Hard News by Russell Brown


Geeky Thursday again

At the Great Blend on Saturday night, Nat Torkington mentioned a social radio device being developed for the BBC. Well, here it is. It's called Olinda.

Olinda is a DAB (digital audio broadcasting) hardware prototype. The key concepts are outlined thus:

Radios can look better than the regular ‘kitchen radio’ devices. Radios can have novel interfaces that make the whole life-cycle of listening easier. At short runs, wood is more economic as plastic, so we’re using a strong bamboo ply. And forget preset buttons: Olinda monitors your listening habits so switching between two stations is the simplest possible action, with no configuration step.

This can be radio for the Facebook generation. Built-in wifi connects to the internet and uses a social ‘now listening’ site the BBC already have built. Now a small number of your friends are represented on the device: A light comes on, your friend is listening; press a button and you tune in to listen to the same programme.

If an API works to make websites adaptive, participative with the developer community, and have more appropriate interfaces, a hardware API should work just as well. Modular hardware is achievable, so the friends functionality will be its own component operating through a documented, open, hardware API running over serial.

And just to round off the geek goodness, the hardware design will be made available on a Creative Commons-like attribution licence. Anyone can use it, so long as they note the BBC attribution and copyright somewhere in the device. Also: unlike some other fine BBC research ideas, it is being developed so not to spend two years at the committee stage before it's allowed to ship.

Mr Brown, safe home in Singapore, sent us the link to this rant from Fake Steve Jobs, in which he pronounces the doom of the TV corporates:

The producers of content don't like the TV network system but can't quite see the way across the divide into my digital world. Some musical artists, like Prince, are figuring it out, but they're isolated examples. Trust me, however, when I tell you that TV and movie people will figure it out too. These are not stupid people. And they are not un-greedy. Which means their desire for more money and more control and more freedom will lead them to apply their energy into figuring out how to get out of the plantation the TV networks have created for them. They will break free. Mark my words.

The talented ones will go first. Bad news for you, TV networks. You'll be stuck with the shittiest creators, the timid ones who don't dare cross the chasm. Your shows will get worse and worse. Your sitcoms will grow lamer, if that's possible. Your reality shows will grow stupider.

What's left? You've already gutted your news divisions, which was a truly moronic move since that was the only place where you really could continue to add value. Your news shows will continue to devolve into not-really-news Fox-style argument shows where retarded bullies like Bill O'Reilly come on the air and shout at people because some gangsta rapper has a deal with Pepsi, or argue with straw men about whether we should put more troops into Iraq. Where once we had Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, we'll instead have John Gibson and Sean Hannity ranting about patriotism and calling people names. All heat, no light. Well done, TV networks. When you finally die, the world will celebrate. Because you'll deserve it. Totally.


And, of course, the real Steve Jobs unveiled the new iPods: most notably, iPod Touch (an iPhone without the phone part, but with WiFi, web-browsing and wireless music purchase) and an iPod Nano with video. Mmmmmm twice.

The most interesting part of the iPod Touch launch is Apple's deal with Starbucks. You'll walk into a Starbucks (in a couple of US cities, initially) and your iPod will not only connect to the free in-house WiFi, it will show you what song is playing in the café at the time. You like, you poke your finger at the interface, and you buy and download right there. Leaving aside the fairly obvious drawback here -- having to set foot in a Starbucks -- it's a fairly striking example of the way that commercial radio is becoming irrelevant as a music discovery platform.

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