Category Archives: bbc

RIP my formative years

Today’s obituary: Denis Norden.  A name that hasn’t been heard so much of late, but was big in my formative years as half of a comic duo, Muir and Norden.  Although their main works were before my time, the pair were, to my schoolboy self, the Grand Old Men of (light) entertainment on the radio.   The quiz/chat show “My Word” (and to some extent its lesser twin “My Music“) – in which the two were lead panelists – was something my parents would have on around teatime, and that I enjoyed too. Light entertainment with wit and erudition.

It was My Word more than anything else that first got me hooked on speech radio.  Maybe indeed radio in general: I don’t have a clear memory of what came first between that and starting to listen to broadcast music.  I *think* My Word came first, some years before I had my own radio on which I could listen to music.

In recent times (hmm, in fact probably most if not all my adult life) I’ve most often thought of Muir&Norden when the BBC give us mindless and ugly drivel in the name of attracting a younger audience.  The underlying assumption seems to be that young implies mindless, and it’s one of the things that makes me want to shout at the radio: no, you attract young people by putting on good shows – like Muir&Norden did, and like some of today’s entertainers do.  And you accept that young people may naturally listen to less radio than old codgers not because they want to be treated as morons but because they have busy and active lives.

RIP one of the last surviving public figures to have influenced my schooldays.

Sexist flagbearers hypocrisy revealed

This evening, the BBC broadcast the results of a short story prize.  I heard some of the stories as they broadcast them last week, and they were indeed good.  I missed the broadcast of the winning story, but I daresay it was well-deserving of its award.

Being the BBC, they didn’t just broadcast the stories and the award ceremony.  They also broadcast a lot of discussion: of the award, the shortlisted candidates, the stories, of the short story form, of what works well with the form, authors and critics anecdotes, etc.

Never once in all that discussion did anyone remark on the fact that it was an all-female shortlist.  Why should they?  There’s nothing remarkable about it: it’s entirely reasonable (and in the long term statistically inevitable) that a fair and impartial shortlist should, from time to time, be all female.

— However —

This is the same BBC who, a couple of years ago, found itself with an all-male shortlist for another award.  I don’t recollect the award itself, just the huge fuss they made of the absence of women on the shortlist.  This is a huge misogynistic scandal, unacceptable sexism.  How was this allowed to happen?  Do heads need to roll?  This must never be allowed to happen again!

Googling suggests the award in question was probably their “sports personality of the year” (for 2011), which would explain why I had no interest in the award itself and heard only the fuss.  The mindless, blatantly sexist fuss, that is now revealed in the full glory of its hypocrisy by the contrast with today’s very civilised short story award.


Q: What’s the difference between Jimmy Savile and Lord McAlpine?
A: Lord McAlpine is alive to defend himself.

Probably not the only difference.  But had McAlpine not been alive, where would his name be now?

To recap the story as it stands today: McAlpine briefly stood accused of kiddy-fiddling, based apparently on the word of one unreliable witness (“victim”) given credence by a BBC programme.  The witness has now withdrawn the accusation on the basis of mistaken identity leaving no case against him, and the BBC with some serious egg on its face and a director general fallen on his sword.

The original accusation turns out to have been worse-than-flimsy: the police interviewed the “victim”, showed him a picture which he identified as his attacker, and then told him the picture was McAlpine?!!??!   How the **** did that turn into a story worth taking seriously?  The late, great Arthur Miller had the answer, and so do we if we call McAlpine’s accuser “Abigail”.  Though that too would be inaccurate: pointing the finger at one man is not the same as kicking off the whole witch-hunt, and that’s been happening for years (as witness the absurdity of the red tape binding any adult contact with children outside the family context).

As for Savile?  I have absolutely no idea: I never saw him or his TV programmes when he was alive, and I hadn’t even heard of his charity work until the whole kiddy-fiddling story suddenly filled the “news”.  Noone is defending him, and there are hundreds of accusers against him: doesn’t all that put his guilt beyond doubt?  It’s even been suggested his body might be dug up: a witch-hunt has turned into an exorcism!

The sceptic should at least question whether the case against him is proven.  And I can only conclude that the evidence falls short.  Most if not all of it is heavily tainted by compensation: if the powers-that-be had been interested in the truth, the very first thing they needed to do was rule out this expectation of personal financial advantage to his accusers!

And as to why noone is (so far as has been reported) defending him, Miller again has an answer: who wants to share Proctor’s fate?  In the thick of a witch-hunt, even the wronged McAlpine wouldn’t dare say a word against his accuser lest he be reviled as insensitive to a victim.  How much less then would anyone dare question a Savile-accuser’s compensationreward, let alone defend him?

A bastion of privilege?

How quickly they forget!

It’s less than a year since most of our biggest retailers and dairy processors got stung with big fines for fixing the market for milk.  They had manipulated the market to overpay producers and overcharge consumers.  Now they’re doing exactly the same again, as the militant wing of the producers lobby applies pressure to pay them above market rates!

The underlying problem appears to be that most of the media and government always take the producers side.  Indeed, our supermarkets stand more-or-less permanently accused of screwing their suppliers, and have faced one price-fixing investigation after another.  So it’s all the more ironic that the only actual wrongdoing happened when they gave in to pressure from the farming lobby (which included media and indeed government of the day) and overpaid in 2002/3.

So far this time round it looks a lot like a repeat.  Militant farmers blockade someone and issue press releases “we’re being paid less than the cost of production”.  Media parrot the press releases without any questions of the kind they’d ask any normal business (“can’t you reduce those production costs?  For example, keep that range rover a second year before replacing it?”[1]).  Indeed, media go even further: sometime they positively incite further “direct action”, for example in an interview with one of the militants on the PM programme on Saturday.  If you want to listen, it’s near the beginning, but this link is probably only available for a few days now.

Why does this farmers lobby (unlike most trade unions making similar demands) always have the media so firmly on-side?  Could it be because of the association of farmers with landowners: the old aristocracy whose privilege cannot be questioned?  If upstart newcomers benefit, that’s by-the-by, and as for tenant farmers (the ones who really aren’t rich), higher prices will just enable their landlords to charge higher rents, and vice versa, in the medium term.

Who will get fined this time round?  Apart from the long-suffering consumer, of course.  Fortunately I’m a lot richer than I was in 2002/3: milk is one of many things I can easily afford now but had to do without most of the time back then.

[1] Of course not every farmer has a new range rover every year: most of them are busy getting on with the job.  But it’s precisely the kind of production cost that enables them to ‘prove’ they’re making a loss.

Filesharing is the new porn

We all know that the old-meeja go on at length about filesharing, copyright theft, internet piracy, call it what you will.  So it was no surprise to hear it rehashed on the beeb yesterday evening.  Usual format: an interviewer, and two people with opposing views to debate it.

I only caught bits of it: I was cooking my supper and not really listening.  But one thing struck me: one of the debaters said that everyone fileshares.  This was quite an emphatic everyone, and he clearly intended to distinguish the sense from a typical apologist’s appropriation of everyone to a manifest falsehood like “everyone supports the olympics”.  Nor was it an Orwellian with-menaces everyone, as in you’re misogynist racist pedophile terrorist scum and beneath contempt if you dare to question us.

Since it clearly is an apologist’s everyone, that must be a bit of willy-waving (“my everyone is bigger than your everyone”).  But more striking is that neither the interviewer nor the opposing debater made any attempt to challenge it: indeed, they seemed to agree with it.  Perhaps it really is true in meeja-luvvie circles?

Then it struck me: this is exactly like the meeja discussion of online porn was ten years ago.  We’ve got used to the Beeb being our (UK’s) self-proclaimed leading website.  But for a few years after they first noticed the ‘net, you’d never hear it discussed without someone blathering about online porn.  If you didn’t know better, you’d have thought that the ‘net revolved around porn and everyone was into it.

As someone with an altogether different vision of the ‘net, I found the association rather distasteful, and some aspects downright offensive[1].   Like, ratings for websites having an implicit assumption that every site might need them, without even a default category for “no sex or violence not because we’ve toned it down and pitched it at children, but because this website is all about coffee, computers, or astronomy”.  Should I declare my websites as having mild/inoffensive sex and violence (the lowest PICS category) just to avoid the risk of being blocked by family-safe services that block unrated sites to protect children?  Absurd and offensive!

Worse, the association with porn put barriers in the way of those of us who wanted to promote the ‘net for altogether good, constructive purposes.

So if filesharing is the new porn, what lessons can we draw?  The optimistic view is ignore the hot-air and it’ll go away, just as the meeja’s porn-fixation went away when the BBC decided it was going to be top-website itself.

But maybe it’s not the same: the porn message was rooted in the ‘net being a “new frontier” for the meeja and their mass audience, while the filesharing one is driven by powerful commercial interests, some of whom are the world’s biggest unauthorised profiteers from other people’s efforts (“thieves” or “pirates”, in their own language).  And I don’t just mean things like Disney famously copyrighting everything from common cultural heritage (fairytales) to african music in the lion king: people better-informed than I describe altogether more sinister practices like identity theft.

On the other hand, Big Pirates never succeeded in getting the photocopier or the cassette tape banned.  I expect those who persist in fighting technology will continue to fight a losing battle, and the meeja attention will indeed blow over.  Just as it did with porn on the ‘net.

[1] Nothing against pornographers.  Just so long as I’m free to steer clear of their work, it’s live-and-let-live.  Same principle as when I was doing research in a department right in the red light district: we (geeks) didn’t bother the ladies of the night, and they didn’t bother us.  But I’d have been mildly pissed off if the world assumed that the reason I worked there was because of them, and seriously so if my work was belittled or dismissed on that basis.

Sensationalist Humbug

Last night, BBC radio started reporting a big security flaw in “the internet’s addressing system”. While maddeningly unspecific (they didn’t even mention DNS), it sounds a lot like DNS hijacking.

So what’s new? We’ve known about DNS hijacking since … before the dear old Beeb ever discovered the ‘net. That’s why, for example, secure sites install SSL certificates from ‘trusted’ authorities, and SSL clients such as web browsers issue dire warnings where certificates fail to match. Hah! The irony of trusting VeriSpam above DodgySnakeOil-Inc, but that’s another rant …

This morning there’s enough information to google, including a CERT note Multiple DNS implementations vulnerable to cache poisoning. Right, it’s about implementations, not the system itself. The Beeb’s report is, as suspected, sensationalist crap. CERT gives just enough information:

  • to set any self-respecting blackhat who cares on the trail of unpatched systems
  • to tell me I don’t have anything to update.

My server isn’t vulnerable, and if my ADSL router is at risk then there’s nothing I can do. As a user, I just continue to take exactly the same precautions as before: use PGP (preferred) or ‘trusted’ SSL to protect anything sensitive I disclose.

As it happens, I use Dan Bernstein’s djbdns for precisely this reason: I believe DJB’s claims that it’s more secure than bind with its long and troubled history. What’s new is not an underlying problem, it’s merely an attack vector. Looks to me like another vindication of DJB, who just wrote software that was naturally secure, years ago. It’s even questionable whether the vector is new: DJB seems to have spelled out something remarkably similar in 2001, and there’s ample evidence of his having pointed this out many times.


RIP Humph.

If you’re a brit, you can’t’ve missed the news. For others, they’ve just announced the death of Humphrey Lyttleton, chairman for over 30 years of the popular radio show “I’m sorry, I haven’t a clue” (ISIHAC), among other things.

ISIHAC was a cult, introducing into our culture (or should that be subculture?) the game of Mornington Crescent, the esteemed Mrs Trellis of North Wales, the ever-lively Samantha, etcetera. It was characterised more than anything by the banter of a team of veteran comedians, coordinated (in the manner of expert cat-herding) by Humph. Banter that was at once witty and lighthearted, outrageously rude, and just like banter within the family. I think that last may have struck the strongest chord with many listeners, including Yours Truly.

I shouldn’t think they’ll try to revive ISIHAC under another chairman (if they do, they’ll surely re-brand it). But the good news for fans is that there is another show where the spirit of ISIHAC lives on, with its own brand of irreverent banter, often only slightly gentler than ISIHAC. Radio 4’s Gardener’s Question Time stands out as rather good entertainment even for those of us with no garden, nor knowledge of or serious interest in gardening. And its chairman Eric Robson has a definite touch of the Humph about him.

Try it!


I just got a phone call from the pollsters.  The reputable ones – Ipsos Mori – running a poll commissioned by the BBC.  I was just starting my (late) lunch, so it was a relatively good time and I didn’t just hang up.

Verdict: what a monumental waste of time!  And of course questions having no meaningful answer, or answers that would tend to support some loony-fringe campaign.  Just about the only stupid thing they didn’t ask about was religion, though they did ask my ethnicity (in a rather offensive way, but I think that’s just copied from the census so it’s not their fault).  Come to think of it, they did ask if I believed in an afterlife and various supernatural things, so that was probably a proxy for religion: if I’d answered “yes” there’d’ve been more specific questions.  But that followed such daft questions as UFOs and Diana conspiracy theories, and caught me in assume-a-trivia-agenda mode.

There were also potentially-serious questions: “do I believe government advice on [issue]” (mostly yes – where they have no motive for misleading us), and “which of [list] do I consider most important”?  The latter were particularly bad: for example, the most important attributes (strong management, trustworthiness, personal recommendation, gut instinct, ???) in a public organisation such as the government or the NHS (well, I’d give different answers for each of those, but that wasn’t allowed).

Some of them were also rather politically charged.  Do we accept too many asylum seekers?  Yes, but that’s because we have far too many people in total: the fact that some of them are asylum seekers is neither here nor there.  Oops, that’s not an option.

All in all, an insight into the utter worthlessness of public opinion surveys.  Not that I really needed it: I am numerate, and have enough statistics in my background (in both my degree and my early professional career) to notice what they don’t say much more loudly than what they do.

Bah, Humbug.

Open source farming

The Beeb’s early morning farming program[1] today featured a finalist in their “farmer of the year” media event. Today’s finalist is someone who makes a business growing herbs in Scotland, and I found it genuinely interesting.

The Beeb’s farming coverage is mostly in the vanguard of the propaganda effort telling us that farmers are good but hard done by, and supermarkets (especially Tescos, the biggest and most successful) are evil. Today’s herb grower is a clear exception: he’s spent twenty years not whinging, but building a successful business instead. His biggest customer is Tescos, but rather than tow the usual BBC line, he explained that they shared the common goal of selling fresh herbs to consumers, to everyone’s benefit.

That positive attitude to cooperative marketing will look familiar to open sourcers, but doesn’t of itself make an open source style of business. What provoked me into blogging was the additional information that this farmer has spent a lot of time travelling the world in search of best practice and ideas, and shares them freely with whomsoever is interested. That sounds like a genuinely open source style of business model.

[1] no link – the website is wrong: either it’s featuring another day’s (week’s?) program, or they changed their minds. UPDATE – this link now works, but will probably change again.


The BBC’s World Business Review just discussed the ‘net, with reference to social networking sites, online privacy, and identity. Several guests from the industry, and a better than average discussion.

Quote of the day: Microsoft were due to join this discussion, but their own equipment failed.

The BBC seem to have their own problems too: at the time of writing, the link still gives you an earlier edition, on the unrelated subject of Zimbabwe.