What an excellent time for BBC One to broadcast an episode of ‘Allo ‘Allo. True, it was done in tribute to Gorden Kaye who died on Monday, but it feels like this was a good week to laugh at some Nazis.
However, you know me by now. Ignore the laughter, or moral truths, we all know why we’re really here. “Oh, I wonder whether there have been any edits made to the show…” And blow my chickens up, there has been. To clarify then, here’s the two versions of the episode Pigeon Post I’m comparing:
- The episode broadcast on BBC One on Wednesday 25th January at 7:30pm, with a duration of 28’56”.
- The version Playback released on DVD in Region 2 way back in August 2002, with a duration of 31’39”.
In other words, the version broadcast by BBC One on Wednesday is 2’43” shorter than the version on DVD.
Without either an off-air of the very original broadcast or paperwork to hand1, we’re left with a bit of guesswork – but I think we can work out what happened with reasonable certainty. The longer version on DVD is probably the original broadcast (aside from the episode title caption), and the episode broadcast on Wednesday is a cut-down version for repeat transmission to fit a standard slot – which I suspect is the version the BBC have been showing for years.2
Let’s see what’s missing, shall we? Cuts to the repeat broadcast are indicated like this.
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Mike Davidson, “Is This Helpful?”:
“For the past several years, we’ve been moving from an information diet of deliberate, substantive reading to a staccato of disconnected one-line thoughts, culminating in a walking, squawking pile of disconnected one-line thoughts who now has the keys to the White House.”
I’ve always found this a weird one. Because I definitely read more substantive articles online than I ever used to without Twitter, simply because Twitter helps me find such material.
Is it like this for most people? Maybe not. I’d love to know, but I have no idea how you’d accurately measure it.
“As I type this post, I think about how hard it is – for me at least – to write long-form content, as compared to 5 or 10 years ago. I’ve heard similar thoughts from others, many of whom haven’t touched their blogs or Medium accounts in years. I wonder where that feeling comes from.”
It is definitely the case that many people I’ve followed online for years have stopped writing longer stuff, and it makes me sad. For Mike, the reasons are as follows:
“The feeling that I can probably fit an article I want to write into a Tweet or two and be done with it.”
I’ve definitely fallen foul of this. Sometimes I do manage to take a series of tweets and write it up into an article. But there are definitely series of tweets which I should have written up, and never got round to.
Mind you, sometimes that can be a good thing. This series of tweets was very popular, and could have been a very popular article… except look what happens halfway through. A couple of people point things out, and in fact my rant isn’t quite as OBVIOUSLY CORRECT as it appears to be. The world was saved from a dodgy one-note article, and there’s Twitter to thank for that.
“The feeling that I’ve consumed so much information in a typical day that it seems like everything that needs to be said is already being said (and then some!).”
“The feeling that the things which seemed important or interesting before the election are not important at all now. For example, I can’t even think of a single design-related subject that feels important enough to write about right now, in comparison to other issues that need attention.”
I’m quoting these two together because I think they’re linked. To take the second point first: Trump or no Trump, or indeed Brexit or no Brexit, I think there is a serious false dichotomy when it comes to this. There are hideous things going on in the world, and we should all – to the best of our ability – do something about it. But I just don’t think that means everything else we do is irrelevant. See my essay “The World is Burning” for my full views on that; it stands as my mission statement for the year.
We can then tackle the previous point: that everything that needs to be said is already being said. But this is only true if we take a narrow point-of-view on what “needs to be said”. Hell, I’m not going to write much about the current specific political situation on here: there are people far more qualified to write about it than me.
But look, I can happily justify writing about old sitcoms; something as important as design can definitely be justified. Good design is important regardless of any political situation; in fact, good design can help you put your particular political message across. Justifications on writing about your pet topic – whatever your pet topic happens to be – are easy to come by. And on your pet topic, there are always things which nobody else is writing on that subject. Those are the things you should write.
“The feeling that most reading occurs on Twitter and Facebook now.”
It’s difficult to judge this one. All I can say is: most of the hits to my site come from Twitter… but hell, they come from Twitter, to read something more substantive.
“The feeling that what I am even semi-uniquely qualified to write about isn’t really what’s important anymore.”
This is exactly the same as Point 3. See above.
Mike then goes on to discuss things he’s doing personally this year to make things better, and it’s well worth a read. (Donating both time and money to good causes should be on everybody’s radar this year – if you have either to spare.) I’m going to skip to his final remark:
“Specifically, when we spend our energy creating anything, we should stop asking ‘do people want this’ and start asking ‘is this helpful?'”
Whenever I’m creating something – at least, on my own time, without getting paid for it – I ask neither of the above questions. I simply ask the following:
“Do I want this?”
If it’s something I want to exist in the world, that’s all the validation I need to create something. It may find an audience, or it may not. But if I spent time second-guessing my own work, some of my best pieces would never have been written.
If you feel like it: write. And write about anything. Write about something silly. Write about something serious. Write about something superficially silly which actually ends up being serious. Or write about something superficially serious which actually ends up being very silly indeed.
But crucially: only writing about what fits some narrow definition of important won’t help us get through this shit. Becoming a one-note bore won’t help us build a better world.
In late 2009, a project was announced with a great deal of excitement.
“Fox announced on Wednesday that it is seeking participants for a new game show that will allow parents of young geniuses – age 6 to 12 – to put their kids’ knowledge to use winning “life-changing money.”
The series, to be called Our Little Genius, will feature the children competing to answer “increasingly difficult questions as they work their way up to win their family hundreds of thousands of dollars.” The new series is being created by Mark Burnett, the producer behind Survivor and Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader.”
– The New York Times, 11th November 2009
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As I’m working on the upcoming redesign of this place, I’m trying to reassess every single decision I ever made when originally creating Dirty Feed. Everything from the category structure, through to comments, and even the URL structure of the site.
Whilst thinking of that latter point, I’ve been considering this post from Matt Gemmell:
“Can we talk, briefly, about the URLs on your blog?
If you’re like most people, your permalinks (the permanent links to individual posts) probably look like this:
We’re all familiar with those URLs. The date of the post is explicit, so you need never wonder when it was written, or how recent it is.
Here’s the thing, though: they’re horrible.”
Oh dear. I am a naughty boy.
In fact, I end up disagreeing with the vast majority of his piece1 – but let’s skip right to his main point, as I think it’s the most interesting.
“But there’s another reason, and it’s more compelling than any of the above. Date-encumbered URLs dilute your article’s standing.
Here’s what each style says to me:
macro-gurber.co/2014/02/14/about-smartwatches: This is what Macro thought about smartwatches on Valentine’s Day last year. Which raises some other questions, admittedly.
macro-gurber.co/about-smartwatches: This is Macro’s definitive goddamned opinion on smartwatches.
That’s the distinction. Have a think about it for a moment. The latter, shorter style is what you want.”
My problem with this: I am never going to have a definitive goddamned opinion on anything. And frankly, I worry about anyone who thinks that they have one. We should all be open to changing our minds. The latter, shorter style here very much is not what I want.
To take an example, let’s take a look at what the URL for this article would be, if I followed Matt’s advice:
www.dirtyfeed.org is going to be the place I use for my random nonsense for many years to come, whatever that random nonsense happens to be. If I live 50 more years, I think I’m more likely to be using this domain than not. So, the above URL indicates: “What I think about permalinks, forever.” And I may have very different opinions on permalinks in 50 years.2 I may not, of course, but how can you tell? I can’t see into the future to tell what I’ll think of this article in 50 years time.
Instead, the current URL format makes more sense to me:
This article is what I had to say about permalinks, in January 2017. Perhaps there’s an argument for simplifying things a bit, removing the “01”, and just indicating it’s how I felt about permalinks in 2017. (Unlike Matt’s original example, I already don’t include the day, which I agree is pointless.) But the crucial thing is: it doesn’t indicate that it’s my definitive goddamn opinion on permalinks, and that’s entirely intentional.
It very much isn’t.
Right now, I’m buried balls deep in the upcoming redesign of Dirty Feed. That, plus the beginning of the new year, has sparked ideas for a few more inward-looking pieces here, which won’t be to everyone’s taste. I’ll be back with some of my more usual stuff later in the month.
* * *
I used to customise.
My computer, I mean. When I used to use RISC OS back in the 90s, I’d spend ages tweaking everything until it was just right. I’d spend hours obsessing over the settings in applications; I even used a program called !MenuBar to set up an entirely custom menu at the top of the screen, for easy access to all the programs and files I needed. This involved manually hacking a configuration file. That was how I spent my evenings, and jolly good fun it was too.
These days, I don’t bother. I make a point of having a nice desktop background, and I do take care to arrange folders in a vaguely neat fashion. But my taste for tweaking the OS and applications has mostly disappeared. With my iPhone and iPad, it’s even worse – my homescreens are in a bit of a mess, and apart from some sensible placing of most-used apps, I haven’t got round to sorting them yet. The years of tweaking my setups to within an inch of their lives have long gone.
…except that’s not entirely true.
Sure, I’ve stopped tweaking in terms of my own personal desktop. But that’s been replaced with a new form of tweaking. I absolutely cannot stand the vast majority of blog themes on the net; none of them look or work quite how I want them to, so I always end up hand-crafting my own. The current version of Dirty Feed was completely designed from scratch, as I just couldn’t find a theme I liked. So is the next version, for that matter, which is even more complicated as I’m implementing a responsive design. In fact, I’ve never used a pre-existing template for any website I’ve designed.
Hopefully most of them work well enough – there’s always things which could be better, but I’m happy with most of what I’ve done. And every single one of them are a reflection of the old me that I thought had disappeared completely… and then realised hadn’t. It’d just shifted elsewhere. It might be a different thing I’m tweaking1, but it’s exactly the same urge2.
It’s odd how the internet has taken aspects of my personality I used to project internally, and projects them externally instead. I used to care about something only I was staring at. Now I care about the part of me other people will be staring at. That’s not necessarily a good or a bad thing. It just… is.
* * *
On the topic of the current design of Dirty Feed, I want to talk a little about the ethos behind it. This design isn’t going to be around for much longer, and having served me well since June 2011 – bloody hell, over five years – it’s worth giving it a little bit of a send-off.
And the major thing to note about it is: how stripped down the design is, even compared to a lot of other simple sites out there. Too stripped down, in fact: I launched with the bare minimum possible, and always meant to add features once I’d decided I definitely wanted them. In the end, I never got round to doing so. By the time I really did get round to thinking about the site design again, I realised it needed a proper responsive design built from scratch, not just smearing cosmetic products on livestock.
Which means: I’ve run a blog for the past five years with no kind of normal navigation whatsoever, no about or contact pages, no tags, and no easy way of navigating by date without URL hacking. Ridiculous? Perhaps, and it’s definitely meant good articles have remained buried away in the archives, rather than having a better chance to be discovered again. On the other hand… it’s kinda been fun to see what the absolute bare minimum you can get away with for a site design. Sure, I’ve decided I now want all those features missing above with the upcoming relaunch, and a few more to boot – but it’s nice to discover that you actually want some of that stuff on its own terms, rather than just Because That’s What’s Done.
In the meantime, despite its faults, I think the site has benefited from its ultra-clean design, rather than being clogged with too much shit. I’m still proud of how well the footer works – cramming a lot of otherwise missing features into a very small space. The typography is the best I’ve ever managed for any site. And I’ll happily take a site which stripped down a tad too much, than something too far the other way. Hopefully the new design will have the best of both approaches.
Still. Five years without any kind of navigation. That must be some kind of record.
This is a revised and expanded version of something I posted on Tumblr back in June 2013.
As I work on the upcoming redesign for Dirty Feed, my thoughts idly turn to the old blog I used to run on ofla.info, back in the mid-2000s. Let’s take a brief look, shall we? I’m sure there’s some great stuff on there.
5th April 2004, “óflå.info Launches!”:
“Make sure you explore all corners of the site; I wouldn’t want you to miss any of the fascinating treats on offer.”
Sadly, all is gone by 18th July 2004. In its place, “Site under renovation”:
Never mind. On 9th August 2004, “For Fucks Sake”:
“I’ve had this domain nearly two years, and the only thing I’ve got out of it is a decent e-mail address and some hangers on.
Let’s try and do something useful with it, eh?”
Excellent… oh, wait, deleted by September 2004.
Don’t worry! On 26th October 2004, we get, erm, ““óflå.info” “launches””:
“Ah, it’s not as good as this one. But it’ll do. Let me know if there’s any problems with the design of the site – I know it’s a bit SHIT here and there.
Stuff to come: ill-informed rants on web design, revoltingly geeky TV stuff (The Sitcom Boom Mike Apperances List, anyone?), and various other shite. And news on the progression of the content management system I’m writing. Current status: Learning Perl, page 1.”
This one actually lasted right up until the end of 2005. Then suddenly, on the 3rd January 2006, all is wiped clean. In its place, we get “Errr… óflå.info, erm, “launches””:
“Hello! It’s yet another relaunch of my personal site! Hoo-fucking-ray. Forgive the odd rough edge; I’ll be smoothing it all out in the next few days.
So why? Well, I did get bored of the old design – but it also reflects a change of DIRECTION. All my web/media guff is going on Noise To Signal (due a relaunch in the next couple of weeks, hence the lack of life around there at the moment).
The old content will be stuck back on here at some point (and some of it also incorprated into NTS); till then, use the Wayback Machine. I apologise for breaking all my links in the meantime; the only consolation is that there was nothing worth much on here.
So, what’s going to go on here, then? Well, my personal blog probably – I think it’s a waste of time personally, which is why I didn’t update for ages before, but so many people have requested I carry on with it that it would be rude not to. It also functions as a nice gateway to all the other sites I’m involved with. Beyond that, there are a few things I have planned – but, learning from past experience, I won’t be announcing those until I have something to show for it. I’ll try and update round here most days, though.
Oh: wank shit cunt.”
Surely, this is it? Surely? Nope. Not only was all the old stuff never put back online, but this entire version of the blog was all gone by June.
Since then, my writing has been rather more consistent. Once my personal blog disappeared from ofla.info for good, I wrote for years over on group site Noise to Signal. And once that closed at the end of 2009, I started writing here on Dirty Feed. Sure, this place was originally called Transistorised for some stupid reason, but from 2010 onwards all my writing is intact, and in the same place.
Still, there’s something to be learnt from the above. The reason I kept launching and relaunching back then was simple: some idiotic quest for perfection. “No, no, that article/design/word isn’t exactly perfect – best wipe clean and start again.” Idiotic is definitely the word… but that part of me still pops up every so often. It’s good to have a look back and remember the road perfectionism can take you if you’re not careful. Hey, write something shit? Or does something just not read that brilliantly with a year or two’s hindsight? Never mind, let it stand as a historical piece, and write something better next time. If you want everything you’ve written online to be perfect, never publish anything at all.
The single best thing for me about Dirty Feed is that I finally stuck at something. No wasting time, no constant relaunches. Just a body of work which built up, year after year, and now stands as something I’m proud of – not deleted off the web, never to be seen again unless someone bothers to throw themselves into the Wayback Machine. I see some people constantly launching new sites for the same old thing today, and I’m glad I finally managed to learn that lesson all those years ago.
If there’s one thing which can be said about Dirty Feed this year, it’s this: a lack of perfection is absolutely guaranteed.
Eileen Webb, “Productivity in Terrible Times”:
“When your heart is worried for your Muslim friends, and deep in your bones you’re terrified about losing access to healthcare, it’s very hard to respond graciously to an email inquiring about the latest microsite analytics numbers. “THE WORLD IS BURNING. I will have those content model updates ready by Thursday. Sincerely, and with abject terror, Eileen.”
It is not tenable to quit my job and hie off to Planned Parenthood HQ and wait for them to make use of my superior content organizing skills. It is not a good idea for you to resign from stable work that supports your family and community because you’re no longer satisfied by SQL queries. The Trevor Project needs your donation more than they need a JS developer proficient in easing animation.”
“I don’t know about you, but I have been struggling mightily with this very thing. I’ve always had difficulty believing that the work I do here is in some way important to the world and since the election, that feeling has blossomed into a profound guilt-ridden anxiety monster. I mean, who in the actual fuck cares about the new Blade Runner movie or how stamps are designed (or Jesus, the blurry ham) when our government is poised for a turn towards corruption and authoritarianism?
I have come up with some reasons why my work here does matter, at least to me, but I’m not sure they’re good ones. In the meantime, I’m pressing on because my family and I rely on my efforts here and because I hope that in some small way my work, as Webb writes, “is capable of enabling righteous acts”.”
I have a good reason. Whatever shit is going on in the world, it does not make everything else unimportant. Life doesn’t work like that. At best that’s a route to giving yourself mental health issues, and at worst it leads to extremism itself.
To take Jason’s three examples. “The new Blade Runner movie” is related to a film which is widely regarded as one of the most important and influential films ever made. The horrific politics and actual human suffering happening in the world at the moment doesn’t stop that from being interesting and important. “How stamps are designed” can only be dismissed if we’re going to think art isn’t important any more – and I don’t want to be associated with anyone who thinks that.
And the blurry ham? Take a look at it. Yes, that’s a fun optical illusion. But let’s state what optical illusions are really about: how we all perceive the world. If anything, that’s even more important now than it was six months ago. That blurry ham is not about ham.
We can all dismiss and belittle our own work, for various reasons. Maybe we’re frustrated by state of the world and wish we could do more. In my case, it’s that I don’t want to be seen as arrogant. Let’s take an example of something I wrote recently over on Ganymede & Titan, about edits made to pre-watershed showings of Red Dwarf XI. It’s hardly the most important article in the world. A few changes made to a couple of episodes of a sitcom, big deal. I put aside hours of my time to rewatch the whole series and write that?
But worries about arrogance or not, the fundamental issues considered in that article are bigger than that. That piece is talking about broadcast standards in television. It’s talking about who has the right to make changes to a television programme. It’s talking about how you can remove material from a programme and still keep the meaning of a scene. And finally, it’s talking about the very nature of comedy, and how the taboo subjects affect it. In its own way, that piece of writing is as political as anything I’ll ever write, and there’s not a mention of Trump or Brexit in sight.
Just because there are absolutely atrocious things happening, and that some people are suffering hugely because of it, that doesn’t mean other things aren’t important. Because if we never think anything else is important aside from people’s suffering, we invalidate 99% of human endeavour. Nobody needs me to list a catalogue of atrocities… and beside it, list all the other important things which were happening in the world at the exact same time.
We should all care about the terrible things going on. We should all make sure we’re doing something to make the world better. But never feel guilty talking about your silly things.
Because they’re not really that silly, you know.
Man, people whinged too much about 2016. True, there was Trump, Brexit, and celebrity deaths aplenty, and on a personal note I nearly died of pneumonia. Still, I published some fun stuff on Dirty Feed, and isn’t that what really counts?
Time for my traditional self-regarding list, then. Below are a few of my favourite things I published here last year. (If you enjoyed any of it and can afford it, please consider donating to the Internet Archive.)
Fawlty Towers: A Touch of Class
Tracking down which parts of the first episode of Fawlty Towers were reshot between the original pilot recording, and the programme’s actual broadcast the following year. The second most popular piece on the site all year, and contains possibly the only time Dirty Feed will ever concentrate on somebody’s hairstyle.
The Fragility of the Web
I’ve written a lot of stuff about the web this year, most of it to general disinterest. This piece can stand to represent all of them: on how easy it is to destroy the web even when you think you stand to protect it. Not my best-written piece of the year, but a piece which gets to the heart of why I care about this stuff.
Who Framed Michael Eisner
Did the creators of Who Framed Roger Rabbit really manange to sneak in a flash-frame of Disney CEO Michael Eisner’s phone number into the film? (No.) Can I use this topic to talk about Python edits instead? (Yes.)
Blade Runner Afternoons
Ever wondered about how the famous Blockbusters cityscape opening titles were created? The show’s 1989 annual reveals all, with some beautiful behind-the-scenes pictures. This was the most read piece on the site all year. (I also posted some more behind-the-scenes stuff from the annual here.)
Hi-de-Hi! Edits #1, #2, #3
Comparing the DVD release of Hi-de-Hi! and its afternoon repeats on BBC Two. I maintain that Mr. Partridge really did once tell Peggy to “fuck off”. (Comparing all 58 episodes of the show is probably the biggest undertaking I’ve done on here all year. Final piece coming in January.)
“Network, we’ll have to come back and do the draw…”
About the lottery breakdown Bob Monkhouse dealt so expertly with back in 1996… and my own personal relationship to it. But not quite as wanky as that sounds. Nearly as wanky. But not quite.
A George & Mildred Christmas
A late entry, sneaking in at the very end of the year, about George & Mildred‘s Christmas episodes… and how the last episode manages to question the entire setup of the whole show. I’d love to write more stuff like this in the coming year.
Other things I wrote which I think turned out well: about the cut Diana joke in Men Behaving Badly, a skilful piece of presenting, the weirdest abandoned website ever, Elstree being silly, a guide to social media for game developers, why I dislike Digital Spy, old documentaries getting things wrong on purpose, and about ghosts of the internet.
However, my favourite piece I wrote all year wasn’t even on Dirty Feed. Instead it was published over on Ganymede & Titan, the Red Dwarf fansite once described as “a crock of shit” by Iain Lee. That piece was Hancock’s Half Hour: The Tycoon, and is all about the similarities between the Hancock episode The Tycoon, and the Red Dwarf episode Better than Life. It’s (nearly) everything I’d like my writing to be, but don’t always manage.
Back to Dirty Feed. Last year ended up being a bit of a mixed bag for the site. Sadly, I didn’t manage to get back to doing this, or finish this. On the other hand, I did publish more pieces on the site than any previous year, and for various reasons the year didn’t really lend itself to bigger projects in the end.
Thanks to everyone who has said nice things about the site over the past 12 months – I really do appreciate it. And I have lots of plans for the upcoming year. I may even finish the article I teased at the end of my Best of 2015 piece. Who knows?
I don’t ask for any money for writing Dirty Feed. I don’t have a Patreon. I haven’t run any kind of Kickstarter. I don’t have a tip jar. I don’t have Amazon referrals, or an Amazon wish list. Call it keeping the site pure, or call it not wanting to have any kind of obligations around here. Either way, if you’ve enjoyed anything on here over the past 12 months, you’ve enjoyed it for free.
This year, I’ve written quite a lot about the history of the web. (And I’m currently in the middle of a new piece to publish at the start of next year.) Those pieces include:
Not forgetting this piece I wrote over on Ganymede & Titan, about Red Dwarf fandom mid-2004.
Some of these articles might not be your favourite things I’ve written this year. I generally get a lot more positive feedback for stuff I write about the telly, and my internet archeology pieces go rather unnoticed. But that’s fine. I write Dirty Feed for myself as much as for anyone else, and the important thing for me is to have a mix of different kinds of stuff here. (Though, of course, there are plenty of parallels with the kind of internet archeology above, and the kind of thing I do with old sitcoms.)
Still, the important thing about all the above articles: they all relied on the Wayback Machine in order to research the web of the past. And perhaps it’s easy to get blasé about its existence, now it’s been around for so long. But if you step back and just think about it: typing in a URL, and being able to visit (most) websites at (nearly) any point in their existence, is absolutely damn incredible. And is vital to maintaining a record of the history of the web. My silly articles are nothing compared to how important the Wayback Machine is for everyone – and, indeed, the Internet Archive as a whole.
So, here’s my request. The Internet Archive is currently fundraising, and is well short of their goal. If you’ve enjoyed anything I’ve written over here over the past year, and can comfortably afford it – and that latter part is crucial – please consider giving them a small donation. It would mean a lot to me, and is the most relevant support you could give this site.
Thank you. Serious message ends. I’ll be back tomorrow with a round-up of all my nonsense over here from the past year. I didn’t half write some shite.
Watching things on DVD has an odd habit of hiding patterns in TV shows, as well as showing them. For all that watching classic Doctor Who exposes the runaround nature of some of the middle episodes in a serial, if you’re watching the show out of order, the links between serials go awry. Even if you decide to watch a programme like, say, George & Mildred completely in order, the fact that the show had a Christmas episode each year between 1977 and 1979 is easy to go unnoticed.
Let’s take some notice, shall we?
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