Sunday, January 14, 2007

today : the point

When you have to live with pain every day it is difficult to explain to people who don't. It's like an addiction that you didn't choose. Percentage point by percentage point it takes over your life, until you end up living inside the experience it creates. After that it is like a fog, surrounding you and leaving you no way out. Pain is controlling, relentless and inescapable. You try to bear it, even enjoy it sometimes by wallowing in it but eventually, it becomes the main, and then the only point of your life.

Friday, January 12, 2007

today : technology week: Downloading - the new cassettes?

My nephews and nieces (along with almost everyone their age) have entered the music market at a time when downloading is the norm. Let's face it, if you want a track, then you can get it either legitimately or illegitimately. If they have money they buy CDs, video games and movies. If they don't then they download them.

In the meantime the record, game and film industries are desperate to stop file-sharing and protect their copyrights. A couple of weeks ago they were denied an attempt to extend publishing copyright, alongside their constant whining about lost profits and prosecution of file-sharers both large and small.

I am aware of the fact that there are some people who copy and redistribute digital media on an industrial basis. I have no sympathy for these people. They should be caught and prosecuted for stealing. But in going after individual file-sharers the music industry is simply replaying the failed and stupid home taping campaign, which suggested that, at a time of technological crossover, consumers should buy two copies of an album, depending on where they were playing it.

When I first got into music, home taping was fantastic, and the only way that could get access to new music on my weekend barman wages was to join the local record library and furiously record as much of its stock as I could. I would take out my maximum five items at a time, sometimes three or four times a week, buy ten packs of cassettes and then simply record vinyl albums whilst doing homework or watching TV. By the end of each month I'd have ten or twenty new abums to listen to. Some I would record over, others I would keep. Some I fell in love with and went out to buy for myself. Over the course of a couple of years I gathered hundreds of albums which fed and nurtured my lifelong love of music. There was no way I was going to buy a box-set of Beethoven's Symphonies, or Claudio Arrau (that is he pictured above) playing Debussy. What with all the other teenage drains on my meagre resources I couldn't afford to buy King of The Delta Blues or Electric Ladyland. What little money I had spare for buying records I would spend on stuff that was in the charts.

20 years on I am still buying copies of things I know note for note but were deleted or went down the pecking order.Ironically, despite two more new formats since my taping days, some of them have never become available to buy. I own one album by a fairly mainstream band that I bought from my old record library when they were having a sell off of old stock. It has never been released on CD or for download.

Here's the thing. Music fans, or film fans, or gamers or whoever tend to spend the maximum of their disposable income on music films or games. If file sharing or MP3 ripping occurs with these people it is because their appetites are voracious and they want more than they can afford. The 'lost' profits from file-sharing are mostly bogus. It is just dollar signs spinning in the eyes of industry execs.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

today : I apologise for the last ten years (at least)

A red tick - yesterday

Forgive me, but I simply don't understand this news item. Since when were teachers supposed to not know about their pupils' progress until exam results come out? Maybe during my time in the classroom I simply got it all wrong by believing that my job was basically to conduct an ongoing skills audit, or 'test' of the effectiveness of my teaching in order to set targets for my pupils rather than simply deliver prepackaged 'lessons' into the ether and simply hope that they would end up being educationally useful. I thought I was supposed to analyse my students' work according to the skills I know they need to learn and improve on rather than just put a red tick at the bottom of each page. To whoever is suggesting that this is a good idea instead of endless pointless testing, I apologise because in the past years I've not been parroting out prepacked exam preparation, but trying to educate my pupils.

For all that time they kept telling me I was wrong, not giving me the time or resources to do my job, questioning my judgement and blindly insisting to me that their way was best. And now - irony or ironies - that exhaustion, depression and disillusionment has led me to quit, they have changed their minds.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

today : ouch!

New Years day and the year began with an avulsion fracture of the fifth metatarsal. The picture is not my xray but is kinda similar. So a month in a leg cast ensues.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

today : technology week. I peruse YouTube and am underwhelmed

I spent yesterday looking at YouTube. Y'see, everyone goes on about it all the time and I thought I'd check it out. I began with looking at the most popular clips. Such things as someone jumping into a Christmas tree and knocking it to the ground, someone riding a bike into a lake (I wonder if whoever staged this stunt thought they were being original or have they ever seen the opening titles of The Monkees), someone doing what I only assume is a parody of a commercial that I've never seen, a Wayfarer wearing toddler playing the drums and Saddam being taunted and hanged.

After that I typed in some keywords and names to try and find something interesting and worthwhile. I assume that YouTube might be a repository for vast amounts of discarded and forgotten media that I might want to access. An interview with someone interesting. Political speeches, historical footage, nostalgic TV shows.

I was quite disappointed. I don't really want to watch clips from Conan O' Brien when I can watch it on CNBC international, neither am I interested in Morning Musume introducing yet another new member with a performance on a Japanese variety show or someone recording a Happy New Year message from in front of a Goo Goo Dolls poster.

I am sure there are some fantastic things on YouTube. Yet the effort to find them is time consuming and fraught with frustration.

Here's my point. YouTube is another example of technology in search of a use.

I listen to lots of talk radio. Here in the UK The BBC has two dedicated national talk radio stations. Much of the local BBC radio content is news and discussion based. In the past few years the more popular channels like FiveLive have built a lot of their content on interaction . Listeners can text and email their opinions, comments and responses to stories and issues. What happens is that in amongst the volumes of listener comment that pass throught the hands of the producers and presenters, it is the one-line, simplistic, bold and opinionated comments that make it to air. I suspect that it is a game some of the audience play. They can get their message or email read out by making it sensational and confrontational. And the producers and presenters just can't resist thet fact that this will prick up the ears of the casual listener. This isn't exactly the debate between listener and journalist that interactivity is sold as. It's a gimmick. My local BBC TV news show often has a section at the end where viewers responses to the day's stories are read out and shown. It operates in the same way. Opinionated people sit by their computers ready to email the local news. It is the people who feel that their opinions matter who contribute.

The rub is that opinionated people are those most likely to have daft, ill-considered, ignorant and foolish opinions. On top of that, people who feel their opinions matter are deluded. Their opinions don't matter at all. There's a nice scene somewhere in season 2 of the West Wing when (I'm paraphrasing) Bartlett hears that 76% of the public are in favour of some economic policy. His response is that he would be shocked if he could find 76 Americans who understood the complex issues enough to decide anything about it. The mistake politicians and spin people appear to be making is to think that this 'public response' - allied with the results of self selecting newspaper polls equals public opinion. On great philosophical issues - capital punishment for example - the media gives a 25 word SMS composed one-handed by someone stuck in traffic gets the same exposure as hundreds of years of thoughful, scholarly discussion.

Again, an example of a technology that is in search of a use. The gathering of public opinion by email and SMS is complex. You could argue that it is a leap forward, but I think it is looking like just a leap. It seems to be becoming ubiquitous with no discernable debate about the institutions it is undermining. I imagine lots of very clever people are writing about this in academic journals but the debate needs to be on a real level. How is this affecting my trust of the news? How is it remaking 'truth'? How is this reducing the traditional role of factual broadcasting i.e. to inform and educate? How far does this actually affect policy making?

The problem is that everyone is jumping on the bandwagon, afraid of being left behind. Journalists and editors are looking to the blogosphere and 'citizen journalists' for content, smugly feeling that they are at the cutting edge of the media whilst incidentally not having to actually resource and conduct proper journalism anymore. *

* I am not here talking about the real use of blogging and citizen journalists to bypass censorship or provide alternative news sources under restrictive conditions. I am talking about Britain, with the best publicly funded independent news source in the world and an excellent broad spread of unslavish national press.