Archive for October, 2008

links for 2008-10-28


links for 2008-10-24


DAB = FM + 1 : is that bad or good?


"Four Ashes" by timo_w2s

On the way back from Chris‘ if:book salon last Monday I was listening to the Guardian Media podcast about the failure of Channel 4’s DAB stations. The whole podcast was odd. Firstly the presenters gloated. Why? I’m not sure any of the traditional news media are safe from future technological developments so it seemed strange to have newspaper journalists gloating about a radio station’s demise. Then there was the tone of the interview with the head of Channel 4, Andy Duncan. The interviewer’s tone suggested that Duncan had started up, staffed, and then closed the station out of malice and stupidity. What? Clearly launching a radio channel with original content whose quality might compete with the BBC is a brave thing to do, but it was done in good faith, with the expectation of a market. ‘Malice’ came from the idea that Duncan was being spiteful by shutting down the venture when a few people were working out their notice at the BBC as they had been offered jobs in the Channel 4 channel. It is sad if people loose their jobs, and there is too much of it about this year, but Duncan had a commercial decision to make, what else could he have done?

But it was the foretelling of the demise of DAB that I found strangest. The team pointed out that there was only one commercial national DAB channel that one couldn’t pick up on FM: Planet Rock. They went on to complain that the BBC were holding up a technology that was failing commercially. Surely the BBC is pushing a technology that we asked them to help with. The government pushed DAB so that, if needed, we could free up VHF spectrum for other services. Without the BBC’s amazing efforts this would not be possible at all. There are several national BBC DAB radio channels that you cannot get on FM, Asian Network, BBC Extra, BBC 7, and my favourite 6Music (Tom Robinson’s show’s fantastic). But surely even just looking at commercial radio the failure would be if there were fewer national stations on DAB than on FM? One more is not a failure.

Finally the Guardian team wrapped up by pointing out that DAB was doomed the moment that the BBC released its iPlayer. At first I thought this was a revelation: of course the iPlayer over the internet trumps DAB. It’s got all the channels (plus Radio 4 long-wave stuff) and the ability to listen again. What I should have spotted at once, since I was on a train from London to Cambridge, was that the internet is not available in many of the places that we enjoy listening to radio. Even Guardian journalists must drive through areas that are not covered by wi-fi, how does their iPlayer work then?

The genius that is Sara Ford


The video from ReMIX 08 is up. There were some great talks but I’m particularly excited to rewatch Sara Ford’s 20/20 session. The brief was twenty slides, twenty seconds a slide. Sara didn’t use slides but instead went through 20 tips for using Visual Studio, and spent 20 seconds on each tip. I learnt loads in under seven minutes! The instructions are here on Sara’s blog:

“Who Needs Spectrum?” What users want, what’s becoming available and technologies that will make a difference


Machiavelli from Ofcom

Yesterday I went to an event called “Who Needs Spectrum?” What users want, what’s becoming available and technologies that will make a difference organised jointly by Cambridge Wireless and the Digital Communications Knowledge Transfer Network at The Møller Centre in Churchill College. There were lots of interesting talks, especially around harmonisation and regulation. I’m not a radio frequency expert, I’m more interested in the user scenarios radio spectrum enables, so I came away with an outsider’s view of some of the discussions.

It was initially surprising how the battle lines were drawn in the debate around harmonization. On the one hand there were those who felt governments should step in and regulate the technologies that were allowed in different spectrum bands to obtain harmonisation across Europe; while on the other hand there were those who thought that the market should be left unfettered to decide for itself. That divide isn’t surprising. What floored me was who was on which side. The government (Ofcom) wanted to keep as light a touch as possible so that the market was given free reign. The industrialists wanted heavy handed intervention. This was strange to the point that the (excellent) speaker from Ofcom (William Webb, who Richard had once as a visitor to the lab) put up a slide as a homage to Machiavelli! Luckily I lived through the Thatcher years so nothing phases me 😉 As the discussion progressed I did start to work out why the protagonists had chosen the sides that they had. William paraphrased this Machiavelli quote:

There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries … and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.

So, the current market incumbents want increased regulation as it ensures their markets and allows them to more easily build pan European services. But Ofcom want to ensure that the market itself decides since they feel new entrants are more likely to be able to innovate new services under a lighter regime, new entrants who wont have a voice currently, either because they are too small to dedicate time to lobbying, too cautious to reveal their game-plan to their competitors, or because they just don’t realise that regulators are looking for consultation.

Another interesting point William made was around license exempt spectrum and innovation. We’ve argued that leaving portions of the radio frequency spectrum unlicensed will encourage innovation and new markets will emerge, as happened with wifi. William agreed that there was innovation in unlicensed spectrum, but argued that there was no evidence that there is more innovation in unlicensed spectrum. William argued that just because an industry is old it doesn’t mean it wasn’t innovative, and so licensed spectrum is littered with innovative services. William went further and argued that the value generated by services in licensed spectrum is actually greater than that generated in unlicensed. I can’t wait to sit down with more economically minded colleagues than I and work these issues through.

The event closed with John Burns from Aegis Systems talking about spectrum use in the public sector. Spectrum ownership by the military is seen as an under utilized national resource, which is true, but John did a great job of showing us what parts of the spectrum are in use and he explained why technologies like radar need seemingly extravagant swathes of spectrum in order to work properly.

My Notes from “Who Needs Spectrum?” What users want, what’s becoming available and technologies that will make a difference

I’ve put my photos up on flickr, and the slides should go up on the Cambridge Wireless site.

There were other issues that struck me during the day. One was the mismatch between my expectation of what would be discussed and what actually was. Looking at the subtitle for the event “what users want, what’s becoming available and technologies that will make a difference” I’d expected lots of time to be spent discussing users, by which I meant consumers of spectrum enabled services. But that’s not what “users” meant. For this audience the users were service providers, broadcasters and cellular operators who ‘use’ spectrum to provide services to consumers. I guess I should have spotted something was awry when, in an event of over 60 delegates I was the only one wearing jeans! As Dorothy might say “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Redmond anymore”.

Found poetry for and from National Poetry Day


I’ve just found out that it’s National Poetry Day from one of Chris‘  tweets. The National Poetry Day website provides a charming example of found poetry:


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Who needs metre?

Wysing’s RIBA award plaque unveiling


There should be a video here – but I cannot work out how to embed flickr video into posts 😦 you can see it here though:

Just back from the unveiling at Wysing of their new RIBA award plaque. The ‘unveiling’ was done by Hugh Duberly, the Lord Lieutenant of South Cambridgeshire, which made sense as he’d done a lot personally to help Donna raise the required building funds. I put the word ‘unveiling’ in scare quotes as it wasn’t behind a curtain but behind one of Simon Woolham‘s paper interventions.

The RIBA award plaque with Simon Wooly's covering

Simon’s currently doing a paper intervention called Urban Origami whereby members of the public make origami with the supplied card and then install them in various locations (Kettle’s Yard house, the Ruskin Gallery, and Wysing, though I guess one could opt for anywhere). Then you photograph them and add them to the blog. The ‘unveiling’ involved Hugh pruning one of Simon’s paper sculptures (one a bit like an abundance of black paper eyelashes) that obscured the plaque. After that we wandered around a few of the studios and then up to Amphis, a structure for talks, screenings, etc made entirely out of found materials.

Amphis in the distance

It’s huge – and well built. Much more substantial than I’d imagined! To round the evening off I wandered into the gallery and enjoyed some large scale but delicate and detailed drawings by Anne-Mie Melis, and of course spent time chatting to the trustees, other visitors, and the wonderful people who work at Wysing.

Anne-Mie Melis drawings

links for 2008-10-02