Saturday, September 23, 2023


No matter how informed you made yourself before talking about an item, that is still no substitution for using that item, and I am guilty of that here.

After writing about Casio’s new ClassWiz series of calculators [], and having decided it was not for me, I wound up buying one anyway. This opportunity came because of surplus stock of the top-of-the-line Casio fx-991CW after a supermarket’s “Back to School” sale, its £30 price having been halved, and then halved again. I bought one of the last few for £7.50 in vouchers, concluding that I got a free calculator for being a loyal customer.

Having read the instructions online before buying the ClassWiz worked out in my favour, as you no longer get a full instruction book in the packaging - only a quick start guide and warranty card is included. However, the initial gripe of having to select “Calculate” upon turning the device on, to complete a simple calculation, is eliminated once you realise that, if you turn off the calculator while in that “app”, or in the Statistics, Spreadsheet, Equation or any other mode, it will still be in that mode once you turn it on again.

I realised the arrangement of keys is more intuitive for the way we use devices now. The “Home”, “Back” and “Settings” buttons, and their respective house, arrow and levels icons, are universally recognised, and coupling these with the higher-resolution screen, now supporting one level of grey for contrast, means every available option is clear. I’m surprised they didn’t use the screen to build a “Help” or “Instructions” app into the device itself, unless that is somehow counted as cheating at school.

The “Catalog” button, housing many of the options previously requiring the shift key on the main keyboard, will become easier to use in time, once you know how far down some options are – I have realised that “%”, usually its own button on even the cheapest and simplest of calculators, is now found under the Catalog’s “Probability” list. Its focus is to provide all the mathematical symbols likely to be used in maths or science lessons, as you can enter equations as seen in textbooks using all the correct symbols, meaning it is clearer why the curly “x” symbol has its own key rather than “%”. However, I will most likely use it for the very comprehensive list of unit conversions.

I admit that I like the idea of the “Math Box” app. I have been known to flip a coin to choose subject matter for a week’s article or, as a writing exercise, thrown dice to determine how many words I should write. I now can simulate tossing up to three coins, or rolling up to three six-sided dice, as many as 250 times, then produce a table of how often each result came up, if I am so inclined. I don’t know why these features aren’t in the “Probability” section of the Catalog, alongside the feature for producing random numbers, unless Casio wanted a prominent place for two ways of solving arguments.

In short, I have learned my lesson. I like calculators, I like devices with a lot of buttons on them, and I like exploring devices with a lot of buttons on them. If those buttons are arranged differently, then I am going to explore more, and I should have realised that before getting my hands on one. With the UK government currently planning to make maths compulsory in schools to A-Level, the new ClassWiz calculator, while not what I have been used to seeing, will help the reticent student that may not otherwise have wanted to study maths by being as clear and approachable as possible, and that is nothing but a good thing.

Sunday, September 17, 2023


Recent history can still turn to dust without anyone noticing, and if that history reflected your local area, that stings further.

Television South (TVS) provided ITV programmes for the south and south east of England from 1982 and 1992, back when Southampton, and TVS’s second base in Maidstone, was as major a producer of television shows as Bristol, Leeds, Birmingham or Newcastle, places reduced to outposts for regional news as ITV merged itself into a national company based primarily in London and Manchester. Travelling into Southampton took my family past the TVS (formerly Southern, later Meridian) studios, and it commanded my attention every time.

TVS sold its news output to Meridian when it took over the southern ITV franchise, but the rest of its programme library is currently missing, believed lost or destroyed, creating an eleven-year gap covering children’s programmes like “No. 73”, “Motormouth”, “How 2”, “Tugs” and “Mr Majeika”, dramas like “C.A.T.S. Eyes” and “The Ruth Rendell Mysteries”, game shows “Catch Phrase” and “All Clued Up”, comedy shows by Bobby Davro, “Summertime Special”, the sitcom “That’s Love”, international co-productions including the UK segments of “Fraggle Rock” and a 1987 film about Nelson Mandela starring Danny Glover, along with a large number of documentaries and local public affairs programmes that could have visited my local town.

This is, once again, a case of “lost media” meaning an archive is lost, and not just unavailable online. Many off-air recordings of TVS programmes have been put online by members of the public, but finding them is difficult, as searching the straightforwardly named “tvs” or “television south” is often counterproductive.

TVS is the only ITV company whose output is unavailable, with other former franchise holders having their programmes taken over by the companies succeeding them, or by local archives and businesses. However, the owner of the TVS library, wherever it is, has been The Walt Disney Company since 2001, after a long process of company takeovers that involved evangelical Christian preacher Pat Robertson and “Power Rangers” producer Saban Entertainment. This process appears to have shed the paperwork associated with the library, crucial to making the programmes available to view on home video or online, the last such incidence being the release of “The Ruth Rendell Mysteries” on VHS cassette in 2000. 

Later enquiries made by people to Disney about the location of the tapes themselves has led to the unsatisfactory conclusion that they are unavailable or lost. It is not likely that the tapes were “wiped” because the price of broadcast-quality cassettes had declined enough by the 1980s to avoid a practice of reusing them, and because the potential of revenue from home video necessitated retaining them, just as when Pat Robertson launched a UK version of The Family Channel using TVS repeats. 

It is not known if these tapes have been mislaid, or simply thrown away, and the perceived worth of the archive to The Walt Disney Company is also unknown – I cannot imagine they had much use for a daytime magazine show titled “Not for Women Only”, but someone may do, if only for research purposes.

This could be an argument for needing an audio-visual equivalent of the British Library – the British Film Institute has a vast archive, which includes some TVS programmes they have received over the years, but they do not act in that sort of capacity. When a programme’s worth cannot be foreseen, being unable to make that decision because it has already been lost is difficult to take – even if is a Bobby Davro sketch show so “of its time” that the cultural references make no sense, it would be useful to see why.

This situation required a campaign to find parts of a major international show made in my lifetime, “Fraggle Rock” – the UK wraparound segments filmed by TVS starred Fulton McKay and later John Gordon Sinclair as a lighthouse keeper. Only twelve episodes were known to exist in broadcast quality, later raised to twenty-nine after the search – the remaining sixty-five episodes exist as off-air recordings made by members of the public.

I only got rid of my VHS cassettes because I knew I did not own anything that didn’t otherwise exist. This cannot be confidently said for anyone owning a recording of a TVS programme.

Sunday, September 10, 2023


When I say “where’s my flying car?”, I am saying “where is our vision of the future?

Fantasies of flying cars have abounded for as love as cars have been driven across the ground. They became such a cliché about frivolous predictions of our future that the film “Back to the Future” ended with a flying DeLorean as a joke, with the sequels’ sensible predictions about sky-high motorways and hovercar conversion kits making the far-off future of 2015 more realistic.

Having now passed that future, our fantasies have become more grounded, and more backward-looking than we may like. Mastering cars that no longer use an internal combustion engine, or a driver to drive them where possible, have become real-life practical concerns ahead of flying cars, and in doing so are using past glories to make this future appeal to us.

Volkswagen, in its aim to produce only electric cars in Europe from 2033, has produced a concept car named the “ID. GTI”, which they hope to enter production by 2027. Evoking the famous VW Golf GTi, which pioneering the sporty small “hot hatch” car class, it intends to replicate the driving dynamics of its predecessors to the letter. From VW’s press release, by integrating the powertrain to the car’s control system, “for the first time, it is therefore possible to adjust the drive system, running gear, steering, sound experience and even the simulated shift points in the style of one of the historical GTI models – such as the Golf GTI I from 1976, the first Golf GTI II 16V from 1986 or the legendary Golf GTI IV ‘25 years of GTI’ from 2001. This makes the ID. GTI Concept a highly dynamic time machine.”

This sounds like using cutting-edge technology to play old computer games for their nostalgia value. If VW can do this, what is stopping them from emulating any car they like, or you want? With the ID. GTI based on another concept car that is designed to be more affordable, the ID. 2all, there is nothing to prevent that car from being able to mimic an original post-war Beetle, or a Karmann-Ghia, Scirocco, Hillman Avenger, Bentley Continental, or a Lincoln Continental: each car could become a profile to pay and download, the correct dials and switches coming up on the touch-video dashboard.

Despite this, some people are still looking forward: Alef Automotive, a California-based company, has received certification from the US Federal Aviation Administration, but not yet from its road-going equivalent, to continue testing its Model A, a car with vertical take-off and landing capability, a flying range of up to 110 miles, and an estimated delivery date of 2025. The company’s founders have worked on the vehicle since 2015, having been inspired by what they saw in “Back to the Future Part II”. Prices start from $300,000.

Sunday, September 3, 2023


The script for this video is below:

Coming up, I want to start making more videos, so I am going to talk myself into a position where I can do that. 


[TITLE: 412. Let’s Build a Media Strategy]


[TITLE: or, “You Oughta Be in Pictures”]


Hello there. I bought an autocue, or teleprompter, about nine months ago, and this is the first time I have used it, so hopefully I should be looking straight at you this time. 


A while ago, I wrote that, because everyone who has a social media account is now in the media business, everyone should have media training so they can manage their online presence – it’s the sort of thing that will be taught in schools, if not done so already. What this also means is that, essentially, everyone also now must have a media strategy – how do you go about building your online presence, how are you making yourself known, and where are you doing that.


That is something I have been thinking about for a while. Right now, I have my own website where I post articles I write every week, and a few social media accounts I only use to point to that website, like a village community pinboard telling you a meat raffle is taking place on Sunday at the pub after church. Meanwhile, I have a YouTube channel that holds the videos I have made but has more subscribers than all the social media accounts combined.


Therefore, I am not using social media effectively, and I have subscribers to a video channel that has no new videos. Surely, I should pivot from writing articles to making videos? I know I can do both, but a full-time job means the easier option most often wins, and it is the one that involves a lot more typing.


Then you have the issue of “content”. A couple of years ago, I was toying with the idea of making a video series titled “Leigh Spence is Content”, using the double meaning of that word – I didn’t go ahead with that because all it tells you is that you should be watching me, and I’m a bit too self-conscious for that. 


However, “content” doesn’t mean much as a word anymore in terms of media posted online. I still think of a type of media, like a video, and then the content of that video. At some point, “content” came to mean anything put online, no matter what form it took, because the internet was the container, or worse, the video streaming site or social media site considers itself to be the container, and its users to be their content. Because my content lives on its own site, they have no use for me, and I have little use for them.


With this being the landscape into which I place anything creative I have, it almost doesn’t matter whether an idea I have is expressed in writing or in pictures, when really it should – they are completely different sets of disciplines. Granted, I have a degree in film studies, so I am going to think that way, but I graduated a full year before YouTube even began, so my view of what makes a video was formed entirely before an entirely new business model became applied to them.


This is why the videos I have made are not the same as each other: some use voiceover, one has been silent, a couple have used music, and one didn’t use pictures. If YouTube wants me to build an audience through consistent content released on a dependable schedule, then it will have to deal with me wanting to be consistently inconsistent.


So, what do I do? More videos, fewer articles, a little more social media presence, perhaps talking about things that could become articles or videos? Or is it that engaging with other people, and sharing your data with them, is all that the internet wants you to do, regardless of what you make? Anyway, like, comment and subscribe, and do as you damn well please.


Thank you for watching, if you would like to see more videos like this, consider watching the others I have already posted, or find a way to watch my dreams at night, and as ever the nostalgia culture crisis continues at, the home of dancing with the gatekeepers.

Saturday, August 26, 2023


The British Film Institute’s 2022 Blu-ray and DVD release of the BBC’s celebrated 1954 adaptation of “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, no doubt helped by George Orwell’s novel having entered the public domain, set right a myth surrounding it that I have been guilty of repeating. 

It was not widely reported at the time that Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip had watched and enjoyed its original Sunday night performance, quashing a campaign to prevent its second performance the following Thursday – before videotape, these were separate live performances.

Instead, a BBC liaison officer was informed by Prince Philip, while at a private function, of their seeing it, an anecdote recorded in the BBC’s private records in 1954, but not made public until decades later. The second performance was in fact authorised to proceed the day after the first took place.

Now that is clear, we can marvel in Nigel Kneale’s adaptation of “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, whose opening narration begins: “This is one man’s alarmed vision of the future, a future which he felt might, with such dangerous ease, be brought about.” It retains its shock value, depicting a London as grimy and scarred by war as contemporary audiences will have remembered, only that its populace now tell themselves they never had it so good, giving life to Orwell’s famous “doublethink”. There is a chill at seeing Winston Smith, played by Peter Cushing in the role that launched him into his film career, being physically degraded on screen. In Airstrip One, a good citizen is one that has no capacity to express itself – it did not matter what crimes Smith falsely confessed to in order to escape Room 101, it is only that he thought about them.

I watched the adaptation this time specifically to take attention to how the neologisms of Newspeak are applied in a TV adaptation where, despite the limitations of a staged live adaptation viewed on a low resolution, black and white screen, actions still come first. Building on the first scene of Smith using his “speakwrite” to “correct” the official account of Big Brother’s actions for “The Times” newspaper, rewriting previous editions, it is down to Donald Pleasence, as Syme, to gleefully explain how Newspeak will remove confusion and vagueness from speech: the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by a single word, “good”, and whether you add un- to flip its meaning, or plus- or doubleplus- to amplify it. You feel that successive editions of the “Newspeak Dictionary” won’t even allow you that, unless you “bellyfeel” it (accept it without question). Newspeak is sprinkled through the rest of the play, especially when Syme is eventually told, by the pervasive telescreen, “ungo antecoming thinkpol”, immediately clarifying for the audience by saying “the think police are coming for you”.

I initially thought of writing about newspeak after coming across an online listing for a prop newspaper from Michael Radford’s later film of “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, released that very year, the pictures of which were detailed enough for me to read sections that were faithfully written by someone in seemingly full Newspeak: “nix doubleplusbig efforts of progsoc they nogodepast outzones of Brazzaville”. It is meant to be spoken, and probably read, in a clipped staccato manner, the use of “nix” recalling the famous 1935 “Variety” magazine headline “Sticks Nix Hick Pix”. The new terms created by “Variety” in its long history, from “cliffhanger” to “striptease”, from “greenlight” to “sex appeal”, and from “biopic” to “showbiz”, were to shorten headlines, emulate the slang used by the industry on which it reported, while making readers feel part of that industry.

However, seeing the art being removed from novels and music was what stayed with me the most this time, the rise of AI programs being something that has happened mostly since this Blu-ray release. A “prole” woman sings a song played by her telescreen as she puts up washing on a line, later revealed to have been created by computer: “The sentimental ones are issued sparingly, they’re always properly.” Later, a machine made to write pornographic novels, named as the “author” of a work shown earlier, is shown to produce twenty novels a day: “all phrases and thought sequences were built in during assembly so that it has its own distinctive style... The operator is now adjusting the situation kaleidoscope, which varies the six basic plots...” Newspeak really is the last of our real-life problems.

Sunday, August 20, 2023


Back in 2019, at the end of my video about calculators, I recommended the Casio fx-991EX ClassWiz, a scientific calculator for students, as the best, most comprehensive and easy to use calculator you can buy. In 2023, I think it remains the best choice, because its replacement is not as friendly to use. Casio are also seemingly the only company still selling calculators in regular stores in the UK, making anything else harder to recommend to the average user.

The new Casio ClassWiz range, topped by the fx-991CW, makes more use of menus and phone-line apps to group together statistical, distribution, equation and matrix calculations, among others, that previously were accessed via a “shift” function on the main keyboard. This may prove useful in a teacher setting, but it does away with a layout that Casio has built on since its first pocket scientific calculator, the fx-10 of 1974, and has become intuitive through its use by generations of people, from children through to adult. 

However, the new Casio ClassWiz range won an iF Design Award in 2023 because, according to the iF International Forum Design’s website, it “is designed to make math[s] fun and accessible again amid an accelerating decline in mathematics students worldwide who equate math[s] with difficulty.” It also says the new user interface encourages curiosity and interest in students, making the calculator more than “a machine students ‘have to use’”.

This has the unfortunate side effect of having to select the “Calculate” option in order to enter 2 + 2 = 4. This situation is more common on graphing calculators, which are half-way to becoming computers, but not on something you can still buy for under £20 at a supermarket.

I have never thought that calculators were getting in the way of learning mathematics – a couple of teachers made it a turn-off at school, but others balanced them out. Gaining confidence with numbers was my reason for continuing the subject through to A-Level, and calculators were there as a useful tool to support the teaching. It was only later I found myself appreciating and collecting calculators for their design, and for how different scientific calculators arranged their functions for people to use.

I use time calculations at work, and the ClassWiz manual confirms this requires more key pressing, with the function used to separate degrees/hours, minutes and seconds, and marked as °’”, now requiring you to press the “Shift” and “+” buttons to access, having previously been its own button.

The previous ClassWiz calculators incorporated use of “apps” in their menus without requiring menu diving to access functions, never having had to do so before doesn’t mean imposing such a system will become easier. It is worth noting that Hewlett-Packard reworked their 32S calculator in 1991, three years after its release, to unpack its menus onto a comparatively more cluttered keypad, but that version continued to sell for another eleven years.

It is not known if Casio have stopped selling the fx-991EX ClassWiz in favour of the new CW version, but they still sell many calculators using the old layout, and other names like Sharp, Texas Instruments and HP still exist, so if you are buying a calculator for your child, make sure you know what features they need to include, and make sure they read the instructions.

Sunday, August 13, 2023


The reaction my sister was probably not expecting, after sharing with me a link to the rarely seen TV show “Turn-On”, was my telling her I had wanted to see it for twenty years. After finding a lot to say about it here last time, my mind still wasn’t done with it, so here are the thoughts that continued bouncing around.

I have now watched more of “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In”, the comedy variety show created by George Schlatter & Ed Friendly, the eventual producers of “Turn-On”. Running for five years from 1968, and the most popular show on American television for three of those, any further show from its team stood a chance of being made, if not of becoming a success. The double act of Dan Rowan & Dick Martin, more reminiscent of Martin & Lewis than Morecambe & Wise, provide the grounding for the wild sketches that appear around them, their black tuxedos marking them out from the rest of the show – the insistence of a guest host for “Turn-On” for the audience to identify with was lost by their not fulfilling the role of a host, and being mixed into the sketches with the rest of the cast. “Laugh-In” is also the show that gave the falsetto singer Tiny Tim his first TV appearance, which was done by having him sing while Dick Martin stood next to him, wondering what to think.

Many of the sketches on “Laugh-In” were made to facilitate the kind of one-liners and blackout gags that characterised “Turn-On”, like the show’s cast of future stars like Goldie Hawn, Jo Anne Worley and Lily Tomlin opening doors on the Joke Wall to say lines, and a succession of parties where everyone freezes dancing to share a line, the most memorable for me being, “I hear Raquel Welch is playing Myra Breckinridge... I hope she wins.” Each episode ran one hour (plus ad breaks), so while they were quick, they had the time to be legible enough for the audience to get the joke.

“Laugh-In” also had an array of catchphrases like “Sock It to Me”, “Here Come the Judge”, “Beautiful Downtown Burbank”, “Verrry Interesting...” and “Look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls!”, repeated each episode to produce a laugh by themselves, just as “The Fast Show” would do later. I now know the tape of then-President Richard Nixon’s famously halting reading of “Sock It to Me?” is because the catchphrase formed a small section of the show where the person saying it were then “socked” by a bucket of water, or by losing their clothes. 

Watching “Laugh-In” means remembering that the psychedelic, colourful sets, the rapid cross-cut editing employed in some sketches by literally splicing the videotape with razor blades, and the “right-on” humour touching upon race and gender, were entirely contemporary. This was the prevailing graphical look of the time, the sound of the pop music, and the words on people’s lips, and a perfect choice for BBC Two to show in 1968, as the only colour TV station in the UK at the time.

In terms of UK television, the nearest we appeared to have to “Turn-On” in overall shape, at least in what still exists to make the comparison, is “Zokko!”, a BBC One Saturday lunchtime compendium of songs, animation and stories for children that ran from 1969-70, initially hosted by a sentient pinball table, but later replaced by pop art imagery and lava lamp-like tubes, and all in black and white. 

Like the vast expanse of white in which “Turn-On” generated its sketches, British TV already had TV shows that used no discernible set, like the satirical “That Was the Week That Was” (1962-63), and the music show “Ready Steady Go” (1963-66), showing cameras and boom microphones in shot, but this was more down to thrift or lack of studio space, particularly later when “The Old Grey Whistle Test” began in 1971 by cramming bands into a space built only for studio discussion programmes of the sort later parodied endlessly by “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”. However, when NBC, the eventual network for “Laugh-In”, launched an American version of “That Was the Week That Was”, they gave it a proper set.

I still think “Turn-On” could have been made to work, and I think enough parts of it were reflected in other TV shows for something like it to be tried again, but does anyone want to give me the resources to do it?