A Consuming Experience

Blogging, internet, software, mobile, telecomms, gadgets, technology, media and digital rights from the perspective of a consumer / user, including reviews, rants and random thoughts. Aimed at intelligent non-geeks, who are all too often unnecessarily disenfranchised by excessive use of tech jargon, this blog aims to be informative and practical without being patronising. With guides, tutorials, tips - and the occasional ever so slightly naughty observation.

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TV ads: no more to deafen?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008
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Sick of having to turn the TV volume down when ads come on, and then back up when the programme proper starts again? From a viewer / consumer perspective, being virtually deafened by a sudden blast of too-loud sound when the ad break starts is very annoying, to say the least. Well, if you're in the UK, you're in luck.

Following a consultation by the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) last year, from 7 July 2008 UK television advertisements will have their sound levels regulated under a change in the Broadcasting TV Advertising Standards Code rule 6.9 so that effectively they can't be objectively or subjectively louder than the average volume of the programme they're in or indeed neighbouring ads in the same ad break. The new rule:

Advertisements must not be excessively noisy or strident. The maximum subjective loudness of advertisements must be consistent and in line with the maximum loudness of programmes and junction material.

Surely sensible advertisers won't have a problem with that. Irritating your target audience can't be good marketing / advertising practice: blaring ads may well grab the attention, but not exactly in a positive way.

Yay to the change, I say! Now if only they'd also stop compressing the background music during telly programmes too. Such as the bits of CSI when they're microscoping away in the lab and the like - the background music's often too loud there, I have to turn it down and then back up again to hear the dialogue properly. I don't treat CSI as a music video substitute, if I wanted to listen to a music video I wouldn't be watching CSI. /grumble.

Seriously, if there was a gizmo to similarly regulate the sound during TV programmes (especially many American ones, where misguided attempts at supplying realistic background noise often result in the actors' speech being drowned out), I'd gladly buy one. Maybe I'm just getting old...

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Email stress: want to be on the BBC?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007
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I notice BBC Two's Money Programme are asking people to email or phone in their email horror stories. So I guess the BBC must be planning a programme on all manner of email problems, as they're asking questions like:
  • Been fired by email?
  • Replied to all by mistake?
  • Wish people would stop cc'ing you in?
  • So fed up, you've declared email bankruptcy?

I guess if you email or phone them with your email stories you might even get featured on TV, for your obligatory few minutes of fame, if you're after that sort of thing.

In fact if you have funny email stories, I'd love to hear them too. I'm more than happy to feature the top submissions (which I pick, of course, hey I ought to get to be lady & mistress of m' own blog!) here on ACE - with of course a link back to the blogs of the top submitters. Let's see if this garners more entries than the guess the girl geek one did, or indeed the (only slightly tongue in cheek) mobileCamp one.

Of course, you may prefer to submit your stories to the BBC. Thass OK, I can live with that, being on the telly may be a somewhat greater attraction for most people! I just hope the programme doesn't turn out to be an over-general "email-bashing for the sake of it" type of thing.

And yes I confess, I've sent emails to the wrong people before, darn Outlook Address Book. Luckily there's been nothing too embarrassing. So far. I really ought to look at all the addresses very carefully before I hit Send...

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iPlayer: BBC on Macs, DRM, bandwidth, non-UK access

Tuesday, September 04, 2007
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The BBC are clearly going into PR mode on their planned "iPlayer", which term in fact covers all sorts of things but is generally thought of as "7 day catchup TV" - i.e. downloading BBC programmes within 7 days after transmission (for more on iPlayer see my detailed iPlayer overview, so accurate that the Man from Auntie thought it was written by a BBC insider and banned my innocuous iPlayer videos from YouTube!).

Maybe it's just been put up, or maybe I missed it earlier, but I've just noticed that the main public iPlayer beta webpage has been updated with statements by the Beeb headed "Important issues regarding BBC iPlayer" on several controversial matters that have dogged iPlayer:
  • Platform neutrality - the compatibility (or rather not) of initial versions of iPlayer with Mac, Linux and Windows Vista computers - including some timelines for other platforms. Lots of people have lobbied about this.
  • DRM - the imposition of digital rights management (DRM) on downloaded video files, which tightly limits playing in terms of time, and also restricts copying - the BBC have even produced an interactive video about Digital Rights Management and Registration as part of their BBC Webwise Guide to Broadband, using a library loans analogy for downloaded videos - as in "borrowing" TV programs!
  • Bandwidth and broadband costs - the use of peer to peer filesharing methods for distributing iPlayer downloads, which means your computer can be used to help deliver downloads to other users, thus eating into your bandwidth allowance with your ISP. ISPs have been making noise about the increased costs. The BBC have produced yet another video, about P2P!
  • UK only - the restriction of access to iPlayer downloads only to computers which appear to originate in the UK i.e. have a UK IP address, via geo-IP technology. Not in fact hard to get round for non-UK users if you know how, but I say no more on that.

Whether you agree or disagree, whether you think the BBC's justifications are valid enough or not, is up to you - but I think it's interesting that there's clearly been enough fuss kicked up about all this that the BBC have felt it necessary to post up a "defence" of their position.

Platform neutrality (support for Mac, Linux etc) and digital rights management

I think platform support and DRM are related. Were there no "requirement" for DRM, it would be simple to offer downloadable files that could be played on any computer operating system, Mac, Linux, mobile phones and PDAs etc.

If - and that's the big if - it really really truly is impossible to offer BBC program downloads without DRM, then I have sympathy for "rollout on Windows first, then other platforms later", rather than wait till it's perfected on all platforms before making it available to anyone at all. Most software tends to be developed for one platform then extended to others gradually so to me the statistics make sense, most people are on Windows, as long as it's available on other platforms within a reasonable timescale I see no problem with providing a Windows version first. If DRM really is essential, as I said.

Is DRM essential? There's the rub. The owners of rights to many of the programmes shown on the BBC claim it is. Many, including me, would argue that the insistence on DRM is misguided. DRM is the worst of both worlds - it unnecessarily inconveniences ordinary consumers like you & me, without actually stopping organised crime from mass pirating all the films, movies and TV programmes that they like. It's really not that difficult for those with the resources and determination to pirate BBC programmes anyway. If we can video a programme with our VCR, keep and rewatch the video for as long as we like, and even lend the video to a friend, why can't we do the same with downloaded programmes?

There's another point here. The BBC don't own the rights to many of the programmes they show, but they do own the rights to many of the programmes they themselves make. They could have led the way here by offering non-DRM downloads of their own programmes. Also, they have huge bargaining power - why couldn't they have had the courage to use their clout to insist to the rights holders that iPlayer downloads must be without DRM? Their satellite feeds are unencrypted, for instance, so they were clearly able to get that through.

We shall see how this plays out, but I'm not optimistic. It's widely known that the BBC have had meetings with anti-DRM groups etc, but I fear it may be lip service, seeism and self-justification more than a genuine attempt to investigate the true merits and risks of non-DRM downloads.

Bandwidth and P2P

One issue here in terms of the ISPs is booking downloads in advance. This ability was present with the iPlayer's predecessor the BBC iMP (iMP key issues, tips and tricks, and initial views on iMP).

But it was taken away from iPlayer because the BBC Trust inexplicably agreed with the view of commercial broadcasters who, during the iPlayer consultation, claimed that, as the iPlayer request for approval from the BBC executive did not explicitly spell out advance booking of downloads, it should not be allowed as part of the approval. Well the formal request didn't spell out the provision of subtitles either, why didn't the Trust ban that too?

It's disingenuous and obviously self-serving for commercial broadcasters, who would probably like to scupper iPlayer and reduce competition for their own services, to try to kill a feature which would have enabled the ISPs to work out in advance where the peaks would be, and to balance out the load on their servers. And the ISPs, I speculate, would have been less likely to cause a stink about bandwidth and costs if there had been a bookings feature. I hope the Trust will reconsider and permit bookings ASAP. (I also disagree totally with their decision to ban non-DRM audio downloads of classical music and full book readings. But that's another matter.)

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One for All URC 7555 review, & how to choose a universal remote control

Friday, July 13, 2007
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One For All Universal 5 in 1 Stealth TV/DVD/SAT/AMP/VCR Remote Control
(pic above from the One for All website, for review purposes only)

This post is:

The quickie

If you're after a single multifunctional remote control to control all your audiovisual gear - TV, DVD, Freeview, satellite etc - One for All's range is a good bet, given that URCs are one of their core product lines and they clearly try to provide decent customer support. The 7555 (One For All Universal 5 in 1 Stealth TV/DVD/SAT/AMP/VCR Remote Control) at under £30 (including postage) is superb value for money if you're happy with a (relatively) basic infrared URC which still has learning and macro capabilities.

I didn't bother with Philips URCs because I didn't think much of their website (in terms of helping potential customers find the info they want to know) or their pre-sales customer email support. Logitech also have a good reputation for their URCs but their price point was a bit more than I was prepared to pay for what I felt I needed.

The long and slow

What's a universal remote control?

For those not familiar with URCs, a universal remote control is a single remote to replace all the several remote controls for your audio-visual (AV) devices like television, satellite or cable receiver, Freeview box, DVD, VCR, home cinema amplifier and other set top boxes (STBs). (For anyone interested: basics of how to connect up audiovisual gear). They're also known as multifunction remote controls, multi-function remote controls, multi-functional remote controls, you get the drift...

Their purpose is obvious - for not very much money (depending on which one you buy), you can save space and stop fumbling around swapping remote controls when watching television or home theatre. Plus, if members of your household tend to fight for the remote, well they can have one of their own!

The downside is, if you lose your single URC down the back of the sofa you'd better have your original remotes somewhere where you can still find them. Or buy another URC.

Criteria - what to consider when picking a universal remote control

Before buying new gear, generally you should of course first figure out what's important to you (though good decision making rules say you shouldn't spend too long pondering, if you want to make the best choice). To me, it doesn't matter how cheap or expensive the gadget is - I still try to work out what would be best for my situation.

Below is the list of criteria I used to choose my URC, which I hope will be of help to others considering how to buy a universal remote control. Your own mileage may vary, of course - I finally decided on the One for All 7555 (One For All Universal 5 in 1 Stealth TV/DVD/SAT/AMP/VCR Remote Control), which I got via Amazon UK, based on my own personal setup and requirements.
What range of equipment does it support?
My main requirement was that the URC had to work properly with my beloved Topfield 5800 PVR. You probably have other key equipment which you need to make sure any universal remote control you buy will work with, too.

Most URCs claim compatibility with all "common" or "standard" audio visual kit. If you've got any non-household name gear you consider essential, you might want to doublecheck, if possible, for the specific brand and model - e.g. with less common make or models like the Toppy.
How many devices can it control?
Also, I needed a remote that could control several AV devices - TV, Toppy, old Panasonic hard disk cum DVD-RAM recorder (largely superseded by the Topfield, but I use it to play DVDs), old VCR in case I need it - with a little room for expansion should I get more gear (I've been eyeing BT Vision for a while).

So I thought a URC which could handle 5 devices would be about right. Some may want one that controls just 2 or 3; others, with full-blown home theater systems, maybe a dozen!
How many buttons does it have and what are they?
If a remote you want to replace bristles with enough buttons for the twenty-fingered, a URC with just 10 keys won't do much except frustrate you - unless it's one of those fancy cost-the-earth ones with touch-sensitive screen where the same key or location can serve multiple functions, all nicely labelled with programmable LCDs which name the buttons differently depending on the selected device / mode.

Most URCs come with a basic set of standard buttons which do what you'd expect e.g. volume up and down, channel / programme up and down, numbered buttons, mute, play, stop, pause, fast forward / rewind, red, yellow, blue keys etc etc.

Some have extra buttons or keys on top of that, which can be programmed or assigned other functions (see learning, below) - the question is, how many of those extra keys do you need?

If you don't have many devices or many buttons on your existing remotes (or indeed even if you do, but you don't use most of those keys), a basic URC may be good enough. But if there are many buttons you regularly use, you'll probably need a URC with lots more extra buttons (maybe on a shifted basis, see below) or programmable keys to which you can assign the special functions that you use the most.

The Toppy remote has quite a few buttons so I had to be sure to get a URC with enough keys for my needs. But forking out for a top of the line touchscreen remote just wasn't worth doing, for me.
Is it programmable, how easily, can you get a key or button to "learn" a function from your existing remote?
I chose the 7555 not just because it supports the Toppy, but because of its "learning" feature (IR code learning).

You can basically get any key on the 7555 (except a few reserved ones) to work the same as any key on the original remote control - it "learns" to do the same thing - just by pointing them at each other, doing a few keypresses on the 7555 and then pressing the original key whose function you want to copy, in order to beam the correct infrared signal over from the original remote for the URC to "memorise". Very clever.

Plus, the same key can be made to learn different functions in different modes (such as TV, or DVD). E.g. in TV mode you might assign screen aspect change to button X, but in VCR mode you could use button X to get slow motion playback.

The 7555 also has "shifted" learning. This simply means that the same button can be made to learn two different commands, one triggered when you just press the button, the other triggered when you press a special key first (called the Magic button by One for All) and then press the button. So, you can have twice the number of separate commands as you have available keys.

The manual says the 7555 can learn 25-40 commands; I've not needed that many so far!
How easy is it to keep track of what button does what? Can you be bothered to keep track yourself?
This is related to the number and complexity of your devices, and how many extra functions you assign to the "spare" buttons on the URC.

If you get keys on the URC to "learn" functions operated by one or other button of your original remote's keypad, you need of course to remember which key on the URC equates to which key on the original. As the same key can perform different functions in different modes too, you may have to remember (or note down) different key assignments for different modes, too.

If you don't want to have to do that, you might prefer to invest in an expensive URC where you can program labels on the URC that change to describe what each key does for each mode you're in (TV, satellite etc).
Do you want programmable macros?
This wasn't a major factor for me but has turned out to be helpful. You can easily set up the 7555 so that e.g. pressing just one particular key switches on your TV, satellite receiver and DVR all in a row (or in my case, just TV and Toppy). Similarly you can use one key press to power everything off (or rather put them on standby) in one go. Heck, if I wanted I could get one button to turn everything on, put the volume on high, tune it to channel X in widescreen mode and record it, then make the tea. Well maybe not the tea, but who knows what's on One for All's roadmap.

In short, any series of button presses on the URC 7555 (up to 15 keystrokes max) can be programmed as a "macro" to be triggered by a single key stroke. Useful. And again, as with codes learning, you can have shifted macros too.

One point to watch for though is that if you assign a learned function to a key in one mode, and then you try to assign a macro (sequence of key presses) to the same key, the macro just won't work. The key will only operate the learned function.
Do you need to control stuff that's out of sight?
Is your gear tucked away neatly in rows of closed cabinets, controlled by radio frequency (RF) remotes? If so, a humble cheaper infrared URC won't do, you'll need a URC that transmits radiofrequency signals. To work, infra red remotes need a clear uninterrupted line of sight to the infrared receptor on the appropriate box. I barely have room for my existing stuff never mind cabinets, so infrared was all I needed.
Do you want easy PC setup and control?
The higher end URCs can be connected to your computer and configured and controlled etc on screen via the PC. This hopefully makes life easier and simpler for the user, of course, especially novices. But the extra user-friendliness certainly comes at a price. I didn't feel I needed something like that myself, I'm quite happy to putter around inputting codes into the URC direct myself rather than have a computer automate that.
What's your budget?
Last, but not least, I only have a few AV gizmos. Home cinema afficionados with 10 pieces of kit might want an all singing all dancing URC that costs £200 or more, and if they can afford so many bits of AV gear they can probably afford (and might find most convenient) a top of the rangeURC too.

But me, I just want it to do what I need - I ain't gonna spend £300 when less than £30 will do. I go for value for money and fitness for purpose rather than buying the most expensive unit I can afford.

Why not Philips?

Philips supposedly has a good line in URCs, and I have an excellent widescreen Philips TV - but their pre-sales support was hopeless. Many of their online "manuals" (brochures, more like, usually) weren't detailed enough; and their site search function was equally useless (sorry but I don't have time to individually download each of their many URC PDF manuals just to see if (a) it lists the supported gear in the first place - many don't - and (b) the Topfield is in the list).

That's just me and my "boycott the consumer-unfriendly" principles talking, though. I'm sure others are happy with Philips, and as mentioned I do like my Philips TV. But then I don't need any support from them for that, I can even turn it on and off all by myself, wheee, fancy that (or if I can't, well my 7555 can now do that for me!).

Logitech are also known for their URCs e.g. the Harmony range, but their starting price was higher than I was prepared to pay for what I wanted, and after the nightmare of trying to find out which Philips URCs worked with the Topfield, I wasn't prepared to risk going through the same palaver again with Logitech.

So, I turned to the Toppy forums. (One reason I bought a Toppy rather than some other brand of hard disk recorder, apart from twin Freeview tuners, 250 GB hard disk and the availability of user-programmable mini-apps called TAPs to enhance it, was the supportive and helpful online community of knowledgeable enthusiasts e.g. at Toppy.org.uk).

I saw from their URC thread that someone had got an One for All 7555 and was happy with it, so I took a look at prices and checked out the One for All website - which was much more user-friendly, consumer-friendly and informative than Philips'. I went for the 7555 and it does exactly the job I need.

The One for All URC 7555 universal remote control

The One for All 7555 URC One For All Universal 5 in 1 Stealth TV/DVD/SAT/AMP/VCR Remote Control controls up to 5 devices, i.e. has 5 modes. The device buttons are labelled TV, Satellite (for satellite, cable or Freeview), VCR (for video recorder wouldja believe), DVD and Amp (for amp, tuner etc) - but you can change e.g. the VCR button to control a second TV or whatever, if you prefer.

So if you press the TV key, the channel changing buttons etc will work on the TV. Press the Sat key to make the same buttons change the channels on your satellite receiver. And so on.

Setup / installation

As is standard with URCs, the 7555 comes preprogrammed to work with many common units, but you need to do some initial setting up to tell it what equipment you've got, by entering the right codes.

There's a list of brands at the back of the manual, with corresponding codes (sometimes more than one set). To get the URC to control your equipment properly, you enter the code given for your make and model of gear, and then rinse and repeat in a different mode for each of your bits of kit (TV, Freeview etc).

You can also get the codes for your manufacturer and model from the One for All website, and if all else fails there's a search function to try to get to a working code. But the choice on offer is massive so hopefully not many people will have to do that.

If several code options are given, just try and see which one works best (Topfield is listed in the Satellite section).


The One for All URC 7555 manual that came in my box, in 7 European languages (downloadable manual in 13 languages), is concise and clear, taking you from setup to more advanced functions. And it's a proper booklet too, not like the CD many companies fob you off with when flogging you computer hardware or software, or a flimsy 1-sheet leaflet stitched together by someone writing in their four & a halfth language. There's a detailed page with support contacts (email, web, phone, fax) in different countries, and what info to give them when contacting support.

Yes, I feel a rant coming on about manuals, one of my consumer bugbears. If One for All can provide users with a properly written hard copy user guide for a gizmo that costs less than £30, why can't manufacturers of much more expensive gadgets e.g. mobile phones or camcorders do the same? They simply have no excuse not to, in my book.

Preliminary tip. It pays to spend a few minutes working out and noting down in advance which extra functions on which remote you want to assign to the extra keys on your URC via the learning feature. And similarly for the macros you want to program. Then you can do it all smoothly in one go.


To control my TV, there are two functions I use a lot which on my Philips remote are tucked away, I even have to open a flap to access one of them.

Mapping them on to two obvious keys on the 7555 has made life a lot easier. (I've even sneakily got one key of the URC, in Sat mode, to emulate another key on my TV remote! Worked for me, anyway.)

TV tip: the power button turns the TV off but won't turn most TVs on, use a number button instead to do that.

Topfield 5800 PVR

The 7555 doesn't have as many buttons as my Toppy's remote. But it has just about enough for what I need, even without resorting to shifted learning commands. I don't in fact use all the buttons on my Toppy anyway - others might, and if so they might want a URC with more buttons, or more customisable buttons.
I've set out my Toppy button assignments below for anyone interested. Non-Topfield owners can of course skip the next section.

Topfield 5800 PVR key mappings

Code 1545 seemed to work best for me. But I had to make it learn volume up and down and channel up and down, to get those buttons to work properly.

Tip: to record, you have to press the Record key twice in a row, this is just a "feature" of the URC 7555.

In case this may help other Toppy owners, here are my key assignments on the 7555 (reflecting my reliance on MyStuff EPG and QuickJump), copied via the learning function:
  • ? = Archive on the Toppy's remote
  • Radio = White, for deleting recordings from the archive
  • >>| = Text, for QuickJump's back 30 seconds
  • Subt = PIP Swap, for QuickJump's back 1 minute
  • |<< = |> (search), for setting a new ControlTimer
  • Back = Exit. Seemed to make sense to me.
  • -/-- = Opt (for powering off 10 mins after it finishes recording, if still recording when I want to go to bed).

(I found that keys in about the same position as on the original Toppy remote worked best for me, as I seem to use them more by memorised location / feel than label or look.)


I've mentioned what macros can do. The macros I use on the 7555 are:
  • Fav key (bottom right) - turn on everything
  • PPV (bottom left) - turn off everything
  • Magic key then Power (a shifted macro) - turn off TV now, and turn off the Toppy 10 mins after it finishes recording (using the Opt 10 minutes trick).

Macro troubleshooting tip: at first I couldn't get a macro on a button to work in Sat mode, even though the same key would output the right sequence of keypresses in other modes like TV. I realised it was because I had also programmed the key to learn a command from the Toppy remote. Once I cleared that "learning", the button worked fine to operate the macro in Sat mode.

There are other macro gotchas e.g. you can't program a macro onto the Record key, best read the small print notes for them! My one quibble with the manual: warning notes on stuff like that should be more up front, in my view.

Other features

There's other clever stuff the 7555 can do which I won't bore you with. Like "Key Magic", where even if you don't know how, the One for All customer service team will help get you the codes to program a function from your original remote control to the 7555.

And how was it for me?

I find the URC 7555 One For All Universal 5 in 1 Stealth TV/DVD/SAT/AMP/VCR Remote Control very handy indeed, and very good from a "design for usability" viewpoint. It took me half an hour or less to get to grips with it and make it all learn the keys I needed to control my Toppy the way I like it, but if your AV boxes are more standard and your URC has enough buttons, you may not even need to get it to learn anything at all after you've entered the setup codes for your equipment.

I really can't think of any disadvantages. To get learning and macro features at this price is just excellent value for money, in my view. It's worked for me every time so far, without a hitch. I've not had cause to use the customer support yet but the website appears very well set up and consumer-friendly. There's even a "Find my remote" section in the One for All site's sidebar to help you decide which model of remote to choose, depending on what equipment you want to control ("Find my remote" is a bit of a misnomer I feel, as it's meant for pre-sales help rather than post-purchase support for "my" One for All remote - I think they should rename it "Remote picker", or "Which remote?").

One for All are a market leader in URCs and they offer a huge variety to suit almost every need and pocket, from the relatively cheap one I bought to ultra sophisticated ones like the well known Kameleon range. If I need to upgrade in future I'll probably get another One for All (but certainly not a Philips).

(And it shouldn't need to be said but I have no connection with One for All except as a satisfied customer!)

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My media consumption diet meme: and what's "media", anyway?

Sunday, April 29, 2007
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I've come excruciatingly late to this meme. Jeremiah Owyang started it, and John Tropea tagged me way back in Feb. I was offline for some weeks when John tagged me, and have been trying to catch up on my blog since. In internet time this is probably a year or two too late, but better late than never. There's internet time, dog years and Improbulus months. No prizes for guessing which runs the slowest!

As many people now know, for this meme you're supposed to list your media consumption diet with the most used on top. This has also crossed over a bit into a "my fave gadgets/software" post too, but the two are very closely related for me.

What's "media" anyway?

Being a detailed deconstructionist by instinct (sad but true), my initial reaction was in fact to ponder the meaning of "media" in this context. Of course looking at Jeremiah's original post you get an idea of what he's after, but trust me to always want to break things down...

Text, pictures, sound, audiovisual - our senses

At the purest, most basic yet broadest level, I think of media as:
  • text, absorbed visually - books, magazines, Webpages, emails
  • static images, also visual - photos, paintings, graphics on webpages or in emails
  • audio e.g. music, radio news, auditory naturally
  • video, both visual and audio of course - TV, cinema, online videos
In other words, it's consumption through our key senses.

And more senses...

It might be going too far at this point to consider "media" to extend to what is consumed via our other senses, like touch/sensation. But maybe not.

True virtual reality seems to be not too far around the corner now. Witness the Nintendo Wii with its 3D motion sensing and feedback, and the development of other haptic devices (though not much seems to be happening in teledildonics, not that I follow that field closely, of course, nope... - but it's odd, I'd have thought there was great money making potential there). Then the increasing sophistication of 3D printing, even of living tissue. Recording and playing back smells and scents, or "attaching" smells to digital photos to help you sniff them out, and the development of electronic noses and even electronic tongues that taste, and electronically simulating taste and "mouthfeel".

I do think that convergence of media, generally thought of as the merging of Net, TV and phone, will eventually lead to convergence of some of these aspects too, that media consumption via the (currently) lesser used senses will be a huge, huge growth area for the future. Anyway, back on point..

Or media consumption devices?

You could also consider media consumption by the type of device or tool used to consume it:
  • computer
  • TV
  • cinema
  • mobile phone
  • music players - MP3 or CD player
  • video players and portable media players (PMPs)
  • gaming device - XBox, Playstation, Wii
  • radio
  • etc.
(And by the way if you're talking convergence by device, I think it's not just the triple play of internet, TV and phone but also gaming consoles and of course music players, digital cameras, video cameras and indeed full computers too. Which is why I listed "gaming device" there).

Well I think most people who've written about their media consumption diet have effectively blended the two - type of media, type of device - so I'll do that too.

But first I'd say that at the most basic level I think my media consumption diet would be:
text >>> audiovisual >> audio > visual (non-text)

I'm impatient. Text is the quickest way to get an overview, literally take in the big picture depicted in a meaningful way, then absorb the bits I want. In terms of finding info rather than being passively entertained, linear audiovisual or audio is just too slow for me, and fast forward / rewind through audio/video just isn't as accurate as flipping pages or scrolling text.

As for trying to drag me to an art gallery or museum or on scenic walks, it's harder than trying to give a cat a bath, believe me. Though you can always try to bribe me with icecream. The operative word being "try".

And so, finally, on to my media consumption diet, set out in the more usual way. (No further digression hopefully, beyond saying that there's of course also increasing media production - what are blogs after all? - and increasing interplay and convergence between media consumption and production, the whole interactive TV, social Web 2.0 thang. OK, no more on that now!). Here goes.

My media consumption diet is (not surprisingly):
Internet >> paper / print ~= TV >>> music >>>> games >>>>> art (on the consumption versus production front, at least).



I'm on the net constantly, both at home and at work (broadband ADSL at home). Always had an enquiring mind, and I love having (almost) instant answers literally at my fingertips to the eternal what, why, when, where, how. Web as giant reference library, woohooooo! I'm forever rushing off to PC to look things up.

PC not Mac, because it's PCs at work and I figured the learning curve would be shallower with Windows at home too.

Firefox is my fave browser for speed, flexibility and power, but I use Internet Explorer 7 too despite its speed issues (even with tweaks) and lack of features - and not just for internet banking (though kudos to First Direct for a Fox-compatible site!). Some sites or services still work better in IE and e.g. sometimes PDFs which crash Fox open OK in IE.

But mainly, it's a privacy thing. I set Fox up to open certain sites in tabs on launch e.g. Blogger, with cookies saved so I'm automatically logged in to my (since New Blogger) Google Account.

Though Google now say they will anonymize server logs of users' details (queries, IP addresses etc) after 18 to 24 months, I still don't like the idea of Google keeping track of the searches made when logged in to my Google Account "for personalisation".

So I'll use IE for searches I don't want Google to associate with Improbulus (no sniggering at back, it could be quite innocuous, it's just none of Google's business that I've been researching X for instance). And I'll use IE even for searches which I don't mind anyone knowing about, just on principle. (I don't maintain a personalised Google homepage, for the same reason.)

I'm happy to get ads in Net searches, as of course they'll often be related to what I'm looking for.

Communication - email, feeds etc

Email. Gmail rules, particularly with its effective spam blocking and alias function (I use Spamgourmet too). Though I'm generally paranoid about my privacy I don't mind software agents reading my mail and serving up ads, some of those ads are actually quite useful. I figure that any free Webmail provider could read their users' mail if they want to anyway; my main protection is keeping my different online identities separate e.g. this one and my real one. I mostly access my Gmail via POP on Outlook 2003 unless I'm out, in which case for checking mail or writing quick emails I use the Nokia 7710 smartphone or LG Shine. I do have some niggles about Gmail, but that's another post...

I'm not a huge Microsoft fan but I'm a keyboard person and I'm too used to the keyboard shortcuts in Outlook to switch to Thunderbird though I tried a couple times (I even use draft Outlook emails for my personal notes, having not yet found note-taking software that suits me exactly - ctrl-n for new blank email, type title and tags in the subject, full notes in the body including links, pasted screenshots and files, ctrl-s to save to my Drafts folder, and all fully searchable. If only Outlook categories were a bit easier to use).

Feeds and news. I rarely use feed readers. I just keep an eye on some key sites like the main Google blogs, though mostly via email alerts (I've set Outlook plus some other apps to all launch on startup. Email arriving gets my attention even if there are lots of them, it feels easier and quicker to me reading emails than looking through feeds - maybe emails feel more bite-sized? Anyway, somehow, to me scanning feeds seems more of a chore, requiring more active work on my part. But that's just me).

Key sites, to me, are mainly the generators or creators of news and new info, more than those who merely report it. Sorry, no offence to journalists. I prefer to hear it straight from the "horse's mouth", or from sites (like Out-law) which include a clear link to the original source - press release, corporate blog, government paper etc. That's one reason I think the BBC website is one of the most authoritative, reliable news sites - they usually link to the original source in the right sidebar.

Another aside: I think that as competition for our attention increases but our spare time decreases, people will more and more prefer to cut things down and get their news from one or two media sources which they feel they can trust, which aren't afraid to reveal their original sources (within reason e.g. protecting whistleblowers), whose reports they know they can verify for themselves.

(My views, I admit, may be slightly coloured by the fact that once I was "in the know" behind the scenes, though only very peripherally - you know, the 23rd handmaiden from the left in the 458th scene's basket carrier's left littlest toenail trimmer's nailclipper sharpener - on something that was for a time widely reported in the media almost every day. I would read "news" reports and think, OMG where did they get that info from, they're printing that as fact but it's totally wrong, what do they think they're doing, how can they say that, where could they have got that idea from, are they just making it up or what? Now I'm really digressing on the power of the press and how people seem to accept things as true so much more readily just because "it was on the news". But I feel very strongly that we the public should be able to rely on journalists having some integrity and sense of social responsibility, when all too often we can't. We can, at least, reliably rely on the instinct to sell, sell, sell more papers, ads, etc. Ah, well.)

Anyway, must get back on track again! That was still on media so maybe not too much of a digression...

As I've so little time (this blog is effectively my 3rd job) I limit the sites I check and even so I still never have enough time to read everything I'd like to. Yes, I'm currently behind on checking my email alerts too, though I try to keep up with personal email that I get.

(Phones, don't forget phones, if we're talking communication they shouldn't be left out. I don't text much or even use the phone much, to be honest. I'm mentioning this under Communication but in terms of volume of usage it should go below TV and reading. Though I don't know if it's stretching it to call phone usage "media consumption", unless you're talking email or mobile TV etc on a phone.)

My ultimate dream gadget: full internet (Web and email, feeds etc) everywhere via a Psion 5mx with a phone and full broadband-speed Net access (web, email, everything) on an "all you can eat" fixed monthly fee price plan. (A real keyboard, not onscreen, is best for quick data entry - two hands faster than one - and I'm not the only one who feels that nothing beats the 5mx keyboard for data entry on the move, if you're a touch typist - in the Tube, the little room, etc. Plus the Symbian EPOC32 OS is rock solid and lightning fast). Oh and with a colour screen, voice recorder, camera/video recorder, music player, and headphone socket while I'm at it, well I can dream. Krusell case too of course. Now I'm really digressing! But Santa, if you're listening..?


Reading from paper, well that's mostly non-fiction magazines and the like. New Scientist, Financial Times, Private Eye. Fortean Times and T3 for fun. The occasional Economist and Wired. I read a lot for work and for general interest e.g. for this blog.

Nowadays I don't read much fiction though I did when I was a mere slip of a lass. Finished all the Agatha Christies by age 11, Asimovs by 13. As with video my favourite genres are crime and detective fiction (the puzzles, mysteries, whodunnit theme again), and SF, fantasy and horror (the "literature of ideas" theme). Faves: Robert B Parker, Janet Evanovich, Sue Grafton, Dick Francis, Terry Pratchett, Guy Gavriel Kay, David Feintuch (not dissimilar to Parker in terms of the integrity and honour themes, I've noticed, though rather more angst-ridden), Lois McMaster Bujold. All time faves include Asimov, Ellison, Russ and Tolkien, not surprisingly.

My fiction reading these days goes in spurts. I'll go to the library, borrow a big wodge of books, read them all in quick succession. Then not read fiction again for a few months.

Yes, borrow. I now mostly only buy books which I've already read and consider worth re-reading, or referring to. Reason - I read too quickly, if I bought everything I read I'd be out of both room and cash fast. Plus I prefer to try before I buy. So libraries are my mainstay for fiction.

Trilogyitis, bah. A rant about trilogyitis. It's a disease, I say. I hate with a passion the fad, too longrunning in my view, for trilogies in SF and fantasy. I think it's put a lot of readers off unnecessarily. Call me impatient, but I can't stand waiting a year for volume 2, then another for volume 3. I'll have forgotten what happened in vol 1 by the time they're out anyway. So, I'll wait until all 3 volumes are out and available on the shelves at the same time, and then I'll read them all in a row. Not before. I utterly refuse to.

I don't mind self-contained books in a series set against the same backdrop, possibly with a longer-term story arc, e.g. Bujold's, but I think trilogies sell the reader short. I guess trilogies must be more profitable for the publishers or they wouldn't butcher perfectly good books by splitting them into 3 volumes, often incomprehensible individually, but I'd much rather they rolled the 3 into one fat book and charged me triple for it. Kudos to Mary Gentle for Ash, for instance - one of my faves, though I haven't taken to everything she's written. Why can't there be more slim single books like many that Pat Cadigan writes, I ask?

If I pick up an interesting looking book but it's clearly part of a trilogy and not self-contained (or even if it is, but the author's not someone I already like), I put it straight back unless all the volumes are there. Yes, all. Sure I could miss something good that way, but as at least a few good books are released not as trilogies (e.g. Naomi Novik's series) I'll go for those instead. It's one way to pick what to read, and life is too short to battle with trilogies when there are other alternatives. /rant.

I hardly read non-fiction books, these days.

Electronic books. I've not tried e-paper devices yet and I won't till they're more advanced. They'll have to be as clear and easy on the eye as paper (my eyesight isn't brilliant even with glasses) and as quick and easy to flip through as books and magazines, though a search facility, quick navigation (links from contents pages, "go to" page X etc) and zooming would be essential additional features for an electronic reading gadget. A5 size, lightweight, water-resistant, computer connectivity (ideally wireless). New pages would have to come up instantly, if I had to wait even a second for that I'd scream. So as you can guess, with resolution and navigation not being what I'd like, I don't even read e-books at the moment, not even on my beloved Psion.


I watch at least an hour of TV a day, most days. It's a way to unwind after work and other stuff that I do (I'm out a lot), over a home-cooked dinner (I cook a few days' worth at a time then reheat). I have a widescreen Philips, no room on floor or wall for anything bigger or I'd have it.

I like crime/detective and SF/fantasy/horror, preferably with interesting plots leavened by a touch of wit and humour, and strong characterisation. I've probably seen or read too much as I usually guess whodunnnit very early on, or before the denouement anyway, so it matters that there are characters I can care about.

Or else I watch gripping action thrillers or light comedy fluff, both of which serve to take my mind off serious stuff and rest the brain. I rarely watch "heavy" angst-ridden worthy art films or foreign language subtitled etc fare these days and the word "experimental" has me running a googol miles, too much hard work, I watched more than my fair share of all that when I were a young 'un and now I just want to have a break and be entertained.

Fave series are listed in my profile but currently include The Closer, CSI, New Tricks, Without a Trace, Criminal Minds, The Inside, Numb8rs. Plus Lost, House, Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty, West Wing, Commander in Chief, Medium.

My favouritest mini-series of all time would include Maximum Bob, Buffy, Babylon 5.

PVRs. With my trusty Topfield 5800 personal video recorder (twin Freeview tuners, EPG, loads of great user-produced mini-applications), it's a constant battle to watch and delete stuff before I completely fill up its 250 GB hard drive. (I could archive to DVD but my DVD-RW drive that came with my Dell PC went bust and I've not got round to getting another yet). I very rarely watch live TV.

Yes, I often skip ads. But I do see the "sponsored by" bits before and after the ads, so I think sponsorship of programmes or channels is more effective these days. (And I watch some too if they're good - I love the comfy glove ads by Spontex for House (they should have had them for download from their website from the start, huge missed opportunity, though the ads are downloadable now, no doubt by popular demand), and the Cobra mini-movies. But I want to strangle them, throw something or worse when the annoying 118 men come on, and as for that pseudo American prat they have for CSI (I think it's CSI, I hate him so much I've blanked out what the show is and especially what product or service they're supposed to be advertising) grrrrr - they're positively counterproductive.)

DVD rentals? I barely have enough time to watch the programes and films I record from Freeview, as it is. So I rarely have time to go out and rent a DVD (and am too lazy to walk to the DVD rental shop, especially as the one nearest me has closed recently, victim of the growth in DVD rentals by post no doubt).

I've never taken to DVD rental by post. I know I can set the list of movies I'd like to see, but for me so much depends on my mood, and if the one they've sent me, though it's on my list, doesn't suit my current mood, it's no good for me and I won't watch it. I want to decide exactly what I feel like watching, as and when I have time to watch something.

I don't buy many DVDs, like with books I only buy if I want to re-watch for reasons of space and money. So it's just Lord of the Rings, Buffy, Babylon 5 pretty much. And I find I don't have the time to re-watch them anyway so I may just stop buying them.

Cable or satellite? For me it would be a waste of money subscribing for cable or satellite as I have trouble getting through my Freeview recordings as it is. Plus I considered cable before and the company's left hand clearly didn't know what their right was doing so I decided it wasn't worth it. Satellite would also be too troublesome as I live in a listed building and getting permission to have a dish would be nightmarish.

Mobile TV? Mobile TV on smartphones and PDAs etc, even laptops, don't really grab me (unless perhaps I'm desperate to keep up with something on the move, so I can see it would appeal to sports fans wanting the latest score etc. Which I'm not). I prefer video on a bigger screen, with remote control. Even TV on computer (e.g. Freetube) doesn't appeal very much to me unless I can watch it on my TV in decent size and quality.

VOD, downloadable internet TV, IPTV. I've been thinking of getting BT Vision video on demand - they provide a set top box so you can definitely watch downloaded films on your TV. If I do get BT Vision it would be mainly as a video or DVD rental substitute, so I can rent a movie I feel like watching without having to go outdoors and, eeeek, walk down the road. Especially in the winter, brrrrr... Which is probably why I rarely rent DVDs. I think I'd be much more likely to download something I can watch on a full TV screen in the comfort of my own home without having to move my butt more than a few feet.

I'm looking forward to the forthcoming BBC iPlayer for TV catchup over the Net, but will only use it seriously if I can pipe it from PC to widescreen TV (and of course if there's anything worth watching on the BBC channels!). I don't find watching video on my PC monitor much fun if it's more than a few minutes long (see my post on BBC iMP, the iPlayer's precursor, which I was involved in trialling; I'm also taking part in the BBC TV Test - I think this page is the only public one so far).

I expect I'll be watching more and more IPTV / video on demand.


I do once in a while go to movie theatres, but I feel no compulsion to rush to see the latest thing (well except for Lord