Communications Industries

This is something that I’ve been mulling over for a little while, and I’m hoping that by posting it here, the discipline of having to write it down will clarify it for me. And, perhaps people reading this will comment on the ideas and help flesh them out a bit more.

A variety of industries have developed that deal with interpersonal communications at a distance. Each of them has crystalised around their own set of technologies. However, there seems to be a blurring of the boundaries between them these days, and in order to better understand what this means, it could be helpful to understand how the underlying technologies of these industries relate.

If you simply consider two properties of technologies used by the communications industries, it appears that you can draw some reasonable boundaries. The two properties I’m thinking of are privacy and continuousness, and by building a simple 2×2 matrix out of them, you get the following diagram:

Publishing, Messaging, Broadcasting and Telephony

Admittedly, the separation between Public and Private is a little fuzzy. Does sending something to 10 of your closest friends make something public? What about 100? What about 1,000? Does it depend on the friends? However, I think it is reasonably well understood that you can have private group communication, not just private one-on-one communication. I think we also usually know when we are engaging in something that is highly (publicly?) visible, and something that is private, despite the occasional exception.

And while the distinction between discrete and continuous communication ought to be unambiguous, it too has its fuzziness. A discrete communication is one where the communication itself has a clearly defined boundary, e.g. an image, a movie, a book, a song, or an article. While a continuous communication lasts as long as the communications channel is maintained, e.g. a TV channel, a radio channel, a telephone call, or a video conferencing session. Recordings tend to be discrete while performances tend to be continuous.

But, what if you watch a movie on the TV, or listen to a song on the radio? This is an example of convergence between the different industries. Once a movie or a song is published, the broadcast network can distribute it, although it loses some of its discreteness in the process.

Similarly, there is convergence between the broadcasting and telephony industries. A reporter can call into a news station, and have their story broadcast out to the viewers. Or when your call is put on hold, you may end up listening to a live radio station.

Convergence between telephony and messaging is well understood within the telco realm. You can call and leave a voicemail for someone, which becomes a message they can later retrieve. Or it might be transcribed and then delivered as a text message. Or it could be send as an audio attachment in an email. Or instead of leaving the voicemail, you could record an audio MMS and send that instead. And if a SMS is sent to a fixed phone that cannot display it, a phone call can be generated instead with text-to-speech used to render the message audible.

However, what has become most interesting of all recently is the convergence between messaging and publishing. This blog post is an act of publishing. However, I could have sent it via email to a few of my friends, and that would have been messaging. Instead of emailing it, I can make it available via Facebook. If it is made available to my network of friends, it is messaging. But, with the click of a button I can change my preferences so that Notes are public, so it is publishing.

One of the interesting aspects to social networking for me is that some networks are designed primarily around a messaging model (like Facebook or Friendster) and others around a publishing model (like Myspace or Twitter). As the social networks all compete to offer similar features, the sharp lines between the models get very blurred.

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Myki mystery

Hong Kong Subway
Image by mikeleeorg via Flickr

I’ve spent a couple of weeks in Hong Kong, and am familiar with the Octopus card. I’ve lived in London, and traveling on the Tube to work every day, clocked up a lot of experience with the Oyster card. So, I was interested to see how Victoria’s own Myki would fare, and I was willing to be an early adopter.

The stories in the press haven’t been pretty. My personal experience was varied, but comes down on the side of bad.

I normally use a Zone 1 weekly ticket, so I decided to simply transition over to a Myki with a weekly ticket on it, rather than risk using the new Myki money system. However, it appears that you can’t escape the latter system, as I found out the hard way.

It started off well. I ordered my new Myki ticket for free (offer extended now to the end of January) and it arrived in the post a few days later, with my name spelled correctly, and the right letter (!) accompanying it.

I went to the train station to put a weekly ticket on it. It was a little unintuitive to load it up, but I’m sure next time it will be quicker.

Arriving at the exit barriers at Parliament station, I encountered my first problem. I wasn’t sure where the Myki had to be put in order to be scanned. As people banked up behind me, and I tried attempt after attempt, eventually I found the right spot. It’s on the side of the barrier (rather than the front or top), on right side of the passenger using it, and at about their knee level. When you scan properly, a message “CSC PASS” appears on the display at the top of the barrier and the gate opens.

Heading home, I knew where to scan, so went through okay. But getting off at my station (in Zone 1) to head home, I was engrossed in my podcasts and I really can’t tell you if I “touched off” at the station or whether the machine didn’t read the card correctly.

The next day, mysteriously, the Myki card didn’t appear to scan correctly when I got on the train, and when I again got to the barriers at Parliament station (confident in my ability to get Myki to scan correctly) they didn’t open. There was no error message, no beep. The Myki card simply wasn’t recognised.

Luckily I was carrying around my receipt for the weekly pass, which I showed the barrier attendants, as there was no other way to indicate to them that the Myki card was valid. They let me through then, and again in the afternoon when I experienced the same problem trying to get home.

Here’s what I learned later: even if you aren’t using the Myki money system, you still need to touch off, as it turns out that Myki will assume that you’ve travelled to the end of the line if you don’t, which means you get charged the difference between a Zone 1 trip and a Zone 2 trip. In my case, this difference was $2.02, so my Myki money balance went from zero to negative $2.02. If you have a negative balance, the card won’t work.

That evening, I rang Myki to complain about my card not working, and spoke to a helpful person called Vinh. After several periods of clarifying what happened, punctuated by long periods on hold, he explained that I’ll be getting a credit for $2.02 to get the card working again. He wasn’t sure if $2.02 was the right amount, because he couldn’t see the negative balance on his system.

Despite the positive news from Vinh, my card continued to be ignored by the barriers for the rest of the week, and the balance stayed at -$2.02. Hopefully next week it will be working, but by this point, I don’t expect it to.

Lessons learned:

  • Always keep the receipt handy for the weekly pass, since this is the only way to prove that I’ve actually got the right to travel on the train.
  • Always remember to touch on and off, even if I’m not using the Myki money system, and even if there isn’t a barrier at the station that forces me to scan the card to get out.
  • Keep using the old system for as long as possible, since the weekly passes cost exactly the same and I don’t need to keep a separate receipt nor remember to touch on and off.
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The new Star Wars?

There’s plenty that’s already been written on this movie, since it cost a bomb to make, the director waited a decade to make it until technology caught up to his vision, and it’s on a rapid trajectory to become the highest grossing film ever. But I’ve been hanging out to see it ever since I heard it would be in 3D, making it the first of the current crop of 3D films to be (at least, partially) live-action. And anyway, at least this review will be adhering to my strong policy of no spoilers.


An enjoyable film set in a jaw-droppingly impressive sci-fi universe.

This is not a new tale, and is similar to Dune (or to Pocahontas, I am told), but is delivered with such commitment to the vision of James Cameron that it cannot fail to impress. This film is awash with a wealth of detail that even Tolkien would be proud of. With scientific consultants including a linguist from USC and a botanist from UCR, the world has a lot of detail behind it that you can actually see on the screen. New technologies needed to be developed to produce the computer animation and to shoot the actors in 3D.

The 3D is something that is hyped up in the marketing for this film. I saw this film in 3D, but although I suspect I would’ve enjoyed it as much, or more, in 2D. It is a little distracting – from time to time I found myself impressed by the technology rather than immersed in the tale. Although, perhaps this is something that over time people will get used to. If you see enough 3D video content, you will probably be able to look past the 3D aspect itself.

The themes in the movie are consistent with the effort that Cameron has invested in his new world – perhaps he subconsciously doesn’t want anyone to mess with it. The themes cover the effects of colonialism, the theory of gaia, and the problems of the military-industrial complex. If this doesn’t float your boat, you can still get lost in the film’s 3D beauty or its action sequences.

Although, ironically, the characters themselves don’t have a great deal of depth. I found it hard to really empathise with them, or find their motivations completely believable. However, at least the heroes are likeable.

Even if the characters don’t re-appear, I came away convinced that the world will appear again in further movies, games and books. Like Star Trek, Star Wars or Tolkien’s Middle Earth, the story universe has been so richly populated that sequels can’t help but be spun out form it. Sounds like Cameron has at least a couple more films up his sleeve for it, also.

My rating: 3.5 stars

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Nuts and Bolts Recipe

My grandfather always makes this recipe at Christmas, so for me it is part of that bundle of food associations that make this time of year particularly special. However, this year he’s been a little unwell, so didn’t have time to make the stuff. He normally produces enough Nuts and Bolts to feel a small nation, and gives gifts of the savoury snack to every family member. The dinner table wouldn’t have been the same this year without it, so I made a quick batch. It is deliciously more-ish!


250g dry-roasted peanuts, unsalted
300g Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain (these are the “bolts”)
1/2 cup (125mL) of light oil (preferably peanut oil)
45g packet of French Onion Soup mix
1 tablespoon of curry powder
1 teaspoon of mustard powder


Heat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius.

Mix together all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

Warm oil in microwave, for example, on High setting for 30 seconds, then pour over the dry ingredients and mix well.

Spread the mix across a large, flat baking dish and put into the oven for 15-20 minutes, removing to stir every 5 minutes or so. The result should look dry and smell very aromatic.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool before eating. Needs to be stored in an air-tight container.

This recipe is easily adaptable to taste, e.g. use more or less Nutri-Grain, nuts, curry or mustard as your taste dictates.

Makes enough Nuts and Bolts to fill a 2L container. Best eaten before 1st January.

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