Damn that thieving YouTube

As time thieves go, YouTube must be a hands-down winner. While researching for my column this coming weekend, I happened to go past YouTube and think that I would quickly look up Kay Starr to see what she sounded like.

I first thought I would just listen to her singing Rock and Roll Waltz but I had forgotten about the list of suggested videos which YouTube puts up alongside the clip you happen to be looking at. How could I then resist looking at the lady singing Bonaparte’s Retreat, or clicking on the link on that page, to hear Willie Nelson singing the same song, and then to Patti Page singing Tennessee Waltz.

It was then only a short step to satisfy my curiosity as to whether Patsy Cline could sing it better than Patti. After that, I had wasted so much time that I thought I might as well click on the link and listen to Patsy singing Wayward Wind.

And we won’t even go into the half hour or so that I spent having a listen to some Connie Francis tracks. It was hours late, at least I did get the column down eventually…

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The evil empire strikes back, belatedly.

Good news arrived in my inbox just as I was sitting wondering what to base this column on.

The message was from the evil empire, Telkom, and basically said that its ADSL customers were going to be getting more bandwidth for their money from August 1, 2010. And about time too, I thought.

kenwright Bill Kenwright’s The Golden Years

Read moreThe evil empire strikes back, belatedly.

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Lucky dip goodies

Over the last few weeks I have been collecting bits and pieces and I thought I would share them with you this time.

According to a news story I saw recently, it seems that Internet-filtering technology can have unintended consequences. The magazine of Canada’s National History Society is being forced to change its name due to the fact that porn filters in schools and some e-mail systems were blocking access to the magazine.

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Beware of the YouTube

YouTube has come up in these columns from time to time but, in keeping with my current theme of whether its possible to depend wholly on the Internet for one’s entertainment, I thought I’d mention it again, and issue issue a warning.

For those who haven’t yet encountered it, YouTube (www.youtube.com) is a video sharing site which allows anyone to upload video for the world to enjoy. The interesting YouTube blog (youtube-global.blogspot.com) gives a glimpse of how huge the site is.

Users are apparently adding to it at the rate of 20 hours of video every minute of every day. Throw into the mix a billion videos viewed every day by site visitors, and you have an entertainment phenomenon which is probably unparalleled in history.

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They’re playing our iTunes

Is it just me or are our already bad TV broadcasts getting even worse?

I’ve mentioned this before but, as a DSTV subscriber, the continual onslaught of repeat programming and house adverts, regurgitated several times every hour, are driving me to distraction. I try not to, but I can’t help feeling slightly murderous when I tune in, to find that The Deadliest Catch, Ice Road Truckers or Orange County Chopper is on. Again!
And, if DSTV is bad, the SABC is even worse.

Over the last couple of months I have again been wondering if it could be viable to rely solely on the Internet for one’s entertainment needs. I’ve had the idea before but, at the price of Internet connectivity then, it didn’t seem practical.

Read moreThey’re playing our iTunes

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Having their socks blown off

One of the latest videos to make headlines on YouTube and in the news media is something that I’d really recommend you see.

The video was taken of the show Britain’s Got Talent, which is a show owned by Simon Cowell, who also invented the Idols phenomenon.

The clip shows decidedly unglamorous spinster Susan Boyle, 48, about to go on stage for her audition to win a place in the show. She is being interviewed and admits that she lives alone with her cat, that she has never even been kissed, and things get worse when actually goes out on stage.

The judges and the audience are not inclined to to believe such an uncool-looking person could possibly turn in a good performance and are clearly settling back to enjoy her humiliation. Things don’t go according to plan, however, when Susan launches into I Dreamed a Dream, from Les Miserables, in voice which would not disgrace a concert hall.

She blows their socks off, with the audience going wild, judges Piers Morgan and Simon Cowell grinning incredulously, and judge Amanda Holden so far forgetting herself, that she gives Susan a standing ovation.

You can view the video by clicking here.

There are a number of versions of the clip, which should last about seven minutes, and each had been viewed several million times when I looked last week.

Free software and shareware, which you can try and then buy if you like it, has long been one of my passions and one of the prime sites for finding examples of both, in my opinion, is the oddly-named Tucows (www.tucows.com). It has software of all descriptions, for all computer platforms, rated on a sliding scale from one to five cows.

I recently visited Tucows looking for this and that, when I discovered that they now have a companion site called Butterscotch (www.butterscotch.com), which has many interesting bits and pieces relating to computing and mobiles. On offer are a wide selection of video clips, which you can watch for free, just by clicking on the one you want to watch.

The video clips are divided into shows, with regular instalments, and tutorials. The shows include the latest news on popular YouTube videos, computer-related news, great software that you can download, and the latest in mobile technology.

Also on offer are a wide selection of tutorials covering the use of popular online services and software programs. They include such useful lessons as how to print web pages without including the background design, how to use the popular music player Winamp, the beginner’s guide to blogging with Blogger, buying and selling on eBay, and an introduction to the Flickr online photo sharing service.

I have watched quite number of the videos and found that they are potentially very useful and designed to be accessible to novices and more experienced computer users. Because Butterscotch is based very largely around video clips, you would have to have broadband before you could derive much benefit from the site.

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Replacing my television set

There is no doubt that the SABC is one of the worst television broadcasters I know, but DSTV isn’t all that far behind them.

The constant repetition of programming and a catalogue of movies which couldn’t even be classed as B-grade, has meant that I am often at a loose end in the evenings and looking for something to occupy my time.

One avenue which I have been exploring is programming delivered via the Internet. For a couple of years, I have been a regular listener to BBC radio, which is one of the many stations which one can listen to over the Internet.

Also, for the last year or two, I have been using a free Apple programme called iTunes to download a weekly video programme presented by Photoshop guru Scott Kelby with digital image manipulation tips and tricks. I hadn’t really paid much attention to iTunes otherwise, but one evening when I really couldn’t find anything on television to watch, I decided I would have a closer look at it.

You can download it from www.apple.com and there are versions for both PC and Macintosh computers. It can be used to keep track of your library of sound and video material and lets you play the items on your computer or copy them onto an Apple iPod so that you can enjoy them wherever you are.

There are a number of media player programs available but the trick that Apple came up with, and which makes iTines so compelling, is the Internet-based iTunes store. It’s a repository of material including music, audio books, movies, television shows and podcasts which can be downloaded either for a fee, songs are 99 US cents each for example, or for free.

The bad news is that, once again, South African customers are left sucking the hind tit because the pay content is not available to us and I don’t know if it ever will be; Apple’s PR in Europe has so far not responded to my request for clarification. And so, you might ask, why is he telling us this if we can’t download the latest Hannah Montana episode?

The answer is that there is a lot of excellent free stuff that you can get by firing up the iTunes program and clicking on the iTunes Store button. Most of the free stuff consists of podcasts, which are regular audio or video magazine programs, so you need to visit that section of the store and browse around till you find something of interest.

Each podcast will have a subscribe button next to it and you click that to tell iTunes you are interested in it and want to download it. The program will download the latest edition of the podcast for you automatically and give you the option of downloading previous editions, if you want them.

From then on, whenever iTunes starts, it will automatically go off to the store to check if there is a new edition of any of the podcasts you’ve subscribed to. There doesn’t seem to be any limit to the number of podcasts that you can subscribe to but I’m learning to be picky because it is easy to download more than you could possibly watch or listen to.

One of my current favourites is a podcast by American comedian Adam Carolla which he updates about four or five times a week and which I find hugely funny. I definitely recommend that you put this one on your list of things to listen to but please be warned that Carolla and his guests are sometimes pretty explicit in what they have to say.

Many podcasts are designed to entertain but there are a probably an equally large number which are meant to be informative and educational and these range from the informal, with people giving hints and tips on their specialities, to universities providing academic lectures to anyone who wants to listen.

The more academic stuff is grouped under the iTunes U banner and I have listened to a little of what’s on offer. They vary quite greatly in sound quality from the pretty bad to more professionally produced offerings. A very interesting series of lectures that I’m listening to is on the history of photography and, from my limited knowledge of the subject, they seem to be extremely good.

There are also a large variety of podcasts which are ongoing study courses on many different subjects. Some of these are entirely free and some offer free material but are designed to attract you into paying for the deluxe version of the course.

The type of material you download has a direct bearing on how much bandwidth you’ll use, with sound working out at about 40-50 Mb per hour, and video files being much larger. Our puny expensive bandwidth means that most people will have to limit their subscriptions but, at least, there is an alternative to the dreadful goggle box.

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The 1980s as ancient history

There are many people in South Africa who enjoy the radio but I’m definitely not among their number, and I don’t know many who are.

The content, at least from the stations I can receive in Durban, seems to be either pure government propaganda or aimed at an age-group who think that the 1980s are ancient history. I have mentioned this before in these columns and the solution I came up with is to explore the world of radio broadcast over the Internet.

You can certainly find programming for every taste but there are a couple of problems including the fact that you have to know your way around computers and Internet connections to be able to listen. A new product, which arrives in South Africa in October, promises to make the listening experience easier.

The Tivoli NetWorks Radio has an FM tuner, but is also capable of playing Internet stations from around the world. You don’t need a computer to listen because the unit can be plugged straight into an ADSL connection or can connect through any available WiFi connection.

The unit can also be used to access and play music stored on a computer, via Ethernet and WiFi connections, and it can play music from MP3 players and iPods via USB connection.

The NetWorks will be available from outlets around the country (more info from tivoliaudio.co.za) at a price of around R7500. The price sounds a bit high to me but the main drawback is going to be the amount of bandwidth, 40-60Mb an hour, you use when listening to radio over the Internet.

Still, the NetWorks sounds like a gadget I’d be very interested once Telkom’s stranglehold on the bandwidth price is broken. In the meantime, thanks to mail from a reader, I can share a cheaper way of getting access to some decent radio stations.

I didn’t know, but there is a very reasonable package called EasyView which is available from DSTV. It costs a mere R20 per month and you get a handful of television channels, including those from SABC and e-TV.

You also get Al Jazeera, which is not at all bad, and a few other less interesting channels, such as the Parliamentary Service. The real benefit of EasyView, however, is that you get a whole fistful of radio channels which provides a quite a choice.

The channels include three from BBC World and World Radio Network which, until quite recently, were broadcast on SABC in the wee hours, and which were such a boon to the insomniacs among us.

Also included on EasyView are Voice of America, the English Service of Radio Nederland, some Indian-language stations, some religious ones, Classic FM, 702 Talk Radio, and quite a number of smaller local stations from South Africa and Namibia, which play a selection of music.

To access the service, you will need a DSTV decoder, which are pretty reasonable these days, a television, and a satellite dish, whether individual or communal. Getting set up will cost a bit but the monthly subscription is less than a couple of cups of coffee.

The helpful reader also pointed out that you aren’t necessarily stuck with listening only where the TV set is located. You can connect the output from the decoder directly to a HiFi set or to a modulator.

These you can find in some computer outlets or electronics stores, and they can broadcast your chosen station for a limited distance so that it can be picked up by your portable radio in the bedroom.

Dear DSTV, you’ve done a good thing with your EasyView package but now can you please offer one with the news, documentaries and sport TV channels as well? And, while we’re at it, won’t you please for heaven’s sake stop the interminable station branding and the forthcoming attractions.

Watching the trailer for Deadliest Catch five times in an hour is enough to drive otherwise mild people to murder. We got the idea the first time. We understand that there have to be breaks, as there are not enough real adverts to fill the time, but silence would be infinitely preferable to what you’re dishing up now.

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Calling back the past

During the last week I have been on a major nostalgia trip with the discovery that Springbok Radio is alive and well and broadcasting on the Internet.

My childhood was defined, probably above all else, by the radio station which broadcast drama, comedy, chat and music, between 1 May 1950 and 31 December 1985. Whether it was listening to the plays through a discreet earphone under the bed clothes when I should have been sleeping, enjoying Squad Cars, Taxi or the Navy Lark with the family, or grooving along with Gruesome Gresh to the Top Twenty hits of the week, I was a Springbok radio fan.

The station, at www.springbokradio.com, is a project of the Springbok Radio Preservation society and it began broadcasting a six-hour block of programs, repeated four times each day, from 1 July, 2007. I was obviously not the only one wallowing in nostalgia because the station’s servers in the USA were speedily overwhelmed. At the time of writing, the station was only hosting a two-hour broadcast, changing each day, and the hope was to get the full service back up and running by July 10. [Added July 13. All seems in order with the broadcast except that the Play button didn’t work on the on-screen media player. Clicking Optional Link, next to Help, worked just fine.]

In addition to the daily broadcasts, there is a growing archive of adverts and programming available to listen to any time you want to. Included is Percy Sieff’s Call Back The Past series, which I followed avidly when broadcast, and Jan Cronje and Esme Euvrard’s program, So Maak Mens.

It seems that a lot of radio shows from those days were taped by the production houses onto reel to reel tape, played over the radio and then sent back to have other shows taped onto it, thus erasing the tape’s original contents. Fortunately for us, many people recorded their favourite programmes when broadcast, and these recordings find their way into the hands of the preservation society.

The person responsible for saving the most amount of material was called Neil Gesson and he apparently recorded programmes between 1955 and 1985, with the intention of having something to listen to in his retirement. Material received by the society is restored with the help of computer software and copies are lodged in the archive of the society, a reserve archive in the USA, and in the SABC archives. [More details on how the programs are preserved.]

In addition to the material broadcast back in the days of yore, I saw in an interview on E-News, that the station is also going to be commissioning new programmes with the proviso that they conform to Springbok’s vintage image.

I found it very easy to listen to the broadcasts and anyone with Windows Media installed on their computers is not going to have a problem. The fly in the ointment is, as usual, our nice high bandwidth prices imposed on us by the lovely Telkom.

It would cost too much, both in bandwidth and computer hardware, to host the station in South Africa so listening to Springbok Radio is going to cost us a fair bit as the signal has to travel from the USA. It’s grossly unfair, of course, but it means that most of us will have to limit our time spent listening.

I’m looking forward to the day when we will be able to leave Internet radio playing in the background and not worry what our bill is going to be like. Our current situatiion is a far cry from a recent report that users in some areas in the USA are whining because they are being limited to 250Gb of bandwidth a month.

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