Where’s Your Data

We hear a lot of talk about how cloud computing is the future. Those of us who still run some of our own internet infrastructure are increasingly seen as slightly eccentric and old-fashioned. Why would anyone host their own mail server when we have Gmail or run their own blog when there is WordPress or Posterous. In fact, why have your own server at all when you can just use Amazon EC2?

Well during September I was reminded of the downside of the cloud when I almost lost two old blogs.

One of the earliest blogs I wrote was on the use.perl web site. Yes, it all looks a bit ropey now, but back in 2001, it was cutting edge stuff. Everyone in the Perl community was using it. But it never really had a service level agreement. It was run on someone’s employer’s network. And, of course, that was never going to last forever. Earlier this month he announced that he was leaving that job and the use.perl would be closing down. Currently, I think that the site is in read-only mode and there are some people in the Perl community who are trying to set up alternative hosting for the site. I hope that comes off. There’s almost ten years of Perl history stored up in that site. It would be a shame to see all those URLs turn into 404s.

And then there’s Vox. I never really used Vox that heavily, but I dabbled with it for a while. And now it’s also closing down. Six Apart put in place some procedures to transfer your blog posts to TypePad, but for reasons I couldn’t work out, that didn’t work for me. What I really wanted was to import the data into this blog (which runs on Movable Type, another Six Apart product) but for some reason that option wasn’t available. In the end I managed to import the posts into Posterous, but I seem to have lost all of the tags (not really a problem) and the comments (a pretty big problem), Oh, and I’ve just noticed that the images are still being hosted on Vox. Better fix that before Vox closes down – tonight.

So I’ve learnt an important lesson about trusting the cloud. It’s all very well putting your data up there, but be sure that you have an exit strategy. Find out how you can get your data out. And how much of your data you can get out easily. I put all of my photos on Flickr, but I keep copies locally as well. But the again, that’s not really enough is it? Sure I’ve got the photos, but if Flickr closes down tomorrow, I won’t have all the social interactions that have built up around my photos.

These scares have made me start to think about these issues. And I’ve been tracking down some other old stomping grounds. I’m pleased to report that my first ever blog (hosted by Blogger, which is now owned by Google) is still available.

Where’s your data? How much could you reconstruct if Facebook closed down tomorrow?


Matt Smith: The Eleventh Doctor

It’s been a day since the announcement, so I thought I’d bore you all with my thoughts on Matt Smith as the eleventh Doctor.

When I first heard the news I though “who?”, like most people, but then I looked him up on the web and realised that I knew who he was.

Yes, he’s young. But I don’t see that as an insurmountable obstacle. His work in things like “Party Animals” and the Sally Lockhart dramas prove that he’s a capable young actor. And I trust Stephen Moffat to do the right thing. So, all in all, my response is “This could work. Let’s wait and see”.

One of the interesting things about this announcement is how far in advance it has been made. I know it made sense for David Tennant to announce that he was leaving the show along with Russell T Davies, but did we really need to know who was going to be the next Doctor a year before he appears on screen? And that appearance is likely to be no more than thirty seconds of blinking and gurning. It’s likely to be fifteen months before we really see how he works in the part.

I can remember all of the new Doctor announcements back to Tom Baker. And I’m sure we’ve never known who the new Doctor is so far in advance. Usually, I think it’s more like four or six months. David Tennant was announced in April 2005 and appeared on screen briefly in July. His first full episode was in December – eight months after the announcement. With Smith, we’ll have to wait almost twice as long. I realise that the production team wanted to put and end to all of the speculation and that they really didn’t want to keep the secret once filming starts later this year, but surely building up the anticipation for this long has a high chance of backfiring on them. It also has a chance of rather overshadowing David Tennant’s last appearances as the Doctor – which would be a shame.

Of course, this is pretty much all guesswork. Anything could happen in the next fifteen months. As I said above – the best approach is just to wait and see and to not engage in pointless speculation.


Russell T Davies to Leave Doctor Who

We all knew it would happen sometime (not even John Nathan-Turner went on forever) and there have been rumours flying around for a while, but yesterday the BBC confirmed that Russell T Davies will be stepping down as executive producer of Doctor Who. He’ll stay on for the four specials to be broadcast next year but will be gone before the show’s fifth series in 2010.

I don’t think anyone can deny that Davies’ run of the show has been phenomenally successful. Ok, actually, I know that people can (and do) deny that, but a moment’s reflection will hopefully demonstrate the stupidity of that opinion. Over the last four years Davies has resurrected Doctor Who and turned it into one of the most successful BBC programmes of all time. People have warm nostalgic feelings for the “old Doctor Who”, but it was never anywhere near as successful as this new version. Of course there have been some dodgy new episodes (quite often in the episodes written by Davies himself) but no-one can doubt that it was largely Davies’ vision of the show that has made it the success it is today.

I’m not as in tune with Doctor Who fandom as I used to be. But from what I’ve seen there seem to be two main objections to Davies tenure on the programme:

1/ It’s not as good as it used to be

This is, to put it plainly, bollocks. Certainly the old series produced more than it’s fair share of top quality TV, but if you actually sit down and watch the old series (and I mean a whole series, not just your favourite stories) you’ll quickly realise that there was a lot of rubbish there too.

A related complaint is that too much has changed – from the format of the shows (largely single 45 minute episodes as opposed to four 25 minute episodes) to the emphasis on London (or, rather, Cardiff pretending to be London) or the “soap opera” aspects of bringing in the companions’ families. Well, yes, things have changed. But the audience has changed too and people want different things from their Saturday evening drama. Yes, it might annoy the die-hard Who fans or the science fiction audience. But it’s not made for them. If the BBC relied on pleasing those people then there’s no way the show would have been as successful as it has been.

2/ Davies is gay, and therefore the spawn of the devil

Amazing as it seems in the twenty-first century, this is the second most common complaint about the new series that I’ve heard. Yes, Davies is gay. People are. And they don’t hide it any more. And it’s a perfectly normal part of society. Deal with it.

Davies is handing over Stephen Moffat. Fans of the show should be pleased with this as Moffat has written some of the most popular recent episodes – The Doctor Dances, The Girl in the Fireplace and Blink (surely forty-five of the best minutes of TV ever broadcast). Older TV fans will also remember his earlier work like Press Gang and Joking Apart. And, in common with Davies, he seems to be a long-time fan of Doctor Who. The BBC story quotes him as saying:

I applied before but I got knocked back ‘cos the BBC wanted someone else. Also I was seven.

Interesting times ahead for Doctor Who. Moffat has a big task ahead of him following in Davies’ footsteps. But I can’t think of anyone else who I’d rather see taking over.

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Pushing Daisies on ITV

Like most people I know, I very rarely watch anything on ITV. The channel just doesn’t seem to want to appeal to people with my tastes.

But recently that seems to be changing. ITV have been showing a couple of American import that seem to be aimed at people exactly like me. Firstly they started showing Dexter (to be honest I’m not sure how much I like Dexter, but it’s certainly non-standard fare for ITV) and then last weekend they started showing Pushing Daisies which, judging by the first episode, I’m going to enjoy very much.

ITV certainly seem to be very proud of Pushing Daisies. It has had one of the biggest advertising campaigns that I can ever remember from ITV. There have been trailers and posters everywhere for weeks. And it seems to be going very well for them. Most of the reviews I’ve read have been very positive.

But they seem to be on the verge of blowing it completely. The first series of Pushing Daisies contains nine episodes. And ITV only have eight weeks in which to show them. After that, some football competition starts. Much as I’d love to live in a world where quality drama trumps sport, I know that’s some considerable way off and that there’s no way that ITV will make way in their football schedules for something like Pushing Daisies. But even then their solution seems bizarre in the extreme.

They are planning to drop one of the episodes. The second one apparently. The one that is due to be shown next weekend. They think that it’s the only one they can drop without leaving significant holes in the plot. Is that really the best they could do? Couldn’t they squeeze an extra episode in one week? Show two episodes the first week? Or the last week (“Big Pushing Daisies Series Finale Night”)? I mean it’s not as though any of this came as a surprise to them. They must have known how many episodes the series had. And the start date for Euro 2008 has, no doubt, been set for some time. All in all I think it shows a strangely inflexible attitude to scheduling.

So just as ITV started to go up in my estimation as a TV company. I was just starting to warm to them and now I’m back to viewing everything they do with suspicion. Perhaps they really don’t care. Maybe they were only making a token effort at attracting viewers like me.

p.s. I hope it’s obvious, but I’ll be scouring bittorrent for the missing episode.


Dawkins on Doctor Who

Russell T Davies was interviewed by the Independent last Sunday and he happened to mention that Richard Dawkins will be appearing in this series of Doctor Who.

The evolutionary biologist and best-selling author of The God Delusion will appear as a guest star in the new series of Doctor Who, which began last night. “People were falling at his feet,” says Davies, creator of the BBC’s flagship show. “We’ve had Kylie Minogue on that set, but it was Dawkins people were worshipping.”

Slightly unfortunate choice of words with “worshipping”, but this sounds like really good news to me. And it would be a great nod to the older Who fans if they could squeeze in a cameo by Dawkins’ wife too.


The Return of Doctor Who

As is becoming traditional (well, this is at least the second year I’ve done it) at this time of the year, it’s interesting to look around for hints about when the new series of Doctor Who will launch. Normally it’s about Easter, but Easter is about as early as it gets this year – and it’s definitely not starting this weekend.

Of course, it won’t start until Torchwood has finished. And there are still a few episodes of that to run. But the BBC seem to have noticed that issue too and from this week, they’ll be showing two episodes a week (on Wednesday – as usual – but also on Friday), so that means that Torchwood will be out of the way in just over a week.

The BBC Doctor Who site isn’t giving anything away yet (well, yes, it’s giving away Doctor Who wallpapers – but you know what I mean) but a couple of days ago they ran a news story saying that the trailer for the new series will be shown on Saturday 22nd. Since when was the broadcast of a trailer such big news?

Obviously the show won’t start on the same day as the first broadcast of the trailer. So we can say that the earliest it will start is Saturday 29th March. But then I saw this post on TV Scoop (which I found via Planet Dr Who) which claims that David Tennant and Catherine Tate will be guests on the Jonathan Ross show on Friday April 4th. It seems likely that this appearance will be promoting the start of the new season. So that’s where I’m sticking my marker.

I reckon the new series will start on Saturday 5th April.

Update: Looks like the CBBC Newsround site is the first one to confirm that date.


The Sun on Doctor Who

How many obvious errors can you spot in this Sun story: Jennifer could be Dr Who

Ab Fab star Jennifer Saunders is set to be the first female Timelord – for just one episode.

The comic actress is in talks to become Doctor Who as David Tennant, 36, will leave after filming three specials in 2009.

TV bosses are keen to get a woman on board the Tardis for one of those shows.

A source said of Jennifer, 49, best known as Edina in Absolutely Fabulous: “She’s in the running and we all think she would be fantastic.”

Kylie Minogue is in the Christmas Special that previews tonight.

Bit puzzled by that last sentence too. Has someone got their Tuesdays confused?


Doctor Who Advent Calendar

This image appeared on the BBC’s Doctor Who site today.

I’m guessing that they are doing some kind of Doctor Who advent calendar this year (notice that “advent” is highlighted). We’ll need to go back on Saturday for more information.

Note for US readers – the date (1/12/07) is in the logical UK order (1st December), not the nonsensical US order (12th Jan).


Billie Piper to return to Dr Who

I’m really not sure how I feel about this.

Actress Billie Piper is to return to Doctor Who, the BBC has confirmed.

She will star in three episodes of the sci-fi drama, reprising her role as the Doctor’s companion, Rose Tyler.

Rose’s return will mean the Doctor has three assistants in next year’s series – Donna, played by Catherine Tate, and Freema Agyeman as Martha.

I don’t dislike the character of Rose as much as many people seem to. I just think it goes against the idea of Doctor Who to have companions leaving and returning so quickly. She’s only been gone for a year. Doctor Who is about the Doctor. Companions come and go. They’re less important. The audience shouldn’t get too attached to them.

But we’ll see how it goes. Maybe it’ll work out ok.


New Survivors

Old gits like me may well remember Survivors with some affection. It was a BBC TV programme that ran between 1975 and 1977 that told the story of the small number of people who survived a plague that killed off most of the people in the world. For my teenage self it was essential viewing. A few years ago I bought the first series on video and I’ve been patiently waiting for the DVDs to drop to a reasonable price before buying them.

But suddenly, out of the blue (well, I assume it’s not really out of the blue, but I was take n completely by surprise), the BBC have announced that they’ll be remaking the series. No details on when it’ll be shown, but I’d guess there’s a good chance it’ll be in the Saturday evening “Doctor Who” slot.

Watching my videos a couple of years ago I thought that the themes were more resonant now than they were thirty years ago and that it deserved a wider audience. Seems I wasn’t the only person who thought that.