Monthly Archives: June 2007

Sebastian Coe Podcast

Posted by PH on June 22, 2007
Miscellaneous / No Comments

A few days ago I was asked by the South Wales Evening Post to record an interview with Lord Sebastian Coe. I met up with Post reporter Shaun Greaney at the Liberty Stadium and was ushered into a rather soulless reception room where the interviews were to take place. After giving speech elsewhere in the building he emerged (with small entourage) for interviews, and fortunately we were first up. I just set the equipment up and lounged on the sofa, from which vantage point I took a couple of photos with my N70:

From left to right we have Coe’s PA (I think), Lord Coe himself, Shaun Greaney with his back to the camera, and Neath Port Talbot council leader Derek Vaughan. On the table you can see the Audio Technica 4050 used for the recording, with a nice yellow mic lead snaking down to the Marantz PMD 660 sitting on the chair. The recording quality was fine, only slightly spoilt by the hum from the air-conditioning. Here’s the recording as it appeared on the podcast:

The podcast has disappeared from the Evening Post site now, but you can read Shaun Greaney’s reports here and here. Subjects talked about include business opportunities offered by the forthcoming 2012 Olympics for businesses in Wales, participation in sport, his feelings about his involvement in the 2012 Olympic bid, his ties with Swansea, and of course the already infamous £400,000 logo:

What nuggets of wisdom can I pass on from this little experience? Well:

  • Always check and double-check your equipment before you go.
  • Be nice to people. Know your place in the scheme of things.
  • You never know what you’ll be up against, so be prepared to be flexible and adaptable.
  • Get there on time.
  • Keep record levels on the conservative side. You’ll lose a bit of quality, but you need to ensure you don’t get any overloading (which in this context is just plain fatal).
  • When submitting your work, provide as many formats as possible.

Yes, I really enjoyed it. The beauty of this kind of work is that it’s live: there’s no room for mistakes and no going back. You need to be alert and thinking on your feet…

Thanks for coming. See ya!

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Posted by PH on June 19, 2007
Miscellaneous / No Comments

MP3 Player
I’ve just updated all the tracks on the MP3 player. Return visitors may care to refresh their pages now…

Until now it has only been possible for registered Blogger users to post comments here: now anyone should be able to. Please use this facility wisely and constructively!

I note with interest that YouTube have launched a series of regional sites, including a UK service. Apparently there are nine regional sites now, with more to follow. According to YouTube co-founder Steve Chen the aim of local sites was to offer tailored services for each country (full story here).

We want to create features unique to certain countries, so if mobile phones are particularly popular we would introduce more mobile features.

OK. Certainly having own-language sites makes sense. However, my guess is that:

  1. This is going to make copyright negotiations a lot easier for them. Most copyright agreements are territory-specific, and of course the Internet has completely undermined that principle. Re-territorializing content is going to make content management a lot more straightforward: this is clearly becoming a big issue for them as lawyered-up media production companies sniff around Google’s vast cash mountain…
  2. Presumably this also represents some kind of network reconfiguration designed to take the strain off the main site. Anyone who’s tried to upload a video recently will have noticed how slow this has become: it used to take 10 minutes or so for a video to become live, but recently that time has shot up to around 12 hours. The thumbnail from my POGO video took about three days to appear!

The Wild Wild West of the electric frontier just got some more fences.

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Dan Pearce

Posted by PH on June 18, 2007
Music & Technology / 2 Comments

This is Dan Pearce. He’s just finished doing a BSc (Hons) Music Technology degree at Swansea Metropolitan University. His Major Project was a very high quality piece of work on audio compression codecs.

Perhaps the most interesting part of his project was the listening tests carried out on a set of lossy codecs: MP3, Microsoft WMA, Apple’s AAC, and the open source Ogg Vorbis. Dan conducted a set of tests that compared the subjective quality on each of these based on a set of four criteria: bass response, treble response, clarity, and spaciousness. Each of these in turn was measured against four different types of source material: rock/pop, jazz, classical, and spoken voice. A standard bit rate of 64kbps was used. Here’s a graph showing the compiled results across all the tests:

We have a winner! His results clearly show the superiority of the Ogg Vorbis files in all categories except the classical! WMA and AAC are very closely matched, whilst MP3 consistently performs the worst. Dan puts this down to its age: originally released in 1993 it’s by far the oldest. Here’s a set of samples from Dan’s project which, I think, give a good indication of the relative performances of the codecs:
[If you’re interested in more detail here’s the methodology, results, and references from Dan Pearce’s report (5.5MB .pdf). If you want to contact Dan, here’s his email address.]

For me, the findings from this report beg a huge question: why are most people satisfied with the quality of MP3? It’s grainy, harsh, and has a poor stereo image. And yet it would seem that many people are now getting rid of their CD collections and switching entirely to MP3. Yes, of course I can understand the whole slew of benefits afforded by the digital files/downloads/iPod thing, but doesn’t anyone care how bad it all sounds?

And it’s not even as if “CD-quality” audio is all that good. 24-bit/96kHz digital audio is just so much better it’s unreal, and these days it’s pretty affordable too. We have this situation where—for music producers—audio quality has recently shot up, whilst music consumers now seem happy to settle for a substantially lower-quality product than they’ve been used to for the last 20-odd years. Odd, to say the least. Maybe, for most people MP3 is just good enough….

[Note: in order to get the audio examples streaming across the ‘net without glitching I had to subject all the files to a further level of compression. However, they’re all encoded equally at 160kbps stereo, and so the relative differences between them remain the same.]

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McLuhan 3: The Medium is the Massage

Posted by PH on June 13, 2007
Marshall McLuhan, Resonant Interval / 1 Comment

A couple of weeks ago, in an idle moment, I picked up The Medium is the Massage again and read it from cover to cover. It took me about an hour. Since then, I’ve read it cover to cover twice more, and am constantly dipping into it. I love it.

The Medium is the Massage wasn’t actually “written” by McLuhan:

The book had in fact been composed by Jerome Agel, who had written a profile of McLuhan in 1965, and Quentin Fiore, a first-class book designer. The two selected or commissioned photographs to accompany excerpts they culled and reshaped from various writings and statements of McLuhan’s. […] McLuhan contributed the punning title and approved the text and layouts. Agel and Fiore evidently did their work well: McLuhan changed only one word. Their mix of text and visuals was indeed a virtuoso feat. They used arresting photographs and artwork and performed interesting experiments with type, laying it upside down, on the slant, or in mirror image, switching its size from page to page, switching between regular and boldface, and so on.
Agel referred to the result as a “cubist” production. McLuhan recognized that it was an effective sales brochure for his ideas. (Marchand 1989, p.192)

Exactly forty years on, the book stands up well: it’s very digital media. The book is a riot of collages, visual puns, voice prints, excerpts from newspapers and magazines, cartoons, abstract patterns, extreme close-ups, black- and white-negative space, and runs the whole gamut of typographical experimentation. It’s the sort of thing that would be quite easy to do now, but was probably very difficult in 1967.

Set against and around this visual feast are expertly chosen and edited nuggets of McLuhan’s writing. The text bounces off the images, argues and agrees with them, works in concert and opposition. It resonates. It’s metaphoric.

The Medium is the Massage remains McLuhan’s bestselling book, and it’s easy to see why: the brevity, the condensation, the humour, the life offered by the interplay between text and image. It’s deep and entertaining. As an introduction to McLuhan it is second to none.

Marchand, P. (1989) Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messenger. New York: Tickner & Fields.
McLuhan, M. & Fiore, Q. (1967) The Medium is the Massage. San Francisco: Hardwired.

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Narrative 2: POGO

Posted by PH on June 10, 2007
e-Learning, Narrative / No Comments

I was recently involved in an online workshop sponsored by Kaleidoscope’s SIG on Narrative Learning Environments. As part of this we looked at number of proprietary NLEs and this one really caught my eye.

POGO is a “distributed learning environment” (Fusai et al 2003) developed by the Universities of Siena and Liege, Phillips Design, Ravensburger Interactive Media, and the Domus Academy. There are two things that particularly interest me. Firstly, the designers have specifically used narrative as a pedagogical underpinning for the system, and seem to have developed their theoretical model from both observation of children’s story-telling activities and from the literature (Papert and Bruner in particular). Secondly, they’ve completely rethought the computer interface: there’s no point in my describing the system in words, just watch the video:

Really, really interesting. If you want more, there’s a paper describing the development and design of the system referenced below. However, note that the video dates from 2001 and the paper from 2003, and we should perhaps ask ourselves what has become of POGO. Is anyone using it? Can you buy it? Googling suggests not…

Shame. Love that Mumbo!

Fusai, C., Saudelli, B., Marti, P., Decortis, S. & Rizzo, A. (2003) Media Composition and Narrative Performance at School. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 19, 177-185.

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