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We returned to London on Saturday after a few days en famille in Provence which, it seemed to me, was colder by far than balmy old London. The in-laws also put up with a truly insupportable Internet connection that cost more and delivered a tiny fraction of what is readily available in London. Still, one can’t have high speed trains and good food and wine and sunshine (in summer) and broadband Internet everywhere.

We tried and almost succeeded in watching Wallace and Gromit in A Matter of Loaf and Death on Christmas Day–overwhelmingly the most popular thing on British television over the holiday. First I logged in to our media centre via the web and queued up the recording. Then after Christmas dinner, we sat the by a roaring log fire and tried to watch the download. It didn’t work.

It turned out that a bug in WebGuide caused it to record the wrong channel (BBC 1 audio instead of BBC 1 TV) when the web interface was used. Recordings on other channels, well, one, weren’t affected. Bah.

That was a bit of a disappointment. Of course, we watched it on iPlayer after we returned to London, but this is not available in France.

What, I wonder, is going to drag the BBC all the way into the 21st century?

It’s done remarkably well in many ways, and the much reviled John Birt will be proven to have done some strategically sound things (BBC World TV among them), but it needs to do more. The gun to its head is technology.

Currently, it’s handed vast sums of taxpayer’s money every year in the form of a tax on television reception. The outraged Daily Telegraph editors of this world hate it. The more spittle-flecked their lips on the subject of free enterprise the more I like a bit of good old fashioned socialism, but the smugness and complacency of the BBC is enraging; likewise its lamentable efforts to buy into celebrity culture.

The fly in the ointment is that the definition of broadcasting hasn’t changed and a growing number of people, the cellphone-only generation especially, are watching TV on their computers using BBC iPlayer and doing so entirely free of charge. The main constraint on this activity is that British broadband isn’t up to mass use for TV traffic. However, this will change. 2009 will see London’s first 50Mb broadband service.

Sometimes an easily imagined future seems to take forever to arrive. My own conviction has always been that the important stuff never makes the front page.

What to make then of Andrew Marr ending the year with a Start The Week on what he called “anti-news”?

It was excellent.

If you listen to it (the podcast is downloadable with a right click and a “Save As”), and if you don’t share my sentiment already, you may understand my long held belief that scientists leave artists in the halfpenny place when it comes to appreciation of the true grandeur of the universe. But journalists? It would be easy to mistake Marr for a political hack but in fact he’s a social historian with an eye for the big picture as well. This, I think, was a journalistic hole-in-one.

For all the prevailing economic gloom I relived that tingling feeling that we are on the cusp of immense and exciting change, driven by science.

We’re accustomed to Black Swans being about bad news, but within our lifetime we’re surely going to see some improbably good news events play out. Which reminds me…

I enjoyed reading this morning (in the Economist’s The World in 2009) Craig Venter’s retort to criticism that in seeking to create artificial life he was seeking to play God:

We’re not playing.

One of those If there is a God, he has a sense of humour moments.

5 Responses to “End The Year With Start The Week”

  1. mjp says:

    good post… glad to see you here again… and welcome home

  2. j says:

    The main French ISP is wanadoo/orange. Their home page does not have a contact us button so I contacted wanadoo.uk to ask if there were technical reasons my connection costs 40Euros a month for 1Meg, their reply was a classic! I would love to be able to use Iplayer, but unless you can persuade the Trésor Public to send our French license fee to the Beeb…bonne courage! After all the Torygraph editorq would be apoplectic at their license fee funding free TV to the world entier. Did you sample the delights of French TV while in Provence? If so you should know better than to moan about the Beeb – best in the world, despite it’s faults.

  3. I agree that it’s the best in the world, sometimes despite itself, but it could be better still! It was only a minor glitch that stopped us being able to enjoy the BBC almost as if we were in the UK. Right now iPlayer is restricted to UK Internet addresses, but if you’ve got the bandwidth these are accessible enough remotely (Google Slingbox). What they ought to aspire to do, eventually, is make the BBC free in the UK and charge the rest of the world. I believe enough would pay!

  4. Yaya says:

    ‘A matter of loaf and death’ was a great watch, so much better than all the strictly-come-ice-dancing-in-the-forest-with-the- X factor-celebrity-big-brother shite we have to put up with otherwise. The BBC has not had a very good year, but its still at least semi respectable amidst the media circus.

  5. We’re big fans of Gromit in this house even if we harrumphed about his tossing loaves into AMERICAN letterboxes!

    Agree about the celebrity rubbish. Not for me!

    Oops… I meant MAILBOXES.

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