Is the human voice music?

My grandad used to have somewhat of a purist when it came to music, denouncing the use of the human voice. (In the context of music, as opposed to altogether.)

His favourite piece of music as I remember was Johann Strauss’s Blue Danube (An der schönen blauen Donau), indeed a masterful piece.

But I can’t help but feel that he missed out. All instruments create sound artificially, using a piece of apparatus that has been crafted from raw materials, often using the human hand. And those instruments rely on the skill and movement of humans to make them figuratively sing. They rely on the human breath, dexterous fingers or rhythmic feet.

The main difference between such instruments and the human voice is that in the latter, the instrument and the musician are combined. The instrument has been crafted directly by nature and nurture rather than indirectly as is the case with an instrument. And so the oboe’s reed is combined with the oboist to provide a single unit.

And just as with instruments, voices need to be repaired – just ask Adele.

To remove Whitney Houston from one’s listening repertoire on the basis that the voice is in some respect impure is sacrilege. And here’s such a wonderful example of why.

Ticketmaster: Sorry still seems to be the hardest word

At 1527 on Saturday, I received an email from ticketweb.co.uk, the direct email domain used by Ticketmaster, indicating that there was action required, and that I should update my PDF application.

It was clear to me that it was spam and that their systems had been compromised. So I ignored it.

The following morning at 0446, I received an “urgent alert”. It was from the same email account but it was clear that this was a genuine email explaining the bogus nature of the prior email. After explaining that their email marketing system had been exposed to unauthorised access, it rounded off with the following paragraph.

We sincerely regret any inconvenience this has caused. We are continuing to investigate this unauthorised access, and will send you a follow-up email when we have additional information.

At 0110 this morning, I received a “second important message from Ticketweb” (clearly undervaluing all of its marketing efforts to date). It gave more detail about the original compromise, explaining that if people had clicked the link therein and had entered their card details as requested, they should contact their card provider to stop the card. This time, its sign-off read as follows:

We sincerely regret any concern that may have been caused by this incident and we can assure you we took immediate action to close the unauthorised access as soon as it was identified. TicketWeb UK takes the security of your data in our systems very seriously and will be liaising with the Information Commissioner’s Office in relation to this unauthorised system access.

I am glad that they are regretful. But I feel a sense of loss. A sense of loss at their unwillingness to apologise. The word “sorry” doesn’t appear, nor the word “apologise”. (I first wrote about my issue with companies’ inability to say sorry here back in November 2008.)

I’m not sure of the legal implications of apologising – I assume there are some. But if the security of our data is taken very seriously by TicketWeb UK (a company that Ticketmaster acquired back in May 2000), then surely a direct apology is in order.

Limited choice is a good thing

Limited choice is a good thing.

Imagine if we had immediate access to every episode of every sitcom and drama that was ever made. Not only that, but also every single film that was ever made. And imagine if we could access them whenever and wherever we chose, on our mobile devices, from our couches or even by scheduling a visit to the local cinema.

Sounds immense, doesn’t it? But in reality, I don’t think that model fits well with us humans.

You see, too much choice is sometimes a bad thing. If I could select any film to see at the cinema, I think I’d go much less often than I currently do. I wouldn’t be able to decide what on earth to see. I love being able to look through the half-dozen films showing at the local Picturehouse and deciding which, if any, takes my fancy.

Even with the hugely extended offering that is now available to us on TV, I more often than not settle upon regular scheduled TV as opposed to selecting something from the last week’s worth of TV via the on-demand service. And in doing so, likelihood is I’ll be watching one of the four channels I grew up with.

I like the idea and reality of an imposed schedule. My dad enjoys TV, but his regular refrain when my mum was busy programming the video recorder before a night out while we were growing up was, “If you miss it, you miss it.” I tend to agree: we own DVDs that are still wrapped in cellophane.

While attending a five-year-old’s birthday party the other day, I met Mike Blakemore, the CTO of LOVEFILM (wow that capitalisation grates). Among other things, we talked about the recent forays by Netflix into the UK market. (As an aside, he’s leaving soon to become the Guardian’s CTO.)

Neither streaming product interests me. Maybe I’m a traditionalist when it comes to TV. Maybe I’m an outlier. But I’d much rather be given a choice of what to watch of an evening. If there’s nothing that takes my fancy, I can always find something else to do. And if I’m out when something of note is on, I may record it on the 80 hours that are available on my Virgin Media box; but likelihood is that I’ll delete it before getting round to watching it.

www.gov.uk: My initial views

I took a squizz at www.gov.uk the other day. Below are my very high-level views.

Search

It looks like the search engine is pretty intelligent, more so than any I’ve seen outside Google. But stray far beyond the topics you’re invited to search on and it struggles. I’m not sure whether this is because the search engine isn’t that good after all, or whether it’s because the content just isn’t there yet.

A search for unemployment gives residential training for disabled adults as its first result, out of a total of only seven results, most of which are irrelevant.

Their “Related Topics” module on the right seems quite relevant to the articles, for what it’s worth.

Navigation

Jesus. It’s phenomenally flat. Maybe the idea of a tree structure is out of the window now. If so, they’ve embraced this concept. I have no idea where I am in the site. Maybe if I’m only there to look for a specific thing each time, this doesn’t matter. But to me it’s disconcerting.

Content

It’s dumbed down. I thought that Directgov was aimed at the right level: non-complex content in relatively bite-sized chunks. This is a lot more bullet-y and assumes very little of the reader. Maybe it appeals to the masses. It doesn’t appeal to me.

As I say, it’s high-level. But these are my findings nonetheless. Controversial?

The price of a cyclist’s life

An interesting question was posed by Paul Clarke on Thursday on Twitter: what is the acceptable number of cyclist deaths in London per annum? I believe it was in response to cyclists calling for safety improvements following the death of a cyclist on Bishopsgate that same day.

It brought to mind a similar question I’d posed earlier: what would be an acceptable bonus for the CEO of a UK bank? In both cases, anything positive causes some degree of outcry.

But more importantly, it brought me back to an argument I’ve discussed many a time. What is the acceptable cost of safety?

Some people I speak to believe every accident is preventable and should be prevented. This, to me, is a ludicrous statement. Just as no IT system can guarantee 100% uptime, no mode of transport can guarantee that accidents will never happen.

Safety in any mode of transport can be improved. But with improvement comes cost. For many modes of transport, that cost is passed on to the customer directly.

The Boeing 747 has 0.71 crashes involving one or more deaths for every million flights (across all of its 19m flights). (As an side, the Airbus 320 range is the safest of the big players—those with over 10m flights—with only 0.10 such crashes per million flights.)

That 0.71 can be reduced. Further security checks can be introduced at airports to reduce the incidence of bombs and hijackers on board. A worldwide ban could be introduced on flying through turbulent air. The entirety of each aircraft could be checked thoroughly before each flight, and any parts showing the slightest degradation could prompt their immediate replacement.

In reducing that figure to 0.35, say, the cost of a return ticket from London to New York might increase from £400 to £4,000. A further reduction to 0.18 might increase it further to £40,000. These numbers are made up, but the order of magnitude increases are probably not far off the mark.

Those people calling for the safety improvements might cut back on their transatlantic jaunts when they hear of the associated cost hike. Indeed transatlantic flight would disappear overnight—one way of guaranteeing 100% safety, I guess.

When airlines talk of safety being of the utmost importance, they generally mean this within certain market constraints.

The cost of cycling is different. Instead of cyclists paying directly for their journeys, everyone pays for their facilities through taxation. Assuming 500,000 cyclists (there are 480,000 daily journeys, apparently), and ignoring the cost of the original road construction, the Cycle Superhighways would have cost each cyclist approximately £120. I’m guessing that they would not have been willing to pay for this, nor would they be willing to pay directly to implement further safety improvements.

If it costs more per death saved than it would cost the NHS to save a life, should the money be diverted instead to the NHS? (A reminder of the trolley problem: should you actively sacrifice someone’s life if you know it will save five other people’s lives?)

Sixteen cyclists were killed on London’s roads in 2011. The highest such figure was 33 in 1989, the lowest: eight in 2004. What is an acceptable number? And what is the acceptable cost of achieving that?