Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Understanding Dyslexia - Christian Boer at PINC.13

Interesting story from Dutch font designer Christian Boer at PINC 13, a one day inspiration conference in Zeist, (middle of nowhere), the Netherlands. Christian has designed a font to help dyslexic people - he has the same problem himself. He explained at PINC why people with dyslexia have so much trouble distinguishing letters and what can be done to make it so much easier for readers. His company is selling and licensing the font from his website.  I see a Danish company has put the font into an iPad app.

It's a pity their video has no sound. The text is also a bit too much of a direct translation from Dutch. But use of the typeface costs 69 Euro - so may be should not complain.

The other challenge is that in most countries you cannot copyright a typeface. Generally, copyright law in the U.S.does not protect typefaces. Fonts may be protected as long as the font qualifies as computer software or a program (and in fact, most fonts are programs or software). Bitmapped fonts are considered to be computerized representations of a typeface (and are not protected by copyright law). On the other hand, scalable fonts (because they are incorporated as part of a program or software) are protected by copyright. This means that copyright law (at least in the U.S.) protects only the font software, not the artistic design of the typeface. More info on that part of the challenge here.

Charlie Todd - Mischief Maker

As adults we need to learn that there is no right or wrong way to play," says actor and comedian Charlie Todd. The strangest things happen when he’s around. A group of bathers in full evening dress take over the beach on a hot day; a busy mall becomes the backdrop to a spontaneous musical; and some of the people on a busy square seem to have a mute button.

One of his latest "flashmob" events was with real quadruplets in Central Park.

Todd is the founder of Improv Everywhere, a New York collective that brings the strange and absurd to public places. The group has undertaken more than 100 missions since 2011, involving tens of thousands of 'undercover' agents. From a fake U2 concert and no-pants subway rides to a book-signing event by a dead author – the group’s surreal performances cause all sorts of confusion and lots of laughter. I note his YouTube channel has over a million subscribers.

Apart from being the driving force behind Improv Everywhere, Todd also performs with the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York. His book 'Causing a Scene' gives a hilarious insider account of the jokes Todd and his group have pulled over the years. His motto: "You don’t need permission to be creative." My favourite is still the stunt their did with frozen statues in Grand Central Station.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Finnish Solar Kitchen Chef Antto Melasniemi

"The essence of a good restaurant is not just in the food," says Finnish chef Antto Melasniemi. "You also need to think and breathe the tools of design into the whole concept." The former rock pianist now runs three restaurants in Helsinki: Ateljé Finne, Kuurna and Putte's Bar & Pizza. Outside Finland, Melasniemi gained renown with his pop-up restaurant HEL YES! serving Finnish cuisine and design at the London Design Festival in the summer of 2010. Visitors were served simple, pure dishes in an ambiance where Finnish design and recycling met in pleasant symbiosis. The HEL YES! Stockholm event was combining restaurant with contemporary dance.

Another eye-catching project was the Lapin Kulta Solar Kitchen restaurant, which Melasniemi created together with Catalan designer Martí Guixé, touring Europe in the summer of 2011. This environmental and gastronomic art project, launched at the Design Week in Milan, demonstrated how cooking with solar heat had a surprising influence on the taste and texture of food. This project also demanded the flexibility and ingenuity of the cooks, especially on days when the sun refused to shine.

Melasniemi's new project for the Helsinki World Design Capital event is an open space at the meatcutting district of Helsinki that will host different food culture events.

Legal Music for your Vids

Excellent post by Christina Fox from last year on where to find legal music for your videos.

There are a bunch of sites where you can find good music you can use for free in your video. Some like ccMixter are community sites with loads of composers brought together, others are run by individual composers and artist who want to get their music out there, by any means, to get some publicity. 

Pretty much all these sites licence their work under the creative commons licence. There are four types of licence, which you can read about on the Creative Commons site

Mostly you'll find these composers will let you use what ever you want – however you want. All you need to do is give them a credit at the end of your video. But, do check which licence each composer is using to release their work.

So where to start? Here

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Secret Rise of Silicon Valley

Actually, I had other reasons for looking at the career of Steve Blank but stumbled across one of the most interesting lectures I have seen in a long time. It's actually six short stories connected together to explain the rise of Silicon Valley, Venture Capitalists, and Stanford University in particular. Grab a coffee and prepare yourself for a fascinating hour. The first two stories are particular interesting when connected with previous posts on this blog. Exactly a week ago I mentioned the Wartime Deception programmes again, telling the story of the Aspidistra transmitter in Crowborough. But Steve's presentation fills in a lot of holes in the stories I have heard before.

Steve has published a huge list of references on which the talk was based, plus the Powerpoint slides he used. I wonder if he has seen the footage from the BBC-1 documentary called the Secret War, now put out on the Interwebs thanks to archivists at the Alexandra Palace Television Society. They put it up in bits because of Youtube's length restriction in those days. I think I'll ask him.

You can find a whole gallery of the Secret War episodes here. Finally, as you watch Steve's second story about the Cold War, you might want to take a look at this video safari.

I thought I'd been to some interesting radio places, until Mike Barraclough pointed me in the direction of this video make in the Ukraine, the former home of the Russian over-the-horizon radar system that plagued shortwave reception in the 1980's. It was nicknamed the Woodpecker, which explains the jingle at the end of the video. The giant curtain is still there, although because it is so close to the old Chernobyl nuclear power station its within the exclusion zone.

Time to Escape from the strangehold of yet another Eurovision Song Contest?

I see a massive 14,000 (sic) people (so far) have watched the press conference on Youtube of last night's winner of the Eurovision Song Contest. It has become so bad, that I wonder if winning it is really good for a singing career. And because the public broadcaster of the winning country has to host (and pay) for the show next year, I hope STV has deep pockets. At least it's back in Europe. Frankly, after hearing the discussion on the BBC's Media Show, (note that link expires shortly) I wonder how the EBU can continue to defend the expense. Although there won't be the same political controversy next year, I am sure that the Eurocrisis will put further pressure on the EBU to be questioning the ESC's future. Is it a cultural icon that can only be done by Europe's public broadcasters? Of course not. And if major stations like BBC and RNE support it in such a half hearted way, isn't it becoming a huge waste of public money? The BBC Media show cast doubt on the relevance of the EBU as whole if it continues like this.

Nicholas Bonner on North Korea

Nicholas Bonner by PINCNetherlands
Nicholas Bonner, a photo by PINCNetherlands on Flickr.
Nicholas is based in Beijing but has done more work in North Korea than anyone I know. He visited Beijing in 1993 as a lecturer in Landscape Architecture and whilst studying basic Chinese he played soccer with a North Korean who also lived in Beijing. At the invitation of this team mate, Bonner first visited North Korea in 1993. Struck by what he experienced in this unique country, Bonner teamed up with a partner in Beijing to start a travel agency based in Beijing and specialising in tours to North Korea.

“We all have our own preconceptions on North Korea but this comes from a very limited perspective- very often black and white viewpoints. No one was actually engaging with the North Koreans, nor did the West have any new incites into the country. Through film, tourism art and cultural events we found a few ways in which to work with the people and for twenty years we continue to promote engagement as a tool for creating dialogue and understanding", says Bonner.

As a regular visitor to North Korea, Bonner, who also is a painter, cartoonist, landscape artist and filmmaker, became more and more acquainted with the country and was eventually allowed to film there. His first documentary told the story of the North Korean soccer team that shocked the world by qualifying for the quarter finals of the 1966 World Cup in England, after a 1-0 victory over Italy. A second film follows two girls preparing for a mass performance for supreme leader, Kim Jong Il. A third movie portrays an American who has been living in Pyongyang since defecting from the US Army in the 1960s.

Bonner’s films have won awards at various major festivals. Always in for something new, after 6 years work he has just finished work on a romantic comedy that intends to shed a new light on this fascinating country. He showed some excerpts at PINC 13 in Zeist last month. The acting is like something I've never seen before. But it is so rare to see anything on film that shows any kind of emotion. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Getting Rid of the The Third Programme in Daventry

I thought there was little left in archives about radio engineering in the 70's, but I was wrong. This film made about dismantling a radio mast in Dodsford in 1985 reminds me of a training film on how to dismantle a land mine. I guess it must have been shown on BBC 1 in that slot early in the morning for engineers. Tuesdays at around 9.30 wasn't it?

Great Face for Radio II - Frowd at PINC

Charlie Frowd

Composite sketches of crime suspects are often inaccurate, mainly because they are made up of separate facial features, whereas people usually recognize based on seeing the face as a whole — the features of the face and the relationship between features. Psychologist Charlie Frowd and his colleagues have developed a new and a far-more effective alternative to the traditional composite sketch or identikit.

Dr Frowd is Senior Lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston in North-West England. He is also a Chartered Psychologist and Chartered Scientist registered with the British Psychological Society. Together with colleagues Vicki Bruce (Newcastle University) and Peter Hancock (University of Stirling), Charlie developed EvoFIT that bases its composite images on the face as a whole. Witnesses choose a number of faces resembling that of the perpetrator. By repeatedly selecting and combining these faces with one another, an image of the perpetrator evolves, more closely matching his or her identity.

Research has revealed that the new method is about ten times more effective than the traditional ‘feature’ method. EvoFIT was first adopted by the British police and is now also in use in Europe and the US.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Quality Journalism At Work

This sort of Twitter flaming is clearly a way to further erode the reputation of both a host and a network. CNN is standing more and more for covering news needlessly. What is Piers doing with that searchlight on the ledge of a skyscraper anyway? If that's not genuine, that kinda reflects on the rest of what he says.

I note that Adam Curry of the political and media satire show, No Agenda, pointed out on This Week in Tech last Sunday that Piers Morgan only has a viewership of around 30,000 during the last ratings sweeps. So who really cares what Piers says? Not a lot.

CBC Problems Mirrored Elsewhere

I wish there was this kind of considered conversation in the Netherlands, where the knives are out for all levels of government-financed public service broadcasting. At the moment the commercial networks and newspapers are firing weak potshots at the pubcasters (you're distorting the market, you shouldn't be active on the web)- yet winning because the public broadcasters are simply blaming somebody else instead of tackling the arguments head on. National and regional public broadcasters don't actively co-operate because there doesn't seem to be much respect between the two. And there's never been much respect between commercial and public services broadcasters, I'm afraid for good reasons on either side. Like two people going through a trial separation.

Thomas Rosenboom and the Swans

Thomas Rosenboom surprised us all at PINC 13 with a story about his observations from his apartment window. He noticed that the swans in the city seemed to trapped on the canals because the space between the bridges is not wide enough for them to gather enough speed and take off.

“A truly remarkable book, in the tradition of great authors such as Vestdijk and Nabokov” – is how one Dutch reviewer characterized Thomas Rosenboom’s Gewassen vlees (Washed Flesh, 1995). The author had previously displayed his talent with the collection of his short stories De mensen thuis (Those at Home, 1983) and the psychological thriller Vriend van verdienste (Honourable Friend, 1985), but the true breakthrough came in 1995. “It sings and blares, it rumbles and raves, it hums and hisses,” is how NRC Handelsblad described Rosenboom’s virtuoso command of the Dutch language.

The following year, Gewassen vlees won the prestigious Libris Prize for Literature. His fame and ability were set in stone in 1999, when his new novel Publieke werken (Public Works) garnered even more acclaim and Rosenboom won the Libris Prize a second time – an unrivalled achievement. Since then, the ever-modest author has worked on his oeuvre with evident joy, publishing two more wonderful novels, De nieuwe man (The New Man, 2003) and Zoete mond (Sweet Mouth, 2009). In between, he wrote the 2004 booksellers’ gift Spitzen, as well as a razor-sharp analysis of Dutch society titled Denkend aan Holland (Thoughts on Holland).

It's Lonely At The Top - Or Is It?

I see the Daily Mail has discovered the fictional blog of a BBC TV Controller. It used to be a blog in the style of Adrian Mole. Now it's a very amusing twitter stream. Of course it's all fiction, all a bit of fun.

Or not.

It couldn't at all be remotely like the real life of BBC 1 Controller Danny Cohen. Could it? Of course, I don't expect much truth in the jibes in the Daily Mail. Everything the BBC does is wrong. But Cohen may well have paid John de Mol too much for the Voice, just to spoil ITV's party. That is certainly a questionable use of public funds. Especially now.

Reminds me of the comedy series Absolutely Fabulous, created by Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French which was originally inspired by the goings on of Top UK publicist Lynne Franks.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Zita Cobb from Fogo Island

Moving story from multimillionaire Zita Cobb who returned to her native Fogo Island in Canada and is now looking for way to turn it from a brain drain into a brain gain. This island has around 3000 residents. She spoke at PINC 13 in Zeist. Didn't realise that it was the same woman who ran a large campaign to get radios in Rwanda to help counteract hate speech.

Dorji Wangchuk, the King's Media in Bhutan

Enjoyed catching up with Engineer and journalist Dorij Wangchuk at PINC 13 in Zeist. I first met him in Singapore when I learned that he designed the FM radio network for the Bhutan Broadcasting Service in 1986 as well as leading the team that introduced TV to this mountainous kingdom. He contributed to many television programs and documentaries as a producer, editor and presenter as well. He always has something fascinating to say. While managing the television station BBS and later his own media production company, Dorji Wangchuk was appointed Director of Bhutan’s Royal Office for Media, making him press secretary and spokesman for HM King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. Seems the King just asked him. What would you do in his position? 

King Khesar, who was crowned in 2008, pursues the progressive policies of his father, Jigme Singye Wangchuk. Bhutan transformed from an absolute monarchy into a democracy that not only weighs its welfare on economic scales, but also takes Gross National Happiness into account. Government policy is geared to achieve sustainable and socially responsible development. Policy objectives include the protection of prime forests, promoting the use of biofuels and bioplastics, ensuring organic agriculture nationwide, the banning of plastic bags, a tax on junk food and guaranteed access to both traditional and modern medicine.

PINC.13 Speakers - Brilliance in the Middle of Nowhere

PINC.13 Speakers (22 May 2012) by PINCNetherlands
PINC.13 Speakers (22 May 2012), a photo by PINCNetherlands on Flickr.

From left to right: Charlie Todd, Thomas Rosenboom, Daria van den Bercken, Clo Willaerts, Tristan Gooley, Zita Cobb, Christian Boer, Antto Melasniemi, Charlie Frowd, Reuben Margolin, Nick Bonner, Peter van Lindonk, Herbert Blankesteijn, Malcolm MacIver, Dorji Wangchuck, Keimpe de Heer and Marte Röling

PINC goes from strength to strength because organiser Peter van Lindonk is the ringmaster of a circus of fascinating ideas and performance. That's not surprising because as well as having a heritage in publishing, he has also been the ringmaster at the Carre Circus in Amsterdam. This was the line-up of speakers at the 13th PINC held on May 22nd 2012.

PINC is a sort of one day TED - always designed to surprise but also inform. It is world class in the talent that it brings together. But it is also very different from TED because it mixes local (Dutch) talent with the world class speakers. This is NOT a conference. It's a produced sequence of performances and talks with minute attention to detail. There's always a nice blend of the arts and sciences, funny and sad, light and dark. Which is why it works.

It reminds me of Poptech. Why hold it in Zeist (near Utrecht) instead of Amsterdam or the Hague? Because Zeist has a great theatre (Hotel Fiji) and a castle, but no other distractions. PINC is not something you dip in and out of. I wonder when the local authority in Zeist will discover the magic going on in their own backyard? PINC 14 is scheduled for May 14th 2013. Make a note of it. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Broadwing Drones at your Service

More on drones after a blog post back in February.  Met up with Koos Maring at the Future of Advertising conference, a half day briefing for the publishing and advertising branch in Amsterdam. At the drinks afterwards Koos introduced himself and explained his company Broadwing.eu designs and flies drones for a living. Having heard about drones and the military, mainly via the political satire show NoAgenda, I was intrigued to see what Koos was up to with his company's modified helicopters. They prefer to call them UAV, Unmanned Airborne Vehicles and the airframes are usually made of carbon fibre - strong yet light.

Koos Maring, CEO Broadwing

Koos is experimenting with his own designs of UAV's and different video cameras on board. Broadwing operates as a team of three people.

The most recent project was filming the Race of the Classics. It's the largest and most prestigious student sailing regatta in EuropeVarious teams from Universities and High Schools in the Netherlands get the chance to sail around the country on classic sailing ships. The ships set off the Rotterdam Veerhaven harbour and head for another Dutch or Belgian port. Then they head off for the UK. The third and final leg of the race involves everyone heading for the Dutch port of Ijmuiden. 

Koos explains there has also been interest from other sporting events as well as from police and law enforcement agencies during special events. They feel that some of the tragedies at events like pop concerts last year could have been reduced if crowd monitoring was possible. They rarely use police helicopters because of the expense, the noise and length of the event (several days). The website explains that they have been experimenting with the new Sony mirror-less cameras. 

I see that the top video below may not play directly in some countries because of the music used (YouTube has intervened). But you can watch it on the YouTube site if you click through.

Why don't train companies want to understand customers?

I book an international train ticket on the Thalys express every now and then. I must confess I have always found the interface between Thalys and Dutch Railways (NS) systems is mediocre at the best of times. Most frustrating is when the system decides there is no seat available at a particular fare and just gives an error message for the whole trip. So you don't know whether it is the outward or return journey that is (apparently) full. The NS side of the system doesn't seem to check availability on the Thalys computer in advance, so you go through all the pages of filling in names etc, only to be dumped back at the start when a booking turns out to be impossible. No explanation - just a request to fiddle around and try again. What a waste of time. Sadly, there is no alternative.

If it was 1992 I could understand. But in 2012 I assume that Thalys just don't care and that NS stands for No Service. What a difference from booking a flight on Easyjet or even KLM. These train guys are asleep at the wheel. Are they reading customer tweets on Twitter? Nah. They don't have a reputation to live up to.

Friday, May 18, 2012

DRM at NAB Las Vegas

Still not clear to me what problem DRM is trying to solve and by when. Now that BBC and DW are getting out of shortwave, I can't believe that listeners in the West are going to buy DRM radios at 100 dollars a piece to listen to CRI or All India Radio. It's not a distribution argument any more - it's all about audience information needs. I note the nicely coloured map in the video is now out of date - as Canada and Russia are apparently not going any further.  But I guess Las Vegas was nice.

NPR going off the rails

Recent top-level departures and revelations of executives pay have made me change my mind on whether NPR is as innovative as they claim. The news that they are spending money on covering the Olympics in London says to me that editorially they seem to be off course. And without a crystal clear editorial plan, they can say goodbye to serious corporate underwriting. An article in the Washington Post goes into more detail about the decisions being expected. Watch this space.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

VOA News - Unsolved Puzzle Palace of Potential

VOA Greenville Shortwave Transmitter site - Relaunched and rededicated in May 2012
All the traditional international broadcasters are refreshing their websites in the on-going race to retain audiences and try to grow them. Not many broadcasters are used to a dialogue with their audiences. Sometimes political restrictions have made that impossible. But more often that not, these broadcasters are so used to shouting their message across borders with 500 kW transmitters that they are trapped in their own routine. I have always found it difficult to have a conversation with someone who is shouting. Perhaps impossible is a better word.

One of the several US international broadcasters, the Voice of America, seems to be trying. I note they have just relaunched their website. For the first few days this week a banner at the top invited comments on twitter and in their forums. My comments won't fit a tweet. And now that the offer has disappeared from the homepage, I thought I'd publish the thoughts here and send them in to see what happens. 

Frankly, I don't think the relaunch is ready. Although it's a start and on the right lines. It's certainly not ready for prime time. I do feel that they have re-jigged a legacy content management system rather than rethinking how they will integrate social media into the mainstream offering.

Another Online Newspaper?

I always think of on-line publishers like Flipboard and Zyte as leading in interface design. They know that layout needs to respond to the size of the screen being used - and that could be anything from a iPad, Android device to a Windows phone. And goodness knows the size of the screen if the viewer is using a web browser. Which is why even simple Wordpress designs adapt to the screen you're using. Plenty of Universities get it, as do many others. There are pages of examples out there. So what's stopping the VOA from being ahead of the pack and adapting to the needs of a fragmented audience?

There are apparently two new VOA sites. One for the web - and a version (if you look hard enough) designed to be accessed on a mobile phone.

Sidetrack on VOA Editorials

I have often regarded VOA as a talking newspaper. Why? Because it's in earlier documents and programme schedules, VOA would always explain its radio editorials (reflecting the policies and views of the US government) as being rather like the opinion column of a newspaper proprietor (in the days when they did that kind of thing). 

A separate department within VOA still publishes daily editorials, although I am at a loss to understand why they were ever branded as VOA Editorials. I've always thought of them as a "word from our stakeholder" and quietly done something else while they were running. I note that some language departments would schedule the VOA editorials at the end of their feeds to stations, knowing that few would carry them in their rebroadcasts of VOA - because they only represent a single voice from America.

Has anyone looked at this site on a tablet in the form that Flipboard uses? It doesn't work too well. And wouldn't it be great if the radio and TV programmes, which still consume a lions share of the US$206 million that was pumped into Voice of America alone this year, were also accessible in an app that looks like VODIO (check the Apple Store for the free app) ? Competitors Bloomberg Television, Reuters and Indian NDTV all have stunning apps which put audio, video and text into a much more attractive context than VOA. All three do it commercially.

VOA Radio and TV - an afterthought?

Although IP is now leading at VOA, as in most broadcasters, the VOA radio and TV broadcasts have been relegated to sidebars. I would put listen live as a permanent top menu bar, with larger links to radio, TV and on demand catalogue of content across the top. They are not an afterthought. They could save screen real estate by eliminating the top line (with the breaking news bar) and the menu switch to other languages. Incorporate all of that in the menus lower down. There are two VOA logos at the top of my screen. Why?

Time Check

International broadcasters used to be champions of realising that there are different time zones - and that we're often enjoying the shared experience of listening or viewing at a different time (or even a different season). GMT and UTC was our reference. But, even if that is old fashioned, time mentions on the new VOA site are confusing. The side bar says a story was published 11 minutes ago. On the page itself it says today's date, but not always the time of publication. I would definitely add the time the story was released (or updated) and state that it's Washington DC time. Otherwise the logo Breaking news says Broken News to me. If I can't trust VOA to tell me the correct time, what can I trust them with. Have they thought of a clock on the site marked Time Now in Washington?

Just before Water Isaacson departed as Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, one of his parting remarks that he was pleased VOA was restoring its original colours. On the new site, why not give us back the old three coloured VOA logo and be more conservative with the use of red further down?  Black, blue and white . Red perhaps for a breaking story, but not for "11 minutes ago".

Other points that caught my Eye 

  • We live in an on-demand world. Yet, the VOA website window is so narrow. I have no idea of what VOA is going to broadcast in the next 3 hours, or how I can listen to what's been on earlier today. Or yesterday. or even last week. The VOA site is very two dimensional...it doesn't really draw me in to explore further.
  • Blogs @ VOA seems to be too large a font. In fact, they are not news blogs - many are updated weekly. They are really VOA Dossiers on specific themes. They should explain in two sentences at the top of the dossier that these are a collection of articles by VOA specialists on specific current themes
  • And they should be more consistent by posting photographs of their writers. 
  • Dossiers would also have a few facts and figures in brief to set the dossier in context. Indicate somewhere that dossiers are not updated daily but as needed. BBC does this better than VOA.
  • I would say What Our Audience is Saying rather than "readers". 
  • Position the VOA blogs under What Our Audience is saying since blogs are less topical it would seem.
  • Why do some stories credit Reuters news agency rather like an apology? I thought VOA had a two source rule? Why mention Reuters at all unless the text is verbatim? If it is verbatim, then why?
  • VOA could make much more of RSS Feeds, although partners to subscribe to Science News, Political stories, or updates to dossiers. But they need to remind people how to use RSS feeds. Partner stations also need a briefing again. I'm sure they're lost if I judge from their websites or talk to their web-masters.

VOA Congo Story Needs a Rethink

And finally, I believe listeners and viewers to the English language lessons have lost their way in the cave of wonders. What is EnglishCentral trying to achieve? Can we assume that experiments like VOA Congo Story were simply experiments and are now abandoned in cyberspace? So much still isn't finished. I hope audiences will have the patience to stick around while the virtual scaffolding is still up?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Silent Sneezing Radio - Gesundheit

Saw this silent movie on Vimeo and got curious. Especially as it has no sound. Turns out its a project from UK artist James Chambers. He's brilliant.

His blog gives us the answer.

A radio sits on a shelf, gathering dust. If it goes unused for a long period of time, the dust can ultimately cause it to stop working. The Gesundheit Radio solves this problem by periodically cleaning itself out with a mechanical 'sneeze' (the sneeze can also be trigger manually).

Although the project was completed in 2010, there are other interesting intelligent devices on James' website.
UPDATE: I note that this entry in my blog has suddlenly got a lot of traffic from the US. If you have found this entry in July 2012, then you might also want to explore other radio entries on this blog, written by someone who still has a love of radio but is concerned about its future. A selection of recent posts is here. Enjoy and thanks for visiting. Comments always welcome.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Future of Advertising

Went to a session on the future of advertising this afternoon at the Amsterdam Theatre Factory. Next door is the HQ of some of Amsterdam's major daily newspapers. I think the ad on the front of the building (office space for rent) must be costing those newspapers more in reputation than they think. They don't seem to see the irony. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Free Voice or No Voice- What remains for RNW?

The closedown of Radio Netherlands Dutch language radio service on May 11th was a fitting tribute to a job well done. Having studied the station's history several times for various anniversaries and specials, I came to the conclusion that despite being only a shadow of much larger operations like BBC World Service, VOA or Deutsche Welle, the station managed to punch well above it weight. 

The station PCJJ which preceded it was set up as a commercial venture - Philips couldn't sell radios in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) if there was nothing to listen to. And the discovery that was a propagation path at certain times of the day between Holland and Indonesia meant programmes on shortwave made sense. After the war, as Holland recovered from Nazi occupation, many Dutch emigrated to Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada. 

So I would argue that Radio Nederland Wereldomroep was probably one of the first social networks. It provided a way for Dutch speakers to keep in touch with the shared experiences of family and friends separated by distance. It was crude by today's standards, requiring quite a lot of energy to produce a crackly voice in a loudspeaker thousands of miles away. But it was a human voice. And that was one of the advantages of the programmes from Hilversum. They sounded like they were made by human beings rather than government officials. In the marathon 24 hour closedown transmission last week, they celebrated the people who had made RNW what it was, rather than the network itself. Dutch speakers abroad still have access to BVN satellite television and websites from domestic radio and TV stations as well as newspaper publishers and on-line news channels like nu.nl.

The perception by the general Dutch public now is that the Wereldomroep is no more. Indeed, Radio has gone, Nederlands has gone and as legislation is being changed, so the Wereldomroep (literally World broadcasting) will be taken out of the statute books. 

From now on, Holland will only have public broadcasters on a local, regional and national level. I had hoped to hear a clear signal from RNW last Friday as to what will happen next. After all, 14 million Euro had been earmarked for some kind of external broadcasting activity as from January 1st next year. But the on-air debate broadcast in the final hour of the Dutch service was sadly the weakest link in the whole production. It was muddled, confusing and those arguing for stopping it altogether had jibes that quickly dominated. Definitely a case of the blind leading the blind and an important one-time opportunity missed.

Yes, there's a plan on how that 14 million Euro of public money could be spent. But it's not based on a clearly defined audience need in the same way that RNW was the answer back in 1947. It's politically driven piece rather like the lists that NHK Radio Japan used to get from the Japanese government - "Here is some money, you are commanded to broadcast so many hours a day to North Korea, etc. Do the best you can". Frankly, that's no way to run a modern media company. Never has been. Government make terrible programmes because they are interested in themselves not the audience - It's all about shouting a message above the noise, not listening to what people are saying from within.

Other NGOs in Holland are running radio stations into specific areas like Sudan, Somalia, Zimbabwe and Iran. They have focus and, at least in the case of Sudan, are filling a void that hasn't yet been filled by others. It's a project, so when the mission is over, it will evaporate. Success is driven and measured by audience need. 

This all reminds me of that poster in the window of Bush House referring to BBC World Service - audiences are at the heart of everything we do. For RNW, that heart has stopped beating because everything it stood for has been removed. End of a era. Over and out. That leaves me with a huge respect for the past. But no hope for the future..at least not like this.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Radio Netherlands Dutch services bows out in style

Radio Netherlands has posted the truly superb video of the last 11 minutes of Radio Netherlands Dutch radio service, signing off with pride after 65 years of service. It was a superb send-off driven by a spectacular countdown to the big switch-of at 20 hrs UTC Friday May 11th 2012. It all ended with a burst of fireworks.
The "zero hour" moment was captured by an ANP photographer and can be viewed here. The Dutch text tells you to hold down the left mouse key and they drag to navigate right and left.

ANP Fish Eye Photo 
Earlier in the week they posted a video of the preparations. Haven't found a way to embed it. So it's here.

One of the former heads of the Dutch Department was Peter Veenendaal. He told the story of the station, the people and the moments in a very powerful video projected on the side of the building HQ. World class. It was a wonderful, powerful sound collage as well.

I like the short video trailer they made for the marathon transmission below. Realised that in fact I took the opening shot of the relay station when I visited for use on a QSL verification card we sent out to listeners. That particular radio broadcast I made in 1989 is in fact online in the Media Network vintage archive. They also brought the first RNW outside broadcast van back to the station. Of course, it still works! World class tribute to a world class team. Safe travels wherever the wind takes us further.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

SoundCloud Announces 15M Users and New Version of Its Site

From the next web blog

"Social audio sharing service SoundCloud is announcing its “next” version of the service during a press event in San Francisco. We last told you about the company when it hit 10M users in January of this year.

The new version of the site, dubbed the “Next” is in private beta starting today.

SoundCloud allows anyone to upload audio of any type, including music or messages to share with your friends or family. You might be familiar with the service if you’ve ever listened to our Daily Dose series, as it’s our player of choice."

Traffic Radio - Is this a winning format?

As Radio Netherlands (Holland's external service) discontinues all its radio programmes in the Dutch language this Friday, including a popular programme for truckers travelling across Europe. I was curious to see this flag flying a little further down the street. It belongs to Traffic Radio which turns out to be an IP based station which you can listen to on your mobile phone and on the web. You had better have an unlimited plan if you're listening on the iPad or the phone because audio gobbles up data even with clever audio compression. Also curious about the format - which, surprise surprise, is billed as a radio station with music and all the latest traffic news, shows about cars, etc. In this era of in car navigation systems, aren't the days of the traffic bulletins read out over the air somewhat dated? 

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

JP on Information is like Food - some if it is worth spreading

JP is brilliant at making clever connections. Our paths have crossed several times on travels and I always enjoy the encounter. This connection with information and food can run and run....

Sunday, May 06, 2012

StoryCode: Secrets of Immersive Storytelling

In my search for guilds of creative craftsmen I stumbled upon StoryCode. I must confess I prefer the term immersive storytelling instead of trans-media. I particular admire the recent work of the NY based organisation Campfire. Look at what they designed around the TV series Game of Thrones for HBO. The secret is that they have integrated their storytelling into the whole series. It's not some kind of add-on that's been bolted on.

"HBO needed to raise awareness about the premiere of Game of Thrones in a way that appealed to both new audiences and hardcore fans of the book series. Campfire's team, led by Creative Director Steve Coulson rolled out a five-week campaign that engaged each of the five senses. At the same, an online fan engagement campaign was launched in which online communities worked together to unlock exclusive video rewards. Each video was connected to the five senses and chosen to increase overall buzz and anticipation for the show.

The first sense in the campaign was scent - carefully curated packages including an antiqued box filled with custom-made scents from the regions of Westeros and illustrated manuscripts were sent to journalists, bloggers and influencers. The resulting coverage and “unboxing videos” kicked off an intriguing campaign for a wide audience."

Very clever.

The Resurgence of Creative Guilds

Broadcasters, especially those in the public space, are experiencing extremely difficult times. Just at the moment when all sorts of creative collaborative tools come on the market, either the production funds dry up completely or the company loses its purpose and heads off in the wrong direction.

Coming from a heritage in international broadcasting, I'd argue that those who try to bridge international cultural borders have a task that's twice as hard. Domestic broadcasters only have to reach their own culture. International broadcasters need to understand at least two - the culture of the audience and the culture around their production centre (that also pays the bills).

The problem is that most international broadcasters have neglected to understand their audience, shouting at them with powerful transmitters in the hope that they might listen. In doing so, they fail to understand how to share an idea and, therefore, influence.

Two things made an impression on me recently. Wandering around the back of Bush House in London, I came across the first thing. They were colourful posters put in the window a few years ago to explain (and justify) the expenditure going inside the building at BBC World Service. The most powerful poster was actually the least visible. It simply states "Audiences are at the heart of everything we do". That's it. I would argue that the problem with international broadcasters over the last 15 years is that the majority have failed to to understand their audiences and, therefore, lost the power to influence. In the early days, crude audience measurement could easily fudge the result. Nowadays, the stats are more accurate - and turn out to be frighteningly low.  They face three problems : No Content, No Cash and No Clue.

So what is filling the space? I think it is the resurgence of creative guilds.

The other thing that impressed me was revisiting a short but great intervention by Lee Bryant during the Lift conference. Lee spoke for five minutes saying that what the 20th century got wrong was to apply industrial techniques to people. Treating people as a "mass" doesn't work. I recall that one of the programme titles on NHK Radio Japan in the 80's was "Hallo Asia". You have never been able to say hello to an entire continent! Which explains why they eventually gave up. 

I have actually taken out the embedded video because I can't switch off autoplay. Several people have complained that it has become annoying. So, here's the link to watch it off blog... But do watch it. It is very well done.
Lee's comment still rings true, perhaps even more so three years after his talk when many European countries are in the Great Depression 2.0, not even sure whether they have hit rock bottom yet. If I understand Lee's theory correctly, then the broadcast production stations which labour is organised into "shifts" will not be the creative centres of the future. It will be far more like the film industry - building teams from a creative pool of talent who may not geographically be in the same place.

With so much production being uploaded on to platforms like YouTube (60 hours of a video a minute - no that's not a mistake). the biggest challenge to be being recognised for a brilliant piece of work is actually being found.

So will we see the resurgence of guilds of digital craftsmen? I think we already have. Pixelcorps is a good example. But also Bloggers like TNW are starting to collaborate as they realize that a group blog on a specific subject has more influence. And certain groups within Linked-In, Facebook (limited) or circles on Google+ are becoming platforms where ideas are exchanged. On Vimeo and YouTube I am seeing the rise of all kinds of brilliant production, whether it be camera techniques, time-lapse photography, trailers for films, or openings to congresses like TED in Doha last month. As they develop they're finding out the new ways of production - and also ways to get paid. The business model is usually based on many something unique which is designed to be stolen - in fact the audience is marketing the content to their friends. So the audience is central again - and we know that works don't we. That's why the people I'm working with are switching from a knowledge network into a digital guild. It seems to be the most effective way forward.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Hans Rosling on TEDx and decisions it needs to take

I have been following Hans Rosling for several years, marvelling at how he gives context and lively narrative to what seems like boring data. He has more influence than many broadcasters I know. If his talks at the TED conferences get posted to the TED.com site, then he's guaranteed a least a million views. His first one has currently logged over 4 million views. His talk work because he puts simple stories across in ways you wouldn't  expect. Having met him a couple of times at Le Web, I was also struck by how easy it was to strike up a conversation with him - he took time after the talk to chat with members of the audience.

A few weeks ago, the TED organization organized a meeting for TEDx conference organizers. These are conferences organized independently of TED. That may sound like a rare breed of people. But in fact there were 233 TEDx events in April 2012 alone. 650 people accepted the invitation to turn up in Doha. If they paid their own airfare, the rest was free for a week. From my own experience, the TEDx conferences themselves turn out to be variable in quality - ranging from disguised business conferences which borrow the TED name for their own purposes to events which are certainly a good research and development ground for the main TED conferences themselves.

It was on the outing that Hans Rosling gave an impromptu interview, following up from his washing machine talk. It must have been prepared because it was filmed in the typical TED style using multiple cameras (for easy editing). He starts by picking up from the line of a recent talk (above) where he concludes that we're striving harder in the world to get washing machines in the world than to spread democracy. But he also said something extremely interesting about the challenge that's going to face TED very shortly.

At the moment the TEDx movement is a loose network of very creative people.

It is an emerging international civil society organization. It has enormous potential  and the decision about the next step will be crucial.  As it expands, friction will emerge as the discussion starts as to which direction it wants to go. Will it run projects, will it run education or will it make statements?

TED has built an industry around coaching people to deliver a brilliant TED talk. It has polished performance and established a successful business model for itself. An elite will pay relatively large attendance fees to network (though a 6000 dollar ticket is considerably less than the cost of a piece of research from one of the big accounting firms). That helps to support the new talent given a once in a lifetime chance to share a brilliant concept, thought or idea.

I still believe the weakness to TED is follow-up. It will have to professionalize that part of its business - you cannot leave that to passionate volunteers. As a digital storyteller myself, I am always curious as to what happens next. I wonder which direction TEDx will choose?