The rapid advance of technology might seem to be the defining feature of today’s world but tech is only one piece of a complex puzzle. From lightbulbs to TV dinners, shipping containers and public key cryptography, the BBC World Service reveals Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy.
The programmes are a little under 10 minutes long and examine an eclectic range of inventions, ideas and philosophies that underpin much of which is familiar to us. Some are obvious, such as the smartphone and iPhone in particular. Others less so, such as the Haber-Bosch process. The supporting evidence for each thing is provided via a reading list for every episode on the website. There’s no fake news here, Mr Trump.
The series is a little over halfway through (episode 30 is the latest) and all the past programmes are available for listening on demand from the BBC. For true hipsters, it’s on the Wireless – times vary with location.
Add it to your playlist for something a little less ephemeral and a little more enduring.
My love of audio extends back to childhood, listening to late night radio shows under the covers while the rest of the house slept. Living not far from France, I’d pick up foreign channels, their exotic chatter filling the airwaves. For me, podcasts represent the current evolutionary peak, the ability to listen to whatever I want, from wherever in the world, whenever I want.
Aside from the lack of hours in the day, I’ve always been frustrated by the lack of curation with podcasts as it’s actually quite hard to find really good podcasts. Many are all too similar, many are too ephemeral and many are too full of themselves. I want podcasts to inform me, to disturb me, to challenge me, to tell me that I’m not alone.
So I have high hopes for the BBC’s new podcast series, In Pod We Trust, in which “Miranda Sawyer presents a round-up of the best spoken word audio podcasting from around the world.” There’s only been one episode so far and it’s looking promising, with an excerpt from a podcast where a father discusses a very personal event with his son in a candid and revealing way. Mainstream media would never have got the story, never mind broadcast it.
If you own a pet, you know what the urine smells like. Apparently, so do Dell Lattitude 6430u users. They started complaining the smell on the messageboards. Turned out, Dell confirmed the smell is real (but not really urine).
“The smell is not related to cat urine or any other type of biological contaminant, nor is it a health hazard,” the BBC reported that Dell support technician SteveB said online. Further, a Reddit post explains more
The palm rest is the origin of the smell. It was suggested the polymer in the plastic emitted a smell similar to cat urine.
Dell has implemented a replacement program for those 6430u users.
Others on Reddit joke about hanging their cat over their old laptop to get that “New laptop smell”.
Netflix, in its battle with Amazon Prime and, more recently, Redbox Instant, continues to add new content. Now the company is bringing some of the BBC Worldwide content to its streaming platform. Elizabeth Bradley,vice president of content acquisition at Netflix, made the announcement this morning — “We’re thrilled to let Netflix members in the US know that we’re introducing three new extraordinary series from the BBC Worldwide this spring and summer”.
Bradley tells us that Call of the Midwife, Top of the Lake and Ripper Street are all coming to Netflix. Both Call of the Midwife (season one) and Top of the Lake (a mini series) are available immediately, while Ripper Street will hit the service on July 18th.
Netflix announced on April 15th that it would be moving from Microsoft’s Silverlight platform. “Over the last year, we’ve been collaborating with other industry leaders on three W3C initiatives which are positioned to solve this problem of playing premium video content directly in the browser without the need for browser plugins such as Silverlight. We call these, collectively, the HTML5 Premium Video Extensions” said Netflix’s Anthony Park and Mark Watson.
There’s a pretty good chance that if you are a 40+ British geek, the mere mention of “Elite” will roll back the years to hours of gameplay in front of a BBC Model B, flying a wireframe starship around an almost limitless universe. Trading, fighting, arms-dealing, slavery, whatever it took to get respect and the coveted Elite status. Even now, I still feel a small hint of pride in my own Elite achievement, over 20 years later.
Created by David Braben and Ian Bell, Elite was the first 3D game and eeked every last ounce of performance from 8 bit processors and 32 KB of RAM, even less once the OS had taken its share. There were tricks such as making all the objects in the universe concave, which significantly reduced several calculations in techniques such as hidden line removal and despite being largely only in monochrome, it was totally amazing for its day.
The successor to Elite, “Frontier”, never gained the same traction as the original Elite. In some ways it was too big and just wasn’t as immediate as the original Elite.
Returning to the original ethos of Elite, David Braben has launched a Kickstarter campaign for “Elite: Dangerous” to raise £1.25 million ($2 million) for the development of a new game in the canon, aiming for delivery in March 2014. Elite: Dangerous will be a multi-player game in a massive universe and initially the game will be for the PC, but other platforms will be looked at.
As usual, there are various funding levels, but £20 gets you a copy of the game plus the opportunity to reserve your commander’s name. But if you were looking to get lunch with David Braben at £5000, I’m afraid that all five slots have already been taken.
Business intelligence company Experian Hitwise recently released the top 10 searched for brands in the UK. Top of the pile came internet giants Facebook, YouTube and eBay with four British brands showing; catalogue store Argos, fashion shop Next, news and media organisation the BBC and tabloid newspaper the Daily Mail.
According to Hitwise, around 2% of all searches in the UK were for “facebook”, and variants such as “facebook login” and “fb” made three of the top 10 searches overall.
While it’s not 100% clear from the press release how the data was gathered and what search engines were involved, the research suggests that lots of people use search engines in preference to the address bar, even when the web page is simply the brand plus .com or .co.uk. You can begin to see why there is so much money to be made from advertising in search: every time one of these people goes to a web site, they’re using Google, Bing or Yahoo to get there.
Frankly, the one that really amazes me is “google” at #7. People are using search to find a search engine? This doesn’t make sense and my only thought is that large numbers of people don’t know that it’s possible to reset their default search engine (or home page). Consequently, they’re using Bing to find Google instead of changing the settings in their web browser. Amazing. If anyone has any alternative thoughts, let me know in the comments.
Earlier in the week, Microsoft gave the Xbox a big push in the race for HDMI 1 with Steve Ballmer announcing Xbox TV and partnerships with over 40 content providers. Jeffrey Powers has already covered the main announcement on GNC but I wanted to add a little bit of UK spin.
In the UK, additional programming boxes such as the Roku, Boxee or Apple TV are very rare. Most of my friends would enjoy their gadgets and technology but I don’t know a single one of them who has an extra box. However, many of them would have a games console and there’s a fairly even spread of Xboxes, Playstations and Wiis. Consequently it’s no surprise that the race to provide on-demand content is taking place on the consoles.
Most people in the UK are using the availability of on-line TV to catch up with programmes they missed when they were originally broadcast. What typically happens is that you go into work and some says, “Did you see…..last night? It was brilliant” and you watch the programme through the various free on-line services. The BBC’s iPlayer is very popular.
Reviewing Microsoft’s press release, here are the organisations that will provide on-demand content available in the UK on the Xbox. I’ve ignored the standard social networking sites, such as Facebook and YouTube, but have added the organisation’s background so that non-UK residents can get a feel for what’s happening.
In terms of the numbers, the traditional terrestrial and satellite broadcasters have the greatest presence and there’s only one major UK broadcaster missing from the list, ITV, which is a conglomeration of regional broadcast companies.
LOVEFiLM is owned by Amazon, Crackle is a Sony property and blinkbox is 80% owned by Tesco, one of the UK’s leading supermarkets.
The challenge will be to get consumers to pay for the on-line film rentals. Here in the UK, there is lots of good free programming which was originally broadcast but is now on-line through the broadcaster’s portals via tools similar to iPlayer. It will be interesting to see how the paid-for market develops and if the games consoles are key to the transition. It’s certainly where the media companies need to be for the UK market.
I watch over a lot in the Over the Top Television space. Internet TV, IPTV, whatever you want to call it, it’s a great way to get watchable content without having a full cable lineup.
Last week, Steve Ballmer announced their TV initiative over XBox Live. Over 40 providers have signed up for this venture, including Comcast, HBO, BBC, Rodgers on Demand (Canada), Televisa (Mexico), and other countries including Germany and Italy (20 in all). Best part, if you already have an XBox 360, you have the hardware to do this.
“Today’s announcement is a major step toward realizing our vision to bring you all the entertainment you want, shared with the people you care about, made easy,” said Don Mattrick, president of the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft. “Combining the world’s leading TV and entertainment providers with the power of Kinect for Xbox 360 and the intelligence of Bing voice search will make TV and entertainment more personal, social and effortless.” – Press Release
Add to conventional TV line-up the on-line video providers like Crackle, YouTube, Zune and more. Then there is audio content from Last.fm and iHeartRadio. Finally, Social networks like Twitter and Facebook to round off the service.
The Game System that Became More
Whereas companies like Roku that integrated smaller games like Angry Birds, XBox won’t have that problem. It’s a game system over a TV content distributor. You can play Gears of War, Tweet about it, then watch a video on how to play Gears of War (or another show).
Unified Dashboard in XBox Live
With the unified dashboard (looking similar to the Zune software), you can browse your shows, play the games, work your social networks and more. You will connect to the Comcast Xfinity service to get all that service has to offer.
Getting Rid of the Remote with Kinect
This might be the best part about the XBox TV. By using voice controls and your Kinect, you can gesture to a channel, play, pause and move on. It might get harry if you have more than one person wanting to watch different shows. Still, could you imagine a world without a remote control?
It won’t all be free, though.
Right now, to get HBO Go, you need to have a cable subscription with HBO. I don’t expect that to change anytime soon – especially with channels like HuluPlus. Of course, that is just like many of the OTT systems out there. Pay for a subscription and get the content.
Once again, there could be conflict if you have multiple family members where one wants to play a game and the other wants to watch a movie. So this might not replace a cable box or DVR just yet.
The Xbox Live TV service is expected to come out before the holiday season. The announcement comes before then so you can plan purchasing an XBox 360 or Kinect system for your loved ones to connect up quick. While the OTT solution is more pricey than a Roku or Apple TV, it does do more than just watch video, view pictures or listen to music. It also has some great game titles. It also has a new way to browse through your content.
The BBC is embracing the post-PC world with a reworked homepage at beta.bbc.co.uk. Here’s what it looks like on my TouchPad.
The black arrows on either side slide the screen through three other views. It’s a little bit reminiscent of how the BBC’s iPlayer displays programmes on my Bluray player, which isn’t entirely unsurprising. Some of the other features, such as setting your location, aren’t yet working but will be fixed before this version becomes the standard interface.
Compare this with the current mobile version of the site and you’ll see the change.
The BBC’s homepage was probably due for a refresh anyway, but I think it’s fairly telling that the new page is going to look the way it does. One can only assume that the BBC has stats on the web browsers being used to visit their site and they show the trend towards tablets and mobile devices. Is this the post-PC era with touch now driving the user interface, rather than keyboard and mouse?
This year’s BBC Reith lectures came to a close today with the last of three lectures on Securing Freedom, presented by Eliza Manningham-Buller. The name may mean nothing to you but she was the Director-General of Britain’s Security Service, aka MI5, between October 2002 and April 2007, and she reflects on 9/11, the wars in the Middle East and how the world has changed in the last ten years.
The three lectures are titled, “Terror“, “Security” and “Freedom” and a give a British perspective on the role of the intelligence services and the relationship with the US during a period both countries were under attack. If you are a seasoned spook-watcher, there’s probably not that much new, but I personally found it revealing and reassuring that the British Security Service is more measured and ethically-minded than the media would have us believe.
Baroness Manningham-Buller doesn’t shy away from controversy either, steadfastly refusing to accept torture as an intelligence tool, and suggesting that the US’ use of waterboarding was a “profound mistake”. You’ll have to listen to the podcasts to understand her reasoning.
The lectures are available as podcasts and also as transcripts for those who would prefer to read.