Wednesday, January 24, 2007

BBC too generous to viewers!

Ofcom wants to prevent viewers from being able to download a whole TV or radio series at once from the BBC, and is insisting that book readings and classical music should only be made available in restricted proprietary formats.

It's not clear who Ofcom (the telecoms and media regulator) is working for - but it doesn't seem to be you or me, if this story in the Register is any guide.

The BBC plans to make more of the programmes we're paying for available to us via the internet, with services like catch-up TV via the net, simultaneous broadcast over the internet and air, and unrestricted downloads of selected programmes.

Ofcom has produced a Market Impact Assessment, which objects to this on the grounds that someone else might want to charge you for similar services, and recommends that the service be made less convenient to consumers.

If you think that paying once for programmes (through the licence fee) is enough, there is some good news. The BBC Trust responded by saying that Ofcom's report is interesting and all, but they are also going to consider the potential value to the public of the new services, and that their decision will be based on "an informed judgement of all the evidence, in the best interests of licence fee payers".

At least someone has our interests at heart. Shame it's not the regulator.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Onwards and upwards

On a couple of trips into the surrounding areas we saw some spectacular views, and some very atmospheric ones -- for which read "so much mist we couldn't see a thing". World's End is supposed to have a huge drop and an amazing vista, but for us, the word ended in a wall of grey. I'm assured that's very rare! And the views later on were pretty spectacular...

...until the sun set while we were some way from the carpark!
On the way to the Rest House we were getting directions from a local. The road was pretty bumpy, so the driver asked him if it was like this all the way. "Yes," he replied, "it's a good road!" We eventually made it (after avoiding a place that looked like it had an hourly room rate), and had an excellent meal, a hot shower, and a fair room. The blankets were clean too - we'd just bought a pile of them earlier in the day.

Back to work on the scenery the next day...

Another night we stayed in an old Tea Plantation owner's bungalow, converted into a guesthouse. Apparently it has spectacular views... so the manager dug out his laptop and showed us what we would have seen if we'd come on any other day of the year.

The plantation manager was telling us that the tea plantation is still in operation, and they try to run the estate on fair and just principles, with decent salaries (by local standards) for the workers. It seems that many plantations keep their pickers in one-room houses, pay them a pittance, and give them few if any rights. He also had an interesting take on the benefits and drawbacks of the Fair Trade movement.

That's the road to the plantation. It's an excellent road!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Heading for the hills

We navigated level crossings and landslides (from last year's rains)...

...and encountered luxury (in the shape of air conditioned tea rooms, selling excellent tea), and hard conditions (workers doing manual labour under the bright sun, on the tea plantations and by the roads - I did not expect to see old ladies working on the roads!)

The countryside was magnificent...

but Sri Lanka is making me think a little more about our political difficulties in Northern Ireland, how hard it seems to be for us to agree on comparatively small issues, and about how we actually get the goods we consume in our daily lives.

Take your eye off the ball, and what happens?

I go on holiday to Sri Lanka, which has its own security problems, and what do I find back home?

Now that the main terrorists are on ceasefire, and about to come into government in NI, the UK Government only want to cut back our own civil liberties!

In the "good old days" (TM) the police needed to have some kind of actual suspicion that crime was afoot before mounting a raid to secure evidence. Now, they are introducing an order [see draft law] to allow the police to confiscate stuff where they don't even have a suspicion of a crime. All they need is to think they might get suspicious, once they finish combing through whatever they grab, and before you can say "no scope for abuse whatsoever", your records, computers, photo albums, goods, whatever have been confiscated indefinitely while PC Plod tries to see if you have done anything that he can book you for.

There is lots more not to like, buried among the mind-numbing details, but that's enough to be getting on with. Slugger O'Toole has highlighted it, twice, and now the press are covering it.

You have until January 22nd to comment [see consultation page]. They are also asking about something called "community support officers", whatever that means. Probably bad news too.

Bah humbug.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

A typical conversation

Shortly after arriving in Kandy I had the following conversation - over and over again, it seemed. At least twice, anyway:

Maithrie (in Sinhalese, or it might be Greek): Blah blah blah blah.
Shopkeeper (or as it may be, taxi driver or waiter): Blah blah blah blah.
Maithrie: Blah blah blah blah. Blah!
Shopkeeper: Blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah.
Maithrie: What do you think, Paul?

It's got better now, fortunately - or maybe my telepathy has improved. My Sinhalese remains shamefully nonexistent.

Heading to Kandy

We left Colombo (fairly) early to head for Kandy. Radheeka, who is a bit of an expert on getting food, told us about a favourite wee curry place of hers, on the way.

It even had toilets.

Further on, we saw an elephant by the river.

A bit closer to Kandy, another opportunity for food presented itself. Coconuts, when you slice the top off, reveal a clear, refreshing drink. You can eat some of the insides as well. Very good - and easier to get than bottled water, in the countryside.

There were also fortune tellers who, for a modest fee, would tell you whatever you wanted to hear.