Seldo.Weblog: March 2004

Why yes, I did have nothing else to post today

I took Colin's book quiz and I was David Copperfield, but I thought this was not at all accurate. So instead I took the country quiz, and came out with this surprisingly accurate answer:


You're Chile!
You're really skinny, and kind of bumpy in frame, but you're not as rough a person as you used to be. You like long, long, long walks on the beach and avoiding having your rights violated, just like anybody else does. You're even willing to stand up to those with more power and influence than you, trying to bring them to justice. Fight the man!
Take the Country Quiz at the Blue Pyramid

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Meta 9 cometh...

Do you know me? Are you planning to go to Meta 9 this Friday? Can I sleep on your floor? Get in touch if so.

Update: Found floor. Thanks.

Sashay, sashay...

Went to Meta 9. T'was very good, but the decor was not quite as good as last year's -- more inventive, but less practical. In particular, enclosing the marketplace in a big cloth tent was a very poor idea, having the effect of enclosing several hundred glowstick-waving punters into one big hothouse. But otherwise fab, and the VIP bit was both relaxing and a good way to avoid the evil queues for things. Thanks to Steve and Giles for the invitations and general persuasion.

In other news, my gym has apparently just started a class on Thursdays called Body Jam which is a combined aerobic workout / dance lesson. This being ideally suited to a gym-going disco-geek such as myself, I tried it out. It was -- unsurprisingly -- a room full of women and three gay men (including me), but it was great fun, and massively tiring, and I ended up using all sorts of muscles I don't usually use -- so that, combined with Meta yesterday, has left all the muscles in my torso completely locked up, and I am unable to bend/walk/sit/lie down/breathe in without painful acheyness. But it will pass, and then I will be stronger.

The only slightly annoying thing about the class was the way the instructors demonstrated the routines. The class consists of maybe five or six of these routines, each to a different song (apparently mixed especially for this kind of activity). Both instructors are fairly obviously professional backup-type dancers earning some extra money on the side, and they demonstrated routines by explaining what we had to do, but using what I can only assume are technical terms used by choreographers: "three sashays forward, two back, mambo left, mambo right, cha-cha-cha backwards, pump twice..." and so on. Since this mystified the class every time, they usually resorted to demonstrating phyiscally what to do, which was much better, except that they tended to do so while facing the class. My internal 3D mirroring capabilities are apparently not quite up to the frame rate required to follow a fast-moving demon-woman in yellow lycra, so I frequently found myself doing everything in the opposite direction to the rest of the class, which was embarrassing. But I was certainly not the least co-ordinated person there, so not so embarrassing that I won't go again. I have already decided to go to Body Jam next week.

Finally, huge glad-you're-better hugs to Dan, who managed to come down with mumps.

Your Disco needs Stu

Welcome Disco Stu to the ever-growing number of Warwick bloggers! And to flesh out this post a bit, a random link-dump from my scratchpad (I haven't done this in ages!)

BBC Broadcast Assassins

On Monday, I spent an interesting afternoon taking part in Broadcast Assassins, a session run by the BBC as part of (apparently) a larger series of seminars aimed at getting managers across the BBC up to date on changes in the industry and generally "getting things done" (only the BBC could spend as much as it is apparently spending on something so nebulous). It's all very Dykeesque, and it's good to see it's living on past him -- I went to another one of these sessions, for more senior managers, back in October, before he left.

The reason they wanted to talk to me (and dozens of others like me) is because I don't use the BBC the way they expect me to. In fact, they don't understand how I consume media at all. I don't own CDs, don't (often) buy DVDs, don't watch broadcast television, don't own a radio -- and yet I listen to music, radio and watch TV shows often, using the 'net and various legal and semi-legal or totally illegal distribution tools. In this regard, the University of Warwick, where I picked up these habits, is a glimpse of the future: we don't watch TV (except live TV such as sport, but that's only because we haven't worked out how to do it yet) yet we watch media all the time, downloaded instantly, randomly and at will from the local network. That's how all TV will work in the future; and it scares them. Here's what I told them (with additions post-discussion):

The Future of the BBC, as told by me

Executive summary: Broadcasting is becoming irrelevant. The BBC should instead focus on its other core competencies. Fast.

How people consume media: why television is no longer important

  • Television is visual radio: background while you're doing something else. Studies have shown this is happening increasingly in the US, and so it's reasonable to assume it's happening here too.
  • Broadcast tv is a way of sampling new content, not watching it "properly".
  • This makes it like radio: consumers use other distribution methods to actually consume the content "properly": CDs, DVDs -- and the network.
  • These other methods are notably always higher-quality than the samples. RealMedia streaming this ain't!
  • Modern life is too busy for scheduled television to work: you can't build your life around television (you'd be sad if you did), and the chances of exactly what you want being on when you have time to watch it are near-nil (and then you only get one half-hour -- what if you wanted more?)
  • Tivo and Sky+, touted as "the future of TV" are in fact just a cute hack, an interrim solution to the fundamental problems of broadcasting: it shows what you want to show us, when you want to show it. It should be the other way around!
  • A TiVo doesn't help you if the show you want is never broadcast.

So if tv is so irrelevant, how come people still watch it?

  • There is a certain subset of the television audience who will watch any stuff you put in front of them. We call these people "stupid people". Also "tired" people, "lazy" people, and "poor" people who cannot afford or cannot be arsed to find better quality entertainment.
  • The BBC has been fighting a losing battle against "dumbing down" because people always watch dumb content. Why?
  • It's not because people are stupid. It's because only stupid people still have time to watch television. The smart people are getting on with their lives.
  • The way to get quality content to people is to provide it in a way that suits them. The demand is there, you just have to prove it by providing it first. This is something commercial broadcasters can't risk doing.

Is broadcast totally irrelevant?

  • Radio didn't die when LPs, then tapes and CDs got cheap enough to become the primary method of consuming music, it just changed
  • Radio 1 is still pre-eminent among radio stations because it's ad-free and of high quality.
  • The BBC still has a duty to get its content to people, but the answer is not still more TV channels
  • A TV channel is just a one-way, time-static, medium-bandwidth, low-fidelity media stream.
  • If TV didn't exist today, and somebody tried to sell it, nobody would want it. As a result, it's only a matter of time 'til it dies.

Is P2P distribution the way to go here?

  • The internet is where TV will go, just like radio is going and telecoms has already gone. Every transatlantic phonecall is already packet-switched, and have been for years now.
  • Internet-based media beats television on every possible front
  • It's fast, its cheap, it's higher-quality, it fits your schedule, and its surprisingly easy to do.
  • P2P is not hard. Setting up the server is a pain, but once DC++ is installed any media studies student can point and click.
  • The main problem at the moment is legality: avoiding litigation makes for roundabout anonymous methods which are less efficient
  • Just like with telephone calls, the best way to switch to Internet technology is to do it invisibly.
  • If your Internet-transmitted TV shows came out of a computer that looked like a television, which was getting them via wireless Internet access, would people even notice that anything had changed, except that they were able to choose when they wanted to see their shows?

And while we're talking about "quality content"...

(This was sort of off topic, but hey, they lapped it up.)

  • One of the most popular shows with the P2P crowd is Buffy. So what happened to my claim about smart people watching Internet-delivered content?
  • Buffy isn't just dumb fluff. Buffy is smart people doing something stupid, then making clever jokes about how stupid it is.
  • What other shows fit this mold? All the most popular shows ever produced, by the BBC and otherwise.
  • Monty Python, Fawlty Towers -- done by the best of Cambridge footlights. Silly content, but very smart people.
  • Doctor Who, Ab Fab, One Foot in the freakin' grave. These are farce, but the jokes are smart.
  • People can enjoy it on the simple level -- the dumb people like it -- but the smart people can also relax and enjoy, without their intelligence being insulted.
  • Appealing to a broad audience does not necessarily mean appealing to the lowest common denominator; that's just the easy way to do it.
  • The BBC is the only content producer that has the publicly-funded means to take the "hard road".
  • The hard road is less commericially viable -- because it's more expensive to do, and reaches the same number of people -- but it's
  • no less popular.
  • And, in the long run, quality content is more popular: it can be watched over and over. Nobody wants a re-run of Fame Academy but we are STILL watching Fawlty Towers.
  • Producing quality content has to be the BBC's role.

But how do we pay for this stuff?

  • Would a "downloading licence" be so difficult to provide as part of paying for a TV licence?
  • In any case, it's the wrong question. TV didn't make money for years; it's up to the BBC to forge new ground, doing something useful that doesn't make any money.
  • Like commercial TV, let them work out how to make it profitable later. In the meantime, give the people what they want. That's your job.

    How do we introduce people to new content?

    This was a primary concern of the programming managers. Their job is to introduce people to new shows like the office that people aren't aware they will like. How do you find new stuff in a P2P world?

    • This is the wrong thing to worry about again.
    • The 'net is very efficient at letting us know what we'll like, because the net is also circles of overlapping friends -- you find out what you'll like from your friend who already likes it
    • Fast-spreading memes like the latest funny flash animation whip around the world in days; nobody pays a cent to promote them. People find what they like.
    • The Office was popular in the states long before it reached there on BBC America, because people had been downloading it for months. Did you think it only went one way, with UK downloaders stealing US shows? Eastenders gets nicked this way, too. People find what they like.
    • How many times do I need to repeat that?

    Finally:

    There's no shortage of broadcasters. There's a shortage of content. The BBC is supposed to do what isn't being done -- and commercial broadcasting isn't producing quality, repeatable content, it's producing quick-selling flash-in-the-pan stuff. The broadcast arm was only ever supposed to be a means of getting that content to consumers cheaply, but it seems that idea has been lost somewhere. What the BBC was, and should be, is a producer of quality content.

    (And incidentally, why don't you guys know this already? Who the hell works for you? A bunch of people my age, who do this stuff. Some of the "assassins" confided in me that they were BBC employees from other areas of the corporation.)

  • Link dump

    You know you like it really, you dirty, dirty bitches...

    You can't hide from the Google

    Read Rainbow Villa? Ever wondered what he looks like? Well then, here's John of Rainbow Villa's Gaydar profile. It has to be him -- age, location, educational status all match up, not to mention a strong interest in musical theatre. And he provides more salacious details than he does on his official about page on Rainbow Villa. To whit:

    Fetishes: Armpits, Body Hair, Cut, Denim, Jocks, Muscle, Nipples, Piercing, Socks, Speedos, Sportswear, Tattoos, Trainers/Sneakers, Uncut, Underwear
    Types I Like: Bears, Builders, Firemen, Footballers, Geeks, Labourers, Muscle Men, Policemen, Preppies, Punks, Rugby Players, Short Guys
    It's just too, too funny. I feel a bit of a dick doing this, but really, just google for jczelyph (the domain name of Rainbow Villa) and up he comes on the last page of results. I don't really have anything against him (well, okay, he's a little annoying sometimes, but hey, I could just stop reading his site, right?). This is being done more in the spirit of sharing otherwise hidden information: there's nothing he could find particulary embarrassing on his profile, he posted it all himself! And really, if he wanted to protect his identity, he could have taken the bloody thing down.

    I dunno about you, but I pictured him being blonde, and thinner (not that he's fat -- I just pictured a stick thin scene queen).

    Update: John has got in touch, and doesn't seem to mind me linking the two profiles. However, he says his tastes have changed, so he's changed the profile. I'm leaving the original here, but click on through to see his more recent stuff :-)

    20 Random Songs

    It's a silly meme, but I'm sort of embarrassed about semi-outing John, so I thought I'd post these: 20 random songs, selected from my entire MP3 collection. Officially the list should be 10 songs, but I really wanted to drown out some of the more embarrassing ones. I also cut duplicate artists (WinAmp's random function apparently sucks) and songs I'd not actually heard before, since they give no account of my taste :-)

    1. Kelis - Milkshake (yay!)
    2. Linkin Park - A place for my head (okay)
    3. Queen - We will rock you (going well so far!)
    4. Phil Collins - Burn down the mission (d'oh!)
    5. Britney Spears - Toxic (not ashamed at all)
    6. Dance Dance Revolution 5th Mix - Moonlight Shadow (what, nobody else found the songs were catchy?)
    7. The Beatles - Baby you're a rich man (I have their back catalog)
    8. Bill Clinton - If you wanna be my intern (do parodies count?)
    9. N-Trance feat. Rod Stewart - Do ya think I'm sexy (damn you, Now 47!)
    10. Marilyn Manson - Lamb of god (from the crappy Holy Wood album)
    11. Magnetic Fields - Fido, your leash is too long (at last! some credibility!)
    12. Alicia Keys - Fallin' (overplayed)
    13. Los del Rio - Macarena (it was good!)
    14. Wyclef Jean - Guantanamera (excellent)
    15. Semisonic - Secret smile (he's so cute)
    16. Bon Jovi - Livin' on a prayer (double d'oh!)
    17. Ben Folds Five - Give me my money back (hee hee)
    18. George Michael - The strangest thing (love him)
    19. Fiona Apple - When the pawn (she's so good)
    20. Gareth Gates - Spirit in the Sky (falling at the final hurdle)

    (Inspired in this case by The Republic of T, but first seen by me on Karinski)

    10 Things That Make Me Smile™

    Thanks to Karinski for another quality meme... it's guaranteed to make you smile, by definition! Here's 10 little things that make me happy.

    1. When somebody comes up to me and says "you're a good dancer!" (After spending my adolescence being laughed at for my dancing, this never, ever gets old)
    2. Being able to choose what I wear to work every morning
    3. Finding a really interesting new blogger
    4. Music videos
    5. Central London at 4 in the morning
    6. Chatting to random strangers on the tube (so rare!)
    7. Surprising somebody with my taste in music (aka "you also like good music!")
    8. My camera phone when I spot something random
    9. Being able to check out a cute guy without needing to wonder if anyone will disapprove of me doing so (love the big city)
    10. When my MP3 player brings up a song from my past I'd forgotten I liked

    Design sites

    I've been browsing design sites -- too many to list -- and playing with a nifty RSS reader, FeedReader, which helps a lot when you compulsively reload websites like I do. But this made me laugh:

    The sum of all human knowledge at your fingertips,
    and you're searching for "Britney Spears".

    (From the excellent REbranding)

    I've also been watching a lot of Daria recently (found all five seasons on SuprNova, bless 'em). Some great quotes:

    Daria: You were trying to buy my influence with a date?
    Quinn: That's how we do it in America, comrade.

    Thoughts on design principles

    Originally a comment on the post "effects of a design" on Paul Scriven's thoroughly excellent white__space (incidentally, Paul is pretty cute).

    [The problem with web design] is that you're thinking of design as having only one purpose. Design is many things:

    1. Graphical design is the bit that gives customers their first impression. It's all-important for first-time visitors, but once they're customers they want it out of the way. You have to balance these.
    2. Usability design is massively important for first-time visitors; they need to be able to use the site instantly. But once they're long-time customers they will have learnt your interface, no matter how bad it is. Thus the poor designs of Amazon and Ebay matter not one bit -- they've hit critical mass, so it doesn't matter that they're crap. (Also why Windows is still being used)
    3. Functionality design, i.e. what functionality you include, matters a lot to repeat customers: being able to do a lot of things, things that you might not want to do so often. These rare actions are unimportant to new visitors and in fact presenting them with all options will probably confuse them, so that's another balance you have to strike. Ebay lives on because it's got everything and the kitchen sink, even if it is confusing.
    4. Usability efficiency: finally, for frequent visitors, usability comes into play again, but a different kind -- they don't care if it's not obvious what to do, once it's very quick to do it once you've learned how. Amazon's one-click solved this problem for them.

    Incidentally, the three major desktop operating systems are all extremes of each school of design:

    • Macs have historically been all about the new user: graphical and obvious, but laborious for a "power" user to get lots done (no longer the case in OS X, since it's got UNIX stuff underneath).
    • Windows is all about functionality: everything and the kitchen sink is in there, *somewhere* -- just keep clicking around and it'll turn up eventually.
    • Linux is the power user's operating system -- it's totally impossible to work out what to do from a standing start, but once you've got the hang of it you can be very efficient indeed.

    And this is where operating systems are after more than 30 years; they haven't solved the balance between these design schools, they've just chosen a niche each, and are sitting there trying to take over the other two:

    • Macs are (quite successfully!) wooing power users by adopting UNIX under the hood.
    • Linux is furiously trying (with mixed results, so far) to produce a new-user friendly graphical front end.
    • Windows is adding remote terminal services and other power-user-friendly features (also with mixed success, and I'm a windows user).

    Websites as a concept have been around only about a third of that time, and very few individual websites have been around for more than 5 years. So it's no wonder we haven't found this balance yet -- maybe it's not even possible to find the balance, and you have to lean towards one extreme or another, depending on the types of users you typically attract (forum sites will want functionality, e-commerce sites usability, corporate sites graphical design).

    So if your question is "what use is your pretty site if it doesn't improve my metrics" the answer is "none" -- if it's not improving your metrics, then you're not concentrating on the right type of design for the types of users you have (or, just possibly, your site is perfect. But that's not very likely, unless your site is extremely simple).

    Update: one of the reasons RSS is so popular is because it effectively provides a power-user's interface to the generally quite graphical web: all the content, none of that pesky interface. Perhaps one should be developing several style sheets, or perhaps completely different interfaces, for different types of users?

    Real life is so confusing

    AllahPundit hits the nail on the head so many times a day, he could have a profitable business assembling flat-pack furniture.

    I'm having some trouble following the logic. I can't advocate not blowing up bin Laden, so therefore I must support blowing up Yassin. But he was an old guy in a wheelchair! (And Osama has liver disease!) I feel bad that the Israelis blew his head off (warning: those are really graphic)! I feel like a dick supporting the death of disabled people!

    But wait: the Palestinians are also killing disabled people! Specifically, their own mentally impaired children, lured into becoming a suicide bomber by the dual incentives of an end to his teasing at school by becoming a "hero" and the thought of having sex with 72 virgins in paradise.

    BOTH SIDES SUCK! Both sides are committing senseless atrocities in the name of their own survival, because they rightly think that if they let up for a second, the other side will grind them into the dirt, because the other side is scared that the first side wants to grind them into the dirt, which is true, because the first side thinks exactly the same thing about them... aaargh! It's hopelessly reflexive. The stupid "security fence" (aka "Berlin Wall 2: maybe Hitler did have some good ideas") begins to look like not enough.

    I prefer simple answers. Can we solve this by bombing some brown people? Maybe that would make things better.

    Get it while it's hot

    Rik's done an excellent mix of Kelis vs. 2Unlimited. Get it while it's hot, before KissFM plays it to death!

    "Are there any other females in this room?"

    After seeing Mikey off with his incredibly expensive espresso machine, went with Mary to see 200 American, part of the ongoing London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival at the National Film Theatre. The review linked above is pretty accurate: it's an excellent script, surprisingly well-acted, let down in only a few scenes by the stilted dialogue that tends to affect American indie films. The music and sound editing are both dreadful, but this is balanced by the incredibly hot smile of Tyler, the main character. Our tickets were stand-bys: you have to stand in line for 45 minutes to get them, but then, since the seats you eventually get are ones not taken by industry bigwigs and others who are offerred free tickets, they're the best seats in the house: middle of the row, middle of the main block. Genius!

    The whole week has been a great example of why I love London: Thursday, on a whim, we headed into Central and had dinner -- the best steak I have ever had in my life, ever, a snip at £12.95 -- then caught Starsky and Hutch, a collection of good one-liners, inadequately glued together. Friday was a too-brief appearance at Emma's birthday bash in Soho, then clubbing at Popstarz with Mikey and Mary and the usual crowd of regulars: good music, although a sudden influx of apparent 12-year-olds conspired to make us feel positively ancient. Then today, as we walked across the Thames from Embankment to the NFT, we were reminded that the city is, indeed, very pretty, even when the tube decides to randomly shut down during rush hour.

    We didn't plan anything any of those days. We just turned up and did things. And that's the point. London is just full of stuff, to see and do and try and visit and taste and appreciate. We could live here for the rest of our lives and not have tried every restaurant, seen every show, visited every venue. It's whatever you want it to be, on tap. Why would you live anywhere else?

    Today's title refers to the population of the audience at the NFT for the showing of 200 American. From a seated audience of easily 500 people, much searching found exactly 3 women in the audience: the rest were gay men. I guess the shirtless picture of the lead on the poster was mainly responsible for that...

    Blog-birthday

    March 27th, 2001 was the day of my first blog entry. So today, my blog is three years old. Hurrah! I would post a retrospective, "best-of" list or something, but really, would you care?

    Oh, wait, since when did I start caring whether you liked what I blogged or not? So here's a timeline of the posts I consider most interesting or noteworthy for other reasons. This collection is also interesting in the way the frequency of "interesting" posts seem to be increasing -- is it because they're more recent, so I lack perspective on them, or because I'm getting better at writing? You tell me.

    2001:
    March:
    April:
    July:
    August:
    September:
    November:
    December:
    2002:
    January:
    February:
    March:
    April:
    • A quick one-liner becomes the longest-running top-story on this site (more than a month), thanks to an over-running site upgrade.
    June:
    August:
    October:
    November:
    December:
    2003:
    January:
    February:
    March:
    April:
    June (notice I never post anything interesting in May?):
    July:
    August:
    September:
    October:
    November:
    December:
    2004:
    January:
    February:
    March:

    Jamie's got a gun

    Oh... wait, no, not a gun. A blog, that's what I mean. Welcome! Doubtless he shall soon get around to posting, turning it bright orange and posting embarrassingly candid webcam photos of himself. The ever-growing Warwick blogging community waited with bated breath.

    For current denizens of seldo.com: the disk-space problems earlier this month have been temporarily resolved, so you have another 100MB to blow before I start complaining again. Feel free to upload photos again :-)

    Update: And speaking of uploading, here's that leaked Catwoman trailer via Waxy. He's right, she looks laughably bad. Haven't they heard that covering up can be more erotic than revealing? Michelle Pfeiffer* was sooo much sexier. Much more info on this upcoming travesty can be found on the unofficial catwoman site.

    Update 1.04am: Dreamed that I was blogging in my sleep. If I am not dreaming, then this will still be here in the morning...

    * God dammit, that name is impossible to spell.