Can I watch live on BBC iPlayer?

This self-post was originally posted to /r/eurovision. See more things from Dan's Reddit account.

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Probably a stupid question, but I almost never use iPlayer. This time last year, I had to dig out my (small-but-digital-capable) television from the attic and hook it up, at the last minute, rather than watching on the large-but-not-digital television attached to my computer.

So what I’m asking is: is iPlayer going to work, or should I start trying to dig through the boxes in my attic to find the television that’s up there?

Living In The Future

Eurovision Night 2012.
Eurovision Night 2012. In a moment of surreal awesomeness, Matt R holds a mirror up to the webcam in order to show Gareth the collection of whisky that’s just outside of his field of vision.

Sometimes it’s really like we’re living in the future. Exciting new technologies keep appearing, and people just keep… using them as if they’d always been there. If tomorrow we perfected the jetpack, the flying car, and the silver jumpsuit, I’ll bet that nobody would think twice about it.

Recently, I’ve had two occasions to use Google+ Hangouts, and I’ve been incredibly impressed.

The first was at Eurovision Night 2012, which was quite a while ago now. Adam did a particularly spectacular job of putting together some wonderful pre-Eurovision entertainments, which were synched-up between our two houses. Meanwhile, he and I (and Rory and Gareth and occasionally other people) linked up our webcams and spare screens via a Google+ hangout, and… it worked.

It just worked. Now I know that the technology behind this isn’t new: back in 2004, I upgraded the Troma Night set-up in Aberystwyth to add a second webcam to the Troma Night live feed. But that was one-way, and we didn’t do sound (for lack of bandwidth and concerns about accidental piracy of the soundtracks to the movies we were watching, of all things, rather than for any particularly good reason). But it really did “just work”, and we were able to wave at each other and chat to each other and – mostly – just “share in the moment” of enjoying the Eurovision Song Contest together, just like we would have in person when we lived in the same town.

At the weekend, I was originally supposed to be in Lancashire, hanging out with my family, but owing to a series of unfortunate disasters (by the way; I’m walking with a stick right now – but that’s not interesting enough to be worth blogging about), I was stuck in Oxford. Despite torrential rain where I was, Preston was quite sunny, and my family decided to have a barbeque.

A Google+ Hangout with my family and I.
I join a Google+ hangout at my (late) father’s house, where the rest of my family are having a barbeque.

I was invited… via Google+. They didn’t have Internet access, so they used a mobile dongle plugged into a laptop. I connected in from my desktop computer and then – later – from my mobile phone. So yes, this was at times a genuine mobile-to-mobile multi-party video conference, and it was simple enough that my mother was able to set it up by herself.

Like I said: living in the future.

Eurovision Spectacular 2012

As I’m sure you’re aware, Saturday marks the final of the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest, the musical highlight of the year. You may also know that there’s been a long tradition among our group of friends to have a Eurovision Party to mark the ocassion, generally hosted by Adam. If you’ve somehow missed this event, then here’s some background reading that might help you understand how it came to be what it is: me, 2005; Liz, 2005; Paul, 2005Adam, 2006; Adam, 2007 (1); me, 2007; Adam, 2007 (2); Matt R, 2007; Adam on Paul’s blog, 2008Adam, 2008; Adam, 2010; Adam, 2011; me, 2011. Like I said… a long history.

For the last few years, though, the population of Aberystwyth has been dwindling, and Adam’s parties have turned from an immense hard-to-squeeze-everybody-in ordeal to a far more civilised affair. While simultaneously, groups of ex-Aberystwyth people (like those of us down in Oxford, and those who are up in the North) have been having their own splinter satellite parties.

And you know what? I miss doing Eurovision Night with you guys. So this year, we’re going to try to bring Eurovision Night back to its roots… with technology!

Google+ Hangouts
Google+ Hangouts. One of the technologies that will bring us closer this Eurovision Night.

Here’s where the parties are at, this year:

  • Adam’s house, in Aberystwyth – mission control
  • New Earth, in Oxford (hosted by Ruth, JTA, and I) – technical operations
  • …and… anybody else having one this year? One of you up in the North, perhaps?

If you’re one of the usual crew, or one of our newer friends, come on over and join the party! Or if you’re going to be watching from further North (Liz? Simon? Gareth? Penny? Matt? Matt? Kit? Fi?), let me know so that I can bring you in on my proposals for “sharing the experience”, drawing together our votes, and whatnot.

And regardless of whether you’ll be joining one of these parties in person, or not, I hope you’ll be joining The Party at Adam’s and The Party on New Earth digitally. If you’re among the 17 people who are actually on Google+, come and join us in our Hangout! Dust off that old webcam and point it at you or your little party, make sure you’re in Adam or I’s “circles”, and then log in on Eurovision Night and join us via the power of the Internet! You’ll have to provide your own crisps and beer, and (unless you’re at Adam’s) you’ll need to bake your own cupcakes with adorable European-flag icing, too, but at least you can be part of the moment with the rest of us.

See you online!

Earth Sunset

As regular readers will no-doubt know, the other Earthlings and I are currently in the process of moving house. Last weekend, as well as watching the Eurovision Song Contest, of course, we packed a lot of boxes (mostly stuffed with board games) and moved a handful of them over to New Earth, our new home, by car (this weekend, we’re using a van, which – in accordance with our BSG theming – is dubbed the “Raptor”).

Isis, Ruth and JTA's car, laden with boxes.

Part of this pack-and-move process has been to cut down on all of the things that we no longer want or need. Of particular concern was all of the booze we’ve collected. I’m not just talking about the jam-jar of moonshine that Matt R left here after our last Murder Mystery, although it is one of the more-terrifying examples. No; I’m talking about things like the Tesco Value Vodka, the blackcurrant schnapps, and the heaps of absinth we’ve got littering the place up.

Paul outside New Earth.

The more we drink, the less we have to box up and move, you see! So we’ve spent a lot of the last fortnight inventing new (sometimes quite-experimental) cocktails that make use of the ingredients that we’d rather not have to take with us to the new place. We’ve refrained from buying alcohol, promising ourselves that we won’t buy any more until we’ve gotten rid of the stuff we’ve got and don’t want by one means or another. And it’s just about working.

JTA, Paul and Ruth eat pizza and drink Earth Sunset.

Earth Sunset – a mixture of cheap vodka, grenadine, and lemonade, with stacks of ice – caused some debate when Paul compared the drink to a Tequila Sunrise, claiming that “it isn’t a sunrise without orange juice”. He’s certainly right that you don’t get that cool “gradient” effect without something lighter (both in colour and specific density) to float on top of the grenadine. But on the other hand – as JTA pointed out – this is an Earth Sunset: it’s name has little to do with what it looks like and a lot to do with what it represents – the end of our life on (what we’re now calling) Old Earth.

Earth's "Battlestar Galactica" poster, hanging in New Earth. JTA, under Ruth's direction, adjusts Earth's "Red Kite" photo (which we eventually decided to move elsewhere).

For those who are following our progression and comparing it to Battlestar Galactica canon, you’ll be glad to see that this works. We arrived on Earth, but now we’re leaving because it was irradiated and inhospitable (okay, perhaps it’s a slight exaggeration, but the house was a little run-down and under-maintained). And so we find ourselves making our home on New Earth.

There’ll be a housewarming thingy for local people (and distant people who are that-way inclined, but we’re likely to have something later on for you guys) sometime soon: watch this space.

Jedward and the Aurochs

Part One – Jedward

I’ve just worked out what Jedward‘s debut single reminds me of. But first, because I expect – hope? – that the folks who read this blog are oblivious to Irish teen popstars Jedward, I’ll fill you in. Identical twins John and Edward, Jedward lost at The X Factor in 2009 and then went on the following year to release a single which reached #2 in the UK charts and #1 in the Irish. That single was Under Pressure (Ice Ice Baby), a simultaneous cover/mashup of Queen/Bowie’s fantastic Under Pressure, and the monstrosity that was Vanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby.

If you’re not familiar, go watch the music video. Don’t worry: I’ll only make you do it once.

It’s an obvious combination because it’s easy: perhaps the laziest music mashup I’ve ever heard. Ice Ice Baby already (very noticeably) sampled Under Pressure, although Van Winkle denied this to begin with, so Jedward barely had to “shuffle the two together”. I’m not claiming that it’s not catchy, just that it’s not original.

Oh, and you’re likely to see more of them: they’re poised to be Ireland’s entry into the Eurovision Song Contest, this year.

Part Two – and the Aurochs

Aurochs (Bos primigenius) were a huge species of bovine – the predecessors of modern domestic cattle – that roamed freely around much of Europe and Asia right up into the 17th century (although their numbers had diminished greatly since about the 12th-13th, primarily as a result of hunting, and the destruction of their habitat by climate changes and human expansion).

Painting of an aurochs. From ground to shoulder, these animals stood about two metres high, and weighed about a tonne. That's about the size and mass of a small rhinoceros, or - perhaps more-aptly - eight to nine thousand quarter-pounders.

Why am I talking about these beasts, you ask. Well, apart from the fact that Jedward and the Aurochs would be an amazingly-cool band name, I’ve been reminded by the song above of the Heck cattle. Allow me to explain:

Heck cattle are a breed of cattle which have been bred over the last 70 years or so as part of an effort to “breed back” the Aurochs by combining the relevant genetics of those species that succeeded them. The idea is that all of the characteristics of the species can still exist in some form or another in modern domestic cattle, and with sufficient selective breeding it’s possible to get back whatever you want.

It’s controversial, especially when it’s used to “bring back” extinct species: after all, no member of the “new” aurochs will ever be genetically identical to any “old” previously-living one. But then, no aurochs and it’s children will ever have shared the exact same genetic code, either. There’s a philosophical question, there: suppose we managed to breed back an animal whose genes shared a specified level of similarity with a previously-existing species (say, 99.8% – about the level of DNA shared between all humans): could one legitimately call it a member of that now-extinct species, recreated?

A male Heck cattle. Sure LOOKS like an aurochs, doesn't it?

Heck cattle aren’t even close, so this is just a thought experiment. They’re neither large enough nor distinct enough from domestic cattle to be called aurochs: they’re just a primitive-looking breed of cattle. But there’s a point to this whole thing; hang in there.

Part Three – breeding back music

I wonder if it’s possible to “breed back” music by remixing and mashing-up, in a similar way to that seen by the breeders of the Heck cattle and other similar schemes. The family trees are much smaller, but many of the same principles apply: Under Pressure (Ice Ice Baby) samples both Under Pressure and Ice Ice Baby. Ice Ice Baby, in turn, also samples Under Pressure. There’s presumably original elements in the final song, too, which represents the introduction of new (genetic) material: let’s call that mutation. Add a few hundred more remixes and mashups, samples and loops, and make a dozen more songs from these: would it be possible to “get back” the original Queen song by using samples of all of the surviving parts?

That depends, really. Do sufficient samples exist? There’s a lot of loss of information if everybody only uses the iconic dum-dum-dum-de-de-dumdum melody. Do we accurately know what we’re trying to recreate? A big problem with the Heck cattle is that we know a lot about how they looked and only a little about their temperament, their behaviour, or – and let’s face it, this is what people are actually asking – their taste. Is somebody’s memory of a song sufficient that they could be asked to identify a “recreated” piece of music, in the same way as we try to use rare contemporary pictures of aurochs in an effort to reproduce them?

This is a rarely-seen Heck Mercury. It's a pale comparison to the real deal: it looks the same, but it doesn't sing even remotely as well. Sadly, efforts to find descendents of the rock star himself have been hampered by his sexuality, a problem not encountered with the aurochs... although it would provide another, perhaps more-amusing, explanation for their extinction.

Or maybe Jedward’s song reminded me of the Heck cattle simply because hearing it made me say, “Heck, no! What’s this bull?”

Abnib Events

Abnib Events, InlineIn order to reduce the amount of time my blog spends being used to organise events like Black Red Dwarf Adder Nights and whatnot, I’ve launched Abnib Events, which aims to centralise the organisation of such get-togethers. You’ll also find that the next upcoming event appears on the Abnib front page, in the upper-right – like the upcoming Eurovision Night.

Obviously I’ll still end up mentioning these events here sometimes, but this still feels like a step forwards.

You’ll find that you’re able to subscribe to the XML or ICal feeds for the list of upcoming events, so if you use Google Calendar or similar software, you’ll be able to have Abnib Events appear right alongside your existing appointments. I’ll sort out RSS/Atom feeds for you newsreader fans at some point soon.

Right now, Paul and I are administrators of Abnib Events. If there are events you think are worth publicising to the Abnib community at large – Troma Night or other related film or TV series nights, barbeques and bonfires, house parties, nights out, board game or poker nights, for instance – get in touch with one of us two.

Black Red Tonight

As you probably ought to know, Black Red Black Dwarf Adder Night V is tonight, featuring the fifth series of Red Dwarf (including fantastic episodes such as Quarantine and Back To Reality) and the first half of the third series of Blackadder.

Saturday’s Troma Night is cancelled in favour of Adam‘s Eurovision Final Night. I’m sure Adam is probably fine with any Troma Night regulars who are inclined towards suffering the Eurovision Song Content joining in. As always, check before you board the plane.