High Altitude Balloon Flight

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Those with longer memories may recall that I once tried to send a camera up on a bunch of helium balloons from a rooftop near work. We had, er, “mixed” results when a knot I tied turned out to be particularly poor.

More recently I’ve launched cameras on kites with varying results.

But the ultimate must surely be those high altitude balloons that you sometimes see being launched with cameras attached to weather balloons, high above the clouds, getting into near space.

Today we achieved our aim!

High Altitude Balloon 24 May 2015 from Adam Bowie on Vimeo.

In particular, look for the balloon bursting at about 8:55 into the video!

Earlier this year, I gathered together a few friends to put together a plan to launch a balloon into “space” (OK – it’s the high atmosphere, and not really space. We were aiming for about 30,000 metres or close to 100,000 feet. To put that in perspective, the Felix Baumgartner’s “Space Jump” was from 129,000 feat or 39,000 metres – about 25% further than we went). All sorts of people seemed to be doing this all the time. And if a group of school kids could do it, so could we.

Part of the plan was simple. Weather balloons can be bought online, and helium is readily available, even if it’s not cheap. Other components you can find online. But the key thing is to track your balloon. My first thought was the cheap and cheerful. You can buy kits online that come with a couple of GSM/GPS trackers. These are cheap devices which you pop SIM cards into and they are able to text GPS coordinates to a phone. The problem with these is that the GSM network is targeted at people on the ground. Once you get just a few thousand feet up, they go out of range.

That means that you lose track of where your balloon is until it has fallen low enough to pull in a GSM signal again. A big part of the flight is unknown. Even if you put something take measurements, you have to recover the balloon first.

Another option is using satellite trackers. These can be bought or hired, and they can ping off the Iridium satellite network. But it’s still incomplete, and there are costs with getting a subscription with one of these services. They need to face upright too to get a good signal.

The best route, although the most complex, is to use a radio tracker. This operates at a fairly low powered rate, and has a GPS built in. It then broadcasts the signal to anyone listening, and by including a codename, you can track a particular balloon – or payload below a balloon – to see where it’s going.

The really good thing about this solution is that it’s not necessarily down to you to track the balloon, since there’s a network of stations – especially in the UK – that will listen out for your signals and upload them to an online tracker. What this means is that you can track your balloon live online!

Allied to this is prediction software that can work out your balloon’s route, and you have an excellent solution.

It this sounds complicated, then it’s true to say that there’s a learning curve. Everything you need to see is either on the UK High Altitude Society Wiki, and habhub.org where you can find links to the trackers.

Thanks to the very kind Steve or Random Engineering, we got the loan of one of his trackers – since our soldering capabilities were minimal so we didn’t want to build one ourselves. Steve also looks after a launch location in Cambridgeshire where he has CAA clearance to launch balloons. You need to get this before you can send your balloon upwards.

There’s still a certain amount of assembling, and fortunately, there are lots of good guides online explaining how to put things together.

Then it’s a question of getting the weather right. Our first weekend was a wash-out. The balloon would have careered off into the North Sea. The second weekend was better. Although there was the small matter of keeping clear from Stansted Airport and RAF Duxford which was having an air show.

And so it was that we found ourselves in a field in Cambridgeshire at 9am on Sunday morning, ready to go. Well not ready really. Our payload would contain a budget GoPro (the £100 model), an iPhone 5s and a Canon camera running CHDK for stills. But I’d somehow managed to flatten the Canon’s battery despite recharging it. So we replaced it with another iPhone we had spare. We also had a couple of USB chargers for one of the phones and the GoPro. Also inside was a GSM tracker as mentioned with a PAYG SIM. A couple of Lego spacemen went in, and an FM radio on constant search to feed into the video of the iPhone.

We sealed the payload, attached our loaned tracker, then a parachute, and finally our balloon. Because of the weather conditions we made sure we had a fast lift – 6 m/s. This would ensure we’d come down before Stansted.

And then it was off! The GSM tracker worked for a while, but we were quickly able to also see the balloon live online.

3 The payload box

6 Using a dummy payload to judge the helium amount

7 Nearly ready to go

10 Eddie pays out the line

9 Ballon and parachute start to rise

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Then it was off in our cars to chase the balloon, heading towards Saffron Walden as a broad landing area. In fact, it turned out to be a very accurate landing area. And as the balloon got lower the cheap GSM tracker kicked back into life too.

Finally we knew we were down, and in a field. The good news is that we were away from trees. The bad news was that we’d just missed some electricity pylons by just a few metres.

We’d also only just missed the M11 and were close to a railway line too! We are uX2 in the route below.

Balloon Route

14 Found it!

Retrieved

15 Shredded latex

We recovered everything and headed to a nearby pub to look at the footage. Amusingly Steve tracked us down to the pub because we hadn’t turned the tracker off!

Anyway, it was all a massive success, and you can see from the video and stills.

Ofcom on Audience Attitudes to Broadcast Media

Ofcom, the UK broadcast regulator, carries out an awful lot of research, most of which it publishes on its website. But people are lazy, and they mostly just look at executive summaries and press releases.

But there’s a lot more to it than that. There are often copious appendices with much more detail, and beyond that there are tables – tables and tables of data (1429 pages in this instance). Because Ofcom carries out a number of regular “tracker” surveys. And although the data tends to get used in a variety of reports, there’s some that just sits there, online, awaiting someone to take a look.

Ofcom has just published a report on Audience Attitudes to UK Broadcast Media. This is largely distilled from its most recent “Media Tracker”, and you can find the report, an appendix and the data tables here.

Ofcom’s news release concentrates on what kind of hardware people now use for their media, and what people are taking offence at on television. But I’ll sidestep those a little and consider a few different findings.

I think the findings on Product Placement are particularly interesting. Only 36% of adults are aware of Product Placement according the research, with the perhaps more media-savvy 35-44s being most aware. Now I should say that the question is a little confusing asking about trailers and promotions as well – which is possibly a different sort of thing in a viewer’s mind. But nonetheless, that’s a low number.

Product Placement Awareness

Perhaps more concerning is the awareness of the “P” logo that it used to tell audiences that a programme contains product placement. Only 14% of respondents could correctly identify it. A further 19% said they recognised it, but couldn’t correctly identify what it means, while the remaining 67% couldn’t recall seeing it at all.

Awareness of PP Logo

That’s pretty damning.

Now it might be arguable that Product Placement hasn’t taken off in the UK to the extent it was expected to when the rules were relaxed to allow it. We don’t tend to see characters in dramas extolling the virtues of a particular vehicle (“Heroes” anyone?), and a lot of the more regular Product Placement has taken place has taken place in daytime TV. But ITV has used it regularly in series like The X-Factor and Coronation Street, and Channel 4 has used it in Hollyoaks and Sunday Brunch amongst others. So we’re talking about some of the biggest shows on those respective channels.

Ofcom takes the view these days that commercial activity is fine as long as the audience knows it’s being advertised to. And I think in some programmes it’s pretty clear, or even unsubtle. But at other times it’s built into the fabric of a programme to a greater extent – literally part of the scenery. And if audiences are not understanding the cues, then work needs to be done.

Back in 2011, there was a consumer advertising campaign to explain the concept, but that was a long time ago, and it’s message has not stuck. Perhaps a refresh is in order?

Elsewhere, Ofcom’s research suggests that 20% of households have a smart TV, with 70% having hooked their sets up to broadband. That does feel very low in overall terms. However viewers aren’t limited to using their TV for catch-up programming, and 51% of households have some kind of access to it on their TV screen, rising to 64% among 35-44s (but only 22% of 65+ households).

Connected Devices

(Note that people can obviously connect more than one device to a TV, so the sum of the parts add up to more than 51% here).

I think the biggest takeout from this question is the amount of use people get from games consoles to receive smart TV. As someone who hasn’t switched on his dusty Xbox 360 in perhaps two years, you can sometimes forget the importance of these.

It also seems that’s a lot of work to be done for homes that aren’t yet connecting up their TVs with on demand television. It’s no wonder that a lot of Sky’s growth is coming from Now TV, and that Chromecast should still be important for Google. And with Apple now reported to have ditched plans for a TV, they’re now said to be concentrating again on an updated Apple TV device.

What about radio? While Ofcom leads points out the varying degrees of offence taken at bad language, violence and sex on television, radio is practically completely inoffensive.

offence

I must admit – I’m not completely certain that this is a good thing. I’m not asking for lots of shock jocks, or the replacement of song’s “radio edits” with their unexpurgated versions at breakfast, I do sometimes think that boundaries need to be pushed a little. Radio can sometimes be too safe. Audiences should be challenged.

The other interesting slide is on the amount of advertising carried by radio.

advertising

Now to be fair, I find it staggering that 15% of respondents wouldn’t mind a bit more advertising. Although this question is asked of commercial radio listeners, I wonder if they don’t skew a bit more BBC. Anyway, a rather chunkier 29% of listeners think there’s already too much advertising. And I think that becomes a bigger problem as subscription audio services begin to build. We’ve seen Apple poaching not just Zane Lowe, but other radio producers, suggesting they at least are going to build a product that’s closer to traditional radio. If your station’s clock is so crammed full of advertising, promotions, promotional trails and jingles, that you barely have time left for your presenter to say something, then you might want to have another look at what you’re doing.

Finally a couple of slides highlighting newspapers. And not in a good way. The most intrusive medium? Not very surprising.

intrusive

And then there’s accuracy in the news. Before the election, I argued that newspapers’ influence was greatly over-exaggerated. And even post an election with a result that nobody was expecting, and with commentators broadly agreeing that the newspapers (who were largely pro-Conservative) must have had an effect, I still disagree. I think there were larger issues at play.

Take a look at this slide on who people think present news the most accurately.

most accurate news

Only 6% of people say that newspapers are the most accurate source of news. So that’s the media that determines a voter’s mind?

And broadcasters are seen as much more impartial than newspapers.

impartiality

So newspapers are neither accurate nor impartial. Even allowing for the fact that they’re much more opinionated, that really doesn’t suggest to me that voters switched because of what a newspaper told them to do.

RAJAR Q1 2015

RAJAR Q4 2013

This post is brought to you in association with RALF from DP Software and Services. I’ve used RALF for the past 8 years, and it’s my favourite RAJAR analysis tool. So I’m delighted to be able to bring you this analysis. For more details on RALF, contact Deryck Pritchard via this link or phone 07545 425677.

Here we are with the first RAJAR release of 2015 and one of the usual times to take stock of the UK radio market.

In overall terms, radio remains strong with 47.8m people listening each week (89%) – fractionally down on last quarter, but generally holding its own. And adults who listen to the radio do so for 21.3 hours a week, again consistent with recent quarters.

Of course, I don’t have to tell readers of this blog, that the amount of listening you do to the radio is almost directly correlated to your age.

The older you are, the more radio you listen to. And the younger you are…

In the past, radio watchers like myself have always paid close attention to the amount of digital listening there is in the first quarter of the year. That’s because DAB radios have been given as Christmas presents to quite a large degree. But those jumps have lessened over the years, essentially because digital listening has become more normal. However, in Q1 2015, we have seen quite a jump, with 39.6% of all listening – or two fifths – being digital.

While I don’t think anyone could honestly say for certain when a digital switchover might take place, the 50% listening mark has always been a key marker, and we’re now at 40%.

That increase is coming across all platforms, but proportionately it’s being driven by internet listening, which has now reached an all time high of 6.8% of radio listening. That might seem pretty small, but three years ago it was at 3.9%.

What’s more, as the chart above shows, it’s being driven by younger audiences. Getting your internet/app offering right for this audience is critical. 28.3% of 15-34 radio listeners are using the internet every week.

BBC v Commercial

While overall radio listening is broadly flat, the commercial radio has given over share to the BBC this quarter. 54.4% of listening is to BBC radio, while 42.8% is to commercial radio. That’ll disappoint the commercial groups as they’d been gaining share for the last year or so.

National Stations

Not great figures for Radio 1 this quarter, as it falls below 10m reach for the first time since 2006. It’s 7% down on the quarter and 8% down on the year in reach. Listening hours aren’t quite as bad, but this’ll obviously be disappointing for them. It has dropped its average age a year (although as I’ve argued in the past, big shifts here are pretty impossible).

On the other hand, Radio 2 is pretty flat, losing 1% in reach but gaining it in hours. It remains with more than 15m listeners a week, each spending 12.2 hours with the station.

Radio 3 gains 2.7% in reach and a more significant 15.7% in hours (although it’s down on this time last year). Overall, pretty solid.

Radio 4 has also had a decent quarter gaining a few reach, but up again in hours by 8%.

It looks like the schedule changes that 5 Live put in place last year are now beginning to bed in, as its reach and hours have both seen solid increases (3% and 6% respectively). It’s still down on this time last year, but when you change your whole daytime schedule in a single swoop, that’s probably to be expected.

Classic FM has had a solid quarter, losing a handful of listeners on the quarter, but putting on listening hours.

And Talksport will be delighted to see 8% increases in reach and hours on the last quarter (and increases in the last year), as the station bounces back to over 3.2m listeners. The station will now be working out what it’s going to do with its planned series of sister stations, including a Talksport 2, launching next year.

National Digital Stations

1Xtra has had a bit of a drop this quarter falling 24% in reach and 42% in hours of last quarter. Even allowing for some variances in its figures, this is a big fall, and I couldn’t easily explain it away.

Radio 4 Extra has delivered some new record figures, gaining 26% reach in a single quarter and 15% in hours. It now has more than 2m listeners each week for the first time (2.2m in fact).

It has been an excellent quarter for 5 Live Sports Extra which has seen a record reach – more than doubling after last quarter’s drop. 1.3m people listened during the first quarter of this year. Obviously this is busy part of the sporting calendar for football, but perhaps the most important part of the schedule was the cricket world cup that took place during this quarter. It’ll be interesting to see what the BBC Trust says about the station’s recent request to put more original programming on the station.

6 Music has a small dip this quarter down 1% in reach, but with listening increasing. It’s up on the previous year too.

Absolute 80s is the biggest commercial digital radio station and has posted some all time record figures, a smidgen under 1.5m in reach with 9.3m hours.

The Absolute Radio Network is flat at 3.9m reach (I mean it’s completely flat at 3.893m this quarter and last quarter!). Hours are up to over 30m for the first time since Chris Evans was at the station – so the first time in a long time!

The overall Magic network (including London) has seen a big jump in the last quarter with 3.6m listening for 18m hours.

Planet Rock has had a very good set of figures, putting on 12% in reach and 13% in hours adding to an overall strong digital portfolio for Bauer. (The exception being the unloved The Hits, which has had its worst reach figure ever.)

The Capital Network (including Capital Xtra) has fallen back a little this quarter, while the Heart Network is basically flat overall.

Jazz FM will be disappointed to see its reach drop by 11% in the quarter, and experience a smaller fall in hours.

London Stations

There’s a view that I share, that London can often foretell trends in radio, perhaps by about a year. If that’s the case, then there is serious concern in this RAJAR, because the proportion of Londoners who ever listen to the radio has fallen to 86% for the first time (remember it’s at 89%) nationally. Now 3% mightn’t seem that much, but only five years ago it was at 93%.

What’s more, the cumulative number of listening hours has fallen below 200m for the first time since the methodology changed in 1999. Again, it’s just a number, and it’s perfectly possible that it’ll come back next quarter, but these are not good omens.

What that means is that overall radio listening is down in London this quarter, meaning that many stations have experienced losses without other stations necessarily picking up listeners.

Magic isn’t one of those stations however. It’s number one in London in reach (1.9m up 8.4%) and hours (9.8m up 8.5%).

However Global will not be pleased with the results from its key brands in London. Capital has seen a 4% fall in reach and 12% fall in hours on the previous quarter (and the numbers are worse on the year). But for Heart, the numbers are even worse, with a 14% fall in reach and colossal 28% fall in hours. Even the usually solid LBC has had a very poor quarter with a 19% fall in reach and a 17% fall in hours. Factor in falls in Capital Xtra (down 51% in hours), Xfm (down 57% in hours) and Gold (a less bad fall of 34% on a small base), and it’s not great news for Global’s offering in London.

Kiss also had a fall, down 1.5% in reach and 8.2% in hours. On the other hand Absolute Radio jumped back massively after a couple of disappointing results with a 33% increase in reach and an 82% increase in hours.

I’ll repeat what I always say in these situations, and that’s that you need to keep an eye on trends, and that you should always question any station experiencing double digit changes in figures in any given quarter.

Breakfast

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given Radio 1’s overall picture, Nick Grimshaw has seen his numbers fall with his reach down 7% on the previous quarter at about 5.5m

Chris Evans has last a few listeners on Radio 2, but nothing he can’t afford to lose. He’s now down to “just” 9.5m.

On Absolute Radio’s network of stations, Christian O’Connell remains flat on a still decent 1.6m listeners.

In London it’s fun and games as ever. Rickie, Melvin and Charlie and the number one commercial breakfast show up about 1% with 879,000 listeners. It’s just 7,000 ahead of Dave and Lisa at Capital who have fallen 7% to 872,000. Next up is Magic with 747,000 (although it too has fallen). Heart is down too with 627,000 (down 8% on the qtr). Christian on Absolute Radio’s network has increased his reach by 8% on the quarter to 585,000. And spare a thought for Jon Holmes on Xfm – down 52% to 118,000 (although Russell Brand podcasts or not, the brand does feel unloved by Global).

Bubbles

Finally the bubbles…

(Note that Google has updated the way these charts work again, and while it seems to be much faster to use now, I haven’t been able to make the chart any larger. So clicking here, will give you more details on how the chart works, but it won’t currently make it bigger. I’m working on it. Sadly, I’ve not been able to update the London chart just yet.)

Further Reading

For more RAJAR analysis, I’d recommend the following sites:

The official RAJAR site and their infographic
Radio Today for a digest of all the main news
Go to Media.Info for lots of numbers and charts
Paul Easton for analysis
Matt Deegan usually has some analysis
Media Guardian for more news and analysis
One Golden Square for more Absolute Radio and Bauer details
The BBC Mediacentre for BBC Radio stats and findings

Source: RAJAR/Ipsos-MORI/RSMB, period ending 5 April 2015, Adults 15+.

Disclaimer: These are my views alone and do not represent those of anyone else. Any errors (I hope there aren’t any!) are mine alone. Access to the RAJAR data is via RALF from DP Software as mentioned at the top of this post.

Visions of the Future: Mad Max and Tomorrowland

Mad Max: Fury Road, is just demented.

In a good way.

George Miller returns to his 1979 character, essentially re-imagining him, this time played by Tom Hardy. The film is very high concpet. Max is chased through the desert with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and a group of women the crazed leader of the “War Boys” uses for breeding that Furiosa has rescued.

An opening act sees Max captured and then used as a “blood bag” for an unrecognisable Nicholas Hoult’s Nux. But Max is soon free and we then simply get one massive chase sequence.

But that really does the film a disservice. The action is clearly done “in camera” as much as possible, with CGI souping it up a bit. It’s obvious because there’s a lack of physicality to the massive destruction sequences in your run-of-the-mill superhero fare. However much programmers try to build in a bit of randomness to the physics models of their worlds, it never quite feels real. It’s hard to pin down why – and it’s not simply that the setting is unbelievable (Mad Max’s setting is pretty unbelievable).

The first Mad Max film I saw was actually the third in the series, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and I remember trying to build some models at the time. I used Airfix tank model parts, and built them onto Corgi London buses, applied spray cans of sand coloured paint, and voila!

In Fury Road, we have a converted oil tanker. Furiosa is supposed to be doing a run to collect gas, but she scarpers, looking for the almost mythical Green Place.

Cue mayhem, with a production design on steroids. Best of all has to be the vehicle carrying four drummers and guitar player hung in front of a car mounted rack of speakers and giving the whole thing a musical accompaniment.

In fact, the film is edited to its music gorgeously. The action is simply told, and expertly handled. Lesser directors find the audience losing the plot a little and struggling to keep up with what’s happening. Not so here, where we always know where we are.

Overall, a pumped-up B-movie with an A-movie budget. I hope it does well.

Tomorrowland – or more properly in Europe, Disney’s Tomorrowland: A World Beyond, for copyright reasons – is a new film from Brad Bird. It opens with George Clooney’s Frank Walker trying to get us up to speed, interrupted by Britt Robertson’s Casey. And that’s because it’s a complicated story.

As a child, Walker had gone to the 1954 World’s Fair in New York to present his rocket pack invention to a sneering Hugh Laurie. A young girl his own age, Athena (played by a wonderful Raffey Cassidy), gives him a pin badge and says that he should secretly follow. He goes through a water ride and gets transported to… well… somewhere else.

The vision of the future that we see is a wonderful world of jet packs, hover trains, vertical swimming pools and space travel. The production designers (again) went mad, and in a delightful way.

Meanwhile in a present day, Casey is trying to save her father’s job, and the NASA space program, by delaying the destruction of a Florida launch pad. She’s caught and spends a night in the cells. On coming out she finds a strange pin-badge. Touching it takes her to another dimension and a fabulous space city – but only for a limited time.

What then follows is a dimension hopping race around the US, as Clooney’s now adult Walker reluctantly gets involved with Casey, and the still child-like Athena.

There’s a great action set-piece in a Sci-Fi collectors’ shop in Houston, and we have evil smiling androids, and all sorts of technological do-das.

At times the film reminds you of The Wizard of Oz, and at others of Home Alone. The cast are all excellent, especially the younger cast members who have quite a job on their hands.

If the story sounds complicated… well it is. But then if the audience can understand Doctor Who then they’ll understand this. I’m not quite sure I bought into the film’s overall ethos, but it has its heart in the right place. And it’s a smart film, which is to be applauded.

I must admit that it wasn’t until afterwards at a Q&A, that I realised that Tomorrowland is an actual Disney theme park ride (I’ve never been and have no desire to ever go), otherwise I’d have said that it was nice to have a film that wasn’t based on a franchise. Whether this becomes one is another question. Good half-term fun for those not quite old enough to see Mad Max.

Hyperlapse

Microsoft has recently released its Hyperlapse tool – in Windows, Windows Phone and Android formats.

I decided to put it to the test with a video shot on my commute home. I shot the video at quite a high frame-rate which probably didn’t help. Anyway, the result of the software is below. At the moment the software is in beta and the watermark comes as standard on the desktop version of the software.

After a first pass, the video then shows you the Hyperlapse results alongside a simply sped-up version of the footage using Premiere.

Hyperlapse Test from Adam Bowie on Vimeo.

For some reason there are some odd timing issues despite me using the same start and end points. I’m not sure if this is a question of the settings I used in Hyperlapse and the odd high framerate I used, or perhaps it’s part of the hyperlapse process.

Either way, you can see that there’s a distinct difference between the two videos, with a significantly smoothed output using Hyperlapse.

Being picky, there is a blue tint to the video, and you can see in the comparison that the original video has a more realistic colour pallette. My particular Sony ActionCam (AS15) – does not appear in the presets in the software. For those with one of those cameras – all models of GoPro for example – there are more settings that can be tweaked.

For the record, the camera was mounted on my Brompton’s handlebars, and although the camera has some image stabilisation, pot-holed London streets allied with small wheels usually mean a lot of vibrations in the camera (on a couple of occasions I had to right the camera a little as the mount was causing the camera to point upwards a bit too much).

Storage and Backup: Some Personal Experiences

[Note that this is likely to be duller than usual! It’s mostly written up so that anyone who searches for similar problems might find it useful.]

This all began last Wednesday when I noticed an email from Synology inviting me to update the firmware that runs that two NAS drives I own – a DS210j and DS214se. They’d just released DSM 5.2, their proprietary software that allows you to do all sorts of clever things with their products.

I’ve had nothing but good experiences with Synology. They’re reasonably priced, and they offer a safer way to store data than simply using an external hard drive.

So I ran the updates. My new DS214se updated no problem, but the older DS210j had a problem. It got to about 20% of the process and then stalled. And it wouldn’t restart. The status light was flashing orange which is not a good sign.

Now I was unable to get into the volume at all. I was concerned.

I had previously put in place a monthly “off-site” back-up. The NAS had 2 x 2TB drives in a RAID 1 array. That gave me a 2TB volume safely mirrored on the two drives alleviating most hardware failure. Additionally, I would monthly plug a 2TB external hard drive into my computer and ensure that all the contents were backed up. This 2TB volume would sit safely in my desk drawer at work – “off site”. Unfortunately, I left my old job, and hadn’t carried on with my back-ups, so my most recent back-up was over a year old. Furthermore, I’d since bought a second NAS, and that had no back-up at all. But that was working fine, so a problem for another day…

At one point in the procedure, I’d attempted to reinstall DSM using the software provided. But then I’d been presented with the five stages the software would take – including re-partitioning the drives! I pulled the plug – literally – when I saw that. I didn’t want my drives to wiped!

My workaround after a bit of Googling was as follows. I bought another 2TB hard drive and a SATA dock for a hard drive from my NAS. Because I’d used RAID 1, using one of the drives should be fine. I then downloaded a bootable version of Ubuntu onto a memory stick, and followed instructions to boot into the OS on my PC and get access to the drive. Ubuntu us seemingly better for reading the RAID file format.

My files were safe! Ubuntu wasn’t reading my external HD though. I put this down to buying a special kind of HD that I’d my eye on anyway. It’s WD WiFi model that can deliver files to portable devices easily. More usefully to me in photography was the built in SD-Card reader which can hoover up any files on a card while you’re in the field. While SD cards are cheap enough, it’s good to have a backup on the road, and reading the resulting images into Lightroom afterwards via USB will be quicker. However Ubuntu couldn’t read this new purchase, so I had to get another cheap 2TB drive which it could see.

I then used Ubunutu to copy down the files to my external hard drive. This obviously took many hours. But now I had at least the safety of knowing that they were backed up before I went about rebuilding my NAS.

Then it was a question of reinstalling DSM 5.2 onto my Synology. I was expecting the software to reformat the drives before I had to copy them back to the NAS. However, when it came to the re-partitioning step… it skipped it! It took a while, but it reinstalled DSM onto my NAS, and my files were safely sitting there without me having to copy anything back. I hadn’t actually needed to buy either of the two 2TB drives I now had, boot into Ubuntu or buy a HD dock. I felt much safer for having a backup though.

There was another problem now – one of the hard disks was reported as physically degraded. That was because I’d foolishly yanked the HD out of the dock before making sure it was switched off. You know instantly if you’ve done this because the spin speed imparts some serious gravitational forces on the drive and you can feel them in your hand. I really can’t explain how weird this feels. I don’t suggest you try it unless you don’t care about your hard disk.

Had I completely messed up my drive in this process? Was I going to have to buy yet another 2TB drive?

Possibly.

I went through the Synology repair process – it took a painfully long 18 hours – and all seemed fine. The drive is no longer reported as degraded (although I will keep a close eye on it), and once I’d reinstalled Plex and Download Station onto my NAS, I was back up and running.

Searching my records, it appears that I bought this NAS in 2010, and the drives at the same time. I suspect that I need to replace them anyway in the near future. So a couple of 3TB or 4TB drives is on the cards. Storage is so expensive, yet so dull.

Do I get a new NAS at the same time? Getting a Synology NAS that supports Plex is a more expensive proposition these days, despite the advances in processing power. I’ll see depending on what comes out.

In the meantime, I’m now faced with another dilemma. What do I do about my “off-site” back-ups?

I reckon I currently have between 3 and 4TB of data stored across various devices that I’d like safely backed up. But what’s the most cost effective way of doing this? I could revert to portable hard-drives sitting in a locker at work again. But cloud computing costs are coming down, and my fibre connectivity is unlimited. Even then, I realise that it’s likely to initially take a couple of weeks to fully back-up my current file usage. But having files in the cloud would be massively useful. And much safer.

I currently have a Google account with a bit over 1TB of included storage (a Chromebook promotion), of which I’m using a grand total of 7%. They charge $9.99 per TB per month for storage additionally. So that’s an option, although getting on for $500 (£320).

I also have 1TB of storage with Microsoft’s OneDrive because I have an Office 365 Personal subscription that came with a computer. They came out as Labs winners in the most recent PC Pro magazine. I’m using even less of that 1TB, but I’m a bit confused about OneDrive’s options.

Logging onto OneDrive to look at additional storage options suggests that I have to pay either £1.99 a month for another 100GB or £3.99 a month for another 200GB. Yet this piece from their blog in October last year says that they are rolling out unlimited storage! It still seems to be in beta, so I’ve added myself to the list. £60 a year for Office plus unlimited cloud space would be a great deal (or even £80 for 5 PCs).

The other option seems to be Amazon where I pay for Prime. But again the situation is a bit confusing. Logging into my account I seemingly have 10GB of total storage space, of which I’ve got 9.7GB free. The remainder is mostly made up of documents I’ve sent to my Kindle in the past.

Amazon does allow free photos to Prime members in the UK. But there are question marks about some file formats. Amazon recognises some RAW file formats but not others. Video is excluded though, and although I mostly keep it out of Lightroom, there’s a little in there. Perhaps Amazon could take care of my Lightroom photo library though for no additional cost.

What’s odd is that in the US you seem to be able to pay $60 a year for unlimited storage of any kind of file. This just doesn’t seem to be an option in the UK.

Otherwise, there’s DropBox, but it’s too expensive on current price plans. There are smaller companies, but it feels safer to go with a big company. If Microsoft does properly roll out a full unlimited OneDrive offering, then I’m in. Otherwise it could be Amazon as a partial solution.

Decisions, decisions.

In “How Can This Be Legal” News…

A report today in the FT suggests that at least one mobile operator in Europe is planning on putting ad-blocking software into their network, with Google a named target.

The software specifically targets web advertising rather than that in apps, and comes from an Israeli company.

The reasoning is that networks are seeing massive growth in data usage, and of course the revenue that is driving some of this growth is ending up with big advertising networks – like Google. In the meantime, the networks have to keep investing to cope with the demand from their customers.

EE published a Tweet this week suggesting that they see their UK data growth increasing five-fold by 2019:

(Note – there’s no suggestion that EE is the network referred to in the FT piece).

But this is all surely begs the question: how can this be legal?

A recent court case in Germany was won by the popular AdBlock Plus software against a consortium of German publishers. But that’s a bit different.

If I, as an individual, choose to use some kind of blocking software, then that’s a choice I make. I’m running a piece of software on my computer, and it’s up to websites how they combat that. I might similarly choose not to download images from a website (remember when that was a serious consideration in an age of dial-up!).

But doing it at a network level, and effectively opting all its customers into the scheme? If Sky decided to remove adverts from ITV’s programmes that it delivers via its satellite platform because it knew that ITV’s customers didn’t really like the ads, there’d rightly be an uproar. There’d be court action almost instantly.

I would imagine the likes of Google have some very good lawyers ready and raring to go.

As far as ad blockers go per-se, I see both sides of the argument:

– If I’m a site that relies on advertising to produce my services, then I would be very annoyed that my only means of income is denied me by users using ad blocking technology. You are denying me my income.

– As a user, on the other hand, I’m seeing ever more invasive types of advertising all over the web. Videos loading and playing without my explicit permission and using up my, sometimes expensive, bandwidth; invasive pop-ups that do their hardest to hide the “close” button or “x” character so that I inadvertently click on them; sites that run such heavy “rich media” advertising, that it brings my browser to a grinding halt.

But those websites need a business model to exist, advertising is usually part or all of that model. It’s morally dubious for me to block advertising on that basis. If I find a site’s advertising objectionable, should I not just avoid visiting the site?

In the end I suspect that it’ll be advertising technology (ad-tech) that “fixes” the problem. Different websites are served in different ways, but a common way is to deliver the main editorial, with advertising coming fairly quickly thereafter, often because a micro-auction has taken place to determine what advertising you see. It’s not beyond the bounds of programming for a site to notice that its advertising is being blocked, and therefore for it to block the editorial.

It could happily display something along the lines of “Sorry – this page is unavailable to you because we’ve detected you’re using an ad blocker. Please either disable it, or add us to your white list. We’ve got children to feed.”

Something like that.

And as a commenter on The Verge report of the story noted, if entire sites were suddenly made unavailable to customers of a particular mobile operator, they’d surely change their tune pretty quickly.

I also note the software that Lenovo was recently found to be installing on many domestic computers they were selling. Much of the furore around that incident was the security implications of people using that software (software they probably didn’t know they had installed). But as big an issue to me was what the software was supposed to do – replace the advertising on certain websites with their own advertising. The “benefit” to consumers would be that this was targeted better. But again, that surely should be illegal. Going back to my hypothetical Sky analogy – if Sky removed ITV’s advertising and replaced it with its own advertising without permission, then that’d surely be theft of a kind?

In the meantime, this does feel like a shakedown from the mobile operator(s) involved. If they can’t support their customers’ demands, then their pricing model is wrong, and they should change/increase their prices accordingly. I can’t see Google et al doing anything aside from instructing their lawyers if and when this ad-blocking technology came to be utilised.

Goodbye Comedy Central UK

Or more particularly, Comedy Central Extra. But it comes to the same thing.

I noticed a rather dispiriting Tweet earlier today from Hadley Freeman.

That can’t be good.

As a reminder, The Daily Show has been an ever-present in my Sky planner for years now, finding a home for a while on More 4, before re-emerging on Comedy Central UK. If there’s one series you can bank on me recording it’s this one. It’s an ever-present, and I never miss an episode.

Looking through Comedy Central UK’s Twitter feed reveals this very odd announcement from a few days ago, in amongst the endless Friends screengrabs (Did you know they showed Friends? Why, yes, they do!):

I can only think someone might think that Jon Stewart’s gritted teeth made an appropriate image.

Clicking on the link gets you this very oddly worded message on their website (which is desperately trying to be a comedy version of Buzzfeed or something, and seems to consider their TV channels as something of an afterthought):

dailyshow

Judging from the language, I assume somebody asked the work experience kid to put something on Twitter about how the valuable 1am slot on their second channel, where The Daily Show had slowly been relegated into, was needed for repeats of Two and a Half Men.

What on earth does “Moving away from talk shows” mean? As far as I’m aware, they only had The Daily Show. What they probably meant was that it was a bit too much hassle for someone to download the programme each day, comply it, and chuck it into a scheduling system.

The writing was on the wall when the timeslot slipped further and further backwards into the small hours. Although amusingly, that didn’t stop someone amending the “DOG” if someone famous was being interviewed. This implies thinking like this: “I might have been about to go to bed at 1.15am, but I just noticed that Ricky Gervais was tonight’s guest, so I guess I’ll stay up!”

The timing of the cancellation was beautiful, coming a week after lots of high profile interviews with Stewart about his film, Rosewater, which has just been released. And of course, as the above Tweet notes, Stewart’s take on the UK election. Finally, Stewart himself is stepping down in August, which would have been a natural breakpoint. I certainly hope that Trevor Noah hits the ground running, but it’s fair to say that a change in presenter would have at least afforded many viewers a reappraisal.

Still, Comedy Central UK has other “comedy genres” to concentrate on. Unfortunately for them, Friends, Sex and the City, Russell Howard repeats and Two and a Half Men don’t float my boat. Plus I’m really annoyed at this move, so that’s me gone.

In the meantime, Sky Atlantic has moved up John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight, from Tuesdays to Mondays, and schedules it within their big Monday evening HBO fare – Games of Thrones, Silicon Valley.

I’d ask who’s going to carry Stephen Colbert’s upcoming show in the UK. But I know for certain that whoever gets it will quickly lose interest in it. I mean nobody is even bothering to show James Corden’s programme, and he’s a pretty big UK star!

Hot Battery

Note: This post is only likely to be of interest to some Sony Xperia Z3 users. I’m writing it as much as anything in case solutions should surface via Google.

I’m having some fun and games at the moment with my Sony Xperia Z3 compact. It’s only a few months old, and I bought it because it was said to have exceptional battery life. And it does… sometimes.

I seem to hammer mobile batteries. Perhaps it’s my unique mix of apps, but I’ve been through a few phones over the last 18 months and pretty much kill batteries on all of them.

Sony has recently rolled out Lollipop on the phone and I’m not sure if that’s partially at the root of my problems. While I’m on 5.02, Google is just now rolling out 5.1.1. Some of these bug fixes may be battery related – I’m not too sure.

My current problem is curious. I have the phone on charge all night using a Sony charger, but the phone is pretty warm come the morning. Then it dissipates power – and heat – quickly. I might loose 10% of charge within the few minutes of me waking up and leaving the house.

I tend to use the phone to listen to music or podcasts on the way to work, and the charge is lost more slowly. The phone cools. As I type this now, we’re midway through the afternoon, and the phone is cool to the touch, and the battery life sits at 51%. That should get me through the rest of the day fairly comfortably. Although had it not lost power so quickly at the start of the day, I’d be in an even healthier position.

I’m using WiFi, and check the phone regularly at work.

But there’s obviously some process that’s happening at the start of the day that’s draining battery power. It lessens over time, and the phone regains its power.

All very peculiar.