Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A few words about the Media Network Vintage Vault


Welcome. I'm Jonathan Marks. If this is the first time you've visited this blog, then I'm glad you dropped by! As you may know, I currently work with all kinds of high-tech startups and scale-ups in many parts of Europe, but especially in the Eindhoven region. I can frequently be found at the High Tech Campus Eindhoven, now home to more than 140 extremely interesting companies. I'm particularly interested because this region is where international broadcasting started in Europe and where the properties of shortwave radio were first discovered in 1927.
Radio Netherlands when it was a broadcasting station

Reliving Mainstream broadcast heritageNearly six years ago, in early February 2010, I began an on-line experiment with podcasting to understand how the distribution system works and see whether we could rebuild an audience. We wanted to recreate a place to listen to vintage editions of the Media Network programme as broadcast on short-wave by Radio Netherlands in the period 1981-2000. It is over 35 years since the Media Network was launched as the name of the media show on Radio Netherlands, building on the rich heritage of programmes that went before it.

We ran on the shortwave wireless from May 7th 1981 until the end of October 2000 with more than 1000 editions. Many of the features are gradually making their way onto the website as a celebration of international broadcasting's second Golden Age.

Radio Netherlands no longer exists as a radio station in English in the way that we knew it. (They signed off at the end of June 2012 as documented on this site). The RN Classical Music station was around for a short while after, but that too had been yanked from the Interwebs. Join me in raising a glass to the great days of analogue adventures!

I release between 6 and 8 vintage Media Network's a month, as time permits. We have now reached more than 538,845 downloads, numbers being boosted by interest in the programmes about China and several documentaries about propaganda, during the Second World War and later.

Media Network was one of the first international communications magazines of its time. I hosted and produced the programme, but a lot of the content was made by a network of volunteer monitors, reporters and researchers located all over the globe. Diana Janssen also joined me as co-host during the last 5 years of the programme. She made a considerable contribution to the programme. 
RNW studios in 2001
I kept copies of most of the programmes, especially those that dealt with specific issues or were connected to current events in that period. Since leaving Radio Netherlands in 2003, I have gradually digitized the tapes as part of my research into international broadcasting and where it might go after shortwave. Personally, I find it amazing to relive this era, especially as most of it was pre-Web, pre-Skype, pre-YouTube, pre-email, when most people thought twice about picking up the phone to call a radio station in another country. There is also a lot to be learned from what worked and what failed. Too many recent media ventures could have learned a lot from those who went before them. 

I am always interested in your reactions, especially from people who may be discovering this material for the first time. It will encourage me to post more. Looking at the site stats, it would seem that around 13% of the subscribers are downloading via iTunes. The rest do so directly from the site or using 3rd party apps. Please tell friends about the vault and encourage them to subscribe. 

There are also radio related videos which I made more recently over on my video vault.

Finding a show 

If you want to see what has been put up since February 2010, click on the Media Network Archives orange button on the right and all the editions will be listed. You can also subscribe in iTunes by searching for "Media Network Vintage". As each "new" edition is published, it will download automatically to your MP3-player of choice.

The statistics show that most people download the shows through this site directly or through Facebook. As of the end of December 2015, the most popular programmes have been those on wartime deception, Radio London (offshore station and the train), the MN Jingle collection and the RNI Libya programme. Note that programmes are now archived under the months in which they were published. I know some of the material here is niche stuff - but I also know that people interested in international communications and broadcasting are very passionate people. Because of the politics, it provided a constant wave of stories. I also believe that we developed one of the first collaborative formats on international radio, where individuals could do some detective work, report their results, and share experiences with those with a similar passion

Recent remarks on Facebook and Linked-in have generated all kinds of reactions including a request to share some statistics.

Here are the stats for 2015. When I post series of programmes, the number of monthly downloads goes up considerably. The peak in July 2015 was nearly 80,000 downloads which I think is pretty amazing considering the age of this material and the fact that it was never intended for a mainstream audience.

MN.25.12.1997 Christmas Special

The feature producers at Radio Netherlands were always given the task of making extended pre-recorded Christmas and New Years Day programmes because there were no current affairs magazines like Newsline aired on those days. So Media Network suddenly became 46 minutes long. I'm glad I found this Christmas Day show from 1997 in time for Christmas 2015. It includes a feature about offshore radio. You will hear the voices of Jim Cutler, Lou Josephs, Vasily Strelinikov, Andy Sennitt, Bryan Clarke, Esther van Pluym, Willemien Groot, Ray Anderson et al, Victor Goonetilleke, Katherine Farnon and Mike Bird. Please don't write to those addresses or call the answerline. Although it sounds fresh, this is time travel back to 18 years ago.  Christmas was always a special time at Radio Netherlands, especially for kids of staff and freelancers. The visit of Sinterklaas a few weeks before at the start of December was always a highlight. Wherever you are this year and whatever you celebrate, I wish you peace, happiness and joy.

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault

Monday, December 21, 2015

MN.16.03.1995.Benidorm & BVN

This edition of Media Network includes details of Radio Netherlands summer transmission schedule, an interview with the late Joop Heintz about the project together with Radio Benidorm and Director General Lodewijk Bouwens on the setting up of the BVN Television service. I see that BVN is finally streaming its service online for viewers outside the Benelux, though I am not sure why they are using a rather old-fashioned Flash-based player.

MN.26.11.1981 Live Asian Special

In 1981 we experimented with live special editions of Media Network directed to South Asia. There was a lot of mail coming in from India and Sri Lanka (mainly postcards) which we couldn't handle in the regular show. It was always a balance too - we were talking about technology that was not readily available in South Asia. But the feedback we got was that was an excellent reason to listen. This programme is 34 years old - from an era when phone calls were very expensive and mail sometimes took up to 3 months to arrive in Hilversum.

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault

MN.02.07.1981. BBC Cuts & 2EA

This early edition of the Media Network programme has details of proposed cuts at BBC World Service with a call to Douglas Muggeridge, the Director General. There was a feature on ethnic stations like 2EA in Sydney and short-term holiday stations in New Zealand. 

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault

MN.10.06.1995 Live from the Hilversum Broadcast Museum

In June 1995 we decided to borrow some airtime from Robert Chesal and broadcast a live programme from the Netherlands broadcasting museum. The premises were on the South side of Hilversum on the Oude Amerfoortse Weg 121 in what looked like a warehouse in those days. This was a decade before they moved to brand new premises on the Media Park, although much of the collection of old equipment didn't move with them. Since it was 60 years of the Dutch transmission authority NOZEMA we put on a ham radio station from the broadcast museum, in line with similar experiments we did on the Flevo polder in 1985. The shortwave transmitter site still stands on the Flevo polder, and Peter Veenendaal has posted a lovely video of the silent transmitter site which is now owned by the Dutch Ministry of Defence. We're told it is a backup system in case satellites fail or get hacked. One thing about analogue shortwave radio, it is difficult to block.

This programme was one of several live segments Jeff Clayborn and I did during the day marking 100 years of radio, 60 years of NOZEMA, and 10 years of Flevo. Check out the helicopter sequence when they put a new antenna on top of the Lopik TV Tower.

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault

MN.01.01.1998 New Year Receiver Survey

This extended edition of Media Network broadcast on January 1st 1998 contains an extensive international survey on the state of the international shortwave receiver market. This was probably the peak of the shortwave listening period, when more than 60 receivers were available on the market. This was probably the most extensive survey we ever completed. Presenters Jonathan Marks and Diana Janssen. Enjoy! 

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault

Sunday, December 06, 2015

The Future of BBC World Service discussed on BBC Radio 4

I managed to get a name check into the latest edition of Feedback, the listener response programme on BBC Radio 4. It's actually a much better programme than "Over to You" on BBC World Service, which is often a 9-minute breathless summary which seems to end before it starts. Feedback is an intelligent 25 minutes. You can download it as a podcast and keep it.

This is what I sent:

Hello. My name is Jonathan Marks and I’m based near Amsterdam, The Netherlands. But I’m often travelling. I listen to a wide range of BBC output on a tablet, including World Service.

It is good news that the British government finally understands the value and influence of independent journalism, especially at a time when many foreign media are closing bureaus abroad to cut costs.

I think it’s important that the BBC World service uses the right media mix to serve a wide variety of audiences. Shortwave radio still makes sense in Somalia and Northern Nigeria, whereas TV and mobile is the way forward in places like India and Russia. 

I think the weakest network now is BBC World service radio in English which is a shadow of its former self 5 years ago. Whilst a rolling news service on TV makes sense, why not bring WS radio much closer to the output of BBC Radio 4. Cherry pick from the best science, business arts and documentaries – contribute the better world service productions like Click, the forum, and from our own correspondent, don’t meddle the sports, and then make much better use of your archive. The BBC spends an enormous amount of money making some excellent projects on the history of Africa, the Amazon river, climate change. And yet there are quickly gone from BBC website which could be so much more effective….and few people in the UK know they were ever made because the search function is awful. 

So I’d like to know what is the World Service group going to do with BBC Media Action, which has grown into a separate production and training agency with its own annual budget of 40 million pounds and claims a reach of 200 million listeners? Any why can’t the BBC make better use of its Monitoring Service in Caversham? I think World service with a single vision would be more effective than a the current fragmented BBC "group"…..

Monday, November 30, 2015

Singularity Debunked - The Emperor Has No Clothes

I went to this excellent presentation by Nikola Danaylov in Rotterdam a couple of week back. It's a rather effective deconstruction of Singularity University, expressing the opinions many observers have expressed for some time. But I haven't seen it so well articulated as this. I hope the discussion leads to a better organisation when it starts up in the Netherlands shortly. Here is the transcript of Nikola's talk, taken from his Singularityweblog website;

Here is the gist of my presentation The Emperor Has No Clothes: Socrates Deconstructs Singularity University. I will slice SU in a variety of ways. Some good and some bad. Some large and some small. Some will make sense and some may not. And some my be just totally wrong. In fact, I very much hope that they are totally wrong. I will attempt to deconstruct Singularity University’s name, business model, strategic context, mission statement and accomplishments, organizational structure and their global plan.

 Singularity University’s Business Model in 5 words:
Create scarcity to sell abundance
…And charge an arm and a leg for it.

Some may call this a paradox. Others can call this hypocrisy. So it is up to you really what you want to call it. Let me explain further and to do that I need the 3 most seminal books related to Singularity University: the Singularity is Near, Abundance and Exponential Organizations. [4th SU book everyone should read is Future Crimes]
Let’s see how SU fits within the space of those postulates:

OK, the Singularity is Near but clearly not near enough for its own titular organization to be actually about the singularity. So, again, as Salim Ismail often says, SU is not about the singularity. The question is why is it not?! What is more important than that?! If an organization where Ray Kurzweil is a chancellor, where students get a free copy of The Singularity is Near, and which has the word singularity in its name, is not really about the singularity then what organization ought to be about the singularity? And why name it Singularity in the first place? That’s like saying that chocolate fudge is not about the chocolate?

OK, enough about the singularity you may say.

If it is not about the singularity, it must be about abundance, right?

Remember the business model: Create Scarcity to Sell Abundance

Well, let me give 2 examples: talk about just the most recent 2 examples – David Roberts’ OCE Discovery presentation and the most recent phone call about starting SU chapters in Canada and elsewhere…

In short, in the birthplace of abundance, scarcity rules. And it is even worse because it is not the real natural scarcity one may find but it is one that is manufactured on purpose. We have those lecture videos in abundance. We have keynotes in abundance and as Chiara and the other girl admitted we have all kinds and lots of other SU videos. But not for distribution. Now, to me that sounds more like one of the big music labels from 15 years ago. Or some of the 100-year-old book publishers. But it surely doesn’t sound like the abundance mindset of an exponential organization.

So keep in mind the business model I said: Create Scarcity to Sell Abundance

But the point here is that, despite Peter Diamandis‘ brilliant book on Abundance, Singularity University clearly does not take it seriously because it has both a scarcity mindset AND a scarcity business model.

Let’s talk about the 3rd seminal book that I believe everyone must read – Exponential Organizations:

The question is simple – is Singularity University an exponential organization?

Well, let me answer it this way: To this day I have not met one faculty member or GSP student of any year who has told me that they thought SU is an ExO. In fact, in my recent interview with Salim even he said that Singularity University is not.

So the question is how long can you sell others on the idea of ExO’s if you are clearly not one?

I already touched on the name and the books, and the discrepancy thereof. Let me talk about Singularity University’s Mission Statement now i.e. its Massively Transformative Purpose:

Positively Impacting 1 billion people within 10 years

..and, we are not even close to the 125-250 million people we should be at if it is an ExO and follows its own goal’s stated timeline.

Let’s further judge Singularity University on its own record and according to its own goal to “educate, inspire and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges”

Has it been successful?! You may say “Yes” but I will say “Not so fast!”

7 years after its beginning, as far as Grand Challenges are concerned I personally fail to see a single grand challenge where Singularity University has directly been able to make a measurable difference, let alone “solving” it.

In addition, when it comes to the “educate, inspire and empower” mandate SU has had some notable success, but I would like to suggest that when one takes into consideration the Singularity University resources – its location, trillion dollar network, revenue stream, human resources, sponsorship and so on – it does not have a very good ROI. [Other than in publicity.]

For example, Khan Academy and Wikipedia both have better ROI as far as “educate, inspire and empower” are concerned, with much less hype too. And they are both actually exponential organizations.

If there is one area where SU has been undoubtedly successful it is to feed its own growth, raise and/or charge more money, to hire more people and spread the hype of its own legend. What is worse, I will argue that SU is already starting to show diminishing returns to scale – i.e. as Singularity University grows each unit invested in it will bring about fewer and fewer units of the desired outcome, while the previous two examples arguably still show accelerating returns per units invested. And that is one of the major differences between an exponential and classic organization.

Here are some other problems with Singularity University i.e. major obstacles to achieving its own mission statement – some are tactical and some are strategic:

Tactical: Singularity University’s current model does not scale

In my view SU is not an exponential organization; it does not scale. The business model of bringing people to a location and educating them is a thousand years old. Flying over and doing customer specific seminars is better but is still only a marginal improvement on that. So, in short, the tactical problem is that Singularity University has embraced a closed garden, classic scarcity educational model.

So perhaps the biggest break-through will come in a tactically new business model and structure which scales well – just like the Khan Academy, Udacity, Courcera etc, are all scalable and structurally new in a way that SU is not. Now, I am not saying Singularity University should necessarily become Khan Academy, but I am saying that it cannot claim to be a 21st-century organization, and hope to scale up its impact, if it is embracing an old model and structure – as it currently is. So, instead of embracing what has existed for millennia, SU must be brave in innovating and embracing a new type of institutional structure and business model.

For example, currently SU is a closed garden – i.e. the only way that people can learn any useful material is to join one of the paid programs and attend Singularity University. In this sense, SU is actually very much behind the curve of even “old fashioned” universities that have the courage to put their courses on-line for free. SU so far has been lacking any such courage which means it is even further behind than old-school universities: What’s the use of improving your curriculum every 3 months if only a tiny number of people paying big money will actually see it?! Is that the way to make exponential change?!

For example, I am hearing from a number of people that some faculty at SU are afraid to publish the gold mine of hundreds of videos that SU has been sitting on for years because they are afraid nobody will actually attend the paid programs afterward. Now, do MIT, Stanford and Harvard not have the same problem?! Then why are they fearlessly publishing many of their own courses for free?! Why Tesla can open-source all of their amazing innovation and SU cannot?! What organization is more likely to go exponential?! Whose ideas are more likely to spread?

In short, if SU wants to change the world it has to be the living example of an exponential organization that is clearly changing the world. The longer the gap between its preaching and its own self-persists the more its credibility is going to diminish.

More tactical flaws:

Singularity University is elitist and top down – it seeks to make change from the top down via “leaders” rather than the bottom up via, for example, networks. [It is also convenient for SU that usually leaders can pay while masses of people cannot]

Singularity University has financial incentives not to change: both personally – where key SU people likely have a personal and/or financial stake at SU, but also institutionally – where SU takes a cut from incubated businesses, which is fine if its main mandate is to produce businesses and to make money. But as long as this is not its mandate then this mechanism is not optimal.

Singularity University has a paid model of education – i.e. it aims to educate but only those who have money to pay for it. And if you don’t then SU provides no help whatsoever.

Singularity University has a single model of implementation aimed at accomplishing its goal – have an idea, start a company, create a product or service to sell – so that SU can have their 5%, and you will change the world. Well, if the Internet, the WWW or Wikipedia were created in SU they would have failed miserably because none of them fits that simplistic Silicon valley monetization model. And it is hard to argue they did change the world and maybe they did it because luckily those entities didn’t embrace the SU model. This single model, however, also leads to a lack of structural diversity of the SU projects because they have to fit the one and only mold proposed as opposed to following a more natural evolution-type of an approach which leads to diverse outcomes.

Singularity University is centralized, bureaucratic and hierarchical and is becoming even more so. Naveen Jain himself told me a couple of years ago that SU is becoming such a bureaucracy that is impossible to get anything done.

Strategic Flaws: Embracing an old socio-economic paradigm.

Singularity University is not looking at creating a new socio-economic paradigm but instead takes the easy road of seeking the most comfortable way to fit in the current one.

Salim often says during his presentations that “SU is not a university and is not really about the singularity”.

I covered the first point already and gave examples of how in some ways even traditional universities are more courageous, more current and even more impact-full than SU currently dares to be. Others such as Udacity and Khan Academy are clearly more scalable. So if Singularity University is not a university then why is it running what is more-or-less an old university model?!

During exponential finance many speakers gave examples of shortsightedness and inability to focus on the longer term so why is Singularity University only focusing on the 5 to 15 years from now – at the most? Why do we not focus at least a little bit on the potential ways of how our current socio-economic capitalist paradigm is likely to change the closer we get to the singularity?!

To me capitalism is by far the best that we have so far but it is not different from other economic systems – it was born during the industrial revolution and is rather likely to die in our lifetime – before or around the singularity. This is what evolution is all about – nothing stays forever, nothing is ever perfect but is always changing and evolving. Thus it only makes sense that capitalism as we know it will also have to at least change or potentially even go extinct.

I am not saying Singularity University should not make money or not embrace capitalist models. It absolutely should. But it should not be limited only to those. And it seems to me that currently SU is a classically structured organization with a corporate model focused on selling, making money, spreading the Silicon Valley capitalist gospel and riding the exponential wave as much as possible rather than being the living example of creative innovation – be it structurally – as a new kind of institution, or strategically – as one focused on fundamentally different strategic goals than anyone else.

And so the main implication of all of the above is that Singularity University is not structured to actually address its own mandate. If SU wants to change the world it has to naturally start with itself and be the living embodiment of the change it seeks to spread. And this is much different from being “a benefit corporation” or whatever other legalese nonsense it currently is.

The Singularity University Global Plan revolves around 3 elements chapters, salons and competitions.

We have videos but we are not allowed to distribute them. If you want a local speaker it has to be approved by SU headquarters AND you have to apply for a license. Think about this: are exponential organizations those who need to issue a license to have a saloon discussion? Or are they the ones where decentralization rules?

Tightly regulated branding. Everyone in the chapters participates as a volunteer but only past graduates can be chapter leaders. Which, of course means, just like if you are a scientologist for example, that you have to pay to climb the organizational latter. Chapters must be non-profit. But they secure sponsors and run events and competitions. Roman Catholic Church is also non-profit. But all the profit, the control, the power, branding and the credit flows to the center. While all the work is, of course, done by the periphery.

“Bringing Singularity University to this place and bring SU to that place.” So SU has become the mission. Where as I thought that the mission is to improve the life of a billion people and SU is hopefully the best means to achieve that. But that is what happens to all bureaucracies – their first rule is self-perpetuation and self-preservation. Roman Catholic Church done the Silicon Valley Way. With scaled franchising and all.

Singularity University is like the Catholic Church – everything material etc flows to the center and is controlled by it. More and more tightly than ever.

It is like SU is saying: The emperor is dead long live the emperor — the gatekeepers are gone so let all old gatekeepers come to SU because we are the gatekeeper of exponential technology and the Gods of disruption. And so again, in essence, it is the same old cry “the Emperor is dead long live the emperor.” My cry here tonight is rather different: “The emperor is dead. SU has no clothes. The hell with the monarchy. Long live the republic.”

At any rate, time is advancing, so let me finish here with Peter Diamandis’ brilliant 6 D’s of Exponentials:
  • Digitalized – it is absolutely not digitized. That’s why a small-time amateur blogger like me can have more traffic on my YouTube channel than Singularity University. 
  • Deceptive – yes it is deceptive, it sells exponential i.e. it sells something it does not have in the first place. How can you sell exponential org if you are not one? 
  • Disruptive – Yes, it is very disruptive but mostly to people’s and organizations’ bank accounts. Started by charging around $100,000 went through $200,000 and, most recently from 1/4 to 1/2 of 1 million dollars per event. Clearly it will reach a billion dollars way before reaching a billion people. And will disrupt the balance of a number of bank accounts no doubt. Started not for profit and now it’s somewhat half way but the reality is that it is totally for profit if you actually watch what’s being done. Furthermore, how disruptive and exponential can be a few middle-aged people who fly first class and ask for half a million to do a two-day event?! Revolutions are made by the young and the poor… I can think of a few people whose middle name is disruption and they don’t fly in first class and don’t make the big money. The people who do are business people. People who disrupt, well they just go around and disrupt… it is what they do, whether they are getting paid or not. 
  • Dematerialized – Singularity University is geographically clustered, based on in-person learning and funded by an artificial scarcity based business model. 
  • Demonetized – it is the exact opposite of that. It is very monetized and trying to be even more so all the time by raising its prices and creating artificial scarcity. 
  • Democratized or Decentralized – Singularity University is neither. It is a classic top down pyramidal structure. So there is nothing fundamentally new, democratized or decentralized about it. 

And so I find it be a great irony of exponentials that 7 years later Singularity University is none of those things either.


As I said in the beginning of my talk today: The Emperor has No Clothes.

Singularity University is not about the singularity. SU is not a about abundance. SU is not an exponential organization. And the exponential irony is that SU charges enormous amounts of money by going to all kinds of organizations that are none of those things themselves and asks them:

Do you know about the Singularity? Do you know about abundance? Do you know about exponential organizations? And then tells them that they should listen if they want to survive.

And of course, this is what I just did. And so I do hope that SU has a big fat check for me today – and I am happy with only $100,000 (laugh) because I am giving them the warning they love and get paid to give to others. Which is simply this:

Disrupt yourself or be disrupted. Lead by example and from the front. Seek to monetize abundance, rather than scarcity. Put the mission before the organization. Live your message. Do these and you will reach your goals. Fail to do so and you will fail as an organization.

So, if Singularity University is not about the singularity, not about abundance and is not an exponential organization then the natural question is, of course: What is SU all about?!

Well, humor me with this absolutely crazy and totally outlandish hypothesis:

Singularity University is a child of silicon valley. And silicon valley is about one thing: start a business, build it up and sell it. In other words Silicon Valley is about IPO’s. It is about taking companies public. And, the strategic drift that I have been getting based on all the observable changes and what’s been happening for the past few years is that Singularity University follows that mold and is being built up and groomed with the idea to eventually be sold to someone like Google, for example.

So, ultimately, Singularity University is about selling to the highest bidder. Most likely Google. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that. But that is a fundamentally different purpose than impacting the life of a billion people.

Where does this leave us?!

I honestly have no clue. But I do know that when the Singularity Hub never called me back to become a staff writer for them that was like winning the lottery because I will not be here tonight if I they had called. Because it would have not occurred to me that I can do it on my own. I also know that while I do love Singularity University SU does not have a monopoly over exponential technology, disruption or the future of humanity. So while it is great to have a strong organization it is even better if we have more than one. We need many, many Singularity Universities. That is why for example when people are sometimes surprised that I allow other tech bloggers and podcasters to post on my blog, link to their sites and quote “steal my audience”, I reply that it is totally awesome. Because I believe in the mission more than I believe in my own organization. Because I believe we need many, many singularity universities, singularity blogs and singularity podcasts. And because I believe in abundance.

And so I plan to keep doing what I do best. Even if, at times, that comes at a high price. And I think that now you may have a better idea as to what that might look like. But in the end of the day I am not here to be right. And I am not here to make money. Unless, of course, Yuri has my $100,000 check somewhere there. I am here to start a conversation. I am here to tell you that our Emperor has no clothes and it is our responsibility to say it loud and clear.

And so, in that sense, I admit that I am here to make a ruckus. But the rest is up to you. And so, as always, the question is:

What are YOU going to do?!

Is getting on to the BBC.COM Homepage an advertorial coup for China?

BBC's Techtent programme on BBC World Service had a short item last week on the challenges facing the funding of journalism. Rory Cellan Jones interviewed the CEO of Blendle in the Netherlands. They also explained about Native Advertising, where adverts are written in the style of editorial content. They may be labelled "advertisement" but this advertorial content is designed to make you think it is editorial, not a banner ad. In this case you are invited to "Explore More about the Climate Conference". Is it labelled as Xinhua content? Yes it is. Do most people understand the difference? I wonder.

In the UK, many people don't realise that the BBC's international facing pages are loaded with native advertising and strange magazines like BBC Capital or BBC Autos, not available to UK readers, which have sponsoring opportunities. It's all laid out in the advertising opportunities.

I think they can do what they like with the magazines - but they should stay away from the news pages. The case in point is visible today. I call up the BBC news page where the headline is the climate talks in Paris. Underneath is the piece of native advertising from Xinhua, the Chinese government news agency. Would the Chinese government allow a reciprocal piece on CCTV's website? I rather think not. Since these "ads" are inserted automatically, I would be surprised if the London newsroom knew it was happening. For me, I think this sort of thing really damages the trust I have in the Beeb. Especially when they have not explored subscription alternatives.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Shining a light in dark times

Incandescence made by French artist Severine Fontaine
I was one of the estimated 700,000 people who visited the Dutch city of Eindhoven on a couple of evenings this past week. This was for the 10th edition of the Glow Light festival. I think this year’s was one of the best ever, although for the really spectacular art installations you needed to explore the exhibits in the city park rather than the city centre. The photos below only tell part of the story because you need to see the installations close up and experience the specially composed music that often adds atmosphere to the short performances. But it was magic. 

The festival ended in a different way than expected. The tragic events in Paris on Friday November 13th, when over 200 people were killed by a coordinated terrorist attack, has affected the mood everywhere. Eindhoven held a minute silence on Saturday night as a mark of respect for those who died. Many of the exhibits at GLOW are from French artists.

This is very much a family-orientated festival draws public awareness of the positive effects creative lighting has on our lives. My only critique is I think it’s a shame its only for a week and nothing is left behind permanently. As the city of Light, it would make a lot of sense to gradually build a permanent collection.  

There is also GLOW Next, which was added in 2012 at Strijp-S, the site of the former Philips radio factories. This spin-off fills the need for a pipeline to ensure the main GLOW event stays fresh. International artists, scientists, entrepreneurs and residents collaborate here on innovative lighting art installations that address societal challenges. During the 2013 GLOW Next, for example, an interactive art work"Waves"was created by members of TU Industrial Design, ILI and local startup Sorama. They used patented technology to monitor sound in the public spaces. The result was such a success that it played a prominent part in this year’s GLOW Festival. 

Waves of light - you gradually realise they respond to the sound of shoes...
Interaction on this project led to a spin-off between Sorama and the Strijp-S smart lighting grid project. A service is currently being tested whereby the sound of breaking glass will trigger an instant increase of light intensity, contributing to a safer city. 

Since the system can identify a particular sound, I’ve heard it said that it might also be used to identify gun-fire. I can (sadly) think of situations in US schools, where knowing the exact location of the gunman could have prevented the loss of many lives. Or what about the desperately tragic events on the streets of Paris, Beirut, and Ankara?

Data & dynamic lighting for a safer, contented public

Eindhoven is working on making the city’s busiest entertainment area – Stratumseind – a safer yet fun experience. The ultimate goal of this real-world initiative by the city is to prevent brawls, to guide crowds when needed and to encourage people to enjoy the nightlife. The city council co-ordinates this living lab with a large consortium of universities, research institutions, local businesses and agencies. Together, they’ve deployed a wide array of sensors and security systems that monitor and try to influence peoples’ activities on this street. The number of people entering and leaving in this popular area is assessed with special open-source software connected to modified security cameras. This is combined with data on weather conditions and even beer stocks of the local bars to continuously assess the street’s activities.

Managers at the dedicated control centre can vary the intensity of the LED streetlights, as well as adjust the hue. The Technical University provides a seasonal lighting plan, so that lighting levels are adjusted gradually at just the right time.

All kinds of sensors monitor behaviour in Stratumseind
Reactive scenarios have also been shaped to reduce crowd tension based on previous incidents. When a brawl was reported, the initial response was to flood-light the trouble spot. But this only attracts large crowds of onlookers, making responding police-officers’ jobs more difficult. Stratumseind lab managers now try to distract by-standers with light displays in another part of the street. They’re also testing which light colour at which time is the most efficient in discouraging brawls or alerting police to possible criminal activity.

Directional sound monitors have also proved useful innovations. Originally placed to monitor whether bars were adhering to agreed noise levels, noise from the street made enforcement difficult. Now they’re examining if sound can be used to anticipate whether verbal abuse escalates into a brawl.

This Eindhoven living lab also monitors if people’s smartphone has WiFi or Bluetooth enabled. Messages can be sent to people to avoid dangerous situations arising on particularly crowded holidays. The next phase is to mix light with different aromas.

Privacy Concerns Addressed

This Stratumseind project uses open-source software so that partners can easily experiment with this public information. But Tilburg University is checking that the public’s privacy is protected and that user-data is anonymised. To prevent possible hacking of the video server, the video analysis is done inside the camera. Open discussions about privacy and publication of data are on-going. The bars, for instance, don’t want to share data on how full their establishment are. They’re afraid people will stay at home, waiting until it gets busy.

Look closely. These lights are made from recycled plastic bottles.

 The exhibit above was made by 40 schools in the region, involving 2500 pupils working on the theme Architecture and Nature. The laterns make use of recycled bottles.

Horizontal Interference by Katarzyna Malejka and Joachim Slugocki
 This reminded me of the test patterns you would find on early colour televisions after closedown. UV light is used to illuminate elastic cords strung between trees.

Yes, I was enthralled by the light bulbs of Incandescence. It reminded me of the fact that Philips was also a maker of radio valves.

This residential building is currently under construction. So fill it with light and the authentic sounds of the hammering and drilling going on during the day.

There is no Glow without a fire. Artist and technical engineer Ivo Schools saw what happened when a tornado raged across a forest fire.

Magic sounds and light near the Park Theatre from the German company Forum InterArt.

90 dandelions made from 9000 recycled bottles by Olivia d'Aboville.

Great GLOW food at Kazerne, a new cluster where designers and technology interact.

The return of an old favorite - De Cagna forms a central point infront of city hall in Eindhoven.

This light installation by Rob Vaessen and Tom Klaversma is very much a hands on exhibit. Push the bulbs to move the spotlights on the building next door.

The organisers of GLOW are looking for ways to generate more income. I personally think that a showcase spots like the Catherina Church didn't work this year, because unless you bought the glasses you couldn't enjoy the performance - at least it was a shadow of the experience they did at the same spot last year. I would make money on lighting sticks/paraphernalia and refreshments. And I wonder why Philips Hue doesn't make more publicity for its mobile controlled lighting system for the home. They were walking around the city last year. Didn't see them this time round.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Dutch Solar Teams sweep all major awards at Bridgestone World Solar Challenge 2015 Australia

The cars reach Adelaide after the 3022 km ride from Darwin.
The cities of Eindhoven, Enschede and Delft can all be proud of the supreme efforts made by their respective Technical University Teams nearly 15,900 km away from home in Adelaide, Australia. Teams from 30 countries took part in the 3000 km World Solar Challenge race from Darwin to Adelaide this past week.

Teams from the Netherlands came away with the three main prizes.

The CSIRO Innovation Prize

The University of Twente was awarded the CSIRO innovation prize. Dr Glen Platt, Energy Research Director at CSIRO Judge said "It is customary that the scientific faculty recognise and honour new ways of doing things. In the trip down from Darwin our team was able to observe many cars with superb engineering and design. It ranged from carbon fibre bodywork to wiring and layout of the car itself. We also saw breakthrough innovation. It ranged from a Coke-bottle evaporative cooling system, to solar-driven route planners, coupling real-time weather information so as to make maximum of use of every ray of sun. I hope we can encourage more of these kinds of developments in the years to come. But one team combined what we thought was great novelty with fantastic execution. The 2015 World Solar Challenge Innovation prize goes to the University of Twente for its solar array balancing interface - maximum power point tracking system."

During the rest-point moments during the race, the "Red One" car team orientates the car so the solar panels are exactly at right angles to the sun. In previous years, Twente removed the solar panels, placing them on an adjustable portable stand next to the vehicle. This year the rules have changed so that the panels and the chassis had to remain connected. So they devised an adjustable mirror to ensure the maximum sunlight capture reaches the solar arrays.

The Cruiser Class

Solar Team Eindhoven at the final inspection round
2015 is the second time the Cruiser Class has been part of the challenge. This time, the Australian organisers managed to double the number of entries to this very difficult challenge. They were also tremendously excited to get the support of Tesla Motors for judging the Cruiser Class. The way these cars have captured the attention of the competitors, scientists and the media has been tremendous. Success in this particular class is a combination of speed, endurance, the work done (the number of passengers carried) and the external energy inputs. This year was an incredibly close race with 5 of the 7 teams managing to finish the entire route. Each team had a different strategy, balancing their load, optimising their speed, and carefully managing their energy usage. But the judges also had introduced a subjective element - have these young engineers really created a car that is desirable? To what extent is this car something that the members of the public want to own. The judges looked at ease of access, control layout, features, benefits, styles, aesthetics,

James Harris, the lead recruiter of Tesla Motors came on stage to announce the winner. It was Eindhoven Technical University's team with their family car Stella Lux. They completed the 3022 km in a little over 39 hours. They clocked 3044 passenger kilometres and a practicality score of 84.5%. That gave an overall mark of 97.3%!

The Cruiser Class Winners
Solar Team Eindhoven captain, Tom Selten, started by honouring all the other competitors in the Cruiser class...Hochschule Bochum from Germany in particular. "Thanks to this Australian initiative, the team in Eindhoven got the opportunity to build this car. Of course, the competition was strong, but so was the team spirit between all the teams taking part in the Cruiser class."

Judging the cruiser class
"As you may know, Solar Team Eindhoven won this Cruiser class in 2013." continued Tom. "We still firmly believe this type of car is the future direction for all solar cars. If we can build a car that family's really want to own, then we're heading in the right direction. But since the last race, the rules for this World Solar Challenge have changed - and not in favour of the type of family car we believe in. In fact, in September 2014, we called a strategy meeting in Eindhoven to discuss our options with students and technical sponsors. Would we enter the Cruiser class again with these new, much tougher requirements with a reduced chance of winning? Or would we switch categories to the Challenger Class and focus all our strengths on building the world's fastest solar car."

"I am so glad we accepted the most difficult challenge and went for the next generation solar family car. This time, we've focussed our efforts on improving the safety, comfort and interior design of Stella Lux. We beat all our previous records this week - the range is now 1500 km for Stella Lux on a single charge. That's thanks to onboard smart technology which tracks both wind and sunshine and gives us the real-time range. That helps build a driving strategy."

Challenger Class Winners

The first and second prizes for the Challenger class went to Delft (Nuon) and University of Twente respectively. In fact for the first three days Twente was leading Delft by several minutes. But they had to slow down to avoid some unsafe conditions, and Delft then took the lead. But it is also important to note that Twente improved on their 2013 racing time by almost four hours! So everyone is getting a lot faster.

It was also fitting that in their acceptance speech, Delft honoured the memory of the late Dutch astronaut and physicist Wubbo Ockels, who did so much to promote the global search for technologies to save the environment. "Remember we only have one planet. There is no spare." That's why this rapid shift to renewable energy sources like solar is so important.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

An extraordinary day to be in Eindhoven

Bright Roadmap for Photonics Chip manufacturing at High Tech Campus

Stef Depla Alderman City of Eindhoven (left) congratulates Richard Visser of Smartphotonics.
Champagne was flowing at lunchtime to mark the start of an important new phase in Indium Phosphide chip manufacture in the world. Having followed the development of photonics for the last 9 months, I've come to understand that some amazing technologies are being born with the power of light rather than electrons.

Smart Photonics, a pure-play foundry, which began in 2012 as a spinoff initiative from Tu/e revealed an ambitious roadmap for the coming years. Pure-play means they only work with customers to make their chips. They don't want a situation like Samsung and Apple where Samsung has made screens for Apple, while at the same time competing with their own phones.  

Sigrid Johannisse, Director of StartupDelta and Alderman Stef Depla of the City of Eindhoven assisted in the inauguration of the new cleanroom production facility. They etched a message of support into the first wafer to be made in the new facility.

Richard Visser, CEO, Smart Photonics took the opportunity of the visit to reveal the next stage of his company’s plans. “Today, we opened the pilot line production facility which allows us to offer a new range of services to photonics chip designers and high-tech companies around the world. We have already built a trusted relationship with more than 40 major companies in Europe, USA and Asia. They understand that indium phosphide chips are the best choice in applications ranging from new generation low-power consumption data-centres to “needleless pills”  for medical diagnostics that can help diabetics. Photonics also plays an important role in the aircraft industry and highly secure cryptography. In short, the market is scaling exponentially.”

The opening of the new production facility on High Tech Campus Eindhoven means photonics design companies can scale-up production much faster and at a significantly lower cost. The official opening of the facility involved a short visit to the brand new cleanroom but also contained a surprise ending.

Sigrid Johannisse has worked alongside Neelie Kroes (above) in the development of European Commission policy to give Europe a 5 year lead on the US and Asia. Together with Neelie Kroes they both put up a very strong case in 2012/2013 that Photonics should be one of the key 6 enabling technologies. It was a commitment which has proved to be a winning strategy, and the results of these investments are now bearing fruit.

Just before pushing the countdown button, Sigrid had this to say.

We've listened today to the story of Eindhoven as a City of Inventions, especially in making light. But also the great work in building photonics startups that are light year's ahead. We hope your goals will also be achieved at the speed of light. On behalf of Startupdelta, we wish you every success, we're especially proud of what's been achieved so far, and we'll work together to build an even brighter future.

In three year's Smart Photonics looks forward to inviting today’s guests back to Eindhoven to inspect their new full-scale Indium Phosphide chip factory. Designs for the new facility will be finalized based on the practical experiences gained in the pilot facility opened today. This will ensure that photonics manufacturing prospers in this region of the Netherlands, keeping Eindhoven light years ahead in Photonics.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

MN.02.09.1982 Firato 82

There used to be an annual hi-fi and TV exhibition at the RAI Amsterdam called FIRATO. It gradually died out as organisers realized that going to see pop stars dancing on stages next to gadgets didn't sell any more gadgets. The acoustics in the vast halls bear no resemblance to what it sounded like at home. When we visited in 1982, the show was already passed its peak. I was always surprised that a new shortwave radio was often shown there, though seldom on the market until months after. Back then DAT was the big story. In 2015, the only show in Europe left is IFA in Berlin, but I seriously wonder for how much longer. 

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault

MN.02.12.1982 Angola Profile

Paul Ballister reports from London on a Polish clandestine radio station supporting the Solidarity movement which has popped up in London. And Radio 4 Today's programme has been talking about pirates.

Media Network was a labour of love for all those who contributed on a regular basis. Richard Ginbey, at that time a media enthusiast working in broadcasting in South Africa, compiled a series of radio portraits using his own extensive recordings taken off air. I think that they are probably some of the only surviving recordings of radio stations in places like Angola. Also, check out of the Interval signal database.

This edition also contains an interview with Michiel Schaay, the Dutch author and publisher of many utility books. 

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault

MN.11.03.1982.Mozambique and Afghanistan

We start this edition with news about clandestine radio stations being set up to broadcast to Afghanistan, currently occupied by Soviet troops. Dennis Powell reports on concerns in the US about vastly expanded Cuban mediumwave stations and possible interference. Andy Sennitt reports about the legendary format change for WABC in New York to all talk. We phoned RTV Hong Kong to find out why they were going on shortwave for a brief period. Richard Ginbey presents Part 2 of his illustrated feature on radio in Mozambique. Those recordings of Radio Free Mozambique must be unique these days. No-one else has kept this material. Sadly, Richard was killed in a car accident. Not sure what happened to his cassette collection of those radio recordings. Dan Robinson has been hearing Radio Portugal and Radio Singapore with very strong signals.  

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault

MN.23.09.1982.Botswana and Seychelles

We started with an interview with Patrick Humphreys (pictured) who explains the demise of Voices magazine - an attempt to start a listening guide about the programmes on international broadcasting. Financially, it turns out to have been a disaster. This edition includes a profile by Richard Ginbey of broadcasting in Botswana as it was in 1982. There was also an oblique reference to the World and Rhodesia programme which the BBC broadcast from a transmitter site in Botswana. It would be 1995 before we discovered exactly what BBC's Douglas Muggeridge was talking about. We rang up the charming Andrew Piper, programme organiser at the BBC who explained about new series they were launching. We interview an author on new propagation theories. Victor Goonetilleke rounds out the edition with recordings he made of a coup in the Seychelles. 

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault


The programme starts with news of a clandestine radio station, Radio Solidarity, broadcasting within Poland. The country is under marshall law. And BFBS has started a special programme of requests to the UK Task Force heading to the Falklands. In fact, those broadcasts from BBC Ascension Island were monitored in Buenos Aires and later used by an Argentine propaganda station to address the same UK troops. Sarah Kennedy was giving out names so the Argentines knew who was on which ship. We also asked the BBC World Service about their extended coverage in English and Spanish to Latin America. Beverley Wakeham has news on the fate of the Radio New Zealand shortwave service. And we solved the mystery of that strange Spanish language radio station reported back on April 1st.

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault


Remember the TV ship Odelia broadcasting off the Israeli coast? Neither did I until I revisited this edition of Media Network and an interview done by Kas Van Iersel. There was also the on-going discussions about Radio Marti to Cuba. We talk with the late Willem Bos about Citizen's Band Radio on 27 MHz. He's set up a magazine to serve this new audience of radio enthusiasts. Dennis Powell has news about clandestine broadcasting in Afghanistan. Radio Caroline is promising to return over Easter. No mediumwave frequency has been announced. Arthur Cushen reports on Australian pirates. And we conclude with a unique recording of a strange Spanish language radio station. Professor John Campbell had some interesting theories.

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault

MN.09.09.1982. Malta and More

More editions of Media Network from a very turbulent year -1982. Malta and Libya had entered into a Friendship and Cooperation Treaty, in response to repeated overtures by Gaddafi for a closer, more formal union between the two countries; and, for a brief period, Arabic had become a compulsory subject in Maltese secondary schools. German international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle, was forced to shut down its relay station on the island under the Foreign Interference Act. Mike Barraclough gives a plus for the popular Reading Meetings for SWLs. Voice of Greece and RTBF Belgium are being heard well at the moment. Tony Jones (pictured) gives us a feature about the return to shortwave of several Bolivian stations. We speak with George Otis, who has built the religious station the Voice of Hope that we're hearing on the 49-metre band. Professor John Campbell reports that some clandestine radio stations are replying to listeners letters. Radio Venceremos has an address in Mexico City. Richard Ginbey has an item about Radio Biko. Strange things happening in Swaziland, following the death of their long-reigning Monarch.    

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault

Sunday, August 02, 2015

MN.08.03.1984: Propagation & Radio Truth

This is a news edition of the show. The Catholic church is increasing its power in the light of the success of HCJB in Quito Ecuador. There is a new transmitter site being built in Sveio, Norway. (Note there is video on YouTube of the antenna being dismantled in 2012). Jim Vastenhoud talks about the possible move to Single Sideband. There's a promo for the Receiver Shopping List Edition 7 because 18 new receivers have come onto the world market. African Media Network reporter Richard Ginbey has noted Angola is now operating 24 hours a day. A lot of stations are drifting down the dial. We look at Radio Truth, a station beaming from South Africa towards Zimbabwe. We ask what's happened to Radio Database International and talk to Larry Magne.  

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault

MN.23.03.1984 SW Commercial Radio & Philips AC739

This edition of the programme involved phoning more than 9 different shortwave stations in the USA as non-government licences to broadcast internationally were dished out by the FCC, following the lead of WRNO in New Orleans. We also tested the Philips AC739, one of the few car radio shortwave receivers with more than the 49 metre band on them. I guess there are probably no surviving examples for this set left on the planet. I remember using it for a couple of years, but it was incredibly fiddly to change stations. Not recommended while driving.

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault

MN.19.04.1984. ICOM ICR71E

These days it would be daft to broadcast long technical reviews of radio receivers over the radio. But in 1984, there were few sources of independent information about the performance of shortwave radios. So we used to send out lots of copies of our on-air reviews. This edition contains our summary of the ICOM-ICR71E, a communications receiver which was around until the mid-90's. 

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault

MN.15.11.1984. WMLK & Gordon Bennett

This edition of the programme looked at WMLK, a religious radio station in Bethel, PA USA. YouTube now has video from the transmission site we're talking about in the programme. We also talked to UK listener Gordon Bennett about receiver specifications and the lack of standards in measuring radio sets. Pete Myers reports on the FRG-8800 from Yaesu. It can be controlled by a home computer. The ICOM ICR-71 interface has disappointed some. We review the book Harrier at War by Alfred Price about the radio side to the Falklands Conflict in 1982. This book looks at electronic warfare and the huge amount of money spent on deliberate interference. Richard Ginbey has a Mediaview feature on broadcasting in Rwanda. As usual it has some rather unique off-air recordings. We talk with Nevil Gray, who used to work with Deutsche Welle about the "Publicity in Africa project" which turned out to be a tax dodge. Andy Sennitt has news about King of Hope in Lebanon. Radio Netherlands new transmitters on the Flevo polder are testing on 9895 kHz next week.  

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault

MN.14.06.1984.EDXC Stockholm

I remember this trip to Stockholm as though it were yesterday. I tried to cover this DX convention at Radio Sweden by editing interviews in my hotel room and then rushing back to Swedish radio to feed the result down a line to Hilversum so it could be cut into the broadcast tape of Media Network. I underestimated the complexity of the process, especially as I was used to fine editing with a razor blade and the UHER reel to reel tape was so thin it curled on the splicing block.

The European DX Council meetings were mainly social gatherings - I rather enjoyed them. This was the first time I met Media Network contributor Victor Goonetilleke from Sri Lanka. I remember him shivering as we all waited for the boat trip on a summer evening. The programme also contains contributions from Professor John Campbell and Richard Ginbey has some unique recordings from Radio Cameroon. 

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault