Archive for the ‘BBC’ Category

The problem with graphs

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008

Take a look at this graph. It accompanies a story on the BBC News website about the property market and today’s announcement of Government measures to boost flagging sales.


The graph plots the change in house prices as measured by two banks, The Nationwide and The Halifax. On the face of it things look pretty dreadful.

Except that the graph is wrong*. The values it is plotting are ‘rates of change’, so it’s a bit like plotting a car’s speed by plotting its acceleration and deceleration. You wouldn’t really do that as you can’t use such a graph to say what the car’s actual speed is at any one time, without making some tortuous calculations.

Let’s give an example. The graph plots changing values from April 2007 to August 2008. But the individual points relate to the relative change in house prices during the year to that date. So if you look at the point for the Halifax figures in April 2007 you see approximately 11%. What that means is that a house bought in April 2006 for £100,000 (good luck finding one that cheap) was typically worth £110,000 in April 2007.
Now look at April 2008. The graph shows that house prices fell by 1% in the previous 12 months. So that house which was worth £110,000 is now worth £108,900 – so it’s still 8.9% higher than it was two years previously.

What you can’t do with this graph is look at the August 2008 part of the graph and say what the value of that house is now, because it wasn’t bought in August 2007 – the figure is meaningless, therefore the graph is meaningless. (This is the same problem you get with monthly inflation figures – a figure of, say, 5% might be seen as high but it means prices went up 5% over the last 12 months, not in the last month. If prices stay at the same level, inflation will be 0% but that doesn’t mean things are getting cheaper. It means they’re staying just as expensive as before)

If I had bought that house in April 2006 I couldn’t use these figures, or this graph, to predict what the house is ‘worth’ now. But that would still be irrelevant unless I was thinking of selling now. But house purchasers don’t tend to buy and sell in a year, but after several years (often decades). A graph on that principle would show a steady and sustained increase in the value of houses. There’s a lot of people worrying over nothing – if you’re not thinking of selling your house then you have nothing to worry about, yet this graph is intended to make you worry.

(Let’s say that house price inflation stood at -10% in April 2009, then I could calculate the value of my home. It would be £98,010 – a drop in value for sure but of £1,990. In other words my house would be worth 1.99% less than it was when I bought it, not 10% less. See how it works?)

The only conclusion I can draw from this graph is that whoever inserted it is attempting to make things look more dramatic than they really are.
Which leads to a suggestion: the best way to increase confidence in the property market would be to ban stupid measures of the market that plot relative values over 12 months. The housing market doesn’t work on such small cycles.

(*Actually, ‘wrong’ is not the word, rather it’s ‘misleading’, but it’s so misleading it might as well be wrong)

Rituals of Violence

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

As a prelude to a radio programme on the rituals of violence, Laurie Taylor writes about his memories of following my own football team, York City. The last line is a great image…

I’ve supported York City ever since I took up my lecturing job at the university in the late sixties. There have been a few magical moments over the years since then – a 3-0 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford in the 1995-6 League Cup – but most weeks the fans have to dine on pretty thin gruel.

Like other supporters of lesser teams, though, they keep themselves going by telling jokes about their own team and its relative lack of success. They’ll talk about the time the new and much criticized striker finally earned a corner and the entire team did a lap of honour. And they’re bound to come up with the story of these two York fans fighting each other on the terrace. A policeman jumps over the barrier to separate them and says ‘Why are you two fighting. You’re on the same side.’ And then the fellow who started it all points to his protagonist and says ‘It’s not my fault. It’s his. He tried to shove a season ticket in my pocket.’

At some matches the only thing that enlivened the proceedings was the prospect of a little hooliganism. Even though visiting teams rarely brought more than a couple of hundred fans with them, these were routinely segregated from York supporters by a line of constables.

All was usually relatively quiet for the first half-hour of the match. Nothing much more than the routine chanting of insults between the two groups of fan. But then, after a particularly nasty foul, or a dramatic goal-mouth incident, matters would escalate and fans from each side would attempt to breach the police line, waving their fists in the air and shoving and pushing.

From close-up, it might have been disturbing but viewed from the other end of the pitch, it had a deliciously ritual quality. Half-a-dozen fans who were braver than the rest would shove against the police line, while their rivals would shove back the other way. And so it went on with neither side striking a blow until one fan – there seemed an element of arbitrariness about this – was picked on by the police and then, to cheers and chants all round, escorted along the touchline and out of the ground.

In the old days what added even more to the ritual quality of the hooliganism was that at half-time away supporters were often allowed through the police line so they could join home supporters in the queue at the tea stall.

Percentage wars

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

Anna Pickard in The Observer:

Marvellously, The Apprentice brings with it a welcome return of moronic businessisms, as candidates trot out trite examples of things that sound fine in brightly coloured motivational books, but idiotic when tumbling out of mouths.

A favourite is the search for the highest percentage. You may have thought that the highest percentage would be 100, but that would be naive and non-managerial.

For some time, it has not been enough to give 100 per cent effort. To impress, nothing less than 110 per cent is necessary. Or 150 per cent. Or 200 per cent. Percentage wars have broken out and 1,000 per cent is bandied about.

At this point, the notion of percentage flies out of the window and the contestants find themselves stuck in a ‘who can think of the biggest number’ competition. These are, apparently, some of the best new business minds in the country. Which terrifies me 38,476 per cent.

Who’s this Williams guy?

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Williams top of Classic FM vote.jpg

The BBC is reporting that The Lark Ascending is once more the ‘best classical piece of music’ for Classic FM listeners. Not sure about the best but it’s certainly a great piece. In fact, I might just have to play it right now…

But look at the headline: Williams top of Classic FM vote. Never heard of him.
I just emailed the web site editor to correct it (9.35am) and will now refresh the page every minute to see how long it takes to change it…

UPDATE: It worked:

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Vaughan Williams tops radio vote.jpg

Bisexuality, crotch-staring and loads of totty. Kids TV today…

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

Children’s television isn’t what it used to be


An actor who says he was unfairly dismissed from the hit BBC children’s programme In the Night Garden made unacceptable comments to a colleague, an employment tribunal heard today.
Isaac Blake, 28, who brought the unfair dismissal case against Teletubbies producer Ragdoll, made continual reference to ‘totty’ on set, a statement from a colleague said.

Blake has alleged that he was sacked from the programme after he complained about a faulty animatronic suit he had to wear as a Tombliboo character. He also claimed that he was called ‘bitch’ and ‘faggot’ by a colleague.

However, this morning Marcus Difelice, representing Ragdoll, read out statements from production staff alleging that Blake had made inappropriate comments to them.

One of the statements read: ‘Isaac was always making comments to me that were not acceptable.

‘I had to say to him once, ‘Why can’t you have a conversation with me without looking at my crotch?”.

Another said: ‘He [Blake] kept saying he was distracted by the totty on set.’

Blake denied doing so.

The tribunal in Birmingham also heard evidence from Italian actress Elisa Laghi, 31, who performed alongside Blake during filming in 2005 and 2006.

She admitted calling Blake a ‘bitch’ during an argument, but said she had used the word ‘faggot’ on only one occasion, in jest.

She said she had walked into a changing room and saw Blake and another actor who played a Tombliboo with their trousers down.

‘I said, ‘Oh, you two look like a pair of faggots,” Laghi said.

She added: ‘I’m bisexual myself so I don’t have a problem with people being gay.’

Blake said he had been unfairly dismissed because he had raised concerns about health and safety from being in the animatronic suit and about verbal abuse.

‘I think if I had shut my mouth, taken the abuse, worked in a faulty suit, I would still be there now,’ he said.

Ragdoll is contesting the unfair dismissal case. The hearing continues.

Insightful article from the BBC

Saturday, January 5th, 2008

BBC NEWS | Have Your Say | What will be 2008_s must-have gadget?.jpg

Glad to see my license fee producing in-depth analysis from the BBC

Update: here’s another one. What’s going on?
The URL for the story below is odd:

Seems to me that a few stories are being posted in the wrong place, or the wrong links are going up. Whatever, it’s all very strange.

BBC NEWS | Have Your Say | Lights out for traditional bulbs.jpg

"Do let me know if Mr. V. Williams has an important premiere in the future as this findability might allow us to reconsider"

Sunday, December 9th, 2007

There’s a great (and somewhat worrying) article over at The Guardian about a forthcoming documentary on one of my favourite composers, Ralph Vaughan Williams:

One of television’s most imaginative film-makers has condemned Mark Thompson’s leadership of the BBC as a ‘catastrophe’ and accused the corporation of undermining its worldwide reputation by insulting the intelligence of viewers.

Tony Palmer, who has won more than 40 awards including Baftas, Emmys and, uniquely, the Prix Italia twice, criticised the director-general after the BBC turned down a documentary of his. The film, about English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, has been produced by Five instead.

Palmer said he received an extraordinary rejection letter from a BBC commissioning editor explaining that, ‘having looked at our own activity via the lens of find, play & share’, it had been decided the film did not fit with ‘the new vision for [BBC] Vision’.

Bizarrely, Palmer said, the letter concluded: ‘But good luck with the project, and do let me know if Mr. V. Williams has an important premiere in the future as this findability might allow us to reconsider.’ Vaughan Williams died in 1958.

It’s worth pointing out that Palmer is refusing to show the letter to anyone or name its author, and the BBC claims ignorance (and that it is already making a documentary on Vaughan Williams). If it’s true, though, it’s very sad in so many ways, as it suggests that there are people acting as gatekeepers at the BBC who have no knowledge of British culture, and that what Private Eye refers to as ‘Birtspeak’ is alive and well. ‘Findability’? What the hell’s that?

However, The Guardian has a nerve. A later paragraph in the article says “Vaughan Williams, whose best known symphonies include The Lark Ascending and Fantasia on Greensleeves”… Duh. RVW wrote nine symphonies and not one of them was called The Lark Ascending or Fantasia on Greensleeves. They are works for orchestra (the former for violin and orchestra), but most definitely not symphonies.


The good news is the 2.5 hour documentary did get made and will be shown on Channel 5 (the former soft porn channel, no less) on New Year’s Day. Can’t wait.

BBC gives mixed signals on Mac compatibility

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

Two bits of interesting news today from the BBC. Firstly, BBC content will be available free of charge from some wireless hotspots in the UK. And secondly, thanks to a deal with Adobe, it looks like Mac and Linux users will be able to use the iPlayer to download programmes, something that only XP users have been able to do.


But Mr Highfield [the BBC’s director of Future Media and Technology] said the BBC had not committed to offering the iPlayer to Mac and Linux users who want to download and keep content on their machines for a limited period.

He said: “We need to get the streaming service up and look at the ratio of consumption between the services and then we need to look long and hard at whether we build a download service for Mac and Linux

“It comes down to cost per person and reach at the end of the day.”

Erm, no. It comes down to equality of access for a service that is funded by a license fee. Something that is enshrined in the BBC’s charter.
I pay the same £10 charge every month for the BBC as an XP user. Saying it comes down to cost per person is like saying Sony TV users are a different breed from Samsung TV users. The BBC (and Highfield specifically) have changed their tune on this before – telling reporters that they couldn’t offer Mac users a download service because of Apple’s ‘restrictive’ DRM system while plumping to use Microsoft’s platform-specific and therefore even more restrictive system.

Why has the BBC got someone so obviously ignorant about IT matters as the head of ‘Future Media and Technology’?