When people say ridiculous things.

Taylor Swift recently pulled her content from Spotify as has been widely reported. Yesterday, she finally spoke out about her actions to Yahoo Music. I just wanted to pass comment on a few things she said in her interview regarding music streaming.

If I had streamed the new album, it’s impossible to try to speculate what would have happened. But all I can say is that music is changing so quickly, and the landscape of the music industry itself is changing so quickly, that everything new, like Spotify, all feels to me a bit like a grand experiment.

Ok, maybe she has a point on this one streaming is a bit of an experiment but is it a necessary one? I think it is, before streaming became mainstream (and it is still happening) as a general trend record sales are falling and the music industry as a whole generates less income. Streaming services have made a lot of people who previously would have simply pirated content a cost effective way of paying for content, and that is extra money that would not have been passed back to the record labels, song writers and artists previously. Let’s be clear, the music industry was ruined way before streaming was invented, so streaming I believe is part of the solution not the problem.

And I just don’t agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free.

I’m interested to know does she hold the same morals for everything. Lets think of free to view TV channels which are advert supported just like the Free Spotify tier. Are they “fair” on the people who make the shows?

I felt like I was saying to my fans, “If you create music someday, if you create a painting someday, someone can just walk into a museum, take it off the wall, rip off a corner off it, and it’s theirs now and they don’t have to pay for it.”

This is the worst sentence of the interview. Let’s go with the painting idea and draw comparisons to how music streaming works. So I make a painting, I have two options to make money from it, I either sell it to someone (ownership) or I display it somewhere and make money from people viewing it (licensing). For purpose of argument, I have an infinite amount of identical paintings to sell to people just like with music downloads. Ownership is the easy option, I sell my painting to someone and get a lump sum (one-off) payment from them. They then keep my painting and I never see them again. If I decide to license my painting, lets say to a museum that acts like a music streaming site, I give them the painting and they display it for me. I then get paid every time someone views my painting, so ultimately I get money slower but for much longer (in fact as long as they display the painting for). The analogy given in the quote above is ridiculous, at no point does anyone on a streaming service own anything, they can’t simply run away with a part of it. If you tried to rip a corner of any painting in a music I am pretty sure you would get arrested and have a huge bill to pay for. The fact of the matter is they do have to pay for it, streaming services cost money (or they generate money through advertising), it’s just not money in the same way as it has been historically made in the music industry.

Evolution has taught us adapt or die out, I have a feeling the same thing is coming in the music industry too.

 

We all love our phones.

We all love our mobile phones, for the younger generation (including myself), internet access and communication on the move are something we have grown up to expect. Anyone who has broken a phone and doesn’t have a spare knows how difficult it can be to get through a day without being able to quickly send that hilarious tweet that just came to mind or instagram a picture of the food you are about to eat. By the end of that awful day, you are curled up on a sofa, depressed and disconnected from the world.

Living in North Wales, mobile phone coverage is actually a common discussion which is something big city people really won’t be used to. There are many dead zones here for mobile phone networks, areas where you get little or no signal at all – 3G outside of a town? You can forget that right now. Signal in every room in your house? Definitely not.

So wade in the mighty UK Government who this week announced that they are to step in and shake up the mobile networks. However in typical fashion, they have gone about it the wrong way. After the mobile networks failed to reach an agreement on their own (after Culture Secretary Sajid Javid asked them very nicely), the UK Government is now looking into legal changes that would force/allow network operators to provide better coverage.

First things first, lets make it absolutely clear, Javid’s vision of eliminating the “notspot” is purely idealistic and will never happen in the real world. Mobile telecommunications and the technology it is built on top of is incredibly complex and has its drawbacks like everything else. Mobile phone masts can only cover a finite area of land with their signal (mainly due to the curvature of the earth), so unless people are prepared to see such masts everywhere (and as a general rule, people HATE them) the ideal of blanket coverage is an insane one. With that being said, let’s dig into the Governments suggestions and see if any of them will improve things.

 

1. National Roaming

This is the main solution being reported in the media. The idea that mobile devices in the UK could roam between all of the mobile networks (free of charge unlike abroad) using whichever has the strongest signal at that time. This on the surface sounds like a great plan, better coverage for customers and less infrastructure investment for networks.

However, lets think of what other effects that would have. Firstly, from the network operators point of view, it removes a huge amount of competition and also makes the distribution of infrastructure and operating costs unfair. EE demonstrated at the start of 2014 that being first to the 4G party can really drive growth and increase customer numbers after they launched their 4G network months in advanced of any other network. I know the current plans only include 2G services but it does bring up an interesting point. If I’m O2 and EE already blanket cover a huge area with 2/3/4G – why would we bother building out own 2/34G network in the city when we can just use EE’s for free? That in itself causes another problem, networking congestion. Essentially if all customers in one area are using the same network, there is bound to be a slowdown of the service on that network, just like it you have too many people connected to WiFi in your home.

Then lets think about customers, so you live in an area where you actually have no coverage at all. No network will be willing to pay for the network infrastructure in your area as essentially they have no guaranteed income from it since they could build it then you actually pay a different network. Then there is battery life, anyone who lives in an area with limited service will be aware that your phone constantly searching for a usable network drains battery. If your phone is always scanning for the best network to use, that is bound to have an effect on your phones performance.

2. Infrastructure Sharing

This on the surface of it doesn’t sound like a bad idea. Mobile phone operators share their masts, allowing other operators to place their equipment on the same mast. Sounds like a win-win, cheaper deployment of services and less masts that we have to look at. This plan however favours the smaller networks much more than the big and would essentially allow the networks to all cheaply offer “the same” service in the same areas. Will the operators be happy with this, probably not. The process of putting up masts is incredibly complex as each one requires various forms of planning permission, which of course costs money. If other networks can place their equipment on your expensive mast for free, that makes building new masts less appealing to networks as in doing so they essentially help their rivals. Lets not forget, having coverage where others don’t, especially in the small town scenario is a powerful business and advertising tool.

3. Reforming Virtual Networks

Virtual networks such as Virgin Media, Tesco and Giff Gaff run on top of one of the other mobile operators networks. The suggestion is that these should be expanded so they can run on any network too. I suspect, although not familiar with the details, that this would in fact be an incredibly complex thing to do. Those virtual networks pay a fee to use someone else’s network, how that money would be divided between multiple networks I feel would be a nightmare to distribute fairly. That being said, if all networks are made to offer national roaming, then it would make sense that this would automatically happen since the underlying infrastructure changes would be there. Since only a small percentage of the population use virtual operators, this is a pretty small category.

4. Coverage Obligation

The final suggestion is forcing mobile operators in law to cover a certain percentage of the UK with their network, but leaving the decision of the areas they cover up to them. This won’t improve things, no mobile operator will cover any area that they feel will be unprofitable so essentially although this may force networks to cover more of the country, I think they will all choose to cover the same areas, especially if option 2 is also put into practise.

So that begs another question, is there another way? 

Well, as I started this message and I will say it again, there is no easy solution. Mobile phone operators are all big businesses, they exist purely to make money and realistically the small number of customers who come across so called “notspots” are not a financially viable user group to please. However, there are several points I feel they should consider:

1. Public Funding

Mobile phone operators won’t do anything that isn’t profitable, short and sweet. So if the Government really want them to improve service, then just like with rural broadband I feel the tax payer should pay for a proportion of it. Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) set aside £530 million of public funds to speed up the fibre broadband roll out. Similar funds for mobile telecommunications could go a long way to improving coverage.

2. New Technologies

Apple demonstrated with the new iPhone 6 that LTE over WiFi with a seamless handover to the mobile network is possible. This technology could provide a huge boost to people who get little or not coverage in their own homes.

3. Merging of Mobile Networks

We have already seen the huge merger of T-Mobile and Orange to create EE and I know from experience that O2 and Vodafone already share masts in some areas to improve coverage. Thinking of other markets, are there many others that have 4 big players? Not really. Although they have failed to reach an agreement on their own, private deals made between networks about sharing resources in a way not enforced in law would be overall a better solution.

4. Reducing Spectrum Pricing

There is no denying that the mobile phone operators spent a fortune buying up the 4G spectrum, they are essentially spending money on nothing but permission to use the air. Think of how that vast quantity of money could have been better spent, on improving coverage.

5. You want it? You pay for it. 

This one maybe makes more sense for small communities rather than individuals, but if there is no coverage in an area and no network is willing to pay to build a mast in the area then it would be an interesting idea to crowdsource the funding from the people in the area and in doing so have some agreement that would force the chosen operator to cover the area.

6. A Mandatory Service Level

People who purchase phone contracts and then find their service is not up to standard should be able to walk away from a contract early without penalty (even after the current 14 day test period), this becomes especially important if you move home for example.

7. Regulated Pricing

The UK government could limit the amounts mobile operators can charge customers depending on coverage in their area. For example I pay O2 for a 4G tariff, even though there is no 4G in my area. I feel that since I am not getting the level of service I pay for, in comparison to say someone else on the same tariff in a big city I should pay less but that is not the case. This has big benefits for customers meaning cheaper bills, and it drives mobile networks to improve coverage so they can get more money.

Addressing other concerns in the media:

– It was suggested that network sharing makes it more difficult to track criminals and terrorists and whilst this may be true, with the networks working together ultimately I don’t see this being a huge issue as far as data collection is concerned.

– I heard on Radio 1 this morning someone complaining they couldn’t make an emergency call on another network if their network had no coverage. This is incorrect, dialling 999 on a mobile phone in the UK will pass the outgoing call to any available network – the only issue is when you are in a completely dead zone in terms of coverage.

– Enabling such changes will also be an issue. Swapping between networks dynamically would require software changes to the firmware on mobile devices meaning they have to be updated.

A gem of a track!

Was over on Soundcloud today looking for some new music to listen to. I sometimes hop over to Soundcloud to listen to remixes and things that aren’t available on Spotify. Came across this track, this it is possibly the most interesting track I’ve heard all year!

Summer Draws To A Close

3 items of big news (they always come in 3’s!):

I have secured a graduate job at Jaguar Land Rover after another awesome summer of undergraduate placement – really enjoyed myself and looking forward to coming back! :D For anyone else who might be interested in undergraduate placements (summer and year long) or graduate scheme, check out this page:

http://www.jaguarlandrovercareers.com/jlr-roles/graduate/

– My first ever research paper, “Optimisation of the material properties of indium tin oxide layers for use in organic photovoltaics”, written as a summary of my 3rd year dissertation (along with some help from J. Kettle and N. Bristow) has been published in the Journal of Applied Physics. You can see it (for free) here:

http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/journal/jap/116/10/10.1063/1.4895552

– Last weekend I enjoyed a wonderful trip to Spotify HQ in Stockholm to meet the team (again) and meet some of the big names in the company. Was a superb long weekend, wish it could have been longer. A few of my favourite snaps are below! :D

Rock Star Team!

WP_20140830_11_30_42_Pro

 

Heading back to Bangor tomorrow, really looking forward to getting stuck into my final year!

 

Killing time on the boat

Just got around to uploading this (since I couldn’t get a reliable connection on the boat to do it then!)….

 

Well, since the Internet on the boat is being incredibly slow (guess that is what happens when 1000+ people try and share a 1Mbit sat. connection) I guess it is good time to blog – once again my absence from my own blog is shocking as it constantly falls to the bottom of my ever growing daily to-do list.

 

First thing I have to mention is Chip and PIN. Sitting on the boat with a table to myself (so I can type in privacy) at the end of the counter to one of the on board coffee shops, with a cup of rubbish machine made coffee and a great magazine (E&T although can’t remember which month and someone put the cover photo over the issue details – excellent design…) watching the poor single staffed barista struggle to cope with a huge queue of American tourists. The issue is, none of them have cash (and this boat takes Euros and Sterling, so not sure where the hell they have been not to have any of both currencies used on the island of Ireland), not an issue normally as us in the civilised world have the amazing (and secure) invention known as Chip and PIN, the Amercian’s aren’t quite so up to date. So bemused to ever seeing a card that doesn’t have a chip, the barista couldn’t even find a pen for the American’s to sign the receipts to had to run off to find one. You would think, one of the worlds richest nations, in the spotlight lately (and in the past) for high rates of credit card fraud and payment system hacking would follow the rest of the developed world. With mainstream banks in the UK and Europe already moving rapidly in the roll out of contactless and mobile payments, it does make me wonder how far down the line those technologies lie for USA consumers.

 

The other thing I have noticed courtesy of the American’s is their desire for (and our lack of) iced drinks. I’ve heard several requests for iced tea and coffee in my time sitting here, and I sampled both several times on my latest trip to the USA and I really like them but it is hard to find here. Unfortunately for them, they aren’t sold on the boat because obviously you can’t easily get it from a machine.

 

In the interest of furthering my research into how to get treated better as a non-business class customer (on this boat “Premium”) which started out with my travels on British Airways I have come up with a handy tip discovered by accident. Having two phones sitting on your table appears to portray the image you are a “business” person (although got to be said as I sit here in my jeans and Vans shoes I don’t look the part) does change the behaviour of staff and those around you.

 

Tested out in two lounges on this boat (on different decks, so completely different staff), in the first lounge having one phone out means you are treated just like everyone else, staff seemingly ignore your existence unless you go to the counter or flag them over and people sit at the tables all around you. In the second lounge, with two phones (and a laptop, which I am typing this on in both lounges) you find that people see a different image. Staff are more willing to make you feel welcome, come over to the table more often to clean up or have a chat and people tend to not want to sit at the table beside you. In actual fact my second phone, which is a real phone, has no SIM card in it and is purely being used as a music feed for my Bluetooth headphones. Seemingly I feel (although haven’t tested) if you look busy (like me now typing this blog post) people are also more likely to stay at a difference as to not disturb you.

 

As a young person, I very much enjoy travelling, but as an Engineer I can’t help but feel we are going backwards rather than forwards. Forgetting about big changes in travel, the end of Concorde springs to mind, travelling (at least by methods I use most often) takes longer than in my childhood. The boats between Dublin and Dun Laoghaire to Holyhead are ones that I have been using almost all of my life to go between Ireland and the mainland but since I started doing those journey’s as a child it now takes almost 2 hours longer than it used to. Seemingly blamed on the rising cost of oil, this boat now takes almost 4 hours (by the time you count loading and unloading) to do 100 miles. Even the “fast” craft now takes 3 hours instead of under 2. Surely there has to be a better way. My 4AM blast down the motorway from Belfast to Dublin reminded me of what great benefit Engineering projects can have, the cross-border motorway project which finally connected the two capitol cities with an end to end motorway slashed journey times compared to during the 90’s, but I fear travel outside of cities, were most of the attention is now with regards to emissions and traffic, lacks significant innovation.

An interesting by-product of my latest project.

Since I already have some data retrieved from the Spotify Metadata API relating to my playlists, I thought I would have a play about with it. I’ve mainly been collecting release years from the albums of the tracks that appear on a given playlist. So it’s interesting to plot the years as a percentage of tracks in a playlist.

For instance, take my New Music Playlist:

Running this data we get:

New Music by Year

As you can see, a large percentage of new music I am discovering (which is what that playlist is used for) comes from mostly things released over the past few years.

So what happens if we say compare this to a playlist of a particular decade, lets go for Spotify’s 80’s All Gold: Sophisticated Pop playlist:

Running those tracks we get:

80s Playlist by Year

Graph not what you where expecting? Me either! The issue? Oh yes it is known. It has been an ongoing debate on Spotify for years, it is the original release date debate.

 

And this in itself presents an issue, if all of the tracks in the above playlist (and I haven’t checked) where actually released in the 1980’s, then this “noise” in the results is going to cause issues when attempting to train a classifier to try and estimate someone’s age. However that being said, if everyone see’s the same amount of noise, then that becomes easier but I suspect from being on the community for so long some people go hunting for the original recordings rather than re-releases.

For example, lets take this user made Ultimate 90s Playlist:

What do you notice compared to the Spotify 80’s playlist above?

90s Playlist by Year

 

UPDATE: Shortly after writing this, Spotify have announced they are making changes to release dates and have already started the transition!

New Project – Using Pattern Recognition is it possible to accurately predict someone’s age by the music they listen to on Spotify?

I’ve missed doing some pattern recognition programming this semester after doing so much last year, so I thought I would give it a go myself. The question I have posed (to myself, blogging in case anyone else is interested) – Is it possible to predict someone’s age based on the music they listen to? Or more accurately in this case have in their favourite playlist? I plan to find out!

The plan:

– Write Matlab code to extract release date of albums from a Spotify track URI which can easily be copied in bulk from a playlist. Done

– Collect a testing data set from the Spotify community. Main issue might be getting enough diversity of ages to submit data for me to use, but I will hopefully be able to bug my friends over in Spotify to lend a hand.

– Select a suitable classifier and train on the test data which will be based on the release years of albums people have on their playlists.

– See if my trained classifier can classy ages of unseen people’s data correctly and how accurately.

Will keep you updated!