Thursday, January 06, 2011

Channel 440:

Our cable system has too many TV channels. They are there, whether we subscribe to them or not. They are there, whether we have the necessary HD TV to see them or not. I could teach our TIVO to be aware of only the hundred+ channels we can see, but the effort would be far too time-consuming. So, from time to time, I wander among the forest of channels to see what's visible.

Channel 440 is aptly named. It plays classical music. The music is accompanied by background screens of pictures associated with classical music: pianos, orchestras, scores, other instruments. The screen also shows the name of the piece and who is playing it, and this is great. My streaming radio rarely has all of that information when it streams a classical station. Every minute or so, the channel 440 screen shows a different picture and a different 'fact': an info-bite about the composer, the performers, or the piece.

As a software developer, I ache to see an improvement in these screens. It would take very little effort to make them better. First, the background pictures are often ridiculously irrelevant. Imagine hearing a string quartet and looking at a picture of a piano's innards. Second, the info-bites are pretty lame, and they could be more apt. I think that the channel has a database of these bits of info. A program searches for random information about the composer or the piece. If that's not found, then a random bit about the orchestra might show up.

What's missing is a piece of software that tries to analyze the sound. I think it's not impossible these days to determine that the music is orchestral, or has a piano, or is chamber music. Several instrumental sounds can be identified. This info can be used to select the background screen, and to decide what to look for in the database.

Another thing that's missing is the added value of user content. A message on the screen could invite us to log in to a website and type in additional info-bites for them to display. A human would have to review such texts, but users like to add value to websites, and so their database would effortlessly grow. And by the way, this is the sort of database that does not have to carry unique items, so the human who reviews them does not have to worry about duplications. If three different users add the same bit of info, described similarly or differently, so be it.
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