The ABC Shops to close

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My first recollection of the ABC Shop in Melbourne was a small space in their then Lonsdale Street radio HQ, which was where the County Court is now — on the corner of Queen Street.

I think it’s where I got the 1983 Doctor Who 20th Anniversary Special book (a local reprint of a UK Radio Times publication), as well as the Doctor Who Technical Manual (in hardback no less) – both still in our family.

Later on they were in the Galleria (in bottom of the gigantic State Bank, later Commonwealth Bank building at Elizabeth/Bourke Streets), and at times I bought Monty Python VHS tapes, DAAS Book (which I got autographed at the shop by the Doug Anthonys… since sold on eBay) and lots more Doctor Who merchandise, of course. This includes a bunch of laminated posters of paintings from renowned franchise artist Andrew Skilleter, one that also marked the 20th anniversary story (The Five Doctors) — which eldest son Isaac has since had autographed by Fifth Doctor Peter Davison — at an ABC Shop, of course.

Doctor Who 20th anniversary poster

Since then the Melbourne CBD shop has moved to the GPO, then more recently to Emporium. And meanwhile they’ve popped up in most big shopping centres.

We still love browsing, and occasionally buying there. The selection of DVDs is more focussed than somewhere like JB Hifi, and the range of other merchandise is good. (Have you seen the amount of Doctor Who stuff that’s available nowadays?!)

Admittedly I browse more than I buy, but purchasable gems still abound… in March I found this excellent documentary:

So it’s sad to hear all ABC Shops will be closing in the next year or two.

I’ll miss them.

Online will continue, but it won’t be the same.

PS. Trivia: before the recent crop of Doctor Who pop-up shops, there used to be a BBC Shop. Okay, it wasn’t a standalone shop, but a dedicated section of Thomas’s Music on the ground floor of the Southern Cross hotel building.

Yes, train punctuality has increased – thanks to timetable padding

One day until the state election.

They do great work, and it’s rather good to see the ABC’s Fact Check unit looking at Victorian issues just before the election.

A couple of days ago they did a segment on train punctuality:

  • The claim: Denis Napthine says his Government has “improved train punctuality”.
  • The verdict: With punctuality running at over 92 per cent across the Metro network, trains are more often on time now than under the previous Labor government.

They looked at the statistics, and they also considered stop skipping, which figures indicate is done on less than half of 1% of services — not enough to greatly influence the result, though sometimes done to excess.

But as commenters on their web site have noted, they didn’t look at the other factor: timetable padding.

Comparing times on the Frankston line: during peak (morning inbound, afternoon outbound), and when it’s quiter (Sunday morning inbound and outbound), we can clearly see that running times have increased — 3-4 minutes was added in 2012.

Frankston line running times, 1997-2012

It’s a similar story on other lines.

Is padding the timetable always bad? No. If network congestion or loadings are such that trains can never achieve the timetable, then allowing more time would be justified.

But in some cases there is now so much padding (for instance, Hawksburn to South Yarra now allows 4 minutes in peak; Richmond to Flinders Street direct allows up to 7) that trains regularly sit idle at stations waiting for the timetable to catch up… or (accidentally) depart before their scheduled time.

So it’s hardly surprising that punctuality has increased.

  • They also haven’t mentioned Loop bypasses, which are a particular problem for the Altona Loop (perhaps thankfully the only suburban section they can do it on) but also the City Loop. These count as a partial cancellation, but when they happen they improve punctuality stats.
  • Additionally it’s notable that the government always talks about punctuality, not cancellations, because the latter has barely changed. That’s outside the scope of ABC Factcheck though; they look at what is claimed, not what isn’t.
  • See also: Alan Davies at Crikey: Did the ABC fact checkers get it right on train punctuality?

Not live, from studio 13 at Gordon Street

A little while ago I bought myself the Collected Shaun Micallef — a box set of numerous shows of his, including The Micallef P(r)ogram(me). The kids and I have been watching our way through it.

I remembered that I had gone to a recording of the show, but had no idea which episode it was. The other night it became very obvious that it had been the final episode of season 2 — in a sketch parodying The Price Is Right, there I was, in the audience.

In the audience at The Micallef Programme, 1999

Coincidentally last night we went to a recording of one of Shaun’s current series — Mad As Hell. We arrived about 5pm, and around half-an-hour later were let into a waiting area, then into the studio itself, with recording starting at about 6pm. With stops and starts and gaffs aplenty, it took until about 8pm to record the half-hour show.

It’ll air tonight.

Mad As Hell studio recording

Most unintentionally amusing moment: after numerous warnings to go to the toilet before recording started, the warm-up guy asked if there were any final questions before beginning, only to be faced with one gentleman piping up: “Is there time to urinate?” — he was whisked off to do so.

Best moment you won’t see on-screen: an audience member who is a musician from Morocco (who has just emigrated) being invited onto stage to play a guitar they’d found. He played a North African song which (if I got this right) is about a bloke who pays a dowry for a wife but is dudded by the father (who has dudded many suitors) and ends up alone.

I don’t think there were any shots of the audience filmed for the show, but the warm-up guy took a photo of part of the audience. I’m up the back, a blurry blob in the dark, waving.

Mad As Hell audience

Lots of fun… apparently they still need audiences for later in the season.

My blabbering in the TARDIS

Deep within the bowels of the ABC studios at Southbank…

ABC Southbank (Melbourne) studios

…there is a Triple J studio called “TARDIS”.

TARDIS studio, ABC

Well, recording booths. I discovered that they’re not bigger on the inside.

I was there the other day at lunchtime. My blabbering has shown up as part of a Triple J “Hack” story on the costs of public transport vs cars.

Some further thoughts on Digital TV

High Definition-only channels

ABC News 24 was the first HD-only channel.

There’s more on the way: Channel 7’s offering aimed at the male demographic “7-Mate” will also be HD-only.

Channel 10’s new “Eleven” will be SD, but it will replace the SD version of their sports channel “One”.

There are rumours Channel 9 will launch a new channel next year, and inevitably that’ll be HD-only, given they have to continue to broadcast their main channel in SD.

Time, perhaps, for those of you with no HD tuner to look into upgrading.

How many channels?

Once the commercial networks launch their third channels, by my calculations we’ll almost be at capacity, with 15, though it’s unclear to me if SBS has the right to put up any more channels.

Certainly things have grown since just a few years ago when there were 6 (analogue) channels: ABC, 7, 9, 10, SBS and Channel 31.

Melbourne TV channels
Note the graph is not linear. Based on some stuff from Wikipedia, counting distinct programming, and main channels only, not things like channels displaying TV guides, which were used at one time last decade. I may have missed a few minor and temporary ones, like that 3D test channel that ran for a while this year. That bump in 2001-03 was the ABC’s initial extra channels FlyTV and ABC Kids, both of which got canned.

Ian, an Englishman used to the old UK channel numbering of BBC1, BBC2, ITV (implied “3”), Channel 4, Channel 5 etc, once remarked to me that when they first discovered Australia had a “Channel 10”, they wondered if we also had channels 1 to 9. We didn’t of course, but now we do, though they’re not all numbered like that. (In the mean time of course, the UK has also expanded its channel range via digital… and interestingly, the BBC’s “CBeebies” and “CBBC” are similar to the ABC2 and ABC3 daytime children target demographics.

How many people are watching what?

Here’s some figures from OzTam, Melbourne between 6am and midnight, for all homes and including cable TV share:

  • Seven   20.00%
  • Nine   18.20%
  • Ten   15.80%
  • ABC1   10.50%
  • GO!   3.90%
  • ABC2   3.40%
  • 7TWO   3.10%
  • SBS1   2.80%
  • ABC3   1.30%
  • One   1.20%
  • ABC News 24   0.80%
  • SBS2   0.50%
  • All cable channels   18.50%

ABC News 24

Despite glitches like those that affected Sunday night’s repeat of Insiders (where it started late, accidently switched to Inside Business for a mistaken minute or two, then flicked back but was cut short just as Barrie Cassidy made an interesting point), I’m very much enjoying ABC News 24.

This interesting piece highlights something that hadn’t occurred to me: because it covers major press conferences live and unedited, it’s proving a boon for niche journalists, such as the tech press, who are covering the debate over broadband, as they can’t afford to physically be at these press conferences, but can listen in via the TV coverage. And of course their readers, who can also watch the coverage for themselves.