Aaargh!

I’m not one to complain, but this is a special case.

I use a podcast app on my mobile phone to download a variety of podcasts from a variety of sources. When the BBC announced that its serialised dramatisation of Vasily Grossman’s “Life and Fate” would be available as podcasts I lost no time in adding it to my app’s list before even the first broadcast, when there was only a “welcome” message on the feed.

I listened to the first part live on my radio but planned to listen to the rest as podcasts, at quiet times when I could immerse myself in the experience. No need to rush; I had all the podcasts “to keep forever” (to quote the BBC) right there, on my phone.

In the week following the broadcasts I had not found suitably quiet time to listen to all the Life and Fate podcasts, and have recently started working my way through them.

After a small break from listening I went back to the podcasts yesterday (Oct 11) but, to my dismay, found that all but two of the episodes had vanished from the list. An aaargh moment.

I realised that my podcast app had done its housekeeping and removed the podcasts because they were no longer listed in the feed published by the BBC.

Quoting from the BBC’s podcasts FAQ (my emphasis):

…don’t forget that once you have downloaded a podcast episode, it is yours to keep forever and will not expire.

In the sense that the podcast audio files contain no digital rights restrictions (unlike BBC iPlayer downloads) that statement is true, and this is fine for people who manually download the audio files.

In reality, however, the use of podcast software (on computers, mobile phones, iPods, etc) to receieve and listen to podcasts is widespread and I’m sure I’m not alone in finding my planned enjoyment of some excellent radio drama cut short.

When I go to the Life and Fate podcasts page of the BBC website, I still see the following message (my emphasis):

There are currently no episodes of this podcast available. Please check again later, or subscribe to the podcast for free to receive future episodes automatically.

In subscribing to the podcast, people are using software to connect to the feed. If the publisher removes items from the feed that software will, by default, remove those podcasts from the person’s computer, phone, iPod, or whatever.

In the case of my podcast app, I have now discovered a feature that would have prevented the automatic removal of downloaded media, a feature buried in an “advanced” setting (per feed, rather than global), and that I have never had cause to use, despite many of my subscriptions listing items from well over a year ago.

Apparently, the BBC obtained special agreement with the rights holders of this Life and Fate production to make the podcasts available longer than the usual seven days: all of fourteen days!

What puzzles me is, if the media files are non-expiring, why not allow their download indefinitely? It would be interesting to see the figures for how many times each Life and Fate episode was downloaded. Had this tailed off as the deadline approached or was access abruptly cut off, mid-flow? How many more downloads would there have been if the avilability had been for, say, three months? These are non-expiring MP3 files. Why limit their availability as podcasts?

No other podcast feed to which I subscribe has a policy of removing items at such an early date. I realise now, having read the small print on the BBC’s website, that the Life and Fate podcasts were to be available for a limited time, but this is not what regular podcast listeners expect. Many people will not have been aware of the limited timeframe, having heard about the podcasts in radio trailers which made no mention of it.

I recall similar frustrations with availability of the BBC “In Our Time” podcasts a few years ago, when only the latest programme was in the feed. Thankfully, this has changed and that particular feed is now a rich archive of listening interest.

This led me to assume, wrongly, that those in charge of podcast policy at the BBC had realised the error in their ways and finally understood podcasts.

Links:

Life and Fate home page, http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/life-and-fate/

L+F Podcasts page, http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/lifeandfate

L+F, How long have I got to download all the episodes? http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/radio4/2011/09/life_and_fate_download_keep_an.html

BBC podcasts availability, http://faq.external.bbc.co.uk/questions/podcasts/episode_availability

Exploring the wealth of material available from the Richard Dawkins Foundation, I came across a series of five one-hour lectures given by Dawkins in 1991. These are that year’s Royal Institution Christmas Lectures for Children.  Don’t be put off by the “for children” bit, though. Dawkins presents the information in a very mature and entertaining way. Many of the themes he uses in his more recent talks can be seen here.

From the YouTube playlist info:

Oxford professor Richard Dawkins presents a series of lectures on life, the universe, and our place in it. With brilliance and clarity, Dawkins unravels an educational gem that will mesmerize young and old alike. Illuminating demonstrations, wildlife, virtual reality, and special guests (including Douglas Adams) all combine to make this collection a timeless classic. The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures for Children were founded by Michael Faraday in 1825, with himself as the inaugural lecturer. The 1991 lecturer was Richard Dawkins whose five one-hour lectures, originally televised by the BBC

Despite being filmed  20 years ago, there is little to date these presentations except the computer technology (this pre-dates the web) and Dawkins’ choice of shirts :)

 

Not a lot to say except watch and enjoy. In fact, watch it again… there’s so much there it’s hard to take it all in the first time through.

If you have the bandwidth, it’s worth watching in HD.

I watched a couple of beautiful videos today and want to share them here.

The first is by YouTube account Symphony of Science.

The second video is the TED talk given in February 2008 by Jill Bolte Taylor, as featured in the first video.

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

Courageous and inspiring.

I blogged briefly about this a few weeks ago, but it’s an important topic and deserves another post.

The UK 2011 Census forms has, by now, been delivered to the country’s households.  Officially, the form is meant to be completed on or about 27 March, although the online version has been accepting input for a couple of weeks already (which is how I did mine).

 

The British Humanist Association is running a campaign to highlight the importance of one specific question in the census: “What is your religion?”

Seems harmless enough, doesn’t it?  The available answers are as follows:

  • No religion.
  • Christian
  • Buddhist
  • Hindu
  • Jewish
  • Muslim
  • Sikh
  • Other (specify)

Many people will automatically tick the religion that they have grown up with.  And why not?

I grew up in a traditional, white, English community, in which “belonging to” the Church of England is taken for granted. In my late teens and early twenties I took an interest in eastern philosophies such as Buddhism and Toaism. I was also interested in UFOs and other paranormal nonsense. There was no conversion from Christianity.

If I had been asked the question “What is your religion?”, a superficial answer would have varied crom Christian to Buddhist to Other. In the end, though, if I thought about it, I did not “have” a religion. An affiliation, perhaps. But not a religion. I am not religious in the sense that a practising Christian, Buddhist, Jew or Muslim is religious.

I have no lack of awe and wonder at the marvels of nature. I recall quite vividly how this sense of wonder was amplified by the birth of my son, thirteen years ago. I’ve tried to maintain that feeling of wonder and pass it on to him. He’s certainly got some of it, and has a strong interest in science and the natural world.

The “What is your religion?” question, as it appears in the 2011 Census, has been criticised as being likely to prompt an inaccurate response. On BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme, 27 February, one respondent’s reply was quite telling: “Well, Christian I suppose.” The person went on, unprompted, to say “…Buddhist would also be an option”. (This links to the “listen again” for that programme, if it is still available. The interesting part starts around 22 minutes into the recording).

This highlights the problem. Responses to the religious question are, for many people, an indication of affiliation rather than actual belief and religious practice.

Does this matter? Yes, it does.

Why spend the millions of taxpayers money on a census, if the results are not to be used? The results of the religion question will be used. They will be instrumental in determining local and national government policy with regard to religious matters. Things like funding faith groups and free schools. Religious groups will receive funding out of proportion to their membership, while other, non-faith secular groups, will be disadvantaged.

If you are not religious, I urge you to tick the “No religion” box on the census form. It does matter. It will make a difference.

As a long-standing user of Twidroyd, I am following with interest the situation with regard to that app’s suspension by Twitter for “violation of policies”.

Here’s the text from Twitter’s statement.  Note the phrase “may affect a large number of users” (my emphasis).  Note also, in the final paragraph, how Twitter push their official apps at every opportunity.

2/18/2011
Regardless of how you access Twitter, we are dedicated to making Twitter better, faster and more reliable for you. As part of this effort, we ask applications that work with Twitter to abide by a simple set of rules that we believe are in the interests of our users, and the health and vitality of the Twitter platform as a whole. We often take actions to enforce these rules.

We have suspended UberTwitter and twidroyd for violating our policies.

Every day, we suspend hundreds of applications that are in violation of our policies. Generally, these apps are used by a small number of users. We are taking the unusual step of sharing this with you because today’s suspension may affect a larger number of users.

We are committed to helping you continue to use Twitter during the disruption of these applications. You can download Twitter for Blackberry, Twitter for Android and other official Twitter apps here. You can also try our mobile web site or apps from other third-party developers.

Bill Gross, Founder and CEO of UberMedia, posted this response.

Here’s what I see in Twidroyd (v5.01) when I run the app:

 

Two tweets from Twitter/com@support (a handy feature of the Twitter API) suggesting Twidroid users might like to try the official Twitter app for Android.

This only adds to suspicions that Twitter is playing a game here.  The official Twitter app for Android recently received a facelift and now looks a lot like Twidroyd.  I’m sure the folks at Twitter would love to see more Android users go over to their app.

In a statement, Twitter say they’ve restored access to their API for twidroyd and UberSocial for Blackberry (formerly UberTwitter).  (no word on the Android app at this time).  At the foot of that statement there are unmissable links to the official Twitter apps for Blackberry, iPhone and Android.  How blatant is that?

Twitter say that hundreds of apps are regularly suspended for violation of policies.  With thousands of developers around the world producing apps interfacing with social media, this is no surprise.  Suspension of these apps affects relatively few Twitter users.

It is surprising, though, that Twitter would take this step with Twidroyd and UberTwitter, apps whose users number in the thousands.

Perhaps this should be a wake-up call to us all, leading to the spawning of an open, federated Twitter-like system, no longer vulnerable to the god-like powers of a few.

A message to all non-religious UK residents out there on the interweb…

http://census-campaign.org.uk/

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