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27 February
A message from limbo-land

I am in limbo-land this morning. Bereft. Switched out and/or off. In that curious middle-world of the disconnected. In other words, I’m “between computers”.

My old machine, which I’ve had for several years and which has never, really, been up to the continual pounding that it has received from my pudgy fingers, got zapped by a bad virus just before Christmas, and I’ve been limping it along ever since, on very limited programs and with constant looking over the shoulder to guard against the next major crash.

It won’t do, so last week I bought a new, proper, modern, 21st century desktop over the internet, chickening out only at the last minute from buying something nicely bespoke and going, instead, for the John Lewis option: literally. You know the one: never knowingly undersold, reliable delivery, bog standard, will help you set up if you can’t manage it and so forth. Dull, I know, but what you want above all in computers is reliability. Something that works. Straight from the box.

Anyway, as if in tune with its imminent redundancy, the old machine packed up properly last night, sighing gently as it subsided into nothingness, and this morning I’m awaiting the delivery of the new one (by 10.30, they’ve got 15 minutes). So I’m temporarily in limbo, reduced to an old notebook computer with very limited internet access and to sending myself hand-written notes.

What I should be doing, of course, is to delve into the piles of dusty papers that surrounded the old machine, sorting them out to give the new one a clean environment in which to work. Doing a bit of filing, perhaps. Chucking out the odd floppy disk that still litters my working area. Labelling the 100s of USB sticks I’ve collected. Tracing all the wires and cables back to where they come from to find out what they are. All those things.

But no. Nothing is going to get done until I’m back in the land of the living and all wired up again. Pathetic, isn’t it?

PS An update from the techno-free zone: no computer will be delivered today. Credit card company cocked up (not John Lewis’s fault). Gives me a whole day without working gadgetry. Will I be able to cope?

7 February
Web woes for the BBC

I’ve been quiet on here because I’ve been busy, and that’s not changing, so this is a brief and flying visit. But I just wanted to draw a little bit of attention to something that’s gently amusing me while I’m not here: the mess the BBC has got itself into by redesigning its sports news website: www.bbc.co.uk/sport.

The corporation irritated quite a lot of people a few months back by redesigning its News website and its own main website; latterly it’s done the weather and now it’s sports’ turn. Of course, as with any change, there will be howls of protest from those who preferred it as it was, and really the BBC can’t win. Except that, in the case of the sports site, it really has done itself no favours. Where the other BBC sites use a rather strange and non-intuitive navigation with headlines in the wrong places but look basically OK, the redesign of the sports site has upped the ante on the navigation woes with some perversely counter-intuitive linkage, and topped that off with an eyeball-mashing colour scheme which makes Yellow Pages look subtle.

It’s grim, and quite a few of the pages that a regular sports watcher, like me, would normally want to use have now either disappeared or been “rearranged”. You want to know what football matches are taking place on a particular day? You can’t do that any more. You have to visit each of the different leagues in turn. The constantly updated vidiprinter that shows a feed from the matches taking place has disappeared entirely. As an information source, it’s been ruined. And your eyes will very soon ache from all the yellow.

I’m not alone in feeling this way. Right down the bottom of the main sports page, where you’d have to be searching to find it, is a tab that takes you through to the “Editor’s Blog” and when you get there, you’re invited to comment. It’s a testament to the anger that these changes have provoked that around 1250 people have already got there, hidden though it is, and 90% or more of them are there to complain, a lot of them politely, and many of them saying they’ll never use the site again because it’s now so bad and un-user-friendly.

Now if you were the BBC would you worry about that kind of response? I’m not sure, because it is of course well-known that change always provokes discontent, and there’s a long record of people getting used to things after a while. What, though, might worry me a bit if I were the BBC is a widespread assumption – in about half the submissions to this comment column – that the BBC will do nothing and that it’s not really run for the benefit of its users.

If I were them, I hope I wouldn’t have done what they’ve done, which is to ruin a perfectly usable website. And if I did, I suppose I might think that people would, in time, get used to it. But I think I’d be very uncomfortable with the sheer venom and the hopelessness that these comments demonstrate. You maybe don’t expect to be loved if you’re the BBC. But hated? Not sure I’d be easy about that.

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