Monday, October 24th, 2016


The twenty albums on the first iPod #

Fifteen years after the reveal of the first iPod (with a world changing 5GB of storage), Nobuyyki Hayashi recalls the presentation,the first sample machines handed to journalists (for the flight home), and the twenty hand-picked albums that were loaded up on the iPod.

Of course there was a big push to not ‘steal music’ so alongside the iPod were CD copies of those twenty albums. Hayasi still has them, and it makes for a fascinating playlist.

I love the fact that Jobs and his team included two albums from The Beatles (‘A Hard Day’s Night‘, and ‘Abbey Road‘), a band that would be one of the last groups to appear in digital form in the iTunes Music Store.


Trivial Posts #30: Reality is but a figment of the imagination #

I’m travelling a lot in November, so a quiet week at home with virtual reality, reality TV, and a picture show are exactly what I need to prepare to gather a clutch of air miles. What have I been reading to while away the hours? I’m glad you asked…

You can sign up to have this posted out to you every week, subscribe to the newsletter version here.

VR’s Biggest Problem

I posted this on the blog over the weekend, but it deserves another airing. Virtual Reality has a problem that is not far from the surface. Can anyone ensure a harassment-free environment, asks Jordan Belamire?

What Next For Twitter?

With the news that Disney is not going to bid for Twitter (nor will Salesforce, Google, Facebook, etc…) what next for the no longer limited to 140 character messaging service? John Brandon has a radical idea. Nothing. It’s done. Go home. Start again:

I use Twitter all day, but the truth is–tweets are becoming like white noise on a lost FM radio station.

…Do we ever check Twitter? Not at all. Never. It’s becoming a rat’s nest of nonsense, a place to grumble about the debates. I used to post questions on my Twitter feed, which now has about 11,000 followers, and expect a few people to send me some tips about how to fix a Wi-Fi signal at my house or troubleshoot a laptop issue, but fewer and fewer people respond these days. They’ve grown silent. The service has 313 million users but Twitter can’t seem to attract any new attention at all.

Why You’ll Be Deleting Your Twitter Account In The Next Six Months.

Why Is The Internet Hard To Read?

Kevin Marks (one of the key developers in the history of podcasting who never gets enough credit) is struggling on the web. Is it age catching up and failing eyesight? Or are the designers out to get him and make text that’s impossible to read the standard look for the web? Turns out its the latter.

There’s a widespread movement in design circles to reduce the contrast between text and background, making type harder to read. Apple is guilty. Google is, too. So is Twitter.

…if the web is relayed through text that’s difficult to read, it curtails that open access by excluding large swaths of people, such as the elderly, the visually impaired, or those retrieving websites through low-quality screens. And, as we rely on computers not only to retrieve information but also to access and build services that are crucial to our lives, making sure that everyone can see what’s happening becomes increasingly important.

We should be able to build a baseline structure of text in a way that works for most users, regardless of their eyesight. So, as a physicist by training, I started looking for something measurable.

How The Web Became Unreadable

Never Trust Anyone Who Updates Shakespeare Rocky Horror For The Kids

Frankly I still feel both apprehensive and uneasy about this remake, why it was needed, and if it’s going to be able to stand on its own. I mean, surely Brad and Janet can just call for an Uber instead of heading to the scary castle? And then there’s the music… Lou Adler talks about updating the music for the 2016 TV remake of ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ and that’s perhaps the part I’m confident that the show will get right.

There was also the matter of Richard O’Brien’s music for the show, which decades ago tapped into the prevailing glam-rock sound of the mid ’70s — and spawned a stand-alone hit in the deathless “Time Warp.”

…Today, though, rock hardly dominates the mainstream the way it once did. So Cisco — known for his group Whitestarr and his work with the rapper Shwayze — saw himself as a kind of a translator: someone who could reinterpret “Time Warp,” “Dammit Janet” and “Touch-a Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me” for younger viewers raised on hip-hop.

“These songs are rock standards,” he said. “I didn’t wanna flip the music on its back and make it EDM. But I did wanna flip it on its side — steroid it up, give it fatter drums.”

Steroids? Yes. EDM? No.

Simulating Brexit In Football Manager 2017

Put this down to unintended consequences but the ‘make Football as lifelike as possible’ gaming franchise is now simulating the various Brexit options in-game because of the direct impact it will have on Football:

There is also the option that sees us adopt a system like Italy’s, where there is a limit on the number of non-EU players in each squad. The limit of non-UK players that British clubs are allowed could range from anything as high as 17 to as low as four.

“If you only had four non-UK players per squad, that’s going to make things difficult. All of a sudden Championship-quality players are moving into the Premier League to fill up slots. That could mean the overall quality drops, and that means the TV money goes down.

…Jacobson goes on to highlight further potential scenarios: referendums on independence could mean players from Scotland or Northern Ireland need a work permit to move to the UK and the Bosman ruling, which allows players to move for free at the end of their contracts, could be scrapped in the UK. Jacobson is keen to stress that these really are all possible within the new game.

Brexit is simulated in Football Manager and its going to make it harder than ever.

Quick Links

What happens when you ditch a smartphone and go dumb? Documentally finds out.

The BBC puts episodes of ‘The Adventure Game’ on digital sale. Gronda, gronda!

The winning pictures from 2016’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year are, as you would expect, stunning.

What I’ve Been Up To

Two items of note from me this week in addition to the usual coverage of the mobile tech industry over on Forbes.

The first was an update to ESC Buzz. Inspired by Popurls, Alltop, and other headline-displaying sites, ESC Buzz gives you all the headlines from the ongoing world of the Eurovision Song Contest. Head over to www.escbuzz.com for more. Secondly, I made a second appearance on Keep Dancing, an unofficial Strictly COme Dancing podcast, to talk about the three-act structure and plotting in reality TV shows.

At the start of November  I’ll be attending the Web Summit (Lisbon 7-10 November 2016), before heading to Malta for a week of radio broadcasts (more on that in the near future). December will see me in the capital for TechCrunch’s Disrupt London (5-6 December 2016). Next year’s plans include attending SXSW (Austin, 10-20 March 2017). If you want to meet up at any of these events, let me know.

‘Trivial Posts’ is a mostly weekly series of posts that brings together interesting posts, ideas, video clips, essays, images, and anything else that catches my eye on the Internet. Read it online, or subscribe to the email newsletter version here.

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Sunday, October 23rd, 2016


An Old Problem Threatens Virtual Reality #

Virtual Reality is (still) the brave new world, and like any new world it’s going to get polluted. If the experiences of – and I fear it will be – then VR has a problem. And it’s one as old as the digital hills. Female harassment:

So, there I was shooting down zombies alongside another real-time player named BigBro442. The other players could hear me when I spoke, my voice the only indication of my femaleness. Otherwise, my avatar looked identical to them.

In between a wave of zombies and demons to shoot down, I was hanging out next to BigBro442, waiting for our next attack. Suddenly, BigBro442’s disembodied helmet faced me dead-on. His floating hand approached my body, and he started to virtually rub my chest.

…Remember that little digression I told you about how the hundred foot drop looked so convincing? Yeah. Guess what. The virtual groping feels just as real. Of course, you’re not physically being touched, just like you’re not actually one hundred feet off the ground, but it’s still scary as hell.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

There are a lot of players in VR right now. Who can build VR for everyone, and not just replicate a Trump Locker Room? I’ll happily cheerlead for that team.

Friday, October 21st, 2016


A little Falconry for the weekend? #

Because a heap of junk can look graceful in two supercut videos, one of the Millennium Falcon from the Star Wars trilogy, and one from The Force Awakens.

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016


Down, Down, Deeper And Queen #

Sneaking out last week on its YouTube channel was a recording of Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You‘ for a John Peel Session. It’s the faster version used to open a number of live shows.

…and every time I listen to it I can hear Status Quo’s 12-bar boogie-woogie trying to break out.

Monday, October 17th, 2016


Trivial Posts #29: To Be Read In The Style Of Clive Anderson #

A slightly delayed Trivial Posts this week, but it’s still full of the best stories, links, and articles that I’ve found online this week. You can sign up to have this posted out to you every week, subscribe to the newsletter version here.

Who’s Line Was First Anyway?

They might be ten-a-penny on panel shows and in comedy clubs, but when did the lust for improvised comedy start in the UK? John Dowie discovers the first giants for Chortle… Jim Sweeney and Steve:

Just as the Sex Pistols had inspired a generation of kids to form bands, so Alexei Sayle inspired a load of performers to crawl out of the comedy woodwork. An Alternative Comedy Circuit was formed and Jim and Steve were performing in it, taking suggestions from the audience, then acting them out. And always brilliantly. Many of us wanted to know ‘how they did it’. The only way to find out, they told us, was to do it. The Rupert Pupkin Collective was formed, a free-form outfit comprised of whoever came along that night. Shows were staged at the Donmar Warehouse in Covent Garden. The only rule was that there were no rules. There were also no ‘theatre games’.

The Pioneering Giants Of British Improv

Your Super Soaraway Search Engine

A long time ago (in digital terms), The Sun went behind a paywall. Recently it decided to ditch that model and start with the ad-supported model of publishing news. It started with almost no search-engine power because of the paywall blocking everything. What happened next? Jessica Davies looks at the modern day way of building traffic:

News UK chief customer officer Chris Duncan likened the feeling of The Sun shedding its paywall, to “coming blinking back into the light.” But The Sun has been busy and, with the help of Facebook, has soared in traffic. “Having been absent for a few years, we’re now right back up,” he said. The traffic speaks for itself: Today, The Sun has 20 million monthly visitors (compared to a couple million last December) — just 7 million shy of Mail Online in the U.K., according to comScore.

How The Sun Used Facebook

Show Me (Thirty Percent Of) The Money

Staying with monetising the news, David Pidgeon reports on the income the Guardian receives from people buying advertising on the website. In true MacGyver fashion, the Guardian did this by buying advertising on its own site to watch the flow of the cash.

“There’s leakage. The money that goes in is not the same as the money that goes out,” Nicklin said. “There are so many different players taking a little cut here, a little cut there – and sometimes a very big cut. A lot of the money that [advertisers] think they are giving to premium publishers is not actually getting to us.”

Nicklin said the Guardian had purchased its own ad inventory to try and assess where the money was spent across the entire supply chain and saw, in some instances, that only 30 pence was making it back to the publisher.

Where did the money go? Guardian buys its own ad inventory

When One Man Can Make A Difference

There’s rather a lot of polling going on in the United States at the moment, and huge decisions are made on the output of these polls. Why do the opinion of 19-year-old in Illinois change the polls so much that he can be responsible for a percentage point shift in a poll of 3000 people? Nate Cohn (no not that Nate) investigates for The New York Times:

He’s a panelist on the U.S.C. Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Daybreak poll, which has emerged as the biggest polling outlier of the presidential campaign. Despite falling behind by double digits in some national surveys, Mr. Trump has generally led in the U.S.C./LAT poll. He held the lead for a full month until Wednesday, when Hillary Clinton took a nominal lead.

Our Trump-supporting friend in Illinois is a surprisingly big part of the reason. In some polls, he’s weighted as much as 30 times more than the average respondent, and as much as 300 times more than the least-weighted respondent.

…How has he made such a difference? And why has the poll been such an outlier? It’s because the U.S.C./LAT poll made a number of unusual decisions in designing and weighting its survey.

Distorting National Polling Averages

But Not Inverted

How do you make an eclipse last seventy-four minutes? You borrow the first Concorde prototype, crank it up to mach 2, and sit in the shadow till you run out of potential runways to land at. Chris Hatherhill looks at a lost moment in aviation history for Vice.

The plan seemed deceptively simple. Closing in at maximum velocity, Concorde would swoop down from the north and intercept the shadow of the moon over northwest Africa. Traveling together at almost the same speed, Concorde would essentially race the solar eclipse across the surface of the planet, giving astronomers an unprecedented opportunity to study the various phenomena made possible by an eclipse: the ethereal solar corona, the effect of sunlight on the darkened atmosphere, and the brief red flash of the chromosphere, a narrow region around the sun that’s usually washed out by the much brighter photosphere.

When Astronomers Chased A Total Eclipse In A Concorde

Quick Links

Thanks to the trailer for Top Gear Two (sorry, The Grand Tour, having the same initials cut confuses me), I’ve spent most of this week with The Kongos ‘Come With Me Now on loop. I’m expecting to see official Amazon Music playlists pop up after each episode of TGT.

Is putting on a good dance enough to find success at Strictly Come Dancing? Eleanor Chalkley investigates for Keep Dancing.

What I’ve Been Up To

A quiet week on the content front, just two big pieces to draw your attention. The first is a review of the latest Pebble Smartwatch, imaginatively called the Pebble 2. The second is the regular news podcast for the Eurovision Song Contest as countries continue to decide how to select their songs for the Contest in May.

At the start of November  I’ll be attending the Web Summit (Lisbon 7-10 November 2016), before heading to Malta for a week of radio broadcasts (more on that in the near future). December will see me in the capital for TechCrunch’s Disrupt London (5-6 December 2016). Next year’s plans include attending SXSW (Austin, 10-20 March 2017). If you want to meet up at any of these events, let me know.

‘Trivial Posts’ is a mostly weekly series of posts that brings together interesting posts, ideas, video clips, essays, images, and anything else that catches my eye on the Internet. Read it online, or subscribe to the email newsletter version here.

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Monday, October 10th, 2016


Trivial Posts #28: The Golden Sample, Some Sapphires, and A Diamond Rio #

In a week where I did a last-minute trip to New York, looked at the iPhone camera lens, and remembered the horrors of Bros’ ‘Push’ album, the internet kept me relatively sane with links and stories aplenty. Here are some of those stories. You can sign up to have this posted out to you every week, subscribe to the newsletter version here.

Ken Doesn’t Need The Bros Reunion

What happened to Craig Logan, the original bassist in Bros? Turns out that he’s quite happy to not be famous, but ended up with a huge career in the Music industry. Ian Burrell finds out what happened next to Smash Hits’ Ken:

He refers to Bros now as “my crazy little, funny little pop band”. Still, while most of the American superstars he works with have never heard of what was once a British cultural phenomenon, Logan also says of his days as an artist that he does not “regret it for a millisecond”. That includes the recollection of playing Wembley in 1988 and spotting Eric Clapton in the front of the audience with his family. “I remember thinking, ‘God, he’s going to think I’m shit’. It was enough to give me the heebie-jeebies.” A framed photograph on the wall of his villa shows him in silhouette on stage with Bros, although he has chosen an arty shot that makes him barely recognisable. “It’s the only one I put up because no one can tell who it is.”

I Never Wanted To Be Famous

One Song To The Sample Of Another

Thanks to the rise of sampling in the music industry, there’s a veritable goldmine of moments to choose from. So why do so many tracks end up using ‘Amen, Brother’? David Goldenberg investigates for FiveThirtyEight:

There’s one song that’s been sampled far more than any other, according to one measure. The website WhoSampled.com, whose audience obsessively tracks what’s sampled, says that a 1960s track called “Amen, Brother” by The Winstons is the most-sampled track in history, and it’s not particularly close. By its count, more than 2,000 songs have sampled a particular drum beat from “Amen, Brother” that’s now known as the Amen Break.

It Only Takes Six Seconds To Hear The World’s Most Sampled Song

We Can Remember Him For You

Reading like a Charlie Brooker script from Black Mirror, Casey Newton tells the story of Eugenia Kuyda and her quest to build a ‘bot that recreated her deceased friend Roman Mazurenko through a mix of texts, messages, and digital footprints:

As she grieved, Kuyda found herself rereading the endless text messages her friend had sent her over the years — thousands of them, from the mundane to the hilarious. She smiled at Mazurenko’s unconventional spelling — he struggled with dyslexia — and at the idiosyncratic phrases with which he peppered his conversation. Mazurenko was mostly indifferent to social media — his Facebook page was barren, he rarely tweeted, and he deleted most of his photos on Instagram. His body had been cremated, leaving her no grave to visit. Texts and photos were nearly all that was left of him, Kuyda thought.

…Reading Mazurenko’s messages, it occurred to Kuyda that they might serve as the basis for a different kind of bot — one that mimicked an individual person’s speech patterns. Aided by a rapidly developing neural network, perhaps she could speak with her friend once again.

Speak, Memory

Can You Use The Diamond Rio MP3 Player Today?

Ars Technica’s Andrew Williams digs out the eighteen year old Diamond Rio MP3 player (base specifications, 32 MB of musical storage) to see just how well it works with today’s technology.

The root of the problem highlights how our relationships with our computers have changed in the last 20 years. Windows couldn’t see the Rio PMP300 because the software wasn’t just looking for the player, it was looking for the player exclusively on the LPT1 parallel port. Windows 10 is designed to let its users be virtually clueless and get on just fine nonetheless. Windows versions of old were not nearly so idiot-proof, much as Microsoft might have tried to sell us that exact idea way back when.

Kids, you’ve never had it so good…

Can This Classis 18-Year-Old MP3 Player Still Cut It?

The Best? There Are Other Lessons To Learn

Some uplifting words from Ross Craig on why you should always be learning from people in your field, especially those who you see as being bad:

So if a terrible sitcom comes onto my screen, or a terrible YouTube video appears on my Facebook feed, or a comedian I’d leap into a river to avoid listening to crops up on Mock The Week?—?they’ve done something well.

The end product? Bad.

Getting it to the stage where I could notice it? Good.

Why You Need To Learn From The Worst

Quickies

American television runs at 29.97 frames per second. Matt Parker attempts to explain why…

Say hello to the Scottish Geek Network.

Pokemon Go, three months later.

What Have I Been Up To

As I mentioned last week, I decided to fly to New York at around thirty hours notice to see a baseball game (the Giants/Mets wild card sudden-death game). So that was flying out Tuesday, game on Wednesday, home on Thursday, and a bundle of meetings in the gaps.

Writing took at bit of a back seat, but I still had time to look at the importance of Facebook’s Messenger Lite application for basic Android smartphones, and Apple’s use of lower-quality sapphire crystal in the iPhone camera lens.

Later this year I’ll be attending the Web Summit (Lisbon 7-10 November 2016), and TechCrunch’s Disrupt London (5-6 December 2016). Next year’s plans include attending SXSW (Austin, 10-20 March 2017). If you want to meet up at any of these events, let me know.

‘Trivial Posts’ is a mostly weekly series of posts that brings together interesting posts, ideas, video clips, essays, images, and anything else that catches my eye on the Internet. Read it online, or subscribe to the email newsletter version here.

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Monday, October 3rd, 2016


Trivial Posts #27: Board Games, Podcasts, And Postseason Baseball #

Everything looked so calm and predictable as the weekend started. Instead, I’m off to do some last-minute travelling, but not before I share some links and articles that I enjoyed this week on the web. You can sign up to have this posted out to you every week, subscribe to the newsletter version here.

You Helped My Battleship Transport Wool!

There’s nothing like a good family board game at Christmas, and a big stack of them by the table during the rest of the year. So The Observer’s look at the resurgence of board games – especially the so-called ‘German’ board games that rarely pit you directly against your opponents family members – is welcome, even if many of us are already here collecting brick, timber, and ore:

“About five years ago, I noticed we were selling fewer miniatures,” says Wooding, “so I started putting shelves of board games down here” – he gestures to rows of colourful game boxes with snappy titles, Small World, Agricola, Carcassonne, Pandemic – “and every time we did that the takings went up.” He also noted a decline in what he tactfully describes as the “stereotypical gamer” – dyed-in-the-wool hobbyists who would typically be lone, white men.

“You get a lot more couples now – young, professional, just bought somewhere. They still want to meet up with mates but they don’t want to go out and get pissed any more. They like the idea of getting a game out, having a few drinks, bit of fun for two or three hours around the table.”

The Rise And Rise Of Tabletop Gaming

G’Day World!

As ‘International Podcast Day’ dawned around the world, my old podcaster-in-crime from The Podcast Network took to the stage at OzPod 2016 to talk about how to earn a living from podcasting when you’re not a celebrity. Monty Munford reports for Forbes:

“I don’t claim to be the biggest or the best podcaster in the world – far from it. However I have spent over a decade talking to myself in a little room and wondering if anyone would be entertained by it. I’m just an average guy who has ideas and opinions he wants to share with other people.

“When I set out to build the website for a premium-subscriber-only podcast, I expected it to be easy. On the contrary, I found it to be extremely time consuming and complicated. It takes a lot of work, but people will pay for premium content and the market is ready for it,” said Reilly.

In the end I settled on podcasting the Eurovision Song Contest, while Cam went for Caesar. I think we both managed to give up our day jobs!

Podcasting In Australia is Big Business

When Candy Crush Saga Is All You Have

The BBC’s Leo Kelion looks at the fortunes of King Games. In 2012 Candy Crush Saga accelerated the company towards the top of the mobile charts for downloads and income. As the follow-up games failed to find the same success, King Games are still riding the crush train nearly five years later. What does happen next?

“King reported it had 409 million monthly active users at the end of June 2016,” notes Jack Kent from the research firm IHS Markit. “That’s its lowest level since 2013 and a drop from a peak of 550 million users in early 2015. “It still has a huge audience to monetise… but it needs new intellectual property or a revamp of its existing titles to achieve significant growth.”

Life Beyond Level 2000

Sign, Shake Hands, Smile, Take The Cash

Writing for The Hollywood Reporter, Lesley Goldberg looks at one of the most profitable jobs for an actor in a ‘genre’ television… appearing at a convention. If you wonder why everyone wants to be on these shows – apart from regular employment – the numbers offer you the answer:

According to multiple sources familiar with convention deals, the basic guarantee rate for genre stars is in the $5,000 to $10,000 range per appearance — with leads on such current TV series as The Walking Dead, Once Upon a Time, Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries, Netflix’s Marvel shows and The CW’s DC Comics fare commanding anywhere from $35,000 to $250,000 and up, depending on their popularity and the frequency with which they appear. At top conventions, it’s not uncommon for a star to earn anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 on top of their guarantee (more if they spend extra time signing).

How to Take Home “Garbage Bags Full of $20s”

Quickies

The ‘old soaks’ who cover the Edinburgh Fringe look back on the 2016 Festival with wit, skill, insight, and a few sweary words (well, Kate Copstick is involved).

Speaking of swear words, OFCOM’s reports into the strength, power, and association of certain words is now available in its ‘Attitudes to potentially offensive language and gestures on TV and radio‘ report (PDF Link). Which naturally comes with a earning that ‘this guide contains a wide range of words which may cause offence.’

What Have I Been Up To

As the San Francisco Giants started to play the last game of the regular season, I was looking at a quiet week. As the ninth inning sent the Giants into the Post Season and a Wild Card game with the New York Mets on Wednesday, I had a last-minute trip to see the game all ready to be booked. So…

If you’re around in New York on Wednesday or Thursday, I have an almost empty diary and looking to meet interesting people and see some great new tech and ideas. Get in touch ASAP!

Other trips for the rest of the year include the Web Summit (Lisbon 7-10 November 2016), and Tech Crunch Disrupt in London (5-6 December 2016). Next year’s plans include attending SXSW (Austin, 10-20 March 2017). If you want to meet up at any of these events, let me know.

‘Trivial Posts’ is a mostly weekly series of posts that brings together interesting posts, ideas, video clips, essays, images, and anything else that catches my eye on the Internet. Read it online, or subscribe to the email newsletter version here.

 

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Wednesday, September 28th, 2016


A third way to make money from mobile apps #

First up, I consider Overcast the best mobile podcast clients currently available. Marco Arment’s client has grown over the years and developed almost every feature that I could want. The only trouble he’s had is trying to create a solid income from it. Following the initial one-year subscription model, then a patronage-based model, he’s now looking at a third option:

Ads are the great compromise: money needs to come from somewhere, and the vast majority of people choose free-with-ads over direct payment. Ads need not be a bad thing: when implemented respectfully, all parties can get what they want.

Most podcasts played in Overcast are funded by ads for this reason, and as a podcaster and (occasional) blogger myself, I already make most of my income from ads.

I’m far from the first one to try an ad-supported app — among many others, my co-host on Under The Radar, David Smith, now makes the majority of his App Store income from ads — and it’s unwise to rule out any reasonable business model in today’s App Store.

So I’m trying ads in Overcast: simple, non-animated, mostly-text banners on the main list screens that unobtrusively scroll with the content.

Arment has kept much of discussion over the app’s development and business models on his blog, and I hope that he finds true success with Overcast. Needless to say I’ll be paying the premium to remove apps (I’m so old-school sometimes) and watching the continuing story with interest.

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016


‘The Touch’ becomes ‘Warrior’ #

Stan Bush’s career shows the power of a single hit song. Since ‘The Touch’ in 1986 pushed him into pop culture and the hearts of millions of fans, he’s re-iterated the same song style over and over… and over again. And why not? Part of being a creative is realising  when you are in the  middle of ‘a good thing’ and it’s not getting any better.

Because it’s really hard to listen to his latest track ‘Warrior‘ without thinking of his classic.

Monday, September 26th, 2016


Trivial Posts #26: Fast Scripts, Slow Games, And A Martian Graveyard #

Another week, and another collection of internet links that have made me stop and think during the last week. Hopefully they’ll make you do the same. Never forget you can sign up to have this posted out to you every week, subscribe to the newsletter version here.

When Reality Shows Meet Reality

As the reality TV season kicks in on prime-time Saturday night television in the United Kingdom, ‘Strictly Come Dancing‘ and ‘The X-Factor‘ are set to dominate the schedules and the social media chat. It’s also a time where the power of the producers and scriptwriters of the shows can be seen impacting the fortunes of the contestants. Alongside a primer on how these shows work in practice, Sofabet’s Daniel Gould’s retrospective of the scriptwriting behind a previous contestant on ‘The X-Factor‘ illustrates just little power the contestants have:

Today’s article is an in-depth case study on the treatment of recent eliminee Abi Alton. We hope it will be an accessible introduction for newbies to the kind of tactics used to manipulate viewers’ perceptions of acts. For more seasoned observers, too, I hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I believe that rewatching an act’s entire journey with the benefit of hindsight, as I did to write this piece, is always a worthwhile learning exercise. It sharpens our ability to read future clues.

Abi’s Journey: A Case Study in X Factor Manipulation

Were You ‘Deadly’?

No Man’s Sky‘ is the reason I asked for a PlayStation 4 for Christmas…. last year. Now it has arrived I’ve been entranced with its eighties throwback nature, lack of competitive online combat, leisurely pace, and a meta of finding your own reason to live in this world. You know, how gaming used to be when I were a lad.

Turns out Martin Belam agrees, and agrees in a far more coherent form than me!

So it doesn’t strike me as odd that the four or five people I know who have really got into No Man’s Sky are all of a similar-ish age and generation to me. I feel like the game fulfils an 80’s vision of games, the kind of thing I could have played years ago. Except infinitely bigger and brighter than anything we had back then. The features that it “lacks”, that have made people angry, are almost exactly the same features that make it appeal to me and some of my peers.

How No Man’s Sky Exposes The Gaming Generation Gap For 80’s Kids

Facebook Instant Articles… Worth The Hassle?

The little lightning symbol on articles linked on Facebook means you can read them in a Facebook formatted post, with pre-fetched data, and generally it feels like reading in the Facebook app. Many major publishers are using the ‘Instant Article’ system, but is it worth it in terms of revenue and handing over user ownership to Mark Zuckerberg?

The revenue is improving too. In February, the CPM was $1.30. In the summer, it rose to $3.40; now, it’s back down to $2.10 — double the Instant Articles ad revenue it made last year, when it pulled in around €10,000 ($11,200). On its own mobile sites, CPM is less than $1.

Not everyone, however, is seeing the same success with yields. The commercial chief of a major digital media publisher, who wished to stay anonymous, likened the yields on Instant Articles to the equivalent of remnant inventory traded programmatically.

UK Publishers Are Mixed On Performance Of Facebook Instant Articles

Get Your Musk To Mars!

Bond villain in training Elon Musk wants to die on Mars and be buried there. This week he’ll make a big speech about how everyone should be funding his program to get to the red planet (presumably while stroking a white cat on his lap):

Meanwhile, during the next five years Musk might fly his Red Dragons to Mars. He might continue to develop and test the Raptor engines that would power his next-generation rocket. He could make reusable rocketry a reality. He could fly commercial crew missions safely and demonstrate his reliability with US astronauts. He could continue do all of this at a fraction of the cost of similar government programs. If he does this, a commercial pathway to Mars, offered by SpaceX at a cost of $50 billion to $100 billion might have some credibility with a future president and Congress. And if NASA doesn’t buy it, perhaps another foreign government might.

Between A Rocket And A Hard Place

I’m Sorry Dave, I Can’t Print That

Got an HP printer? A number of the devices stopped accepting third-party ink cartridges this month, following on from code that was part of March’s firmware update. If it’s not HP in HP, you won’t be able to print anything. That’s the long-game right there to make sure the code was in place before it was triggered. More at Boingboing from Cory Doctorow:

On September 13, owners of HP OfficeJet, OfficeJet Pro and OfficeJet Pro X began contacting third-party ink vendors by the thousand, reporting that their HP printers no longer accepted third-party ink.

The last HP printer firmware update was pushed in March 2016, and it appears that with that update (or possibly an earlier one), HP had set a time-bomb ticking in its customers’ printers counting down to the date when they’d begin refusing to follow their owners’ orders.

HP says that the March update’s purpose was “to protect HP’s innovations and intellectual property.”

Of course. And it’s nothing to do with selling printer ink that costs in the region of $2,700 per gallon.

HP Detonates Its Printer Timebomb

Quick Hits

The once-dominant Symbian OS had a Twitter client called ‘Gravity’. The developer now has a version available on Android, called ‘Gravity Forever‘.

Tom Forth’s automatic Guardian comment generator.

American sportswriters love Marriott, which goes some way to explaining the power of points-driven loyalty schemes in the travel industry.

What Have I Been Up To?

I’ve written up some of the strategy behind the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus for Forbes where I ask ‘Is Apple Flying or Dying?‘ along with the weekly Apple and Android news columns.

Away from technology the weekly radio show that is ‘Europe’s Heartbeat’ continues to air weekly on various radio stations around the world. It debuts every Saturday morning on Radio Six, and you can listen to the previous week’s show on demand at EuropesHeartbeat.com.

Before the end of the year I’ll be attending the Web Summit (Lisbon 7-10 November 2016), and I’m planning to be at Tech Crunch Disrupt in London (5-6 December 2016). Next year’s plans include attending SXSW (Austin, 10-20 March 2017). If you want to meet up at any of these events, let me know.

‘Trivial Posts’ is a mostly weekly series of posts that brings together interesting posts, ideas, video clips, essays, images, and anything else that catches my eye on the Internet. Read it online, or subscribe to the email newsletter version here.

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Saturday, September 24th, 2016


Celebrate forty years of thrill power #

2000 A.D. celebrates forty years of publication next year (along with the release of issue prog 2000 next week, both notable milestones in the comic industry. For the latter, head to your nearest comic book supplier, for the latter the team is putting together a conference that Tharg would be proud of:

Next February, Rebellion toasts 40 years of the publication of legendary British weekly comic 2000 AD by presenting a huge celebration in the UK capital. The main event, a one-day ‘immersive live extravaganza‘, will take place at Hammersmith’s Novotel and includes a jam-packed schedule of prestige events, original programming, world exclusive merchandise and one-of-a-kind spectacles befitting the legacy of the finest comic book export the UK has ever produced.

The most ambitious single occasion in the history of 2000 AD publishing, the festival will be the culmination of a whole slate of nationwide signings and events, and features an unprecedented number of writers, artists and editors to have graced its pages including: John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra, Alan Grant, Dave Gibbons, Mike McMahon, Steve Yeowell, Rob Williams, Si Spurrier, Al Ewing, Sean Phillips, Duncan Fregredo, Simon Bisley and many, many more!

Tickets go on sale October 12th for the Feb 11th conference.

Monday, September 19th, 2016


Trivial Posts #25: The Amazing, The Afraid, And The A.I.s #

I thought work was going to be all about the iPhone this week. In terms of popular culture it was, but I picked up success somewhere else. And in the middle of all that, I found some fun things online… these are the Trivial Posts that kept me from falling down an Apple-filled rabbit hole.

Never forget you can sign up to have this posted out to you every week, subscribe to the newsletter version here.

Dah dah dah dumm DUM!!

“Hum the music from Star Wars. Hum the music from James Bond. Hum the music from Harry Potter. Now hum the music from any Marvel film.”

And with that simple question. Tony Zhou nails another ‘Every Frame A Painting’ video on the magic behind the movies.

The Marvel Symphonic Universe (YouTube)

The Great Musical YouTube Debate

Times change, business models are tweaked, and the record industry still wants the same pound of flesh from those who consume it. That’s one angle. The other is that the music industry believes that many companies (primarily Google) is profiting from music without sharing the income fairly. Chris Cook takes time to look at the flashpoint issues for Complete Music Update:

Then streaming music started to take off. And then it started to really take off, in key markets like the US and UK. And as SoundExchange revenues started to grow in the former, and Spotify gained momentum in Europe, the monies being paid over by YouTube each month started to look much less impressive.

While YouTube continued to grow in terms of users, the royalties it paid over to the music industry did not keep up, with either YouTube’s own consumption growth, or the streaming market in general. Meanwhile, in Europe especially, it became clear that the real money in streaming was going to come from premium subscription services, not ad-funded free platforms.

Oh, and then download sales peaked. This was a key factor in the music industry’s changing relationship with YouTube

CMU Trends: The music industry and YouTube

We’re All Suspects So Watch Your Back

Once more, profiling and harassment at Airport security reveals far more about the humanity in the post 9/11 world. Riz Ahemd writes about his experiences at The Guardian.

My first film was in this mode, Michael Winterbottom’s The Road to Guantánamo. It told the story of a group of friends from Birmingham who were illegally imprisoned and tortured in the US detainment camp. When it won a prestigious award at the Berlin film festival, we were euphoric. For those who saw it, the inmates went from orange jumpsuits to human beings.

But airport security did not get the memo. Returning to the glamour of Luton Airport after our festival win, ironically named British intelligence officers frogmarched me to an unmarked room where they insulted, threatened, and then attacked me.

Typecast As A Terrorist

Let’s Teach The AIs How To Use Guns

For computers to learn how to drive cars, they need somewhere to practice. That could be on a real rod with a human co-driver, but that has to be late stage testing for obvious reasons. What could be used instead? Rockstar Games Grand Theft Auto:

There’s little chance of a computer learning bad behavior by playing violent computer games. But the stunningly realistic scenery found in Grand Theft Auto and other virtual worlds could help a machine perceive elements of the real world correctly.

A technique known as machine learning is enabling computers to do impressive new things, like identifying faces and recognizing speech as well as a person can. But the approach requires huge quantities of curated data, and it can be challenging and time-consuming to gather enough. The scenery in many games is so fantastically realistic that it can be used to generate data that’s as good as that generated by using real-world imagery.

Self-Driving Cars Can Learn a Lot by Playing Grand Theft Auto

You Can Sing With It Or Hammer Some Nails Into The Wall

Where would the world be without music? And where would music be without the Shure SM58 microphone? Shure itself has celebrated its top product with a top ten list, but its hard to argue with the PR when the product is the indestructible microphone:

Ernie Seeler, the man behind the development of the SM58, didn’t like rock and roll.
It’s ironic that a quiet man who preferred classical music invented a mic that would become synonymous with rock and roll, first capturing the attention of acts like The Who and The Rolling Stones. Shocked by its widespread adoption on the rock stage, Ernie Seeler said, “I love classical music, but rock and roll, I don’t take very seriously.”

Ten Things You Might Not Know About The SM58.

What I’ve Been Up To

Well, the iPhone arrived in store and anyone could (allegedly) buy one. So it was off to brave the Apple Store so I could come home to my blanket fort to recover with the iPhone 7, open it up, and start reviewing it for Forbes. That said, this was the weekend of Android, as my weekly digest of Android news went viral and picked up over one million readers. Where do I pick up my ‘seven-figure blog post’ badge?

Today (Monday 19th) I’ll be attending the Next Radio conference in London. I’m here till Wednesday, so drop me a line if you’d like to meet up or talk technology while I’m in the capital. I’m also attending the Web Summit (Lisbon 7-10 November 2016) and SXSW (Austin, 10-20 March 2017)

‘Trivial Posts’ is a mostly weekly series of posts that brings together interesting posts, ideas, video clips, essays, images, and anything else that catches my eye on the Internet. Read it online, or subscribe to the email newsletter version here.

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Thursday, September 15th, 2016


Why Do I Write What I Think About Technology? #

Tomorrow the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus will be released to the public. For some reason Apple has never offered me the hardware to review ahead of a public launch, so I’ll be very close to the front of the line. After the purchase I’ll start reviewing the handset online, with my first impressions at the end of the day and a more refined review a week or two later.

Thinking about how to review the device has sent me down an interesting mental path, partly because of the reaction to the existing coverage of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. How should a technology journalist report and review a new hardware release?

There is a school of thought that a reporter should be covering just the facts, reporting these fixed details to the reader, and leaving them to make their own mind up. The arguments presented by the company should be taken as ‘the one true answer’ and that the only arbiter of a success will be sales, rather than the analysis of a thousand web monkeys at their Macbeth inspired keyboards.

The other side of the argument is that the facts are nothing more than a starting point. The thinking from the manufacturer and the idyllic view presented should be challenged and questioned. Decisions made in the design process should be questioned, and through this questioning the strength of the device will become clearer to the reader.

Naturally the latter will always input some bias from the writer (or the video producer, podcaster, whoever) because their understanding around the decisions made will colour the article. I have my biases, as do others. Those who are familiar with my writing will know where I see technology going and how that impacts on a device.

For me, covering the technology scene has never been about repeating the corporate line, declaring everything new to be magical, and cheerleading the courageous decisions being made. The comfortable corporate facts are the starting point. I see my role as informing people of those facts, providing context, questioning decisions, conveying how I see this all fitting together in an entertaining way, and allowing my readers to see multiple angles to make educated decisions on a subject if they wish.

Facts are good, but facts are the starting point of a longer journey. That’s what I write about, and that’s how I cover my beat. If you don’t like it, that’s okay. But tens of thousands of people every day are happy to read my words, and for that I am thankful.

And with that said, on to the iPhone 7 review.

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Monday, September 12th, 2016


Trivial Posts #24: A Prisoner, A Delivery, And An Autistic Interview #

Time for another collection of links, stories, and images that caught my eye in the last week. Being the reveal week for the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus (next week is ‘review’ week where hand-picked publications get an early look at the handsets along with Apple’s ‘reviewer guide’ PDF; and the week after that is launch week), I’ve been busy on all things Apple over on my Forbes column, but let’s not talk about the iPhone any more. What else has happened?

As always, you can sign up to have this posted out to you every week, subscribe to the newsletter version here.

I Am Not A GIF

A quickie to start the links this week, as the BBC dives into its picture archive for the fiftieth anniversary of The Prisoner. Exquisite.

In pictures: The Prisoner at 50

How Amazon Is ‘Helping’ FedEx and UPS

If there’s not enough delivery capacity, most companies would order more. What if there is no more? If you’re Amazon, you build out your own distribution network while reminding your delivery partners around the world that this isn’t a play to take their business, just to help them at peak times. Devin Leonard takes time to look at Amazon’s intentions to deliver everything as quickly as possible:

Two months after the Ohio announcement, Amazon leased 20 more jets from Atlas Air, an air cargo company based in Purchase, N.Y. Amazon has also purchased 4,000 truck trailers. Meanwhile, a company subsidiary in China has obtained a freight-forwarding license that analysts say enables it to sell space on container ships traveling between Asia and the U.S. and Europe. In short, Amazon is becoming a kind of e-commerce Walmart with a FedEx attached.

Will Amazon Kill FedEx?

And The Open Source Votes Go To…

It’s always fun to see where open source software turns up, and just how prevalent it has become. I’m not au fait with software used in television production (ask me about radio instead), so the anniversary of the on-screen graphic tool CasparCG introduces me to the package that has made many graphics that I love.

Jonas is the main person behind CasparCG, the open source professional graphics and video playout software developed by Swedish public broadcaster SVT. This year, a decade after its conception, CasparCG was used for the Eurovision Song Contest graphics, including all of the animated votes counting.

CasparCG performed flawlessly, answering the first question people always ask about open source: “Is it really fit for broadcast?” Since May 2016 the answer is: “Yes, although it has not been proven with a live audience larger than 204 million yet.”

Open Source At Eurovision

Hiring The Best People For The Job

Microsoft’s program to challenge how it recruits neurodiverse employees and integrate them into the company featured in Fast Company this month. Vauhini Vara’s article is a detailed in-depth look at the process through the experience of one candidate. Quite simply, lets have more of this sort of attitude from employers.

The program, which began in May 2015, does away with the typical interview approach, instead inviting candidates to hang out on campus for two weeks and work on projects while being observed and casually meeting managers who might be interested in hiring them. Only at the end of this stage do more formal interviews take place.

…What’s unorthodox about this, of course, isn’t just its setup. It also represents a novel, and potentially fraught, expansion of the idea of diversity. The impulse to hire more autistic employees is based on the same premise as hiring, say, women and people of color: Doing so not only welcomes in a wider range of creative and analytical talent, but brings more varied perspectives into an organization, and makes for a workforce that better reflects the general population of customers.

Microsoft Wants Autistic Coders. Can It Find Them And Keep Them?

When a ‘Metacritc 45’ reads like a 75

Sometimes published games get very good scores. Other times the games get a poor score. Behind every game is a team that worked hard for years to provide a commercial flop. Their stories are gathered together by Luke Winkle on Vice to find out how developers live with average games. Infinite Crisis is the hook here, but look beyond that one title to the humans behind the title:

“You only get to see the stuff that comes out and gets a bad score,” continues Day. “The people who work in the industry get to see a whole lot more that never sees the light of day. This isn’t just in video games – all across the tech industry people are working on things that get cancelled. You work on stuff for a long time, you pour your heart and soul in it, and when it gets shuttered it’s devastating. It’s a terrible, terrible feeling.”

What It’s Like to Work On a Video Game Flop.

Rafe Life

Many years ago, my daily writing wasn’t on Forbes but on the ‘All About’ websites, which at the time was the number one website for Nokia and Symbian smartphones. That was ‘the first break’ in terms of getting regular paid employment, and a piece of my heart will always be there. It was the brainchild of Rafe Blandford, and while he remains modest about it, he talks about how it started, how it dominated, how it fell away, and what he did next with his life on the 361 Degrees podcast.

Rafe Blandford’s Origin Story.

What I’ve Been Up To

Apart from the aforementioned smartphone stories, notable moments include a guide to visiting Kyiv for the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest (it was announced as the winner of Ukraine’s bidding process on Friday) and appearing on Al Jazeera to talk about Samsung’s exploding batteries in the Galaxy Note 7.

Next week I’ll be attending the Next Radio conference (on Monday 19th September) in London. Get in touch if you’d like to meet up or talk technology while I’m in the capital. I’m also planning to attend the Web Summit (Lisbon 7-10 November) and SXSW (Austin, 10-20 March)

‘Trivial Posts’ is a mostly weekly series of posts that brings together interesting posts, ideas, video clips, essays, images, and anything else that catches my eye on the Internet. Read it online, or subscribe to the email newsletter version here.

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