Previously on Game of Thrones

In just a few weeks, HBO will start to broadcast the seventh series of Game of Thrones. The show has a large cast, so I thought it would be useful to take a look at who’s still alive, where they are and what they are doing.

To start, I’ve looked at all of the forty-two actors who have appeared in the main credits for the show. Twelve of these characters had died before the start of series six, so let’s get started with those.

(In case it’s not obvious, this article assumes you have seen all six previous series of Game of Thrones – so there will be spoilers for the first six series. I should also point out that I’m only considering the TV show here – I won’t be talking about the books at all.)

Viserys Targaryen

Viserys has the honour of being the first major character to be killed off in  the show. In episode six of the first series, he was killed by Khal Drogo by having molten gold poured over his head.

Robert Baratheon

In the very next episode, Robert died after being gored by a boar while on a hunt. It was his death that lead directly to the War of the Five Kings.

Eddard Stark

Ned Stark was beheaded at the order of King Joffery in the ninth episode of the first series. Things started to go very badly for the Starks from that point.

Jeor Mormont

The next major character death wasn’t until episode four of the third series. Jeor Mormont got involved in a fight with wildlings at Craster’s Keep and it didn’t end well for him.

Robb Stark, Catelyn Stark & Talisa Maegyr

The Red Wedding took place in episode nine of series three. The Freys and the Boltons plotted together and killed Robb Stark (along with his mother and his wife). That’s what you get for breaking a promise, I suppose.

Joffery Baratheon

Of all the major character deaths in the show, this probably got the biggest cheers (certainly in my house). Joffery has poisoned at the feast following his wedding to Margaery Tyrell. This was in series four episode two.


The wildlings were attacking Castle Black. Jon Snow knew nothing, but Olly took the shot and killed Ygritte in the ninth episode of series four.

Shae & Tywin Lannister

In the last episode of series four, Tyrion goes on a bit of a killing spree. Having found his lover, Shae, in his father’s bed, he strangles her and then shoots his father with a crossbow.

Stannis Baratheon

By any reasonable criteria, Stannis was Robert Baratheon’s true heir. But instead of being crowned king, he got involved in a bloody and pointless war and eventually got himself killed by Brienne of Tarth after his army failed to take Winterfell


So that was all the major character deaths up to the end of series five. Series six took it all up a notch.

Roose Bolton

Roose legitimised his bastard son, Ramsay back in series four. But that did stop Ramsay being very suspicious when his stepmother gave birth to another potential Bolton heir. Ramsay’s solution, in episode two, was to kill his father, his step-mother and his half-brother.

Ramsey Bolton

But Ramsay didn’t last long as Lord Bolton. When Jon Snow’s army, with help from the Lords of the Vale, took Winterfell in episode nine, Ramsay must have realised that his life expectancy was rather short. But it still rather took him by surprise when his wife, Sansa, fed him to his own hounds in revenge for the way he had treated her.

Margaery Tyrell & The High Sparrow

The number of casualties from the Red Wedding took some beating, but Cersei Lannister managed it in episode ten when she blew up the Sept of Baelor when it was full of people waiting for her trial. Pretty much anyone who was anyone in King’s Landing was there. And they all died.

Tommen Baratheon

One of the few named characters in King’s Landing who wasn’t blown up in the Sept of Baelor was King Tommen. But he was watching from his room and when he saw what had happened, he was so appalled that he killed himself by jumping out of the window.

Other Series Six Deaths

But it wasn’t just major characters who died in series six. Many other characters died too. This is a list of the other named characters who died during the series.

In episode one we have a clean-up of Dornish characters. Elleria and Tyene Sand kill Doran Martell along with his guard Areo Hotah and Obara and Nymeria Sand kill Doran’s son, Trystane .

In episode four, the wildling Osha attempts to kill Ramsay Bolton while seducing him. He sees through this and kills her instead.

In episode five, one of the saddest deaths so far was Hodor’s. He died holding a door so that Bran and Meera could escape. We also saw that the reason he could only say “Hodor” was that while this was going on in the present, Bran was watching him in the past and the shouted instructions to “hold the door” somehow leaked through time and affected his brain.

In episode eight, Lady the Crane (the actress who Arya has befriended) is killed by the Waif. Arya responds by kill the Waif.

In episode nine, Rickon Stark is killed by Ramsay Bolton just before the Battle of the Bastards. And the giant, Wun Wun, is killed breaking down the doors to Winterfell.

In episode ten,  Plenty more people die in the explosion at the Sept of Baelor. These include Mace Tyrell and his son, Loras, and Kevan Lannister with his son, Lancel. Qyburn has Pycelle killed and in the Twins, Arya kills Walder frey.

So, all in all, that’s quite a clearing of the board. Who’s still around? And what are they doing?

Daenerys Targaryen

After six series of shilly-shallying around on Essos, Daenerys has finally got a fleet together and is sailing towards Westeros to claim her crown. On the ship with her, we see Tyrion, Missandei and Varys. Theon Greyjoy (with his sister, Yara) are on another ship.

Jon Snow

Jon had an interesting series six. He came back from the dead, was reunited with his half-sister Sansa (the first time two members of the Stark family have been together since the Red Wedding),  gave up his command of the Night’s Watch and took back Winterfell from the Boltons. The series ends with him in Winterfell, being proclaimed King in the North. The other main characters we see at the proclamation are Sansa Stark, Davos Seaworth, Peter Baelish and Tormund Giantsbane.

Oh, and we’ve just found out that Jon isn’t Ned Stark’s bastard son at all. He’s the son of Ned’s sister, Lyanna, and Rhaegar Targaryen. He doesn’t know this yet.

Cersei Lannister

Having destroyed the Sept of Baelor and killed all of her rivals, Cersei has been crowned Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Her brother Jaime (who returned, with Bronn, from the Siege of Riverrun in time to see the aftermath of the explosion in  the Sept) watches from the side of the room.

Samwell Tarly and Gilly

Sam and Gilly have arrived at the Citadel where Sam hopes to be trained as a Maester. He has been invited explore the library. Gilly (as a woman) had to wait outside.

Bran Stark

Bran Stark is just about to go back south through the wall with Meera Reed. He has become the “One-Eyed Raven” and is having lots of visions that explain the back-story of the show.

Arya Stark

Arya finished her training as a Faceless Man in the House of Black and White, but she turned her back on their mission and took back her identity. It appears she has gone back to working her way through her list as she was last seen killing Walder Frey at the Twins.


Melisandre was exiled from Winterfell by Jon Snow. She left on a horse, but we don’t know where she is going.

Brienne of Tarth was last seen escaping from  the Siege of Riverrun on a boat with Podrick Payne.

Jorah Mormant was sent off by Daenerys to find a cure for his greyscale.

Elleria Sand was last seen plotting with Olenna Tyrell and Varys and agreeing to support Daenerys’ invasion of Westeros.

Daario Naharis was left behind in Meereen by Daenerys. He has be told to keep the peace in Slaver’s Bay.

Sandor Clegane is wandering around the Riverlands with the Brotherhood Without Banners.

Jaqen H’ghar was last seen in the House of Black and White.

And then there’s Gendry. Gendry was last seen back in series three when Davos helped him escape from Dragonstone by putting him on a boat to King’s Landing. Who knows if he got there of if we’ll ever see him again.


So that’s where we’ve got to. Now read on…


Doctor Who Festival

In 2013, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, the BBC put on a big celebration at the Excel centre in London’s Docklands. They must have thought that it went well as this year they decided to do it all over again at the Doctor Who Festival which took place last weekend. Being the biggest Doctor Who fan I know, I was at both events and I thought it might be interesting to compare them.

Each event ran over three days (Friday to Sunday). I visited both events on the Sunday on the basis that there would be one more episode of the show to talk about. This was particularly important in 2013 when the 50th anniversary special was broadcast on the Saturday night.


Let’s start with the basics. This years event was more expensive than the 2013 one. And the price increases were both large and seemingly random. Here’s a table comparing the prices.

Standard Tardis
Adult Child Family Adult Child Family
2013 £45.00 £20.00 £104.00 £95.50 £44.25 £218.00
2015 £68.00 £32.35 £171.00 £116.00 £52.75 £293.00
Increase 51.11% 61.75% 64.42% 21.47% 19.21% 34.40%

You’ll see that some prices “only” went up by about 20% while others increased by an eye-watering 65%. There’s obviously money to be made in these events. And, equally obviously, Doctor Who fans are happy to pay any price for entrance to these events. I don’t know about you, but those increases over two years where inflation has hovered around 0% scream “rip-off” to me.

You’ll notice that I’ve quoted prices for two different types of ticket. There are standard tickets and “Tardis” tickets. Tardis tickets give you certain extras. We’ll look at those next.

Tardis Tickets

I’ll admit here that I went for the Tardis ticket both times. The big advantage that this ticket gives you is that in the big panels (and we’ll see later how those panels are the main part of the days) the front eight or so tickets are reserved for Tardis ticket holders. So if you have a Tardis ticket you are guaranteed to be close enough to see the people on  the stage. Without a Tardis ticket you can be at the far end of the huge hall where you might be able to make out that some people are on the stage, but you’ll be relying on the big video screens to see what is going on.

To me, that’s the big advantage of the Tardis ticket. Does it justify paying almost double the standard ticket price? I’m not sure. But you get a couple of other advantages. You get a free goodie bag. In 2013, that contained a load of tat (postcards, stickers, a keyfob, stuff like that) that I ended up giving away. This year we got the show book (which was pretty interesting and very nearly worth the £10 they were charging for it) and a t-shirt (which was being sold on the day for £25). So the 2015 goodie bag was a massive improvement on the 2013 one.

Tardis ticket-holders also got access to a special lounge were you could relax and partake of free tea, coffee and biscuits. In 2013 this was in a private area away from the rest of the show. This year it was a cordoned off corner of the main exhibition hall which didn’t seem like quite so much of a haven of calm.

Main Panels

The main structure of the day is made up of three big discussion panels that are held in a huge room. Each panel is run twice during the day, but when you buy your ticket you know which time you’ll be seeing each panel.

Each panel has people who are deeply involved in the show. In 2013 we had the following panels:

  • Danny Hargreaves of Real SFX talking about the special effects on the show.
  • Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy talking about playing the Doctor. I think Tom Baker also came to this panel on one of the three days.
  • Matt Smith, Jenna Coleman and Stephen Moffat talking about the show.

This year we had:

  • Kate Walsh of Millennium FX (who make a lot of the prosthetics for the show) talking to Mark Gatiss.
  • Stephen Moffat, Toby Whithouse and Jamie Mathieson talking about writing for the show. This panel had different writers on each of the three days.
  • Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Michelle Gomez, Ingrid Oliver and Stephen Moffat talking about the show. Jenna Coleman was only on this panel on Sunday.

Both sets of panels were equally interesting. Having the former Doctors taking apart in the 50th anniversary year made a lot of sense.

Exhibition Hall

The other main part of the event was an exhibition hall where various things were taking place. I think this was disappointing this year. Here are some comparisons:

Sets from the show

As far as I can remember, in 2013 there was only the entrance to Totter’s Yard and the outside of a Tardis. This year there was Davros’ hospital room, Clara’s living room and the outside of a Tardis (although this clearly wasn’t a “real” Tardis – the font on the door sign was terrible). So there were more sets this year, but I rather questioned their description of Clara’s living room as an “iconic” set.


There were a lot of opportunities to buy stuff, but it seemed to me that there were rather fewer stalls there this year. Merchandise seemed to fall into two categories. There was stuff that you would have been better off buying from Amazon (DVDs, board games, books, stuff like that). And there was really expensive stuff. I really can’t justify spending £60 or £80 for incredibly intricate replicas of props from the show or £200(!) for a copy of one of the Doctor’s coats.

There was one big exception to the “cheaper on Amazon” rule. The BBC shop had a load of classic DVDs on sale for £6 each.

In 2013 I bought a couple of postcards. This year I managed to resist buying anything. But I appeared to be rather unusual in that – there were a lot of people carrying many large bags of stuff.

Other Stages

Both years, around the edge of the main hall there were areas where other talks and workshops were taking place. This years seemed slightly disappointing. For example, on one stage in 2013 I saw Dick Maggs giving an interesting talk about working with Delia Derbyshire to create the original theme tune. The equivalent area this year had a group of assistant directors giving a list of the people who work on set when an episode of the show is being made.

In 2013, the centre of this room was given over to an area where many cast members from the show’s history were available for autographs and photos. This year, that’s where Clara’s living room was set up. In fact the four cast members who were in the panel I mentioned above were the only cast members who were involved in this event at all. I realise that it makes more sense for there to be lots of cast members involved in the 50th anniversary celebrations, but surely there were some other current cast members who could have turned up and met their fans.

Also in this hall was an area where the Horror Channel (who are the current home of Classic Doctor Who in the UK) were showing old episodes. There was something similar in 2013, but (like the Tardis lounge) it was away from the main hall. Moving this and the Tardis lounge to the main hall made me think that they were struggling a bit to fill the space.

In Summary

This year’s event was clearly a lot more expensive than the one in 2013 and I think attendees got rather less for their money. All in all I think it was slightly disappointing.

The big panels are clearly the centrepiece of the event and they are well worth seeing. But I think you need a Tardis ticket in order to guarantee getting a decent view. Oh, yes you can get in the ninth row without a Tardis ticket, but you’d be competing with a lot of people for those seats. You’d spend the whole day queuing to stand a chance of getting near the front.

I don’t know what the BBC’s plans for this event are, but it’s clearly a good money-spinner for them and I’d be surprised if they didn’t do it again either next year or in 2017. And the fans don’t really seem to mind how much they pay to attend, so it’ll be interesting to see how the next one is priced.

I think that the big panels still make the event worth attending, but there’s really not much else that I’m interested in. So I’m undecided as to whether I’d bother going again in the future.

Were you are the event? What did you think of it? How much money did you spend in total?


Year of Code on Newsnight

You’ve probably already seen the section on the government’s Year of Code initiative that was on Newsnight last Wednesday. But, in case you haven’t, here is it. We’ll wait while you catch up.

Most of the commentary I’ve seen on this concentrates on Lottie Dexter’s performance in the interview that takes up the second half of the clip. We’ll get to her later on, but the problems start long before she appears on screen. Within the first couple of minutes of the report, reporter Zoe Conway has referred to code as “baffling computer commands” and “gobbledigook”. One lesson that I’ve learned as a trainer is that a sure-fire way to ensure that students don’t understand what you’re about to teach them is to describe it as difficult or complex, so Conway’s descriptions of programming languages are hardly going to encourage people to take up programming. As Conway says “baffling computer commands”, here’s the code that appears on  the screen:

Perhaps the fact that I’ve been programming for thirty years is clouding my judgment here, but I really don’t think that this code is “baffling”. Lily Cole does her best to counter this misinformation – saying that it’s “really cool to see how quickly we can pick it up”. I hope people listen to her and not the (obviously out of her depth) reporter. We then move on to the idea of children being taught to program at school. Various people tell us how important it is and we see a class who are trialing the programming syllabus that will be rolled out nationwide this autumn. Conway then gets to the heart of the issue. She visits East London’s “Tech City” and explains the severe shortage of programmers that the companies there are experiencing. There simply isn’t the supplier of programmers that the UK’s tech industry needs. Anything that addresses that problem should be welcomed. And then we’re back in the studio where Jeremy Paxman is talking to the Year of Code initiative’s director, Lottie Dexter. This is when it gets really weird. Let’s get a couple of things straight. I don’t think it’s a problem that Lottie Dexter isn’t a programmer. She didn’t try to hide that. She was clear about it right from the start. I also think that it’s great that she want to be a guinea pig for the Year of Code by saying that she wants to learn to code over the next year. But I do think that it’s a real shame that before coming to the interview she couldn’t find someone in her organisation[1] who could spend an hour briefing her so that she could sound like she knew what she was talking about. Instead, she just made the whole initiative look bad. Let’s look at some of the things she said.

  • “You can actually build a web site in an hour – completely from scratch.” This is true. I build web sites in an hour all the time. I install a copy of WordPress, choose a nice theme and install a few plugins. Of course, there won’t be any useful content on the site. And it will look like hundreds of other sites out there who also use the same theme. Of course, I can only do it that quickly because I’ve done dozens of previous web sites this way and I have a good idea about what works. Oh, and there’s no coding at all involved in this – so it probably falls way outside of what she was talking about. If I wanted to code up a web site from scratch, the minimum time for a web site that does something non-trivial is probably a couple of days.
  • “I think you can pick [teaching people to code] up in a day.” If you know how to code and you know how to teach, then I imagine that’s possible. But for a teacher who doesn’t already know anything about programming to pick it up in a day is a ridiculous suggestion. At college, I did a course on C which was taught by an experienced programmer and lecturer who didn’t know that particular language and who was reading the standard textbook a week ahead of us. The result was a disaster.
  • “If we start thinking about it now, I think in time for September when this goes onto the school curriculum teachers should feel confident” Colour me unconvinced
  • “I started a campaign last year. And if I had learned to code at school I could have done my own web site, I could have done my own app, I could have done my own graphics. I would have saved a hell of a lot of time, a hell of a lot of money and I think I could have done a lot better.” Sure, doing it yourself would have been cheaper. But I doubt it would have been quicker than having a professional do it. And I’m not at all sure that it would have been better. Or is she suggesting that when everyone knows how to code that we will no longer need professional programmers and web designers? I really hope not (or is that just my professional bias getting in the way?)

Paxman wasn’t much help either. I know he has a rather adversarial approach to interviewing, but was it really necessary to be quite so sneering about the whole idea? He did ask one good question though. He asked why it was necessary to code. And he’s right, of course, no-one absolutely needs to know how to code. But I think there are three reasons why teaching everyone to code is a good idea:

  1. We don’t know who is going to be good at programming. So teaching it to every child seems to be a good way of making sure as many people as possible get to try it.
  2. Even if many children don’t take up programming full-time, the fact they have been exposed to it demystifies it. They will be less likely to see it as a “black art” and will have more idea of what is possible.
  3. People who have some programming experience will be at an advantage over people who don’t. The future is going to be about data manipulation – extracting useful information from reams of data. See, for example, the Hacks and Hackers group.

So, yes, of course I agree with the idea of teaching children to code. The UK is already desperately short of programmers and that demand is only going to continue growing. But I worry slightly that the Year of Code project is just about being seen to do something rather than working out what the best thing to do it. The government have a awesome IT department doing wonderful things. I wonder what input they have had into this process. And please, can someone spend an hour or so explaining the basics of programming to Lottie Dexter before she makes her next TV appearance.

Update: Emma Mulqueeny has been working in this area for many years with her Young Rewired State project. Her reaction to the Year of Code is very interesting.

[1] Although, Tom Morris has severe doubts about the amount of technical know-how within the organisation.


TV Licence by Email

I’m not the world’s most organised person. I’m forever losing important pieces of paper. Over the christmas break I went through some of what I laughably call my filing system and attempted to impose a little more order.

One of the important pieces of paper I found was my TV licence. In an attempt to cut down the number of important pieces of paper I have to keep track on, I visited the TV Licensing web site and was happy to see that they have a Licence by Email facility. That seemed to be a good idea, so I signed up.

Today I got my first email from them. Opening it up I saw the text:

Your TV Licence is available

And nothing else. No information on how I could get my licence, or anything useful like that.

I realised what had happened. For various reasons I always read incoming mail in plain text mode. When I switched Thunderbird to HTML mode I saw that there was a carefully constructed HTML section as well and that this section had lots more information, including a link to a PDF of my new licence.

It’s nice that they bothered to create a text portion of the mail (many people still don’t). But I’m sure it could have been a bit more useful. Perhaps they could have included the link to my licence in the text portion. That way I wouldn’t have had to open the HTML version at all.

It’s a real shame when you see people trying to do the right thing, but just not understanding enough to get it right. I bet someone made a lot of money designing that system.

Oh, and the mail came from a “do not reply” email. That’s just rude. What’s the point of an email address that you can’t reply to?


Technology Hates Me

About ten days ago, I took delivery of a new toy – a Dell XPS M1330 laptop. I spent last weekend happily repartitioning and installing Fedora Linux and I was planning to write an entry this weekend about how well I was getting on with it.

Except, I’m not. It’s stopped working.

I did some stuff on it on Tuesday evening. And then put it into hibernate mode and stuck it in the corner of the room. I started a new job on Wednesday and I’ve been a bit busy all in all, so I didn’t pick it up again until last night.

To find that it didn’t work at all.

This isn’t, I pretty sure, something that has been caused by the partitioning. The system is completely dead. I don’t even get to the BIOS boot screen. I just get a power light glowing feebly for a couple of seconds. The battery is fully charged and I’ve tried switching the machine on using both battery power and mains power. Nothing makes any difference.

This afternoon I posted a message on the Dell community forum and I’ve had a response from someone, but their suggested workaround doesn’t seem to work. It seems I’ll need to get in touch with Dell and send it back to either be fixed or replaced. Which is all a bit of a pain.

TV Fault And that’s not the only problem I’ve had. I watched a DVD last night and the quality of the picture wasn’t very good. And it wasn’t the DVD that was the problem. Other disks did the same thing. It’s a problem either with the DVD player or the TV.

As you can see, the problem looks a bit like a glitch in the matrix. I get a dozen or so equally spaced parallel lines of interference on the screen. They fade out as a scene goes on but come back again if something moves across the screen or when the scene changes. I have many inputs going into the TV and currently it’s only the DVD player that’s giving this problem. The DVD player is plugged into the composite input on the TV, so I need to swap a few plugs around to see if the fault stays with the DVD player or switches to whatever is plugged into the composite input.

I hate it when technology goes wrong. And having two such expensive pieces of technology break on the same day only compounds my hate.

Maybe I’ll just go back to reading books.

p.s. A small prize to the first person who leaves a comment telling me what film I was watching.


Recording TV Revisited

It’s over two years since I wrote my piece on ways to record TV programmes. Quite a lot has changed in those two years, so I thought it was worth writing an update.

The biggest change for me is that at home we’ve dragged ourselves into the 21st century and have stopped recording programmes on VHS tape. We currently have two digital video recorders and together with TV on demand services and internet “services” they have revolutionised the way we watch TV. Here’s what we currently use.

V+ box from Virgin Media. This is great. Because it comes from my cable TV provider, it’s completely integrated with their services. We have access to an eight-day programme guide and setting a recording is as simple as pointing at a programme in the programme guide and pressing the record button. The box has three cable decoders in it, so that you can record two channels whilst watching a third. It also enables you to easily record all programmes in a given series. It also allows you to pause and rewind live broadcasts. The only slight downside is that it has a relatively small hard disk so you can only record eighty hours of programmes. So far this hasn’t been an issue, but I can see it being a problem if we go on holiday for a while.

Commercial DVR. Before Virgin released the V+ box we bought an off-the-shelf digital video recorder. As it wasn’t specifically made for Virgin, it didn’t integrate quite so well with their services, but it did have a good programme guide and recording programmes was pretty simple. It has a far larger hard disk than the V+ box and could record up to three hundred hours of programmes (although I suspect some of that improvement is down to the fact that we were recording programmes in a lower quality format). It’s possible to move recordings from the V+ box to the DVR, so that’s one way to get round the 80-hour limitation on the V+ box. The downside to this, however, is that transfers take place in real time. So moving a two hour film takes two hours. One popular approach in this area is a DVR box that has a built-in Freeview decoder. I’ve never used one of these but I know a number of people that are very happy with them.

TV On Demand. I believe that Virgin Media has one of the most comprehensive TV on Demand services in the UK. This falls into two categories. Firstly, there is the Catch-Up TV section where you watch shows that were on in the last seven days. This covers BBC and Channel 4 broadcasts (along with a few smaller channels that I can’t remember). There were a few glitches early on when popular programmes were missed off the listings, but they seem to have fixed most of those problems now and you can pretty much guarantee that anything you want to watch from the BBC or Channel 4 will be on there. Then there’s the TV Choice section where they have hundreds of old TV shows available. Again, there’s a lot of old BBC and Channel 4 stuff there, but they also have deals with a number of US channels so you can watch old seasons of things like The Sopranos, Six Feet Under and Lost.

Bittorrent. If I forget to record something and it’s not on Catch-Up TV, then there’s always the internet. When I last wrote about this I pointed out that not all shows were available as you’re relying on the generosity (and TV tastes) of the people who share their recordings. But I can’t remember the last time I looked for a programme and didn’t find it. Oh, there’s one time that I rely on bittorrent. Virgin Media still aren’t carrying the Sky basic channels (following on from their contract dispute a year ago) so if there are US programmes that are on Sky One then I get them from bittorrent. Currently the only programme I do this for is Lost.

iPlayer/4OD. The BBC and Channel 4 both have their own online catch-up TV services. I think that ITV has one too, but I watch ITV so rarely that I’ve never tried to look for it. Both the BBC and Channel 4 services were originally Windows-based systems and therefore useless to me. However the BBC now has a Flasg streaming version available and I’ve used that a couple of times. The Channel 4 stuff is exactly the same material that is available through Virgin’s TV on demand service, so I never have a need to use it.

So that’s an overview of the systems that I use to record TV currently. I’m pretty sure that most people who I know use some combination of these technologies. The main point of this technology is to avoid missing programmes that I want to watch but as a side-effect I’m completely ready for the digital changeover (the three cable tuners in the V+ box mean we never watch terrestrial broadcasts) and we also have access to HD channels (not that there’s much HD content available in the UK yet).


Derren Brown – The System

Last weekend, Derren Brown presented another of his occasional television specials. In this one he told us that he had invented a fool-proof system for predicting the winners of horse races. To demonstrate this system he introduced us to Khadisha who had received anonymous five winning tips from Derren. On the basis of these previous wins she borrowed £4,000 which she wanted to place on one final bit.

What Khadisha and the audience didn’t know was that there was no real system. Khadisha was one of 7,776 who Derren had initially contacted. All of those people had been given a tip for the first race. That first race had six runners and each of those horses was sent as the tip to 1,296 of those people. So 1,296 of them had a winning prediction and the other dropped out. This continued for four more races, with 5/6 of the group being eliminated at each stage. Over the course of five races this whittled the original 7,776 people down to one, Khadisha, who had received five winning tips. But because of the way the experiment was arranged, one of the original group had to have received five successful tips. Of course, at the beginning of the project, Derren had no way of knowing which of the original participants this would be.

So after five races, Khadisha is convinced that the system works. But that’s because she didn’t have the full picture. She only saw the system from her point of view. But that (flawed) perspective gave her enough confidence in the (completely fake) system to borrow a huge sum of money to bet on a horse race.

This was then used as the set-up for a magic trick where her horse loses, but Derren changes her betting slip to be a bet on the winning horse. To me, that’s not the interesting part of the programme. To me, the interesting thing is what this experiment shows about the nature of believe.

Going into the final race Khadisha had total confidence in the system. She had seen it working on the five previous races. She didn’t know how it worked (if you stop to think about it logically, there’s no possible way that it could have worked) but that didn’t matter to her. She just knew that it worked.

Of course, if she had seen the full picture there’s no way that she would have had the same amount of confidence in the system. If she had seen the full picture then she would have had no confidence in the at all. With all the information, she would never have borrowed that huge sum of money.

Derren hinted that this was a similar process to the one that convinces some people that homoeopathic remedies or alternative medicine works. A small number of people do see positive results following these treatments. But for a far larger number of people there’s no effect at all. But you rarely hear about the failures. If you went against you better judgement and tried a homoeopathic remedy that didn’t work, you probably wouldn’t shout about about it. You’d probably feel a bit embarrassed and want to keep it quiet. It’s the tiny number of people who feel better that you hear from. They are the ones who the homoeopaths shout about. They are the people who are only too happy to give you anecdotal evidence about how doctors could do nothing for their mother but how at the first sniff of primrose oil she was leaping around the room again.

Those people are like Khadisha. They don’t have the full story. Arguing from your personal experience has no relevance in cases like this. Something that works for you might not have worked at all for the majority of people. You might, like Khadisha, just be the random person who it will work for.

Derren Brown is very interested in this area. In his book Tricks of the Mind he has a great section on evidence and how people jump to conclusions when given incomplete evidence. I really recommend that you read it.


iPlayer Announcement

It looks like the BBC are ramping up to make an announcement about the iPlayer later today.

I’ll link to the press release just as soon as I can find it on their site.

Update: Here it is. Looks like the iPlayer officially launches today.

Update: I can’t read properly. It doesn’t launch today. It launches in a month’s time. On July 27th.


BBC Programme Credits

I’m a bit behind here, but I was just catching up on some newsgroups[1] when I saw someone mention Charlie Brooker’s Guardian column from a couple of weeks ago. In it he points to the BBC’s latest guideline for the production of programme credits. Basically they are laying down a far stricter set of guidelines than ever before because they are going to start mangling end credits in far worse ways than they ever have before. It’s going to become common that end credits are squeezed to a tiny rectangle so that the rest of the screen can be used for marketing messages. For example the font used need to be large enough that they can be read when the image is reduced to less than half of the usual size.

Brooker sums up his (and my) objections nicely:

That’s it, at a stroke. No more enjoying the Doctor Who theme tune. No more ‘”You Have Been Watching”. No more dramatic coda following the final credit. No more Pythonesque fun-with-mock-continuity. None of that. Instead, shows must slide into and over each other, turning the schedule into one big TV megamix; meaningless imagery gushing from a tap. Because they’re terrified you might exhibit free will and turn over.

As ever, it’s all the fault of people with charts and computers and expensive shirts and frail imaginations, of course; people who delight in proving beyond all doubt that old-fashioned credit sequences caused viewers to start flipping. And you can’t argue with their figures, because numerically they’re right. But aesthetically they’re wrong. And aesthetics matter in a way that can’t be detected in Microsoft Excel.

Slowly, surely, these bastards are wrecking the universe; turning everything into a gaudy festival of tactless shouting. Thanks to their meddling, I’m going to have to stand behind my own end credits, in a stamp-sized window, thronged with virtual hoardings, saluting them and their latest idiotic triumph.

[1] It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.


What Kind of Whovian Are You?

What Kind Of Whovian Are You?

Your Result: Good natured jumper wearer

when two fans get chatting in the line for autographs at a convention, you’re the one that flinches when the other swears. you own a cat called sutekh.

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Last time I owned cats, they were called Spike and Drusilla – so I suppose they’re kind of on the right lines.