Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Bye-bye analogue television

Tonight is the second and final stage of the digital switch-over in London. I've blogged before about the screw-ups (The Digital Switchover screw-up) and for the moment am just thinking on the passing of an institution.

Here at least it's the final end of Ceefax as we knew it. When we first got a television with text I remember the fun of going through the various pages. In the days before the internet it was incredible to be able to access so much information, from news stories to weather reports to travel disruption to TV listings and so forth, all at the pressing of a few buttons... and waiting seeming ages for the right page to load. Sure there's the red button service on some of the digital channels, but it just doesn't feel the same. There was something about the blockiness of the old text system that just made it so reassuring, in a way that hasn't been replicated.

What about the signal itself? Well the harsh reality is that on modern television sets an analogue signal looks distinctly worse, largely because the modern sets are over analysing the signal. On a good old fashioned set you could got brilliant pictures given good reception. I grew up not many miles from the Crystal Palace transmitter and we always got brilliant pictures for BBC1, BBC2, ITV and Channel 4 on our fixed aerial, and pretty good on portable aerials too. Of course there had to be something to let the side down, and that something was Channel 5. I remember the lousy signal quality no matter what was done to boost it, and there were periods when we just gave up altogether. (It was even worse when I was a student in Canterbury. Because of potential interference with French television, Channel 5 simply wasn't available there at all. I often wondered if it was barred from obtaining the rights to screen reserved sports that were otherwise only available to the most widespread analogue channels.)

There was also the fun of trying to get good reception on portable aerials (a fun I haven't yet tried with digital) - the joy of wandering round the room trying to find the precise angle to get the best picture, of trying all manner of boosts through special devices and bog standard VCRs, of frustration with it all, and then triumph when you found the signal.

I wonder if people felt the same sense of nostalgia at the time of what we'd now call the "625 switchover"? I can't remember it myself. This was the time when the transmissions in the old 405 line format were finally ended and the 625 line format was left as the only service in transmission. Although 625 line transmission began as early as 1964 with the launch of BBC2 (which led to a bizarre series called "Theatre 625" - basically plays, or TV movies, shot in the higher definition format - I wonder if anyone would do a series called "Film HD" today?), and was brought to BBC1 & ITV in 1969, 405 line signals were still broadcast for older television sets up until 1985. And you thought it took a long time to switch-over to digital!

(Here's a little piece from that time. This clip shows the very BBC1 last signals transmitted in 405 lines in London. And it's the weather with Ian McCaskill:)

(Yes they did used to play the National Anthem upon close-down.)

And now as analogue passes away, I wonder how long it will be before we contemplate a shut-down of the digital system in favour of something more advanced?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

UKIP London mayoral candidate admits: I can't deliver my promises

More confirmation of UKIP as ineffective, this time from their candidate's own mouth, as he admits that many of his promises are things the Mayor of London as no power to implement. Courtesy of Metro: UKIP London mayoral candidate admits: I can't deliver my promises.

The headline says it all really.

The failings of UKIP

There's an excellent piece in the Telegraph entitled Why no decent Tory should vote Ukip by Abhijit Pandya, who spent a year advising UKIP, has seen up close just how useless, ineffective and incoherent a party it is. Amongst the damaging charges:

[The] party's MEPs are obsessed with infantile stunts. These include wondering around Brussels, at the taxpayer's expense, singing "there is a hole in my bucket". Entertaining as it is watching Mr Farage doing this, and giving bombastic speeches in the European Parliament, it does nothing to curb the powers of the EU.

...[T]here is not a single amendment to a European regulation forced by Ukip, despite being Britain’s second-largest party in the European Parliament... [I]t is extraordinary that Ukip has not, in over a decade, managed to develop a strategy to undermine European law by appropriate subtle and strategic amendments.
The party is more interested in ranting and raving than in the more thoughtful task of fully engaging with its opponents on policy terms. This is why its failure to alter the course of Europe away from a social-democratic federal state has been immense.
...[A]s a consequence of being a one-issue Party, they are just about split on everything else. Ukip will go Left, Right or centre to grab the next available vote.
For Tories yearning for the old years of glory, a move to Ukip would be a move back to the feeling of looking at the remnants of the Tory Party after its 1997 catastrophe... Worse still it would benefit Labour, and another Labour victory is the last thing this country needs.

It just confirms that UKIP is not a striding force for anything, but just a protest vote accumulating, rabble rousing, whinge-the-whinge not fight-the-fight shouty movement.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Flashback: The 1992 election

Twenty years ago today it was the 1992 general election. A record breaking election that saw the Conservatives win a fourth term, with the most votes for any party in British electoral history. And they did it without spin - compare Neil Kinnock's grandiose Sheffield rally with John Major going out on the streets and speaking common sense on a good old fashioned soapbox.

Yet for many Conservatives 1992 has become a forgotten election. For some the victory is an uncomfortable truth, that the party could win elections without Margaret Thatcher and thus justified deposing her. For others the memory of the next five years is dominated by so many problems that they'd really rather not remember them and secretly wish the election had been lost.

However there are signs of a slow change in John Major's reputation with even some of his old critics starting to reappraise his record - see for example It's time to give John Major the credit we so cruelly denied him by Peter Oborne in the Daily Telegraph. And the various historical rankings of Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom have seen Major slowly rise up the charts judged by academics, in recent years overtaking Edward Heath (University of Leeds: Academics rate Brown one of the worst post 1945 PMs). Maybe he will rise further in years to come.

Would it have been better to lose the 1992 election? It's hard to say, though if the party hadn't deposed Margaret Thatcher it's likely we would have lost. Indeed if the landslide had come five years soon, Thatcher might even have had the humiliation of losing her own seat. Such a result could have been the necessary blow to the neo-Thatcherite wing of the party and silenced the sirens who spent much of the last twenty years claiming that going more Thatcherite than even Thatcher did was the solution for the country. And some of the more Machiavellian might point out that a loss would have given the chaos of Black Wednesday to Neil Kinnock and John Smith. Perhaps the Conservatives would have taken rather less than thirteen years to return to government.

But losing would have meant the country being run by Neil Kinnock. And that's truly a horrific thought. Whether losing might have been better for the party, it would have been far worse for the country.

So as the BBC Parliament channel reruns the 1992 election coverage, a big cheer to John Major for achieving such a victory and saving us from that nightmare.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Happy Easter

Happy Easter everybody.

The Digital Switchover screw-up

London is currently undergoing the Digital Switchover. For several months now we have been bombarded with leaflets and posters telling us that analogue signals will be switched off and that we need to get digital decoders in order to continue watching television. So you'd think we've been overloaded with information and can easily find out everything we need to know.

Unfortunately in the midst of all this there has been a major information failure that has completely neglected two sections of the audience - those who've had digital television the longest and those who purchase second hand decoders, many of whom still use the earliest decoders. Many have reported that since the switchover began last Wednesday they have been unable to get the following channels:
  • BBC One (although it's still available on analogue for another ten days)
  • BBC Two
  • BBC Three
  • CBBC
  • BBC News
(The other BBC channels are unaffected.)

There has been no end of stress and frustration as people keep trying to add to and reset their list of channels in the hope of recovering the channels to no avail. The Digital UK website is useless on this - if you follow through the FAQ the section on Missing channels or wrong news service? pretends that all will be well by retuning. The telephone helpline is even worse, with operators trying the classic stalling tactic of stalling callers in the hope they will go away.

Only when rooting around submitting a question on the website did I find Why am I missing certain channels following a retune of my digital recorder? and that doesn't really explain the situation or cover all equipment effected.

Basically the problem is that the digital signal is being upgraded in strength (from 2K to 8K), but some older equipment is unable to handle the stronger signal and needs either a software update or to be replaced altogether.

It sounds simple, but I was only able to find out the full cause of the problem thanks to Svelte Kroton on the Gallifrey Base forum who wrote the following post in reply to my enquiry on the matter:
(Warning: You'll need to be registered and logged in to read it)

The reason they're missing those channels is because they've changed from a 2k signal to an 8k signal.
Currently BBC4, BBC Parliament, CBeebies, and the BBC Radio channels are still on a 2k signal on MUX B.
But from the 18th the rest of the channels will also change to 8k.
If your decoder box is too old to understand 8k signals, which is what it sounds like, you'll lose all tv channels at that point.
Some transmitters will continue to broadcast some less important channels in 2k for up to 24 months after switchover, but this probably won't be any of the channels you actually want to watch.

All the money the BBC spent on telling people to get ready for digital switchover, and they completely neglected to get the message across that people who have been ready for switchover for years, are about to find themselves without telly.
Bit of a shambles, really.

Indeed - a right screw-up. Given the nature of the advertising, people who've had digital the longest naturally have every reason to assume they have been fully prepared for years, and had no reason to expect this debacle.

And since the BBC is at fault, would it be at all unreasonable for people to get some of the licence fee back for services unavailable when the BBC gave them every reason to think they wouldn't have a problem?

Saturday, April 07, 2012

"The truth is there are none so pure as the impotent"

Here's a wonderful clip from Q & A, the Australian version of Question Time, as Malcolm Turnbull responds to the simplistic approach of minor parties who shout solutions from the sidelines:

A true statement the world over.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

April Fool

Yes, you guessed it right. That last post was an April Fool.

(Oh and does anyone know for definite if April Fools are invalid or not after noon? Or does the answer change depending on age and country?)

Up the revolution!

For all these years I was blind. Now I've seen the light. What the world needs is...


So I've joined the struggle and joined the Socialist Workers Party.


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