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Time’s Up – After much horse trading and secret deals the top eurocrats have agreed – probably – on who will become the next EU presidents. The changes are – at the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker is to be replaced by Ursula von der Leyen; at the European Council Donald Tusk is to be replaced by Charles Yves Jean Ghislaine Michel; at the European Parliament Antonio Tajani is now replaced by David Sassoli; at the Eurogroup Mario Centeno has been in post since 2018 and at the European Central Bank Mario Draghi is to be replaced by Christine Madeleine Odette Lagarde.

Surely all those Grandads who believe in continued EU membership will know all about the excellent qualities of these fine presidents – but for the rest of us it’s more like … Who? or How did they get that job? Interestingly there was no news about the future role of Michel Barnier even though he was lined-up for a top job only a few weeks ago.

BBC Sinks Even Further – Despite clearly expecting plenty of negative feedback on the plan to means test TV licences the BBC has continued to fire more and more bullets at its own feet (snowflake warning; metaphorical language – no BBC staff or members of the public were physically or mentally harmed). The announcements of the salaries of both on-screen talent and senior BBC staff triggered plenty of reaction. And not much of it was in support.

Then the sheer pointless waste of sending the main evening news presenter to Lyon to interview the BBC sport presenter also in Lyon seemed to go over the heads of the executives responsible. Apart from the benefit of providing Clive Myrie with free tickets to the football match and a stay in Lyon on expenses the whole segment was just one more source of ammunition (another metaphorical). Given the situation the BBC might also have reconsidered the need to relocate morning weather forecasts to Wimbledon during the tennis – but it is likely that Carol is a tennis fan so would have resisted missing her days at courtside; with pay.

And as this posting was being prepared came the news that the BBC is facing a legal challenge over its impartiality and biased coverage. It’s hard to see how this can succeed – given the resources that the BBC can throw against it. But having threatened millions of pensioners with a loss of benefit every unjustified expense and biased report is going to be jumped on – by lots of critics.

BBC Sinks Even Further

This afternoon’s announcement that from 2020 UK residents over 75 will have to loose £154 from their pensions to pay for BBC excesses will not be greeted with much joy or support. Especially when the BBC clearly makes little attempt to produce quality content in the most cost-effective way.

Man1902

Even live sporting events have excessive numbers of pundits and reporters before, during and after every event. Some of these pundits taking away millions for just asking other pundits what they thought of the game. A game that the viewers had most likely just seen for themselves.

Meanwhile the BBC’s lead TV channel – BBC1 – is full of tired shows like Escape to the Country – which today has reached Season 17 Episode 37 for the second time – or daily quiz shows like Pointless; where today we have a repeat of Season 19 Episode 33!

To quote the BBC’s own blurb – The BBC is the world’s leading public service broadcaster. We’re impartial and independent, and every day we create distinctive, world-class programmes and content which inform, educate and entertain millions of people in the UK and around the world. And that means that UK tax payers – including pensioners – are funding television, radio and online on [in] more than 40 languages.

Coming so soon after that disastrous last place in the Eurovision Song Contest – where the BBC paid more that any other broadcaster to take part – the Beeb’s claim of world-class content has again been put into perspective. Australia’s public service broadcaster – SBS – has consistently produced better for less; much less. But then it does have to try harder – with no licence fee income to pay for programmes that are unappealing or expensive.

Now the BBC may not be any better if the channels presently paid for by the TV tax were switched to commercial funding. But the Corporation is, in effect, operating a business model that looses over £3,500 million per year – the amount it gets from taxation to make the books balance. Much of that loss is down to corporate obesity. Time for a corporate slimming plan …

We Can’t Afford To Be Without It

I’d like to take the opportunity to remind people why HS2 is so important for the West Midlands. Put simply, we can’t afford to be without it. HS2 is an opportunity to create jobs, bring investment and build for future generations. It is an opportunity to provide better and faster links for our region, not just to London but to the north of England and Scotland as well as Europe. Centro Chief Executive, Geoff Inskip 19-Aug-2011

Heckerslyke_160And yet now, a full five years later, the High Speed Rail 2 project continues to burn up our taxes without having laid a single metre of track. This lack of track construction is because the project needs further government approvals before it can be deemed to have started. A surreal situation considering how much support work is already in progress and contractually committed. Work that will have to be largely written off if the project was stopped or fails to deliver.

Earlier this week came the news that a You Gov survey in Birmingham has found that 51% of people in the city think HS2 will be a waste of money while only 32% thought HS2 is a good investment. Yet only yesterday Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed that the government would press ahead with HS2 development.

So despite changes in some senior positions and declining support in the city with the most to gain HS2 remains a project that has become too big to stop. Sadly when it does eventually become operational it will be London that will gain at the expense of Birmingham. But at least Birmingham and Doncaster will have their new National Colleges for High Speed Rail and the promise of some graduate level engineers for future projects. Let us hope that it’s UK applicants that get preference now that EU constraints are on the way out.

Rebuilding the East End?

Eastender1w200Next Wednesday will mark the 29th birthday of the BBC’s favourite soap opera – EastEnders. It started out in 1985 as 2×30 mins episodes each week but today airs as 4×30 mins (plus each episode is repeated twice). Throughout its run it has stayed one of the BBC’s most watched shows. Its current UK TV audience share is around 30%. And it is widely available overseas – mainly through the BBC’s commercial channels – where, for example, BBC Entertainment will be showing episode 4788 this coming Wednesday (along with three transmissions of episode 4787!).

Despite the show’s popularity yesterday’s news that a new EastEnders set is to be built at the BBC Elstree Studios – for an estimated £15 million – caused headlines in the anti-BBC media. But this seems a bit harsh. Considering the low-lying nature of London’s East End and the unstoppable effects of climate change on both rainfall and sea levels the relocation and expansion of the show’s set seems both reasonable and unavoidable. And since the new set could have built-in variable water levels the script writers could include dramatic new story lines that are presently restricted to the real life residents of the Somerset Levels.

However the programme’s glowing audience stats do not seem to equate with few Grandads being fans. Everyone asked did not rate the show much better than terrible. Its distinctive theme tune being the signal to either change channels or move to something more interesting online. At first this seemed that the Grandads were out of line with the average audience. But more thought showed that having 30% audience share for EastEnders means that the other 70% of the audience must be watching something else.

And it is no surprise that the time and numbers spent watching live TV has declined tremendously since the show started back in 1985. With viewing stats being collected from just 5,000 households (or about 0.02% of the population) this 30% audience figure hides the fact that the total viewer numbers have collapsed. After all, if those 5,000 stats-collecting households were the only people in the country still watching TV then the 30% figure would still hold true.

That’s the problem with statistics; they can be true and misleading at the same time.

Hasn’t This Been On Before?

The BBC TV’s UK repeats of shows have reached farcical levels … for example five broadcasts of the Chronicles of Narnia in a month. Last night was the 18th overall showing for the first and Saturday night prime time viewing will be the 10th showing of the second of these movies.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion,
the Witch and the Wardrobe
BBC One Fri 26 Dec 2008 17:50
BBC HD Fri 26 Dec 2008 17:50
BBC One Thu 24 Dec 2009 14:15
BBC Three Tue 5 Jan 2010 19:50
BBC Three Sat 9 Jan 2010 20:00
BBC One Thu 23 Dec 2010 15:50
BBC HD Sat 25 Dec 2010 20:00
BBC Three Sat 25 Dec 2010 20:00
BBC HD Wed 29 Dec 2010 20:00
BBC Three Wed 29 Dec 2010 20:00
BBC One Sat 24 Dec 2011 17:50
BBC Three Fri 30 Dec 2011 19:55
BBC Three Mon 2 Jan 2012 19:55
BBC Three Wed 12 Dec 2012 20:00
BBC Three Sun 16 Dec 2012 19:50
BBC One Tue 24 Dec 2013 13:30
BBC Three Sat 18 Jan 2014 20:20
BBC Three Wed 22 Jan 2014 19:50
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
BBC One Fri 24 Dec 2010 17:15
BBC HD Sun 16 Jan 2011 20:00
BBC Three Sun 16 Jan 2011 20:00
BBC Three Sat 22 Jan 2011 20:00
BBC One Sun 1 Jan 2012 14:50
BBC Three Tue 3 Jan 2012 19:00
BBC Three Sun 8 Jan 2012 19:00
BBC One Mon 24 Dec 2012 14:00
BBC One Tue 31 Dec 2013 13:20
BBC Three Sat 25 Jan 2014 20:15

If enough complain then the Corporation may act – but probably by removing the previous showing dates from the BBC TV web site. It’s not as if these movies are not available elsewhere – or viewers have lost the ability to record and time-shift programmes of interest.

Now the BBC may not be any better if the channels presently paid for by the TV tax were switched to commercial funding. But the Corporation is, in effect, operating a business model that looses over £3,500 million per year – the amount it gets from taxation to make the books balance. Much of that loss is down to corporate obesity. Time for a slimming plan …

Plus ça change

Frankie1Back after a short gap but still looking for something interesting to report. Comet ISON did not to survive its trip around the Sun so failing to give us the predicted spectacular display. This rather dented the impact of the BBC’s Comet of the Century special – but it still goes ahead this evening.

The UK Government’s announcement this week on a digital radio switchover date was another non-event. Neither FM nor DAB was dropped and instead the promoters will continue trying to convince us that DAB is a good idea. The fact that the target take-up may never be reached before the out-dated DAB technology is scrapped does not seem to have been considered. But clearly the BBC’s earlier announcement of spending on more DAB transmitters foretold what the outcome would be.

Next the Coldest winter in modern times and Big freeze to last three months that were headlines in the Daily Express last month have, like ISON, failed to appear. Wind and rain yes but not the coldest winter so far; even as we reach the solstice. Perhaps the weather soothsayers will be right next month … but then even random choices are right sometimes.

Finally it will be no surprise to Grandads everywhere that this year’s festive TV schedules are again packed with repeats – often repeats of repeats. In the case of the BBC they are sticking to the story that they lack the funds to provide enough new programmes. A story that is hard to square with, for example, the cost of switching last week’s Question Time venue from Swansea to Johannesburg at short notice. Especially with the BBC already paying for a larger team there than all the other UK channels combined. And even more difficult for TV tax payers to take when the media had also been highlighting the BBC’s over-generous severance payment record and their blocking of a critical report into their failed Digital Media Initiative.

XP Exits

In just six months time Microsoft will end support for its XP incarnation of Windows. Normally software going off support is not newsworthy. But XP was, it seems, Microsoft’s most successful operating system and the one that many IT departments and home users had got most used to. It was – by service pack 3 – that combination of boring and reliable that is ideal for software designed to act as a foundation layer for the more interesting stuff.

MSWinWindows XP was first released in 2001. It remained current until Vista came along in 2007. And despite Vista then being supplied as standard with new PCs, much of the existing XP user base remained faithful. So by 2009 Vista was in turn replaced by Windows 7. By then the phasing out of XP had picked up speed – partly because corporate PC hardware was further into its replacement cycle.

Moving on to October 2012 Microsoft released Windows 8 and XP diehards were firmly pushed towards a stark choice – if they needed to stay within the Windows ecosysem – as April 2014 was set for XP’s exit. The choice being either to stick with the crumbling security of XP or move to Windows 8; a product berated by many critics. Its front-end designed for touch screens remains the main bugbear but there are other issues – such as loosing DVD play back, defaulting to new, poorly featured apps and, critically, needing firmware on the motherboard that supports UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) instead of simply the BIOS. This last technical point would seem to have the effect of killing off almost all domestic PCs from the XP era.

Man1Today we are another year on and Windows 8.1 is due to appear within just days – but it will not really resolve the basic issues. Worst of these is that there is no upgrade path to get an app that is working on XP onto Win8. Such software has to be re-installed from scratch. For anyone with an app, from say 2006, that has been repeatedly updated with paid-for releases (probably as downloads) this seems wildly unrealistic. To go through a process of uninstalling back through the versions and then installing the updates again in order – even if you still had backup copies – is as time wasting as it is impractical. And unlikely to get through the re-entering of all those security keys. The more likely (only?) solution seems to be to buy a compatible copy of the app – possibly even a full copy – and do a clean install.

But there is another less obvious software trap to look out for. PC hardware has moved on hugely since XP was king. Today having a PC with 8Gb of RAM , a few terabytes of disk and a 64bit processor is not unusual – or even expensive. Such a class of PC really needs a 64bit operating system to make the most of its hardware – and even Windows XP was available as a 64bit version. But that’s where you may get really stuck if you have printers, scanners, cameras and even add-on cards that don’t have the drivers that a 64bit operating system expects.

So if you really need  to keep using that expensive scanner or cannot face buying that specialised app again then it may be best to take your XP system off the Internet and instead invest in a new PC, or tablet, to handle your always on-line lifestyle needs …