30 March 02005

I am fifty-quid-bloke, plus inflation

Oh dear, not yet forty, and I've already become the stereotype: the kind of man who regularly spends fifty quid a week on culture, as originally coined a year or two ago by David Hepworth. For the first time I've broken the fifty quid barrier: I spent an average of £51.10 in the year to 28 February 02005.

That £51.10 breaks down to £14.39 on CDs, a smattering of vinyl, a handful of DVDs (mostly music-related) and even 60 pence or so per week on those MP3 thingies; £26.17 on gigs (down from over £30 last year, my first in London); and £10.53 on books, film and theatre. You can add another £4.38 per week to that if you include art objects.

Yes, it is obsessive and a little disturbing not only to spend that money but also to count it so assiduously. I have to keep a handle on a habit that teeters towards the absurd: a few years ago I was buying CDs faster than I could listen to them. I was effectively building a private catalogue for my own personal subscription service à la Rhapsody etc.

29 March 02005

Union guide for e-learning

Another Seb Schmoller/David Jennings co-production hits the streets as you can now get E-learning in the workplace: a union negotiation and implementation guide, which the two of us researched and wrote, from this page on the TUC web site. It's a free PDF download, or alternatively, since it's a large full-colour file, you can request a printed copy (also free) by email. I said this would be published by the end of last year — so, only three months late… (it took longer than expected getting organisational clearance for all the quotes, and then the design work had to be done).

The guide is aimed mainly at union negotiators, and others in the trade union movement who have a stake in work-based learning. It provides information and advice to help them represent union members' interests during consultations or negotiations with employers about the introduction of e-learning at work by the employer.

26 March 02005

Implementing the BS 8426 British Standard for supporting online learners

The seminar on 'Supporting e-learners', at which Seb Schmoller and I were due to present, didn't happen in January and we've been told recently that it's postponed indefinitely. We had already prepared a eight-page handout for our presentation [PDF, 156KB], which we've been given permission to publish.

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24 March 02005

What does On-Demand Media really mean?

This week Arbitron and Edison Media Research published a report of their research survey on Internet and multimedia usage, The On-demand Media Consumer. The headline result being quoted is that "One in ten Americans show a heavy preference to control their media and entertainment". Reading the summary report, however, suggests that this conclusion is not warranted by the data.

This article covers the flaws in interpretation in the report, and then suggests some distinctions that might form the basis for a more sophisticated approach.

The biggest problem is that the researchers constructed a scale which they say "represents the level of control that consumers exercise on their own media usage", and most of the report is based on correlations with this scale. If you look at the fourteen items that were used to make up this scale, it's clear that these are just measures of adoption of the latest gadgets and technologies (e.g. owning a BlackBerry®, or a portable DVD player, having watched or listened streamed video or radio online in the past month, spending seven hours or more on the Internet per week). Not for these researchers the methodological rigours of testing the reliability of their scale using Cronbach's alpha or other established disciplines.

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23 March 02005

New learning styles for digital environments

Chris Dede has an interesting article in a recent issue of EDUCAUSE on how new generations are approaching learning in new ways as they take for granted web, email, instant messaging and mobile communications, distributed knowledge and associational webs of representations. He uses the term 'neomillennial learning styles' though he is not using 'learning styles' in quite the traditional sense or that attributed to theorist David Kolb.

Many people have written about the changes to teaching, tutoring and mentoring styles that e-learning brings into play. These can be summed up by saying that tutors are no longer positioned as the founts and guardians of knowledge, and become conduits for knowledge from multiple sources, or facilitators of learners constructing their own understandings. (And, yes, before anyone says anything, I know that this shift was already under way in learning theory for a decade or two before e-learning took off.)

The learning styles that Dede suggests, based on his (non-empirical) review, do not break ranks with this, but show the other side of the coin.

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18 March 02005

The re-invented cassette format for the digital age

Magnatune TunePlugDigital music innovator Magnatune, having re-invented the concept of a record label, last week introduced what could be seen as a new music format that is both digital and physical.

Their TunePlug is a reusable USB Flash Drive that comes in various sizes: from $19.99 for the 64MB version to $69.99 for the 512MB. Each version comes loaded with tracks from ten leading Magnatune artists as MP3 files — the largest having ten complete albums by these artists. That's under $7 per album, cheaper than CD or iTunes Music Store. And if you don't like any of the tracks, you can 'tape over' them by deleting them and freeing up the storage for other tracks (or data) of your choosing. So it has all the traditional features and uses of an old pre-recorded cassette. All the music is licensed under Creative Commons so you can copy it wherever and whenever you like, as long as the copying is non-commercial. The design of the packaging could do with some attention, however.

[Update 24 March 02005: I met John Buckman, founder of Magnatune, at a Pho meeting last night. He clarified a couple of points: first, whichever version you buy, you can get all ten full albums, but with the smaller versions you have to download the extra tracks rather than having them all pre-loaded; second, the price of the TunePlugs is pretty much the same as you'd pay for 'blank' USB flash drives of the same capacity.]

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16 March 02005

E-learning for music technology

Failures are interesting. It's often said that we would learn more if we spoke more about our failures. But no-one really wants to look bad in public so they just publish their 'little' failures. Like this one, which didn't crash and burn, it wasn't aborted, or even stillborn, because it never got 'fertilised' and never got off the ground.

In 02003 I attended two courses on the SuperCollider environment and programming language for real-time audio synthesis. Despite the best efforts of my teachers, Nick Collins, Fredrik Olofsson and Fabrice Mogini, I never got the hang of it. And I was in good company: other musicians on the courses — people I've paid to see perform — either dropped out or said months later that they were still struggling to get a purchase on how to apply SuperCollider in their work. In my case, the lack of both programming background and any grasp of music/synthesis theory, combined with poor discipline in working on SuperCollider outside of the course sessions, did for me pretty comprehensively.

But that's not the failure I was going to write about.

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15 March 02005

Classification of online music resources

After four months of keeping my bookmarks on Furl, I thought it was time to reflect on some of what I've collected — particularly in the music resources topic.

I created the music resources topic for items — web pages, databases, print, radio, TV, film/DVD, or anything — that are about music. That includes anything in the tradition of liner notes, reviews, artist interviews and 'paramusical' elements of recorded music like sleeve design.

My set of music resources links runs to 91 items at the time of writing. I've now reviewed and classified all these items (before anyone says anything, yes, I know that using a system that allows easy browsing using tags, like del.icio.us would have made this easier than it is with Furl). This is a work-in-progress research exercise at the moment, like my taxonomy of 'making of' features.

The biggest surprise for me was how many classifications I needed to cover all the bases. I was expecting maybe eight or nine, but ended up with nearly twice that number.

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8 March 02005

Notes on Playback (Mark Coleman)

The subtitle of Mark Coleman's book, Playback is "From the Victrola to MP3, 100 Years Of Music, Machines, and Money". It's a story that moves to and fro, from technology (the format wars over cylinders and discs in the days of Thomas Edison) to culture (the role of the DJ in disco, reggae and rap) and back to technology (Napster, iTunes and piracy).

Along the way, Coleman mixes anecdote and analysis, covering key personalities and broad social trends, as well as the power relationships in the music and technology industries. His century-long overview offers some perspective on the current tribulations, by showing that tribulations and turmoil are almost the norm — so the current impasse is in many ways 'business as usual'. The history of music and playback technology is a history of old wars and reconciliations, of markets contracting and expanding again.

Coleman's century covers the rise and fall of records as the primary music reproduction technology. Records first competed with live music, and with wax cylinders: they won. They competed with radio, skirmished for a while, but ended up in peaceful co-existence. Finally, records competed with cassettes and CDs, and, DJ culture notwithstanding, they lost.

What follows is not a review of Playback, but my notes of the points I found most salient.

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5 March 02005

How to teach art: notes from RSA lecture

The two-headed lecture on the topic Is the Art School Dead?, at the RSA this week, was a bit of a curate's egg. Neither of the speakers — Professor Roger Wilson and Brian Eno — presented a very coherent argument, but they strung suggestions on loose scaffolding. (Eno appeared to be recording himself on mini-disc: does he like to improvise and then review what he's said to pick out the good bits later?)

Roger Wilson suggested that the question Is the Art School Dead? is based on a particular art school identity prevalent in the '60s. Of course that was the decade when both speakers attended art school themselves. However, contrary to the image of art schools being laissez-faire incubators of cultural anarchy, Brian Eno said that his experience of being taught by Roy Ascott at Ipswich Art School had been distinctly disciplinarian. As a sixteen-year old student, he was obliged to take part in group behavioural profiling exercises, and then everyone had to spend the rest of the term inhibiting their natural proclivities, which in Eno's case seemed to involve being strapped to a trolley for much of the time…

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2 March 02005

Radio on mobiles

Two recent developments in bringing radio to mobile phones bring ubiquitous access one step closer. So I'm adding them to my collection of harbingers of 'martini media'.

Sony Ericsson has revived the Walkman brand with a mobile phone, reviewed in The Register by Andrew Orlowski. As well as playing MP3 and AAC files, and having a slot for a memory stick, the phone has an FM radio, and you can connect it to your hi-fi or TV.

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1 March 02005

Does Google have something against wikis?

This site does pretty well on its Google rankings, especially if the search uses terms that are in my title tags. Usually I get a top 10 ranking within 48 hours of posting: try googling Eno Blair or BBC Interactive Music Player, for example. By comparison, my 69 Love Songs wiki site — which has been around for six months now and has several other sites linking to it — ranks 267 when googling 69 Love Songs, or 49 if you restrict the search to UK sites.

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