Nothing like a good book

In some ways following on from my post last week concerning CDs being irrelevant in this modern ages, we have another marvel of society being threatened…the book. Or, more specifically, the local library.

Cultural Minister Margaret Hodge has said that “radical modernisation is required if they are to remain relevant”, and that they are “sleepwalking into the era of the iPhone, the eBook and the Xbox, without a strategy.”

Now this may just be me but I think this is a bit too much? “Sleeping walking into the era of the iPhone and Xbox”?  Are these things really a threat to libraries? If people have research to do, I feel I can guarantee that they aren’t going to turn to their xboxes for help (well they may well turn to them, but it won’t help them, just make that last minute rush of work all the more frantic). And the ebook? Really? How many people actually own those things? Hardly invention of the year if you ask me.

I don’t even feel that libraries are a place that should ONLY be used for study. Of course they’re quiet and offer some great reference material, but there’s so much more to them than that. I was over the moon when the new Cardiff library opened, offering a great new variety of books for my consumption. Libraries are above all a great way to read books without having to buy them. There’s nothing more disappointing than buying a book you’ve really looked forward to only to find out that it’s not that good. Trust me I’ve been there. With libraries you have the luxury of reading the book and then if you enjoy it and feel like you may read it again you can buy it and add it to your collection. And nowadays this doesn’t even just apply to books, most libraries stock CDs and DVDs these days…I’ve even been to ones that have video games. That’s right, VIDEO GAMES, you know, for ENTERTAINMENT. Of course they usually charge a fee for these, but its only about 50p/£1 for a week so you’re getting a far better deal that you would in Blockbuster or any other rental shop. They keep up with the times pretty well too, my local library (in Aberdare, which basically equates to the middle of nowhere) had the latest Iron Maiden album (which is great by the way!), so if a dingy little town can get stuff in that quickly, imagine what you’d get in a big city library.

However Ms Hodge isn’t full of bad ideas, she’s also spoken about he possibility of using a system where the public can order books online and have them delivered to their homes, as well as a loyalty card scheme. While I’m not so big on the order online thing (sounds a bit like a “Love Film” for literature, and lazy people) I’d be quite interested to see how exactly a library would tackle a loyalty card scheme.

I personally think libraries are doing a pretty good job of bringing themselves up to date, and if you don’t think so then you probably don’t visit your local library all that often. And I pity you, because you have no idea what you’re missing…

As usual, the original article can be found here.

Published in: on December 1, 2009 at 4:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Sign of the times?

Over the years we’ve seen the life and death of many beloved music formats – the vinyl (although these still sort of exist in specialist stores I suppose) and the cassette tape. The same can be said for video formats, the video cassette finally kicking the bucket a few years back, paving the way for the gloriously superior DVD. The entertainment market has always been about survival of the fittest, but in a report featured on the BBC website today, another format could be about to leave us forever. But this time I don’t think it’s quite ready to go…

Niche company Linn Products, based in East Renfrewshire, will next year halt production of CD players altogether in favour of digital streaming equipment. This decision has come after the company realising that this equipment is outselling CD players.

Gilad Tiefenbrun, managing director of Linn Products, said “Our customers have fast recognised the limitations of CD players and in the age of home networking, people now want better control of their music and the ability to enjoy it in any room of their home. CD players no longer belong in the specialist domain.”

He certainly has a point. BPI, who represent the British recorded music industry, revealed last month that 2009 had already broken last year’s record number of legally downloaded single and individual track sales. Of 117 million sales, nearly 99% were digital downloads. While the market for albums is that much higher, even that is in a decline.

Yes, this may be only a niche market giving up on a seeminly obsolete format, but is it a sign of things to come? I certainly hope not, because I can’t say I’m too keen on the idea of downloading albums. When buying a CD you get so much more than just an album – you get a CD featuring that features around 7-15 songs (sometimes even more), a booklet with pictures of the band/artist and occasionally the lyrics of the songs included, a nice case to keep it all in and sometimes even a bonus CD/DVD with features that you couldn’t get from a digital download. They may take up alot of space but boy do they look pretty (and impressive) neatly stacked in a CD rack. I have a collection of atleast 200+ CD’s, and I want to keep seeing that grow, and not have to use an mp3 player to play my music.

My personal stance on mp3s has always been that I’ll download one or two songs by an artist, and if I like those perhaps listen to a few more via online streaming, and if I’m still liking them go out and buy an album. That method has always worked for me, but I realise it isn’t for everyone. Fair enough that some people would rather download their music to their ipod or Zen or whatever the hip kids are using these days, but please, for the sake of those who like the CD….don’t let it die just yet.

The full BBC article can be found here.

Published in: on November 24, 2009 at 10:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Hungry Hungry Hippos

Well…I suppose that’s somewhat of an exaggeration given the hippo in question wasn’t actually hungry, but you’ll see where I’m going with this very soon. There was an article in on The Times website today concerning a very rare clash in nature between a crocodile and a hippo on the Nile river bank in Serengheti National Park, Tanzania. The fight was particuarly one-sided. And judging by the title I’ve given this post I think you can tell which way the fight went.

Czech Wildlife photographer Vaclav Silha set his camera up not expecting to see a scene quite like this, as he told The Times “Mutual respect between these animals means fights occur very rarely.” He went on to explain that when hippos feel their young are threatened they will fight. And that’s exactly what happened to poor old Mr Crocodile. Seems he got to close to a mother, resulting in the whole group forming a whole circle around it in defense.

What’s even more incredible is the crocodile’s chosen escape route – across the backs of the hippos! Mr Silha told the Times that this “was the worst choice the reptile could ever have made and it was definitely its last.” Again, all photographed, one of the hippos proceeded to catch the crocodile in its mouth and crush it to death. Now crocodiles have some pretty hard skin, but even that isn’t a match for the powerful jaws of a hippopotumus.

I can’t honestly say I’m a huge nature lover, but things like this fascinate me. I went to San Diego zoo over the summer and saw both these animals (not in the same area obviously!) and to think hippos are capable of this is quite extraordinary.  Looking at a hippo up close it seems that, while admittedly EXTREMELY big, they are among the most docile of animals. However the crocodiles at the same zoo were the most sinister looking things I’ve ever seen. However a little bit of research online has shown me that in fact hippos are one of the most aggresive and dangerous animals in Africa and frequently attack humans and boats. How wrong was I? Still, these photographs are rare documentation of hippos fighting crocodiles, and given the croc’s amusing but futile escape plan make them even more special.

So next time you’re at the zoo and looking at hippos, just remember, they aren’t as docile as you may think.

The article and the pictures documenting this incredible event can be found here.

Published in: on November 16, 2009 at 8:29 pm  Comments (2)  
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Calm down, it’s only a game.

The BBC have reported today that gamers are being asked to join a Facebook group in order to defend their hobby from critics following an argument between two MPs over violent videos games, particularly “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2”, due for release tomorrow. The game, set in a near future scenario, sees The West engaged in fight for survival against Russian ultra-nationalists.

MP Tom Watson, who set up the Facebook group, wants to defend the game from comments from Labour MP Keith Vaz, who said he was “absolutely shocked” by the violence portrayed in the game.

Now I’ve been playing video games almost all my life, and while I’m not particularly a fan of war games as such (give me Sonic the Hedgehog or Pokemon over Halo any day), I’ve played my fair share of violent video games, and not once have I felt the need to go out and imitate them. When I played Metal Gear Solid did I want to go sneak around other people’s houses, breaking the neck of anyone I may pass? No. When I played Grand Theft Auto did I feel the need to steal a car, shoot some civilians and perhaps pick up a prostitute along the way? I don’t think so. These games are given certificates for a reason, much like films. I don’t see why films can portray violence and have nothing said about them while video games with an 18 rating NOT MEANT FOR CHILDREN get such a fuss made over them. Blame the adults who buy the games for their children, or the shops that don’t enforce and I.D. policy properly. But not the games themselves.

But in the end the game won’t need defending from me or anyone else. Amazon have reported that their sales are already 50% higher than Grand Theft Auto 4, the former most successful release ever, and Play are apparently getting over 150 pre-orders per minute. If anything this campaign is only going to attract more attention to the game, resulting in more sales. I wish both Watson’s Facebook group and Activision, Call of Duty’s publisher, the best of luck.

The full BBC article can be read here.

Published in: on November 9, 2009 at 4:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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This Is It?

So here we have it, four months after Michael Jackson’s tragic death a feature length film chronicling the dress rehearsal footage in preparation for his string of shows that were meant to played in the London O2 arena from the end of July onward. But as the very last performance footage of the late King of Pop, is Michael Jackson’s This is It a fitting swansong to his legacy? In short, the answer is yes.

To be perfectly honest I was initially sceptical of watching the film as I had become sick of the media attention surrounding Jackson’s death. I felt it was about time his family were left alone and he was allowed to rest in peace. It was the least he deserved given the impact he brought to pop music. But a few of my friends highly recommended that I see the film and, since I had a ticket to see one of these shows myself at one stage, I decided that it may be a good idea to see what the world has missed out on. So this morning I treated myself to two whole hours of the legend that is…Michael Jackson.

Putting his personal life aside for the purposes of this blog entry and focusing only on him for his musical talents the man certainly still had it and gave it 110% even at the rehearsals. From Thriller to Black and White, Beat It to Man in the Mirror, you could see that Jackson had lost none of his talent in both singing and dancing and that the show he was going to bring to London would be a sensation to both the eyes and the ears. His show was going to be a spectacle filled with extravagant set pieces and videos (particularly Smooth Criminal, Thriller and The Earth Song), amazing dance sequences and, above all, pop songs that were second to none. After a few setbacks in attempts to comeback into the music scene these shows would have without a doubt thrust the singer back into stardom.

Not just focusing on Michael Jackson himself, the film features interviews with some of the backing vocalists, dancers and stage crew working on the “This Is It” shows. All of them share their enthusiasm for the musician, exclaiming how they wouldn’t be where they are today if not for the King of Pop. And in one of the film’s more touching moments, we see Jackson address all of these people personally telling them that “they are like a family to him”. If you are a Michael Jackson fan, go and see it this film. As unfortunate as the circumstances may be, this film is more than worthy of closing the final chapter in the book that is Michael Jackson.

So is this truly it? I don’t think so. Michael Jackson may be gone, but what he brought music fans all over the world will never be forgotten, and I think musicians and dancers will continued to be inspired by and remember him for many years to come.

But you don’t have to take my opinion on it, there are various other reviews that are worth checking out.

R.I.P. Michael Jackson – 1958 to 2009.

Published in: on November 1, 2009 at 11:11 pm  Comments (2)  
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Up? More like Down(loading that is)

Okay so I went to see the new Disney/Pixar film Up yesterday. It was an excellent film and I highly recommend it to everyone, but this isn’t what this post is about. Up was officially released in the UK on 9th October, but its US release date was way back on the 29th May! Further research would show that its being released on DVD to our friends over the pond in a mere few weeks, on November the 10th! It’ll still be in the cinema here at that time! So the question I’m going to pose is this, if production companies are choosing to have such long periods of time between US and UK/European cinematic release dates, is it any suprise that more and more people are turning to illegal downloading to watch these films and do the companies realise this when they’re off complaining about how they’re losing money from filesharing.

Before I carry on, I’ll admit fully that I have downloaded something “illegally” before, I imagine most people reading this are lying to themselves if they haven’t. Whether it be that one song you heard on the radio or that film that you just happened to miss in the cinema, most people have done it. Personally I’m beginning to think things are probably beginning to improve – spotify has quenched most peoples music needs, offering almost all the music you could think of for free if you don’t mind listen to a few silly advertisements every so often (although you can’t download from spotify, so people looking for tracks for their mp3 players are still a problem), and there is a far smaller gap between film release dates in the UK and US now, with them either coming out at the same time or within one or two weeks of each other. We even sometimes get things first! Going onto an American Transformers board having seen Revenge of the Fallen before them? Now that was a good day.

But with Up, I do feel (and please excuse the terrible pun) that Disney/Pixar are taking the mickey. Here we have one of if not the biggest children’s (and adults, since we all love Disney) entertainment company allied with the leading team in CGI filmaking who can seemingly do no wrong in most people’s eyes leaving a whopping 5 months between release in two of the biggest markets. Personally I could wait, since I don’t think a dodgy camcorder copy is a substitute for the cinema experience (especially now in glorious 3D) but it would be interesting just to see how many people DID download Up because they felt they couldn’t wait that long.

Internet providers have recently been debating methods to deter the amount of file sharers on the internet, given how they can’t just simply shut down bittorrent or other torrent programs as file sharing itself isn’t illegal (only the file sharing of licensed material), some even suggesting banning people from the internet itself (for more info see here). But here’s me offering a different method, one that I’m directing at the companies making the things they don’t like us illegally downloading – give us LESS reason to illegally download, and maybe, just maybe you’ll end up making a difference.

This is unacceptable Disney, I don’t expect to have to wait this long for Toy Story 3.

(but thanks for all the wonderful films, especially the Lion King)

Published in: on October 22, 2009 at 7:29 pm  Comments (6)  
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Would you like source with your news sir?

So I was reading through an study called “The Passive Journalist” by Deirdre O’Neill and Catherine O’Connor (which can be found here), and it got me thinking about things. Don’t worry, it was reading material for university, I don’t just randomly pick up studies for a bit of bedtime reading (or do I?). Basically to cut a long story short the study looks at how newspapers are becoming increasingly reliant on the use of sources, and that on top of this the use of just ONE source rather than a wide variety for a single story.

The research looked at four different local newspapers – the Huddersfield Daily Examiner, the Bradford Telegraph & Argus, the Yorkshire Evening Post and the Halifax Courier. These newspapers are owned by three major newsgroups – Trinity Mirror, Newsquest Media Group and Johnston Press (the latter owning the last two of the listed papers). Using these they identified and recorded whenever primary news or secondary news sources were sourced in a story. This was restricted to only editorial content. They say “the aim was to establish whether readers were receiving alternative, contrasting or validating perspectives from relevant multiple sources within a single report or whether relevant voices or views were, as a matter of routine, not being consulted or recorded.” They found that all four news papers were making use of just a single source around 70% of the time. As they correctly state, “there is little evidence of “original journalism”.” However I should note that they do take an objective stance during throughout their findings, noting how they may suggest how they may reflect a lack of time and resources on the journalist’s part.

My thoughts? Well putting aside the notion that this could all just be down to lack of time and resources for a moment, in reality there’s a lot of ways for journalists to find news (I should know, in our “Writing for Newspapers” lecture this week we had to come up with 50 different sources of news in about 15 minutes, which is a lot harder than it sounds believe me). With journalists all over the country becoming reliant on the same old sources it’s no wonder we have terms like “churnalism” and “mcdonalization” being thrown around. Like a giant Ikea of world affairs, news is far too pre-packaged these days. Whatever happened to the thrill of the chase? Did Clark Kent sit as his desk all day waiting to hear from a reliable source about a Superman related story for the Daily Planet? Did Peter Parker wait for someone else to find him pictures of Spider-Man? Wait…no, those are pretty bad examples. My point remains the same though, surely there’s more satisfaction to be got out of going and looking for and finding your own unique story rather than using the same sources as everyone else. These results certainly show that there is an issue of journalists just passively passing on the information they’ve been given to readers, with little or no thought put into how they could expand upon this information by following other leads or injecting a little bit of life into it.

To quote the poster for the film Anchorman – “They bring you the news, so you don’t have to get it yourself.” While I suppose this is still true in a sense, a little bit of effort goes a long long way folks.

Published in: on October 16, 2009 at 2:09 pm  Comments (3)  
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