31 October 02004

Of Walking in Ice, in Hertfordshire

"Tourism is sin, and travel on foot virtue," said Werner Herzog, in one of his famous dictums. So would he see 1st Framework's Of Walking in Ice day-long event, themed round his book of the same name, as a mixed blessing?

Our group of around twenty met at 8.30 at Kings Cross station on a Sunday morning — grateful at least for the extra hour in bed granted by the end of British Summertime — and the first leg of the day was a train journey to Welwyn Garden City. But the Herzog-themed 'happening' got under way properly when we set out on a seven-mile walk from Welwyn to Kimpton. This was a rather modest correlate of Herzog's own three-week walk from Munich to Paris in 1974. After soup and cheese on arrival, there was a screening of Herzog's film The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner, a documentary about a Swiss ski-flyer (a more dangerous version of ski-jumping), followed by a performance-reading of extracts from Herzog's book.

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29 October 02004

RadioSHARK (post postscript)

In the interests of comprehensiveness — as well as a little bit of banging on that "I'm right, you know" — I risk being boring by adding one more new development to my list of gadgets that pre-figure a future of martini (ubiquitous, on-demand) media. This follows an original article on this subject, and a first postscript.

Griffin Technology's radioSHARK is a $70 (less than £40) device that you plug into your USB port, allowing you to schedule recording of FM and AM radio programmes onto your hard disk, and then move them directly onto your iPod. It does for FM/AM what the Bug does for DAB digital radio, with the added advantage that whatever your record is already on your hard disk.

At the time of writing, the radioSHARK is available via the Apple store in the US, but not the UK. I don't know what's behind this, or if and when it's likely to change. It works with Macs and PCs.

28 October 02004

Towards a taxonomy of 'making of' features

I'm reading Ashley Kahn's A Love Supreme: the Story of John Coltrane's Signature Album, and finding it fascinating. Kahn provides pictures of his sources, from the handwritten covers of the session tapes to the records of which musicians got paid how much for each session. The album was conceived in '64 and released in '65, just like I was, and the book recreates the cultural era of another time, place and race.

Which leads me to ponder what makes a valuable essay on the making of an artwork. Particularly in the DVD age, these 'making of' accounts are increasingly common. Here's a list of a few I've come across — mostly recent ones, with no claims to be the best in their field — and what I think distinguishes them.

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27 October 02004

Handheld satellite radio: one more harbinger

A short postscript to my recent posting on harbingers of martini media: a US announcement of a handheld satellite radio that can receive 130 digital stations and record up to five hours of music, which you can schedule when you want. Here's the official page and specs for the Delphi XM MyFi™, and here's an interesting, if slightly contrived, comparison of the benefits of the MyFi against iPods-plus-podcasting. One selling point of MyFi for some people will be "No computer downloading or list management; absolutely no computer needed."

I've collected some more reviews and stories on the MyFi in my collection of bookmarks on music devices.

26 October 02004

Thanks for more than a lifetime contribution

Outside the tube station I saw people stop and point with open mouths at the Evening Standard news boards that read 'DJ John Peel Dies'.

The last time I heard John Peel's voice on the radio — I don't know if it was the last time he was broadcast before he died — was two nights ago on Andy Kershaw's programme. Andy played a tape of a twenty-year-old John Peel programme where John introduced, uncannily, the song They're Cutting my Coffin at the Sawmill. (If you have the stomach, you can hear this until next Sunday.) Someone had written in pestering Andy to play the song, believing that Andy had himself played it in the '80s, though he had no recollection of it. Another listener realised that it was actually John Peel that had played the song (mentioning Andy with customary generosity when introducing it) and that listener had kept his tape of the programme for the last twenty years. There are a million stories like that. Before the age of the Internet you could walk into a West Berlin bookshop where they'd be playing imported tapes of his programmes.

Though it's shocking to have an apparently limitless, unending stream of great radio come to a sudden stop, no-one can say that John Peel sold anyone short. We can only be enormously grateful for all the lives that he wove his way into.

25 October 02004

Forced Entertainment: Indoor Fireworks festival

I'm just back from seeing Instructions for Forgetting, the opening piece of Forced Entertainment's two-week Indoor Fireworks festival, which made me realise I should have plugged the festival before now, and I've been neglecting the Cultural Calendar section of this site.

As well as six performances of their new work, Bloody Mess, next week — I'm going on Thursday — there are other performances by the company, some of their video work, shows by other performers that they've selected for the festival, and on the final day (6 November), talks by academics, the eight-hour durational work Marathon Lexicon, plus a big party to celebrate twenty years since the company was founded.

Further details of Bloody Mess (including trailer) and archive pages. See also Forced Entertainment's Imaginary Evidence CD-ROM, in the design of which I had a small hand.

22 October 02004

Podcasting: another harbinger of martini media

Podcasting enables you to subscribe to regularly updated audio material, and then take it with you on your MP3 player and listen to it when it suits you (the term podcasting is clearly derived from iPods, but the practice is not limited to them). As such, it's a combination and application of technologies that gives another glimpse forwards of 'martini media' — being able to listen to (and, to a lesser extent, watch) your selected tracks or programming 'anytime, anyplace, anywhere'. I don't know the difference between 'anyplace' and 'anywhere' either, but you get the idea. Here's a Wired News article on podcasting, with further links and examples.

In the same way that RSS feeds allow people to track and read multiple text-based web sites through one interface, podcasting offers the promise of subscribing to multiple audio programmes through one device. In fact, podcasting depends on the latest version of RSS to 'enclose' the audio files. Right now it's a little geeky to implement, and your MP3 player has to be linked to a PC with a broadband connection while it updates. But clearly with time (less than five years?) plus a little workaday graft — no miracle innovations required — that could be turned into something easy and foolproof to use, updated by high-speed wireless connection direct to the player.

Here's a re-cap of some of the other harbingers of martini media that I've been collecting, followed by more details of podcasting.

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21 October 02004

Pressure building for access to BBC radio archives

A month after Ofcom's mutterings about enforced licensing of the BBC's radio archive, a new report commissioned by DCMS concludes "The BBC should examine how it can enter into joint ventures with the commercial sector when considering future archive-based services." The message seems to be that if the BBC isn't making active use of its archive, it should make it possible for others to do something with it. (And the report goes on: "the lack of any formal relationship between the BBC governors and Ofcom… is a problem.")

There's a certain inevitability about this. As convergence comes to fruition, the digital world has a hell of a lot of frequencies, bandwidth and disk storage to use up (cf. an iPod is an "empty beer glass waiting to be filled") . On the other hand, there's a massive pile of historically and culturally exciting stuff hanging around doing nothing. It's natural that policy makers and regulators should want to get this material to an audience one way or another.

This is an acutely sensitive issue at a sensitive time for the BBC. As anticipated in my previous posting on the BBC's digital direction, they need both to conjure a seductive vision of potential archive offerings, and to position themselves so that they are central to delivery of this vision. In this light, reports that the first pilot of the BBC Creative Archive may be too little too late must seem a bit worrying.

20 October 02004

Ecademy networking meeting for media sector

Speaking of social software (see previous posting), if you're in striking distance of London and interested in meeting people working in the design, new media, Internet, television, film, computer entertainment, music, press/publishing, radio and advertising sectors, you're invited to a meeting I've organised through the Ecademy online and offline network.

Here are the details of the meeting on 28 October. To register for the meeting you have to join Ecademy, which is free and there's a link from the meeting details. Though no-one will turn you away if you come along and haven't registered.

Ecademy is the best mix of online and offline activity that I've experienced — if you're in a metropolitan centre like London — and this event is under the umbrella of the 'media playground' club within the larger Ecademy network.

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18 October 02004

Article on the evolution of social software

Christopher Allan's Life with Alacrity blog has an amazing article Tracing the Evolution of Social Software, which manages to be both comprehensive and concise in covering almost fifty years of people using software for organising themselves collaboratively.

Allan covers all the key visionary figures, including Doug Englebart and the Johnson-Lenz's. I saw the latter give a talk ten years ago, and their perspective of group awareness and conflict resolution through software definitely put them at the hippie end of the Californian ideology (which was actually quite refreshing since they were speaking as guests of the DTI).

Allan's article focuses mostly on the evolution of terminology. If I have one criticism, it is that it misses out on the shift from local networking and community bulletin boards to the social entropy of the Internet in the 1990s. From my perspective this growth of the Internet worldwide had a major effect on the kind of social organising that was possible and realistic.

16 October 02004

Review of online artwork by Stanza

My review of Stanza's collection of twenty online audio-visual artworks, Amorphoscapes, is now available on the Furtherfield web site. Furtherfield is building an extensive resource covering many areas of art in online and convergent media.

Apologies for the recent scarcity of postings on this site — I've been ill.

11 October 02004

RSA Day of Inspiration: my notes

I attended the RSA's 'Day of Inspiration' today, marking 250 years since the RSA was founded.

I imagine a full transcript of the day's talks will appear online in due course, and I'll add a link to it from this posting then.

So rather than try to replicate what will be done better elsewhere, here are my unedited notes, sacrificing comprehensiveness — and possible comprehensibility and accuracy — at the altar of speed.

Continue reading "RSA Day of Inspiration: my notes"

10 October 02004

FURL: creating and sharing better bookmarks

I came across the FURL site (short for File URLs) because someone has linked to one of my postings about wikis from there — see the interesting collection of wiki-related sites for an example of how FURL works. The site is a useful tool for extending the scope of bookmarking web pages, and because you can share your bookmarks it also provides a useful complement to a blog site.

Self-style 'usability guru' Jakob Nielsen pointed out that browsers need better bookmark management in the middle of the last decade. More recently, he has observed that "Web browsers' despicably weak support for bookmarks/favorites has contributed to the decline in users' interest in building a list of favorite sites". FURL helps address this.

I plan to use my FURL archive as a store for online resources that I may or may not write commentaries on here on this site. I'll add it to the links from the home page in a bit, but right now there's hardly anything there.

4 October 02004

Results of Guardian digital music survey

Some of the results of the Guardian digital music survey that I reported earlier were published on Friday.

Unfortunately these results don't add much to the sophistication of anyone's understanding. Basically they say that people are still wary of downloading, but that more people are paying for downloads than a year ago (which everyone already knew from sales figures). And broadband will make downloading more attractive.

The survey is a missed opportunity in concentrating on short-term trends focused exclusively on downloads. It ignored longer-term shifts in the broad picture of how people learn about music, including streaming, live events and intermediaries other than download and file-sharing sites. My original posting gives a more extended critique of these points.