Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Bad Subtitling On The TV - What the Hell's Going On?

This blog update has been on my mind for a very long time now. It is in regards to the rife lack lustre subtitling on the television today where it seems all channels are pushing for quantity over quality....and it’s not working.

Although not having any hearing I hold music very, very close to my heart, it’s part of the reason why I moved to London, to get into the broadcast music industry (and am still trying, however having a profoundly deaf music nut is a bit too quirky for a lot of industry people to get their heads around it seems!). For me, and other deaf people, to follow music on the TV, the main way is through subtitling. Up until a few years back everything has been perfectly in sync with what was being sung, however subtitling technology has changed. there seems to be much more emphasis on more quantity rather than quality these days and as a result it has all gone to hell. Here, I’ll give you some examples as I go along.....

Ever since the sad demise of ‘Top Of The Pops’ there has been a rather large hole to fill at the BBC, ‘Later ....With Jools Holland’ fills this chasm. It is the BBC’s premier music show, and the one by which all other shows are now measured. So, come the Friday night broadcast, which was recorded on the previous Tuesday night, why are the subtitles not in sync with what is being sung? Here are the Scissor Sister with Any Which Way:

Now, for the able-hearing, to give you a little insight on a hard of hearing person, pop some ear mufflers on and turn the sound down a tad, now try to follow the sound of the music, lip reading the singer and try to match to the on screen subtitles....it’s difficult right? I can tell you something, it is absolutely bloody frustrating for a deaf person to follow that. The subtitles in the above video were done by Red Bee Media.

Now, I do hold Red Bee Media in very high regard as their subtitling output is astonishing and 7 times out of 10 they get it right. Sadly it’s ‘the other 3’ we have problems with. I have complained to them and they have explained things to me. I know that live performances will never be subtitled in sync, and I really do appreciate that wholeheartedly. However there is really no excuse for the repeats and highlight shows not to have the subtitles perfectly in place. I have been told by someone working in the subtitling teams that the tech edits are often delivered ‘late’.... this isn’t our (the public’s) problem, it is the broadcasters’ problem to deal with. If they’re continually late, get someone else to do this role, it’s a basic management decision so why isn’t it being done?

And oh yes, before I forget, the BBC iPlayer.... get the Jools Holland show up on the iPlayer.... oh darn, the subtitles are all over the place on there as well – new technology eh, what a load of arse!

Want to see another example? OK here’s Kasabian from Glastonbury in 2010:

The subtitles are completely out of whack and this performance was from a highlights show broadcast quite some time after the event.

Here’s Placebo from their Glastonbury performance in 1997/98 I think it was:

The subtitles are perfectly in time to Brian Molko’s vocals...’nuff said.

No more excuses! No more fobbing the deaf community off!

Here's another one, pre-recorded Jamie Cullum at the Royal Albert Hall......crap subtitles:



It’s not just the BBC, the band Hurts have recently done a promotion programme on Channel 4 and again all of the subtitles are out of sync:

This was also done by Red Bee Media. I have a terrible feeling that they are running ‘speech to text’ systems, a music programme is really not the right place to use this transcription service. You cannot experiment with music shows in this way – what’s the point? Tell me, please, what is the point? If the subtitles are completely out of sync there is absolutely no access for the deaf and hard of hearing, it’s bloody ridiculous and not to mention discriminative! I became really down with the second episode of Jools Holland, the first episode had subtitles out of sync.... I put it down to ‘teething problems’ (more on this in a moment) as the subs for the first edition of the series are usually off kilter. However to have the subtitles out of whack on the second show has absolutely no excuse whatsoever. SORT IT OUT!

‘Teething problems’ is a bad phrase for me to use...looking at the first broadcast of the series with the subtitles being out of sync and the ‘Oh dear, well I suppose it is the first show so I’ll let them off’....no, hang on... these series’ have been running for many years, the BBC have had perfect subtitling in place before. There is absolutely no excuse for shoddy subtitling with ‘Later ...with Jools Holland’ in any way or form. Any music show that is pre-recorded should have subtitles in sync, if they’re not then it’s obvious that someone/some company is not pulling their weight. For the BBC I (and most people out there) pay a license fee, that, I add, is increased each and every year. I certainly do not pay my license fee for shit subtitling, we’re getting fobbed off so get it fixed please. Here's one of Garbage's performances on on a previous edition of Jools Holland that has been subtitled later on by Phil (AKA 'Muzzy Fush), perfectly in sync subtitles:

Putting the TV subtitling to one side; the following excerpt is from a Nine Inch Nails DVD which was fully encrypted with subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing: (I am unable to embed, the link is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPrsogKNcUU )

Why are so few music DVD's encrypted with subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing? It's a big market and lots of money to be had by the music companies, yet they are completely ignoring this section of the market. It's pure ignorance.

As for the more regular TV shows, I settled down the other night and glanced the new Rhod Gilbert panel based comedy show on the BBC, again it’s pre-recorded, again the subtitles are out of sync, huh???? Do the BBC not have anyone checking the quality of their broadcast programmes anymore?

Whilst we're on this subject, I also want to add that across on ITV2, you can’t have escaped the promotion for the new series of ‘Celebrity Juice’. Well certainly not here in London as it was a HUGE marketing campaign, TV adverts, papers, billboards and not forgetting all of the ‘celebrities’ on the show Tweeting about it left, right and centre..... and guess what? Oh my golly gosh, no subtitling whatsoever! Surprised? Well, considering what has already been discussed, maybe not!

It’s ridiculous, there’s no other way to describe it. These TV channels are actively alienating the deaf and hard of hearing community, I have never seen subtitling as bad as it is today and they say the technology has advanced, not in regards to the quality it hasn’t.

It must be sorted out, not tomorrow, not next week, not next month, but right now.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Refurbishing an old Kona Lava Dome frame.

ALERT - This may prove a bit boring for the non-cyclists out there, sorry!

It has been on my mind for a good few years now to refurbish an older bike frame, ideally I would have loved to have worked on a Yeti 'ARC' or a Fat Chance 'Yo Eddy'. Alas these are still much sought after frames with (quite rightly) cult status, and as you can guess are still bloody expensive to buy.

Thousands of years ago, as a teenager, I made a list of what my ideal (yet realistic) bike would be and it was based around a Kona 'Lava Dome' frame, this is their mid-price range frame. It's an ideal 'work horse', tried, tested, raced and abused daily across the globe, yet carries the 'Ford Escort' moniker as they were pretty common back then. Additionally I have run a mountain bike racing team since the mid-90's (see my other blog: http://thedevelopmentracing.blogspot.com/) and we were very lucky to have been sponsored by some of the biggest equipment manufacturers in the sport back then, as a result I still had various bits and pieces left over that I wished to start using again. Where I didn't have the right parts I sourced via a website called Retrobike.co.uk and eBay, one of my mates also bought a load of Ringle equipment after the brand was sold off and he's been a god send too.

It was by a chance message to a fellow member of Retrobike that I managed to source a 2001 Kona 'Lava Dome' frame, miraculously in the right size, although not exactly classed as 'Retro' as such. I could easily see through the battered decals, scuffed paint and small dents, it was still in a great condition and just needed a bit of TLC to get it turned around.


Pretty rough lookin' eh?!

I wasn't looking at a 'weight weenie' build, where only the lightest (and frailest) parts will do, nor was I looking at this bike becoming a 'garage queen', only to be looked at and never ridden (what's the point of that?!). The parts on the bike had to suit the purpose. I'm a heavy rider, and although I have another hardtail based bike made for quite literally hurling myself down mountain sides on, this bike was/is being built for 'less demanding' cross country routes, but still being able to handle the rough stuff.

I decided to dedicate the paint job to Fat Chance bikes, one of their styles was called 'Aquafade', a forest green merged downwards into azure blue, it looks stunning. At the same time they also had a colour that was called 'Team Violet', a pale violet paint job with a red flip lacquer on the top that really pushes the colour into a clouds-at-dusk-like-hue when the sun hits the frame, it's a really beautiful colour. Sadly the effect doesn't show up very well in the photographs. I decided to take the style of the 'Aquafade' and swap the green for the 'Team Violet', it worked an absolute treat. (pics of my complete bike at the very bottom!!). It took a VERY long time to find a custom frame sprayer who was able to do the Team Violet colour, and this was also not without problems, mainly down to 'lost in translation' when explaining the colour and design. Thankfully everything was rectified in the end, the paint job was by Dave at Colourtech UK LTD in Dartford.



Top - Aquafade, bottom - Team Violet

First up, the wheel rims, no question at all, they had to be Mavic's 'D521 Ceramic' rims, these were Mavic's premier downhill rim in the 90's. By no means a light weight however they build into some of the strongest wheels going and are still highly respected rims. These have been laced to a pair of blue Ringle hubs. Ringle were a very high-end American boutique brand, favoured by the teams such as Yeti and Fat Chance, they used to sponsor my bike team (and today we've gone full circle sponsored by the new firm that took over; Sun-Ringle!) so I had various bits gathering dust, the rest I sourced from one of my mates. (A brief story of my front wheel, it used to be one of the USA Team Yeti riders, Carolyn Curl's and was laced to a deep section carbon fibre HED rim which was the mutts nuts, I'd love another pair of HED rims but they are just too hard to find these days, damn it! I sourced a pair of ex-Team Yeti wheels via one of their then colleagues Betsy, who was absolutely lovely - that's one of my little claims to downhill mountain bike fame there!).



I chose Ringle parts in 3D violet (purple to you and me) for the stem and seat post as I wanted to keep the 'Marmite' aspect of the bike going too, it's a colour not to everyone's taste, I however love it! The handle bars were bought from Rody at Groovy Cycles in the States, aptly called 'Luv Handles'! He's a fantastic bloke and is known the world over for restoring Fat Chance frames to their former glory as well as manufacturing his own (http://groovycycleworks.com/default.aspx). The bars give a better posture on the bike, much better for your back and they're just sooooooooooooooooooooooo comfortable it's unreal.

Brake levers were a bit of a pain, I wanted to keep the 'chi-chi' aspect going but most of the brands back then were really brittle. Someone contacted me on Retrobike and offered a new old stock (i.e. they had never been fitted/used) pair of CNC'd Real levers for the build, they were snapped up straight away! Perfect! The saddle was a no-brainer, Selle Italia 'Flite' titanium, it's just the saddle to fit for a retro steed, far more aesthetic than a Brooks too, have had quite a few Flites in my time and they last for years. I picked that up off eBay dirt cheap, phew.

I already had the cantilever brakes ready to fit. A New York company called Brooklyn Machine Works (http://www.brooklynmachineworks.com/) used to make 'Snot Rocket' cantilever brakes a long time before Shimano picked up on using the same idea for their 'V-brakes'! 'Snot Rockets' are completely, and deliberately, over-engineered more over they are incredibly powerful. In all of my time racing bikes I have not come across any other rim-brake set up that are as powerful as these. Sadly Brooklyn no longer make them which is a great shame. Obviously the hydraulic disk brakes option is there today and I have those on my other hardtail, on this bike however the Brooklyn's were a MUST.


Front Snot Rocket brake.

Forks are year 2000 Rock Shox 'Judy SL LT' ones, repainted to match the frame (I can't find any 'before' photo's, sorry) with the older style (and in my eyes much nicer than the modern ones) Rock Shox decals on them. These have been fully serviced by Tim Flooks (a fork servicing uber-guru) and I got some proper metal fork-adjustment caps to replace the horrible black plastic ones that came with the fork!

Shifting has been taken care of via a pair of Shimano's XT thumb shifters, I had to make my mind up between Gripshift 'SRT800 X-Ray' shifters, a twist style shifter, and thumbies...... Thumbies won, no contest really! These have been mated to Shimano's M900 series XTR front and rear derailleurs, probably the most aesthetic groupset they've ever produced, circa '94 I think it was (correct me if I'm wrong). Shimano XTR cables are also being used for both brake and gear systems.

Crankset at the moment is a pair of Cook Brothers Racing RSR cranks, yet another USA boutique brand from the 90's. I absolutely adore these cranks and lusted after a pair when I was much younger, however I'm a heavy rider and worried they will break so I won't be keeping them, I shall be swapping for a pair of modern Middleburn 'RS8' cranks which are far more suitable. To my defence Middleburn are an old English boutique brand, very well respected and their equipment is nigh on bomproof. Their cranks will 'fit' into the build perfectly as the company have kept a timeless design to them since the 90's. The rings are all by Middleburn too. Bottom bracket is from TA Specialities, lightweight and strong.


Cook Bros. cranks with Brooklyn pedals.

Pedals are Brooklyn Machine Works 'Vegi-Burger' pedals, they will take your skin straight off if you slip. I also have a pair of their bigger-brother pedals, the 'Shin Burgers', which look like metal meat tenderisers and resultingly have several spatters of hardened blood stains on them! Hardcore!

That just leaves tyres and handle bar grips, tyres are modern Maxxis 'High Roller's, the design hasn't changed since the mid-90's so that lets me off. Grips are from a USA company called Oury who are absolutely lovely people to deal with, and again their design hasn't changed either since the 90's so I'm OK there too!

Have you made it this far without falling to sleep?! Marvellous!

"So, enough about all that, how does it ride then?"

Absolutely amazingly! Because I've spent time getting the parts to fit, for example the first stem was 120mm which was far too long and combined with narrow bars, the new stem is 100mm and combined with lay back bars - it's now perfect. Spend time and effort with your equipment to ensure they fit you and not just jump on any old bike expecting it to be bang-on from the word go.

Say "Cheese!"...

The sprinting is brilliant as is the climbing, my old lungs however need to be worked on, phew! I love it, it ticks all of the boxes for what I want it to do. A strong steel cross country frame with good strong parts that will handle my type of riding. Steel being the weapon of choice in that, if ever it break, which I doubt it will any time soon, it is easily fixed by a frame builder, unlike aluminium which is a faff.


"In the dark, dark woods....."


"Pride and Prejudice....hmmmmm"

Et voila!

Special thanks going out to Mark for the frame (I am not worthy), Rody for the bars, the lads at Brooklyn Machine Works for putting up with me across the years!, Nick the Ringle Guru, Tim Flooks, Gil for the amazing reproduction frame and fork decals, and many a fellow from the forums on http://www.retrobike.co.uk

*bows and doffs hat*