One reason why I like the BBC

One reason why I like the BBC
This may well sound like an advert for something that does not need advertising, but since upgrading my phone to the HTC Desire S a couple of weeks ago I’ve discovered a number of wonderful things.

Quite apart from Shredder Chess, O2’s free Cloud wifi service, the ability to create/upload web pages to a remote server and wirelessly move files from PC to phone, I’ve found having a smartphone to be a surprisingly culturally enriching experience.

This is mainly due to two things that the BBC seem to be doing rather well: their podcasts and their iPlayer app.

With the podcasts, one can download as many 30-odd minute audio programmes as one has storage space for. Once you have them on your device, you have them for good. They’re just .mp3 files, they can be moved from PC to phone to laptop, they won’t expire, and you can listen to them on a long coach journey, or plug your device into a little speaker and listen to them at night before you go to bed.

Of course, you can do this with an MP3 player as well, but I found that using my MP3 player was mildly spoiled by the faff of turning on PC, starting the Creative Labs Media Centre (or whatever it’s called), downloading files to one’s PC and syncing via USB. The wirelessness of my phone means that I just have to let the podcast software update itself whilst it’s in range of my router, and it will happily update and download any podcasts I’ve subscribed to. It’ll also (optionally) delete old podcasts to save space as well. I’m currently using Doggcatcher on my phone, though I’ve been working on a podcast streaming application for Windows on and off in my spare time.

Digging through the archives

There’s a lot out there. The BBC have archived their Composer of the Week programmes, for example, and so one could potentially download the whole lot and learn about obscure composers from A-Z (the other day I listened to the programme about Scarlatti on the way home from Sainsbury’s). They also have documentaries, science programmes, nature programmes and so on. I found an interesting podcast from a few days ago from Radio 4, ‘In Our Time’, which I’d never otherwise have stumbled upon (let’s face it: few of us read the radio schedules on the off-chance of finding something interesting, and the Beeb doesn’t exactly advertise the presence of such programmes). In a recent episode Melvyn Bragg was discussing lunar exploration, and in yet another podcast from the same programme they discussed the divergence of European philosophical thought between the Frege-influenced, formal-logic philosophers and the wilder, more romantic ramblings of the likes of Nietzsche. Great stuff.

With these podcasts, taken together with iPlayer (which allowed me to listen to a Radio 3 performance of Wagner’s ‘Flying Dutchman’ at a time that suited me) one effectively has an extensive pick’n’choose, portable and on-demand version of the BBC.

And so here’s something I’ve been wondering: does the BBC compile usage stats for iPlayer and podcast downloads? The reason for asking is that viewing figures for TV will also include passive viewing. People often just turn on the TV for background noise, or will watch something specific and then just leave it on. With podcasts and on-demand, the user has made a more conscious decision to access the content. If so, do these figures go towards informing future programme content?

Skyrim

Skyrim, the latest role-playing adventure game from Bethesda, just arrived on my doorstep today. For those who neither know nor care about computer games, this is an event sort of on a par with the release of a new Star Wars movie, and has been greeted by the gaming community in a similarly mixed way.

Most folks are unanimous in praising the game itself, it's depth, graphics and sheer size. However one thing's been bugging a hell of a lot of PC gamers: the interface.

This is the thing that allows you to sort through your loot, fiddle around with your character, buy and sell items from other characters and so on, and it seems it's been ported straight across from the console version to the PC.

Bethesda appear to have forgotten that PC games are played with a mouse and a keyboard, rather than a little controller thing.

I'm not letting this put me off, it's currently installing on my ancient PC, and so I'm going to have some dinner and read the (rather thin) manual whilst waiting.

A cat, yesterday.

Coaches

In general, I prefer to travel via coach than by train.

Lately I have found train carriages to be increasingly noisy places, with people yapping into mobile phones, kids running around, football fans having loud conversations about The Match and so on. It’s often difficult to find a ‘table seat’ too, and the Carrolian logic behind ticket pricing, where a return fare can mysteriously cost more than a single has bemused me on many an occasion.

It was quite by accident that I found myself getting reacquainted with coaches, and was cheered to find them quieter, more comfortable and vastly cheaper than trains. The only downside was that they take longer to get to wherever it is you want to go, and may get caught up in traffic, but I consider that a fair transfer of risk given the advatantages of large comfortable leatherette seats and relative peace and quiet.

Better still, I actually enjoyed the unhurried pace of the coach. One has plenty of time to listen to an audio book or a number of podcasts and generally relax. Add a bottle of mineral water and a blanket, and it can be very pleasant indeed, especially if one is travelling through the countryside an hour before sunset during the summer.

Earlier today I travelled back from Heathrow to my home city, and all the advantages of the coach I’ve noted above were in evidence. However, a salient disadvantage did arise: if you don’t want to be in the vicnity of the other occupants of the coach you cannot simply move to a different carriage as you can in a train.

Ms Rhapsody9 and I took to our seats on our coach earlier today, and a few minutes into the journey we noticed a rather horrid smell. Ms rhapsody wondered if it was perhaps a dead squirrel that had got trapped in the wheel arches, or perhaps something terrible had happened in the little toilet at the back. It was arguably worse: the young tracksuited chap behind us had started munching on a tube of Sour Cream and Chive Pringles, which, in the confines of the coach, smelt like salted baby-sick.

We moved to another seat at the first stop to get away from it, only to find ourselves sitting in front of an old chap who clearly had some terrible disease. Every 20 seconds he’d ejaculate a terrible shotgun of a cough, followed by a plegmy gurgle and what sounded like an attempt to dislodge his adenoids by sniffing very, very hard indeed.

After one other stop, we moved seats again, only to find history repeating itself. The chap behind us this time had a milder form of the lurgi, but the woman across the aisle was also afflicted, and so we were being accosted on two fronts.

I was very tempted to telephone the local health authorities and warn them that a plague bus was on its way to the city, but the reception was a bit patchy, so I didn’t. In any case, I was glad to get off that bus and into the fresh air.