Oct 202012
 

This rant has been brewing for a while, and I’ve finally got chance to write down my thoughts on a matter that rather annoys me, and that is TV shows, or more to the point, the current method for watching them. It isn’t just limited to TV either, films come under the same category, although to a lesser degree.

So, what is my problem with all this? Easy, I was paying Sky TV about £50 a month, to watch maybe 10 hours of shows each week. The rest of the time that I was watching TV was spent browsing through the program guide or watching re-runs of old shows. The whole TV industry is another one, similar to the music industry, that is stuck in an old way of thinking. When TV first came about, it was required for a central agency to broadcast the shows on a fixed schedule, there was no other way to get the information out to the viewers. Cable and satellite came along later, but still it was required to broadcast from a central point. Now we have high speed internet going to the majority of the population, but rather than make it easier for us, its added a new layer of complexity to it. Yes, you can use Netflix, or Love Film, or iTunes to buy your TV shows and stream them to your TV, but to ensure that you get all the shows you want, you will have to subscribe to all the providers out there, which can start to cost a lot, not to mention the usage caps that ISPs put on their broadband packages. This also doesn’t take into account initial air dates of shows, with the UK generally getting shows months after they first air in the USA. I signed up for Netflix to give it a try, and whilst it has a large catalogue of programs to watch, the latest series of shows don’t show.

What can we do about this? Well, I am by no means an expert (this is just a rant after all) and only have a rough idea of how things work in the industry, but surely there is a better way to distribute a TV show? A big broadcasting infrastructure is no longer needed, so why do we still have the middle man of broadcasters? Much like some musicians are doing, how about a TV studio puts their latest series up on the internet to buy and download? With technologies such as Bit Torrent, then the actual technical requirements would be rather low. I believe this would give quite a few benefits such as:

  • Direct payment to the studios will mean a bigger share of profits
  • No more guessing on the popularity of a show. If people like it, they will be buying it.
  • The people pay for the shows they want to watch, so hopefully things like X Factor will not  be on our screens. Who’d actually pay for it?
  • You can watch the episodes when you want. Big new series? Watch it when it first comes out and join in the discussions about it. Late to hear about a show? Catch up at your pleasure.

Of course there are a few drawbacks. Initial funding for a series would need to be found somewhere, which is where the current media corporations come in, and the networks have a lot of resources behind them that a small studio may not have access to, including sound stages and filming equipment. I would be very happy to spend the £50 a month on TV shows that I like, hopefully giving them a lot bigger portion of my money then they are currently getting. For example, if I watch 10 hours of TV a week, then I’d just pay £1.25/hour for the actual TV I watch. Of course, the show would probably make the first couple of episodes free to get interest going, and perhaps offer the entire series for a bulk price, or even a discount on the DVD release. Free to air TV stations in the UK aren’t too bad, with various catch up methods, but none of these offer true freedom and each station has a different program required to watch them.

This isn’t a new idea either, Sanctuary started as a budget web series which then got picked up by a network. YouTube is full of interesting regular shows (and cats) such as The Guild, Tabletop, Cocktails with Stan Lee, and is also now running ‘channels’ for collections of shows including Geek and Sundry, and the Nerdist Channel. I am finding myself watching more and more YouTube shows thanks to being able to see them on the main screen.

So, perhaps this is all just wishful thinking, after all the music industry is still trying to resist the change, but perhaps like the music industry it can be subverted by smaller outfits. We’ll just have to wait and see.

 

Oct 092012
 

Its been just over a year since I started working from home with just a single day in the office each week, and over 6 months since I stopped even going in even that often. I thought I’d put down a few thoughts on how it has been for me, and some pointers if people are thinking of doing the same.

First of all, working from home is not for everyone, I’m just lucky that it suits my personality. It can be very quiet and I have actually gone nearly a whole week without leaving the house at times. For me, this isn’t a big deal and I am really liking the whole working from home thing. It has come in very handy for getting parcels delivered, and makes things like getting boiler services done or meters replaced a lot less of a logistics nightmare. I am also finding that I am being a lot more productive during the day, and the stress levels are nearing non existent!

Tips:

  • Have a separate area to work in. Don’t try to work from the living room or similar. I have my cellar set up with my main computer and all my hobbies, but if I tried to do actual work from there it would be a failure. I converted the front room from a spare bedroom into an office (with a sofa bed for visitors). This has many benefits, not least of which is I can close the door if I don’t want to be disturbed. Also, it gives you a definite feeling of finishing work when you leave the area, just the same as if you left the office to go home.
  • Work set hours. If the rest of the office workers do 9-5, then so should you. Take a lunch break at a reasonable time, and don’t take too long. It is important to be disciplined with yourself on this count. Its too easy to fall into bad habits and you will find your work suffering and your colleagues getting annoyed at you.
  • Social media helps. Not just facebook, but corporate chat systems, email, etc. You do manage to avoid a lot of the office politics that might go on, but you also need to make sure that you build good relationships with the other staff. Don’t just barge in to chat, at least not at first, but if you’re talking about work, have a bit of a chat afterwards about what you’ve been up to.
  • Make an effort to go to the office on occasion. Nothing beats real face to face time. It will also remind your colleagues that you exist!
  • Be organised. You won’t have people around you to remind you about tasks they’ve requested. Keep a list of things you are working on, prioritise it, and keep it up to date. At the end of the day, make a task list for the next day. This tip isn’t really just for people working at home, and is a useful thing to do even in an office, but it is more important to do if you are home working.
  • Arrange daily catch up meetings. This is something that was initiated at my work and is something I find really useful. For my work, the process is: At the end of each day (my time) we have a quick ‘standup’ meeting with all the remote workers to catch up on what we’ve done since the last meeting, and what we are planning on doing. This is a process taken from the agile development process, and by designating it as a standup meeting, it is kept as short as possible. Only the tech people are allowed to speak and very little, if any, organisation should take place. It is purely for information. Other people can listen in if they wish, but must stay quiet. It helps keep you connected with your colleagues, and forces you to be organised and methodical with work.

Of course, I’ve tried to be general with the above information as my job carries its own quirks that have to be adapted to, not least of which is that most of my colleagues are in a different time zone, and so are working until gone 10pm my time. That coupled with the fact that I also do a lot of on call work means working hours tend to be flexible, but that was a career choice I made a long time ago. Working with a different time zone does have a couple of big advantages, especially in my role. For starters I can get a lot of the server work done whilst most of America is still asleep, and it also gives me a lot of uninterrupted time to get stuck into things. I then have the afternoon at work to field questions from my colleagues and help them out.

So in summary, if you don’t mind being on your own for extended periods of time, and have the discipline to work unsupervised, then home working is a great option with a lot of benefits. If you enjoy the company of other people and general office banter, then working from home will rapidly drive you mad.

Oct 032012
 

Well, I’m more or less recovered now from another convention weekend. Yet again, Sean Harry has proven that he can throw a damn fine party. This time it was the 3rd Annual Vampire Ball held at the Renaissance Hotel, Heathrow, London. It was my sixth convention since I was introduced to them in 2010, and my third one at the Renaissance. Its a fantastic venue with friendly staff who don’t mind the insane antics of a bunch of geeks as they take over the lobby. We decided to travel down a day early so that I was more recovered after the long drive. I’m so glad we did seeing as it took over six hours to drive there thanks to the M40 being at a standstill. It also gave us a chance to catch up with some of the other regulars.

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