Just one more thing….

Yesterday, Peter Falk died.  The 83 year old veteran actor had had dementia for a few years – an ironic end for a man who will always be known as Columbo, the dishevelled homicide detective with the razor sharp mind. Enough will be (rightly) written about Mr Falk over the next few days, and I’m sure that the TV planners are already dusting off parts of their schedule for a few re-runs, but I just wanted to blog about what Peter Falk meant to me as an integral part of growing up.

I blogged about the show a year or so ago – here – and it’s sad to come back to it in this way.

Columbo was part of the ‘Mystery Movie’  TV series developed in the US in the late 1960s / early 1970s that featured feature-length stories from three or four detective, once a week. So you’d get a Columbo one week, McMillan and Wife, then a McCloud, etc. They were standard viewing in Pritchard Towers – although I was usually dodging in and out of the living room, doing homework and hobbies or just ‘mucking about’ in the evening.   Columbo is always associated with my early teens; whereas I was not always allowed to watch some TV police shows, Columbo was OK and passed parental screening.

It was like a jigsaw puzzle – you knew who did it, when, how and to whom.  the trick was working out how Columbo would piece the clues together to get to the murderer. If there was ever such a thing as a ‘Police Opera’, Columbo was it.  There’s a saying ‘The opera ain’t over till the fat lady sings’ – in Columbo, it wouldn’t be over until the man in the mac turned to the suspect as he was leaving after an interview and said ‘There’s just one more thing…’.  That was the ‘Black Spot’ for the murderer – they were marked for nicking, and it was just a formality from there on in.  The bumbling detective who, in the words of one character, ‘looked like an unmade bed’ was in many cases almost apologetic when he slapped the cuffs on – indeed, there were a number of episodes where the murderer was much more sympathetic than the victim! Columbo was like a favourite uncle, complete with dreadful car and a dog as laid back as he was, called ‘Dog’.

Like another of my favourite detectives, Morse, first name was never mentioned; I got the impression that his mysterious wife (like Arthur Dailey’s ‘er indoors’, mentioned often, never seen) would call him to dinner with a quick ‘Lieutenant, dinner’s up’.  To me he had a number of character traits that were charming and unusual to see in a lead role in a TV detective show.  He was untidy, (apparently) easily distracted, showed humility and was pretty non-violent. He also had a sharp mind, dogged persistence and a sense of fair play and justice. In other words, he was a nice guy who just happened to be a homicide cop.  He didn’t have ‘issues’ like modern cops, but you could actually believe in him – I think even now I want my police murder squad people to be either Columbo or Morse.

Falk was also brilliant in one of my favourite war films ‘Anzio’, in which he played a member of a squad of GIs stuck in a farmouse with German soldiers around them, but for me his greatest film role would be as, wait for it, unkempt, dishevelled, private detective ‘Sam Diamond’ in the brilliant comedy ‘Murder by Death’, which sends up every ‘locked room’ mystery you will ever have seen.  It was on TV a few days ago.  There is a description (and spoilers) here.  If you’ve not seen it, and don’t mind fun being poked at Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, Sam Spade et al. then do take a look!  Falk has some brilliant lines – I have to say that my favourite, after he finds out that he and his girlfriend are locked in a room with a bomb set to explode in 30 seconds, is :

[a bomb is about to explode]
Sam Diamond: I’ve got an idea! I don’t know if it will work but I’ve got to try. Turn around!
Tess Skeffington: I’ve turned, Sam.
Sam Diamond: Whatever you do, don’t turn around until I say so.
Tess Skeffington: [turns around] But Sam…
Tess Skeffington: Yes, Sam.
Sam Diamond: Good! Cause… I think… I’m gonna cry.

When the news came through about Peter’s death yesterday, I heard it first from Twitter, and then came the grubbing around for a few minutes on Google and such to get it confirmed.  I have to admit to being a little bit teary – but then I realised that I was sad and smiling – all those super memories I have put there by Peter Falk. 

Let me find my Columbo box set…

Left to Apple, 2014 could be like 1984…revisited…

Those of us of a certain age in IT will remember Apple’s famous TV advert for the groundbreaking ‘Macintosh’ computer back in 1984.  The advert, here on You Tube, portrayed how the Mac would free computer users from the grasp of the evil Corporate Computer giants (such as IBM and Microsoft) and did a lot to help Apple’s image as the ‘good (albeit expensive) guys’ in the computer world, providing computers that were fun to use, cool and trendy.

Macs were always hard to write software for, compared to the PC.  But the ease of use and availability of high quality software for media use, combined with a large number of users who might be regarded as ‘opinion formers’ – writers, authors, musicians and other media players – ensured that the Mac would survive.  In recent years the iPod, iPhone and iPad have created new markets for Apple products – indeed, I have an iPad on loan at the moment and I really enjoy it, despite my original qualms about the iPad.  But Apple kit has become increasingly ‘walled garden’.  I first explored this in this Blog post: http://www.joepritchard.me.uk/2010/04/apple-why-2014-could-be-like-1984/, expressing concern about the way in which Apple were controlling what you viewed and accessed with the iPad.

So, what’s new? Why am I back here?

Take a look at this Patent.  The stated purpose is to allow the owners of concert or conference venues to turn off the cameras of any devices in the venue that are using technology that is described in the Patent.  You might wonder why someone in the digital camera / video business would want to put circuitry in their cameras that would allow them to be remotely disabled.  Well,  if you’re a media publisher, then you might be very interested indeed in being able to prevent people filming concerts and such that you might actually have the rights for.  At this level – that of Digital Rights Management – then it’s a useful technology – especially if, like Apple, you make money by selling media, or if you think that governments, encouraged by media companies, may consider beefing up DRM laws to protect more forms of media.

The patent relies on infra-red light to disable (or change the function of) the cameras.  Wireless signals would have range issues or might even be disabled by the simple expedient of the user of the camera simply disabling WiFi. As far as I can see, the patent works by using Infra Red light coming in through the camera lens – there might be a way to filter this, but I’m not entirely sure – probably suitable IR filters would dim and distort the colour of the image beyond usability.

Whilst the DRM issue of recording performances has been the overt driving force behind this patent, I’m more worried about how it might be used to disable the camera at demonstrations, civil unrest, etc.  Capturing footage such as that seen in the UK Student Demonstrations, the UK G20 evidence about the death of a passer by and all the footage from Egypt and Greece might no longer be possible for users of cameras fitted with such technology.  All the authorities would have to do is ‘paint’ areas of the scene they don’t want filming with a suitable IR signal and that’s that – apart from any ‘old tech’ that doesn’t have this patent incorporated.  This would be a simple step – the technology to paint with IR could be as simple as a battery of high intensity infra-red LEDs emitting the required coded signals.  One can imagine the situation – the authorities wish to violently break up a demonstration, they turn the infra-red emitters on, the phone cameras go dark, the kickings start.

Apple seem to have come a long way since their ‘freedom from authoritarian power’ beginnings in the 1970s and 1980s.  The revolution will not be televised; certainly not with Apple kit, anyway.

Life is what happens….

…when you’re making other plans.

That’s the way things work according, I believe, to John Lennon.  I have to say that that’s how it felt a week or so back when I realised I hadn’t blogged for about 5 months. Looking back over the period between Christmas 2010 and now, I’m not surprised that I haven’t blogged – it’s been a Hell of a few months for me and mine, and we’re still hacking our way through them.

I’ve noticed a similar fall off in tweets and Facebook usage.  I guess that this is where I say something that will mark me out as a dilettante amongst online comentators, a wall-flower amongst social networkers, a poseur amongst the digerati:

My offline life was too intense to allow me to be arsed to blog.

There, I said it.  I just didn’t feel like blogging.  And is that such a bad thing?  When I was a kid, I must have promised myself year after year at Christmas that I would keep a diary.  The longest I managed it was probably until the 6th or 7th of January – after that entries slowed down to the rate of one every few days, then every few weeks, then stopped dead.  In later life I have managed to keep a ‘professional diary’, mainly for the purposes of billing and getting me to meetings, but very little, if any, personal stuff goes in there.  I manage better with blogging, but it falls apart when my offline life gets ‘interesting’.

I guess I’m just not capable of  blogging when there’s stuff happening in my day to day life.  I’m the same with creative writing – I’ve never been a great believer in the nonsense that gets written about artists starving in garrets and being incredibly productive.  What might happen is that hard times may create inspiration for creative thought, but it’s a rare talent (and one that I certainly don’t have) that can write or blog when hungry, cold, skint and anxious.

I’m sure that some of the events of the last 6 months will show up here sooner or later – but for now I’ll just do my best to write something occasionally.