Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category
And they wonder why radio listening is falling
It struck me tonight what an effort radio listening sometimes is, and this came as a shock. After all, this is radio: the original electronic medium, the simplest, the most pervasive, most easily consumed.
Yeah, I thought all that too, until I tried to catch the grand finale of London 2012, the Paralympic Games closing ceremony.
I was on a train to Manchester for most of it. The on-board wifi isn’t up to TV distribution, and although I brought my digital TV USB stick with me, (yes I am that much of a geek) reception is impossible on the move.
No problem, I thought, I’ll listen. After all, I love radio – I started my career at Radio NZ (after listening to BBC World Service all through my teens) and radio is perfect for a couple of hours on the train.
I got out my phone, pushed in the headphones, flicked on the built-in FM radio app and fell at the first hurdle. Not from poor reception, actually I could get 10 FM stations from the start-up scan.
No, the problem was partly to do with paralympics broadcasting rights and partly technology.
For reasons I don’t have the strength to go into, the Paralympics on the radio is only on BBC Radio 5 Live. 5 Live broadcast on AM, DAB and online.
My phone doesn’t do AM (sensible device, it’s rubbish) but neither does it do DAB (for the same reason).
That leaves me with online, and I spent a good 10 minutes poking round in Android’s app downloads to find a suitable radio player.
I found one, Tune-In Radio if you’re that bothered.
Luckily the 3G signal on that bit of the railways is better than the TV reception and eventually, I’m listening at something close to FM quality. (Incidentally the module sticking out of my phone in the picture above is a battery extender. Continuous 3G data doesn’t half suck up the power!)
Now what a hassle just to listen to the radio! And I was thinking that accessibility was the least of radio’s problems. Listening hours are falling, even though overall reach is high, and the younger you are, the less you listen.
Thinking back what irked me more deeply was the thought of how wasteful it was. Even though we’ve built up a network of AM, FM and now DAB networks, to get what I wanted I had to have a dedicated signal of it transmitted to the train simply because none of the others was an option.
This leaves me suddenly with lots of questions over radio’s future that I hadn’t asked myself before, and it makes me look again at the ways in which you can receive 5Live and knowing exactly why they leave analogue radio languishing at the bottom.
Transmit til it megahertz, 47 years and counting.
It is such an iconic part of the London skyline, central to telecoms, and in particular television development in the UK.
I have a soft spot for the BT Tower / Post Office Tower. I gaze up at it. I watch it. I take photos of it.
When the antenna galleries were stripped of all the original (and subsequently added) microwave aerials at the end of 2011, I wasn’t the only one worried we were at the end of an era for the Tower.
In an era before fibre optics and before satellite transmission really got going, you moved signals across the country in point-to-point hops from one transceiver to the next, and the Tower was the centre of the network.
But I’m pleased to report a small return to form. The picture on the left I took in mid April 2012. The picture on the right was taken on 2 May 2012.
Spot the difference (apart from the weather) There’s a new white microwave antenna – the tower is beaming long-distance signals again! 47 years on, it still performing its original purpose.
Interestingly, the new dish isn’t located in the traditional gallery, but much further up the tower which means it probably has a range of around 25-30 miles depending on the power output. It’s facing west, which takes it out to about Slough.
The diameter is about 2 meters, so a significant sized dish.
It’s highly likely that this link is being used by a company other than BT, but if you know any details, let us know in the comments.
The Economist, this means you!
If you move home, you can get the post office to redirect your letters so they come to your new address. If you change your internet address, it makes sense to tell your users where you’ve gone too.
So why do websites make it difficult for themselves by not doing this on their RSS feeds?
I almost never visit homepages, they are generally a waste of my time to flick through and find out what the new stuff is. I’ve even set my browser to come up with a blank page. Like most webusers, I begin with a search, or if I’m using some type of internet news reader software, then I’m using RSS.
If you change the address of your feed and don’t tell me, you’ve just lost me and everyone else who used to read you from that source.
Better still if you’ve decided to retire the blog, tell me and suggest alternatives. Don’t just stop updating. Best practice here from the Financial Times.
And the bad practice award also goes to the FT, as that’s exactly what they did almost a year ago when they moved their Tech Blog from
This means my feed just hangs on the last entry, 30 Dec 2010, and my tablet/phone/desktop newsreader stops working.
It’s not just news articles. Media downloads or podcasts depend on RSS. I haven’t had a new piece of Economist audio or video on my MP3 player since the end of October! No reason as to why in the feed. It still works, it’s just got nothing new in it.
So I pop over to their multimedia page. Lots of new stuff on there, so at least they’re still making it. The RSS indicator on the page takes me to http://www.economist.com/rss which oddly mostly contains links back to the main websites, rather than to RSS links and certainly not a working multimedia RSS.
Their (possibly out of date) video portal at http://video.economist.com does have a front and centre RSS link. But that takes me to yet another (possibly even older) list of feeds, none of which is the one I’ve requested.
So, the Economist was making interesting stuff that used to turn up on my MP3 player/tablet/phone.
It’s still making useful stuff, except that now I can only watch/listen when I’m at my computer (which is increasingly irregular). Or maybe I can get it on a more useful device, except they’re making it really hard to find out how.
If you’ve got a working feed for the Economist’s multimedia output, do let me know in the comments!
One bit of kit I probably won’t be able to keep going much longer
In the midst of my zeal to get more value out of some of my older electronics I’ve just had a setback.
This morning I turned on my Tivo and got this screen:
To be honest, I’ve been expecting this news. There were always going to be two options. Either the hardware was going to expire (something I’d tried to mitigate already 3 years ago by upgrading the hard disc, the only mechanical component), or Tivo itself would turn the system off.
Option two happened first. Yes, I am an early adopter. Tivo launched in Britain in October 2000. But in having my Tivo for something like 8 years, I’m surprised that they waited quite this long.
The thing about Tivo which makes it different from other hard disc recorders is that it depends on a regular download of TV and radio programme data provided by Tivo itself. No EPG data, and the box becomes a dumb VHS device you have to laboriously set for each recording.
Tivo was something that Sky brought in to help navigate their hundreds of satellite channels. But a year later Sky realised it was something they could do themselves and launched the Sky+ box in 2001.
Tivo lingered for a little while but decided to stop selling their device at the start of 2003.
All that time it was actually Sky which maintained the Tivo platform. You never needed a Sky subscription however, Tivo worked perfectly well with Freeview, which is what I used it with. If you had a problem with your subscription it’s Sky’s call centre you get put through to.
I actually bought a Topfield Freeview Plus recorder a year ago and I have been running the two side by side. I’d been trying to wean myself off Tivo because I knew my hardware didn’t have a future although I still use it on a daily basis. The reason why is significant and it’s something that today’s manufacturers still need to pay attention to.
1) Tivo is really simple to use.
2) The box predicts what I want to watch and if I forget to record something, it normally does it anyway.
And that’s it. That’s what’s kept me using it for 8 years. Many’s the time I’ve been on the train in the morning and while flicking through the free paper realised there was something on TV that night I wanted to watch. Dammit, I’d think. I wish I’d set the recorder.
Imagine my delight when I got home and discovered that this gorgeous box had done it for me! There was always something on TV I wanted to watch. I stopped watching linear TV (and advertisements) the same week, and I’ve never gone back. That knack of prediction is something Freeview and Sky never managed to replicate.
Compared with the Topfield device I have now, even 8 years on, the original Tivo interface is a *lot* easier to use.
I shall miss it.
But Tivo is about to re-launch on a new platform and want rid of legacies like my old box. Although I imagine that with Tivo now being associated with Virgin Media , Sky don’t want to keep it going any longer. Maybe there are contractual issues. Who knows.
It would be interesting to know how many of the original Thomson Scenium devices are still out there, and what proportion of them are still paying £10 a month for the EPG download (there was also an option to buy a ‘lifetime’ EPG subscription for £300).
I will now have to try and make the best of the last few months of my Tivo’s life. It’s an analogue device so keeping it going beyond digital switchover was another issue on my mind. Getting out of the habit of tagging programmes I like or dislike will be a struggle.
But viewing has moved on. My next TV will be HD, as will the recording box I buy with it. It will have at least 5x the recording space, although the number of TV channels coming into it will stay about the same (I intend staying on Freeview)
My entertainment choice will still change though. My next TV will be able to download directly from the web and playback media from any device within a WiFi radius.
What won’t change is the amount of time I have to be able to watch the damn thing!
Because it pays to be prudent in tightened times
The first smartphone I ever got was a Nokia N95 in mid-2007. It was a contract deal, the handset was free if I stayed for 18 months, and it made a very expensive phone (around £400 I think) affordable.
I looked carefully at the specs and reckoned this had staying power: 5MP camera, expandable memory, MP3, email, WiFi, 3G, proper web browser, video recording/editing, playback through the TV with wide support for different video codecs, maps and GPS and the thing that swung it for me, a standard headphone minijack.
I was hooked. It was a ‘media’ phone. I created media on it, I watched and listened to stuff too. I went everywhere with that phone.
And looking back, that was a damn good choice still. It outlasted the contract and I didn’t have to replace it for 2 years until the screen started to get flickery. I looked around for another model which would last equally well.
When I compared prices and features I was disappointed. Phones hadn’t moved on much. True, Apple was in the market now and all my friends were turning to iPhones, although apart from a great interface and a touchscreen, the little N95 was still technically a better phone. Even two years later.
So I made my decision. I bought another N95.
This was mid-2009, phone companies were offering other models and they were proving hard to find. You could still buy them new, no-contract, but even though I liked the device, I didn’t think it was worth paying full price for a 2 year old phone.
So I looked around on Ebay to find someone locally who was upgrading. I bought an unlocked N95 8GB (Nokia’s updated version) in very good condition for about £170 (it also came with a copy of Spiderman, which I watched on a plane).
This is the phone I still have. Nokia gave the 8GB model a software update, added a larger capacity battery, and doubled the internal memory. My keypad’s starting to wear off with use, I still think it’s a great phone because it does everything I need and I use most of the features at least a couple of times a week.
However, the N95 models are now 3 and a half years old. There’s nothing wrong with my handset, but with iPhone 4 and the N8 now out, thoughts turned to a new model.
And then I had another thought: In these tightened times, would it make sense to ‘sweat my asset’ just a little bit more?
Drowned out by Apple marketing, Nokia has released many updates over the last couple of years, the biggest being the Ovi app system. The N95 is still supported and can be upgraded. Can I use these updates to revitalise my phone? Will it get a new breath of life? Can I prove again that the N95 was my smartest buy so far?
That’s the subject of the next post. Stay tuned.