mtbc: maze K (white-green)
The BBC has published information about how much its top on-air personalities earn. Some of them earn a considerable sum indeed. I can buy that the market for such celebrities is competitive. However, I wonder what the BBC is for.

Many of the current better-paid personalities do not seem to me to be all that uniquely remarkable. Worthwhile, even innovative, entertainment need not be expensively produced, though I am one of those viewers who does not mind if the sets sometimes wobble a bit.

Perhaps it is fine for commercial television and radio to poach away the most popular BBC talent. Those willing to work for rather less than £200k, especially outside London, may not be significantly inferior to those we see now and we could benefit from the BBC being able to afford a larger roster of presenters and hosts. Alternatively, it may be that the best of the BBC presenters bring more outstanding value than I recognize or that many viewers care more about seeing one of a few best-known celebrities than I.
mtbc: maze H (magenta-black)
In The West Wing (1999) the senior White House staffers chronically work very long hours. How does this make sense? Is it good for their cognition to be ongoingly compromised? Can there not be enough staff to take on the workload? Perhaps the problem is that they would not be able to leave notes for each other or that they do not have enough room to put all the people or something. It does seem as if there has to be a more effective way for them to work. Maybe we are supposed to believe that they are so superlatively good at their jobs that even half-asleep they outperform some next-best people who might instead be on duty to catch some acute situation.
mtbc: maze I (white-red)
An aspect of European Union membership that I greatly value is their focus on personal data privacy. This has similarly attracted me to the UK's Liberal Democrat party but rather less so: given how very little they bother to mention it in campaigning I would guess that they may not care as much.

I have been struck by how poor the BBC's choice is to soon make login compulsory for viewing content online. I have already mentioned how I would be fine with providing my television license number and how I do not want them to attempt to personalize their content for me. The compulsory login indeed relates to personalization: they want age, gender, postcode. In practice this is not yet a great burden to me because nothing in the process prevents me from simply lying for every login; I am a fan of services like BugMeNot. While the BBC do retain these personal details, their corresponding log of viewing history is indexed via some anonymized viewer identity code.

One facet of this that disappoints me is the BBC's naïveté. Their news archives now carry many years of history of very sensitive databases leaking from various organizations whose data security would have been expected to be good. If there are databases of everybody's details and television viewing habits being held by a well-known organization whose funding is often under political challenge then it will very plausibly leak regardless of prior public assurances made by ill-informed representatives. This risk is not so clearly worth the benefit that it ought to be imposed on all.

I am also intrigued by a contrast in attitudes between the US and the UK regarding how governments and corporations should handle personal privacy. Generally businesses are far more restricted in the UK than the US with regard to collecting, using and sharing our data, though perhaps only because of the EU. However, in the US the government is trusted far less: for example, it would be entirely normal for an American local library to not record my borrowing history but locally I am not even permitted to opt out of such.
mtbc: maze A (black-white)
The development of news story of the fire that gutted Grenfell Tower has been an ongoing surprise to me.

Initially I somewhat dismissed the wall-to-wall news coverage. The BBC in particular seem keen to let a large news story wholly dominate live news for many hours even when new information comes at a low rate. I often wish they would give a summary and update on the half-hour but cover other stories too in between. Also, the fire was in London and I suspected that having the main news coverage decision-makers also in London elevated the fire's apparent signifiance. Further, initial official reports of the death toll were not high.

I had failed to quickly apprehend that the real death toll is probably high indeed: that there were initially many missing people who probably mostly range from unrecovered to unidentifiable.

Additionally, the preventability of the tragedy is a significant news story in its own right. Do government building regulations, whether national or local, really tolerate such devastating firetraps, even despite previous related fires and expert testimony that clearly warned of the risk? Maybe so, in which case some public officials may be truly culpable and people in other tower blocks may now be living in some peril. It is all the more surprising given how tight UK building regulations typically are and have been for many years.

A further surprise to me has been the public anger focusing on Teresa May of all people even after the government announced a public inquiry. I find it hard to imagine that she is high on the list of those truly responsible for the fire or for the immediate aftermath. I did not feel bad for her after the general election but in this case I do. Perhaps I am again wrong and she does somehow warrant being the focus of the current protests. I wonder if her crime is not one of material actions but instead of failure to obviously emote in the expected manner.
mtbc: maze K (white-green)
This morning I was thinking about the various shows I watch on BBC television. They probably still are not much offered on BBC America, except for Doctor Who (2005) which, while I don't find it as good as it has been, this season has also not had episodes anywhere near as bad as the most dreadful from recent seasons. Though, my cautious hope is considerably tempered: I number among the dreadful episodes the fairly well-received The Power of Three which for me was tedious nonsense and its writer Chris Chibnall is to take over as showrunner next year.

I like some of the comedy panel quiz shows: we watch Have I Got News for You (1990) and QI (2003) if convenient and personally I usually enjoy Would I Lie to You? (2007). There seems to be a ongoing flow of comedians from one show to another, just as one sees among actors appearing in episodes of science fiction shows filmed around Vancouver.

Some BBC shows I watch to obtain information. For example, as I recently mentioned, to learn of musical acts I watch the reliably variable Later… With Jools Holland (1992); to learn of other BBC television shows I watch Points of View (1961) and for movies I watch the BBC News channel's The Film Review.

Another BBC News show that I like is Dateline London on Saturdays: there is intelligent political discussion without the usual panel of idiots and politicians whom it is exasperating to hear. Back in the US we had PBS NewsHour (1975) every day and most weeks I would watch Fareed Zakaria GPS (2008) which doesn't usually irritate me though I sometimes disagree with him. So, at least the BBC offers me a politics show that I find more informative than annoying and with luck there will still be a PBS when I eventually return to the US.
mtbc: maze K (white-green)
A month ago I wrote about earnest young people thinking change possible and how I someday want to think clearly enough to find a good path. I recently saw the first episode of Blake's 7 (1978) and the resistance group on Earth reminded me of such people. I suppose that, as I mentioned the Red Army Faction, such groups would have been newsworthy around the time that the episode's story was written. Perhaps the idea of normal people being able to effect change was part of the show's appeal though in that case it was not all sunshine and rainbows.
mtbc: maze G (black-magenta)
This year's Eurovision Song Contest was, of course, its typical mix ranging from the bland to the bizarre. For me there were not any especially outstanding songs. I may have been a little too sober for it all this year as I didn't fancy drinking any more after my initial large dark rum. The variety among the songs, and the direness of some, makes me wonder if it is more a contest of national selection procedures than national talent.

I liked the entry from Armenia. The one from Azerbaijan was okay; it might have seemed incoherently weird if not for being followed by the strange Croatian entry. I thought the Romanian entry fun, the Moldovan entry initially catchy, and the songs from France and Germany were reasonable; the German lady seemed to enjoy herself. I didn't find the UK entry pleasant: much of the melody seemed pitched a bit high for where the lady's voice was best and the subject matter appeared to require her to appear to be somewhat stressfully upset throughout. The Portuguese winner I found boring although somewhat improved in the reprise when the sister joined in: her voice was better for it and, as she wrote it too, she should have just entirely dumped her tedious brother.

Last year I wrote that I notice that I agree rather more with the vox populi than with the jury vote. I am not aware that the full split results are yet available but I am under a strong impression that again I am rather more with the public than the professionals, though of course not wholly so.
mtbc: maze G (black-magenta)
I was recently listening to French radio again, FIP, and I heard a song that I didn't know that I thought rather good. It turns out to be Arcade Fire's Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) so hardly obscure, I had just managed to consistently fail to notice it before.

Further back in the 1980s was Jennifer Rush's The Power of Love which did far better in the UK than in the US. It may be simple and cheesy but, eh, I like it anyway. It is only today that I stumbled across a North American cover: apparently Celine Dion did well out of the song a decade later. I can't say that I immediately warm to her version.

I do seem to be quite good at catching up with music rather belatedly. I fill some contemporary holes by watching shows like Jools Holland's Later…; among its typical mix the latest episode was among the better. I think they said that the next includes Future Islands again who are always fun to watch. Lately the show has had the occasional French artist where they seem to take the visuals quite seriously (possibly they have been the same person and I didn't realize).
mtbc: maze K (white-green)
Partly because of our awkward situation in having Amazon Prime US available while living in the UK, the television shows that I would like to watch are very much split across different providers or not available at all. I read that a recent survey suggests that many younger people both illegally pirate shows and subscribe to various providers and I can wholly sympathize: it would be one thing if they were all available à la carte or from multiple subscription services but, even for those willing to pay for content, having the shows spread across exclusive bundles really is difficult to joyfully accept.

Personally I am lucky enough to be patient. Some shows are very difficult to avoid being unwillingly spoiled on but most can come and go and within a year or two will be out on DVD. So, my approach is to maintain our Cinema Paradiso subscription (DVDs by mail; Netflix don't do that in the UK) and my wait is rewarded by having a provider who does carry a wide range of shows, albeit not streaming.

Still, I wonder if the days of DVDs are numbered. They are probably already encumbered by tight restrictions on fair use: for example, having bought myself a copy I doubt that I am permitted to then rip it to preserve a scratchless copy then simply play it from that disk image even though I see no persuasive moral argument that I oughtn't. I hope that the fragmented content provision market gets its act together before I can no longer rely on shows turning up on DVD a while later.
mtbc: maze K (white-green)
Mostly in the US we had cable television except for a period in rural Ohio when we had satellite television through DirecTV. By the time we were in Rhode Island and Massachusetts we had high-definition cable. On moving to Scotland our house had satellite television from two dishes so I learned about DVB-S2 and figured out from our channel selection at which satellites they pointed. The satellite dish at our present property gets poor reception; there is a shiny antenna in the attic so we instead use the terrestrial television.

I initially bought a cheap Chinese decoder box off eBay to discover if we have usable broadcast signal at all. It turns out that we do; we still use that box to watch live television. Still, its configuration's set of countries does not include the UK and it receives rather few of the official Freeview channel list so I guessed that it is just a bit rubbish. Today I tried plugging an Afatech AF9015 decoder into my laptop's USB and, after providing the required firmware, checked what w_scan could find: it turns out to be even fewer channels though at least those are perfectly watchable through mplayer.

It thus seemed time to learn more about DVB-T2 and Freeview. I learned that there are multiplexes of channels provided by various transmitters. Angus' transmitter provides a rather full service but coverage here is marginal so I expect that our antenna is instead directed toward Perth. The Perth relay, like the Tay Bridge one serving the area near my workplace in Dundee, is listed as providing a limited set of channels from the Angus transmitter: only those from the BBC A, BBC B, D3&4 multiplexes. The AF9015-based decoder misses the high-definition channels provided by BBC B but our cheap decoder box receives them, it is just that some parts of the UK, even cities, are served with but a considerably partial set of the free terrestrial broadcast channels.

A small puzzle is that our box does receive channels from the COM 7 multiplex, also missed by the AF9015. I have no reason to expect those to be relayed from Perth yet we get them somehow.
mtbc: maze K (white-green)
Continuing the topic of watching science fiction on television, this afternoon I got around to seeing the new Doctor Who. I came in with low expectations and was pleasantly surprised: there was more science fiction content than silliness or tedious distraction. Judging by some episodes from recent seasons, it could have been so much worse. Not only was there a reasonable plot, not overdramatic, but we also got a brief glimpse of some Zbiryynaf.

(An aside: yes, it's Easter, I did also watch the service from Hereford Cathedral!)
mtbc: maze K (white-green)
MST3K is already a family Thanksgiving tradition given that the Turkey Day marathon still survives through online streaming. It also appears to have become a momentary Easter tradition since the latest season, the show's crowdfunded revival, recently landed on Netflix. I am glad to see that it remains entertaining.
mtbc: maze K (white-green)
I am not the kind of computer user who does everything in a web browser. Indeed, on my personal computers I often do not have one open at all. It was a sad day when my local library dropped their telnet interface to the online catalog. I also get quite irritated with suppliers of content who insist on controlling the experience by hiding it all within their own interface and branding (BBC, I'm looking at you). Also, more of my electronic billing seems to be turning into that they no longer e-mail a PDF, I must instead log into their website to get each bill, thus giving me a reminder each month that perhaps I would like to switch supplier.

Therefore, kudos to Radio France who have anticipated that I may wish to use mon player favori: if vous préférez utiliser votre logiciel d'écoute préféré then they helpfully link to a handy PDF that lists many URLs like http://direct.franceinter.fr/live/franceinter-midfi.mp3, les adresses des flux. How nice not to have to dig each one out of a forest of JavaScript. When I found that the links work, I actually smiled, glad to receive the content so simply and directly.
mtbc: maze B (white-black)
Tonight I sampled some Shropshire Blue; it was agreeable enough. I appreciate the variety. I have already mentioned enjoying cheese and I still feel that some element of flavor must be key.

On the topic of appealing flavors, I have been having suspicions about sage. I am rather partial to sage and onion stuffing. Individually, onion and soft breadcrumbs are hardly special, so I am entertaining the hypothesis that I am partial specifically to the sage, that the onion and the bread are somewhat incidental. I thus plan to try making some generously saged chicken or somesuch to determine how tasty I find it.

Having mentioned Jonathan Meades in my previous entry, I probably ought to add that he has authored a cookbook that is written in his typical confident, direct manner: The Plagiarist in the Kitchen, so named because he is firmly of the opinion that good recipes are far more likely to arise from tweaking others' known-good ones than by de novo invention. Again, I suspect him of being mostly correct.
mtbc: maze E (black-cyan)
I watch some arts documentaries. I have very little background in the arts but I like to learn about new things. In these sad times when the BBC no longer show Open University lectures early in the morning, for televisual edification I am forced to rely mostly on evening mini-series on BBC Four, though perhaps if I hunted further online I would find more than poorly recorded live presentations.

As well as enjoying arts documentaries, I am interested to notice how I form opinions of the presenters despite not having the knowledge to confidently judge what they say. For example, Andrew Graham-Dixon seems a nice enough fellow and shows us interesting things but I just don't quite buy everything he says about them all. Not the objective facts, of course, more about the things' significance and effect: he sees things in them that I do not have faith are truly there.

In contrast, I typically find Jonathan Meades more persuasive even though he does not shy from opinions* from which I infer that he often does not voice the consensus in a field but, despite my lack of background, his thinking feels so well-anchored and -constructed that I am more eager to take what he says as scaffold across my own ignorance. Where he is controversial then I expect that he at least makes a valid point.

Sometimes I am able to come back and partially correct my ignorance, to look at source material for myself and reappraise the credibility of others' view of it. However, life is short and some mirrors are dark to me. For example, the late Colin Wilson thought it quite clear what David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus was really saying, beyond the strange fantasy story at its surface. It is a shame that I did not press him for more detail as I am so poor at seeing beyond the obvious in literature that I must rely on others to help me know what to think.

*Examples might include,

  • Accessibility means nothing more than being comprehensible to morons.

  • The sacred cow of sustainability is due for slaughter.
mtbc: maze M (white-blue)
Continuing my topic of vaguely familiar places, driving near Glasgow today I saw a sign to Larkhall and have now figured out what it reminds me of: Larkhill from the background to V for Vendetta, a site far from Glasgow, in the English county of Wiltshire. So, not Larkhall at all, I had confused the names.
mtbc: maze A (black-white)
The left-wing Labour politician Ken Livingstone has been suspended from the party, though not yet expelled, for his comments regarding Hitler and the Jewish Question. The criticism has been very much under the banner of not tolerating anti-Semitism and this appears to continue through the party leader Jeremy Corbyn's new investigation into Ken's conduct. While I am all for the rooting out of anti-Semites, my ongoing impression is that Ken is far more ham-handed than he is positively evil: he may not be carefully articulating a consensus historical record but I think it takes a considerable dose of whatever the opposite of benefit of the doubt is to read him as actually racist in this case. Given that, from my point of view the Labour Party's keenness to keep the matter alive brings the party into disrepute more than Ken ever has: it starts to look more like a witch hunt that distracts from and devalues real action against anti-Semitism.

Curious to double-check my impressions, I was surprised and reassured to find online that various groups, including of some Jewish Labour Party members, appear to agree. I caught myself wondering if Jeremy Corbyn is going along with this continued investigation because his advisers are being lobbied by those who too eagerly show offense. More generally, I fear that if politicians are made to worry greatly about putting their feet in their mouths then their public face becomes as uselessly bland as the typical British politician's now is.
mtbc: maze K (white-green)
I recently received e-mail from the BBC regarding online access to their programs' metadata* whose phrasing reminded me of curlicues in wrought ironwork. For example,
Work is underway in other areas of the BBC with a view to providing a durable successor to the existing data views, and when the shape of this work is known, suitable communications will be put in place to direct the wider technology community towards that successor.
Goodness, suitable communications will be put in place! I think that particular paragraph means, when we've figured out how to keep on providing the metadata we'll let people know. I wonder if there is some specific term for writing formally with such verbosity.

*This month they switch from RDF/XML to JSON with no transitional period. Naturally they didn't say so quite that concisely.
mtbc: maze G (black-magenta)
Comic Relief has been raising money for charitable causes for very many years in the UK. To some extent it, or at least the idea and name, has spread to other countries, but here it is now an established institution. This year's Red Nose Day comes this Friday.

What their formal mission statements are I don't know but, broadly, BBC Radio 6 Music carries a wide selection of music, BBC Radio 1 carries plenty of popular music to which one might expect the youth of today to listen (as a teenager I liked the weekly chart rundown) and BBC Radio 2 carries a fair bit of older popular music, among other things. A number of voices on Radio 2 started out on Radio 1 and shifted over as they and their audiences aged. Radio 3 gets the classical music. These stations are available as online streams.

Sara Cox is a familiar voice, mostly from BBC Radio 1, and she also appears on various BBC television. She was born not far in time or space from where I was. At the moment, for Comic Relief, she is engaged in a 24-hour danceathon: Radio 2 plays music from the 1980s and she dances along, livestreamed online.

I like the music of the era and I haven't been able to resist watching Sara from time to time for a few reasons, including:

  • Fatigue is a powerful force: despite the ongoing scrutiny, I expect that after a while we end up seeing Sara much as she really is underneath. I also wondered how she would flag as the hours went on. However, at the time of writing, she is still doing well and seems genuinely nice: the more I watch, the more I am inclined to root for her.

  • As somebody to whom dancing is quite alien, I figure that somebody who engages in an unchoreographed 24-hour danceathon is quite the opposite of me: I get to see extended video of somebody for whom dancing comes naturally and I can study how they do it.

So far it all seems to have been a good idea and Sara comes across warmly and is probably doing plenty of good for charity. One thing I had not anticipated but have enjoyed is watching her react and adjust as each new song starts.

Update: The following morning Sara was still doing well and the danceathon raised over one million pounds for Comic Relief.
mtbc: maze K (white-green)
Our Wii is American. We use it for watching television shows streamed over the Internet. This works fine for services like Netflix: after we moved to Scotland I guess that they noticed that our IP address was now in the UK instead of the US and they adjusted the selection of offered shows accordingly.

In having subscribed to Amazon Prime the experience has been disappointing. First, although our IP address remains in the UK, Amazon's app will sync to only a US Amazon account so we now have fast, free shipping for a country we no longer live in. Further, this means that the selection of shows appears to be rather inconvenient: that unavailable shows are instead available from some other American channel is of no use to us.

So, while being fine for Amazon original series such as The Man in the High Castle (2015), our Prime subscription is turning out to be rather less use for shows available via UK Amazon accounts such as The Americans (2013), Le Bureau des Légendes (2015) and Mr. Robot (2015).

I find it rather absurd that Amazon are basing the television show selection on that our Wii is American. People move around, some of us rather more frequently than we replace all our electronics and media. We already have to manage stupid region-coding restrictions for everything from movies on DVD to Nintendo 3DS games. In the US we had various UK hardware* and fortunately our electrical transformers work both ways around so I now have 110V US power strips both upstairs and downstairs and, for instance, our television at home is our decade-old American one.

*incidentally, in pre-HDMI days SCART cables were difficult to buy in the US; at least I no longer need my PAL↔NTSC converter

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Mark T. B. Carroll

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