Late night radio

Every night from age 6 to age 23 I listened to the radio as I went to sleep.

I swung silent punches through Vegas boxing matches on BBC R5. I knew all the words to Caesar’s catchy theme tune on TalkSport. I had nightmares after listening to murder stories on LBC.

The beautiful thing about radio is the connection between listener and presenter. The best make it feel personal. They’re talking only to you.

But this was a concern in the 1930s and 40s: 

Thinkers who pondered broadcasting were attentive to the potential for interchange within large scale communication… Many were fascinated and alarmed by radio’s apparent intimacy, its penetration of private spaces, and its ability to stage dialogues and personal relationships with listeners. The question was often less how radio amassed audiences than how it individualised them.

Radio was dangerous. Same criticisms came later for TV, computers and smartphones. It’s sad to sneer at these concerns. Radio was dangerous because of its power to reach into the mind of the listener and speak to their soul.

So I’ve started some experiments with podcasting (digital radio, it’s the same thing). Nothing consistently great so far but the feeling of connection, of rawness, of direct emotion – that is what you can feel in the best moments. That’s the power, that’s the danger. That’s real radio.

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Quote: Peters, J.D. (1996), ‘Institutional sources of intellectual poverty in communication research’, Communication Research 13(4): 527-559, found in Napoli, P.M. (2010), ‘Revisiting ‘mass communication’ and the ‘work’ of the audience in the new media environment’, Media, Culture & Society 32(3) 505-516.

More memories via the mailing list and @toddmgreen on Twitter.

Michael Jordan is a failure

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

~ Michael Jordan

A Thousand Tiny Details

Ooh, I miss really good chips. Swedes have not yet mastered the art of the crispy, creamy, truly delicious chip.

How hard can it be? Just chop up potatoes and fry them in oil. Simplest possible meal.

Except… well, maybe it’s a bit more complicated than that…

  • Which potatoes to use?
  • Chip size?
  • Chip shape?
  • Portion size?
  • Cooking time?
  • Cooking #times?
  • Cooking temperature?
  • Cooking oil type?
  • Cleanliness?
  • Cooling between vat and mouth?
  • And many more…

Even the simplest things are made up of a thousand tiny details.

 

Apophenia

Big Data tempts some researchers to believe that they can see everything at a 30,000-foot view. It is the kind of data that encourages the practice of apophenia: seeing patterns where none actually exist, simply because massive quantities of data can offer connections that radiate off in all directions. 

  
Apophenia is everywhere. 

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Quote: boyd & Crawford (2011), Six Provocations For Big Data

Toast: NBC News

Off-beat

White Town made a #1 hit single in his bedroom on a multitrack and an Atari.

How did he make Your Woman sound unique?

You’ve got to fuck up the technology you’ve got rather than let the technology fuck you up. It took me two days to get the beats slightly out of time on Your Woman. Two days! Getting them in time took two seconds.

That was 1997. No need to edit on an Atari now. But the principle is just the same: innovation doesn’t come with a tutorial.

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Full Wired interview here.

More miscellaneous tidbits here.

The Strange Case of Newbury and Maidenhead

Newbury and Maidenhead nestle quietly west of London. Neither has a professional football team, neither is a hotbed of cutting-edge consumer tech, and neither has >100,000 inhabitants.

So when my team launched a Facebook football game, we were shocked to see Newbury and Maidenhead in the list of top 10 places where our players lived. This was in absolute terms, not penetration. We actually had more players in those two small towns than in many large cities.

Scoreboard focused on the English Premier League. Each week users would predict the results of the upcoming matches, and every Friday we made a show in which two pundits pitted their wits against the wisdom of the crowd.

We were big in Asia because we were spending marketing money on reaching Asian football fans, who are under-served with good Premier League content other than the live matches. But Newbury and Maidenhead — what was going on there?

The questions stumped me for weeks until I stumbled across an academic paper: The Spread of Behaviour in an Online Social Network Experiment, published by Damon Centola in Science (2010) and summarised here by MIT.

The paper looks at the spread of behaviour through two networks of equal size and containing an equal number of connections, but with rather different structures. The networks are pictured here:

The first network has regularly-spaced nodes (nodes = people), and no real clusters. The second network has a small number of dense clusters, with only minimal connections from one cluster to another.

In which network do behaviours spread faster?

It’s the second. Why? Because in order for behaviour to pass from one person to another there need to be multiple stimuli. So a well-spaced network will transmit behaviour more slowly than a clustered network, because in clusters there are dense interconnections between a small number of people. If one friend suggests I watch a new film, I might nod politely. But when a second and third say the same thing, I really start to listen.

We must have hit upon a densely-connected network of football fans in Newbury and Maidenhead. One or two started playing, then invited friends to play, and soon those inside the network must have been receiving multiple invitations and decided to give it a go.

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Update:

Perhaps this happens more often in smaller settlements than larger ones. re/code just published an article about Pocket Gems’s players, showing that their most intense US gamers are in small towns, not big cities.

If we did that project again I’d spend the whole marketing budget targeting very specific groups of potential players — and I’m sure I would get more bang for each buck.

The British comedian Norman Wisdom is a hero in Albania. Maybe one day there’ll be a statue of Scoreboard presenter Dougie Anderson in Newbury and Maidenhead.

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Reference: Centola, D. (2010), The Spread of Behaviour in an Online Social Network Experiment. Science 329(5996), 1194-1197. Summary:http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2010/social-networks-health-0903.html

Get more strange sociological stories via @toddmgreen on Twitter.

Choices vs. Abilities

I’m rereading Harry Potter (makes me feel like Christmas!), and this was a great line:

It is our choices Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.

Tennis Trials fail

My big chance! And I messed it up.

I was ten years old and had been invited to the county tennis trials. All the kids were lined up on the side of the court.

The coach said:

Bounce the ball across these three courts, turn round when you reach the fence, then come back. But you can’t use the strings. You have to bounce it with the edge of the racket, on the side of the frame.

Uh-oh. Never done this before…

“Ok – go!”

Twenty-seven other kids threw down their tennis balls and started bouncing them across the the courts.

I dropped mine, twisted my racket on its side, and tried to tap the ball down and forwards so that I could set off too.

Ding! My ball hit an edge on my racket and shot off to the left.

I chased it, grabbed it and tried again.

Bing! This time I’d hit it squarely but too far back on the frame – it bounced back into my stomach.

The other kids had already crossed the first court.

Ok, and again – thock! I caught it too far forward on the frame and the ball whizzed ahead of me up the court. Phew, at least now I could move off the starting line.

The charade continued for what felt like an hour until someone merciful called a halt. I hadn’t yet made the fence, never mind turned around and come back.

20+ years later, I still feel embarrassed about it.

You can’t prepare for everything, and I didn’t have the talent to wing it first time.

But that’s ok. I can bounce the ball with the side of the racket now.

I got there in the end.

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More balls from @toddmgreen on Twitter.

A silent thank you!

Aw yeah, we’ve got to get home in time for Quizmania!

I was dog-tired, jet-lagged after a 24-hour flight, and now I was packed into a late-night train in Melbourne.

I laughed, and the student who had spoken looked at me curiously. I had to explain. I had just flown halfway around the world to spend three weeks with the Quizmania team. At least someone was watching…

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In the marble halls of Bush House, the ancestral home of the BBC World Service, there were hundreds of portraits. Each was a black-and-white photo of a single person – world leaders like Mandela, explorers like Randolph Fiennes, cultural heroes like Maya Angelou. And on each portrait was a quote from that person, explaining why the BBC World Service meant so much to them.

Instead of taking the lift, I used to walk up the eight flights of stairs to my team’s office so that I could read those portraits.

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Every day on the metro I see people playing Candy Crush Saga. That means I can start work knowing that whatever we do today will affect a real person. It’s not just code and pixels, people really see the stuff we do.

This is a genuine privilege!

I’ve had that privilege several times over – first at the BBC making radio, then at FremantleMedia making TV, and now at King making games.

Every time I see someone playing Candy, I say a silent ‘thank you’ in my head. If that was you this morning – thank you!

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More little tack så myckets via @toddmgreen on Twitter.

A Lex Icon

Wikipedia tells all the best stories.

The Oxford English Dictionary was started in 1879, and predicted to be finished in ten years.

Five year later, in 1884, the editors had only reached ‘ant’.

In 1928, it was finally finished… but by then it was so outdated, they had to start all over again.

Imagine being James Murray, the gentleman pictured at the top: editor of a book that would take 50 years to finish. A project that would stretch beyond his lifetime. Running a crowdsourced team that, unknown to him, included a gifted madman imprisoned for murder. And building a book which he must have known was already outdated, and would have to be renewed.

There’s only one word for that: remarkable (adj.).

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Title from Anu Garg. The Wikipedia article is here.

Get more lexographical lunacy via @toddmgreen on Twitter.