Goats, DVDs and other formats

Here’s an interesting look at Netflix’s ARRM robot, or ‘Automated Rental Return Machine’, built to squeeze out as much profit margin as possible from its shrinking DVDs-by-post business. It’s an ingenious response to this latest shift in format.

Automating the end of movies on physical discs
The real shame will happen when movies stop coming out on DVDs and Blu-Rays altogether. That’s not because they were such a lovable way to package films (they have their pluses and minuses); it’s because with the loss of each media format, we also lose some titles forever.

Speaking of changes with storage and archive processes, I was looking back at this post from 2014, about how the printing of the new High Speed Two bill will require several thousand goats to create the necessary amount of vellum.

It turns out the following year, the Commons Select Committee agreed to a move away from vellum to high quality archive paper, a much cheaper option.

Report: The use of vellum for recording Acts of Parliament
The Committee was convinced by the arguments put to it by the Chairman of Committees and has therefore agreed this short report recommending to the House of Commons that, in future, high quality archive paper should be used and not vellum to record Acts of Parliament.

But then in 2016 they changed their mind again, with the Cabinet Office deciding to “provide the money from its own budget for the thousand-year-old tradition to continue.”

Why is the UK still printing its laws on vellum?
After a reprieve, the UK is to continue printing and storing its laws on vellum, made from calf or goat-skin. But shouldn’t these traditions give way to digital storage, asks Chris Stokel-Walker.

That’s such a tricky question, though. It’s tempting to think digital is always best with these matters, but I wonder. Storage formats come and go so quickly, just look at Netflix’s DVDs.

“In many circles there’s still a real discomfort around digital archiving, and a lack of belief that digital can survive into the future,” explains Jenny Mitcham, digital archivist at the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York.

The whole concept of digital storage is a relatively new innovation, and the path by which it could survive through the years is not clear.

(And has anyone compared vellum rot with link rot, I wonder?)

An unhealthy medical market

Why doctors still use pen and paper
This is a generic problem in society. We have lots of information, and we don’t always know what to do with it. Your doctor, your nurse, is not prepared to process the information they already have. It’s already overwhelming. And adding more in will just make it even more anxiety-provoking and overwhelming.

Hadn’t really thought about this point of view before. But surely this is the reason to move more online, not to stop from doing so?

Parliament’s goat problem

New UK high-speed rail to require 6,000 sacrificial goats
Enter HS2, the proposed high-speed rail line connecting London to Birmingham. At 49,814 pages, its bill is the longest bill ever to come before the U.K. Parliament. And once it’s signed into law, printing all those pages (twice!) is going to take a lot of goats.

iMeh

Some context: For large parts of my working day I’m sitting at my PC reading and writing e-mails, Word things, database things. I also sit and read/write in the canteen with a cup of something. And at various points throughout the week I go to meetings where I also do the sit/read/write/drink-tea thing.

Sheets of A4 are involved quite heavily in all that, and I was asked if the paperless theme I’m so keen on when discuss the department’s systems and processes could be extended to my own ways of working. So I borrowed an iPad.

I’ve had it for over a week now and feel decidedly meh about it (if that’s not a contradiction).

Overall? Interface; nice. Access to the Word files I need; a faff, Dropbox notwithstanding. Ability to take notes and scribbles; still not as good/quick/free as a pen and paper.

I’ve found that I’m more likely to keep on top of my e-mails with it (which I’m guessing is a good thing?) and it’s very handy to have a fuller web with me when out and about, but if I was just looking at it as a way of cutting down the paper when I’m away from my desk, I think I’ll pass.

What would help more would be a netbook, I think. Something I can access my stuff on more easily. Something read/write. I’ve no doubt that there are many app(lication!)s out there that can help with that, but I’m just not sold enough on the notion to invest time and energy in searching them all out.

And that VMware View app(lication!) I had a go with. I was really excited about that and loved being able to connect to my desktop to get at my shared folders and files (hang on a minute, you mean- just like a laptop?). I could run Word and Excel, and even Access on it (like a laptop?), and being able to log in to our student records system (like you can do on a laptop?) has come in handy a couple of times. But, dear me, what a pain without a proper keyboard. Or a proper mouse. Just little things like the tab key, or F5 and F6 can make a big difference to your experience of something if they’re not there. Very frustrating, like trying to type wearing mittens. I’d imagine.

PS: My initial unease with this iPad, from an interface design point of view, has become clearer thanks to this BBC news story about Jonathan Ive and Blue Peter. Apparently there’s a word for it, skeuomorph:

It has been widely speculated that Sir Jonathan might now shift the Apple’s software away from its reliance on “skeuomorphic” textures and effects – in other words stop trying to make its apps look like their real-world equivalents. [Link]

Not before time.

Patchy first impressions

eye-patchI’m all for paperless this and online that at work, in terms of the systems and processes I try to roll out in place for the people I work with and for, but I was asked to put my money where my mouth is and remove the paper from my own ways of working.

I love lists, and those lists tend to be paper-based. It wasn’t so much those that I was asked to look at (thank goodness), but how I deal with all the reports and papers for the meetings and committees I go to. I did have a look at this before, but with not much success, so I agreed to have another go and asked our IT dept to lend me this here iPad.

Now I’ve had iPhones for a while, and have been a fan, but this is the first time I’ve had a proper go on an iPad, and I’m finding it a little frustrating.

Yes, the interface is all lovely, pinching this and spinning that, but that distant art student in me still has a problem with its schizophrenic approach to design: wonderful hardware, sleek, shiny, minimal, parred down, distinctive; but the software? ‘Notes‘, written on yellow pretend paper, complete with pretend perforation and pretend red margin, set in some kind of pretend leather folio, complete with white pretend stitching round the outside? ‘Contacts‘, set in a similar pretend address book, with pretend pages held together with pretend stitching along the pretend spine? I know that there are other work-related app(lications) out there that aren’t as bad, but still.

The thing that really jumped out at me, though, were those small pretend-raised lines under the F and J keys, ostensibly there to help the touch typists locate the home keys. I mean! The thing with the moveable split keyboard notwithstanding, that still feels wrong, right?

So no, I’m not sure I’m going to get on with this iPad.

Quitting paper and e-mail

  • Chris Smith at Lifehack.org starts his paperless new year
    The idea of ‘the paperless office’ has turned into a joke, an aspiration for the future on a par with hoverboards, jet packs and little robots that do your housework (oh, wait a minute). I believe, though, that we really should give this a go – it can’t be beyond us, surely? Here, Chris starts his year the right way, though you can’t help but think it’s all a bit small potatoes.
  • Thoughts from a TechCrunch columnist on quitting e-mail for a month last year
    He admits to having cheated a little, but still, an interesting exercise and one I’d love to have a go at. I hate e-mail. Some really interesting ideas on the failings of e-mail, and what a more Twitter DM-ish, Facebook Message-ish e-mail system might look like, “Gmail Lite”.