Monday, 30 May 2011

TNT/Fransat/TNTSAT versus Freeview+/Freesat+

To co-operate or not, is that the question?

The UK YouView project, (which will include in one 15 day electronic programme guide (EPG), 8 days of future programmes and 7 days of programmes available from “Video on Demand or Catch-up services delivered by ADSL) is in its later stages, ready for a launch in early 2012.  Meanwhile in France the Conseil Superieur Audiovisuel (CSA) is reflecting on the possibility of having an extended programme guide for the TNT (Television Numerique Terrestre), the French equivalent of Freeview. At present the EPG is restricted to “Now and Next” information, which many broadcasters don’t even bother to populate.

In March 2009, the last time I looked on the CSA website for anything concerning the reason for the lack of a 7 day EPG for TNT French Television channels, there was a few paragraphs from which I have translated the following. 

“We are not authorised by the law of 24 December 2001 to demand that the broadcasters publish more than "now and next" information. To create an EPG we would have to call for bids and appoint an editor for such a guide.  For that to work all the broadcasters would have to give their programme information to the editor in advance.  We don't have the authority to force them to do so and, based on previous experience, the broadcasters will refuse to give this information to a third party. Without their agreement and, because there is no law giving us the authority to force them to co-operate, the CSA is unable to call for the creation of such a service".

I was so flabbergasted that I printed it out and showed it to Christiane. This response has subsequently been taken down but I still have the printed copy.

The lack of a real EPG has profound implications for the hardware market here. Since 2007/8 users of Sky+ and Freeview+ boxes in the UK can record a programme directly from the EPG; or decide to record a series in the same way; or, if there is a recording conflict (meaning that you have programmed the box to record more than two programmes whilst you watch another), can allow the box to find an alternative emission of the same programme and record that instead.  Freesat users had this functionality as soon as the service was launched in May 2008.  Here we are still in the dark ages. You are required to set the channel, the day, the start and the finish times for each recording just like we all did with analogue video recorders!  (How often did you get it wrong?)  So there are very few boxes with integrated hard disks on sale in France and they are all very basic in functionality. They are also too expensive, and consequently nobody buys them.

We have a Humax HDR Freesat+ box with a 320 Gb disc for UK programmes and it’s a pleasure to use. The only problems are that the disk fills up too quickly and the software hangs sometimes! It did go wrong once and we sent it back to Humax in the UK for repair. We had bought it from Argos and, in order to undercut other vendors, they had negotiated a one year warranty instead of Humax’s standard two years. It was over a year old so we were expecting a big bill but Humax just sent us a new box! There is now a 1 terabyte version available.

Because there was no TNT here a couple of years ago, and only six analogue channels, I decided to stay with satellite for the French TV and I set up a new dedicated dish pointing at AB3 at 5 degW. I only bought a basic standard definition Fransat box, giving me the 18 channels of the TNT.  I decided to buy a basic box with no recording facilities, thinking that I would buy an HD box with twin tuners and a hard disk later, but I did put in a quad LNB and ran two cables back to the living room in anticipation.  (You need two cables and twin tuners to be able to watch one programme while you are recording another on a different transponder).  

I chose Fransat because just as I want nothing to do with Sky (who are getting better, since they are much more customer focussed than they used to be, and very technologically innovative, but expensive) neither do I want any sort of link with Canal+ and TNTSAT (Canal+ are focussed solely on themselves and treat their customers with disdain, preferring to dictate how they should behave than to provide good service, they are technologically backward looking and even more expensive than Sky). 

Both the Fransat and the TNTSAT bouquets are encrypted with the latest version of ViaAccess so you have to buy a box with that decoder and can't use just any satellite receiver.  The concern with pirating of these bouquets in North Africa is cited as the reason for this policy.  Perhaps it is a question of broadcasting rights, like the BBC iPlayer, which is blocked from access by would-be users outside the UK like me.
It now looks as if I should wait for the CSA to finish reflecting on an extended EPG before I spend my money! On the assumption that the CSA decide that this is a valid use of some of the broadcast bandwidth which will be liberated by the analogue switch off, and then that a law is passed to force the broadcasters to work together, perhaps it will arrive in another ten years or so. (This may sound unduly pessimistic but that’s how long it took to decide on the route of a bypass nearby at Puybrun.  The decision was finally confirmed when the biggest employer in the area threatened to relocate because the transport links were so bad!  Then it took another two years to build it). 

Finally, manufacturers will have to decide that making a Fransat box with something similar to Freeview+ functionality is worthwhile.  Of course we will probably have to wait even longer for things like “series recording”, because the law is unlikely to specify the functionality and, if the CSA is to be believed, there will be no co-operation, or forward thinking amongst the broadcasters, beyond the basics required by the law.  Without the right information in the EPG datastream, companies like Humax will be unable to transfer their full expertise to the French market.  Humax is, however, already selling a box with an integrated hard disk, for TNTSAT, which permits some of the functions in my Freesat HDR.   

By the way the organisation that was formed to set up the French TNT has been disbanded because they consider that their task is complete!

Post script
After nearly two years without French Television I finally connected up an aerial two weeks ago (February 2014) and discovered that there is now an EPG which is mostly fully populated.  I have yet to find out when it was introduced and whether any manufacturers have produced boxes which can use it to set recordings like you can on Freeview and Freesat.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Did He Lose It?

A-t-il pété un plomb?
It is now six days since his arrest and Dominique Strauss-Kahn will be released from jail today into a state of “house arrest” more strict than that imposed on prominent political prisoners in countries like Burma.

He will be confined to an apartment which has been rented specifically for the purpose.  The apartment will be fitted with cameras, no doubt linked to the New York prosecutor’s office in some way so they they can be forewarned of his defence strategy.  He will have to pay for an armed guard outside his door 24/7 to stop him from leaving.  He is required to wear an electronic bracelet.  He has had to deposit $1 million in cash with the court and give a $5 million bank guarantee that will be forfeit if he tries to escape!  All this is costing at least $200,000 per month, not including his legal fees.

It is ironic that this monthly sum probably represents nearly ten years of earnings for the victim of the alleged sexual assault.  In a case like this an out of court settlement is often the end of the whole affair and in the US large sums of money change hands.  It is inconceivable that someone who works as a chambermaid will be able to refuse the money that will be offered, and continue with the court case, so the questions left to be answered are when and how much?  Since her lawyers are paid a percentage of the settlement, however, they will try to jack it up as much as they can, they will also try to delay it, because that will put more pressure on the accused!  Of course, if investigations by the defence find anything detrimental to the character or veracity of the accuser, the scenario could change completely and a much earlier settlement would be likely!  In France buying your way out of trouble in this way will be viewed with distaste and will be yet another nail in his political coffin.  Being rich in France is already a reason to distrust or dislike someone but then to use the money for such a purpose will compound the offence. 

If a settlement is reached, it is still possible for the New York Prosecutor to bring the case to court based on the testimony given in police interviews and in front of the Grand Jury.  But he then risks losing it because the strength of the prosecution's case in front of a jury would be greatly weakened without its principal witness. Don't forget that his is an elected appointment.  There are no votes in losing cases and for that reason I think that this scenario is unlikely.

In the French media the whole affair is still topping the news bulletins. France continues to be shocked that the person who was the favourite candidate to win the 2012 presidential election could be in such a serious situation.   DSK has no further chance of any public office and, once this affair is resolved, his best bet is to plan his retirement strategy, but unfortunately for him other serious accusations are coming to light.

At first many people were saying that, although DSK was well known to be a great seducer, they didn’t believe that he would ever try to force himself on anyone.  Recently Tristane Banon, a French journalist/author has re-stated allegations made on tv in 2007, that in 2002 he made sexual advances towards her which became violent and amounted to attempted rape.  She resisted and the incident finished with a fight between them.  She hasn't made a formal complaint against him and she has said that she didn’t report it at the time, because she thought that no one would believe her. 

She told her mother, Anne Mansouret, who is a councillor (PS) for Haute Normandie on the Conseil Regional de l’Eure, about it at the time and there is an interview with her here.

Mme. Mansouret says « J'en ai parlé une fois avec DSK. Il a dit “je ne sais pas ce qui m'a pris, j'ai pété un plomb". »

“I spoke to him once about it and he said “I don’t know what took hold of me, I lost it”.”

Of course, this is all hearsay and has no legal force against DSK without a formal complaint behind it, but it certainly raises more questions about his character in my mind. 

I think he’s had it, “ses carottes sont cuites!” as they sometimes say here.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The End of a Presidential Candidacy

The spectacle of Dominique Strauss-Kahn in handcuffs when he appeared at the court on Monday afternoon (French time), unshaven and wearing the same clothes that he was arrested in on Saturday night, has profoundly shocked France. The word most frequently used to describe these images and the treatment of DSK is “violent”. The decision of the judge to lock him up instead of granting bail is considered here as “brutal”. The French can’t understand how this treatment of an accused person of his standing can be consistent with the supposed presumption of innocence accorded to all.

I agree. New York revels in such exhibitions for the media and the higher the profile of the accused the better. In Manhattan they even inform the photographers when the accused is going to be taken from the police station to the court so that they can be ready for the “handcuff shot”! In many states in the USA the higher ranks of the police and the justice system are elected posts and you must always look to the next term of office!

There is, however, one advantage of the US justice system; compared to France it is relatively swift. Cases usually come to trial within weeks or months and are decided rapidly. In France, under the inquisitorial system in which a judge leads the investigation, high profile cases can take more than ten years to come to court whilst enquiries are made, evidence slowly assembled and, one sometimes suspects, whilst political aspects are being played out behind closed doors.  One of the scariest things about the French justice system is that even straightforward criminal cases often take three years to come to court and in the meantime the accused’s life is on hold while they wait, either on bail or in jail.

The UK has perhaps the best of both worlds. It has both a relatively swift justice system and much more protection for the accused before they come to trial. The media are constrained in what they can publish concerning the accusations and in many cases, where identification evidence is important, the accused is hidden from view in transit from prison to the court. This attempts to ensure that juries are not prejudiced by media reporting before court proceedings take place. In the special case of rape or sexual assault the accuser’s identity is protected for life and a debate continues concerning whether the accused should also have their identity protected until conviction.

Whatever the truth is about the alleged sexual assault by DSK, on a chambermaid at the Sofitel near Times Square, it effectively closes the book on any chance of him standing as a presidential candidate at the French Socialist Party primaries. These are scheduled to take place between 28th June and 13th July 2011 and there is no possibility that he could be cleared of all charges by then.

This has serious implications for French politics. For a long time now DSK has been topping the polls as the French people’s preferred socialist candidate for the 2012 Presidential Elections, well ahead of François Hollande, Martine Aubry and Ségolène Royal. He has also been consistently ahead of Sarkozy in polls which measure second round voting intentions. Without DSK the Socialists are left with the likelihood of a Hollande vs Aubry run off for their primaries because Ségolène Royal is too far behind. It would be ironic if François Hollande is chosen and Ségolène Royal has to give him her support in 2012.  Ségolène got only half–hearted support from François Hollande (her partner of thirty years, who was Party Secretary at the time) for her presidential campaign in 2007 and as a consequence she was ill-prepared against Sarkozy. She split up with François Hollande in June 2007, a month after she lost the election. They had had four children together.

Against Hollande, Sarkozy would have a much greater chance than he would have done against DSK, but another scenario is possible.

Sarkozy is so low in the polls that he has been chasing the National Front vote, blatantly trying to take the UMP party to the right on issues like Immigration and National Identity. This has left the centre open for candidates like John-Louis Borloo to stand and split the centre right vote. If the voters decide that they have had enough of Sarkozy’s brand of politics, there may be a sufficient number of them prepared to vote for Marine Le Pen in the first round vote to take her through to the second round, where the top two candidates go head to head. If the second round is between Marine Le Pen and François Hollande I am sure that he would win and France would, after the long wait since Mitterrand, have another socialist President.

Although François Hollande lacks charisma, I think he would have more idea of how a President should behave than Sarkozy, and he has had many years of experience of managing and balancing political issues. France could do worse!

Monday, 9 May 2011

Jeannot has a Narrow Escape

For Georgia and Oscar
It was a very hot summer night in the Lot and it was so stuffy in his burrow that Jeannot just had to get some air. He climbed out, but it was just as hot outside, and there was no breeze near the burrow, so he made his way into the next door neighbour’s garden.
Jeannot was very, very hot and the neighbour’s swimming pool looked so inviting. Without a second thought he jumped into the cool blue water.

Suddenly there was a horrible noise “Blaaa aaa eeere!! Blaaa aaa eeere!! Blaaa aaa eeere!! Blaaa aaa eeere!!”
Jeannot was very frightened and looked around for a place to climb out and run away. But then he realised that he didn’t know how to get out, and he panicked! “Help ! Help ! Help!“ he cried as he swam up and down getting more and more tired.

“EEEEk!, EEEEk! Over here! Over here!” On the other side of the pool there was a rat squeaking at him very loudly and beckoning him over.
“Grab hold of this!” shouted the rat. Then he sat on the edge of the pool with his long tail hanging down to the water. Jeannot grabbed it and the rat strained and pulled. Suddenly Jeannot plopped out of the water onto the stone slabs where they both fell together SSHHPLOTTT!! in a wet furry heap.
“Quick follow me!” said the Rat as he scurried off into the dark, away from the pool, and Jeannot had to hop very fast to keep up with him. When they reached a hole in some rocks the rat stopped!

“OK we’re safe here!” it said. “It’s a good thing that you’re so small. If you were much bigger I wouldn’t have been able to pull you out! My name’s Ratatouille, what’s yours?”
“Hello I’m Jeannot”. “Thank you so much for rescuing me!”
“Well Jeannot, do you often go jumping into things without thinking” said Ratatouille. “It’s not easy to get out of that pool if you are as small as you are. But you’re very lucky they’ve put that alarm on and that I was nearby.”
Now Ratatouille was a wise old rat. He talked about all the dangers around them – owls and cats, dogs and kites. Jeannot said “Thank you” and “Yes” several times, then after that he was rather quiet because his mummy was always telling him to be careful about this or that, and he wasn’t very good at listening!  But Ratatouille, had, after all, rescued him from the pool, so he nodded politely while he thought about how hungry he always was these days, and how useful it would be to have a long tail!
Jeannot already knew about how dangerous owls, dogs and cats were for young rabbits, so he had stopped listening by the time Ratatouille started explaining about the kites. Suddenly Ratatouille let out a cry “Keeeeoooo, Keeeeeooo!” “And that’s a Black Kite,” he said.
Finally Jeannot thanked Ratatouille again and went home, still feeling rather damp. He sneaked back into the burrow without his mummy noticing and helped himself to some spinach, red lettuce and sweet corn for dessert.

The next day it was still hot while Jeannot was sleeping in his burrow. In the late afternoon he was woken up by a drone from some machines outside, Brrrrrrmmm, Brrrrrrmmmm, Brrrrrmmmm, Brrrrrmmmm. He crept to the entrance of the burrow and looked out. The noise was coming from some tractors which were working in the next field. There were some big birds circling overhead but he just had get out to have some air. He crawled carefully along the hedge, after he had gone a short distance he saw a particularly nice patch of grass in the field. It looked so fresh and green, that he couldn’t resist a closer look, so he hopped over to it.

All at once there was a mewing cry overhead. “KEEEEEEOOO! KEEEEEEOOO!” it cried. He looked up and saw that it was a Black Kite!!

“EEEEk! EEEEk! Jeannot! Run! Run! Quick! Quick! This way! This way!“ Ratatouille called out to Jeannot from the edge of the field.
“Run as fast you can! A Black Kite is after you!!” shrieked Ratatouille.
Jeannot ran as fast as he could but the Black Kite was faster. In desperation he jinked from side to side as he ran, trying to put the kite off. Just as it had its yellow claws out, and was about to grab him, Jeannot reached Ratatouille’s hole in the rocks and shot down it. He tumbled over Ratatouille and they fell together FFFFLLOPPP! in a furry heap once again, but this time they were dry.

“Didn’t I say that there were kites around here at the moment?” said Ratatouille. “Jeannot you really must listen to what people tell you!”
Jeannot was gasping for breath and trembling at the same time. He said “sorry” and “thank you” so many times that Ratatouille took pity on him. So he stopped scolding him and said “Why don’t you stay here until after dark, the kites don’t fly at night, then you can go back to your own home.”
Jeannot had never been so frightened in his life before and he was very glad to stay with Ratatouille for a couple of hours while he recovered.

Later, as he went home, Jeannot heard a very loud familiar chirping nearby. It was Connor O’Connor the chirpy very green, friendly conehead cricket.
CHIRP! Top o’ the CHIRP! CHIRP! evening to you Jeannot, have you CHIRP! had a CHIRP! CHIRP! day?“ chirped Connor cheerily.
Jeannot explained to Connor about his narrow escape from the kite. “Well, Jeannot CHIRP! if I were you CHIRP! CHIRP! I would CHIRP! tell your mummy CHIRP! CHIRP!” Because CHIRP! mummies always find out in the end CHIRP! CHIRP! and it would be CHIRP! CHIRP! much, CHIRP! better that she CHIRP! heard it from you first!” CHIRP!
Jeannot thanked Connor O’Connor for his advice and hopped off towards home.

Now Jeannot had made up his mind that he really would listen to what people told him, so he decided that he should tell his Mummy what had happened.
When he had finished she told him off, but this time it wasn’t like before. She seemed very upset, and at one point he thought that she might even be crying as she turned away!

She threatened not to give him any tea but finally, after she had been angry for about twenty minutes, she relented. “There are some lettuce and beetroot sandwiches if you want them, “she said.

“Delicious, my favourite!” said Jeannot. But he knew that he really didn’t deserve them and he also knew how lucky he was to have escaped the kite.
“I don’t think I’ll go out again tonight” thought Jeannot after he had finished the sandwiches.
“And I really will listen properly in future when people tell me things” he said to himself, just before he fell asleep.

That night he dreamed about flying green rats with long tails, black beaks and yellow claws. “EEEEk! EEEEk! CHIRP! CHIRP! KEEEEEEOOO! KEEEEEEOOO!” they cried, as they circled overhead.

You can read more Jeannot stories here:

Friday, 6 May 2011

The Hoopoe

 Huppe fasciée
This week we have been seeing a Hoopoe regularly from the house. They are spectacular birds and cause a lot of excitement when we spot them. Usually it is a fleeting glimpse from the car as one flies away in front of us, but this week we have seen one feeding in our field and perching in the large walnut tree. 
Click to enlarge
They eat mainly insects but will also take small reptiles. There are plenty of both here because we only cut the field once a year to allow the wild flowers to seed and the insects to breed. Hoopoes are serial monogamists and territorial. So far we have only seen one but you never know!

Because of their strong colours and unusual crest Hoopoes have always had a strong presence in human culture and they are depicted on the walls of tombs and temples in both ancient Egypt and in Minoan Crete. In 2008 they became the national bird of Israel.

Click to enlarge
I must admit that these are not my pictures.
Perhaps I really do need that 55-250 telephoto zoom that I have been thinking about for a long time!