mtbc: maze K (white-green)
I was listening to Gary Numan on the radio and he sounded remarkably like Noel Fielding. I mentioned this to [personal profile] mst3kmoxie and it turned out that she had been thinking the same.

Looking at Wikipedia, Gary Numan (then Webb) was born in Hammersmith and Noel Fielding was born in Westminster and lived in Pollards Hill. These places, well within the London Orbital, are not many miles apart. I wonder if they would have sounded more dissimilar had Gary grown up around Romford or Watford or suchlike, or if one has to be out in Reading or Chelmsford before there is an obvious difference.
mtbc: maze K (white-green)
Not satisfied with maximizing the horror of Google's Groups interface they have now been taking a hatchet to News. I am already used to Google News having issues like not being able to maintain profiles for multiple countries' editions for the same user but recently search options (at least those easily found) have been deteriorating and the interface for managing news sources became dreadful, a significant issue given the default inclusion of niche sources that I would gladly avoid. I have thus been considering other news aggregation websites.

So far I have not been thrilled by the alternatives. I am mostly interested in mainstream non-tabloid news sources that cover the US and the UK, though the occasional item from anything from Haaretz to the Times of India is of interest. I tried World News Network for a while but their UK edition seems insufficiently curated. Some sites have gone rather mobile-tastic but at least Newslookup.com allows plenty of text in the viewable screen area. An alternative to aggregators would be to maintain a list of decent news websites, such as the Christian Science Monitor, and follow just those.
mtbc: maze K (white-green)
I was watching Rick and Morty (2013) and began thinking about how many of the shows that I have enjoyed have been American cartoons, quite separate from the Japanese anime like Kino's Journey (2003) that I previously mentioned liking.

It was probably Daria (1997) or South Park (1997) that first got me taking notice of this kind of show. I enjoy the gentle sarcastic wit of Daria and, while being rather more variable, South Park sometimes targets sacred cows that well deserve mockery. Once we had children then other shows like Invader Zim (2001) entertained in a rather more family-friendly manner.

Also Harvey Birdman (2000) and early Archer (2009) deserve an honorable mention; I hear that Archer has now improved so perhaps I should take another look. Though, I have not yet got around to watching any of Mike Tyson Mysteries (2014) and not even figuring on my list is BoJack Horseman (2014) whose fourth season is imminent.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
Following on from my recent journal entry about increased divisions between Republicans and Democrats I continued investigating and stumbled upon discussion of Edward Luce's The Retreat of Western Liberalism. One of many things I enjoyed about living in the US is well-stocked libraries but since returning to Britain I am back to being surprised if the local library does stock a book rather than if it does not. I certainly do not have the money to be buying them myself: the book I read on the airplane back from Ontario was a creased, yellowed paperback that I had picked up in a charity shop. (An annoying thing about book clubs is that they typically choose recent books available only as new hardbacks rather than used paperbacks.) I have four library systems within reach: our local one in Perth and Kinross, the Dundee city one with branches within an easy walk of work, then the Angus one to the north-east and the Kingdom of Fife's south of the Firth of Tay: none of them appear to offer Luce's book.

Now I hear of Jon Snow (not of Westeros, but available on YouTube nonetheless), in delivering yesterday's James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture in Edinburgh, speaking of an increasingly fractured Britain and a terrible divide as one can easily be disconnected from the lives of others; he also spoke of fake news stories (i.e. lies) posing a vast threat to democracy. I do not think that here in Britain we yet have such a deep division among mainstream sources of news but it is nonetheless interesting to compare these local themes with my thoughts on American politics and there may be lessons to be learned.
mtbc: maze B (white-black)
Television shows about how to cheaply feed one's family are currently popular. I notice that they seem to rely heavily on use of refrigerator and freezer space. A consequence of our being short of money since moving to Scotland is that we do not have a large kitchen with much storage space, cooled or otherwise. It is typically not possible for us to employ cunning strategies that involve buying near-expiry perishable items, using only part and preserving the remainder, nor can we usefully buy in bulk or make multiple day's meals in large batches. It seems that these shows are more suited for those who were somehow able to buy a nice house with generous fittings despite British property prices and only now find themselves having to budget carefully.
mtbc: maze E (black-cyan)
One show I miss from the television of my childhood is the Open University's lectures for distance learners. I have a hazy memory of an interesting sequence of increasing positive integers where it looked as if it was going to be one thing and it turned out to be another. I vaguely recall that for the first six numbers or so the sequence looked arithmetically obvious, like powers of two, but was in fact something else arising from geometry.

Somebody on a helpful online community managed to offer a good hypothesis for what I was trying to remember: from The On-Line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences we have sequence A000127: Maximal number of regions obtained by joining n points around a circle by straight lines. Also number of regions in 4-space formed by n-1 hyperplanes.

I ought to get around to finding myself some free online streaming that replaces those televised lectures that I welcomed.
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.

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Mark T. B. Carroll

September 2017

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