Spark 122 - October 3 & 6, 2010

On this episode of Spark: Bits, Tools, and Digital TV. To listen to the whole show, download the MP3 (runs 54:00).

Digital TV Transition

Photo by Andres Rueda

Here in Canada, we're less than one year away from the digital television transition. After August 31, 2011, most Canadians will no longer receive analog television transmissions over the air. So if you have an older set, and you use an antenna to watch TV, pay attention. Digital television promises better picture and sound, the capacity for additional programming, and a more efficient use of the wireless spectrum. An estimated 1 million Canadians will be affected by the change. But are Canadians ready for this switch? And is the move to digital even worth it? To discuss this, Nora spoke with Michael Geist and Bill St. Arnaud. But first, she took a look at the history of the TV. (Runs 13:02)

Tools On Tools

Photo by Hararca

Lately, here at Spark, we've been thinking about "tools on tools", specifically, online tools built on top of one another - foundational tools, tools that don't work without the building blocks they're created on. Think about something like Flipboard which turns your friends' social media news into a lovely magazine format for the iPad, or all those quizzes and games 3rd parties develop which are designed to be used within the world of Facebook. Neat technologies, which nonetheless are tied to a bigger technology. We think this is a real trend. One that we've already seen the downside to: For several hours on September 23rd, Facebook went down, and people couldn't access their accounts. And because they couldn't access their Facebook accounts, all those tools built on top of Facebook were down too. And that's why Nora spoke with Jer Thorp. He's a digital artist, and educator from Vancouver, and currently "data artist in residence" at the R&D labs of the New York Times. (Runs 9:43)

No-man Electrical Parts Band

Photo courtesy of James Cochrane

A little while ago we came across a video on YouTube of an amazing but strange cover version of the classic B-52s song "Rock Lobster". Except it isn't played by humans. It's a band assembled entirely from old computer parts and found electronics. All automated. All live. No human playing, and no editing or effects. "They" are The Bit-52's - "The World's Greatest Parts Band." We wanted to see the man behind the curtain, and it turns out he was in the Spark neighbourhood. Here is what we found when we went to the house of James Cochrane in Toronto. (Runs 8:03)

Public Domain Art

Photo by Tom Maisey

Ah, the public domain. Music and art no longer covered by intellectual property rights. Free for you and me on the internet! Nora has been watching a ton of public domain movies lately, and it got her thinking about whether our portable devices are fueling a new enthusiasm for classic, public domain art. (Runs 7:13)

Public Domain Resources:

Clifford Nass - The Man Who Lied To His Laptop

Photo courtesy of
Ever think about how you relate to your computer? Say, when it doesn't do what you want it to - do you yell at it, like it's a person? Clifford Nass is a professor at Stanford who looks at how humans interact with computers. He also studies how humans relate to each other. It's fascinating research. He's also the author of a new book The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach us About Human Relationships. And, he happens to have an incredibly infectious laugh. Here he is in conversation with Nora. (Runs 10:27)

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