Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Future of the BBC to be determined this week

Director-General of the BBC: Tony Hall
Lately, the BBC has been under scrutiny as the review into the 2016 charter renewal continues. This will determine how the BBC will proceed and if they will still get funding via television license fees or through other methods.

The BBC, unlike any other British broadcaster, does not include paid advertisements on their television stations, radio stations, or even on their website. Instead, since 1946, they have been funded by a form of tax which they negotiate with the government. This is currently £145.50 per household.

The TV license fee raised a total of £3.735 billion in 2014-2015. Just under £2.4 billion is spent on TV, £653 million on radio, £201 million on online, £254 million on BBC World Service, and £519 million on other services.

The culture secretary, John Whittingdale, is to unveil a green paper this week in Parliament indicating what the future of the BBC will be. He has had eight experts advising him all with vast amounts of experience from across the industry. It's predicted that the green paper will not speak favourably about the BBC as Whittingdale has said in the past that the license fee is 'worse than poll tax'. It's also been reported that some of the eight advisors also don't approve of the TV license fee.

It is worth remembering though that unlike other broadcasters such as ITV, Channel 4, and Sky; the BBC doesn't just offer a range of TV channels and online catch up services. They also offer services such as Bitesize (a learning resource used by primary schools, secondary schools, and colleges up and down the country to help educate pupils), BBC News (an unbiased 24-hour news channel plus the sixth most visited UK website), and advert-free local radio and local TV stations. This week they launched their own simple computer called the 'micro:bit' to help teach students how to code. This goes to prove the BBC is much more than simply another broadcaster.

Even the services which they offer which are similar to those of competitors are far more supreme. For example: iPlayer (the BBC's on-demand service) has been executed far better than rival counterparts such as 4OD and ITV Player.

Supporters of the BBC are campaigning hard to retain the license fee as they claim "a diminished BBC would simply mean a diminished Britain".

However, it's undeniable that the BBC does waste money. According to the latest transparency report published in spring, there are 14 presenters/performers who earn over £500,000 every year. These are likely to include Jeremy Paxman, Fiona Bruce, Jeremy Clarkson, Gary Lineker, and Graham Norton.

Furthermore, in 2013 it was reported that £2 million was spent on food and drink including farewell parties for leaving staff. Also, John Linwood was fired from the corporation after he wasted £100 million on a failed 'digital media initiative'.

From a consumer point of view, many now splash out on subscriptions to other entertainment services including Netflix, Sky, BT Sport, Amazon Prime, and Virgin Media which are all significantly cheaper than the BBC licence fee.

If the license fee does stay, one of the compromises might be a change in programming. Despite the current Director-General of the BBC Tony Hall wanting BBC programs to continue to appeal to a diverse range of people (the BBC predicts that 96% of Brits consume their service weekly), there are rumours that suggest that a lean back to more educational shows rather than entertainment ones might be in order. This would mean an increase in programs such as David Attenborough’s Frozen Planet and Brian Cox's Wonders of the Universe, and a decrease in programs such as The Voice and Eastenders.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Who is the sexiest Member of Parliament? has went about answering the question that literally nobody is asking: who is the sexiest MP? The simple website presents visitors with two pictures of random MPs and they need to pick the one they find sexier. At the bottom of the page is the leader board so visitors can review where their member of parliament ranks.

The website, apart from being "the first ever parliamentary beauty contest", is also a quirky way of getting the British public to know their MPs.

More attention has been drawn to the website this week as it was revealed by The Telegraph that it was it is the most popular banned website in Parliament with staff trying to access the website 484,683 times. Sadly for them, most of the attempts were blocked by internet filters. The Urban Dictionary came in second with over 155,000 hits.

(At the time of writing, the Prime Minister David Cameron was ranked #209 and, the ex-leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband was ranked #231.)

Justifying Bercow's brawl with Greg Mulholland

Today, a segment from the televised 'questions to the Secretary for Health' in the House of Commons is going viral after the speaker, John Bercow, put Greg Mulholland MP in his place for taking too long asking his question.

The video, widely shared over social media, shows the end of the question asked by Mulholland before Bercow gives the honorable gentleman a roasting. Bercow, in a patronising tone, exclaimed "It's a discourtesy to the house to be long winded" before going on and saying "don't argue the toss with the Chair". This was is undeniably rude however debatably justifiable.

Lib Dem MP Greg Mulholland got told off today for talking too much. "Don't shake your head mate."
Posted by BuzzFeed UK Politics on Tuesday, 7 July 2015

The session was already overrunning and Mulholland's 'question' had already lasted 25 seconds before he was interrupted. That time was taken up by arguably unnecessary background information regarding a question which was previously answered. Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health, will have been well aware of his previous correspondence so did not need to be reminded of it in front the rest of the House. In addition to this, most questions from MPs take just under 30 seconds to ask however when Mulholland was cut off at 25 seconds he didn't sound like he was close to coming to an end.

Bercow explained: "I am sympathetic to that, I respect that, but people can't simply take the attitude, 'my question's important and therefore I can be much longer' because that's not fair on other members".

The ordeal ended by Mulholland leaving the chamber, pointing angrily at Bercow for his controversial decision.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Greece Voted No: What Now...

Last night, many Greeks celebrated as the referendum on whether Greece should accept the offer from the International Monetary Fund, the European Union, and the European Central Bank produced a "no" vote. Out of 62.5% turnout, 61.31% voted όχι (no) because it would have launched the country into even worse austerity.

The referendum created large class division with many OAPs, young people, and lower classes leaning toward “no” and many middle-aged and middle-class people voting "yes".

In the week building up to the snap referendum, Alexis Tsipras (the Greek Prime Minister) and his party campaigned for the “no” vote. They claimed voting that way would help their negotiating power with the rest of Europe because they have a mandate from the people. The new negotiations started earlier today however without Greece's finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, who resigned this morning despite getting the result he campaigned for. One thing is for sure, these renegotiations will be difficult. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, President of the Eurogroup, stated that "the [referendum] result is very regrettable for the future of Greece."

Although Greeks voted against the terms that the European Union set out, most Greeks do actually want to stay in the EU.

Greek banks expected to run out of money within days so the Government is currently propping them up to make them "secure". Despite this, they still set to be closed for at least another next two days.

One source of money for Greece could be to revert back to their old currency: the drachma - which was ditched in 2001. If Greece does leave the Eurozone, it would be a complicated ordeal as there is currently no procedure for doing so because no country has ever left before.

Greece has already experienced 5 years of hopeless austerity. Many people who voted “no” think that any change must bring positive repercussions but, the reality of the situation is, the future is unclear.

Instagram to be in Full HD

Instagram is a social network based around sharing square pictures from your smartphone. Since the only way to upload pictures is from a mobile device (not a PC/Mac), the resolution of the images has been 640 x 640 ever since Instagram's launch in 2010. Since then though, cameras built into smartphones have come a long way and are capable of taking full HD pictures. This week, the source code on Instagram's website has revealed that photos are now being uploaded at 1080 x 1080 which suggests an update to the app in the near future will allow everyone to view the pictures at that quality.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Canon PowerShot S120 review

The Canon PowerShot S120 is the 2013 successor to the PowerShow S110 and is the latest in the PowerShot S line. It costs around £200-£210 new and is a steal if you consider the multitude of features which come built-in.

It takes (4000 x 3000) 12.1MP pictures at shutter speeds varying from 1/2500 of a second to 250 seconds. The automatic camera mode produces crisp images with deep colours which is perfect for simply capturing a moment. Though, there are also modes that prioritise shutter speed or aperture and automate every other variable if you want a picture to look a specific way without the process of taking it being too complicated. There are also full manual, custom and program modes for people who like to fiddle with every setting.

If you'd like to apply an effect, the camera comes with dozens including fish-eye, miniature, and background defocus – which produces SLR styled images. The HDR effect produces pictures with vivid colours however if the subject is moving quickly, noticeable outlines appear which spoil the image.
 High Dynamic Range

There are also numerous filters and modes so the camera can adapt for any scene or environment. These include an underwater mode, a firework mode, a portrait mode, and an impressive star mode. The star mode split into a further three modes: one which simply takes high quality images of stars, another which takes a picture of star trails (works best on a tripod), and one which records a video of the stars moving across the sky (also works better on a tripod).
Star trail mode

There are also a handful of settings available on every mode and filter for continuous shooting, self-timing, changing the aspect ratio, and determining the image size (as well as the really basic settings such as adjusting focus manually and turning flash on or off). The continuous shooting setting allows users to take 12.1 shots per second for the first five frames and then 9.4 shots per second for all the frames following.

On the front of the camera there is a control ring which you can change what setting it tweaks. By default, it controls the 5x optical zoom in most modes. This extremely handy feature, which is uncommon on most point-and-shoot cameras, makes zooming easy and effortless.

The PowerShot S120 boasts the ability to wirelessly share or backup pictures. You can connect your phone or tablet to the camera via WiFi to review pictures as soon as they have been taken, or even connect the camera to an online service such as Flickr, Google Drive, or CANON iMAGE GATEWAY to back them up.

One of the things that the PowerShot S120 does best is record videos. It can record 1920 x 1080 Full HD videos at 60 fps. The two slow motion modes allow recording at 240fps at a compromised 320 x 240 resolution or 120fps at VGA quality (640 x 480).

Regular video recording does expose one of the S120's major flaws. The microphone, unlike previous models of this camera, is situated on the top which is great if you're trying to record audio in all directions, however poor if you only want to primarily record the sounds in front of you (like what most people will want). This means that there is often lots of unnecessary background noise - especially when recording in loud/busy places. If you can get over the sound niggle, the video quality is very good overall.

The build quality of the camera is very high. The metal and plastic body make the camera feel well built and like it could survive a few drops. The control wheel on the front feels especially sturdy and the 3-inch multi-touch screen on the back feels like it's not going to crack easily. One problem is the battery life though - or lack of it. The Canon battery really doesn't last long which is a shame since this is such a good little camera. Sadly, the more settings you change and the more modes you use, the less the battery seems to last.

Overall, despite the unfortunate misplacement of the microphone and the short battery life, the picture and video quality more than makes up for the flaws this camera has. The sheer amount of settings, modes, and features this camera boasts makes it a very good product - and the high build quality only adds to that. I'd highly recommend this camera for day trips and weekend breaks however you'll always need to pack the charger with you if you go anywhere for more than a few days as the battery will simply not last.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Minecraft: as you've never seen it before

Today at Minecon 2015 in London, the trailer for Minecraft Story Mode was debuted. Despite the name, it is not actually a mode for the version of Minecraft that currently exists, it is instead a completely new standalone game. Story Mode, when released, will be an adventure game with a structured story line which will adapt to the player's decisions - rather than be a sandbox game like what Minecraft is where players can do whatever they want.

From what was revealed in the trailer, it can be gathered that the objective will be to defeat creepers, zombies, and other Minecraft monsters with a team of other characters. Although the trailer shows the game in third person, it's highly likely that the actual game will be first person just like what Minecraft is.

It is predicted that Minecraft Story Mode will arrive for computers, consoles and other devices later this year.

The best Vlogs on the Internet

Casey Neistat is a New York City based film maker known for his inimitable YouTube videos including 'Make it Count' for Nike and 'Bike Lanes'. In 2010, he also had a show on HBO with his brother Van. 100 days ago, on his 34th birthday, he took on the mammoth challenge of creating daily vlogs and uploading them on YouTube. They are beautiful short films (usually under 10 minutes long) which document his fascinating life.

Recurring topics which appear on the vlogs regularly include him talking very vaguely about his new business (which he hasn't provided the specifics of yet - or even what the company is called or does), question and answer sessions, spending time with his family, mail time, mooching around on a 'hover board' (see below), and lots and lots of meetings.

What makes these vlogs special, is the high quality in which they are produced. It's impressive that these videos have all been shot and edited in the same day. Everything in the vlogs from the beautiful time lapses of the New York City skyline to the gripping anecdotes he occasionally includes are fresh, unique and leave you wanting to watch more... Which isn't a big problem as another one is on it's way within the next 24 hours.

The first vlog:

Hover Boards:

One of my favorites:

Vlog 100: