Tuesday, November 28, 2006

28 November 2006: Commentary

So it occurred to me that "Deal Or No Deal" has quite the fanbase following. And it also occurred to me that it's a very simple game. Probably too simple: the fact it has got the ratings it has for so long is quite amazing and probably down to the minor differences each game brings - the character of the player, the characters of the contestants opening the boxes, even the occasional appearance of a random spider on the set or the lucky tea-bag. But all good things must come to an end and, like Millionaire before it, the sun must surely soon begin to set on the DOND phenomenon.

Well, maybe. Channel 4 have commissioned the series through 2007, at which point they'll probably take a look at the ratings and see if people have lost interest yet. Already, though, thoughts are turning to ways to spice the game up and keep folks interested. Noel Edmonds has already said he won't touch a 'celebrity' version of DOND - quite rightly, since unlike Millionaire or Weakest Link, this just features people opening boxes ('ooo Daddy I can't wait to see how Frank Bruno and Dot Cotton open their boxes'). So I was thinking, how about pressing the red button and getting 'fan commentary'?

Sky Sports do this with their football coverage already (as do a lot of North American broadcasters, I believe, with their 'SAP' coverage option) and while 'production team' commentary has become popular on recorded drama shows and movies, it seemed to me this morning that DOND is more like a 'live' sporting event in the sense that the viewer doesn't know what's going to happen in the game, and equally doesn't particularly care about camera angles and directing skills (since it's essentially the same every day). So how about 'fanzone' commentary for a week on 'Deal Or No Deal'?

Now, before you nick my idea and write in to Endemol with it, I wish to point out that I've already done so, and indeed got the following reply from Endemol's Chief Creative Officer:

"Thanks duncan. I think its fair to say we've been thinking around this area quite a lot - as you say, DOND has a big online following. But its always good to get input from elsewhere. I've passed this on to Peter Cowlet who runs digital media for us.


So there. If it ever happens I expect a big red box containing at least £5000 or maybe a place on the show as a contestant. And if they call me back and offer me £2500? Hmmm, what do you think?

Deal or no deal?

Postscript: Blogger's spellchecker returns to form by suggesting I replace 'fanbase' with 'beanbags'. One of these days I'm going to say 'yes' to all its suggested changes and see if anyone can actually understand what I wrote.

Monday, November 27, 2006

27 November 2006: Pet

While the Bithell family welcomes another new member to its number (congratulations to them all, especially Helen for squeezing out a 10lb 9oz Reuben), things have been a little more peaceful here in stormy Southampton. Thanksgiving was fun last week (and we've already almost finished the leftover turkey, believe it or not) and partly as a result of having all the family over, I discovered a fascinating piece of paper tucked away upstairs.

We had to tidy up, you see. And that meant sorting out the 'office' - which, since we moved in at the end of September, had actually been used as a 'random storage place' for all the things that we didn't know where to put. Much of last week was spent sorting, shredding, putting stuff in the loft, but one box in particular proved of special interest. I had barely touched it since lining it with newspaper some twelve and a bit years ago to pack my stuff to go to university. Back then it contained a couple of plates, a random knife or fork and some obscure odds and ends that I thought might be useful. So last week I had to actually unpack it all and find such things as the random knife still in there. But most interesting of all was, of course, the newspaper.

Now, while most of it was from September 1994 (back then the Premiership trophy was held by Blackburn Rovers, if you can believe it), for some unknown reason one of the pieces used for packing was from The Guardian, dated 29 May 1979. Yes, 1979. How did it come to be there? I have no idea. But I thought it might contain some fascinating information, so I had a quick look through it and found absolutely nothing of any interest at all. Some kind of Middle-East unrest, issues in Northern Ireland - could have been today. The most interesting 'news' item was the bird report from Cheshire, where the correspondent relayed the exciting news that for the first time that spring, the swallows had arrived and indeed stayed all week.

However, tucked away in the corner was an advertisement that did nicely date the newspaper: a quarter-page piece encouraging the reader to invest in the machine of the future - the Commodore PET.

Feel free to click on it to get a full-scale version of the advert, but there are two key points I wish to draw out from it. Firstly, the carefully-worded piece is keen to make it clear that the PET is astoundingly useful in all circumstances: indeed, despite being a SOHO (Small Office/Home Office) machine ('for the same price as a typewriter!'), you can in fact use it to control industrial power plants:

Ooo, mummy I want one for Christmas! Yet secondly, not content with this, you can also play a wide variety of games with it...

Just what you want to do on the same machine that runs the Hinkley Point Nuclear Power facility. Of course, this was in the days before multitasking so there was little danger of Alt-Tabbing to the wrong window before hitting "SELF_DESTRUCT".

The most interesting thing about this computer, however, is not its amazing technological advancement (the model pictured comes with a whole 4k of 8-bit RAM) or indeed the fact the cassette comes built in and it's available with a larger keyboard (ooo) but the Operating System and built-in language was called 'Commodore BASIC', programmed by two gentlemen named Paul Allen and Bill Gates who had just recently founded a company named 'Micro-Soft'. They sold Commodore BASIC to Commodore for a one-off fee of $10000, with no royalties or anything else coming back to them. In fact, this is the only example in the history of Microsoft of them selling anything on a one-time royalty-free basis regardless of the number of copies used or sold.

So there, a little history on this AKTing Monday morning. Now it's time for the weekly meeting, where I doubt we'll be discussing the potential for semantic web systems that allow you to both run industrial plants and play space games. Frankly I think the computer industry just isn't imaginative any more.

Addendum: It is pointed out to me that May 1979 was actually a very interesting time, and The Guardian did indeed report interesting things during those days: for example, the election of Margaret Thatcher on May 4 and just two days after the PET advert went to press, Nottingham Forest won the European Cup (now Champions League). Funny to think Forest are playing the mighty Salisbury Town next weekend, isn't it?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

21 November 2006: Wow

... that was quick.

Elsewhere, I sadly let my William Gibson radar slip and missed the announcement that his new novel, 'Spook Country', is now with the publishers and should be with us mortals (at least in some countries) on 7 August next year. Part of the reason for the radar slipping, incidentally, is for a change not due to work pressures but actually because WG's blog has been quite heavily featuring random outtakes from said work, being followed up with much F:F:F-like discussion on the forum, and I didn't want to read anything of it before I can actually sit down and read the whole thing. I read a chapter of Pattern Recognition about a month before I got the book and later wished I hadn't.

Back in the real world of smart software and AKTing matters, it occurs to me to at least ask whether Oracle 10g's adoption of RDF storage as an optional add-on is making much impact in terms of the semantic web in the business place - or even just data format questions - as it's been a while since the release and nobody much seems bothered by it (source: trying googling on 'Oracle RDF' and see how many hits are from 2005 and how many from 2006). The reason I ask: Stellent have been bought by Oracle, meaning almost my entire computer research/experience is seeming to come together in one big Oracle-shaped lump, meaning I'm soon going to become either extremely central or utterly useless in the industry as a whole.

Finally of course, CONGRATULATIONS to Andy and Andrea who, as mentioned in a previous comment by the great Mr Moore himself, are now engaged. Good luck to them both!

Monday, November 20, 2006

20 November 2006: Forever

SaintsForever, the most popular and balanced Southampton FC fans messageboard, is no more.

Nobody seems quite sure what precipitated it happening yesterday afternoon (a comfortable away win the day before should have seen people in a good mood, right?) but after months of stress, abuse, threats and the like, Keith seems to have said 'ok, that's it'. A month or so ago the site was suspended for a few days while they decided what to do, but then re-opened. And now this... a surprise, but sadly that's the way of things.

SaintsForever was good on a number of levels: Keith ran the site himself, with the help of some admin folks, and never put advertising on the site (different from Pasoti, where I often find adverts for 'Portsmouth' related stuff in the Google Ads, obviously Google being unable to distinguish Portsmouth from Plymouth (the smell it usually enough to be able to tell)). The site got very high profile last summer, around the time of the Wilde takeover, mainly because for a while SaintsForever actually became the official unofficial mouthpiece of Michael Wilde and the consortium to speak to the fans. Indeed, even last week when a newspaper rumour began about the need to sell Wunderkind Gareth Bale in the January transfer window, Wilde issued a statement to the fans via Keith and SaintsForever. Because of this particular slant, and the raised profile overall, I suspect Keith began getting more flack than he ever expected from all sides of the equation, and just said that enough is enough. Shame, but messageboards are just databases run by enthusiasts, and that's the end of that.

Of course, this leads to the question of where the SaintsForever fans will head next to continue their chat. Longest-standing rival (from Rivals, coincidentally) is The Ugly Inside, Nick Illingsworth's largely anti-Pompey shouting page, but the degree of animosity held by average UI posters to SaintsForever means it's unlikely that will be the new home. There's ForeverSaints, a website set up to essentially mock Keith and SF, but which strangely seems to have taken on a life of its own more recently as a viable football discussion forum... who knows? Interesting thing on there is the rumour the SaintsForever WILL re-open very soon, under new management... maybe that is the answer to our Saints discussion needs?

Funny thing is, if this stuff had gone on on Pasoti it would have shut down months ago. Unless Boris was involved...

Monday, November 13, 2006

13 November 2006: Hiatus

It occurs to me, and to others it seems, that I haven't blogged in two months.

Now, this in itself is not a cause for world concern: deaths in Iraq, the train crash in South Africa and Google envisioning free cell phones top the stories on three of my usual news sources, and certainly each of these is more important than my lack of blogging. However, I feel some sort of explanation is necessary, if for no other reason than I seem to have a spare fifteen minutes before this week's AKT meeting.

Curiously, the fact that I wasn't blogging on This AKTing Lark ties in with the fact that I wasn't AKTing for the last month or so either. As the magical PhD funding drew to a conclusion at the end of September, and with it came the switch to 'nominal' student status while I find the time to write the final six paragraphs of the thesis (yes, I counted them this morning) and print it out, the combination of 'AAAAH I'M FREE' feelings and 'OH POO POO POO HOW DO WE PAY THE RENT?', along with ongoing lack of movement on the Research Fellow job front, led to an unnamed company based close to London and a month of decidedly non-AKT contract work.

Now, having read the contract with said company very closely, it occurred that they weren't at all keen on me mentioning in blog-format their name or anything to do with my work during the time I was under contract. So no, I can't tell you who they were or what I was doing for them, except for one word which, to start with, brought back many happy (cough) memories of QAS: Stellent.

So that was October dealt with, spent working probably a good bit harder than I thought I would have to work but learning a lot along the way and starting to think about how RDF and Ontologies could/would/should fit inside a commercial Content Management System (probably something to do with metadata, but I'm not really sure: mainly because, FOAF apart, nobody really knows what to do with RDF yet). I actually enjoyed it quite a lot more than I ever enjoyed the equivalent work at QAS - probably because there was a good deal of creative freedom as well as some genuinely interesting projects. So that was good.

Anyway, it's all over now. ISWC last week saw a dull presentation by a heavily jet-lagged not-really-PhD-student-but-not-yet-officially-RF about why RDF and 3Store was necessary alongside traditional SQL approaches when dealing with performing calculations on large sets of metadata, which a few people seemed to find interesting, to my surprise. And now it's back to the office - just in time to move to the new building (well, that's a month away) - and I'm all excited and ready to start work in a project with the acronym ITA. Which leads to three questions:

1. What does ITA stand for?
2. What does the job entail me actually doing? and
3. Does this mean I have to change the name of this blog to 'This ITAing Lark'?

Somehow it doesn't have the same ring to it.