May, 2011

“Crisis? What Crisis?”

Fifa is in a mess.
I have no love for the organisation, yet I love football. I’ve read Andrew Jennings’ books, follow the reports, and have seen how the organisation essentially looks after itself with little real concern for the planet’s most popular sport. It’s a personal fiefdom for the likes of Sepp Blatter as they bestride the world as though they’re heads of state.
The UK press is up in arms. We in Britain have nothing to lose. There’s not a chance that we’ll be hosting a World Cup anytime soon. Indeed, it’d be an outrageous use of money to even try when the organisation appears as corrupt as it does.
Blatter has seen to it that his only competitor for re-election has been pushed aside. Yet there are bigger questions outside of Qatari bids or members. Corruption is a two-way street. Only last week, Panorama reinvestigated many of these claims.
And it seems as though Blatter is just going to try to ride this out. “We’re not in a crisis… we’re only in some difficulties.”
I beg to differ.
We stand at a worrying crossroads. Clubs are where the real money is. The Champions’ League Final is the way that football is going. And if Fifa abrogates its responsibility, then the clubs will move in. They pay the players. They hold the real power.
To my mind, the real power behind Fifa lies with global advertisers: Coca-Cola, Adidas, Sony, Visa, Kia, and Emirates. The contracts that these corporations have with Fifa provide much of the revenue that the organisation is able to distribute globally (without anyone being too worried about the detail). None of these businesses wants to be partners with a flailing organisation. So it is they that hold the cards.
We hear that they are worried:
“The current allegations being raised are distressing and bad for the sport.” – Coca Cola.
Now is the time for them to be counted. To stand up to the machinations taking place in Zurich. I wouldn’t go as far as Alan Brazil reportedly did in his Talksport show this morning and suggest a boycott, but the sponsors do need to apply some serious pressure.
And quite obviously, the 2022 Qatar decision needs to be re-examined. In any case, there is no way the tournament will take place there. Clubs will simply withhold players.
Incidentally, this is why British media is crying out for a proper, seriously investigative sports news programme. The BBC really doesn’t do it. Sky Sports News doesn’t do it. Nobody does it. I’m talking about proper news resources to look into issues. The sad fact is that it feels as though most organisations don’t

iTunes Woes – When Consolidate Breaks

This is a bit of a plea. Any solutions welcome…
I have a big iTunes library. It’s something like 250GB because I keep certain old podcasts, have lots of music (ripped at high bit-rates), quite a few audiobooks (also in high quality) and now have a few films (mainly from “triple play” DVD/BluRay/digital sets). Anyway – it’s big.
I wanted to move it off the external hard drive it resides on, and over to a RAID NAS. All a bit safer.
The process is to repoint your libary to the new location and then “Consolidate” it. Because I let iTunes organise it’s library and keep everything in one place, this should be easy. But on at least three occassions the process fell over. No problem. I just restarted. Eventually after many hours, the library had been moved.
Everything worked fine. But I was a little suspicious… My library was now in excess of 500GB!
Looking in more detail I saw that in some folders there were duplicate files – either one or two extra copies:
The library was now pointing to the last made copy in each instance (Track1_2.mp3 or Track1_1.mp3 in the above examples).
At first I thought that I’d clean by hand. But that’s a loonnnggggg process. I quickly gave up. I sought various de-duplication programs and found some that could identify the duplicates. But none had the “intelligence” to identify the correct file to keep and delete the other two. Doublekiller was the best program. I even splurged for the Pro version. Yet even using wildcards, I can’t get the correct version identified.
Note that the duplicated files have the same dates and file sizes associated. And there are thousands of files to be de-duplicated – hence my desire for an automated process.
And some folders have no duplicates at all!
The other option was to consolidate the library again to a different location (e.g. another folder on the same drive) and hope it did it without breaking down mid-copying. Sadly, I got an error some time during the middle of the night, again after many hours of copying. If I run “Consolidate” again, I think I’ll just get some more duplicates and will be back to square one.
Why the Consolidate option is breaking down, I don’t know.
So has anyone got any ideas? I’m at my wit’s end. At this point, a smart de-duplication program would be great.
Have I mentioned how much I dislike iTunes?
Note: I pretty much followed these instructions for moving my iTunes media library. It breaks down during the consolidation process.
And I could move to something different like MediaMonkey or Miro 4, but I currently use things like AirPlay which I’m not sure these other programs support. That and the fact it’s Apple’s wont to use upgrades to make syncing stop working with third party software (although that might be another reason to ditch Apple altogether).

Elbow at St Paul’s Cathedral

Last night Elbow played an exclusive set for Absolute Radio in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral – the first time that a rock band has ever performed there. It looked and sounded stunning.
Watch an interview here and listen to the set on-air on 5 June.
Looking down through the grate in the main cathedral’s floor. You can just about see Guy Garvey in the top left hand corner. Click on the picture to get to a larger Flickr version.
More photos from the set here.
And I also got to take some photos inside the main cathedral when ordinarily they don’t allow it. What I really should have done is brought a tripod and used HDR. However, I didn’t.
St Paul's Cathedral-1
St Paul's Cathedral-3
More from inside St Paul’s Cathedral here.

Why I’m Not Going To The Cinemas As Much As I Once Did

Cinema has always been a media that has felt under threat. Radio, television, video, DVD, BluRay, video games and so on, have all at one time or another been listed as being a reason that the medium is going to fail. And it’s true that it has adapted – or had to adapt – over the years. And despite the naysayers, it’s has evolved and survived.
Today, it’s technology that gives it a leading edge: digital projectors, 3D, and digital surround systems.
But even those are not enough to keep it on an even keel, and in many ways, they’re also becoming cinema’s biggest problem.
There are reports that 3D is not as popular as it once was, with 2D versions of films outperforming 3D versions. That’s not surprising as most 3D is rubbish, adding no more than a few cheap thrills, but at considerable cost to enjoyment of the film overall. And now we hear about considerable problems with digital projectors in some cinemas with 2D films.
I used to go to the cinema all the time. Now, it’s a much rarer treat for me. That’s not the ticket prices – although in London those don’t help – it’s because I find the experience significantly less pleasant than it once was.
Here’s my list of things cinemas, and the film industry in general, needs to do if it wants to regain my custom:

  • Run a zero tolerance policy on people using phones in cinemas. I don’t mean people talking on them – although I have experienced that. I mean checking text messages, Facebook and Twitter. The industry has been scared stupid that we’re all busy pirating films by smuggling camcorders into screening, yet I’ve never ever seen a member of staff in a cinema admonish patrons for using their phones. While those Orange ads are fine, they don’t really hammer home the message. That means chains need to update those pre-film reels more than once a decade to take into account social media on mobile devices. And they need staff who will proactively tell people to stop using their devices.
  • Stop selling noisy/smelly food. I realise that cinemas don’t make any cash at all from the actual screening of films – especially in the first week(s) of release. But they do need to realise that we come to the cinema for enjoyment. If I keep having unpleasant experiences, then I’ll just wait a couple of months and watch the DVD or BluRay at home.
  • Don’t scrimp and save on projection or audio. The only reason I’m travelling to see a film in a cinema is because it’s going to look and sound fantastic. If you can’t be bothered to put the correct lens on a projector (I must admit that I’m not aware I’ve experienced this problem), you fail to show a film in the right ratio (I certainly have had this experience), or you fail to clean the smears off your screen or fix the sound, then I’m not going to bother coming. Again, that means employing someone who knows what they’re doing, and not giving them so much to do that they never have time to check that everything is OK.
  • If I decide ahead of time that I’m coming to the cinema, and pay you for the privilige, then shouldn’t I actually be getting a discount? The ticketing process is automated. You have my money irrespective of whether I actually make it there. You’re paying smaller staff costs. So why does this cost me more? (And arguing that other forms of entertainment charge administrative costs is not an answer – they’re equally as bad) At the very least, have the decency to have working automatic machines at the cinema.
  • Simply deciding that you’re going to charge more for the seats in the middle of the cinema really doesn’t make for a “Premium” experience. Yes the chairs are nicer, but all you’re really doing is subtly disincentivising me from coming more frequently.

And a few for film-makers/studios:

  • If you shot your film with 2D cameras, there is absolutely no way it’s going to look better in 3D. I’m certainly not going to pay for the privilige of seeing flat characters “cut-out” of the background and some kind of Photoshop content-aware fill applied is not good enough. Indeed it’s terrible. I’m not going to see your film in 3D. And I’m quite likely to take against it in 2D no matter how good it is. Thor – I’m looking at you.
  • And even if you shoot with 3D cameras, I’m still unlikely to see your film. You see it’s too dark. I hate dark films. Well Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon was OK. But that was by design. And he even had a special lens designed for that film!

So there you go. I haven’t stopped watching films. I’m just not seeing them in a cinema as much as I once did. And that’s a shame, as watching a good comedy (a rare thing I know) or a good blockbuster is a much better experience with a large audience. Yet the cinema experience is paling. I’m not a luddite. If someone makes a good film in 3D I’ll still go and see it. That means a good story (Avatar – I’m looking at you) as well as being technically good. But then if you use IMAX, high frame rates, more than 4k or whatever – I’m still interested.
The key thing here is to make it exciting to go to the cinema – a positive and pleasant experience.

RAJAR Q1 2011 – A Little Thing

Last year BBC Four broadcast a wonderful one-off programme called The Joy of Stats. It featured Professor Hans Rosling who’s talks at places like TED have made him extremely popular and watchable.

In particular he’s been employing a type of motion chart that’s really useful for observing multiple pieces of data over long periods of time. His work in population and developmental statistics means has resulted in something called Gapminder that allows you to examine various datasets that Rosling has captured.
Incidentally, the entire Joy of Stats programme can be watched on that site and is well worth an hour of your time.
Anyway, that got me thinking: there must be some kind of dataset that I could shed some light on using these techniques. RAJAR was the obvious example. But could I get hold of Rosling’s software for my own use? Gapminder only lets you examine pre-selected datasets. It was easier than I thought, because it turns out that Google has something called the Motion Chart Gadget based directly on the software Rosling had used.
Once I’d wrangled the data into some sensible kind of order, I eventually came up with the following:

So you know what you’re looking at, the x-axis is the average age of a listener to that station (based on hours), while the y-axis displays the percentage of listeners who are male (as a decimal in this instance; 0.7 = 70% male). So a station in the top right-hand corner would be an elderly male station, while a station in the bottom left would be a young female station.
The size of the circle is related to that service’s listening hours. But all these things are user-changeable.
A few things to note:

  • You really need to play with a big version of this. It’s much easier to view.
  • To get started, hit the “Play” button in the bottom lefthand corner. You can also “scrub” the timeline by dragging with your mouse.
  • There are stations missing. It’s largely based on current “national” services and groups. In particular stations that have “been and gone” aren’t included. Even then, I’ve still not included absolutely every current service.
  • Note that figures are all based on 6m weighting when a lot of the services would ordinarily report on 3m weighting. But some of the groups do report on 6m, so I’m using the “lowest common denominator” here. There’s a good argument for mixing 3m and 6m weights however.
  • I’ve essentially ignored the various takeovers and mergers that have happened between groups. So “Global” goes right back to 1999.
  • Some station definitions have changed over time. For example, Capital Network is very new, and Heart Network today is something very different to what it was five years ago as its composed of many more individual services.
  • The chart is full interactive, and you can trace stations’ shifts and movements.
  • Stations in the same groups are the same colour.
  • You can turn trails on for individual station selections and see their shifts. Selecting services dulls the others.
  • You can change what data is plotted by clicking on the x-axis, y-axis and size dropdowns.
  • There have been a couple of minor methodology changes over time that this chart overlooks.
  • If none of this makes sense, watch one or more of the Rosling videos linked to above.

The default state is based on a chart that I’ve used at work, but there’s more data in there, so you might want to look at the data differently.
Finally, you really will find it better if you use a larger version of the chart. I can’t emphasise this enough!
If you have any thoughts or comments (or even corrections), please let me know in the comments.

Disclaimer: I built this interactive view using data that I was able to get from my employer, Absolute Radio, and the overall design is based on static charts that I’ve produced for them.

Book News

Two interesting developments in the book world in the last 24 hours:

  • Waterstones has been sold by HMV; and
  • Amazon says it’s selling more Kindle books that Hardback and Paperback titles

Waterstones has been sold by the slightly ailing HMV group for £53m to Alexander Mamut’s A&NN Group, and James Daunt (he of Daunt Books fame, the renound tote-bag selling bookshop) will run it. That suggests that it’s going to concentrate on its core offering – a good range of books.
In the meantime, has announced that in the US, the company is selling 105 Kindle books for every 100 paperback and hardback books it’s selling. And importantly it has stripped out free books. That’s important because when I glance at readers’ Kindles on the tube, I’ve noticed a significant upsurge of interest in classics based largely on the fact that they’re free and everyone likes free.
In the UK, says that it’s selling Kindles to hardbacks on a ratio of greater than 2 to 1. Of course, many Kindle books are priced very cheaply – at below paperback prices. So while I wouldn’t belittle that number, I’d put it in context. On my decidedly middle-class railway line, I see an awful lot of commuters reading Kindles (far more than using iPads for example).
We’re at something of a fork in the road. Our libraries are being whittled away, and this is a last chance for a major high-street book chain to survive and even prosper. If bookshops do disappear, they’re unlikely to reappear. While your supermarket sells a selection of top 20 titles (I bet they’re stocking that Maddie book), that’s not enough. Russian oligarchs are all well and, um, good, but even they probably demand an eventual return on investment.
There’ll be pockets of bookshops that will always exist. The aforementioned Daunt Books will be fine. But its main branch is located on Marylbone High Street (with other branches in those not-quite-destitute parts of London – Chelsea, Holland Park, Belsize Park and Cheapside), while other independents will get by. But without a Waterstones – or even a WH Smiths – many towns and cities will have nothing of note.
I’ve seen the future, and I’m not altogether sure I like it.
[Addendum] I see that in the US, John Malone’s Liberty group has made an offer to buy the troubled US book retailer Barnes & Noble. Is there life left in bricks and mortar stores?

A Binaural Test

Binaural Test Traffic by adambowie00
This isn’t the most exciting entry ever. If you fancy listening to some light traffic, then I suggest you plug some headphones into whatever device you’re viewing this on, and take a listen. The headphones bit is mandatory, as this is a binaural recording made via some newly purchased Roland CS-10EM binaural microphones/headphones paired with a Zoom H2.
I’m quite pleased, and will now be looking for other places to try it.
Here’s the same audio again, but this time hosted by Audioboo.
Does one beat the other? I’m not sure to be honest.

Sony Awards Redux

Listening to this week’s Radio Academy RadioTalk, I heard Talksport programme director Moz Dee and Media UK’s James Cridland talking about potential changes to the Sony Radio Academy Radio Awards (Thanks for the shoutout James!).
There’s always a feeling that the ceremony goes on too long. And it is a long awards’ ceremony. Although if you can point me to an awards ceremony that people don’t think is too long, then I’d like to know what it is.
Here are a few things that the Radio Academy could easily do to speed things up:
1. Run the awards straight through uninterrupted. Currently there’s an hour long break in the middle of the awards for the assembled masses to have a meal. Have the meal earlier, and then kick off the awards at about 7.30pm.
2. Have fewer guests handing out a couple of awards each. The selection of the assorted great and good that hands out the awards can be a bit, er, random (lovely people though they are, did we really need both presenters from Sky News’ Sunrise TV programme?). Fewer, higher calibre guests handing out a couple of awards each would save all those entrances and exits.
3. Don’t run a charity auction in the middle of the event. Sorry, but this was ill-judged at a time when many are either losing their jobs in the industry, or having to accept minimal – if any – pay rises. Yes, we know some of the “talent” in the room is vastly (and rightly) recompensed. But that room also has a lot of producers and programme makers who aren’t able to blow £20,000 on a golf jolly. Save that for an event which isn’t being webcast to the assorted masses back in radio stations up and down the country.
James Cridland’s idea of televising the awards is an interesting one (the Oliviers got the red button treatment this year, and the Folk Awards similarly appear on interactive), although I’m not sure that the fact that some famous people get awards is reason enough to put it on TV.
As ever, there are always discussions about which awards should or shouldn’t be included. Best Use of Multiplatform made a comeback this year. Moz Dee argues strongly for the removal of the Drama award. That’s because nobody aside from the BBC can be bothered with this form of radio.
Just because commercial radio doesn’t try in a category, that doesn’t mean an award should be ditched.
I’ve just calculated that 6.4m of Radio 4’s 10.8m audience listen to at least some of the drama that station broadcasts each week (RAJAR Q1 2011). That’s an awful lot of radio drama. And I have news: it’s not just the BBC that can win those awards. There are a string of independent production companies producing drama. And while I’m not precisely clear on the rules surrounding inclusion in the awards, it’s worth noting that there’s an awful lot of radio drama being produced outside of the radio system. Look at a company like Big Finish who produce vast quantities of science fiction drama for example.
If we’re not going to include drama, how about comedy? Only the BBC made the shortlist this year. Commercial radio does “funny”, but it tends not to be in half-hour chunks. But again, that’s its own choice.
Best Feature is another all BBC category this year. Yet it consistently recognises some of the most challenging and innovative radio of all. Should we ditch that because a feature on commercial radio tends to last no more than 30 seconds?
Personally, I think that we’ve got the mix of awards about right. It’s up to stations to raise their game to be able to grab the awards that are on offer. A commercial station won Best News Special taking on the might of the BBC, as well as other key categories like Music Personality and Station of the Year. So it’s achievable.
If the categories need broadening to be fully inclusive, then so be it.
One award that does need changing is the DAB Rising Star Award. The public vote has just become a popularity contest amongst big names that can get the vote out. This year that meant Robbie Savage, the 5 Live presenter, Derby County player (latterly) and the man with upwards of 300,000 Twitter followers, versus Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood with his worldwide fanbase. Simon Conway of Metro Radio, Sarah Thompson of Filthy Disco on Roundhouse Radio, and, to an extent, Radio 1’s Matt Edmondson never really stood a chance. I must admit that I’m not a fan of public votes for awards. There’s a reason we have both the National TV Awards and the BAFTAs. And there’s a reason that the former awards are not going to sit as highly on someone’s CV as the latter.
Disclaimer: These are my own views, and don’t necessarily reflect those of my employer. Indeed, I obviously work for a commercial radio station while I’m defending the BBC to an extent here.