Postman Pat and the slow death of the postal service

A quick post in response to a conversation on Twitter today:

You know, Pat has moved on a lot since I was a kid. Obviously there’s the whole thing where he is married with a kid now (not enough to stop those rumours about him and Ted), but the show has also moved with the times politically.

OK, I’ve not seen Pat on the picket line but the newest Postman Pat series, Special Delivery Service sees Pat face the reality of life in the dying days of the postal service. He now commutes from Greendale to the nearest big town. From here the mail service is run on an industrial scale, and Pat’s job is no longer to be an affable fixture of village life, a constant in a world that is changing too fast, a character and a public servant, but to provide premium delivery services.

Mrs Goggins is moved to the periphery of the mail story (they haven’t yet, as far as I know, closed her post office but surely it must be constantly under threat). This is Postman Pat as delivered by Consignia, it is very much a sign of our times and actually I find it all quite poignant. Pat is now something of a superhero, but like all the best superheroes you feel that behind the mask there is darkness, sadness, tragedy.

I can tell that Pat is afraid for his village, for the community, for Mrs Goggin’s post office, afraid of the very death of the English countryside as its vitality is sucked towards the bright lights of the big towns. But he’s trapped – trapped by a duty to get the mail delivered on time (whatever that may mean now) and trapped by the need to put food on the table for the family he possibly never really wanted.

Perhaps Pat should have gone on that picket line after all when he still had the chance, but it’s too late now and he must muddle through trying to make the best of his new reality.


You may also like: media policy for the under 6s, a beginner’s guide to Zingzillas.

Introducing… The Zeitgeist Card

Life moves pretty fast…

One minute everyone is a Social Media Consultant, the next they’re a Hyperlocal Blogger. No sooner do you catch up then you find people are Open Data Advocates and Social Technologists. A Twitter bio can be changed quickly, but the waves of creative destruction and disruptive technology have yet to displace the connective node’s meatspace leave piece – the humble business card.

I’ve been hard at work coming up with a solution to this problem, and now the Zeitgeist Card v1.0 is ready for release. It comes in striking red block colour with crisp Helvetica Neue text and a handy box for you to write in this week’s buzz job title. Contact details? Why the universal language of a Twitter handle is all you need.

Your frand can breathe easily in the ample negative space, and fans of retro kitsch will adore the call back to the famous “hello my name is” sticker.

Here’s an early draft in action – see how I can effortlessly negotiate the digital space by attaching myself to any passing tech agenda. This is bleeding edge future think – here comes everybody and they’re looking at my business cards!

You can download  the zeitgeist artwork in PDF or here’s the InDesign file – you can have it all under CC license. Just don’t forget to change my name and Twitter to yours, you silly moo.


Cheerio Posterous – a timely move and a how to

The announcement yesterday that Posterous has been sold to Twitter reminded me that I’ve been meaning to move my blog for sometime (apparently since last March, so my bookmarks tell me).

We’ve been fans of Posterous for while at the Birmingham Centre for Media & Cultural Research. It’s been a good tool for teaching, as we can create shared blogs for classes with ease. It’s also been handy for project partners, allowing us to build quick and dirty solutions for them so that they can see our ideas play out quickly.

We were strong advocates for the software, and experimental users of it (way back when, I pointed out to Posterous that they’d actually accidentally built a great podcasting tool and Simon worked with them as a private beta user of themes, amongst other bits of play we did with the platform).

As I say, I’ve been meaning to move for a while because I was starting to lose faith in the software (it had stopped being simple, had started to bloat) and because I was becoming worried that it locked users in too much. By this I mean that when Posterous went hard on a drive to recruit bloggers from other platforms it produced a suite of blog importation tools, but never provided a way out. There’s no back up in Posterous and no easy way to leave. When you’re working with a company that is funded through VC investment and has no clear business plan, these things should always be a worry –  that’s why during the revalidation of the BA (Hons) Media & Communication programme at BCU I’ve introduced the idea that students across our degree specialisms (journalism, PR, new media, photography, TV, radio, music industries and events) should build their personal web presence using web 2.0 tools, but that they should take a considered approach to this, interrogating the institutions in which they are trusting their professional presences.

So I’ve had my escape route planned for some time. Funnily enough one of today’s tasks is “work on blog” – I’ve promised my PhD supervisors that I’ll start writing publicly about my PhD, and as I’ve a PhD tutorial tomorrow I thought I’d better get things in hand (ever the student, eh?).

I’ve just done a dry run transfer of Posterous to self-hosted wordpress. Back last year I’d planned to use the Posterous to WordPress importer plugin, but it hasn’t been updated yet (I bet that’s in progress after yesterday) and doesn’t work with the latest version of WordPress.

This blog post is useful in outlining one way to get content migrated quickly, using wordpress.com as a bridge to a self hosted wordpress site. The import took less than five minutes to clear into wordpress.com, and same again on the transfer to self hosted.

Some things to look out for:

  • The first transfer to wordpress.com keeps private posts private, but I lost them on the transfer to self-hosted [edit: that was the dry run, on the real attempt it all worked fine]
  • If a Posterous user has marked your post as a “favourite” this shows up as an empty comment, attributed to them.
  • You’ll need to update the permalink structure of your WordPress blog if you want to retain inbound links and search engine relationships. Longer post titles are problematic as Posterous seems to truncate them at 44 chars
  • Your RSS feed address will be wrong and so you’ll need to sort that – there is some WordPress Codex guidance which seems a bit convoluted – just do a 301 redirect for rss.xml
I was always going to move, so this isn’t a knee jerk reaction, just a perfect storm of circumstances. I need something more flexible because of the things I now need to do with the blog, but most of all I need something that I can control. No third party software is going to give me ultimate control and security, so there will always be a trade off. WordPress isn’t going to be perfect but it has a clearer future than Posterous. In terms of other things I do at work, I won’t be recommending Posterous to anyone as the announcement seems to suggest a sunset could happen sooner rather than later.

So I’m now waiting for my domain to switch over to my hosting, and this will be my last posterous post. It’s been a fun ride.

The anecdote where I have to download Doctor Who from a grey market source

There’s an Oatmeal comic doing the rounds today about how hard it can be to actually pay for media content. The basic message is that although there is a wide range of places consumers can go to pay for media content (in this case a TV programme) it can actually be really hard to pay for the content. There’s also this critique of the Oatmeal’s position that, in summary, says: “just grow up and play the game according to the content industry’s rules”.

 

There’s a story I keep meaning to blog about that relates to these two posts: it’s the story of Christmas Doctor Who. I’ve outlined it on Twitter before, but it’s really more of a blog post thing. Here’s how it goes:
  • Doctor Who is broadcast at exactly the wrong time for a family with very young kids to watch it, as it’s right in the bath / bed sweet spot between 6pm and 8pm.
  • We have Virgin Media which features an on demand service, and we have iPlayer so we just skip new Who  and rely on catching up later.
  • We settle down around 8pm, ready to crash out and enjoy the new Who.
  • The show hasn’t been added to the Virgin Media catch up listings.
  • We plug the laptop into the TV, and boot up iPlayer. The new episode is available! Hurrah! But wait! Server demand is so high we’re looking at an hour or more to get the show downloaded.
  • I wonder if there are any rips of the show on any media sharing sites? Yep, there are. Three clicks later the show is downloading to my laptop. Within two or three minutes there’s a 720p rip playing out from my laptop to the telly.
I don’t feel bad for downloading an episode of Doctor Who in this way. I’ve paid for it through the TV license, I’ve paid for it through investing in Virgin Media’s infrastructure. Morally I have a right to watch it, but legally I should not have done that. But why wouldn’t I when the grey market can even deliver a public good quicker than a commercial provider (Virgin Media) and a public service (the BBC)? The grey market in file sharing can deliver an episode of Doctor Who within an hour of broadcast but the content industry cannot.

 

There’s a strange thing that’s happening here regarding incentive. There’s a real incentive for people in file sharing communities to get their files up first, as that’s how they’re going to earn respect in their communities – and that’s why they do this stuff. They really want to get me some media, and they make it easy. All the content providers do is provide barriers. And that’s why the Oatmeal is right and Ihnatko isn’t.

Next week’s twitter – now!

Just in case you’ve got a lot on next week, here’s the zeitgeist tape to get you up to speed on what’s coming up next on Twitter. 

Warning contains spoilers

  1. A Daily Mail columnist will say something outrageous. Twitter will be cross, but will unwittingly support their journalism by amping the shit out of it contributing to their impressive web traffic.
  2. Virgin Media will be down – it’s not just you, it’s everyone else.
  3. Half of your pals will be at an event with an incomprehensible hashtag. They’ll live tweet, but things will get rather lost in translation “upskill connectors thru integrated hyperlocal conversations #afsmdbc11”. You’ll be glad you didn’t go.
  4. There will be far too many conversations about gritting roads.
  5. A company will have a crisis. At least 500 social media consultants will write a blog post called “5 things we have learned about crisis comms from Company X”.
  6. A popular internet service will change its terms and conditions. Someone will bother to read them and make everyone panic “they will own your copyright”.
  7. A relatively obscure person will die, everyone will come out as their number one fan.
  8. A government minister, probably Michael Gove, will announce a policy or write a memo. There will be a satirical hashtag.
  9. Something outrageous will be tweeted from a politician’s Twitter account. We will be told it was an intern (this is sometimes true but still weird).
  10. There will be lots of links to blog posts with lists of 10 things.

2011 in my Twitter bios

Web, New Media, Social Media | Lecturing, research, knowledge transfer & exchange at Birmingham City Uni | How I use Twitter: http://bit.ly/2XILW1

Hacking the planet & amping my shit while teaching bright, lovely people at BCU about Web, New Media, Social Media | How I use Twitter: http://bit.ly/2XILW1

I work at BCU School of Media. All tweets are my own except the ones that I ripped off wikipedia. The others are a rehash of something I read in the Guardian.

Academic teaching famous non-subject media studies. Married to a faceless bureaucrat working in EU funding. We are Broken Britain. Sorry about the mess.

‘Is this a hold up?’ ‘It’s a science experiment.’ // I’m a media academic @bcumedia.

It’s summer but I’m still at my desk, marking, planning for next year, doing research @bcumedia. Just because we’re not teaching doesn’t mean we’re on holiday.

There now follows a list of nouns which describe roles I hold in different social contexts: husband, father, lecturer, researcher, judoka, Guernseyman, Brummie

this account is now on strike until 5pm #j30 (https://twitter.com/jonhickman/status/86339652637831168)

lecturer & researcher (social media, digital culture, creative industries) @bcumedia. Currently writing up research on The West Wing on Twitter

All comments are my own but all typos and grammatical errors are my phone’s. || I teach, research, and do knoweldge transfer @bcumedia

BASED ON A TRUE STORY. I teach, research, and do knoweldge transfer @bcumedia

multimedia… platters… irony and self deprecation. There’s pudding! | degree leader (new media) & researcher @bcumedia

contains mild peril and some sexual swear words | @bcumedia lecturer & researcher

Rather than send you a traditional Christmas card I’ve bought a goat & I send you this jaunty e-greeting! Come Jan 2012 I will once again do Internet @bcumedia

Sometimes leaving the room is the best way to teach

Not going to your own classroom when you have a class is wrong, right? Students kind of expect us to be there, it’s part of the deal. Our bosses probably expect us to be there too. It’s what you do when your timetable says you should.

 

I’m not going to my classroom today, despite what my timetable says

 

This time last year I was at a conference in Hamburg and unavailable for teaching. As a result I wrote a lesson plan for my third years around my absence. I don’t mean I simply said “here’s an exercise for you to do, turn to page 10 of the text book and do as much as you can”; my absence was explained in the narrative of the module, and I was able to construct a solid plan of learning for them with clear outcomes. It worked so well that I’ve retained the exercise this year, even though I’m here in the same building as my students.

 

I’m currently sat 15 feet up and 40 feet across from students, and not talking to them during my timetabled class

 

The module is designed to deepen the students sense of their own practice and direction, to encourage them to plan for lifelong learning and development, and to foster some ideas around professional practice with a particular focus on operating a business. Learning is broadly problem based or project based, meaning that a lot of emphasis is placed on group and individual research as well as critical reflection. Problem based learning puts this emphasis on student activity with tutor facilitation. Tutor facilitation, within the literature on teaching, is quite open to interpretation but I think we generally understand that as “being in the room to answer questions”. It can also be interpreted as “checking up on the students every five minutes”. For some exercises that’s useful, for my exercise this week it’s not.

 

If I go into my classroom, I will inhibit learning not facilitate it

 

Here’s what I need students to do:

 

1.     Set up a package of work and deliver to a deadline;
2.     Judge personal skills and align these with tasks;
3.     Describe and reflect upon the working processes in a design studio.

 

 

And here’s their brief:

 

B225 Studio has just completed the take over of a small design agency, hipsterdesign. We’ve inherited a bit of a mess. As a result, incubation work has been cancelled for one week only and we need you to help us clear the backlog –  after all we pay your rent and overheads!

 

Unfortunately our MD,  Jon Hickman, has been called away to lay off staff in Hipster’s office in East London and can’t be with us this week. You’re on your own. We’ve allocated you a pile of work from Hipster’s client roster. Your challenge for the week is as follows:

 

1.     Read through and understand the project briefs;
2.     Organise yourselves so that you can respond to as many of them as possible;
3.     Complete the projects ahead of next session.

 

Remember: you have class time today to organise yourselves and begin work, and then eight hours of directed study time. You will need to work efficiently and effectively, and ensure that all the work is divided up in an appropriate manner.

 

There’s very little that I can do in the classroom that will facilitate this project – in fact by being in the room I undermine the task. I do not want students to defer any of the decision making to me. The learning happens at the end of the activity, when they reflect on their own response to a challenge – if I do too much to mediate that then I am obstructing their learning.

 

Facilitation has happened through the design of the lesson plan and it’s relationship to the curriculum, it’s not about being in the room.

Getting Things Sold

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I had a little chat with John Polling about switching from Things to OmniFocus. Both are apps built around the popular productivity process GTD – Getting Things Done.

DO NOT FRET THIS IS NOT A POST ABOUT PRODUCTIVITY GURU MYSTICISM

John had been using Things for some time, but has switched to OmniFocus and has tweeted a lot about how impressed he is with it. I commented that I wouldn’t be able to move because I’ve got so much personally invested in Things – moving would be painful and very expensive in terms of time. 

Since we had that chat I’ve been wondering about the price tag for these apps. OmniFocus comes in at a whopping $79.99 while Things is £34.99 – and that’s before you buy supporting apps. Once you’ve paid the money down the real investment you make in the product is time, and that could be quite powerful commercially for the software company. I’m really surprised that these apps aren’t running a freemium model – much longer free periods followed by an on-going subscription, or a reduced free feature set alongside a premium subscription. I’m so locked into Things now that I’d certainly pay a small annual charge just to maintain the time investment I’ve made in populating the app with my data.

Lucky for me, Cultured Code are happier with a one off up front payment, but I wonder how the sales figures would look if they gave people longer trial periods to invest in the system.

John Polling is a super freaky awesome web developer who I was lucky enough to work with in a past life – hire him, you know he’s super efficient as he uses GTD

Picture CC licensed by jkleske

Apple glut? Here’s something from Guernsey for you to try

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Craig Hamilton was offering around some cooking apples on the Twitters recently and I said “I’ll take a tonne off you”. So he duly dropped a 25 kilo potato sack brimming with bramleys round my house. Fantastic. I’ve risen to the challenge and got busy with my apples. Mum and Dad were coming up, so the first thing I wanted to do was to make a gâche melée with her.

 

Gâche melée is a local thing from back home in Guernsey. Our other key local cake is called gâche but the two are totally unrelated. If you’ve ever had Dorset apple cake, then you know the sort of thing this is: stick to your ribs appley goodness. Here’s one I made earlier (I thought I’d focussed the camera but it seems I totally forgot).

What does it taste like? Pure comfort food. It’s what you eat on a late summer night when you’ve been swimming in the sea til past dark. It’s bonfire night on a plate, and the taste of lengthening nights as you head to Christmas. It’s a bowlful of my childhood. And standing around my table peeling apples with my mum and my little boy was one of the nicest mornings of cooking I’ve ever done.
There are a range of recipes for gâche melée here:

Like Mum used to make

My Mum’s method is as follows

1/2 lb butter / suet / margarine
1lb sugar
2 eggs
1lb plain flour
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
3lb apples

 

You’re basically looking to do is make up a cake mix, and then add the apples to it.

 

1. peel & slice the apples
2. cream the butter and sugar
3. beat in the eggs
4. fold in the flour and spices
5. fold in the apples
6. cook

 

This recipe does one loaf tin and a a springform sponge tin worth. We’ve always used metal dishes (enamel or non-stick) – some of the other recipes discuss baking trays and the suggestion is that pyrex is no good. Mum used to use a big roasting tin for hers.

 

Mum’s notes say gas mark 3 for about two hours, but you can get away with higher and quicker. Standard issues skewer test to check it’s done.

 

If you make more than you can eat, wrap it up tightly and pop it in the freezer.

 

So that’s the recipe – try it if you’re bored of crumble. And let me know what you think.

Media policy explained for the under-6s

CBeebies, the BBC’s preschool channel, has now completed its switch from BBC Television Centre, London to Media City, Salford. There’s probably more interest in the moves of things such as BBC Breakfast (also to Salford) and Question Time (to Glasgow) but I think there’s something quite fascinating about the Cbeebies move, because my two year old son has just witnessed a big shift in public service broadcasting policy, played out between Bob the Builder and Everything’s Rosie.

 

You see, one of the things that makes CBeebies great is that it doesn’t treat kids as fools – it just treats them as kids. That means that when the entire station moves, and the presenters with it, that is played out for the children at home and they are given a story to explain what is happening.

 

Alex, Andy, Carrie and Sid have moved house

 

It’s as simple as that really. The CBeebies continuity links have always been played out on a set called “the CBeebies house” (it even has a garden – I’ve always assumed a corner of the Blue Peter Garden). Through the CBeebies links yesterday we saw the continuity team enact moving into their new “house” and unpacking their things. The change in life for the presenters (moving North) hasn’t been hidden, rather it’s been explained plainly to the pre-school audience. Look a bit further, and there’s something else interesting going on.

 

The differences between the old and new CBeebies houses tell a story of change. What we could see of the London CBeebies house suggested it was very much a post-war semi in a London suburb, complete with a neat if fusty garden. It was every inch the South East. It was very much the 20th Century BBC. The new CBeebies house appears to be a loft apartment in some sort of mill conversion. The feature window at the back of the set alternates images according to time of day but one that I have seen features a post-industrial skyline. This is the house that the 21st century creative economy built – it’s rising on the back of Victorian industry to provide a new adventure playground for metrosexual media types Alex, Andy, Carrie and Sid, like a cartoon advert for urban dwelling on the Salford Quays, a pre-school version of Friends. This is media policy for the under-6s: we’ve moved, it’s exciting, we’re on an adventure and things are changing, come with us as we take things forward.

 

So while CBeebies isn’t of itself political, it wears the politics that have shaped it in plain sight. And it’s bloody marvellous.