Posted on 25th September 2007

This week, 27th-30th September, BT and Intel are teaming up to promote wireless broadband coverage in Birmingham for Liberate Birmingham. There seems to be a big promotion going on with lots of giveaways and prizes, but it's really a basic marketing ploy to get you to sign up to their services. During the promotion they are advertising that you'll get one day free wifi access, but if you read the website, that's part of the standard package when you sign up at any time.

I might have been more excited about it had it been permanently free not just one day, which many other countries are moving towards, or at least a low charge (£10 per month for 4 hours access is quite steep considering that Virgin Media Broadband (Telewest as was) charge £25 per month for a 4MB unlimited link). I can understand that the initial outlay has possibly been quite significant, but charging ridculous prices is not going to get you that many long term users.

I've often wonder why some of these companies don't learn basic economics. Understanding supply and demand isn't difficult, but it would seem that people like BT are being swayed more by the numbers of their capacity, thus scared of the uptake and maybe frightened that if everybody signed up they would be so overwhelmed with the bandwidth that their network would overload and shutdown. Charging a high price for very little doesn't get you much demand, so you never reach your capacity limits.

However, charging £10 for perhaps 30 hours (roughly 1 hour per day), would seem like a much better deal for everyone. The customer thinks they getting a good deal, and the provider is getting a decent demand for the service and more importantly long term demand, because people will be more willing to stay signed up for quite some time. For that kind of deal I'd sign up, in fact I'd probably sign up for a year. But how much usage would I actually get out of it? At the moment I don't spend a lot of time in Birmingham City Centre, but when I do, had I signed up I would probably be getting to use maybe 8 hours of usage total for the month. Despite the fact I never used the other 52 hours worth, I would still feel like I got a good deal, because I would know that if ever I needed the access when I was in the city centre, it would be there. If I worked in Birmingham, I could possibly use maybe upto 20 hours just sitting waiting for my bus (longest I've waited for a 63 is two hours!).

It's all about perception. It's how banks work. The perception is that a bank will always give you your money whenever you need it, and in virtually all instances that happens. The reason being that your local bank contains enough money to pay out a reasonable amount to any customer who wanted it. If with the case of Northern Rock recently, customers suddenly flood the tellers with requests, then the reserves run out fast and those unable to get their money out panic and demand suddenly escalates. Thankfully this rarely happens.

With BT's wireless service, if they had a signup of the service for 100 users, when they know they could only cope with 80 users, the chances of all those 100 users accessing the service all at the same time is unlikely. Possible, but unlikely. Maybe when an international disaster hits there might be a flood of people trying to get access, but no-one would find it totally unexpected to struggle to get a connection at those times. During regular daily usage I would expect maybe only 40-50% of users would be using the service at peak periods (probably home time). Most people are only likely to use the service in the evening or weekends, when they're out at the pub (possibly on a quiz night) or wandering around the shops. With the increased usage of the wireless mobile phone, potentially the usage could be a little higher, but in most cases people are using their work connection on their desktop or laptop, or they're at home. I would be extremely surprised to see all the access points at 100% for connections and CPU usage at any point of the day or week.

I find it sad that UK business is still greedy to make as much money as possible out of their customers. I'm not against anyone making money from this sort of service, but I am against them making it sound like a good deal, then actually offering you very little in return. Signing you up only to find you use up your monthly allowance in the space of a few days, is not likely to get you many long term customers. With the government moving to speed up the rollout of high octane fuelled 100MBps broadband across the country, it would be nice to see some of those plans to also include the provision for cheaper wireless network services. The UK is falling behind many others around the world, and it's increasingly embarrassing to explain to non-UK geeks why you're so excited to sit in a pub and have FREE wireless access!

File Under: birmingham / commerce / rant / wifi

Naivity's Last Mistake (Seduction, Part ♀)

Posted on 16th September 2007

Saturday night, the lights are bright
I only came to dance
Suddenly you're eyes met mine
Held me in a trance
The music's getting louder
Feel it spinning me around
Your words of sweet seduction
Keep me spinning off the ground

Oh-oh, you caught me with your charm and style
Oh-oh, though your eyes never held a smile
Oh-oh, be still my beating heart
Oh-oh, didn"t see it at the start

Later that same evening
When you held me in your arms
I ask you to be gentle
Always keep me safe from harm
But too soon you held me open
Told me that "this is love
Forget about the romance girl
This is what what I want"

Oh-oh, no sweet or subtle tenderness
Oh-oh, no excuse for treating me like this
Oh-oh, never looked inside my heart
Oh-oh, wish I'd seen it at the start

Now I'm a little older
Now I understand
There's no such thing as romance
No soft caressing hand

Oh-oh, you spun me such a tender thread
Oh-oh, but I'm just another in your web
Oh-oh, my innocence beguiled
Oh-oh, my innocence defiled

© Barbie 1993


New Europeans

Posted on 16th September 2007

Back last year I was invited to EuroFOO. Having never attended this type of event I was a bit wary of what to expect. As it turned out it was rather an interesting couple of days. For those who never been, the event is a mini conference with the scheduled more or less decided after the welcome session, on two large whiteboards, with the attendees themselves allocating themselves to the available timeslots. To a degree it is a free for all, but there are enough clever people here, including several who were well prepared, who were able to pretty much fill all sessions within a few minutes.

The sessions themselves were a complete mixture of ideas. Some were an opportunity to show off cool apps, some focused on "mashups", others were discussion forums and several others were just whatever seemed like a good idea. Although there were a few sessions that stood out as worth attending for me, there were plenty of others that I could drop in or out of and either enter discussions or just play the part of observer. From a personal point of view I took a lot away with me, but I think if I'm ever invited next time, there are a couple of presentations I could bring with me. I'd certainly feel more confident about suggesting a session next time. When it's your first expereince of something like this, it's a bit daunting to stand up in front of so many talented people.

One aspect of the event I enjoyed was spending breakfast with Allison Randal and Gnat Torkington, and being introduce to Tim O'Reilly. Being quite a quiet person, I'm not the sort to stand out at something like this, but it was nice to realise that I did know quite a few people. On the last evening it was also great to meet Robert Lefkowitz, as it gave me the opportunity to say how much I enjoyed his talks that I heard via IT Conversations, on "The Semasiology of Open Source".

I also got time to chat to Damian Conway, Piers Cawley and Mark Fowler, which was great as I don't often get to see them these days, and when I do they're often busy preparing for talks or only standing still for a short amount of time. The weekend for me was a great success and if you're ever invited, I heartily recommend going along.

File Under: conference / opensource / technology

Achilles Last Stand

Posted on 13th September 2007

So Led Zeppelin are reforming for a special tribute concert for Ahmet Ertegün. Following my rant last week about the ticket prices, I was a little disappointed to see all the tickets would be £125, but seeing as this is a one-off gig and all proceeds are going to support charities in Ahment's name, it is a little different.

I would love to go, but seeing as the gig is on Nicole's birthday (26th November 2007) and ticket prices is really a little more expensive than I would like, I probably won't. However, I am rather pleased to see an event like this being handle pretty well when it comes to tickets. Firstly they are being distributed by public ballot, which is likely to mean the real fans actually get the tickets. Harvey Goldsmith has also warned that anyone found selling their tickets on eBay will have them cancelled. It seems the promoters have thought about this with a little more care than some other concerts, where the tickets have sold out in seconds and largely to touts in the know, large corporations and those lucky enough to get through on the phones.

I would love to see the band, as I never got to see them back in the 70s. I only started going to gigs 8 months after John's death. Oddly enough the only member of the band I have ever met is John Bonham! But that's another story. A friend who was a few years older than me, got to see them at Knebworth in 1979 and recalled an amazing gig. One thing that did cross my mind about the forthcoming show is that they are being supported by several other acts. This is likely to mean you're only going to get about 60-90 minutes worth of Zep. For many who have never seen them this will be cherished, but back in their hey days, it wasn't uncommon for them to do nearly 3 hour sets.

For those of us that can't get to see the event, I'm really hoping it gets filmed and released in its entirety. If they ever do decide to tour though, I really hope that I can get to see them, as even all these years later, I'm pretty sure they are going to put on an amazing performance.

File Under: gigs / ledzeppelin / london / music

The Teller

Posted on 5th September 2007

A few months ago I was having a bit of a clear out. It meant sorting through some old boxes in the loft and getting rid of old paperwork and bits I'd accumulated over the years. In one of the boxes I found a batch of floppy discs I'd previously been looking for. Most contained nothing too interesting, but a few I'd save various music related things on. The original artwork for the Prolapse official bootleg tapes, various Ark lyrics and perhaps most importantly my own lyrics.

During the 80s and 90s I wrote quite a number of songs. I kind of stopped towards the end of the 90s as I got more and more into programming. Thankfully I thought it a good idea to save several of the ones I'd written onto computer disk at some point, so now I've found them I'm going to start putting them online. I have many more that I never recorded or never finished, so still have plenty of bits of paper with lyrics and maybe one day I'll get around to finishing them. Or maybe DanDan or Ethne will pick up where I left off.

Some of my songs have since been published and two in particular have featured on a Slim Pickins album. Nicole took two of my lyrics and added music to both and altered some of the lines to suit her, then the band recorded both songs, Nothing I Can Do (my original) and My Love Lies Unrequited (original title Love, Unrequited), for their album Scenes from a Crowded Bar. Nicole has been mulling over other lyrics of mine, so we'll see whether they get taken any further.

In the meantime, enjoy some of my musings from those two decades.

File Under: lyrics / music

Living For The Weekend

Posted on 4th September 2007

On Saturday Nicole and I went to see Hard-Fi at The Irish Centre in Digbeth, Birmingham. Except it's now "The Irish Club" and thus confusing everybody, especially Brummies it would seem on some of the forums. It's been a while since I've been to the venue, and it was certainly one I always enjoyed attending. In fact I've seen some fantastic gigs by Melissa Etheridge, IQ, Indigo Girls and Ghost Dance among many others over the years, and Hard-Fi have only added to the list.

The gig was a high octane blast from start to finish. Opening with the new single, Surburban Nights, they gave us a tour of both albums before ending with Living For The Weekend some 90 minutes later. They demand a lot of audience participation throughout the gig and got it every time. In fact I was surprised to see such enthusiasm for even the newer songs that were being officially released until Monday. They are the kind of band that are hard to resist in my opinion. They have some great songs that you can't help but bounce to.

One thing that did surprise me was the rough age of the audience. I had expected most to be around the early to mid 20s, but I would have said the majority were around 30. The band themselves are all around the 30 mark, so perhaps it shouldn't be surprising, but I had expected there to much more of a younger following. It was a very mixed audience though, both in terms of age and sex, which made for a much less intensive and aggressive atmosphere than I've seen at indie/pop gigs before. Maybe the audience are just growing up to realise you can have fun and jump around without the need for "moshing".

If you can't get to see Hard-Fi on this short tour, I suspect they'll be back for more later in the year, but in the meantime check out their new album, Once Upon A Time In The West, and their first, Stars Of CCTV, if you haven't already heard it.

Speaking of the new album, apparently the album cover has caused some controversy due to it's minimal artwork. Personally I think the album cover, along with the single cover and the website are excellent. Shows they have a great sense of humour.

File Under: gigs / hardfi / music

Message In A Bottle

Posted on 4th September 2007

Recently someone posted to the Birmingham Perl Mongers mailing list trying to sell their tickets for The Police at the NIA. When I originally heard that The Police were getting back together I was delighted, as I never got around to seeing them in the early 80s. Then when they announced the tour I was eager to get tickets. Unsurprisingly everywhere sold out within minutes. Unless you were one of the privileged few, and I mean privilege in terms of your affluence, then you stood no chance.

What is wrong with ticket prices these days? The Police tickets were over £50 for the cheap seats and over £150 for good seats. The guy who posted on the list had been charged £144 for 2 tickets and these were in the upper tiers, not even on the floor! Seeing as fans bought them, there is obviously a demand, but it's one of the reasons why people are buying less music these days. Greedy promoters, record companies and many bands themselves are taking as much from their fans as they can get, at the expense of other smaller bands, who can barely get anyone to see them for £5.

The Police are not the only ones, every major band that has toured the UK playing the 10,000 seater venues in the last few years has started to charge exorbitant fees to see them. The cheapest ticket for the NEC Arena I've seen in the last few years has been over £30. Even Crowded House, who are playing later in the year are the same. When they last played a full UK tour, I saw several dates up and down the country, as the tickets were around £15. I won't be going to see them on this tour because it's just too much to pay. There are plenty of bands that I would love to see again, Peter Gabriel, Yes and others, but ticket prices are rarely priced to make me feel like I'll get value for money. I've seen several comments about the rip-off of ticket prices, but the rip-off doesn't end there.

The venues are also guilty of ripping off fans when they charge over £3 for a small bottle of Panda Cola, that can be bought in the corner store for about 40p and probably from the local cash'n'carry for about 5p a bottle. I can understand a slight markup, but when fans are being ripped off to the tune of several hundred percent for very basic food or drink, it's a joke. Especially when you are banned from taking food and drink into the venue.

Once upon a time I used to go to around 100-200 gigs a year, up and down the country. In my late teens and early twenties I wasn't on a big flash salary, in fact my first proper job was working in a warehouse. I could afford to go to the gigs as they were roughly the same price as an album at the time, about £10. Rather than buy an album, I'd buy a ticket to go and see a band. More often than not, I'd actually pay nearer £5 and see gigs in smaller venues such as Rock City in Nottingham, Princess Charlotte in Leicester, The Roadhouse in Manchester or The Marquee in London. Top name bands would tour those venues in preference to the big Arenas so they could actually see the fans.

I can understand why some bigger named bands would want to play the Arenas, as it means they get to play to more fans with fewer dates. Some bands don't actually like touring, so playing a UK tour of 7 dates is often preferred over one that might take 3-4 weeks. But why should that mean you now have to rip off fans and double, triple (or worse) your ticket prices. That £50 you're charging for a "cheap" seat, means that your fan is sitting so far back they need binoculars to see you, they rarely hear decent quality sound, they have to sit awkwardly on uncomfortable plastic seats and cannot get up and dance or jump about as they get told off by security staff and ejected from the venue if they refuse to sit down.

There are some bands who I greatly respect for taking the time to play venues where they can reach the fans. Nine Inch Nails could easily play Arenas in the UK, but they don't and only charge £22.50 a ticket, which considering their status, I feel is quite reasonable. They also give value for money, as in addition to their performances recently they were giving away USB memory sticks with a song from Year Zero on it at gigs. Prince has even started giving away albums at gigs. The Cure usually play the larger Arenas now, but the last few times I saw them at the NEC tickets were around £18. Considering they play for nearly 3 hours, that is most definitely value for money. I wonder how long The Police will be on stage for? If they play more than 90 minutes I would be very surprised. It's not been unheard of for major acts to play an hour (mostly solo artists from what I've heard) and head off to the hotel.

If you're going to charge stupid money for tickets, give people a reason to feel like you actually value their faith in you, give them a show that is out of this world, give them something to remember for years to come. I would love to see The Police, but I won't be seeing them on this tour. It's been reported that they are recording another album, so I suspect they may tour again. I hope that the next tour has more reasonable ticket prices and that the prices for this tour are only because they knew they could get away with it for reforming. I seemed to recall that The Eagles dropped their prices on tours after reforming, so it's a possibility.

In the meantime I'm looking forward to seeing Henry Rollins in January and Jello Biafra next month. Both are doing spoken word tours and both are charging less than £20 to see them :)

File Under: commerce / gigs / music / rant

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