29 February 02004

Why online radio is the model for listening to music in the future

At the RSA Music and Technology Event last month, Paul Sanders of State 51 described a scenario ten years from now where more music than you could listen to in a lifetime will be available on demand wherever you want it (at home, on the street, in your car). As he elaborated, the question then becomes, How do you facilitate listener choice in this world of ubiquitous music?

Paul rightly pointed out that the collaborative filtering systems used by Amazon et al to make recommendations to consumers are tiresomely predictable ("Customers who bought music by Bryan Ferry also bought music by Roxy Music and David Bowie" — you don't say!). My instinct in the face of the limitations of artificial intelligence is to replace it with human intelligence (see my justification for this). So, hey presto, in place of filtering technology we've just invented the disc jockey.

And then there's the question of how you pay for your access to this ubiquitous music. Perhaps a far-sighted government would set up a corporation to manage and develop this incredibly rich resource as an asset for the public good. Citizens with the equipment to access the resource might pay a license fee. So, hey presto, we've just invented the BBC.

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20 February 02004

Notes for broadband service providers

I was at the ISP Forum most of last week, representing Wired Workplace. The main theme of the event, which is close to our hearts, is how to make a profit from selling broadband services. Here are a few headline facts and opinions (most, but not all of them, are taken from a briefing by Tim Johnson of Point-Topic, but any errors are more likely to be down to my misunderstanding than to Tim or others).

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17 February 02004

Online Business Networking

After six months developing this site, I can tell I'm not a natural 'blogger.' I find it difficult to write in 'bite size' chunks: if I'm going to cover something, I want to do the 'full meal' and say all the things I have to say about the topic.

So, I'm at my most bloggish when short of time, as now when — instead of the full essay on social software that I mentioned previously — I only have time to provide a quick link to the Online Business Networking site, which provides a review guide to a range of sites for...you guessed it: online business networking. Their review of Ecademy is accurate and comprehensive as far as my experience goes. The site also contains a good blog section, and a promo for the authors' book about… you know.

16 February 02004

Douglas Coupland play: September 10

Douglas Coupland is scheduled to perform his first play September 10 at the RSC in Stratford-on-Avon in October. Neither the news page on his web site nor a Google search reveal any more details at the time of writing. Whereas his recent novels have been preoccupied with how people respond to trauma, the title suggests he may be shifting focus to the eve of the shock. There's also a new novel, Eleanor Rigby, scheduled to be published in the UK by the end of the year.

I've been a fan of Coupland since 8 November 01995, when Alex Usborne gave me his tickets to DC's reading at the Showroom. The first thing that impressed me was that — instead of the zeitgeist-addled, hipper-than-thou preoccupations I'd been led to expect from reviews — DC read the introspective passage of Generation X about Christmas morning with the family. But the second thing was that he complimented me on my suit while signing my copy of Microserfs. I'd read everything he'd ever written within six weeks.

15 February 02004

Digital versus analogue

This article reports how the American Society of Cinematographers is responding to digital cinema (with thanks to the E-cinema Alert for this link). While they seem to be embracing digital cinema, it's interesting to read the comment that 'major' movies are expected to be shot on film for many years yet: "The studios are not, as a rule, going to spend 60, 80, 100 million dollars on movies shot digitally, and it actually benefits the intermediate process because film provides more information to extract."

Compare this with the debates about audio recording formats, including this choice quote from Neil Young about digital recording throwing the baby out with the bathwater: "along with the hiss went depth of sound and the myriad possibilities of the high end where everything is like the cosmos, exploding stars, echo. From the 80s on, no records contain that kind of quality any more and those are the very things that stimulate the human body into reacting, feeling, and enjoying music."

13 February 02004

Review of John Cage weekend

Here's a review of the John Cage Uncaged weekend festival that I wrote a few weeks ago.

In hindsight perhaps it was inevitable that the most successful parts of the BBC Symphony Orchestra's long weekend dedicated to John Cage would be the music that was made in the intervals between the headline concerts. Cage and orchestras struggled with each other during his lifetime, and he found more receptive performers outside concert hall traditions, working with dancers and percussion ensembles, or producing his 'circuses' and 'happenings.' Though this pattern persists, the gradual, cautious and halting assimilation of the orchestra into Cage's project — or vice-versa? — shows that his impact is far from being played out or a spent force.

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11 February 02004

Why digitise cultural collections?

The Facet Publishing web site currently has a free download of the first chapter of Lorna Hughes' recent book, Digitizing Collections: strategic issues for the information manager. This 28-page chapter introduces the costs and benefits of digitisation in a very straightforward and easy-to-read manner.

The book appears to be aimed mainly at curators, librarians and other managers of collections, particularly linked to universities. Its focus is more on higher education, research and scholarship than what might called 'lifelong learning for the rest of us.'

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4 February 02004

Yoko Ono - Odyssey of a cockroach

I was sent an invitation to the press view of this installation — apparently by accident, but they let me in anyway — so I thought I'd write about it. Here's the 'virtual tour' and here are the details of the installation's current showing.

Cockroaches are a strong and resilient species; they will probably outlast us. The installation shows us the world through a cockroach's eyes, though the 'odyssey' is not clearly articulated. I read the installation as a restating and revisiting of Ono's celebrated anti-war statements from a few decades back, which are directly invoked by the 'Imagine-Peace' stamps that we are invited to use on the maps of US and Second World War locations. Not as playful as her early Fluxus work, but more poignant and still, impressively, as humble.

Social software and venture capital

I'm considering doing a proper review posting on 'social software' at some point — sites like Ryze, LinkedIn, Friendster, and the one I use, Ecademy, which provide means to broaden your network of contacts. But in the meantime, I recommend the admirably cynical comments of Venture Capitalist Jon Staenberg on the sector.

Sample quotes: "Let's not fool ourselves, sex still is the motivator and most of the activity around these sites is still around dating"; "I am on every service. I get almost no value from the services and in fact am starting to find them annoying as more and more random people are asking me to meet Bill Gates..."

3 February 02004

Usability of Online Content

I read the paper A Usability Study for Promoting eContent in Higher Education because the title promises a lot — how to optimise the usability of all that stuff we put online, so that people can learn from it — and I wanted to see whether the authors would pull it off.

I think the paper asks the wrong question. I'm not quite sure what the right question is, but reading helped me think where it might be found.

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2 February 02004

Antonio Calderara

La finestra e il libro by Antonio Calderara - copyright materialI found this painting, Antonio Calderara's La finestra e il libro, in the Morandi Museum in Bologna, while there at the weekend with Lucy. I like the formalism and artifice of the proportions and the composition, and it reminded by of After Raphael by Tom Phillips, one of my favourite artists.

Calderara's work ranges from figurative — Milano, il Naviglio (1928) — to abstract variations on Mondrian and Rothko — Tensione verticale al margine (1969). In this sense too it shadows Phillips' work, although Calderara prefigues Phillips: La finestra e il libro was painted in 1935, two years before Phillips was born.

The stuff I like most is the middle, transition period between these extremes, where Calderara's paintings use muted, crepuscular colours and blur the line between geometrical forms and representation. The best place to see the work on the web is the Fondazione Calderara site. Unfortunately the pop-up, Flash-driven navigation is beastly for searching, bookmarking etc, so here are direct links to my favourites: Crepuscolo (Lago d'Orta) (1927), La luna nel lago (1933-4), L'isola di San Giulio (1954), Lago d'Orta (1956). Here's the full set. (Of course, the paintings look very different in real life, where their light is reflected rather than projected as it is on screen.)