September, 2003

Weather

Well the weather thing is slightly improved today, although it doens’t now have the forecast detailed (I’ll add it later), and it doesn’t work for negative temperatures which is also a problem.

Indigo Slam

Indigo Slam is the latest book to featured in an Ottakers 99p promotion. And if anyone says these things don’t work, then I’m the reason that they do. I’ve only read all the Peter Robinson novels because they had one for 99p.
Robert Crais is an author that I must admit I hadn’t previously heard of. His detective is Elvis Cole – who sounds like a musical detective to my ears. Maybe he is, but there’s no indication of it in this novel. It’s all first person, and all Cole. If Cole’s not there, we don’t hear about it. There’s no switching between storylines or other characters, and you can’t fail to understand the plot, because we hear his thoughts after spoken words.
So it’s simple, but it’s quite pleasurable, and I learnt more than I thought I’d need to know about printing phony money. I may easily read more in this series.

David Blaine

blaine_box.jpg
So we went to see David Blaine down by Tower Bridge yesterday. I have to say that my expectations weren’t much, and rightly so. I expect that he’s taking on some kind of food somehow as he tries to spend 44 days in a relatively small perspex box, but he must be monumentally bored.
There was an interesting story in the Standard a couple of days ago about possibly the plug being pulled on the whole stunt. It’s certainly true that they’ve not done things right. The security has been poor, and the cynicism of the British public misread. I suppose the first inkling that I had that it wasn’t all right, was when I looked at Blaine’s official site and saw that there seemed to be no reference to a US TV network. That has to be staggering, since Blaine has become an ABC man to the best of my knowledge, pulling good ratings for his special. While a one or two hour special may result out of it, we all know what happens when it finishes, so no suspense.
I think that they’ve missed a commercial trick or two. There was no merchandise being sold there, aside from a few people setting up ice-cream vans and hotdog vendors. The whole site is poorly arranged – I would have expected an enormous banner detailing the event, particularly when you realise that the site is directly opposite the Tower of London, one the biggest tourism draws in the UK. Many visitors to the country may not know that Blaine is “performing.”
I guess too, that Blaine may have endeared himself to the public more if he’d done something a bit more traditional before embarking on this marathon. As we stood there looking, you couldn’t help feeling that a Houdini character would have instead been tied upside down from a burning rope over the edge of Tower Bridge. That would have been spectacular and stopped the traffic.
In actual fact, a Tuesday lunchtime saw a crowd of several hundred standing there staring, and realising that he still had another 27 days of boredom and starvation (!) to face.
In the meantime, Channel 4 are beginning to heavily trail their next magic stunt, and one that will get the audience watching. October 5 sees Derren Brown will play Russian Roulette live! Now that’s a stunt that has it all. It won’t take place in the UK as it’d be illegal, and if it weren’t really a trick, as I have no doubt it is, it wouldn’t take place “live.” It’s interesting that C4 are now putting the stunt out on October 5, while Brown’s own site lists the original date of October 26. If the Standard report referred to above is to be believed, that’s because executives at C4 have realised that they’ve misjudged the whole Blaine thing, and they’re probably looking at recouping the situation before the Blaine thing goes out of control.

Alex Cox

Alex Cox’s site has now left the BBC, so his first weekly diary on his own site is all about the BBC. He’s absolutely spot on about all the BBC bashers and the general distaste that we should all feel for them with their own collection of views and beliefs. Murdoch, Kaufman, Conrad Black, and New Labour. Aside from Murdoch who has a commercial operation to run and for whom the BBC is a competitor (raising the quality threshhold beyond what he can manage), one has to ask why so many people dislike the BBC.
Still, in case anyone ever sympathises with these people sometimes, just read this piece by Maggie Brown about the RTS Cambridge convention. In both speakers mentioned, the key missing point, was that media has a duty to inform as well as entertain its audience. Failure to do so will just lead to dumber country than ever, and I don’t want to be part of that.

Platform

Platform is an interesting book, and I must admit that I have no idea what the title refers to.
Michel Houellebecq’s previous novel (at least in English) was Atomised, and it’s striking cover was a regular in bookshops. It didn’t appeal to me however (what’s that phrase about books and covers?). I may go back and re-explore it now though…
In any case, I read a snippet review about Platform somewhere (why do all book reviews treat paperbacks so poorly? Most of us only read paperbacks) so I picked it up at the weekend. It’s a strange book initially about a man who’s father has just died and decides to take a group package holiday in Thailand, where he participates in the usual sex-tourism thing. He meets Valerie while he’s there and they begin a passionate (and I mean passionate in a very explicit sense) affair. She works in the travel industry and they decide it’s sex which drives the industry. This leads to some interesting conclusions and quite an ending.
To say that many of the characters are amoral, would be an enormous understatement. But they’re nothing if not fascinating and the story moves along apace in a very easy to read translation.
It’s interesting that like the last French translation I read, £9.99, it deals with consumerism and real companies in a fictional manner.

Man Utd v Arsenal

Well as expected the FA have got the match report from yesterday’s little friendly, and are “urgently” considering it and video tapes. As usual, the FA’s website goes into overdrive; they just love a juicy story like this. “Stay logged on to TheFA.com for all the latest news on this story” they report!
The problem with this is that yes it was at a high profile match, and therefore you’re unfairly penalised. I don’t know exactly how many cameras Sky had at that game, but let’s say it was a conservative 20. But compare that with, say Fulham v Man City on Saturday. It wouldn’t have been a main ITV Premiership match, so there’d be a maximum of three cameras there to catch the goals but not much more. If there’d be a fracas on the pitch, they’d have caught some of it, but on a live Sky game, cameras are everywhere, and thus far likelier to catch the “untoward.”

Digital TV

The government last week published a report into digital television, Digital Television For All: A report on usability and accessible design. The DTI published it in association with a research outfit called The Generics Group.
In particular the report examines current motivations for going digital, and the usability of the systems currently available.
It still seems strange to me that the government believes that it�ll be able to turn off analogue broadcasts by 2010 (never mind 2006). We�re getting towards the end of 2003 just now, and we don�t have anyway near the coverage that�s acceptable.
The report highlights the fact that Dixons are currently seeing one in four set-top boxes being returned, with at least half of them showing no discernable fault.
The report�s main focus is on the fact that set-top boxes are hard to use, with a lot of the population being actively disadvantaged by their design. While this is worthy and useful stuff, we�re still overlooking the sheer improbability of conversion happening to the government�s timescale.
That wasn�t the remit of this report, but it�s the main issue still. The average home in the UK has more than one television, and each of these, plus each video recorder needs a separate box. Even allowing for the continued fall in cost of these devices, is the government really going to render so many pieces of technology useless overnight?

ID Cards on the Agenda Again

So David Blunkett spent a lot of this time garnering headlines for his ID scheme. Despite a split in the cabinet over the scheme, he seems keen to press ahead and get ID cards into the Queen’s Speech.
The core reason for introducing this big brother regime, is seemingly to keep track of illegal immigrants, and stop them accessing public services. Sorry I don’t quite understand how this will work. At the moment, there are many illegal immigrants who don’t have National Insurance Numbers, yet can find work – mainly because there are plenty of people willing to pay cash. This isn’t going to change with ID cards – unless we become some kind of totalitarian regime in which the police stop us in the street for no reason, demanding to see ID. Blunkett says that this wouldn’t be the case.
The BBC report describes Blunkett’s move as being seen by analysts (?) as “an effort to grab the initiative after a difficult few weeks for the government.” I don’t quite understand this. Grab an unpopular initiative? At the moment, supporters say that people are in favour of ID cards, but that’s primarily because the real privacy issues have not been discussed.
At least The Guardian understands the real reasons behind the ID Card scheme – it’s nothing to do with illegal immigration, that’s just something that resonates with the Daily Mail and Sun reading population at large. It’s to do with centralising data about the people of this country. It’s power.
To see how much of a red herring the illegal immigrant idea is, consider the number to be found in countries like Italy where ID cards are already compulsory. Not much effect there is there?
I was interested to see what other papers made of Blunkett’s appearance yesterday, but sadly neither The Times, The Independent nor the Telegraph thought it worth a leader.
Returning to the transcript of the Frost interview, I love the way that Blunkett won’t use the word “mandatory”.
I also note that Stand have updated their website with some pieces of secondary legislation to do with the RIP act.