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My radio apps choices for Radio Festival’s Techcon14

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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 One

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.

Speech-to-song

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 🙂

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Written by Robert

13 October, 2014 at 10:27 am

Found in a drawer: Palm m125

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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.

Bol.com – still around and same logo. Buy.com 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

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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 live.com 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

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Hacking Android – HTC Wildfire

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Wildfire running CyanogenMod 7

You’d be surprised how long it took to get this far!

I’ve been experimenting with hacking Android phones recently, either to extend their functionality, or to circumvent mobile phone companies’ annoying blocks.

This post is really just to detail what I did, with the aim of providing useful reference for others doing something similar. It took ages searching forums and other blogs to find a correct set of steps to do this, so hopeful I can shorten the time it takes the next person.

HTC Wildsire

My first effort with this was with an old HTC Wildfire I’d bought from a friend for about £60  (cheap enough not to matter too much if I inadvertently turned it into a paperweight), I was to realise that this was not an entry level task.

Normally hacking an Android phone has three basic steps:

1) Find the vulnerability that allows you to become a superuser.

2) Become a superuser (getting root access)

3) Add all the software you want that the manufacturers didn’t necessarily intend.

In many cases, gaining root access is a well-practised function, that some developers have even packed up into a handy piece of software that does step one and two for you. UnRevoked is a good example for a selection of HTC handsets.

S-On / S-Off

Annoyingly HTC have a security setting to prevent you doing this, which leads to the additional step at the start of removing this (S-OFF). Turning it off should normally be simple, again it’s been done so many times that there’s some software which perform all the steps for you, in this case, Revolutionary will do it.

Except it didn’t work for me because the firmware in my phone was too recent and there was no way to hack it to turn S-OFF. I had boot version 1.01.002, and Revolutionary only works with boot version 1.01.001.

So now I had to downgrade the boot software to the earlier, hackable version. This alone was fiddly and time-consuming, and by far the best instructions for doing so are in the Aritrasen blog.

So after all that, only now, was I in a position to begin the superuser process.

Only I then discovered that there was another stumbling block. The superuser exploit only works on Android 2.1 (Eclair) and my Wildfire has already been upgraded to Android 2.2 (Froyo), and I had to downgrade that as well (keep following the Aritrasen guide, don’t skip that step, it is not optional).

OK, now I could finally start at step 1, above! Happily the rest of the process was simple and done for me by the software packaged listed.  At this point I chose to use CyanogenMod rather than standard Android as the phone’s operating system because the Wildfire will only support 2.2 (Froyo), but with CyanogenMod 7, it effectively becomes a 2.3 (Gingerbread) device.

Results

It takes a lot longer to boot now than it did (boot screen picture at top of post) and actually pretty much everything about the phone is slower, especially if you want to use Swype, or Opera, but that’s what happens when you start to push the hardware to its limits.

However, I now have the satisfaction of knowing that I’ve made my phone do something it shouldn’t really be able to do, I have a more technically capable Wildfire handset than most other people, and it’s my first play with an Android (ish) phone! Smiles all round 🙂

Can you feel me start to accept the inevitable move away from Nokia? It’s painful for me to say, I think you can.

Wildfire S CyanogenMod 7 desktop

HTC Wildfire running CyanogenMod 7

Written by Robert

28 January, 2013 at 1:01 am

Why crowd-sourced films are the biggest disruptive force I’ve seen in years

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Vyclone screenshot

Warning: Severe disruption ahead

Something new for entertainment executives to stress over

Over the last few days, I’ve been playing around with a mobile video app called Vyclone.

Check the site, download and play, but I urge you to play with other people who have the app in the same room. It’s really important you do, or you just won’t get it.

If you’ve ever been to a large event, videoed it, and have then been disappointed at the results, you’ll love this app. If you’ve experience of storytelling in video, the possibilities will probably charm you.

If you work for a commercial broadcaster, or in electronic distribution rights for events, it will probably stop you sleeping at night.

Vyclone finds all the other people in the same place as you, recording the same thing, and stitches their videos together into a multi-camera shoot. If you don’t like what it does automatically, you can make your own camera mix.

It’s the most disruptive, fascinating, troubling, creative, delicious, innovation I’ve seen in years. This is a game-changer.

Some perspective: 15 years ago, worried rights-owners would try to ban people bringing video cameras into their events (some still do). They had already sold the TV rights to another company and were obliged to protect that sale.

With mobile phone video, there were too many people to police, but they quickly realised it wasn’t a threat because these individuals made rubbish content. They weren’t organised and had no scale or impact. The individual YouTube stats for the uploaded videos proved that.

These elements have now irrevocably changed. A crowd-source video app offers both organisation and scale, automatically.

Let’s say I’m at Radio 1’s Hackney Weekend music festival. I’m recording Nicki Minaj performing ‘Starships’

(top chune btw). My camera only gets a general view of the stage. But at the front, two other people I don’t even know are recording the left and right sides of the stage. One might have Minaj in full close-up. Yet another person is recording the crowd and their friends further back.

The app stitches all of those shots together into a music video.

If you’re a broadcast professional, I can already hear your say “it still won’t be as good as our planned, directed TV coverage”, and you are absolutely right. But, here’s the kicker:

It’ll be good enough.

YouTube doesn’t amass millions of eyeballs a day because it’s professional. It has content that for the most part, is just good enough for the few minutes those millions want to watch.

Now, take my music festival scenario and imagine instead a riot. Or a war zone. You see how powerful this might be for news gathering?

There’s still a long way to go obviously. For now, you actually have to be recording through an installed application for the auto-mix to work. There’s a limit of 4 other cameras in a single mix. The video quality is, well, from a mobile phone. All these will improve and become less restrictive.

But even now, it’s good enough.

There are fights to come. The technology raises massive issues about whether anyone can “own” the resulting video when anyone is free to remix and share the individual parts.

Given the massive, lucrative sporting event about to engulf my home city of London, I’ll give you one last scenario to imagine the impact of a crowd-sourced, non-owned, multiple camera recording:

The men’s 100 metre final.

I wish the International Olympics Committee a good night’s sleep.

Written by Robert

25 July, 2012 at 12:23 am

Facebook’s Places Editor – and what’s wrong with it

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No sooner than I complained about its disappearance, it’s back!

This is an update to a previous post where I’d found the Places Editor, and then thought I’d lost it again. I’ve now found it and have taken some screen grabs!

You can see what the first page looks like, why I get the choice of Northern Ireland, I have no idea!  I chose to tag duplicates, those things *really* annoy me.

Here’s what happens on the next, and it highlights one of the problems with the Places database:

You get a map and a bunch of entries from the database and you can tag each entry as to whether it’s a duplicate of the place shown, or specifically tag it not a dupe or you can leave it alone.

The interface needs some work. I don’t know why you’d get the option to tag it three ways. Surely easier to have just one button to ‘Confirm duplicate place’. Also the tick/cross is confusing. You’d think it was asking you to confirm if this entry was correct or not. It isn’t, it’s asking you to say if you think it’s a duplicate or not.

This mechanism needs to be made more fun – you just get screen after screen of data to correct, this gets boring without a good goal. I’d be interested in stats to show how many other people thought the entries were wrong, as well as knowing how much of a difference anything I do here is making to the database.

The most infuriating thing however is the inability to correct the actual location of the place in question! You can see here where FB has tagged ‘Paramount’ and where it actually is (in the Centrepoint Tower).

One of the big problems with adding new places is when the FB app grabs your GPS co-ordinates and how it verifies them. Some entries are several streets away from where they’re supposed to be, some are miles away. This is likely to be caused by the phone moving while the new entry was made, maybe the GPS cache in the phone was out of date.

So, yes I like being able to make edits to the database, but surely it’s important to have the actual locations correct too?

Written by Robert

30 June, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Facebook giveth and Facebook taketh away

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Places database gets fractionally more accurate, then doesn't

Places database gets fractionally more accurate, then doesn’t

I’m a Facebooker. I admit it, and I also admit that I’ve read most of the manual and pressed every single link on my page to see what happens. I get notifications delivered to my phone so I know the moment someone tags a photo of me that’s less than wholesome.  (Try doing that on Twitter when you have T-Mobile!)

So I was intrigued to find a new icon nestled in my apps navigation yesterday which said Facebook Places editor.

Update: The edit screen came back! Check out this post with new screengrabs.

I paraphrase the blurb which said something like ‘You use Places a lot, and you do a lot of tagging, so here’s a tool to help make the database better’.

I was offered a choice of places within the UK, or just places me and my friends checkin, and I could also choose to add additional information, or tag duplicates. I chose the duplicates, those things *really* annoy me.

Then I got a map and a place and a bunch of entries from the database and you can tag each entry as to whether it’s a duplicate of the place shown, or specifically tag it not a dupe or you can leave it alone.

The interface needs some work. I don’t know why you’d get the option to tag it three ways. Surely easier to have just one button to ‘Confirm duplicate place’. It also needs to be made more fun – you just get screen after screen of data to correct, this gets boring without a good goal. I’d be interested in stats to show how many other people thought the entries were wrong.

The most infuriating thing however was the inability to correct the actual location of the place in question! OK, so the duplicates and the misspellings of the dupes annoy me, but the thing that’s surely most important is that the marker for Heathrow Terminal 1 is actually in the right place!

One of the big problems with adding new places is when the FB app grabs your GPS co-ordinates and how it verifies them. Some entries are several streets away from where they’re supposed to be, some are miles away. This is likely to be caused by the phone moving while the new entry was made, maybe the GPS cache in the phone was out of date.

Anyway, in case you’re wondering, there are no screen grabs of any of this, because when I logged onto FB this afternoon the Places Editor had gone 😦

Did they think my corrections were rubbish? Was I mistakenly put into this app and then someone realised and took me out?

Comment if you have the Places Editor, as a basic web search reveals absolutely no info about it whatsoever!

Written by Robert

30 June, 2011 at 3:54 pm