Carving the crest of the technology wave

The reader should not imagine me poised with chisel and hammer in hand (well, unless that floats your boat in which case, given the season, feel free to indulge yourself), but I instead use the word “carving” in its surf-slang sense.  I have noted before the disparity between mundane (even dull) activities and the verbs used to described them, but “surfing” the web must take the biscuit.  It also seems to involve some pretty serious mixing of metaphors – I know of a diving-bell spider, but none that actually surfs (though YouTube – purveyor of cat videos and youthful “sensations” to toffs and gentry – does include spiderlings kite-surfing, with some fairly substantial stretching of the definition).   Still, if we going to appropriate some of the “cool” of surfing when we are sitting at our laptop clicking on links, then let’s go the whole hog.

I like to think of myself as reasonably tech-savvy, though long gone are my days of coding in Z80 or 6502 machine code.  I feel modern IT folk have grown lazy with incredibly powerful processors coupled to heaps of memory and storage, in my day you had to fit it into 16K which certainly kept your code compact (if undocumented and hard to debug).  Nevertheless, the ghost of Ned Ludd does haunt the emergent processes assumed to arise somewhere in the wetware between my ears.  As a result, the vast majority of the reading material, music, TV and movie content which I own exists primarily in the form of physical media.  To create an analogy with economics, I have yet to move far from the gold standard.

Recent events have caused me to dip my figurative toe rather further into the virtual waters and begin to accept content without any traditional physical presence.  Downsizing as I moved to Southampton has rather brought home to me how much space physical media consume – indeed, most of my library still languishes in a storage unit a good 5 minute hike from my home.  It is also becoming increasingly difficult to acquire physical versions of some movies and TV series.  Finally, it is convenient to be able to carry more of one’s entertainment library to make happier the growing portion of my life whiled away in airports or on rail-replacement bus services – and I am a chap who likes to travel light and the combined state of even a very large number of NAND gates is really very light indeed.

So, of late I have started to acquire movies and TV series through iTunes – I was unable to find any supplier who I was convinced paid an appropriate level of tax to HMRC, so went with convenience on the Mac in lieu of civic virtue.  Despite the foibles of iTunes, the process is pretty painless and the content plays back very nicely on the Mac and via a £15 cable on my TV (more expensive options are available).  I now have a modest library of entertainment I can use on the go, which along with the iPlayer and a whole set of podcasts, has made my recent business travel rather more pleasant than it might have been.  What the world still lacks is the ability to download radio programmes using the iPlayer, we radio buffs remain second-class citizens in this culture dominated by the visual (whereas, we – the cognoscenti – know that the pictures are better on the radio).

Despite this leap into the future (OK, recent past), most of my viewable content remains on silvery discs of various forms.  Earlier in the week, I was watching one of these and – for some reason – paid slightly more attention than normal to all the legal warnings that proceed such a viewing (warnings which are pleasingly absent from the iTunes equivalent).  These referred to the content of the DVD in question as “this cinematograph”.  Ahoy-hoy, I thought.  Have I stumbled upon a rare Edwardian DVD, no doubt delivered from the States by autogyro?  It would seem not as IMDB is convinced that Donnie Darko was not produced until 2001, making an Edwardian DVD copy doubly unlikely – though as the film is based around some fairly odd temporal mechanics it can’t be entirely ruled out. I think William of Ockham would prefer the assumption that the legal warning had been written by an Edwardian and not updated since before the talkies caught on.  The cinematograph was invented in 1890s and UK legislation referencing it dates back to 1909, though even in these Isles this must surely have been largely superseded by now?  One of the unions involved in cinema and allied trades, BECTU, founded in 1991 retained the word in its name (but this strikes me as a nod to history, one of its components being the ACTT, which was founded in 1933).  So, I think it is perhaps time for the film industry and dust off its terms and conditions and give them a much needed update.  I do wonder if this Edwardian terminology explains why unauthorised sharing of content is referred to as “piracy”?  Rather than referring to pirates, perhaps footpads (or feetpad?) would be more in keeping? – if nothing else, it clearly removes any romantic associations from the activity (though I strongly suspect any romance attached to piracy was nothing to do with added anyone involved).

Musically too, I have embraced streaming – an activity I had previously reserved for times of a heavy cold or more severe rhinitis.  Streaming music services have not enjoyed wholly positive publicity, but I decided that low as the payments to artists were they were higher than from the radio and certainly better than nothing (which, frankly, was the alternative).  For me at least, streaming acts as a music discovery (or re-discovery) service which can lead to buying music which might otherwise have had to wait another decade or two for its purchase.  I have also started using it as an alternative to fishing a CD out of the other room – which is a new new feather in my cap-of-laziness™ and definitely bonus (if very modest) income for the musicians.  I am rather enjoying access to quite so much music on demand – it means I’m willing to try stuff, rather than just relying on it to turn up on the radio (which was the old method), which should expand my musical taste.  I have yet to stream away from the home – but as much of such free time is spent in the wilds of Surrey and Hampshire where a mobile phone signal is rarely found, this is not entirely my fault (I also worry about the drain on the all-too-finite battery resources of the modern smartphone).  I have been using Spotify (a myriad other options are available) and find the quality of its sound more than sufficient for the quality of my ears.  I do have a few tracks which use FLAC (which is supposed to be better), but I fear without an upgrade to my own auditory equipment it would be difficult to justify the additional cost and storage requirements.  I know scientists have grown a human ear on a mouse, but I don’t recall anything praising the fidelity of its sonic performance nor its ready availability for those with sub-standard auricular appendages (as well as poor sonic performance, mine are also entirely useless for retaining in-ear headphones) – so I suspect I may have to make do with the current equipment for a while yet.

So, despite aspirations to curmudgeon-hood, I find my life drifting inexorably into the twenty-first century.  If I continue at my current pace, by the time I retire I may be able to fit into a studio flat – and need little AV equipment beyond my laptop and a decent pair of headphones.  I think this is probably a good thing – as long as nothing happens to the laptop!

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