Radio 7 to become Radio 4 extra

Hidden away on the BBC Arts and Entertainment page a couple of days ago  was confirmation that BBC Radio 7 is to re-brand as Radio 4 extra.

It has also been announced that the amount of Children’s programming will be slashed from its current three hours a day to just one hour during weekdays by the looks of it.

Radio 7, or BBC 7 as I still think of it due to early branding decisions which have stuck like mental glue in my mind, is the station I listen to most often.  It’s not unusual for me to hear the ‘classic comedy’ half hour slot three times in a day, at 8am, 12pm lunchtime, then at 7pm (I’ve given up listening to The Archers live, it’s much easier to keep in sync with the podcasts).

We all fear change in our radio listening, so closely related that they are to other activities which we do whilst listening.  For years the Radio 4 comedy programme on Saturday lunchtime kept me company as I drove to visit my  gran, catching the tail end of the Radio 2 comedy slot on the way home.  And Chris Evans gets me out of bed very effectively in the mornings, if only because I would rather do anything than listen to his banal chat and gimmicky jingles.

Radio 7 has its problems.  Too-small a selection of comedies which are repeated too often (I can recite huge chunks of many episodes of After Henry, but there is absolutely no excuse for repeating any episode of King Street Junior, even once.  But it offers a unique place to listen to gems of the BBC that otherwise would not be heard.  It’s no use placing them in an online archive, accessible to all, if you don’t even know that they exist.  I was always very dismissive of Hancock’s Half Hour, but they were performing surreal humour before even the goons and monty python, all with a cast of just four.  I would never have selected an episode through choice though. ‘Push’ radio still has its place.

So, if the controller of the new Radio 4 Extra dropped me an email asking me what the new station should sound like, what would I say?

Firstly, don’t stream serials over five days – very few people listen at the same time each day, and missing a middle section of a drama or mystery makes it impossible to catch up.  Give us them in a chunk of 90 minutes, edited if need be, or with links between your underused presenters.

Keep the Saturday morning three hour comedy controller slots, but commission some new ones – many of the current batch are over five years old, and comedy moves on.

If you’re losing the children’s slot in the morning, make sure that there is something there which people can wake, drink their tea, and shower to.  So no Great Expectations or War and Peace readings,but repeats of ‘light’  books of the week, comedy quiz shows, and short sketch shows where if we miss the punchline racing from one room to the next.

Oh, and on the overnight repeats, which I know there has to be,make sure that the promotional links are quieter for those of us who are only half listening in bed.

I know there are much more pressing things that deserve our attention at the moment, but ensuring that ‘new’ Radio 4 Extra is as loved as ‘old’ Radio 7 will make a fair few of us sympathetic to the BBC – but please no more King Street Junior!


24 hours with a Kindle

Last Friday I really needed cheering up.  There was no sign of my cough/cold clearing, I had a bad headache developing, and the prospect of returning to work did not fill me with the usual joy.

So as is usual I headed over to the Amazon site, to see if there was anything that particularly grabbed my attention.



I looked again at the Kindle site.  Most requested wishlist item, most number of five star ratings.

But I already had 2 x 3.5” Kindle readers (iPhone and iPod touch), and my iPad too.  Did I really need a 6” device?  Even one which could download from (almost) anywhere in the world (though interestingly not Tunisia, which seems to be having one or two problems of its own since I came back).

The following morning (I paid for express delivery, did I mention that I really needed cheering up), the Kindle arrived.  After making a bit of a fool trying to remove the second cellophane cover from the front of the device, I realised that I was actually looking at the e-ink display showing it’s ‘welcome’ message.


Nothing can prepare you for the clarity of the display.  It really is pin sharp and a different experience.  The closest comparison is that reading a book on the iPad is like reading a hardback book in terms of weight and size.  The kindle is a paperback book.  One that fits into a pocket and carry anywhere.

The user interface – to be honest this needs some work.  I love the big ‘forward’ buttons and the slightly smaller ‘back’ buttons, but searching and highlighting needs to be improved.  I know the iPad is a touch screen and so the UI is always going to be different, but I think more can be done here.

Alas, my posting title ‘24 hours with a Kindle’ was prophetic.  The next morning something happened to the display, and became a mass of horizontal and vertical lines, like Etch a Sketch on acid.  The device was still working behind the screen, but it was unreadable.  I guess I was unlucky, though subsequent Googling does seem to indicate some screens are very fragile.

Amazon have been great however, and arranged for DHL to collect the device from my home, and have confirmed that a refund for the full amount is being made.

As soon as the credit does appear back on my card, I will be purchasing another Kindle (the same model with 3G access).  I now also have a thick neoprene case waiting for my new Kindle (I’ve used something similar to protect all of my laptops and iPad).

I’m looking forward to showing the device to my friends (and taking some photos!), but there will be a short delay.

Happy New Year – cough cough

Firstly can I wish everyone who reads this blog on an even semi-regular basis a Happy New Year.  I disappeared off to Tunisia for a week of sun and sand after Christmas, and had a really good time, as soon as I get chance I will post a couple of photos here just to remind myself what I’m missing.

Unfortunately, as all-too frequently happens, I’ve come back with a stinking cough/cold.  I’m loathed to call it flu, mostly because I can’t afford to be ill when I return to work next week as I have a series of interviews crucial to my next piece of PhD work.  So I have four days to get myself well, which considering how I feel as I type, could be an uphill struggle.  I’m off to the docs anyhow this evening, after my scare a couple of years ago I always get this checked out.  Strangely, despite having the jab before and various problems, I wasn’t entitled to a free flu jab, and had to pay for it myself last October, which I duly did.

The holiday was a great break, and also an enforced experiment to see if I could cope without being ‘Gridlinked‘, ironically one of the books which I downloaded to my iPad via Amazon’s Kindle service.  Tunisia does not have a strong wireless Internet presence, and it was day six (of seven) that I discovered a bar with free wi-fi.

So I ‘only’ had the iPad, iPod Shuffle, and iPhone to keep me amused, with no chance of any new content being available to me.  How did I do?

The iPad was really heavily used by both of us.  For me I used it as an e-book reader (Kindle though, not iBooks unfortunately, still too expensive and limited range of titles though this may change), music player, and video viewer.  I only rarely played games, though that’s not the fault of the iPad, I really am poor at playing games, and even a game of Scrabble can’t always keep my attention.  The shuffle performed flawlessly as my night-time music player, and the iPhone filled the (few) gaps when I wasn’t by the pool or in bed.

The only downsides to the iPad are the battery life and screen glare.  I was always aware of the charge on the device, and was concerned about it ‘running out’.  Screen brightness seems to be the single largest influence of battery life (remembering this was running in ‘flight mode’ all the time as there were no wireless networks that the device could even try to connect to).  I know that for it’s primary holiday purpose, that the Kindle device would make a highly compelling purchase, solve the above problems at a stroke, and having seen a couple out ‘in the field’ in Tunisia, I am even more tempted, but like many people I’m being cautious in my purchases in 2011.

Hmm, having just read the Amazon Kindle page again I’ve just noted this interesting paragraph at the very end –

Read Before Bed Without Affecting Sleep

According to some sleep experts, reading on closely-held backlit screens before bed inhibits melatonin production, which is critical for a good night’s sleep. “The take-home lesson is that insomnia and electronic gadgets emitting light should not [be] mixed before bedtime” says UCLA Neurology Clinic Director Alon Avidan. “Kindle is better for your sleep.”

The Kindle is sitting in my shopping basket now, but I must be strong!

I have loads of new years resolutions, and whilst ‘only’ 4lb heavier than this time last year, the relentless upward curve has continued, and for my own health this is something I need to get a grip with.

I’ll try and rattle off another posting before I return to work.


Autofocus revisited

Nearly two years ago I started to use a productivity system called ‘Autofocus‘, designed by Mark Forster of ‘Get Everything Done’ fame.  though I used the system for a while, and a month later was still enthusiastic about the system, As frequently happens I stopped using it after a few months, and resorted again to trying to keep everything in my head.

My new lecturing position is different to my previous one however, and whilst I do have some regular teaching, I also have intensive block weeks which require a lot of preparation, and also have distance learning students who I may not see face to face, but do have to regularly monitor.  Because of this, it feels like I am ‘juggling’ my workload a lot more than previously.  Clearly I needed to think again.  I tried a simple to-do list but this didn’t work for me.

So I’ve gone back to Autofocus, and writing down everything I need to do.  It’s very early days yet, but at least at the end of the day I can turn around and say ‘this is what I’ve done’ – Five items off the list yesterday, and two today (three once I’ve completed this blog post).

Why does Autofocus work for me?  I like the idea that there’s no prioritisation, you do what you ‘feel like’ at the time.  If you get bored with a task that’s OK too, you simply cross it off the list and add it to the bottom.  At the end of a page, you look at what you need to carry forward and write it again, if you don’t feel the need to do it, then highlight it (to show it’s never been completed), and forget it.

Mark Forster acknowledges that it’s no good for regular time-bound activities, but for anyone that has some degree of freedom in what they do, I can recommend it.

Asus eee 701 and Jolicloud 1.1

You wait months for a posting, then two turn up at once.  This is me flexing my techie muscles, a slightly rarer event than it used to be.

It was nearly two years ago that I bought my Asus eee PC, and I’ve always had performance problems.  I’ve fought against installing a linux designed for netbooks on it, though I have dallied with ‘live CD’ installations.

So the poor eee remained unloved, only used occasionally by house guests.

In November I decided to bite the bullet, and did a complete install of the Jolicloud OS onto the machine.  The installation was a breeze, though I did have to drop to the command line for a couple of ‘sudo’ commands for a problem which isn’t worth reporting here, as since then the OS has been upgraded to 1.1, of which more below.  My desktop is shown below.


Jolicloud works on two principles –

  1. The PC will be connected to the Internet most of the time.  As such, there is no differentiation between web-based applications (such as google docs), and ‘on machine’ applications (such as Skype).
  2. Automatic updating of all these applications is handled by Jolicloud automatically.  Every so often you’ll see a twirling progress wheel, and as if by magic you have the new program/OS update.

You can also access your desktop, and all of the ‘cloud’ applications via any ‘chrome’ browser.  As I’ve connected to Jolicloud via my Facebook account, one click and I have my netbook’s desktop wherever I am.  To be honest this is of limited use to me, but it is a handy feature to have.

Today Jolicloud released Version 1.1 of the software, which promises performance improvement (though I was already really pleased with the performance, boot up to Internet access in less than a minute), improved battery life (that’ll be nice!) and generally improved front end.  I wish I could include a screen shot, but the estimated 1.5 hour install process has so far taken 4.5 hours and is still going (the progress bar is moving, but very slowly).

Jolicloud is now touting the new OS as the answer for a wide range of low-spec machines, including old machines and touch tablets, and have therefore developed a ‘cloud’ operating system months (or even years) before Google and their Chromium operating system.

And if you want, you can even buy a Jolicloud-branded netbook (a Jolibook), though this still seems a little expensive, when you remember there’s no license costs.

Once I’ve given OS 1.1 a go I will let you know how it compares to the previous incarnation, but you can download it now and try for yourself.

I’m still standing

I can fully appreciate that the number of people who hit this blog has somewhat reduced.

I just wanted to let everyone know (again) that I’m still here, and still have more that I want to write.

But juggling my full time job in a new faculty in the university, part-time job with the Open University, studying for my PhD, and still have some semblance of a family life, and watch some of the huge amount of TV that is stuck on my Sky+ box, well blogging has dropped off my radar somewhat.

But, no excuses now, and finishing work at the end of this week for three whole weeks should give me a chance to practice those writing muscles.  And who knows, writing here may help me when I put finger to keyboard elsewhere in my life.

That said, at the moment University Challenge whilst ironing calls, let’s see Jeremy Paxman do that!

Apple TV delight

Another month, another Apple product makes its way into my life. This time it’s the new and improved Apple TV. 
The heart of the diminutive little black box (think the size of a couple of packs of John Player Specials, and that includes power supply and 802.11n wi fi is one word, streaming. 
Want to rent a movie from the iTunes store and stream it directly to your tv? – check. 
Want to stream YouTube, podcasts, flickr and Internet radio from the Internet? – check. 
Want to stream music, photos, podcasts, photos, and all those movies that you have legally bought from the iTunes store (plus any others that you may have acquired and are in the right format for viewing in iTunes) – check. 
Yes, there are other products which do similar functions without the tie-in to apple and it’s DRM. And the UK version is lacking some major features which it’s US counterpart have, including the ability to rent TV episodes, and a Netflix-type service opening up the concept of movie rental packages rather than one off rentals (which at £2.49 – £4.49 a pop is anything but cheap). 
And I can’t avoid mentioning after a recent journey to the states has reminded me, $99 is about £62, even with 17.5% VAT the equivalent price is £72.85 – this for a lower functioned device too. 
But am I happy with Apple TV?  Delighted. Though as has been pointed out I do now own every category of Apple device in at least one form or another (iPods, iPhone, iPad, MacBook, Mac, Apple TV). Maybe this won’t be a completely unbiased view. 
I’m tapping this on my iPad on my way back from London, a quick ‘in and out’ to see a musical.  Interestingly this Virgin Pendolino can get me from Central London to Lichfield in 1hour 11minutes, not that much slower than the new High Speed 2 Rail line Is predicting speeds. 
Makes you think.

I’m back!

Just a quick note to let everyone know that I’m back on this blog, and will start posting some new stuff real soon. It’s been a very busy couple of months, but I’m keen to re-activate this blog as I’ve moved into a new job within the university.
I’ve also got a backlog of technical wizardry to share, as well as posts relating to my new role as a lecturer in Birmingham City Business School.
Watch this space!

iPad Delight

It was inevitable that I would get an iPad, not so much if, but when? Fortunately (in a way) it was my 40th birthday year, so my beloved parents decided that a 32gb wi-fi model would be an appropriate gift.
And who am I to argue?
It is a brilliant device. Just about the right size, and any criticism about it being ‘too heavy’ has to be countered by the fact that its battery life is measurable in days, not hours. I fully charged the device on Saturday evening, Monday evening with a *lot* of usage over the last couple of days I still have 41% usage as it type.
The touch screen keyboard is suitable for touch typing, and is larger then my eee PC.
Downsides? It’s still running the previous version of iOS, version 3.x (which I could check if I had a multitasking OS such as iOS 4.0). But an update is coming ‘soon’ according to Apple, and as long as the performance and battery life issues with iOS 4.0 on my iPhone 3GS.
One thing to note for early adopters, the iLife applications, Pages, Numbers and Keynote have been reduced in price from £9.99 to ‘just’ £5.99, a relative bargain.
I’ll write more about the exciting changes at work in a post later this week, in the meanwhile if you have to beg, borrow or steal the cash to get an iPad.
You won’t regret it.

Mini post

Just a quick post to let you know that I’m still here.  I remember, not that long ago, when the time after marking, exam boards and setting resit coursework and examinations was a period of consolidation and reflection.

Not any more.

Anyhow, I’ve passed the first part of my PhD, if not with flying colours then at least I’m still on track for the PhD route.  I’m planning on submitting it to a journal for publication, after I’ve ensured that it’s suitably anonymous and removed the reflective element.

I’ve been running resit sessions for students who were not successful first time round.  So far, attendance hasn’t been great.  It’s been better for the exams which I’ve been invigilating, which bodes well – the first step towards passing a module is turning up for the exam.

I’ve also been doing shedloads of reading for the next module on my PhD, my current working title for the next stage is “Can Technology Enhanced Learning help Universities Support International Students throughout their studies?”

Oh, and almost forgot, I’m the proud owner of an iPad…. case.  The iPad itself will have to wait until my 40th birthday, as it’s a present from my parents.  I told them it was too expensive, but to be honest I didn’t take that much persuading.