By now most of us have seen the strange glory that is Kickstarter. Initially started back in 2009 to help impoverished creative types generate crowd-sourced money to fund their project, the site has now grown into something of a phenomena. The high profile success of projects such as the Pebble Watch, Ouya game system, and even the possible upcoming Veronica Mars movie, has caught the media’s attention and paved the way for a spectacular new project launched by comedian Jon Lajoie this week.
The idea is maddeningly simple. He wants to raise $500,000,000 so that he can be super rich. Boom, there it is. So elegant, so uncomplicated, so beautiful – it’s like the anti-Avril Lavigne.
‘Please help me accomplish my dream of becoming super-rich, without having to compromise my sense of entitlement’ Lajoie bravely opines in the video that accompanies his campaign.
‘By you simply handing over your hard earned money to me, I could become super rich without all the added pressure of actually doing something’ reasoned the comic with impeccable logic.
With so many great causes in the world that can tear at your heartstrings and leave you with a sense of overwhelming helplessness due to enormous needs that torture humanity, at least here you know you can make a difference…
Once upon a time our TVs were humble devices that offered a meek selection of programmes that started in the afternoon and closed before midnight. Instead of spending their time watching a barrage of poorly made reality shows families would gather around the fire and listen to stories read from the big book of idyllic, bygone lifestyles. The children would then reitre to bed after a healthy cigarette and dream of adventures that contained little real violence and no advertisements every fourteen minutes. Surely this was a glorious age…
Today things have changed…rather a lot. With satellite and cable services now broadcasting hundreds of stations into our homes twenty four hours a day it can be hard to even find something to watch under the weight of choice. Children dribble in zombie-like fashion while Disney remove their desire to achieve academic greatness and replace it with the essential thing in life – to believe. Although what to believe in is never actually stated. Possibly friends, or castles, or friendly castles? Meanwhile the adults slowly lose their wills to think thanks to a never ending supply of X-Factor, morbid soaps, and various semi-famous people eating worms in forests in the desperate hope to once again be even more semi-famous. It’s all a bit much.
One of the most pressing problems though is that television is getting expensive. Whereas many of the shows mentioned above are essentially free on the public networks here in the UK, to get the premium shows that are actually worth watching like Game of Thrones, Dexter, Castle, The Walking Dead and suchlike you need one of the packages offered by Sky or Virgin. Initially these seem like good deals but slowly they creep up the price. Want HD? That’s £10 more. How about films? £16. The newest films? That’s £4 per rental on top of your existing package. Sports? Ha ha ha, let’s just see if you can remortgage your house first.
After being a customer with Sky for several years I’ve recently decided that enough is enough and I want out. The thing is I don’t need to see all the latest shows when they first air. If I can save some money, and time to do other things like writing, then all the better. But once you’ve had the banquet can you go back to the microwave meals? Well, yes…with a little help.
The little thing I have in mind is called a Roku, and it’s pretty damn cool. This tiny device is about the same size as a set of coasters and through various forms of electrical sorcery turns your dumb TV into a smart one. By simply connecting an ethernet cable to your wireless router and then plugging the other end into the Roku you can have access to many of the internet based services available. There’s no fee and as the Roku 2 XS here has now been superseded by the Roku 3, you can probably pick one of these great little devices up for around £80.
Once the unit is plugged in to the router, and attached to your TV via an HDMI cable, you can stream older movies from the various channels on offer. These are not premium services to be sure, but you can find a fair few 80s films that are still a good watch and some older classics that are well worth your time. If you’re into video podcasts (and there are now a surprising amount of good, free ones online) then you’ll be able to find many of them with their own free apps that can be downloaded from the Channel store. There’s also the BBC’s excellent iPlayer service built in, which is never a bad thing.
Admittedly the free selection is somewhat basic, and the clunky interface that the box employs can get on your nerves quite quickly in spite of the very cool and comfortable controller that comes in the box. But…there are a couple of jewels in this diminutive crown. Netflix is a very good streaming service that allows you to watch an impressive amount of TV series and a fair few films for only £6 per month. The Roku streams the content perfectly and in HD where possible. This combination means that you can watch some excellent shows such as the aforementioned Dexter, and big hits such as Breaking Bad, The Killing (a personal favourite – the Danish one not the terrible US remake), The Office (US), Arrested Development, Jonathan Creek, Firefly, and a whole host of other comedies and crime dramas for less than a couple of pints every month. What’s more you can watch them in order and in any amount you chose – so no waiting for next week’s episode. Compulsive, obsessive personalities of the world rejoice! Netflix also has it’s own exclusive series called House of Cards which stars Kevin Spacey as is a truly masterful look at the darker side of American politics.
Alongside that is the ability for the Roku to play digital copies of films via a USB stick. So if you want to save space in your house just rip your DVDs onto a hard drive (there are plenty of tutorials online to show how easy this is) and then store the physical copies in the bike-shed, loft, or wherever. If the urge to watch Pretty in Pink or Inception arises, all you need do is simply pop a thumbdrive into the Roku and press play. Easy.
It might be a bit rough around the edges in the interface department, but the Roku 2XS has it where it counts. It’s a great little unit that, when paired with Freeview or Freesat, could give you all the entertainment you need for a lot less money than you currently pay.
Regular readers of this site will know that I have a somewhat idealistic take on technology. The possibilities of the internet paired with powerful mobile devices and reliable, easy to use, interfaces still excite me on a daily basis. Maybe it’s a sickness. Quite possibly. But in the spirit of those immortal words sung so convincingly by Luther Ingram in 1972 – ‘If loving you is wrong, I don’t ever want to be right’.
Of course that song was actually written from the point of view of a lover involved in an affair with a cheating husband, and you can imagine that after the music faded someone ended up hurt and alone. Maybe it’s not the best analogy to use. Ah, you’re an intelligent bunch, you can work through the moral disarray.
In short – technology is great. So to celebrate this I decided to illustrate some very simple but wonderfully convenient ways it has changed over the years to make our lives better.
When I was merely a snippet of a lad the only mobile technology I came into contact with was a remote control for our brand new, top-loading, VHS recorder. I loosely use the word remote because rather than the infrared devices that clutter up the gaps in our sofa cushions these days, the one we had actually attached to the front of the machine via a cord. So remote became a very subjective word. If six feet was remote to you then you were in luck, otherwise it seemed that you’d been given a quite close control, one that really offered little advantage over just getting up off your backside and turning the video on or off yourself.
How times have changed.
The other day I was in the pub with friends and realised that I’d forgotten to set my PVR to record Match of the Day (if this is all becoming far too lad-like for you, I refer you back to the first paragraph which included references to a 1970s love song, albeit of rather questionable values). In the past this would have been resolved by going home, calling home, or just bemoaning the fact that I wasn’t at home and why couldn’t someone invent something that stopped this kind of tragedy from ruining innocent lives. But not this day. Instead I quickly whipped out my iPhone, launched the Sky+ app, found the program guide and sent a signal for my PVR to begin recording. It was right, just, and I swear I heard the faint echo of angels singing as I slid the magical device back into my jeans and lifted my glass in victory. This is how life was meant to be.
As a child of the 70s who reached those troublesome young adult years amidst the avarice, violent protests, and terrible synthesizer music of the 80s, there is one item that came to symbolise those difficult years. The Filofax. It was the age of share dealing, business meetings, go-get-’em young executives making huge fortunes on far east investments then losing it all before the end of the day. Buy low, sell high, act like an over privileged idiot and end up thirty years later working in a petrol station, with a haunted look permanently darkening your gaze.
So how could you achieve such heights? The trusty Filofax. A paper world that needed to look battered, and so filled with contacts, notes, and calendar entries that technically the item counted as a potential explosive. Everyone who was someone had one. That’s a lot of ones.
The other thing I remember about the Filofax was how remarkably expensive they were. So for what was essentially a smaller than usual, leather, ring binder you could pay quite ludicrous prices. Then there was the additional expense of the inserts you needed to stuff into the thing to make it actually useful. It really became the case that in order to own a filofax you needed to be a high earner just to afford the new ruler, business card holders, or latest coloured note pages. Of course as the collection grew so did the weight and size, until those desperate to look important were dragging around what amounted to a filing cabinet in their pockets. Hernia treatment clinics have recently been linked with coming up with the concept, but they strongly deny the allegations.
Where are these paper palaces now?
The smartphone appeared pretty much out of nowhere and wiped out the industry. There had been the initial PDAs that started the transition, but really the iPhone, Blackberry and recently Tablets have taken the place of these impractical, additional devices. Now instead of the type of leather you clad your information in it’s the type of manufacturer. Brand names are back in fashion – Blackberry for the business professional…who doesn’t keep up with the times. iPhones for the well heeled, and Android for the rebels. What’s that? Windows Phone 8? Your guess is as good as mine.
Oddly one thing hasn’t changed. We still stuff additional pages into the phones to make them do more and increase our productivity. We just call them apps now, and thankfully they have little impact on our spines. Until the evil Hernia people find their angle…
It wasn’t that long ago that relatives in distant lands would film themselves on camcorders while giving seasonal messages, proudly holding aloft new born babies, or expressing they love for those far from them. These video cassettes would then run the gauntlet of x-ray scanners, crazed postal workers, and differing manufacturing encoding standards in the hope of delivering their precious cargo. To be honest it was such a pain that most people didn’t even attempt this high-tech form of correspondance, instead electing to write letters and throw a few choice pictures into the envelope. Long distance calls were expensive and at times actually of low enough quality to make it not worth the effort either. But still we tried to keep in contact with family and friends on foreign soil. I know of relatives that recorded audio diaries, repete with bedtime stories, which they would regularly send to their grandchildren so they could stay present in their lives even if not in a physical form.
There is a certain romance to this. The effort involved makes the intent more admirable. The striving to stay in contact even though the world would do its best to keep you apart is a true measure of love. It’s something almost noble.
These days our options are wide, free, and – technical hiccups aside – pretty much instant.
Skype, and its digital ilk, has made a huge difference in the lives of families who move to distant parts of the world, or in some cases just to the other end of a country. Now bedtime stories can be read in real-time, and the reactions witnessed as Bilbo nears his final confrontation with Smaug. I’ve been at parties where someone who couldn’t make the couple of thousand mile journey actually spent the entire night in the corner of the room via her laptop. She raised drinks, took part in the jokes, and was able to feel part of her wider community all from her home a hemisphere away. Journalists like myself conduct globe spanning interviews with celebrities that would once have had to brave the press tours to promote their newest creation. Children talk with their school friends in the evening, not seeming to see it an issue that they’ve spent the entire day with them already. The world indeed has been made smaller. It might not be the labour of love that went before it, but I think anyone would take it in a heartbeat.
There will be a few of these musings on the way tech is changing how we do the things we’ve always done. Why not leave a comment telling me what your favourite, simple changes are? Maybe they might even make it into a future post.