A strange day

  on February 19th, 2007

I received the oddest telling-off today.

I recently interviewed a grand old lady for a ‘Look Back’ piece about the Second World War and how she was one of the survivors of a Doodlebug hit on Crawley.

Well, another old lady rang up today to add her memories to the story.

As we were winding up the conversation, she pointed out that there were very few pitures of the aftermath.

I agreed that, yes, they were scarce, but that I had managed to find one that would be in the paper in a week or so.

She then proceeded to berate the journos and photographers of the time for not covering the event in more detail and demanded – at length – to know why they had not been more thorough.

I don’t mind defending the editorial decisions of today, but to be chastised for the actions of a news team working before my parents were born was a little irksome. 🙂



How Dare They..!!!!!!!

  on February 8th, 2007

It’s shut!!!

The Coffee Trader in town has shut!!!!!

Put out of business, I suspect, by Costa Coffee, the wonderful factory churned out, plastic, franchised bastard place just opposite.

Now, why is this so important to me, I hear you ask? Why am I so upset about a company that is obsessed with toasting everything under the sun, as well as the sun itself?

Simple. As some may know, I have…’trouble’ going into town…I don;t like crowds – or, infact, people in general, and get very anxious etc. However, I’ve been determined to fight that problem and the Coffee Trader was my way of doing it. If I had to go into town I would, instead of running off home, force myself to pop upstairs, have a latte and possibly a sarnie. Forcing myself to stay by people, just slightly removed from them, to an extent. It was great. I could read the Independant in comfort and generally not have to worry.

And now it’s gone. I tried looking around town for somewhere that may suffice as a replacement but there really is nowhere like it.

I’m right narked over this, I really am. Mr and Mrs Crawley Chav are more then happy to use the tanning salon to top up their fake orangeness, but they see Costa Coffee and think ‘Ooh, look! That must be upmarket, Ive heard of that – they have it in london, innit.’




BBC On-Demand

  on February 5th, 2007

The BBC recently put up a Consultation for On-Demand Services on their web page. What does that mean, I don’t hear any of you asking. Basically they are talking about delivering their content over the Internet. There are several worrying aspects to their proposals.

Before I get into the details I should further explain the idea a bit. Those of us in the UK pay a Licence Fee that funds the BBC. Every home with a television must pay this (currently about £130 a year) or risk nasty things such as a fine or imprisonment. That’s not the issue, though. It is more the status of the BBC. They are a ‘Public Corporation’, incorporated under a Royal Charter. Above all they are a Public Service Broadcaster. There are no adverts and the vast majority of the funding comes direct from the Licence Fee (additional amounts come from the BBC selling programmes abroad, DVD/CD/Book/Magazine/etc. sales and some government money to subsidise OAP Licence Fees and the BBC World Service). So in a very real sense the BBC is owned by the people.

For some time now the BBC have had a wonderful Internet presence. That is absolutely within their “inform, educate and entertain” remit, their News site is particularly notable (and respected by people well beyond these British shores). Now they want to take it a step further. Again, for some time (he says vaguely) the BBC have broadcast most of their radio stations over the Internet in, roughly, realtime. More recently they’ve introduced the ‘Listen Again’ service so you can catch up with radio programmes you’ve missed from the past seven days. Now they are talking about doing the same with TV programmes.

So, what’s the problem? Yes, that does sound great but how do these questions sound from the consultation?

  • How important is it that the proposed seven-day catch-up service over the internet is available to consumers who are not using Microsoft software?
  • The BBC Trust has proposed setting a limit of 30 days as the amount of time that programmes can be stored on a computer before being viewed. As this is a nascent market, there is currently no clear standard on the length of the storage window. On balance, the Trust thinks 30 days is the right length of time. How long do you think consumers should be able to store BBC programmes on their computers before viewing them?
  • The BBC Trust concluded there was fine balance between public value and market impact in deciding whether to allow the BBC to offer audio downloads of classical music. While such downloads could help introduce new listeners to classical music, they could also deter purchases of commercial recordings. What is your view on whether – and to what extent – the BBC should be allowed to offer radio broadcasts of classical music as audio downloads over the internet?

Hmm, I don’t like some of that – and nor should you.

Let’s take that first one – How import is it […] to consumers who are not using Microsoft software? Obviously I’m a Linux user but that isn’t the point. Are they seriously proposing that they force the public to use one company’s software – expensive, closed source (and foreign) software? How can that possibly be in the public interest. As a public broadcaster they absolutely must ensure as many Licence Fee payers as possible can use their services. They should not be propping up a convicted monopolist such as Microsoft. Imagine if they had instead said ‘consumers who are not using an Apple MacOS X’. What an uproar that would have created. Many more people would have complained about them singling out one company and one group of users. Just because the majority of machines come preloaded with Microsoft software (clearly not Apple Macs) that doesn’t make it right. All Licence Fee payers have paid for these programmes. All deserve access to them.

Next up, the 30 day limit. Why should I, as a person that funds the BBC, have my access to material I’ve already paid for limited to 30 days? All Licence Fee payers should have unlimited access to the BBC back catalogue – big fat full stop. We should not be subject to DRM (Digital Rights Management) to limit our access to that material. There is no reason why we shouldn’t be able to download a programme and keep it forever. In practice I would hope that we won’t ever need to save such content as it will be available at all times. Nonetheless it belongs to the people and if we feel the need to burn it off to DVD so be it – we paid to have that content created in the first place. Yes, there is a danger that this content will fall into the hands of those who don’t pay the Licence Fee (this is already happening with bittorrent and foreign fans of things such as Doctor Who) but the potential damage of that is minimal. In theory foreign TV stations might see a drop of viewing figures and may eventually stop buying BBC programmes. It’s a danger but, from what I can discover, that will only amount to, at most, a loss of about £150M in an annual BBC budget of over £4billion. Small fry and not nearly enough to justify limiting the British public’s access to our own programmes. There’s also the question of DVDs and the like. Well, in the next decade or two, those will be dead, either way. You could make an argument for special features selling the DVDs/CDs but then you get into the murky area of those having to be funded entirely from the commercial arm rather than the BBC proper (otherwise it will be paid by the Licence Fee again). As I said, though, the days of physical media like DVDs and CDs are numbered. Books and magazines may continue for a while but ever those will one day be downloaded to a reader tablet of some kind. Don’t let the BBC go down the road of forcing us to pay for content twice over.

As for the last point ‘fine balance between public value and market impact’, that’s a tricky one. Or is it? Let’s not forget the mantra – we’ve already paid for the BBC content. Yes, if they make classical music available free to every Licence Fee payer that could well cut into sales of commercially funded classical music. This sort of music is a special case, I suppose, as anyone with an orchestra can put out a CD of the same music. The BBC has some excellent orchestras, see my Prom in the Park blog entry for more details, but who pays for them? Us! Commercial competitors will have to differentiate themselves in some way. That is no reason to restrict us to our own paid for content!

Rant over. I urge all you Brits to fill in the BBC On-Demand Consultation questionnaire. According to the unique BBC charter – “free from both political and commercial influence and answers only to its viewers and listeners”. It’s your BBC too.



You crack me up, little buddy

  on February 2nd, 2007

Sam and MaxYes, I said I would say some more about MMOs but I’m afraid the Freelance Police have caught me – Sam and Max are back!

Fans of the old LucasArts graphical adventures (such as the Monkey Island series, Full Throttle, Grim Fandango, etc.) will undoubtedly remember the original Sam and Max Hit the Road game from 1993. Since then LucasArts have become a Star Wars exclusive label (and a generally poor one, at that) and with them went the mainstream adventure game. For years fans of the original Sam and Max game (and fans of the original, otherwise slightly obscure, comic book characters that spawned that game) have demanded more. It wasn’t until sometime in 2005 that the rights for another computer game reverted to the creator of Sam and Max, Steve Purcell (no relation, sadly), and only then was another game a possibility. At the end of last year (October of 2006, I believe) it finally happened, Sam and Max: Culture Shock was released!

Just who are Sam and Max? Here’s excerpts borrowed from Wikipedia (they can have them back when we’re finished!):


“Sam is a laid-back, but enthusiastic anthropomorphic dog wearing a suit and a hat. He is usually the brains of the operation, often trying to figure out a logical solution to things. He is prone to long-winded sentences filled with elaborate buzzwords. He is also rarely seen losing his temper (except when he’s given a pink belly), and is able to react to panic-inducing situations with extreme calm.”


“Max is a “hyperkinetic rabbity thing” (he himself prefers being called a “lagomorph“) with a huge jaw normally stuck in a crazed grin, showing off his razor sharp teeth. He enjoys violence and tends to prefer the aggressive way of solving problems. He has a slight distaste for the long stories, anecdotes and sentences that Sam consistently spouts forth, often asking Sam not to use various words. He shares Sam’s enthusiasm in just about anything, especially if it involves large guns and trouble.”

It is very film noir like but deliberately humorous. The original Hit the Road game was a 2D graphical adventure, with animated characters moving around on scrolling but otherwise static backgrounds. You move the crime fighting duo around with the mouse and have them interact with objects and other characters. Sounds dull when put in those terms but it really isn’t. The dialogue and bizarre plot twists are what make the games.

The new Sam and Max is actually a series of fairly short games (a few hours apiece) based on the new buzz phrase of Episodic gaming. There are to be six episodes in this first season. If they do well we can only hope there is a second season. After LucasArts turned their back on their adventure game heritage (which was finally confirmed in 2004 when their own highly publicised sequel, Sam and Max: Freelance Police, was canned shortly before release) several of their employees left to form their own company, Telltale Games. These talented people have taken their experiences on the doomed LucasArts sequel and produced a fully 3D Sam and Max series of games. They have done an amazing job, as you’d expect from a group with such a history in some of the top graphical adventures ever created.

I’ve now completed the first two episodes (Culture Shock and Situation: Comedy), having bought the entire season based only on the extremely short free demo of episode one (and my memories of the original Sam and Max Hit the Road game). It’s $34.95 + UK VAT (or whatever your local sales tax is, I assume) for the entire season (£21 or so on my credit card after currency conversion) or $8.95 + UK VAT for a single episode (what would that be, £5 or so?) Excellent value compared to many games that only give 10-12 hours play time for £30.

Perhaps the most telling thing is that I’ve not wanted to play anything else recently! I was in the Vanguard: Saga of Heroes beta and now into release. I’ve still got an active account to World of Warcraft. I’d rather play Sam and Max, though. It’s just so fun (and the puzzles are pitched just right for my, maybe feeble, mind!) I highly recommend you download the free demo, to get a flavour of the madness that is Sam and Max!