2011 apparently marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible. To mark the occasion, the BBC made a bit of a splash last week with a sequence of three forty-five minute documentaries fronted by James Naughtie on the commissioning, translation and legacy of the bible. These were followed by 7 hours of readings from the King James Bible made by the great and the good of the acting professions and introduced by well-known luminaries of literature and history.
For five days more, the whole lot is available from the special BBC King James Bible site and on the iPlayer. You can also download the readings (in twenty minute chunks) as a Podcast episodes which you can download to keep forever.
I’m not religious, but this is nonetheless a great listen for lovers of English and History and the podcasts are a great resource.
Apparently there’ll also be a series of documentaries on BBC 4 soon.
Digital Planet from the BBC World Service was one of the earliest podcasts that I picked up when I got my first MP3 player — which wasn’t an iPod! I’ve been listening to it every week for several years and it’s never short of informative. It’s a technology podcast, similar to The Guardian’s TechWeekly (see POTW #2), so it covers the latest news from Google, Apple and Microsoft and the various technology shows and conferences. But it’s Unique Selling Point is that, because it’s a BBC World Service programme, it has a global viewpoint which covers the developing world as much as what’s happening in silicon valley. Digital Planet is presented by Gareth Michell with excellent punditry from “technology expert” Bill Thompson who also blogs independently and occasionally for BBC Technology News (e.g. Clicking the Blue ‘e’).
Like a lot of podcasts, there is an active community around a Facebook group and both Gareth (@garethm) and Bill (@billt) tweet.
Thinking Aloud, a long running BBC Radio 4 show, is a weekly discussion of the latest research in social science. It might seem an odd choice for a lecturer in engineering. But since it’s been a Podcast, I’ve been hooked! It may be the host, Prof. Laurie Taylor, who’s erudition and humour is infectious, but it’s more probably the subject matter. When couched in academic language “discussion of the latest research in social science” seems a dull dry subject. But when framed for an intelligent audience and discussed by Laurie’s guests, usually practicing academics talking about their latest research results, the topics are often fascinating, and generally illuminating.
A few subjects from recent episodes include Japan’s strange love for female robots (rooted in Shinto worship of amina apparently), Oslo drug dealers, choice, lap dancing, and teenage music. As you can see a mixed bag. Like a lot of the BBC’s radio output on “academic” topics, there is a large archive of the show, going back at least 8 years and organized by topic. The latest episode is available as a podcast from iTunes for a week (but there’s not time limit on how long you can keep the recordings … so this is a great resource for teachers). Also for teachers (and learners) there’s an Open University site related to the topics discussed.
If you haven’t been thinking aloud, perhaps you should.
Laurie Taylor is also the genious behind the THE’s long running Poppletonian, an official newsletter publshed from a redbrick university’s chalk face. He is also on the after-dinner speaker circuit. I saw him once at a systems engineering conference. Very funny!
In the spirit of research, and because I teach some of this stuff, I dug a little deeper and discovered that if you visit the BBC with a conventional browser, the pages are returned using the XHTML 1.0 Strict doctype and stylesheets are provided for screen and print media with customizations for Internet Explorer 6.
Given that there is no conditional code or alternate stylesheets in these pages, I conclude that the BBC web server does some “browser sniffing” on arrival and checks the User-Agent field in the HTTP request. If you arrive at the home page http://www.bbc.co.uk with a mobile you are redirected to the mobile version of the web site. If you arrive at certain parts of the mobile site where there is media, further filtering takes place and “if you’re not on the list, you’re not getting in”.
If you examine the URLs in the BBC website, you get a clue as to why linking to a page, say on the news site, in a Tweet might not work for all audiences. Let’s take today’s news article: Honeybees are ‘Cleverer in the Morning’.This is the kind of quirky news headline that I’m sure you’d want to tweet. Indeed, the BBC offers you a sharing button that offers this tweet:
BBC News – Honeybees ‘cleverer in the morning’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-10892913
Now, let’s say I receive this tweet on my twitter client (I used Tweetdeck, but Twitterific does the same thing) on my iPhone 3GS and I follow the link. The embedded browser loads the normal news page rather than the more appropriate http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/mobile/science-environment-10892913. The content is identical, but the doctypes, HTML headers and styleshets are different. The actual page (the one that was linked to remember) uses the conventional two column layout, rich navigational options and lots of white space and is tiny on a mobile on nomal (320 pixel wide (illustrated)) orientation and not much better at 460 pixel landscape orientation.
The mobile version stacks the headline, picture (smaller than the one on the main page), byline, article and navigation tools and is designed to work on small resoultion displays and looks great at even 320 pixels.
The fix is “simple”, expect your clients to reach your web sites from a referal rather than navigation, and do the browser sniffing and redirection everywhere, not just at the top level.
Of course, I write this from the comfortable position of a critic’s armchair. I don’t underestimate the technical problem of creating a fully accessible web site as large as the BBC’s, and they clearly have addressed many of the issues. There are just a couple of grey areas left.
There is a further complicating factor. As examination of the URLs will reveal, the BBC is not one website. It has many websites, spread out across many virtual directories and even across multiple domains (students read virtual hosts). Each one is presumably managed by separate teams and it must be quite difficult to achieve consistent and correct browser-based behaviour across them all. The BBC actually makes for a good case study for my students and I see an assignment coming on!
The BBC encourages the sharing of this video from Dame Shirley Bassey’s recent appearance on the electric Proms. So here it is, with the “Girl from Tiger Bay” (which Shirley is of course) composed by James Dean Bradfield, who’s playing guitar. It’s a good song! Enjoy!
You may have heard about the BBC’s plans to release iPlayer which will allow license fee payers to watch BBC programs on their computers. Unfortunately, the system is targeted at Windows and uses Microsoft Media Player and Digital Rights Management (DRM) to protect the content. While the use of some form of DRM to protect the content seems to me eminently sensible (I don’t see how the BBC, which outsources most of its production, could offer any form of Video on Demand (VOD) without protecting the Artistic Property of itself and its partners), the choice of Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Media Player and Microsoft DRM does potentially disenfranchise a small but significant minority of computer users. If you are running any version of Linux, Macintosh or even Windows Vista, iPlayer will not work for you. The community of the disenfranchised have created a petition on the Prime Minister’s e-petition site
We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to prevent the BBC from making its iPlayer on-demand television service available to Windows users only, and instruct the corporation to provide its service for other operating systems also.
If you care, go to the petition page and sign it yourself! The deadline is 20 August 2007 and at the time of blogging, there were 9,635 signatories.
Seen in today’s Guardian is news of the impending July 27th release of the BBC’s new content-on-demand iPlayer. Unfortunately, acording to the article and Guardian blogger Bobbie Johnson, it won’t run on Vista which adds it to a growing list of essential software (which includes Quicktime and iTunes) which won’t run on my newly upgraded laptop. Still, we still have XP on the computer at home so next time we miss an episode of Dalziel and Pascoe because of a recording clash on the Sky+ box, all will not be lost!