Tech

Alex’s Adventures in Internetland: The Year So Far

Oh gosh. I haven’t posted anything on this blog for the entirety of 2016 to this point. I’ve got a couple of things cooking, but in the meantime it seemed polite to let you know what I’ve been busy doing instead (namely, writing for other sites for actual currency that I can use to feed myself and my very hungry dog).

Glass: Half Empty, or Half Full?

I’ve been fascinated by Google Glass since the first day I heard about it. It’s the sci-fi-ness of the thing, I suspect, the idea that it will eventually evolve into a Minority Reportesque digital contact lens, a HUD for everyday life. Well, one of the perks of being a (sort of) tech journalist is that you have an excuse to try these things out. So I slipped on a pair, wandered around central London for a couple of hours, and wrote about it for the latest issue of Mobile Marketing Magazine. The resulting feature takes a tour through the history of Glass, what it does, and what lies ahead for it, both in terms of potential and obstacles. Oh, and most important of all, it’s got my own impressions of trying it out (complete with a picture of me in Glass looking very serious indeed). It starts something like this: “It’s been hailed as one of the best inventions of 2012 by Time magazine, and has also been condemned as a dangerous invasion of privacy. Some people believe it will revolutionise mobile technology, for better or worse, while others think it will struggle to find any sizeable audience. Google Glass has been dividing opinions since the moment it was unveiled.” Read the rest here And if you enjoyed that, good news! This issue also features a piece by me on mobile marketing at music festivals, from apps to recharge tents, and how it all breaks down in an isolated field with mud where you’d usually have access to electricity, and yelling crowds where you’d usually have phone signal. ““People increasingly want to stay in contact at all times,” says Vodafone’s Ben Taylor – and while that’s true, the practicalities of a festival can get in the way of this. Frankly, the events are an endurance test that smartphones were never designed to face, and it’s for that reason that many festivalgoers end up defaulting to its less glamorous ancestor – the feature phone.” Read the whole thing here

This Is How I Jammed, Jan-April

For me, the music itself is only half of the fun. How we consume and, especially, discover the music we end up loving is a fascinating process to me on every level. In the past, I’ve toyed with This Is My Jam, the musical social network which gave this series of blogs their name, read a variety of blogs and magazines, documented every song I listened to, stolen from friends…So far in 2013, three new methods have presented themselves to me. Shall we take a look? SPOTIFY TEAM PLAYLIST An idea nicked off’f Kieron Gillen (aren’t they all?): select a few of your most musically-minded friends, set up an open playlist, and watch the tunes roll in. It’s so easy it almost feels like cheating. I’ve been fascinated by Spotify pretty much since the moment I discovered it, but this team playlist has fiercely reignited my love for it, so much so that I finally took the plunge and went Premium, instantly revolutionising my music-listening habits. Offline playlists now dominate the paltry 8GB of space on my iPod (and on my phone, and on my laptop), and that’s led to me playing with a few other methods of music discovery which… well, we’ll come to those. The playlist is here if you want to listen/collaborate. If nothing else, it’s a great set of songs, thanks to everyone who’s taken part (and thanks, to everyone who’s taken part). Just don’t blame me if clicking that link ends up costing you £10 a month. Song highlight: SONGDROP At any given moment, my web browser of choice (Chrome, if you’re curious) .will have about 50 tabs open. Half of those will be songs I’ve found, mostly through blogs or friends’ recommendations, and have listened to once or twice. They haven’t taken over my brain yet, but I’m not ready to let them slip away into the ether of the net. If they’re not on Spotify yet, I have no way of storing them. Can you see where I’m going with this? SongDrop is simply a piece of technology I can’t believe didn’t exist before. It adds a button to Chrome, which when pressed detects any music on the current webpage, and allows you to drop it into a single centralised playlist. It’s a tool I’ve barely scratched the surface of yet, but like the best ideas, it solves a problem I barely I knew I had. You can access my drops so far here. Song highlight: THE MINCER Two tracks enter, only one leaves. This is an idea I stole, just for the sake of variety, off’f Tom Ewing. The Mincer is a way of gamifying music playlists, by pitting songs against one another. You take 64 tracks, put them in a playlist, randomise it, and then as you listen (no skipping allowed), mentally pair the songs up. Pick which of the two you’d rather hear again, and delete the other one. Rinse and repeat until the playlist is finished, then top it up again. (You can find my exact step-by-step method at the bottom of this post.) It’s a great way to encourage listening to all those songs on your hard drive, or in your Spotify playlists, that haven’t received the attention they deserve. It puts a neat framework around the whole thing, which helps to make listening to music less passive, and really forces you to concentrate on what you’re listening to. I’ve been thinking that the issue with the mechanics of The Mincer’s ‘game’ is that it has slightly too many tracks, which you don’t get intimate enough with to make choosing between two tracks (on the second go-round particularly) as hard a decisions as I’d like. I’ve been thinking of running it tournament-style, until only one song remains. But it’s only reading the rules again now that I realise I’ve actually been doing it wrong. You’re meant to run through the playlist until only 32 of the 64 remain, then shuffle and start again until you have 16 before topping up. Seeing this now, I can see how it provides a neat middle-ground between the method I’ve been using, and a full-bore tournament. Expect to hear about these variations on the formula next time on Those Were My Jams. But for the next month or two… that’s all, folks. Song highlight: My Mincer Method1. On Spotify, create a feeder playlist with all the songs you want to mince. (ideally you want this playlist as large and varied and possible) and an empty Mincer playlist.2. Select all the tracks, copy, then paste them into this randomiser tool. Press random (a couple of times, if you enjoy the ritual of this), then copy and paste back them over the original tracks.3. Take the top 64 tracks, cut and paste them into the Mincer playlist.4. Repeat step 2 for this smaller playlist.5. Play the tracks (with shuffle turned off).6. After each pair of tracks, decide which you’d rather hear again, and delete the other.7. Repeat until the end of the playlist (you can do this in bursts, as long as they are even-numbered bursts), leaving the ‘winning’ 32 tracks.(Here’s where I’ve been going wrong. Remaining steps courtesy of Ewing’s original post:8. Randomise again.9. Play (no skipping allowed).10. Go through the shortened playlist until you have 16 tracks.11. Add another 48 tracks to the playlist.12. Repeat.)

A Quick Word about This Is My Jam

  Ah, the footprintless snow of a new social media platform. This Is My Jam. Like Twitter but for music, is the elevator pitch you can imagine its creators giving. Choose a song, pick a YouTube video or HypeMachine mp3, and show off your brilliant taste to whatever people you can convince to join up.It’s simple, and it’s good-looking (as long as your chosen YouTube video has a nicely-sized preview image, or you can be bothered to upload a picture which, let’s be honest, you can’t) and, for me personally, it arrived at exactly the right moment.With Spotify having reduced its listening limit to an amount I can apparently burn through in one working day, I needed a way of listening to new music, without doing anything illegal, before I commit to buying it. Neatly, the site runs all your friends’ current Jams into a smooth playlist, so as long as people keep updating, I have an hour or two of cutely personalised radio station every day.That curation streamlines the all-important discovery process. Frankly, I’ve never fully clicked with a single music publication, certainly not since Plan B closed down, and this means I can put everything whose taste I consider worthwhile in one place and force them to feed me new songs.So that’s Spotify ticked off, and Pitchfork… I wish it came a little closer to dethroning Last.fm, but at present there’s not much in the way of an archive. As the end of 2011 approaches, and all the music I’ve loved this year slips through cracks in my brain, I’d appreciate a way to go back and check out everything I deemed worthy of a Jam.The biggest flaw, though, is in what it shares with Twitter. You’re given the chance to say a little something alongside your chosen track, but it really is a little something – 110 characters, by my count.I appreciate discipline, and brevity – it’s not a blog, after all – but it’s too little for anything more than a jokey aside. The way I use it, listening to everything on offer before picking the day’s finest, that’s okay, but I want to tell anyone who doesn’t use it like that why they should listen to my Jam.Although… ‘Because I have the greatest taste in music EVER, obv!’ – that’s less than 110 characters, isn’t it?

I Know It’s Over, But It Never Really Began: Spotify Free

The party’s finally over, then. Anyone firing up Spotify today will have been directed to an ‘important announcement’ about the future of Spotify. They try to put the usual positive spin on it, mentioning how great it is that we’ve all embraced Spotify as tool for listening to and discovery of music, how it’s helping fight piracy, etc, etc. “…So it’s vital that we continue offering an on-demand free service to you and millions more like you, but to make that possible we have to put some limits in place going forward.” Long PR story short: as of the first of May, Spotify Free will be limited to 10 hours per month, individual tracks limited to five free listens. Which Spotify try to say won’t matter, because their research shows people use Spotify to discover new music. Which is all well and good, and justifies the ‘5 free listens’ model. And 10 hours, they point out, is 20 albums anyway! …Per month. Because who listens to more than 20 albums/200 songs in a month, eh? Anyone who followed last week’s Music Diary can see that I rely almost entirely on Spotify for my music listening. Since its features exploded this time last year, it is the only piece of music software I ever use. The announcement refers to users “giving up on piracy”, and it being “exactly what we hoped would happen”. Full disclosure time: Spotify genuinely is what killed a lifetime habit of heavy music piracy for me. I haven’t illegally downloaded anything for well over a year, and my hard-drive is free of ill-gotten MP3s. I know, I know, I’m a saint. But save your rosaries: with this change, for me, piracy has become a lot more attractive as an option. …I’m being idealistic again. I know that. Whenever I interviewed bands and threw a Spotify question in, they seemed sceptical. We’re not seeing any money from it, was the consensus. No-one really seemed to understand Spotify’s business model. And so the party had to end. But that never seems to make the hangover any easier, does it?

DAV’s Tech 2010 Overview

[You have selected: David Inkpen] Merry Xmas, one and all of Alex’s festive (synonym: drunk) readers. While you are inevitably sipping on some form of alcoholic beverage, waiting for Doctor Who to come on and playing with your new aquistitions from some distant relative you’d forgotten exists (and to whom you’re pretty sure you have no blood relation), I present to you my addition to this mighty blog. My topic is that which the lucky (or unlucky) ones of you will have unwrapped this morning and are currently wrapping your head around. Technology. 2010 has been a very interesting year for new tech and I will discuss but two of the newcomers to the field here on this, the 200th birthday of Alexandros Rhizos Rhankaves, Greek poet and statesman (d. 1892). First, Evil Corp. USA (aka Apple)’s flagship product – the infamous iPad. iPadWith prices starting at a lovingly overpriced £429, the iPad is literally nothing more than an oversized iPod Touch. Boasting the same processor, memory, storage capacity and operating system as the only difference between the two devices other than the £250 disparity in price (£499 for 32GB iPad vs. £249 for 32GB iPod Touch) is the fact that the iPad is missing the camera. Oh, and the size. Don’t listen to what people say: size does matter. It matters in the way that, for what is effectively a portable device, the iPad is extremely unportable. iPad users’ can often be found sitting on trains, cradling their love in one arm while trying to type website addresses on its non-haptic screen with one hand, or crouched over the table in front of them with the device laying flat. Contrary to what adverts may suggest, it is not a breeze to use but rather has the ergonomic ease of walking straight into a gale-force wind. Of course, you could always buy the keyboard for the iPad, creating a perfect stand for your device and allowing you to type with two hands. It’s the obvious accessory to buy your iPad-endowed friend. But in the end, you’re left thinking… haven’t I seen this before? You do have to hand it to Apple though; they have sparked a market for this kind of device. Not to be left behind, every electrical company under the planet (exaggeration) has produced their own emulation of the iPad. Nothing overly spectacular has come of this yet. This is still a product in its infancy, only time will tell if the campaign to get a tablet for every child will succeed or whether the skips of 2011 will be filled with Apple’s legacy. The Kinect“A-ha!” thought the evil scientists at Sony, “Nintendo will cower in our shadow for we have created a superior controller! Gone are the days of people only being able to play motion-controlled tennis games on the Wii! Once again, we will control the market!” “Oh shit” thought the evil scientists at Sony, when Microsoft announced Project Natal, which would later become the Kinect. The Kinect is the coolest thing to come out of the gaming sector in a long time. Sure it’s a little laggy, but who cares when it’s doing effectively what would people would be burned for witchcraft for not 10 years ago. Sure there’s no games that I would buy for it, but that’s not the point. The Kinect is what it is, and what it is, is what butter was to sliced bread. Sliced bread was good, it was great, it was the best thing ever. But it needed something more, just a small addition to make it that perfect complete package that we all know and love. Now, I’m not saying that the Xbox is sliced bread. Far from it. I’m saying computers are sliced bread (albeit sliced by a blind, dyspraxic hamster). The Kinect, thanks to the developers releasing a SDK for it, have given nerds everywhere a toy to play with. A toy which will help you, oh lowly user, do what you have dreamed of doing since 2002: So that’s it. Merry xmas and peas on earth (as the card to my cousin, with an image of some peas on a mound of soil, states). About the author: David Inkpen is a man with serious brandprejudices. Luckily, as far as this site is concerned,they are the right prejudices. Like Sam Lewis, heis a handsome member of The July Days. Unlike Mr.Lewis, he has his own, sadly undernourished, blog.

e-Motion: Kinect at Eurogamer Expo ’10

Game shows! Huh! What are they good for? …Playing around with exciting new games technology, apparently. In this case, Microsoft’s 360 gadget Kinect, which easily wins this year’s ‘hardest name to accurately remember’ award, having taken three attempts to type correctly and being mispronounced all weekend by my fellow attendees. But, then, silly names come with the territroy. Eh, Nintendo? Kinect is Microsoft taking a long, hard look at the future of gaming and, to paraphrase Doc Brown, saying: where we’re going, we don’t need controllers. Which is an interesting step on, conceptually, from the Wii, going beyond the removal of those fiddly buttons and sticks that put off the older generations and just straight-up waving goodbye to everything. What looks to be less of an interesting step forward is the games. On the show floor, you had:–The One That’s Definitely Not Wii Sports (Kinect Sports, which seems to be the only thing Rare are working on at the moment, oddly)–The Proof-of-Concept Minigames One (Kinect Adventures)–The Honest Guv It’s Not Mario Kart Racing One (Kinect Joyride)-…and a dancing game. It’s hardly inspirational, revolutionary stuff. Worse, there seemed to be a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes the Kinect attractive. I didn’t get to play Kinect Sports, but watching two people limply play table tennis it was pretty easy to see that removing the remotes from, let’s be frank, Wii Tennis doesn’t make it feel more natural. Having that weight in your hand helped people buy into the Wii experience. Meanwhile, the two Avatars (Mii-a-like cartoony representations of the player) flopped reluctantly along. It was, I suspect, an impressive use of the technology but it just served to reinforce the artificiality of the situation. The dancing game (Dance Central, to be specific, as according to Wikipedia it’s one of three dance games launching with the Kinect) suffered from the opposite problem. With one dancer representing both people busting moves in front of the camera, there didn’t seem to be any visual representation of what either player was doing, or not doing. But, perhaps I’m being unfair. I didn’t get to play either of these games myself. So let’s move on to what I did get my hands on. Um. Not that, err, there was anything to put your hands on… First: Kinect Joy Ride. It failed to play to any of the ‘no controller’ idea’s strengths, a problem inherent in the Kinect racing genre. Having no physical object to grab meant that when your steering went wrong, you had no indication of why. Were you grabbing this imaginary wheel in the wrong place? Had you steered too far in one direction? Was it that little sidestep you took ten seconds ago? No idea. I won the race, but didn’t come away feeling like I’d mastered anything. Which leaves Kinect Adventures. Stepping forward as the Kinect’s answer to Wii Play – which showed what could potentially be done with the technology in a series of (not very fun) minigames – it was surprisingly the best indication that this might all actually be worthwhile. To return to the eternal question of what makes the Kinect interesting, what its strengths are: it is as a gadget. That’s how it’s being sold, advertised in shop windows as Christmas’ hottest gadget. It exists as something to be filed alongside the iPads and 3D TVs of the world. The appeal is the idea of playing with sci-fi tech. The Minority Report feeling of flipping through menus floating in the air in front of you. So my first instinct was to play with it, see how it worked, and try to break it. Adventures offered the best chance to do that, with minigames focused on bending your body in the style of that BBC-adopted Japanese gameshow where people have to jump through Tetris-block shaped holes. This meant being able to test the admittedly quite impressive tech – what happens if I lift my leg? Ooh! Now what if? Ahh! – which wasn’t on show in any of the other games. The minigames themselves weren’t that brilliant but the novelty of testing the limits of something new can make up for that, as many early Wii games can attest. And so hilarity ensued: watching friends jump in the air and nearly batter a poor stranger over the head in the process. Some guy who decided to see if he could make his Avatar shoot a Nazi salute. Nearly falling over myself… That is what the Kinect needs to be. It remains to be seen whether the developers are actually going to realise that. (Likenesses of Mssrs David Inkpen and Geoff Maillard, esquire, used without any permission whatsoever. Sorry, guys.)

v2.0

That innocuous gray-and-green friend you’ve had for a year now? It’s hungry. Spotify v2.0 is here*, and it wants to make the rest of your computer obsolete. So I thought I’d examine it. I broke it in with Wuthering Heights, as seemed only proper, and asked ‘what exactly are these new features?’ And nuSpotify, it turns out, is a bit of a power-grab. It’s spelt out right there, in the new menus. ‘Import iTunes/Windows Media Player Library’. So you do, and all your real, legal-or-otherwise, mp3s join the vast Spotify library, integrated seamlessly. If not for old-fashioned technical allegiance, there’s really no reason to use your old media player ever again. Spotify’s always succeeded on being a tightly-designed piece of software that can quickly navigate the limitless music held within. It efficiently kneecaps the old boys, and leaves them bleeding into the snow… Before, I had one big problem with Spotify: it was too easy to lose track of what you’d been listening to and what you liked. As I downsize my music collection to one manageable, entirely-legal chunk, I had Media Player as the home of stuff I’d want to listen to repeatedly, and Spotify for exploration. Then they added the Star system. It’s like the starring system that most media players have, rate a track out of one. Except, it’s better in a single, obvious way. One star: give, or don’t give. That is all. Click a simple (star-shaped, strangely enough) icon and it’ll mark any song or album to be returned to any time, throwing all your starred items into a manageable playlist. Pictured: An Artist’s Illustration of The Spotify Business Plan, Circa 2010 Combined with the flipside of this – the ‘Buy’ button that sits next to each track – Spotify has begun to offer a real alternative in adding to your library. I haven’t done it yet, but you can imagine the smoothness: you buy an album, go to the ‘Local Files’ tab to find it sitting next to its already-purchased brothers. And so the young my.flow is taken outside and a bullet put promptly to its brainpan. Blam.Having had its arm round Last.fm’s shoulder and smiling in a buddy-buddy way for a while now – yes, of course we’ll let people Scrobble – Spotify’s lips finally part, to reveal razor-sharp teeth. Adding a optional ‘People’ sidebar, you can see what your friends are listening to, what playlists they’ve cobbled together, and what they’ve starred (see how everything ties together?) You can peek at your own top-listened (here I am, by the way). It’s not complete, yet: limited to the Top 5 artists and songs, and not much more in the way of statistics, and is a bit twisted by, I think, having only just started counting. But, Last.fm: that friendly hand round your shoulder? It’s holding a knife. This is all swiftly handed through Facebook integration. Every day a new familar face pops up on the right-hand side of my screen, picture and profile already in place. It’s incredibly smooth. Spotify’s intentions to the titan of social-internet are unclear as yet, but they’re sure to be dark. Currently, it’s inside Facebook and scouting the territory, like one of those parasitic fish that can swim up your urethra… It’s not perfect, yet. The importing of music files doesn’t seem to auto-update as you gain new music, but you can sense the potential that lies beneath. Take note, useless-Facebook-upgrades. This is a complete retooling that makes Spotify more useful and accessible, not less. Take note, elderly software. Your days are numbered. Spotify is coming for you. And it is fully armed. *After a idiosyncratically counter-intuitive process: you have to install an undifferentiated Spotify on top of what you already have, and it can take a few goes to actually stick. It’s oddly rusty, given nuSpotify’s ambition elsewhere.****…Or not, apparently. It’s upgrading people. It just might take a while to get round to everyone.