of its day. – still around and same logo. was bought by Rakuten.

And a couple of games. Dopewars is basically a free-market simulator. It’s still around online, and mobile.  Here’s the Apple version with modern graphics, and an android version that’s much closer to the original.

And just to prove the thing does work, here’s me playing Hardball (a version of Breakout)

Written by Robert

21 March, 2014 at 3:16 pm

Skype to make group video chat free

leave a comment »

Skype group video

Not so exclusive anymore.

If you’re one of the people who got a free year’s subscription to Skype Premium as part of the Christmas collaboration offer, and are congratulating yourself for saving over $100, then hold on! It might not be as great a deal as you think.

Skype are about to make some big changes.

First the ‘Collaboration Premium’ freebie doesn’t include any free phone calls to real phones (one of the main parts of Skype Premium), the other important part, group video calls is about to be offered free to everyone anyway.

Skype is also ditching both the 12-month subscription offer (with its 50% discount) and the 3 month version.

Here’s part of the email reply I got from Skype when I enquired where the 12 month option had gone.


The reason behind these changes is that Skype will soon include Group Video Calling for free for those users who will link their Skype Accounts with MSA [Microsoft account]


I’m guessing this means if you have a hotmail, outlook or email address.

So, if you’re about to buy or renew your Premium account, might be worth waiting to see if you can do with just Skype Credit (which is 30% off at the time of writing if you buy a git card)

Written by Robert

8 January, 2014 at 10:47 pm

Posted in Business, Software, video

Tagged with ,

How to give your lost phone a much better chance of being returned

with 18 comments

Gecko iPhone toolkit - An entirely unsophisticated brute force passcode crack.

Frankly I’m surprised any lost phones make it back to their owners at all.


Last week I found a phone on a train. It was well after 11pm and with few people around, I took the phone home, aiming to try tracking down the owner myself, else hand it in to a staffed office.

Find him I did, but the whole exercise made me really wonder how any lost iOS devices ever get returned (assuming they haven’t been stolen).

I made a short film about what happened …

… but I want to use this post to detail a little more about how it was done.

I’d been on the train since it started in Brighton, and was walking up through the carriages after we left Clapham Junction when I found the phone, so I’m guessing that’s where the owner got out in a hurry.

It was an iPhone 4S, lying on the edge of a seat . There wasn’t anyone else in that part of the carriage. It was in flight mode, so the ‘Find my iPhone’ function would have been inoperable.

I don’t have an iPhone, but I’m prepared to bet there are lost property rooms packed with dozens of lost iPhones/Pads all over the world, particularly in airports and train stations.

They are unable to be reunited with their owners because Apple’s security features make it impossible and the owners themselves haven’t planned for their possible loss.

Here are the issues:

The lockscreen

This is the first hurdle most people will fall at. Unless you know the code, you can’t get into the contacts to start ringing obvious numbers, eg. Home, or Mum/Dad.

The simplest thing here is to take a photo of your contact details and use this as your lockscreen wallpaper. It’s in the Settings menu.

iOS wallpaper setting screen

I don’t know anyone who alters this.

There were a couple of other things I thought were worth trying before resorting to phone hackery.

SIM card details

I removed the SIM card and tried it in another phone. ‘Find my iPhone’ wasn’t running, but if the SIM was still enabled, the owner would hopefully try to ring their phone.

Alas, the AT&T SIM was either blocked already, or had never been enabled for the UK phone network. I also had a look for any contacts that were saved on the SIM. Nothing there either.

The hack

Now the technical bit.  Getting past the passcode is boringly unsophisticated. It’s a brute-force attack where your computer runs through every possible 4 digit combination and then tells you what the code it. It takes about 30 minutes, max.

I used the Gecko iPhone Toolkit for this.  This exploits a previous iPhone vulnerability, so you must also put the phone into firmware update mode and inject an earlier version of the firmware into the device.

The beauty of this hack is that it maintains all the existing phone data.

Once I had the code, I was immediately able to see the owner’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, so I contacted him on both.

In the contacts. I found a number for Mum/Dad. I also saw the phone did have the icon for Find my iPhone, so I turned off the flight mode and connected the phone to my own Wifi, so the phone could start signalling home.

Finally I flicked into the Email, to find that address too. Here I struck lucky.  With Wifi now on, the phone updated the inbox and the first message to pop in there was the copy of the online form the owner had filled in with the railway company.

It had a UK number in there as a contact point. Bingo!

I rang the number, and learned that unfortunately the owner was on a plane back to the USA, but his friend Nick, (who handily lived on the same tube line as me) would come and get it straight away.

So I found the phone at 2300 on a Sunday night, and it was in Nick’s hands by 1800 on Monday. Warren, the owner got it back later that week and was mightly pleased.

For the rest of us – plan for loss

I firmly believe that most people would do the right thing and try to get the phone back to its owner. But good grief, how many people would be as geeky as me?

I suspect many phones, even finding their way to an official lost property office, just languish there.

If you have a smartphone, take a look at it and think how anyone would get it back to you if you lost it. Why not put your contact details on the lockscreen right now?

iOS users can do this by replacing their lock screen wallpapers (screenshot above) .

Android users go to Settings > Lockscreen > Owner Info (if you have Jellybean).

Settings > Security (if you have Ice Cream Sandwich).

I always invite comments, or you can tweet me @robf.

Written by Robert

21 July, 2013 at 11:12 pm

Posted in Mobile, Technology

Tagged with , , , ,

A quick test post – cheerfully ignore this :)

leave a comment »

I’m playing with WordPress features with some Qatar University students at the Thomson Reuters Foundation this week.

Here’s one of the blog posts from Nada, who writes about feminism.

Esraa’s has been shopping.

Hamda wants to see Instagram in the new Blackberry, and soon!

2011-11-02 Qatar

From William Saito / Flickr

Written by Robert

20 June, 2013 at 9:47 am

Posted in training

Tagged with ,


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.