Big Brother B.B.C.

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I’m beginning to think the first two initals of BBC stand for Big Brother.

Today I wanted to catch up on an episode of “The Archers” that I’d missed. Previously you could simply click on the schedule for a  programme and listen again. Not any more. You now have to be registered and and each time you want to use the catch up facility you have to sign in with an email address and password.

How long I wonder before this extra piece of unnecessary bureaucracy is spread to all BBC radio and TV services? I bet it won’t be long before we will sign in with username and password to watch BBC News or Eastenders. We’ll probably have to identify ourselves just to check the weather forecast or the traffic reports on local radio.

What will happen to people who don’t use a computer? (There are such folk, though they are rapidly dwindling minority!)

The BBC seems to be following in the wake of Google – they say they are going to “personalise” my “account”. In other words they will look at my record of listening and viewing (incidentally as I don’t have television my viewing figures should be zero – but I bet it won’t be!) They will then decide what I am interested in and push these programmes at me. No thank you, Big Brother, I prefer to make my own choices.

I’ve has enough of clever computer algorithms deciding what I want to see – Facebook gets some very odd ideas about what sort of articles are suitable for an elderly pensioner.

When I was asked for personal data for my account, date of birth, gender etc., I admit I was very tempted to put in false info just to be awkward. What would the computer make of an obviously fictitious date of birth? January 1st 1066 for example? Probably just send me a patronising “Oops, you’ve got it wrong again!”

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Terminal Failure

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I feel I just have to get this down after the massive holdup at Heathrow over the bank holiday weekend and the attitude of the people involved. I just couldn’t believe it!

  • There was a problem and a vast number of flights were delayed. As always the fault – or rather the blame – went to the Computer. And once the all-powerful computer system was off there was nothing they could do about it. They couldn’t let the passengers, the tired passengers who’d already endured a long flight, disembark because the computer system wouldn’t disgorge their details. They couldn’t let the aircraft waiting on the tarmac take off – the computers were down.  Now I’m not a computer expert, but surely if the main system and the back-up both failed, then what you do is go back to the old fashioned way – pencil and paper and people shouting out names from a list. Perhaps it’s like Scorton village shop when the till wasn’t working and the only people that could add up bills and give change accurately were those over 50 who had never become dependent on the computer.
  • What really bothers me though, is the sheep-like attitude of the customers; they endure indefinite delays, lack of information and a totally uncaring attitude towards the public. Yet no-one seemed even mildly surprised at the treatment they got. You expect this if you travel by air especially if you use British Airways. Why were the punters not storming the check-in desks, demanding to see the person in charge, making a fuss and demanding redress? Are we really so feeble that we allow the airlines to treat us like sheep? Sorry, scrap that last bit, sheep would get better treatment; RSPCA, Animal Rights and other organisations would see a sheep had food and water and somewhere to bed down.
  • Then the chairman of British Airways boasts that he is not going to resign over the shambles. Resign? It shouldn’t be a question of resign or not resign; it should be whether or not he will be sacked! Personally I think he should.
  • Further to paragraph 2: what were the repercussions to this massive cock-up? Did the shares in B.A. go through he floor? I doubt it. Did the major holiday firms and the business travellers cancel their contracts with B.A. and refuse to use Heathrow or Gatwick again? I doubt it. Did even the ordinary airline travellers who fly to holiday destinations in sunny climes make sure they never travel with this airline in future? I don’t think so. We are too forgiving – or do I mean too spineless?
  • A final grim thought: if the problem had been a bomb – or even just a false report of a bomb – would Heathrow and Gatwick have reacted any more efficiently? I doubt it. So obviously the message this sends to any would-be terrorists: don’t bother with bombs and bullets, target the IT systems, it’s less hassle and more disruptive!

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If you have to fly, this is the way to do it!

Writing 101 Task 4 Serially Lost

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Writing 101. Task 4 – Serially Lost   

What is the thing I would most miss if/when I lost it? That’s easy – the ability to read and write. If my sight deteriorated to the extent that I couldn’t read words on a page or letters on a screen I would be devastated. Thanks to modern technology there are ways to lessen the impact; large print, moon and braille of course and various ways you can have books and other material read to you, talking books and magazines which must be a godsend to people without sight.

The ability I have lost almost completely is not sight – I am glad to say, but writing. Not the power to generate words, sentences and ideas and string them together. I am glad to say I can still manage to do that. It is actually writing by hand on a piece of paper that I can’t do any longer. My handwriting is so atrocious that even I find it difficult to read and the only pieces of writing I now do by hand are signatures on cheques and when I have to sign for a parcel delivered to our house. When faced with a portable computer screen to sign I can almost never produce a signature that is readable. I’m thankful the delivery men seem to accept any kind of scrawl and sometimes even write the name for me – poor old lady she obviously can’t cope with modern technology, better fill in the form for her.

I know people of my age and even some older folks who can produce lovely copperplate script. Some people are so fond of pen and paper that a letter doesn’t really count if it is typed or word-processed. I am just profoundly grateful that I live in the age of computers and I can write on a screen, alter and edit as I go along and then print the whole thing either on paper or to a file for future use.

Yes the failure of handwriting is a real loss. It’s one I can cope with,  but a loss all the same. If I want to make notes at a meeting I can’t manage with a reporter’s notebook like I used to use, I need my i-pad. Fine, but I also need to charge my device and have access to Wi-Fi or the Internet.

So it’s farewell to the quill pen and beautiful calligraphy in italic script but at least I am living in the twenty-first century and I have aids to writing in the form of computers and PCs, I-pads and smart phones. I have much to be thankful for.

Lies, Damn Lies and …Statistics

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This is certainly true when people come to talking about cycling. They measure cycling by “trips”. Now, what on earth is a trip? Apparently it’s a calculation of how many times you get on and off your bike – as simple as that. If I ride round the park starting from home, coming back to home and not stopping en route, that equals one trip. If I ride to the post office, stop to post a letter, ride on to the supermarket and stop to shop, then ride home – that is not one but three trips. Home to Post Office, Post Office to supermarket, supermarket to home. The total mileage might be considerably less than I did going to the park but for the purposes of statistics I have done 3 times as as much! How’s that for massaging the figures!

To take a more extreme example: The official record for a non-stop end-to-end (Land’s End to John O’Groats) is 44 hours 4 minutes on a conventional bike and 41 hours 4 minutes on a recumbent tricycle. Both these did the journey without a break, so I assume their epic rides count as single trips!

When the government talk about increasing cycling they measure it in number of “trips” per cyclist. Much better to look at distance, For example in September last year I rode a total of 300 miles; this year I did 250. (I’m getting old, you see.) But there are all sorts of other things – maybe I went on a (non-cycling) holiday for a couple of weeeks, maybe I was ill and didn’t get out on my trike as much as usual, maybe all sorts of other things affected the number of miles I rode.

Another way statistics are so often skewed is the confusion between “frequent” and “regular”. A frequent worshipper attends church every Sunday; a regular attender could be someone who never misses Christmas Day or Easter Sunday. Spot the difference?

You also find newspaper headlines that make things seem worse than they are. Here is an example from the Lancashire Evening Post:
ONE cyclist every day is killed or injured by motorists on Lancashire roads, shock new figures reveal.
Reading this, you might be forgiven for thinking “one cyclist a day! Wow! Does that mean 365 in a year?”

In fact when we look at the figures, things don’t seem so drastic. “KILLED OR INJURED” doesn’t even specify seriously injured, so in these stats, a cyclist lying dead at the roadside is counted alongside one who falls off his bike and bruises his knee and rides away otherwise unscathed.

I don’t know what is the best way to present cycling statistics. Should we talk about numbers of people riding bikes? Should this include the person with a bike in their garage that gets used perhaps twice a year when the weather is good and the grandchildren have come to visit? If we try to estimate distances ridden that’s a whole new problem. Very few, even among the keen cyclists keep a meticulous record of distances ridden. (But it you once get hooked on taking readings from a cycle computer it can be addictive. I’ve been there.)

What to Take

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Always a problem, at least for me. Even if I’m only going away for a couple of days, even just for an afternoon I can never decide what things are essential. Will I really need an umbrella? I’m going by car or bus and when I get there I’ll be inside, so an umbrella is surely a pointless extra ? Can I go in a cardigan? It might turn chilly better take a coat, even if lugging the wretched thing around all day is s pain.

When i’m on a bike or a trike I always have pannier. I know cyclists who take a minute seatpack and stuff their sandwiches into their back pocket. That way of doing things isn’t for me. I take a pannier – I mean I might suddenly see something I want to buy. I don’t usually buy a new dress or a posh hat on impulse but there have been times when I’ve spotted something in a shop window and thought “that’s just what we need”. Usually it’s something very mundane, a scrubbing brush or a jar of jam. something that’s been on my shopping list for the last three weeks but never actually got purchased. The way I look at it having space carrying capacity is always useful.

Holiday packing now seems to include so much IT equipment. I can remember when all you took on holiday was yourself and some clothes – perhaps a bucket and spade if you were taking the kids to the seaside. Now it’s mobile phones + charger, a laptop if you use one or a smartphone (I prefer my dumb phone, thanks very much. I just want to make and receive phone calls and make and receive text messages.) a tablet or an i-pod or i-pad – and of course all these gadgets need their own chargers.

At one time places to stay offered a bed to sleep in, a kettle in your room to make tea or coffee and sometimes – nearly always now – “en-suite” facilities. Don’t get me wrong I prefer my own bathroom rather than sharing with other guests. The facilities now include internet access and WiFi. So you can go on holiday and spend most of you time sitting in your room surfing the internet, playing computer games or talking to your friends on your mobile phone. None of these are bad things – I indulge in most of them at one time or another, but they are things you can do from the comfort of your home, so why go on holiday?

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The North-South Divide

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North South

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Is there such a thing? You bet there is! Some of the differences are slight but they are there. Speech patterns for instance. Someone brought up in Lancashire and studying in Yorkshire would,  you’d think, keep the same basic accent even after emigrating to the South of England. Not so. My son now talks like a southerner. He uses the long ‘a’ sound in words like “bath” and “glass” and his children knowing no other usage will follow suit and no doubt think of their gran as “talking funny.”

At one time we lived in Wales and at different times two of our children worked in Scotland. I didn’t develop a Welsh intonation, though it did take me some time to appreciate the local accent. When we first went to South Wales we asked directions from a local man.  He said something in reply , though it sounded more like singing at us. We smiled and thanked him. Then my husband and I looked at each other “What did he say?” We hadn’t a clue.

I noticed too that people seem to talk faster in the south. I don’t know whether it is stress, the pressure of work or just an age thing, but my grandchildren seem to talk about one and a half times as fast as I do. Can we blame it on modern technology? All the i-phones, i-pads, i-pods, lap-tops and tablets seem to devalue the spoken word. I mean why speak to your friend  if you can send him an email or a text, even if he is sitting at the next desk?

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Writing Recycled

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Ever since I took to a computer and could save and edit my stories and poems I’ve become a fan of re-cycling work. Not that I do it very efficiently or thoroughly or systematically, but I try. I always keep a copy of any story or a poem I submit to a magazine or enter for a competition. When I find the editor doesn’t want it or I haven’t been one of the winners I look over my work, sometimes edit it and then send it out to a different market or enter it for another competition. That at least is the theory.

Doesn’t always work or course. I’ve occasionally found I’ve picked out something as just perfect for a particular comp and only when I’ve started to fill in the entry form do I find it is something I sent to that very contest the year before last!

And I do, really I do, try to keep records of what I’ve written and where it has been sent. But…Some poems especially change their titles, first lines and even the number of lines in the poem. I write something in the first person, all about what I am doing and how I am feeling and then later decide it will sound better as a third-person narrative seen from the outside.

 One question I’ve never been able to answer properly: when does a story become a different story? I mean, suppose I write a romantic tale about a couple called Brenda and Bernard who live in Bristol and then send this piece off to one of the women’s magazine, can I then produce a similar but slightly different story about Mavis and Malcolm from Manchester and submit this as a “new`” piece of work? Just how many details need to be changed to ensure something is a different work?

 Every writer including Shakespeare used ideas and plots that he’d pinched from someone else and adapted and made his own. Is “West Side Story” the musical any the worse for being based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”?

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