Robert Hampton

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20th December 2013

Net: A Filter

BT and Sky have joined TalkTalk in installing nanny-state filters on their broadband connections, under the guise of protecting children from porn (in other words, doing what should be a parent’s job).

Worryingly, a Newsnight investigation revealed that, while some porn sites were not caught by the filter, legitimate sites offering information on sexual health, relationships and other issues important to teens were being censored.

BT even offer a tool to increase the level of filtering, allowing over-zealous parents to censor all sex education sites, even age-appropriate ones. One of the blocked web site categories is “respect for a partner” – because why would kids need access to information about that?

This is not a hypothetical situation for me. Back in 1999 or thereabouts, when I was first becoming aware of, and struggling to come to terms with, my sexuality, the web sites available on the nascent web were vital for me. Had they been filtered, there’s no way I would have felt able to go to my parents to ask for permission to unblock them.

The filters do seem to be disproportionately affecting gay and lesbian web sites, including the LGBT Liberal Democrats and London Friend, one of the capital’s oldest LGBT charities providing support services. The whole thing smacks of anti-gay prejudice from the people who drew up the filter list – children, apparently, must be protected from anything LGBT-related, even when it is completely non-sexual in nature.

I could have told the powers-that-be that this would happen (in fact, I did, six months ago). I can speak from experience at the office where I work. We tried to put in a filter which would only allow work-related sites to be accessed. For months we tweaked it so that it would not block sites that people needed for work purposes. Almost every day, without fail, we would have to add another load of sites to the whitelist. Eventually, we gave up and turned the filters off. Not sure how our workplace survived with unfettered access to the internet, but somehow… we managed.

So, in summary, we’re preventing vulnerable children and teenagers from accessing vital information they might need while giving parents a false sense of security? Nice one, Cameron: you’ve probably broken the Internet for ever. Twat. (filter that!)

For more on this you might want to check out the Open Rights Group blog on the subject of over-blocking.

22nd March 2013

Ogle the Goggle Box

BBC Television CentreI always like to think of myself as someone who doesn’t watch much TV, apart from the odd highbrow drama on BBC4, of course. However, on reviewing my blogs of times past, it’s clear that television has been a big inspiration for blog entries over the years.

The TV I discuss isn’t always high-minded, either. One of the earliest television related entries came in the wake of a massive brawl in the Big Brother House in 2004:

Sorry to go all Daily Mail on people, but BB really is the most reprehensible, morally bankrupt thing on TV. I hope the police investigation results in prosecutions against all the Channel 4 executives involved in putting this vile show on the air.

Good grief, that show pisses me off.

While on the subject of reality TV, let’s skip ahead chronologically and get this embarrassing post out of the way right now:

I’m going to come out and say it: Hooray for good old-fashioned Light Entertainment bollocks on ITV1! Britain’s Got Talent was actually fairly entertaining.

What was I thinking? In my defence, this was before I found out how cynically produced the whole thing is.

A much more pleasant show to watch is Frasier, so I was sad to see the show come to an end:

I think Frasier will stand the test of time much better than that other recently-ended American sitcom. Friends, with its reliance on 90s pop culture and “cool” dialogue (like… you know, whatever), will be irrelevant within 10 years. Whereas Frasier never tried to be cool, just funny, and was all the better for it.

Not sure whether that prediction has come to pass, with Friends filling up every spare timeslot on Comedy Central while Frasier is relegated to the lesser Comedy Central Extra. But I still think it’s a million times better.

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19th June 2011

‘Scuse Me While I Kiss The Sky
Posted by at 1.05pm | Television | No responses

On Monday I watched the final episode of season 2 of Glee on E4. That was the last time I’ll be able to watch it for free, because Sky have won the rights and will be screening season 3 in the Autumn. It’s disappointing, but frankly I’d be more upset if season 2 hadn’t been so inconsistent in quality.

It got me thinking – Sky likes to claim that it shook up the “cosy duopoly” of the BBC and ITV by bringing much-needed innovation to British TV. There’s not much doubt that a shake-up happened. But is Sky One really innovative, or is their success largely based on programmes that have built an audience on free-to-air channels?

It’s not a new phenomenon. I remember back in 1992 or thereabouts, when LA Law, a modest success on ITV, was snatched by Sky One, causing much consternation (although not with my family, as we had cable by then and I felt quite smug about the whole thing).

Friends, Lost, House and Mad Men all built up audiences on terrestrial channels before Sky opened up their chequebook and locked the rights away on their pay channels.

On the other hand, there have been cases where Sky fell down and the free-to-air channels came to the rescue. Family Guy failed to find an audience on Sky One (largely due to lamentable scheduling – 6.30pm on weeknights and cut to ribbons). The BBC took a big chance by picking up the rights, but it is now one of the bedrocks of BBC3’s lineup.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer did not perform well when Sky first showed it. It rated so badly, in fact, that Sky One dropped it halfway through its initial run. The BBC showed more faith, and built it into a cult hit. Oddly enough Sky then quickly found a slot for it again.

This isn’t an anti-Sky rant. There’s nothing particularly wrong with Sky doing this – it’s business, after all – but to claim it is “innovation” is a step too far.

Anyway, please enjoy this incredibly cheesy Sky promo from 1990.

28th December 2010

Posted by at 9.32pm | Television | No responses

In the early hours of New Year’s Day, the plug will be pulled on Bravo, a TV channel deemed surplus to requirements in the new bountiful Sky-dominated future.

These days, channels come and go with regularity (did anyone shed a tear or even notice when UKTV Bright Ideas disappeared?) and a closure usually gets little attention beyond three paragraphs on Digitalspy. Bravo is slightly different, however, as it is one of the few channels to survive from the very early days of cable TV.

Bravo launched in 1985, predating even Sky by about four years. The channel was very different to the Bravo we know and “love” in 2010. My family got cable installed around 1991, so I can just about remember the first incarnation of the channel, which showed nothing but old black and white movies and TV shows. Several relaunches later and all that is long gone, but perhaps for old times’ sake they could get out the tapes of Torchy the Battery Boy to fill the gap between Sexcetera episodes?

A quarter of a century later and it disappears with a whimper at 4am on January 1st. It’s a shame, but still not as sad as when TCC closed down in 1998. I still miss that channel.

23rd September 2009

Free for all
Posted by at 10.47pm | It's My Life | No responses

In the last few weeks I’ve read about the outcry over punishing illegal filesharers; been asked for help setting up one of those DS addons that let you load up a memory card with pirated games; and heard people boasting about the “watch everything” Sky viewing card they got from a bloke in the pub.

I sometimes think I’m the only person left in the world who ever pays for anything. I feel like a chump, albeit one of high(ish) moral standing.

2nd March 2008


I felt quite smug when our Sky box conked out a couple of months back. I was able to easily swap it with my sister’s old digibox (no longer used by her since she switched to Virgin Media) and get our TV back. Unfortunately my smugness, as so often happens, was misplaced, and this box has now also failed. The usual tricks (power off, then on; switch on while holding down “back up” to force a software download) didn’t work. Cue call to Sky’s expensive 0870 technical helpdesk.

I hate phoning technical support for anything. I’m a fairly smart, intelligent guy (stop laughing, you) but for some reason I always turn into a gibbering idiot when speaking on the phone to someone in a call centre, and find myself mumbling “OK… OK… I’ll try that” like a simpleton to every suggestion offered by the operator from their script.

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