Tech in the Park: Making Clever Use of Teens' Love of Music

Recently, I’ve taken a particular interest in technology in public places, probably due to spending too much time pondering my surroundings while waiting for the train. This latest example, discovered thanks to Michael Dales, is close to home just North of Cambridge. It’s so simple and it’s bound to make a lot of young people happy this summer.

Bluetooth speakers for your phone

Wondering what this is? It’s a rather clever contraption, apparently installed by Monster Play, a Hertfordshire-based company.

Built into the rain/sun shelter that sits on the edge of a new local skate park, this unit allows you to broadcast music to a small speaker from your phone, mp3 player, laptop, etc via Bluetooth. After 7 minutes, you get booted off, leaving the airwaves free for the next music lover. Alternatively, you can listen to the local radio.

Michael reports that the sound may disappoint audiophiles but seeing as teens will listen to music on their tin-can speakers mobile phone, this is probably a better alternative.

Teens have been demonised as truants and troublemakers, some people going as far as setting up Mosquito alarms as deterrent from loitering near their homes and shops. (Don’t get me started on those, I may not be under 25 but I can hear them cringingly well!)

This is as close as we can get to celebrating their love of music. They may be listening to Pixie Lott and Miley Cyrus, and us Jack Johnson-listening oldies may have lost hope in their judgement of what “good” music is, but in perspective, this gadget gives them a sense of belonging and something to do on those sunny summer afternoons.

With the gorgeous weather we’ve got this week, wouldn’t you want to be outside hanging out with friends listening to good music?

[Image credit: Michael Dales]

Torchwood Writer Gets Online Abuse: Where social media stops being fun

A few days ago, I wrote about the Torchwood 5-day mini series which ended on Friday. During that same evening, it’s with great amusement that I also discovered that James Moran, writer for Severance, and episodes of Doctor Who, Torchwood, Primeval, Spooks, and Crusoe, was on Twitter.

In many ways, I enjoy seeing these backstage celebs on Twitter. By backstage celebs, I mean people who aren’t Britney, MC Hammer or Stephen Fry. Those people can be on Twitter all they like, but they’re already in the limelight. Seeing those who usually don’t get the limelight finally interact with the public through more than their scripts, stories or stage direction is more exciting, as we don’t usually get to hear them speak other than through their characters.

However, this evening, I came across a post by James which allowed me to realise just how seriously some people take television. He received many positive and praising messages, but was also highly criticised for a storyline that even upset me. Yes, I did have a tear in my eye when Rhys held the camera for Gwen to record her final words as “the world ended”.

Some have been spewing insults and passive aggressive nonsense. Accusing me of deliberately trying to mislead, lie, and hurt people. Telling me I hate the fans, that I’m laughing at them, that I used them, that I’m slapping people in the face, that I’ve “killed” the show, that I’m a homophobe, that I want to turn the fanbase away and court new, “cooler” viewers, even that I’m hurting depressed people with dark storylines. Asking me to pass on vitriolic, hateful messages to people I love and respect.

Not cool.

As James says, this just isn’t cool.

I love letting a story envelope me and take me away from work, home, the fact that the kitchen’s still not tidy and the stairs need hoovering. I love a story that lets me get a tiny little crush on one of the characters and picture travelling the stars with them. [Hell, I named my cats after Jack Harkness and Rose Tyler!] And yes, sometimes I want to shout at the TV and disagree with their stupid actions. “Don’t go in there alone and DO NOT put your gun down, you idiot!”

But people, all of you people who’ve given James abuse, get. a. fucking. grip.

“Hurting depressed people with dark storylines”? Please, get some real help. And I’m not saying this intending to offend, but with a true concern that if a TV show is enough to make you cross that line, it’s time to look at getting real help.

And if this isn’t your situation, then please go outside and get some perspective. This is television, and for a change, hey, it’s good enough to make people feel strongly about it by choosing a path less travelled. If the writers had taken the usual path, the same people would have clamoured that the ending was cheesy and predictable!

So have some respect for people and their trade. If a writer can’t join Twitter and enjoy it for what it is – a totally open means of communication with the audience – then writers, actors, authors and other backstage celebs will pull back and let their PR agencies do the talking. And that’s not what we want, is it!?

Here’s 50p, go buy yourself an ice cream and some perspective.

Torchwood's social critique and the education system

This week, many of us have been riveted to our TV screens more than usual. I have, certainly.


BBC experimented with a 5-part miniseries of the Doctor Who spin off show Torchwood, called Children of Earth. I’ve been a fan of Torchwood since the first season – while it hasn’t been a flawless show, it’s been interesting to see sci fi themes of a more adult nature (not in that way, you perv. Well, ok sometimes…) be approached.

This miniseries not only looked at the usual “alien invasion from the skies” theme, but also looked at Britain in a dark and disturbing way.

For those who haven’t seen it, here is the issue in a nutshell:

Britain is forcefully approached by “The 456”, an alien lifeform that approached it over 40 years ago. In 1965, the 456 requested that they were given 12 children, assuring Britain that they would disappear forever, never to come back. In 2009, the 456 comes back, this time requesting millions of children – 10% of the entire child population of the world. Otherwise it would destroy the human race entirely.

When faced with no other option than to obey the 456, the British government, UNIT, the American forces and a number of other worldwide governing bodies come to the difficult decision of choosing the children who should be handed over.

After discussions of random lotteries and “one loss per family” to meet the 325,000 children to be taken from the UK, one government member suggests what many have been thinking: Use the school league tables to select the lower ranking schools and rid Britain of the scum.

The blunt suggestion is accepted and buses are driven to the disadvantaged schools, providing the media with a spin story that the children are being taken away for inoculations as a means of protection.

I won’t give away the ending for those who still may not have watched the last episode, but will instead look at this situation. Sure, aliens are unlikely to land in Thames House tomorrow to make such demands but what about that bottom 10% of school kids?

In the real world of here and now, are we failing our youth by accepting that disadvantaged areas of the country must necessarily mean lower ranking schools, poorer grades and children who will grow up to spend their life on the dole? In top schools, children are expected to go on to further education and get good, meaningful jobs. Of course, they have the added benefits of a childhood in an independent fee-based school and the likelihood of parents who are more actively involved in their education. These aside, are we taking away the disadvantaged kids’ changes by setting expectations too low?

In this fictive situation, the government made the decision for these kids that they would never amount to anything and were therefore the best group to sacrifice, for the sake of the other 90%.

I don’t have kids and I certainly don’t have an answer, but it was insightful to see Torchwood broach what is a rather controversial topic in between battling aliens and saving lives.

Which British TV Chef Are You?

Everyone approaches life and its challenges in a different way, just like chefs approach cooking and pleasing customers in very different ways.

Are you most like…

Jamie Oliver
jamie_oliverHealthy family fun, you want to change the world and have high ideals. It isn’t always about the final result but about the process and the social change involved in what you do. Grannies think you’re cute and blokes envy your success. Everyone else just thinks you own a funky campervan.

Gordon Ramsay
Unquestionably skilled, you want the best for the other party but sometimes struggle to get your message through without offending first. You enjoy authority, are opinionated and get your way every time – often by being the loudest in the room. Most of the time people think you’re a tosser, except when they think you’re brilliant.

Heston Blumenthal
You’re a bit of a nutter – in a good way of course – and love experimenting and pushing things past their limits. You often opt for the “acquired taste” option, which leaves half the population baffled, and the other half in awe.

James Martin
You’re not bad at what you do, but you realise that luck and being born with a silver spoon in your mouth may have helped you fast-track in life. You’re charismatic when you feel like it, but when you can’t be bothered, you throw the toys out of the pram and show your true colours.

Ainsley Harriott
You like to have fun in life and it shows. You’re less worried about the quality of what you do, and a whole lot more about catering to as broad an audience as possible. You make up for the quality with humour and altruism.

Nigella Lawson
You’re charming, you know it, and you use it to your advantage. Hedonistic pleasures are no strangers to your life and you know how to have a good time, yet remain thoroughly classy.

Delia Smith
You once had it, but now you’re not to sure where and how you lost. In fact, you’re probably not really sure of where you are right now. You occasionally make dodgy time and money investments, finding yourself entirely out of your depth. Regardless, everyone thinks you’re kind of sweet.

Keith Floyd
You talk absolute rubbish most of the time, but people love seeing you because you’re always a good laugh. As long as life is accompanied by an oversized glass of red wine, you’re satisfied. Somehow your drinking, more than your cooking, has made you a legend.

Who did I forget? 😉

Ofcom says yes on more TV ads

I’m disgusted to find out that Ofcom is about to allow more advertising on commercial television channels in the UK. Somehow, in response to people using more personal video recorders like Sky Plus, Ofcom’s been fooled in believing that the answer is to slap on some more ad minutes into every show.

The geekier masses have migrated towards online sources for entertainment, and I’ve got a feeling that if UK television is heading the same way as American shows, crammed with obnoxious and imposing ads, more Brits will start relying on Joost, Bittorrent, iTunes podcasts and other services.

The advertising industry is so sick, all the way to the core, I don’t think it’ll ever recover. If you agree that this new suggested ruling, allowing more ad breaks, should be stopped, please let your comments be heard by Ofcom, do it now, and pass it on to others around you!

What English sounds like when you don't speak it

People are often surprised when I tell them that English isn’t my first language and that I wasn’t comfortably speaking it all the way into my early teens. I also clearly remember hearing music in English when I was very young and not understanding any of it.

So while I think this girl is mad for going to a Music Idol show in Bulgaria and choosing an English song, I can completely hear what she’s hearing in the song. Hilarious video!

Sorry if I’ve started posting loads again! I’ve got internet access again, have returned to something resembling routine and have dealt with the bulk of organising the new house, so I’ve got time to write.

Delia's new "cookery cheat" show: Has she lost her marbles?

Andrew and I have now watched a couple of episodes of Delia’s new cooking show where she shows busy people how to get nice meals together quickly.

Delia cooking, if you call THAT cooking...Now, what mystifies me is that while she’s targeting time-poor people, she’s unquestionably aiming for the top tier richer people. Last week, when she made her fish pie involving frozen pre-mashed potato cakes, we estimated the cost of the meal at nearly £15! For that price, you could get a delicious Marks & Spencer meal that you can stick in the oven and enjoy just as much without having to fight with frozen potato lumps and pre-smoked, pre-cooked salmon!

I suppose she’s shooting for the even-smaller niche market of those who need to pretend they’re eating “homemade” food to have a clear conscience!

Seriously… pre-mashed potatoes… Delia, honey, you can’t be serious!

Guh: Huge fine for music file-sharer

Andrew Andrew rants… A court in the US has ordered a woman to pay $222,000 (£109,000) in damages for illegally file-sharing music. The jury ordered Jammie Thomas, 32, from Minnesota, to pay for offering to share 24 specific songs online – a cost of $9,250 per song.

$9,250 per song?? While I understand that what Jammie was doing is seen as illegal, having to pay $9,250 per song is bordering on the insane. Take out the resellers fees and doing some completely incorrect and unsubstantiated mathematics, she is effectively paying the US recording industry more than 12,000 times per song she shared.

There are a few points which really grate on my mind with this issue.

  1. She is allegedly in the wrong, but ruining her life by taking 1/4 of her paycheque over 24 songs for the rest of her life is morally incorrect and just plain wrong. Putting a shackle around somebody’s neck like this for the rest of their life is a completely unbalanced punishment which clearly demonstrates just how detached from reality the RIAA and their lawyers are.
  2. 288,000 (12,000 * 24 songs) people who downloaded music directly or indirectly from Jammie over Kazza now have a paid for (and legal) copy of the tune. This should be taken into account when the US recording industry incorrectly try to sue these people.
  3. What the RIAA don’t take into account is the music that people download, without paying for, which they had no intention of buying anyway; these people are just downloading it to explore new music. I could make a wild (but definitely correct) assumption that many people who have “illegally” downloaded tracks would not have contributed to the RIAA’s coffers anyway even if file sharing did not exist – so this is NOT lost revenue. Music sharing simply opens up a free advertising channel for new fans who would subsequently purchase merchandise and see gigs leading to increased revenue for the artist.

This aggression is only going to fuel more hatred from the general masses, and certainly has done for me. While I have bought music online, I do think it is too expensive and the current move towards DRM free and artist direct bought music is a great one in my mind.


With the evolving and modern model of music distribution provided by the internet, the record label plays a much smaller (or no) cog in the gearbox of an artist getting their music to fans or potential fans. Take for one example the Pandora / Music Gnome project, which leads people to find new artists without and intervention of traditional promotional methods. Along with file sharing, the artist no longer needs the record label as they did in the 90s, they have the chance to go it alone and be just as successful.

The US record industry has two choices. Firstly, they could accept their inevitable demise and realise that the days of fat cigars and comfortable leather directors chairs are numbered. Secondly, they could adapt – and FAST – to a more modern model of music distribution, stop suing people and try and win back some popularity of the general population and artists.

Its the only way they will still be here next decade.

[bbc news]

Run, Fatboy, Run!

Last night, I went out to see “Run, Fatboy, Run!” with Andrew and my lovely friend Celia.
Run, Fatboy, Run!
I’m already pretty fond of Simon Pegg’s older movies, but I think this one tops them all. The theme is more appealing to girls than zombies or village cops, so that might have something to do with it. It might also have to do with the fact that the spotlight is much more on Pegg, rather than sharing it with Nick Frost and some guns. And it might have to do with Thandie Newton being so adorable, Hank Azaria playing the over-confident American so well and a handful of classic cameos from the likes of David Walliams and Stephen Merchant.

Take all the above, mix them gently together and you’ve got my favourite comedy of the year by miles.

Definitely comes with two thumbs up, and a big toe too.

IPod nano red on order!

iPod nano red on orderDo I really even need to say it? Or does the picture on the right and my empty wallet say it all?

Yes, I’ve given in, I’ve got a red iPod nano on order. In my defense, it’s my birthday on the 19th so it’s my pressie. And it’s the “good cause” iPod too. I’m helping fight AIDS in Africa by giving my money to Mr. Jobs.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had the luxury of music in my pocket. My N95 is far too rubbish to be used for music, and while I have an old iPod Shuffle (the kind that looks like a USB key, not the slick tiny clippy one), I’ve never liked the shuffling concept.

So here it is, my first real iPod. It’s red. It’s lush. I can’t wait to get it! Shame it won’t arrive before I go to Finland and Russia next week though… :S