Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Have I Got News For You

How do kids think TV works?

My dad was on the telly once, being interviewed about something like road works (he was a traffic engineer). I was probably slightly younger than Charlie at the time and had all sorts of strange notions of him (my dad, that is) being pushed inside the TV set (they were big things, back then!). More 'in' than 'on' TV.

Charlie clearly has a more sophisticated understanding of the whole thing; nevertheless the concept of live broadcasting left him struggling.

Let me explain. Robbie Williams has had a baby. (No, not literally... oh do keep up!) The BBC called to ask me to say something about it - or rather, his 'live tweet' of the event. Now, I'm nowhere near the nearest TV studio, it was getting late and we'd just got back from a few days holiday in Yorkshire.

So the Beeb decides to do the interview on Skype which means I'm sitting in front of the computer like an idiot and Charlie is in the other room watching the TV when I suddenly appear.

'Look mummy, daddy's on television!' he exclaims. He did know beforehand what was about to happen, but excitement had suddenly got the better of him.

'Where are you going?' asks mummy as he leaps up off the sofa in a single bound and bolts from the room.

'To tell daddy he's on telly,' says Charlie, 'so he can come and watch it with us.'

Thus, dear reader, did Charlie very nearly make his live TV debut this evening, photobombing my appearance on the BBC News Channel. That would have been interesting. A tad more interesting, perhaps, than his old man's performance.

You can judge for yourself. As for me... *oh my gad* I'd like to thank my agent, the producer, the director, my mom and my dad, my lovely wife, my beautiful, beautiful children, the dog, the cat, the hamster and most of all *oh-my-gad-I'm-gonna-cry*... most of all *sniff*...

Robbie Williams...

Thursday, 23 October 2014

All About That Bass

It's a little-known fact that I once played the double-bass. (It's called the 'upright' bass in this video which is bizarre, but there you go.) I am, therefore, interested in all things 'bass' and stumbled across this track in the line of just such enquiries recently.

And... wow! Just, wow!

Well, not just 'wow' but mainly, wow. Because this girl can sing AND play. I'd never heard of her before. Late to the party as usual, I know. But in case you're like me and haven't yet made the auditory acquaintance of Kate Davis, have a listen to this.

And, wow!

Monday, 20 October 2014

You... Will... Learn... Code! You... Will... Learn... Code!

This is brilliant!

I've been wondering for a while what to do about a six-year-old who already seems dangerously close to computer-game addiction (currently in cold turkey thanks to the Wii-U not yet having been unpacked) and who has recently expressed an urgent need to watch Dr Who (way past his bedtime!). 

I'd vaguely thought of trying to get him coding - he's immensely creative (aren't all six-year-olds?) and often invents games and draws the characters and writes the story-lines. It seemed but a short step from there to start him off writing his own code. But an admittedly less-than-exhaustive search had found nothing remotely suitable. Until now.

This online browser game from the BBC introduces a friendly Dalek and takes kids from age six upwards through a series of steps to get them coding. The various levels are also linked to different curriculum outcomes too so it's s triple whammy - he gets to play, learns to code and gets help with schoolwork. 

This might literally have made our half-term. (It launches, via the CBBC website, this coming Wednesday.)

And they say the licence fee ain't worth the money...

(Here, for those of you wanting the official BBC lowdown, is the full text of their press release:)

Players join the action as the TARDIS materialises amidst a deadly pursuit through space – a Dalek Saucer bearing down on a Cyber-ship. But from that Cyber-ship emanates a distress call – from a Dalek! On freeing the battered Dalek from his Cybermen captors, the Doctor finds himself taking his new unlikely ally on a mission to save all of creation from destruction at the hands of his greatest enemies.

But why would a Dalek turn to its mortal foe for help? To find out, join the Doctor and the Dalek in a new adventure spanning the Sontar homeworld and its vile Clone Chambers, which have never been shown on-screen before, as well as reintroducing the icy Cyber-tombs of Telos – last seen in classic Doctor Who episodes.

The Doctor said: "Oi! Short and not-very-old one! I need your help - I’ve got a Dalek and we’ve got a mission to save the universe. So get on over to the CBBC website, and play The Doctor and the Dalek while there’s still a universe left! Come on! Chop chop! Make it Digital on the BBC."

Introducing computing skills

A range of puzzles are featured throughout the game, where players must take control of the Dalek and program it to “power up” its ability to perform a range of tasks, such as flying. Each puzzle unlocks an achievement that helps the Doctor build the Dalek back to full strength, ensuring it can take on increasingly difficult challenges as the game progresses.

The puzzles are linked to the new computing curriculum and are designed to allow children across the UK to pick up core programming principles as they play. Several key stage 2 and 3 curriculum points – such as combining instructions to accomplish a given goal, using variables to alter behaviour, repetition and loops, and logical reasoning – are seamlessly integrated into the gameplay and, most importantly for children, are intuitive and fun.

Resources accompanying the game will be available from BBC Learning at bbc.co.uk/schoolscomputing for teachers and parents to help children get the most out of the game. These will provide links to other resources available from across the BBC and third parties, enabling children and teachers to take their learning journeys further.

Danny Cohen, BBC Director of Television, said: “The Doctor and the Dalek is a brand new Doctor Who story and a fantastic game, voiced by the wonderful Peter Capaldi. It’s an excellent example of how a hugely popular BBC show can give fans something extra, whilst also introducing wider audiences to increasingly important skills, such as coding and programming.”

SinĂ©ad Rocks, Head of BBC Learning, said: “We’re really excited about the launch of The Doctor and the Dalek as not only is it a really entertaining platform game for kids to play but it’s also a great introduction to some key principles of computer programming. Every puzzle has a strong link to the KS2 or KS3 computing curriculum. So we think it’s going to be a really valuable tool for students, parents and teachers.”

The Doctor and the Dalek was commissioned by BBC Learning, developed and produced by BBC Wales and Somethin’ Else in association with BBC Future Media.

Friday, 17 October 2014

The Thought Police

Do you believe in free speech? Do you really believe in it? Are you of the 'I hate what you say but I'll defend to the death your right to say it' brigade or do you feel there are some things that should be left unsaid?

Next question; what about thoughts? Are there some ideas which - were there the technology to intercept them (and it will happen, one day) - should be regarded as wrong? How about feelings? Perhaps there are some things that are so bad we just shouldn't be allowed to feel them?

I hope you can see where this is leading.

Because it leads somewhere very dark and depressing.

Three people this week have hit the headlines thanks to saying things that others found unacceptable. Judy Finnigan said something about whether rapist Ched Evans should be allowed to play football again; John Grisham expressed the view that a friend of his was treated harshly for viewing child pornography; and Welfare Minister Lord Freud speculated about whether paying disabled people the minimum wage might be keeping them out of employment.

All three have since apologised, grovelingly. All three have retracted their statements, claiming that they were misconstrued or misreported or that they didn't really mean what they had said in the first place. All three only did so after howls of protest and a rising tide of outrage from people who seem to be saying things like, 'your thoughts are wrong therefore you have no right to hold them, still less to speak them. Either think like me or shut up!'

Now as it happens I don't agree with any of the above views. But I passionately feel that they should be spoken and that the right to say anything - yes, anything - is fundamental among human freedoms. Yes I know there are laws outlawing certain words and it is an offence to use racist, sexist and inflammatory language. I don't happen to think it ought to be, but that's my opinion. And that doesn't mean I approve either of the language or the sentiments. But I approve of the freedom to say them. And I think any denial of that freedom is a dangerous erosion of our fundamental civil liberties.

And it's not just about saying them. It's getting dangerously close now to becoming unacceptable just to think certain things. Because it seems you can't say what you really think if it's going to be unpopular or upset someone or if it's political or sexually incorrect.

Judy Finnigan clearly had a view: a rather stupid view and not a view I share but... I really don't want to get to a situation where we're all afraid of opening our mouths in case howls of outrage and social media storms (and worse - threats to rape your children) should follow what we say.

John Grisham expressed an ignorant opinion but one which nevertheless raised an important point: should those who view child porn online be treated more harshly than those who do physical and sexual harm to children? Lord Freud didn't even express an opinion, more an off-the-cuff speculation.

Had none of them said a word, of course, then we'd be none the wiser. There are many people whose opinions and ideas I detest and whom I wish would refrain from broadcasting them but... I don't have to listen. And if I do, I can argue. I can attempt to point out to them the error of their ways. I can explain to them why I think they're wrong. I can attempt to make them understand how offensive their views are. I can try to persuade them to change.

And I can do all that because they're free to offend me and I'm free to fight back.

At least, for the time being...

Monday, 13 October 2014

New House New Baby...

Some time ago I was asked if I'd like to become an ambassador for TalkTalk. There's not a great deal in it (I sign a new eighteen-month contract and they pay my bill for nine months) but I thought, why not? I'm a TalkTalk customer already (have been for years) and always been reasonably happy. What can possibly go wrong?

Well, moving house for a start. If you've never moved or not moved recently let me tell you one thing: don't. But if you do, I can certainly recommend TalkTalk's online moving house page as among the easiest ways of transferring your service from one address to another.

For a start, you can do it all in a matter of a few mouse clicks. It's as easy as that. Second, it's quick. The time between my old line being stopped and my new one becoming active was a little under 24 hours. I've had friends who have moved recently and whose phone and broadband services are provided by 'rival operators' who have waited weeks - weeks - for a broadband line. I'm not sure I could live that long in the internet wilderness. Especially as - thanks to my new deal - TalkTalk are now providing my telly service too. (Goodbye, nasty satellite dish; farewell Mr Murdoch and farewell too to an extortionate bill that was more than I'm paying now - or will be paying in nine months time - but which now covers TV, fibre-optic broadband, line rental and that old-fashioned thing called a telephone. They're not paying me for saying that. Well, I suppose they are in a manner of speaking but I'd say it anyway because it's true!)

So, new house new... baby broadband and so far, she's a little beauty!

Altogether now? Ah...

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