Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Off Topic: What makes something interesting?

Interest fuels our desire to learn, but what makes something interesting? 

At some point in our lives, most of us have wondered how we to be appear more interesting. Well here is the answer: coherence, complexity, and contrarianism. Interest is the synthesis of these three key ingredients. For something to be interesting it should be conveyed in a simple and easy to understand manner, while also being, complex ie paint a detailed and vivid picture. It should also be contrarian: it should be something that goes against the grain or has the ability to subvert our expectations.

For instance, Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Not from disemboweling Samurai or Kamikaze fighter pilots, but from train commuters. In Tokyo, suicidal citizens were throwing themselves under trains and causing numerous delays. So the stations threatened to fine or sue the families of the felones-de-se if they did it within a certain radius of the stations. This led to the suicidal citizens get off at the first stop outside of Tokyo - and then throw themselves under the train they had just ridden on. [1]

Hopefully, I expressed that elegantly. I suppose you could say that the events in Tokyo are quite complex compared to how you would imagine. The image of Tokyo is contrarian to how we live our own lives and to the image we might have of Japan. What may also surprise you to know is that Japan is not the most suicidal area of Japan and suicide rates have been falling across the country.

Then there is Foxconn, the electronics manufacturer - that assembles iPhone, iPad and MacBooks - whose employees were so suicidal that they put up nets around their factory in Shenzhen because their employees were going up to the roof of the building. And then throwing themselves off. These are things we would baulk at if they happened in the UK. Unfortunately, you can’t always expect interesting to be divorced from morbid and unpleasant, but why are these people choosing to end their own lives en masse? [2]

Tokyo is the epitome of overcrowding. The average commuter spends 67 minutes on a train that carries, many more times the capacity it was designed for. Then there are prices at the entry end of the property market which are rapidly rising. To compound this further, China's social support services are overburdened and there is low awareness of mental health issues. China has equally harsh conditions to the Foxconn factory where employees earned only £1.12 p/h. If the lowest paid workers were to take the full 80 hours per month overtime available they still wouldn’t make enough to have to pay tax. Despite what you might expect, there were up to 3000 unemployed queuing at the factory gates when ABC news arrived to report on the situation.

Human behaviour is often strange, complex and surprising. Yet you regularly hear people suggest that the world is full of unpleasant people. They are wrong. It is easy to do something unpleasant. For example, how many lives did the terrorists take in the 9/11 attacks? 2973 How much money did the hijackers of the 911 flight spend on bullets and plane tickets? Let’s say hypothetically £2,973, a pound per life. How many lives could you save for the same amount of money £2,973? I have honestly no idea, but I bet it’s a hell of a lot less. Right and easy are rarely the same thing but it just goes to show how easy it is to be unkind and how much it is noticed compared to something good. Then there is the issue of how we treat people who have behaved badly?

One way is to put them in prison. After all, if you were surrounded in a room full of murderers, rapists and psychopaths you wouldn’t want to be around them, would you? But what if you still misbehave? Then they put you in solitary. They take you away from the murderers, rapists, and psychopaths. They deprive you of their company as punishment because that is how much we crave human company. Loneliness can be a terrible thing but it’s not the number of people around you that counts: It’s the quality of the relationship you have with them.

What happens, however, when we are nice to people? Here is a quote from Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Dr. Robert B. Cialdini:

"I know of no better illustration of the way reciprocal obligations can reach long and powerfully into the future than the perplexing story of $5,000 of relief aid that was exchanged between Mexico and Ethiopia. In 1985, Ethiopia could justly lay claim to the greatest suffering and privation in the world. Its economy was in ruin. Its food supply had been ravaged by years of drought and internal war. Its inhabitants were dying by the thousands from disease and starvation. Under these circumstances, I would not have been surprised to learn of a $5,000 relief donation from Mexico to that wrenchingly needy country. I remember my feeling of amazement, though, when a brief newspaper item I was reading insisted that the aid had gone in the opposite direction. Native officials of the Ethiopian Red Cross had decided to send the money to help the victims of that year’s earthquakes in Mexico City.

It is both a personal bane and a professional blessing that whenever I am confused by some aspect of human behavior, I feel driven to investigate further. In this instance, I was able to track down a fuller account of the story. Fortunately,  a journalist who had been as bewildered as I, by the Ethiopians’ actions, had asked for an explanation. The answer he received offered eloquent validation of the reciprocity rule: Despite the enormous needs prevailing in Ethiopia, the money was being sent to Mexico because, in 1935, Mexico had sent aid to Ethiopia when it was invaded by Italy (“Ethiopian Red Cross,” 1985). So informed, I remained awed,  but I was no longer puzzled. The need to reciprocate had transcended great cultural differences, long distances, acute famine, many years and immediate self-interest. Quite simply, a half-century later, against all countervailing forces, obligation triumphed." [3]

So, we can see that people respond appropriately to kindness and unpleasantness. No shocker there, but it's the extent that people go to that surprises.

Aside from the coherence, complexity and contrarian rule for making something interesting what have we learned? That when people are faced with what seem like insurmountable problems they may consider ending it all? That when you treat people with kindness they respond appropriately? That’s not much of a surprise, although, it was interesting. So again the question is why? And the answer is simple. There is a fourth ingredient: emotion. This piece of writing has had both negative and positive elements; although the fourth component isn’t essential it can make a big difference. Alternatively, if surprise is so vital then is it any wonder film, TV companies and writers try to stop spoilers getting out? Well then, consider the spoiler paradox. Research published in the journal Psychological Science indicates that knowing the ending of a story before you read it doesn’t hurt the experience of the story. You are more likely to enjoy the story more than you would otherwise. Who knew? [4] [5]

And if neither surprise nor emotion is essential, and my skills as a writer are certainly not great so there goes coherence, then what is left? Well, the most popular name for a boat in 1996 was Serenity. You may have found that simple little detail interesting but most likely not. Perhaps, it is just down to articulacy: The ability to express complex ideas simply. Or perhaps combinations are the key to unlocking the answer to what makes something interesting.


Saturday, 13 February 2016

Why are Ethiopia and India so Innovative?

Philip Morris: "...Probably IndiaandEthiopia because they are very innovative people who find the most amazing ways of doing things with little funding." (Missing Episodes Group Facebook Q&A)


 As I stated in a previous post about Ethiopia  the country had imported 60% of its programmes up until the early to mid-seventies. Then after the Marxist regime came into power in Ethiopia more and more programming became locally produced having a detrimental effect on the quality of programmes being offered by ETV. By the nineties, an incredible 98% of ETV's output was locally sourced material. An achievement of some merit in terms of self-sufficiency, but utterly dire in terms of programme quality.


Compare this with India. TV was introduced in the late-1950s by All India Radio, but on a very small scale. It was only by 1972 that things started to take off and viewing hours were increased to more than the usual five with seven stations broadcasting on a regional basis. There had also been numerous fallouts with the BBC over various issues and ITV reps had started visiting the country.

"A regular service with a daily news bulletin was started in 1965. In 1961, the broadcasts were expanded to include a school educational television project. In time, Indian films and programs consisting of compilation of musicals from Indian films joined the program line-up as the first entertainment programs. A limited number of old U.S. and British shows were also telecast sporadically. The first major expansion of television in India began in 1972, when a second television station was opened in Bombay. This was followed by stations in Srinagar and Amritsar (1973), and Calcutta, Madras and Lucknow in 1975. Relay stations were also set up in a number of cities to extend the coverage of the regional stations." -

In 1970, production of TV sets in India climbed from a mere 16k (with 60k in operation) to 40k in 1972 (with 180k in operation). In 1964, Africa had 490k still amazingly small but well ahead of India a good six years earlier. In 68/69 India had 12k TV sets and Cambodia had 50k; Singapore 131k. Cambodia was a bigger market than India at that time.

"In the decade 1981-90, the number of transmitters increased from 19 to 519. There was also a steady increase of the Television Centres which produced limited hours of local programmes. During other timings all the transmitting stations, including those located in Studio Production centres, were relaying the programmes from New Delhi, and those limited hours of television was also mostly in the language of Hindi, which the southern Indian states did not really understand, leaving a big gap in communication."

We can see here: that India in 63/64 bought 17hrs of COI and 9 hrs of BBC with no ITV purchases listed at all. Totalling a mere 26hrs of UK programming for that year.

So why were India and Ethiopia Mentioned?

Simply because they both had firm commitments to producing locally TV which was immeasurably hard and that is an amazing achievement and qualifies them as places that would most benefit from TIEA's services. Although, I think Ghana was much more organised but never became the massive market that it later did in the eighties and nineties. Also, this quote, from a US film expert, perhaps sheds light on why TIEA's service may be so vital to the country:

With several countries, including India, warming up to the concept of film preservation and restoration, do you see it emerging as a possible career option in future? "Yes, it is. Because young people who will pick up the art of preserving and restoring films today, are going to possess skills that are extremely rare and important. The person who will be able to understand both the analog and the digital part of film preservation, is going to be very much in demand because there will be a need of such people." -

India could eclipse China as a superpower. China has a lead in manufacturing but the great uptake of the Franca Lingua English in India which has drawn in so many call centres means that they are more suitable for banking and financial services.

And here is a clipping from the Times of India 5th of October 1972:

Vinegar Syndrome: What is it and how does it work?

Vinegar Syndrome: What is it and how does it work?

I was going to write something but this first link is unbeatably comprehensive and brief:

These two are also very good:

Prove it: Evidence Vs. Proof

People attempt to prove something with evidence. Proof is certainty, evidence is probability. An argument without evidence is an assertion. Evidence without an argument lacks interpretation. 

Anything may be presented as evidence, you can deny that the evidence proves something but if you deny that it is evidence then you are a denialist. When evidence proves something beyond all reasonable doubt it becomes a fact. When it is a fact you know something and if it isn't you believe it rather than know it. All very simple. But, honestly, what is the point of discussing evidence when so many don't seem to understand the difference between proof and evidence?

"Denialist (noun): A person who refuses to admit the truth of a concept or proposition that is supported by the majority of scientific or historical evidence"

Further Reading:

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Ghana Broadcasting and Local Programme Production

Everybody wants to be first and everybody wants it now. Nigeria, with the help of Overseas-Rediffusion, was the first country in Africa to install a television service, in October 1959. Just in time for the 1960 Olympic Games. Specifically, to service ex-pats, educate the masses and spread government propaganda. Also, it was a genuine source of pride for one of the (then) poorest nations to be the first to have a television service, but at what cost? 

“In 1975 the average production cost per hour BBC was $30k; it was not unusual for an hour long BBC or ITV for an hour-long drama to cost $100K. Compare that with the estimated production cost for Nigeria for local production of $150 per hour (not 150k just 150) and we can see that cost wise it was cheaper for Nigeria to buy an hour of American programming at $60 per hour. It wasn't just the cost that was prohibitive but a lack of expertise. Yes engineers may have been trained abroad but there was no such training for actors, writers, producers, directors and so on.” - 'Broadcasting in the Third World' by Elihu Katz and George Wedell. Chapter 5 programming patterns.

The inauguration of Nigeria’s television service was rushed, not properly orchestrated or implemented and relied heavily on imported TV material. 65% of the nation’s television output was imported and 35% was locally produced, despite initial pledges. However, it was the first Television service in Africa. Ghana, on the other hand, took longer but was always efficient. Originally known as GBC TV (Ghana Broadcasting Corporation), GTV (Ghana Today Television) is the national public broadcaster of Ghana and commenced broadcasts on the 31st of July 1965 with the help of a Canadian consortium. They remained the sole television broadcaster till the 1990s. Consequently, GTV is by far and away the dominant channel and has a 75% local programming quota but this seems to be mainly comprised of educational programming, the news and an over-emphasis on current affairs programmes in the main but also shows a significant number of foreign films.

 "The basic problem has been the financial cost in building local television systems on an economically sound foundation. Often, this is only possible by importing low-cost American productions. Films and television programs produced in the industrialized countries (especially the United States) are offered at dumping prices if you compare the cost of local productions. In most cases, the commercial and non-commercial television stations and networks extensively use these inexpensive imports. In Ghana, for example, an hour of Ghana-produced, television program cost between US$800 and $2,400. By contrast, American-produced television is offered to African countries at a cost of $130-150 per one half-hour. Along with the entertainment value, political and cultural attitudes and values are also being imported in what is known as cultural invasion, cultural levelling, cultural imperialism, or `picture tube imperialism."
"Will such an alleged cultural imperialism via TV hinder the creation of a national identity in African countries? This is feared by H.I. Schiller in his book Communication and American Empire. Referring to Friedrich List, a communications analyst, he calls for "cultural protectionism," which, like the trade protection of an earlier era, is said to have an educational function."
"This fear and caution, finds expression in the various mass media legislation that govern electronic media in most African countries. In Ghana, for instance, the Ghana Frequency and Control Board stipulates that the content of private TV transmission should have positive-bias ratio in favour of local production of 60:40. As of the late 1980s, foreign TV programs formed less than 20% of Ghanaian television. Other countries however, import at least 60% of their TV programs, most of which are aired during prime time."
"It is for the same logistical reasons that the state-owned GBC is stuck with one channel. The government had hoped to open another channel to solely air indigenous languages in the radio sector. This requires the provision of satellite technology to redistribute TV programs throughout the country. Currently, there is only one post and telecommunications microwave link available in the country and GBC requires digital control technology to introduce another channel. There is also a need for refurbish and rehabilitate the GBC before the country can look at a second channel."

In 1992, DWB reported, in issue 105 & 107 that Ghana had screened The Power of the Daleks in 1986, and that the missing serial had been destroyed in a fire in the Ghana TV film library had been destroyed in the fire of 23 May 1989. Later this was all revealed to be a hoax, apart from the fire which was a genuine event. More details and footage of the fire can be found here: Along with details of the countries actual showings of Doctor Who in 1965 and 1966.

Finally, in a Country that accepted so little in the way of imported programmes, it is hard to see that much could have been found here. Paul Vanezis (of the BBC Restoration Team) stated that: "'s unlikely that there is any material in Ghana, Uganda or Zimbabwe. However, nothing has been ruled out regarding them." It is hard to disagree with that statement. However, during an interview with JR Southall for Starburst magazine, Philip Morris (Head of TIEA) did mention he found an unspecified amount of ITV material there but didn't say whether it was missing or not. So there is still hope. Ghana did buy the first series of Z-Cars and Dr. Finlay's Book.

Ghana Broadcasting Corporation - Accra


National Archives file: DO 35/9466

'Broadcasting in the Third World' by Elihu Katz and George Wedell.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Unseen Treasures

All research is a quest for knowledge, and as such begins with a question. We seek information driven by our curiosity; hunt out those dark areas where the known ends and the unknown begins. Then we attack them. We throw every conceivable “how”, “where”, “why”, “when” and “what if” at them in order that may give up their secrets and elucidate the dark areas of our perception. The beginnings are usually easy and plentiful, but then we begin to struggle as our gains become smaller and harder won. Consequently, we go further, try harder and become more inventive with our queries and where we search for answers. Along the way there are people and organisations that both help and hinder our progress. There are the libraries, archives and various publications that often dispense valuable particles of information and then there are other libraries, archives and custodians such as universities who for various reasons such as potential copyright infringement refuse entry to many avid researchers of a non-academic status making their exhibits closely guarded secrets for the exclusive privilege for a select few. For the few who offer a wealth of information (such as, the National Archives and the British Library) for the enrichment of anybody who cares to seek it out, there is an even greater number of academic institutions and archives that withhold potential treasures from those that would enjoy them the most, and even commercial projects, while remaining criminally underfunded. Indeed, they could allow access and charge a fee, yet they don’t. Copyright is often a binding issue but clearly something needs to change. Education for whatever reason is something that most would agree should be encouraged across all classes and benefits our society.

As fans of Doctor Who and other vintage television we all know the story behind episodes that are not currently held in the BBC archives, but will history repeat itself:

“At the moment, everything is recorded and everything is kept for a minimum of five years. But we do exercise a selection policy on that.  We keep what you would expect us to keep, so all the drama is kept, all the entertainment is kept, all the very high value, expensive programmes to make. We keep our news; we keep all the current affairs. The areas where we tend to be more selective would be, for example, in a long-running quiz show, where it's really important to have examples of that, but we wouldn't necessarily keep them all forever. Because when we're talking about keeping something here, we're saying we're going to keep it forever and that's a big overhead to have.”– Adam Lee, BBC Archive

Archiving is an expensive business, few would deny that but television is becoming cheaper and more ubiquitous and plentiful. Has TV’s cultural significance been in decline as a consequence:

"Music videos and other content such as presentation are equally valid. The rightful place for all this is in a National Television Archive. Who are we to judge what the future deems important or not? The current system of haphazardness though means that valuable content could be lost and worthless content could be kept because current systems are increasingly being driven by commercial - and not cultural - systems of selection and preservation. Modern digital technology means that everything can be kept easily - and yet less material is archived now than in 1980." – Chris Perry, Kaleidoscope

Also, in January 2015, the British Library launched a campaign to raise forty million pounds in order to digitise the nation’s sound archive totalling more than six million items before degradation and lack of playback technology becomes an insurmountable problem. This includes formats such as wax cylinders, lacquer discs, cassette players, reel-to-reel tapes and minidiscs. Contained within the archive is the voice of Florence Nightingale, full recordings of theatre productions going back 40 years, including the opening night of Hamlet in the Old Vic, starring Peter O'Toole and directed by Laurence Olivier. As well as recordings of local accents and dialects used to monitor the evolution of the English language and sounds of rare or extinct wildlife: All unique and invaluable to many.

So, lack of funding is one issue but what about negligent copyright holders? 

Both links are about negligent copyright holders and I think are good reasons to have a national television archive. There are some obvious drawbacks as to the cost of maintaining such an archive as well as deciding what should be kept. Also, copyright law can be an obstacle when it comes to storing multiple copies; although, the emergence of digital storage eases problem it also provides a whole new fresh set of problems:

The problem is just limited to visual media either:

“Vint Cerf, a ‘father of the internet’, says he is worried that all the images and documents we have been saving on computers will eventually be lost.
Currently a Google vice-president, he believes this could occur as hardware and software become obsolete.He fears that future generations will have little or no record of the 21st Century as we enter what he describes as a ‘digital Dark Age’.”:

Everything changes and nothing stays the same. The very nature of the universe is impermanent. We are on a rock moving through space around the sun on the arm of a galaxy that is spinning in a constantly growing universe. Change is a given but should lose be so easily accepted? Then again what is the point keeping a lot of this material if so few get to see it?

June 2016: