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Jan 052011
 

Becoming increasingly popular are various forms of streaming media services – Last.FM has personalised radio stations I can tune into on my phone, the BBC has their iPlayer which allows me to catch up on BBC TV (or radio) programmes I’ve missed, and my film rental service even has a streaming service that allows me to watch films without being worried about discs being mailed to me. All very cool of course, and it’s even quite handy but there are a few problems that need to be solved before streaming services can beat having the real disc – compact disc for music and blueray for films.

We sometimes look at these services under the best of conditions and rarely consider how they would work under the worst of conditions.

Firstly there is the quality issue. Whilst streaming music may well approach the quality of CDs, films and other forms of video are a long way from being of the same quality of the discs – sometimes not even getting close to the quality of DVDs when Bluerays are the quality to aim for. Sure it is no big deal – the convenience of online streaming makes up for the quality to a certain extent, but it does not replace the need for quality.

Secondly, reliability is an issue. Not only does streaming media (even audio) have a tendency to stutter to the point where listening or watching becomes unbearable, but sometimes streaming services just crash through being overloaded – very frustrating when it is half-way through a film. In theory most of our network connections have more than enough bandwidth to support streaming media – at least audio. In fact my own network connection is good enough for streaming video with just the occasional stutter – maybe just once an hour – and of course the occasional stutter may well because of other activity on my network. I do after all have people visiting my “server under the stairs” for blog postings and photographs on a regular basis.

However my wireless network is sufficiently bad that even streaming audio can get very bad in the evening. Not the fault of the streaming media companies that I live in a very dense environment with lots of wireless “noise”, but it still means that I tend to avoid using wireless networking except on devices where there is no choice. And on those devices I have sometimes been forced to put them away, or switch to using 3G.

It would be helpful if media streaming companies allowed people to buffer larger amounts of the media stream to assist in this. I would not mind waiting 10 minutes for a buffer to fill up to ensure that I could watch a film all the way through without stuttering. Or indeed wait 60s for an audio stream to buffer.

On the subject of media servers crashing, it is a little hard to see what can be done about this. The obvious thing is that streaming media companies need to be very careful about the code they write (or buy) to increase reliability. Software always has bugs, but increasing the importance of bug destruction would be very wise. Less obvious is to measure how reliable the media servers are at various loads, and limit the load to the level they can support reliably.

A message saying “please wait for an available film slot” is better by far than trying to start playing a film only to have it drop out half-way through!

Apr 022010
 

News is serious stuff – perhaps a bit too serious. I am all in favour of news – I watch and read a fair bit of it, and I like knowing what is going on in the world. But does it all have to be so serious ? We need a little more like :-

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It actually would not be that hard to stick a few more “light” news items into today’s news. Usually news stories take a great deal longer to explain than is really necessary. Once we know that three people have been injured by a raging bull in Pamplona, we do not need much extra explanation – those of us capable of understanding either already know why bulls are likely to injure people in Pamplona or are quite capable of looking up the necessary information. It isn’t necessary to spoon feed us.

Especially when making usual news reports shorter allows us to see a more balanced view of the world. Normal news shows give us the impression that nothing happens “out there” but disaster and catastrophe. There is plenty of that sure, but there is also plenty of plain old boring days happening together with the occasional oddity that could make it to the BBC’s “Odd Box”.

Oct 222009
 

The BBC have invited Nick Griffin – the head of the BNP neanderthals onto Question Time (a public question and answer forum with a panel of politicians of various kinds). Of course there is a lot of fuss about this – any self-respecting person of almost every political persuasion is horrified at the prospect of seeing the BNP use national TV to peddle their filth. The BBC’s argument is that the BNP has achieved sufficient electoral success for them to be invited to take part – along the same lines as the Green party receive invitations.

The BBC has pointed out (quite rightly) that their role is not to impose any form of political censureship and if the BNP has achieved the level of electoral success that allows other political parties to be included in programmes such as Question Time, then they cannot legitimately not include the BNP. Given the amount of time that has passed since the BNP achieved its electoral success in the last European elections, the fault for “allowing” the BNP to take part in Question Time must be passed directly to those in parliament who hae not passed legislation prohibiting the BNP from being heard on TV or radio (as happened to Sinn Fein in the 1980s).

There is an argument that says that because we have free speech, we should allow Nick Griffin to spout any kind of rubbish he wants to on Question Time. Well, perhaps although our tradition of freedom of speech is not unlimited. And certainly Nick Griffin’s freedom of speech does not give him a license to spout his rubbish on Question Time.

Of course Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time does allow us to more easily see how foolish and immature his views are. Interestingly he has already portrayed just how deranged he is even before the programme when he was making comments on the way to the studio.

He claimed that the reason that the Labour Party had paid for protesters  to show up outside the BBC studios. Whilst I do not have any evidence to refute this, it does seem more than a little ridiculous to think that the anti-fascist protesters would need paying to turn up. Especially when you consider that protesters have shown up outside regional BBC offices Рwhy would anyone pay for them to appear there when they could have been paid to appear in London ?

Let’s have a look at some of his statements …

“I am the most loathed man in Britain”

I somehow doubt it. He just isn’t that significant. Compare Nick Griffin with some of the British monsters like Harold Shipman.

“We are the aborigines here”

Presumably meaning that the English white people originally arrived in the UK shortly after the last ice age finished. Well perhaps there are some still left but the UK has seen immigration ever since the ice age – first of all Celts (yes! they didn’t originally come from here), Angles, Saxons (the BNP of course lump the two into the mythical “Anglo-Saxons”), Vikings, and Normans.

And of course the Romans who undoubtedly left more than a few genes behind. Which undoubtedly included a few ‘black’ genes given that they also (in their later days) included “native” troops in their army and shipped them around to where they might be needed. Wouldn’t it be funny if Nick were “tainted” with a bit of “black blood” ? I’m not normally given to using such phrases; I don’t believe in them, but old Nick would certainly be upset if he found out he wasn’t “pure white”.

At least in the UK, the whole concept of “indigenous” people at least in terms of “aborigines” is foolish in the extreme and shows an immense ignorance of British history. Really quite peculiar for someone thinks they are as patriotic as Nick undoubtedly thinks he is.

The reason behind Nick’s blatant racism is that he is terrified of being swarmed under by hordes of non-British immigrants. Even ignoring that immigration makes Britain a more dynamic and interesting place, such fears show that the racists are the kind of people who need to take their socks off to count beyond 10. If you look at the statistics, 92% of the current population of the UK is white. We’re hardly in danger of disappearing!

“I can’t explain …”

In relation to his allegedly changed views on the truth of the Jewish holocaust in WWII. Of course the obvious conclusion when he claims he cannot explain himself due to European law is that his views have not changed and that he still denies the holocaust. Or perhaps he refuses to accept the holocaust because he would loose his core supporters if he did.

And of course there is no European law in force in this country against denying the holocaust; that clause of the law can be blocked in individual countries who feel that it is an unacceptable limit on freedom of expression. And yes the UK opted out of that bit of the law. It is interesting that someone who has previously denied the holocaust and is a European politician is ignorant of this!

“You can stay …”

In response to a question from an Englishman asking whether he (not white enough for Nasty Nick) would be allowed to stay in a BNP controlled country. Kind of contradicts the BNP website (and the constitution) where it is campaigning for a white Britain. Which one is it ? Are you confused Nick ? Or just lying ?

“Adolf (Hitler) went a bit too far”

Which was not something that Nick said on the programme itself, but something he is supposed to have said in a video. The interesting thing that came out in the programme is that Nick consistent denies having said embarrassing things in the past even when there is clear evidence that he did say such things.

It was plainly obvious that you simply cannot believe any denials Nick makes.

Oct 292008
 

Over the last week or so, the news has been swamped with details of a certain radio show that involved Russell Brand (the host), and Jonathan Ross (the guest) phoning up Andrew Sachs and leaving “abusive” messages on his answerphone. I have not heard the show myself, but from the descriptions it goes well beyond what should be acceptable. But the right word is “silly” and not “malicious”.

But does it really deserve all this attention ? From what I can tell, there are plenty of other more serious problems that could be reported in the news. This is after all really just a couple of idiots on one radio show insulting another “showbiz” personality.

Russell has resigned, and the BBC has suspended Jonathan pending the outcome of an enquiry. There are some grounds for complaining about the BBC’s tardiness in dealing with this. Although this feels like a typical corporate tendency to keep quiet until everyone has huddled around and come up with an answer rather than responding immediately with “we’re investigating”.

Some of the criticisms around focus on the fact that the BBC is not a commercial organisation and there are claims that this sort of thing would not happen in a more commercial organisation. This is just classic anti-Beeb propoganda by those who believe that all broadcasters should be commercial. There are those who believe that free-market forces would ensure that such things never happened. I have no belief that the commercial sector is any better at dealing with such incidents, and those same free-market forces will ensure that broadcasters would be much less inclined to take risks.

There also seems to be some jealousy around the level of pay that these two celebreties get. I am not entirely sure why they are worth the amount of money they get, but criticisms of their pay should not be a consideration during this incident.

Sep 292007
 

One of the things that periodically surfaces to my attention is the debate over the TV license that those in the UK pay. This funds the BBC including TV, radio and Internet activities (there are ‘fringe’ activities which are not funded by the license fee such as the BBC’s World Service. The notion of a tax on watching television is archaic and unfair to commercial broadcasters. However it should stay.

Why?

The first reason for keeping the license fee is that the BBC actually does quite a good job. Not all of it’s activities please everyone, but that is impossible goal to achieve and it is not something that the BBC should be trying to do anyway. Look at BBC News. This is the largest news organisation in the world with a well deserved reputation for probity and honest reporting … in any “big” news event, the UK population tends to switch to the BBC for news.

There are those who criticise the BBC News for impartiality … the one who makes the biggest noise is Israel who claim the BBC is anti-Israeli. Of course Israel views any kind of criticism of Israeli government actions as anti-semitic, so we can probably discount this criticism. In fact the BBC probably is not doing its job properly if it does not get criticised by Israel.

The BBC also produces a large range of original drama, documentary and entertainment programmes of high quality. In recent TV awards, the BBC was awarded 9 out of 20 awards. That sounds like the result a quality organisation would get.

There are those who say that having a well funded public broadcasting organisation is unfair to commercial broadcasters. They are right. So what? Life is unfair, get over it.

A far more subtle point is how the BBC could well be improving the quality of commercial broadcasting by existing. Thus those who only watch commercial TV (I have trouble believing anyone in the UK can actually stick to this!) are actually benefiting from the BBC without watching the BBC! It is hard to justify this claim especially if we are talking about the quality, but we can sort of see the effect on something that most people find irritating … the frequency of ad breaks on commercial channels.

When you watch American TV imports you can often see the pauses where advert breaks would have occurred had you seen the programme in the US; however over here we seem to have settled on having rather fewer breaks. Why? Well there is little commercial reason for doing so, except that if people get too irritated by ad breaks they can switch over to the BBC. So it seems that the existence of the BBC may have resulted in fewer ad breaks on commercial TV in the UK … which I’m sure most would agree is a good thing.

So we have decided that the BBC is good, but what about the license fee ? Well, the license fee is bad but it works … the BBC gets a fairly big chunk of money from it. Any change would risk how much money the BBC gets, and why break something that is not broken ?

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