The muse

Hesiod and the Muse
Hesiod and the Muse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(Whoops! I forgot to post this on Monday, though I had finished it on Sunday)

My musings are generally thought up on the spur of the moment, as I’ve said before. Sometimes I get an idea a few days before I write my post, but sometimes it will come to me when I open WordPress and click on the “new post” link. Today’s post is inspired by a new television show that has just started here, about someone who writes a newspaper column. “Inspired” is too grand a word for it really – the TV show gave me the idea.

I’ve set myself a target of a thousand words per week. The writer in the TV series (called “800 Words“) has a column that is exactly 800 words long. He has just suffered a bereavement and decides to take his kids and relocate to a small town in New Zealand.

1000 words to the big crater (19)
1000 words to the big crater (19) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Naturally the kids don’t want to go, and when he gets to his new home, it’s only half built and it isn’t the house that he thought it was. On the trip to the new house he meets a bunch of eccentric locals and stumbles on the local nudist beach. So far, so standard sitcom. I’ll have to see how it goes, but it has apparently gone down well in Australia.

The interesting thing to me, for the purposes of this blog, is the 800 words thing. OK, I set myself a target of over 1000 words, and I generally don’t go many words over that, but to keep it to exactly 800 words seems a bit obsessive. The writer, as part of the continuity of the story, is seen typing his article, and the number of words is shown on the screen.


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Now, I don’t (usually) take much notice of the structure of my blogs – I don’t do an intro, a body, and a wrap up, but I presume the writer does (or is supposed) as he is writing for a newspaper. That’s more complicated than what I do. I can imagine reaching around 900 words and realising that I need to do a wrap up in 100 words or so. Or worse, maybe, reaching 750 to 800 words and realising that you’ve covered your main points and the wrap up is going to have to be stretched to 200 to 250 words.

Of course he is a professional writer so such matters are his bread and butter. This brings me to another point. He gets paid for his column, and apparently gets paid enough to feed himself and his kids! This is slightly more than a little bit unbelievable, to say the least, as what he is shown writing amounts to not much more than a blog. If he writes 800 words a day, 5 days a week that amounts to 4,000 words, and his rate per word would have to be astronomical to keep him and his kids fed and watered.


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The writers of the series have thrown in a few classic clichés in the first episode. There’s the end of the world cell phone coverage or lack of it. There’s the being swindled by the savvy locals, and there’s the saving the bad boy by hiding him from the cops thing. Oh well, perhaps things will get better. It’s not that bad a little show.

The writer in the show is inspired to write about all the things that are happening to him, so he has a ready source of material but my intent is not to make my blog anecdotal in that way. I might mention stuff in passing (like the Rugby World Cup. Yeah! All Blacks!) but in general I want my post to be like a bead necklace with beads on a wire, rather than a single long chain of interrelated links.

Cloisonne beads
Cloisonne beads (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, I will use the same themes repeatedly, such as science or maths or computing, just as a bead necklace generally has similar beads in many places but my intent is that each “bead” will stand alone.

I get messages from WordPress saying that so and so is now following my blog, but I don’t know what that really means. Does it mean that Mr Blobby is avidly waiting for my blog to come out and is disappointed if I am late? Probably not! But thank you for reading the blog, even if you only do it once. I do occasionally go and look at the blogs of those who are mentioned as following me and I may follow some of them.

Start of the Oracle Act
Start of the Oracle Act (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nevertheless, I write my posts with no specific reader in mind. By that I mean that I don’t visualise a person reading, which is odd, because that means that I send my words off into a vacuum. They must however sound good to me, as I write them, and if something that sounds awkward to me reaches the page, it gets altered.

Actually now I come to think about it, the “me” that writes the words seems to be different, or slightly separated from the “me” that does the reading, like Siamese twins in my head. It’s like a different aspect of myself.

"Head of a muse" by Raffaello Sanzio
“Head of a muse” by Raffaello Sanzio (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For me the actual process of writing goes like this. I form a sentence or part of a sentence in my head and start to type it. My reading self closely follows this process and notices any typos and mistakes and my writing self corrects them, but these things happen so fast and the two processes are so integrated that it seems seamless.

It’s like an ongoing game of ping pong in my head. One part of my mind says to type the word “the”. Another part tells the fingers what to do. I’m unaware or maybe unconscious of what this part is doing, and I specifically don’t think “move the fingers to the letter t and push”. So far as the conscious part of my mind is concerned it just happens.


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The fingers move and the letters get typed. Another conscious part of my mind follows the letters that appear on the screen and passes off to an unconscious part the instructions to edit and retype. After a person has been writing for a while, it seems to your conscious mind that you think the words onto the screen.

Hmm, I’ve reached just over a 1000 words, so it is time to stop. I’ve shifted from talking about the muse and shifted to the mechanics. Either way the process is, as usual, more complex than it appears at first. I’ll have to think some more about how my words reach the page.

Television


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Television as a medium is less than one hundred years old, yet in the sense of a broadcast over radio waves, it seems doomed as the rise of “streaming” sites takes over the role of providing the entertainment traditionally provided by broadcast television.

My first recollection of television was watching the televising of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth the Second. I can’t say that I was particularly interested at the time, but I do remember that what seemed a large number of people (probably 20 or so, kids and adults) crowded on one side of the room while the television across the room showed its flickering images on its nine inch screen.

Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II X
Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II X (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I remember when at a later date my father brought home our first television. It was a large brown cabinet with a tiny noticeably curved screen. When it was set up properly and working, it displayed a black and white image on a screen which was smaller than the screen of an iPad.

The scan lines on the screen were easily visible, and the stability of the circuits that generated the scan were unstable, so the picture would flicker and roll from top to bottom and tear from left to right. Then someone would have to jump up and twiddle some knobs on the rear of the set to adjust it back into stability, or near stability.


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To start with many people did not have aerials on their roofs. For one thing, television was new, and secondly the aerials were huge. They were generally large constructions, either in an X shape or in a H shape several feet in length. Most people started with an internal aerial, the so-called “rabbit’s ear” aerials.

These were small, low down and generally didn’t work too well as they were nowhere near comparable to the wavelength of the transmitted signal. Nevertheless they enabled people to, in most cases, get some sort of a picture on their new televisions.


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The trouble was that with a weak signal and unstable circuits, the person leaning over the television to tune it more often than not affected the circuits and signal. With the rest of the family yelling instructions and with a clear(-ish) picture on the screen, it only took the movement of the person tuning the set away from the set for the picture to be lost again.

Of course soon everyone had an aerial on the roof, and the aerials shrunk in size as television was moved to higher frequencies, and as the technology improved. The classic shape of a television receiver aerial consists of a bristly device, sometimes with smallish mesh reflector, one dipole and several reflectors and directors, which pretty obviously points towards a television broadcast station.

Nederlands: Zelfgemaakte schets Yagi antenne
Nederlands: Zelfgemaakte schets Yagi antenne (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many tower sprung up on the tops of convenient hills to provide the necessary coverage and it is a rare place these days when the terrain or other problems prevent the reception of a television signal. Even then, coverage could probably be obtained by usage of satellite technology.

However, after several decades of dominance the end of the broadcast network looks like it is in sight. The beginning of the end was probably signalled by the Video Cassette Recorder, which enabled people to record programs for viewing later. People were no longer tied to the schedule of a broadcaster, and if they wanted to watch something that was not on the schedule, they went to a store and hired it.

English: TOSHIBA STEREO VIDEO CASSETTE RECORDE...
English: TOSHIBA STEREO VIDEO CASSETTE RECORDER 日本語: 東芝製VHSビデオデッキ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The video cassette stores appear to be going to have an even shorter lifetime than television itself. Of course most of them have switched to DVD as the medium but that doesn’t make a significant difference.

What does make a difference is the Internet. Most people are now connected to the Internet in one way or another, and that is where they are getting a major part of their entertainment, music, news, films, games, and also that is increasingly where they are getting their TV-style entertainment, what would otherwise be called “TV series”.

English: Intertitle from the The CW television...
English: Intertitle from the The CW television program Nikita (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

TV companies produce these popular series, an example of which would be “The Big Bang Theory”. This show has run for years and is still very popular on television, but it also available for download (legitimately) from one or more companies that are set up expressly for the purpose of providing these series online, on the Internet.

In countries at the end of the world, like here, it takes months or even years for the latest episodes to be broadcast here. If they ever are. So more and more people are downloading the episodes directly from the US, either legitimately or illegitimately.

English: Step 3 of Download
English: Step 3 of Download (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This obviously hits at the revenues of the companies that make these costly shows, so, equally obviously they are trying to prevent this drain on their revenues. The trouble is that there is no simple way of ensuring that those who download these programs are paying for the service. If they are paying and the supplier is legitimate then presumably the supplier will be paying the show producers.

Once an episode is downloaded, then it is out of the control of the show’s producers. The recipient’s ethics determine if he will share it around to his friends or keep it to himself. If thousands of people (legitimately) download it, then presumably some of the less ethical will then share it on, and it soon becomes available everywhere for free.

icon for Japanese File-sharing program perfect...
icon for Japanese File-sharing program perfect dark. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It will at some stage reach a point where broadcasting a television program is no longer economic. The producers will have to primarily distribute their programs via the Internet and somehow limit or discourage the sharing of the programs around. That would mean the end of TV broadcasting as we know it.

We are not anywhere near that situation yet, and the program production companies will have to come up with a new economic model that allows them to make a profit on the shows without broadcasting them over radio waves. The more able companies will survive, although they may be considerably smaller. TV actors will only be able to demand much smaller salaries, and budgets will be tighter.

English: Captioned with "Professor A.W.H ...
English: Captioned with “Professor A.W.H (Bill) Phillips with Phillip’s Machine.” Phillips was an LSE economist known for the Phillips curve and he developed MONIAC, the analog computer, shown here, that modeled economic theory with water flows. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another factor that the program production companies will have to take into account would be loss of advertising revenue. Losing advertisers can scuttle a television show, so this is not a minor factor.

Whatever happens in the long term, as I said above, a new economic model is necessary. I’ve no idea what this will look like, but I foresee the big shows moving to the Internet in a big way.

SeeSaw (Internet television)
SeeSaw (Internet television) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Broadcast TV will continue for some time, I think, as there are people who would resist moving away from it, but it is likely to be much reduced, with less new content and more reruns. It may be that the broadcast TV may be reduced to a shop window, with viewers seeing the previews and buying a series with a push of a button on their smart TVs.