January 27, 2012

A Merge, a Focus and a Conundrum

It has been a while since I have made a blog-update, but today I have some very exciting news to announce. Well, maybe not so exciting to you, but it is to me!

A few readers may know that I am running a recently set up blog on Tumblr called The{<}CompBlog (TheMiniCompBlog), where I post my mini-rants that are too big for Twitter. I have noticed during the 2 week operating span, the readers were coming from 2 completely different groups. I wanted to unify the reading experience, so, as a result, I am going to merge that blog with the regular TheCompBlog. Expect 2 new old posts from the {<} blog to be on here soon and expect more shorter articles more regularly.

Next on the agenda, is focus. What I have realised is that every successful tech blogger has some sort of topic he or she focuses on. MG Siegler from TechCrunch focuses on Apple, for instance. I feel that focusing on a company is too narrow minded and not a wide enough topic, so I am going to focus my blog posts on future and emerging technologies, which will allow me to retain the rant-style post while being of a slightly more uniform topic.

Don't worry! Not every post will focus on this! I still have a few radical views I want to complain about!

Finally, the conundrum. Most of my techie friends at school will know what I am talking about, and if you are not someone who is interested in blogging methods, I suggest you save some time by not reading this part.

I am facing a mental war between Tumblr and Wordpress, the 2 candidates for my blog. I am still not quite sure what my blog is about or what it stands for, making the decision a whole lot harder. Tumblr offers a wide variety of posting options, from a picture to a quote, while encouraging activity. Wordpress, however, is open source (so less likely to be bought) and is used by professionals everywhere as a data-management system for their sites.

The fight rages on with WordPress leading on the score chart. (yes, I have weird metaphors) But Tumblr is still standing with its multi-content posting. Who will take home TheCompBlog?

[Cue onslaught of block capital tweets from @direthoughts and @alex_forey…]

On The Air - Part 3

In part 2, we concluded the story of JMJUN Radio, having started this extremely interesting story 2 weeks ago with part 1. This whole experience of running an online radio station actually had greater lessons for me than I initially thought it would. In this post, I would like to show you what the intriguing circumstances of these were and what the point of writing this whole series was. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the last instalment of "On The Air".

Most prominently, was my realisation that a lot can be done with very little. When we had the initial idea to set up a radio station, we only had one crappy 3.5 mm headphone jack cable with 2 laptops. This quickly evolved to suit later needs, but the concept that a simple idea can be executed using unbelievably few resources at hand really astounded me. 2 Years on, this is even more true now than it was before, with the internet having expanded into its current form, anyone with an idea and a little know-how can achieve great things! Look at TheAftermatter,they emailed Stephan Fry asking him to read their blog, and a few hours later,he tweeted their link to 3.7 million followers! 3.7 MILLION! If that is not using resources available, I don’t know what is!

Remember that, somewhat annoying, expression, “Experience is the best teacher," or something like that. I had never really appreciated it until the founding of JMJUN. Nothing I learned in school assisted me with this.Everything was done ad-hoc, by looking up stuff and mucking around with countless things, leading to their demise and eventual, but inevitable,failure! The methods we tried and the bits of kit we plugged in the desperate hope that something would eventually work. It took all this for me to finally recognise the importance of experience and to accept the fact that not everything can, or should, be learned from school. 

JMJUN was on several social networks and had a site; as such, I was the main manager of it all. Managing a site, although it was onFreeWebs, helped me see how the whole system worked, how to attract followers and how to keep content interesting and useful. It also introduced me to basicHTML and the concept of embedding, but most importantly, it taught me about copyright. In part 2 I mentioned the issue we had with the acquaintance of mine, lifting whole chunks of text from us. We took the initiative to go and research UK and US copyright law and worked out that we had a legitimate case against him, which could have gone to court if we were serious enough about this stuff. Luckily, we weren’t, and we just sent him lots of emails telling him to take the infringing content down! That is why whenever I go on a rant about copyright I suggest you listen, as I have seen both sides of the argument!

One of the more philosophical concepts I learned through this experience was something I never thought was a good idea. TheNorthumberland Folk segment was prepared by me, telling the cast what has to be accomplished in this episode. As previously said, this never worked, and we ended up with the most ostentatious, authentic and wildest stories I could never have even dreamed of! All the good and funny things on JMJUN were never planned, but came about randomly through a series of us “just winging it”. This approach, I later realised, was as true for JMJUN as it was for any other fun thing that happened, for example, I am doing the Toyota Technology Challenge,and instead of conducting organised research like I suggested, we just went on a rampage and collected more data than I expected within a week, even though multiple weeks were allocated to this task! It’s just like trying to recreate fun moments: you want it to be fun but it invariably ends up a big failure, as those moments cannot be planned!

I would like to look at that quote from Jack Usher he said during a broadcast again: “Nick, don’t turn this into another one of your ‘projects’. They always fail”. Well, firstly, that does not bode well to my Toyota Technology Challenge endeavour, but aside from that, one could argue that JMJUN did fail, as we no longer broadcast. I would have to, as is customary with me, disagree with that statement and quote. This so called ‘project,' in my opinion (the crucial phrase here), was not a complete failure. It gave us the opportunity to experiment with multiple different things in one endeavour, like managing a site, coordinating the management and dealing with an outrageous violation of our copyright protection. It achieved what every childhood endeavour is meant to achieve,namely, the acquirement of new skills and the eventual appreciation of the lessons learned.

Oh, I almost forgot. The most important lesson learned?Never, no matter how much they beg you or your family; NEVER offer double chocolate fudge cake to your team before a pivotal moment. Offer them fruitcake instead and watch them squint their eyes in disgust. Trust me, it’s much more satisfying!

For the record, here is the link to the JMJUN radio site.

January 20, 2012

On The Air - Part 2

I ended the last post on a convenient cliff-hanger, right before the excitement of the Northumberland Folk show began. Nice touch, no?

So, the call came, “Transition and play ringding in 3, 2, 1, PLAY!”, and something went wrong, every single damn time (I exaggerate)! Once the ringding was done playing, the second call came, “Transition to blue microphone in 3, 2, 1) and the fun began.

At this time post-cake, the sugar was just setting in, so things went according to my well arranged (as always) plan, but after a few short minutes, small, little details started deviating, gradually leading to someone, usually me, saying something stupid that would throw the whole plot off course in a desperate attempt to steer the show back to the main story line. Examples include times when one character asked the character I was playing, “What are you doing here?” and I answered, “I don’t know”. Those three words changed the plot entirely to involving a bar, three new characters, the death of one older character and the inclusion of a clinic scene. Yes, I know, we are amazing. On the often occurring occasion, whenever one of my two colleagues wanted to spice up the story or were just plain bored, they would shout down the microphone, “Ooo, look! Another unknown character!” and throw the microphone across the room in the hope that someone would continue the story. This practice lead to several new characters; too many for three people to voice. As a result, we called in backup: an extra man. Unfortunately, this lead to even more petty arguments and even more complicated story lines. It ended up being the case that the loyal butler was some kind of thief or alcoholic, and the village idiot was some sort of intelligence agent, or something along the lines of that; I forget.

January 13, 2012

On The Air - Part 1

Two weeks late, I wish all of my readers a happy new year! At this stage, most bloggers will be stating what they want to see, do, experience, write or some other mostly irrelevant thing that no one really wants to read, but if you must know, I think this is the year information becomes standardized and universal APIs developed that allow inter-web/app communication, but that is for another time and post. There are very good reasons why I have not blogged lately, mainly due to slightly unsuspecting things, like my running around like a headless chicken all weekend trying to find volunteering work for my Duke of Edinburgh award, or sorting out my printed circuit board design for a school project that turned out to have a fundamental problem from the start, or just sorting out preparations for the smooth transition to Wordpress, which will happen once I manage to secure the £30 per year hosting cost [that is a larger problem than you might think!].

For now, however, lets move on to the bulk of todays post: the days when I was on the air. Now, this may seem a bit ambiguous to you; what the hell am I on about? Was I on TV? Radio? A big-name live podcast? To all those, I say no. I did something much more exciting than that, arguably.

What? Name one thing that can be more exciting than being on live TV, as I am sure many of you are thinking. To be honest, very few things are, but what I learned from my “on the air” experience is far more important to me than what live TV taught me (or could have taught me, If you want to be pedantic about it!).