Big Brother Australia vs. Big Brother USA: Who’s the best? (Part 1)

By David

Big Brother Australia 2013 opening sequence.  Credit: Nine Network.

Big Brother Australia 2013 opening sequence. Credit: Nine Network.

The American version of Big Brother is, without question, my favorite summer television show.  I recently started watching the current tenth season of the Australian Big Brother series (via Youtube as it is not aired in the US) and decided to compare, contrast and rate both of the shows’ current series from the perspective of an American viewer.

Big Brother USA 2013 opening sequence.  Credit: CBS.

Big Brother USA 2013 opening sequence. Credit: CBS.

On the surface, the US Big Brother version, which has aired on the CBS television network for 15 seasons, seems very similar to the Australian version, which airs on Nine Network.  A group of people from different parts of the country are locked in a house full of cameras and microphones without any contact from the outside world.  Every week, at least one person is evicted until one is left to win a large sum of money (in the US it is $500,000 USD).  Series 1 of the US show, which aired in 2000, was identical in format to BB AU with the houseguests nominating and the public voting.

Starting series 2, which aired in 2001, CBS revamped the game to make it somewhat similar to Survivor in hopes of getting better ratings, as viewership declined throughout Big Brother’s first season.  There is no longer a public vote for eviction.  A “Head of Household” or HOH (winner determined by competition) nominates two houseguests for eviction.  A weekly “Power of Veto” competition is held and its winner can save one nominee from eviction, keep nominations the same, or (if nominated) can take themselves off the chopping block.  In the latter situation, the HOH would name a replacement nominee.  The houseguests then vote to evict one of the two nominees.  American houseguests are highly encouraged to discuss their nominations and campaign to keep themselves in the house, or to get another houseguest evicted.  As you can imagine, this causes drama and frequent arguments within the house.

Like the Australian show, the US version has seen many twists over the years, some of which include twins playing as one person (secretly switching places every few days unbeknownst to their housemates), returning houseguests, and family members playing together.  The current 2013 season introduced three weekly nominees, the third being nominated in secret by a non-HOH houseguest chosen by the public.

The Big Brother Australia 2013 house, outdoors (top), indoors (right).  Click to enlarge.  Credit: Nine Network.

The Big Brother Australia 2013 house, indoors (top), outdoors (bottom). Click to enlarge. Credit: Nine Network.

Even with the fundamental game differences between the US and Australian versions of Big Brother, I was pleasantly surprised at the Nine Network’s version of the program.  The BB AU house, in terms of layout and decor, is stunning and a huge upgrade from what the US viewers see.  The CBS Big Brother house, which was redesigned and rebuilt in 2007 to include a second floor and a larger floor plan than the original one-story house used in seasons 1-5, is still small and cramped.  Although I don’t know the exact sizes of the BBUS and BBAU homes, I’d predict the entire BBUS home would fit in the garden/pool outdoor area of the BBAU home.

Although CBS does redecorate the US house every year, the finished product often looks very dated with cheap construction, finishes and furniture (of which is often from IKEA).  Simply put, the house doesn’t look that pretty on television.  In comparison, the BB AU house seems to have rich ultra-modern finishes, designer furniture and actually looks like it was built in 2013, unlike the BB US home which I feel looks like it was made in 1992, current retro decor theme notwithstanding. The ‘halfway house,’ a purposely run-down portion of the BBAU home, looks more like the luxurious portions of the BBUS home.  ‘The Glass House,’ an American television show with a premise similar to Big Brother which ran on the ABC network, had a house with construction detail and quality more in line with BBAU than BBUS, so I feel this is proof that CBS decorates the US house on the cheap.

The Big Brother USA 2013 house, indoors (top), outdoors (right). Click to enlarge. Credit: CBS, BigBrotherNetwork.com.

The Big Brother USA 2013 house, indoors (top), outdoors (bottom). Click to enlarge. Credit: CBS, BigBrotherNetwork.com.

Being not too familiar with the original Big Brother game, it was interesting to see it play out on Nine Network.  The cast of the current Australian season seems to be quite entertaining and full of a wide variety of personalities.  In contrast, the BBUS cast always has a few ‘duds’ in terms of boring houseguests.  It is interesting to see Big Brother himself have full conversations with the AU housemates in the diary room and elsewhere.  On the US show, houseguests’ diary room footage is presented as a narration and reaction to already-taped events in the US house.  The US houseguests speak to members of production in the diary room, but it is not shown on TV as a conversation with a singular Big Brother entity as seen on the Australian show.

The CBS show airs three times a week for an hour each episode.  This is in large contrast to the Aussie version, which airs almost 8 hours a week spread over five weekly episodes.  The longer airtime allows Nine Network to better show houseguests and non-game events in the home, understandably due to the public vote.  BBUS has a 24/7 live internet feed which satisfies the in-depth houseguest connection ‘need’ for me so it really doesn’t matter that the CBS episodes only focus on game matters.

bb-diaryroom

The nomination ceremonies are much more dramatic on the BBAU series, with the ‘nominations chamber,’ a sound-proof transparent booth where the houseguests go to nominate in plain view of their housemates.  On CBS, American houseguests evict from the safety of the diary room, away from view of the housemates.  However, I conclude the US version’s evictions are more dramatic than the Aussie version, often filled with houseguest arguments and insults as the evictee walks out of the front door.

Overall, as an American viewer, I enjoy the ruthless plotting, backstabbing, strategizing and drama-filled atmosphere of the US version of Big Brother, mainly because I’ve been used to it for 15 years.  However, I feel the Australian series makes viewers connect more with the houseguests and it is overall a more interesting show to watch.  Although I highly enjoy the BBUS live internet feed, the actual CBS television episodes are often boring and seem procedural.  Even though the Australian show is vastly different from what I’m used to when I think of Big Brother, I thoroughly enjoy the show and will keep watching as long as possible.

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READ: BIG BROTHER AUSTRALIA vs. BIG BROTHER USA: Who’s the best? (Part 2)

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Why the humanities are in crisis

By Glenn McLaren, Swinburne University of Technology

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal titled Humanities Fall From Favour reveals a further escalation in the crisis affecting the humanities. Harvard University, “a standard-bearer of American letters”, is failing to attract students to its humanities courses seemingly on the grounds that there are no jobs for graduates.

The solutions proposed in the article are for humanities departments to aggressively market themselves, create broader interdisciplinary networks and develop internship networks.

I want to focus on the second of these and argue that the problem for the humanities is not their failure to create interdisciplinary networks but the lack of trans-disciplinary ones which include them. Trans-disciplinary networks are ones in which disciplinary differences are recognised and respected because those involved meaningfully engage in each other’s ways of knowing.

Digital humanities 'wordle'  © 2011 Phillip Barron

However, there is a growing “scientism” dominating today’s universities. This is the view that science is the only legitimate way of knowing, a view that is being driven by the market. This dominant ideology has slowed the development of the imagination, empathy and capacity for understanding necessary for trans-disciplinary approaches and has fragmented academia, including science and mathematics. The humanities have been left isolated and cut off from other disciplines leaving them open to attack by those who fail to comprehend their significance.

The truth is, the humanities and the sciences have a strong co-dependent history. But the idea that the humanities are just an interesting add-on to fill out one’s education is pervasive.

A good example is a recent article, Why Arts and Science are Better Together, which argues that if science students were to study the arts as well, they could “also learn about developing arguments, and about understanding, moving, and changing the minds of diverse audiences.”

Others argue that all the humanities need to do is assert themselves in a similar way, or, the humanities need to become more scientific. Many in the humanities, particularly post-modernists, have contributed to this isolation by completely disengaging from science and mathematics.

 Stanford Uni Digital Humanities Conference © 2011 Craig Bellamy

The common assumption is that the humanities need to either justify their independent existence or start complementing science in order to survive. This is, however, both an inversion of reality and a false dichotomy.

The sciences emerged as a complement to the humanities. It is the humanities that are the conditions for science to emerge at all and to make sense, because it is only through the humanities that the question of why we engage in intellectual inquiry can be both asked and answered.

The answer is and has been for thousands of years, to understand ourselves, our relationships with everything else and how we should best live. Intellectual inquiry is a human centred activity. The rocks don’t care what the geologist’s report says about them, we do. We observe, record, write the report, read it, interpret it, contextualise it and try to understand what it means for us.

In becoming lost in the high abstractions of science we seem to have lost sight of this. We behave as though scientific investigation is purely about producing data for its own sake committing what English mathematician and philosopher Alfred Whitehead called “the fallacy of misplaced concreteness”, treating abstractions as reality. Science presupposes knowledge generated through the humanities, such as the ability to read, write, interpret, make sense of data and communicate our understanding to others.

But now it seems, in our modern universities where the demands of customers are more important than the institutional responsibility of preserving intellectual traditions, the humanities are seen either as an optional luxury most cannot afford or as redundant.

But if you studied the Humanities you could appreciate a profound irony emerging, because in this same period in which the Humanities are being seen as redundant, modern science, particularly in fields such as complexity science, ecology and bio-semiotics, is revealing them to be more important than ever.

Marathon Reading of 1984 at Sydney Writers Festival © 2008 Charlie Brewer

Historical narratives, in particular, are crucial conditions for science and mathematics. In fact, because inquiry is always based on reflection after-the-fact, we are all, fundamentally, story-telling historians.

Without narrative history, without an appreciation of what has been achieved in the past and what problems have arisen, what are the important problems because they are fundamental and what are less important, science and mathematics must disintegrate into fragments. This is just what they are doing and why science education is in crisis more generally.

A general education in the co-dependent nature of the humanities and sciences is essential, not only to the continued development of both, but also to democracy by developing the capacity to have a mature conversation about the future purpose of science and technology.

It is time to transcend the childish and abstract distinction between the sciences and the humanities and begin a meaningful and necessary re-integration. It is time to create trans-disciplinary networks rather than inter and multi-disciplinary ones. It is time the wayward son was re-united with his father for all our sakes.

Glenn McLaren does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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Butchering the Winfast TV2000XP for FM DX

Please consider the risks involved with modifying a tuner before proceeding with any project. The author shall not be liable for any loss or damage whatsoever (including human or computer error, negligent or otherwise, or incidental or consequential loss or damage) arising out of, or in connection with any use or reliance on these instructions.

The Leadtek Winfast TV2000XP is a Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) card to receive FM and analogue television broadcasts. The card also provides analogue video capture functionality via an S-video input. At the heart of the card is the Philips FM1216 / PH hm tuner. The module may be used in a number of other manufacturers’ analogue TV and FM cards, including:

  • Hauppauge WinTV FM;
  • AverMedia AverTV Stereo Edition Desktop TV Personal Video Recorder &
  • Conexant Fusion 878A Easy TV.

The tuner includes the following Philips’ integrated circuits:

  • TDA5736;
  • TSA5523;
  • TDA9809 &
  • TDA7040.

Since analogue television is ‘done and dusted’ these cards (below) may be classified as redundant technology. Accordingly, most sell for less than 10 bucks on Ebay!

Card featuring Philips FM1216 tuner © 2007 Whazilla

The card may be used with Dscaler noise reduction software for weak signal detection, such as low VHF band Sporadic E in regions where analogue television is still operational. Because of the wide frequency coverage, Klaus Hirschelmann suggests the tuner offers potential to receive International Radio and Television Organisation (OIRT) broadcasts still on-air in Eastern Europe.

Live recording with TV2000XP

According to Philips:

The tuner [Automatic Gain Control] AGC for both TV and FM radio operation is generated with a novel AGC detector which measures the [Intermediate Frequency] IF signal level directly at the tuner IF output pins. As opposed to the conventional AGC detector, this new circuit allows a higher take-over level and offers superior immunity against tuner overload.

The tuner offers satisfactory strong signal immunity. Performance is markedly better than the E4000, R820T or FC0013 tuners used in a Realtek Software Defined Receiver (SDR) or a Silicon Laboratories’ Si4734 based portable receiver connected to the same rooftop antenna. Philips’ tuner typically features an Image Rejection of 65 decibels for the FM band. In terms of benchmarking, a Yamaha TX-930/950 component tuner features a more favourable 90 decibels. AM Suppression – the ability of the tuner to reject AM signals, is specified at 38 decibels.

Whilst the tuner features interference suppression, the separation of FM stations is not up to contemporary requirements. When Philips Components designed the tuner, Digital Signal Processing (DSP) was at its infancy. These days, DSP based tuners are perhaps taken for granted. Whilst away interstate recently, this blogger noticed that even a cheap TDK Ipod dock supplied in the apartment featured a DSP FM tuner!

Timer Radio Recording with TV2000XP

The scheduled timer recording functions for recording (above) on the TV2000XP is a boon. Therefore, it is a shame that the tuner is not suited to a congested FM dial. When it was used for television recording, the software accompanying this product worked flawlessly.

The tuner does not permit a listener to separate fringe stations 100 kHz apart, and to hear several stations without interference from strong local stations, it was necessary to off-tune 50 kHz to prevent audible interference. Fortunately, sensitivity seemed fine, for example daily reception (a 26 kW broadcast) out to 208 miles (335 km) was possible with a modest combination rooftop antenna without a preamplifier. Sensitivity for a weak signal with a 26 dB signal to noise ratio is 2.24 uV, compared to a Yamaha TX-930 with a more favourable 0.8 uV. Most tuner software (including Leadtek and Hauppauge) features a five segment signal strength meter.

After quite a few drinks one night the author decided that it would not hurt to rip the tuner module open and see what was inside! It was no risk, because a replacement card is dirt cheap. Worst case scenario, if secondhand supplies dissipate, one can simply solder in a new tuner module, pictured below.

FM1216 tuner module © 2013 Max's Depot

The fact the aluminium lid of the Philips FM1216 / PH hm tuner module could be easily plied open was a surprise. What was inside was even more interesting. Staring up at this ‘butcher’ were two 230 kHz Murata ceramic filters and one ceramic discriminator. The block diagram (below) shows the role of the two 10.7 MHz IF filters.

Block Diagram of FM1216 © 2013 Philips Components

To aid easy identification of components (in this case, the existing filters), it is recommended to refer to an online source such as Bruce Carter’s Ceramic Filter page.

Was this ‘elderly beast’ a candidate for a filter butchering? Hell yeah! Hence this article is basically another instalment of the ‘narrow filter modification’ project. It never gets old. 🙂

TV2000XP inside tuner module

Because the rear of the tuner module cannot be easily accessed, the existing wide filters are perhaps best removed from the enclosure… by force! Pliers were – again – used to ‘throttle and crumble’ the existing filters, easily identifiable by the Murata logo. The replacements are soldered in place of the old ones.

The tuner module features a large Printed Circuit Board (PCB) as illustrated on the left half of the photograph above. Even ‘old eyes’ are unlikely to encounter problems with such a simple project. This is a five minute project requiring little equipment, consisting of:

  • general purpose pliers;
  • a soldering iron;
  • solder;
  • desolder braid (optional);
  • philips head screwdriver (optional) &
  • replacement 10.7 MHz filters of one’s choice.

Mike Bugaj is another enthusiast who enjoys ‘butchering’ FM tuners as much as this blogger! He prefers to change one filter first and test performance before proceeding with replacing the other wider filters. This blogger takes the same approach. One of the two 230 kHz filters was removed and a 80 kHz filter soldered in its place. The butchering is not pretty (below), in fact it is possibly one of the ugliest mods ever performed… ‘but she works!’ Stations 100 kHz apart can now be heard, whilst the distortion levels of FM broadcasts remain satisfactory.

80 kHz filter replacement pictured lying flat, E10.7T - FM1216 module

Whilst not mandatory, a preamplifier improves sensitivity. As mentioned above, the module may not be up to component tuner standards for weak monophonic or quieting stereo signals.

Ferrite suppression chokes for RG6Q coaxial cable - TV2000XP card in far rear expansion slot

For the finishing touch, it is recommended to purchase a few ferrite suppression chokes to clip onto the coaxial cable (above) to minimize Electro Magnetic Interference (EMI) problems from a desktop PC. The blogger can recommend jteam Electronic Components. Their chokes (below) were posted quickly from Perth, Western Australia and were very inexpensive compared to retail supplies.

Ferrite suppression chokes for RG6Q coaxial cable

To minimize interference from the desktop PC, so as to maximize FM tuner sensitivity:

  • A CRT computer monitor should NOT be used;
  • Internet routers should be switched off;
  • Remove all unnecessary or unused leads connected to the desktop computer such as USB extension cables &
  • Use RG-6 Quad Shield Coaxial Cable for all connections from the tuner to the antenna wall plate.

A recommended source for replacement 110 kHz narrow ceramic filters is Greg Gortman of Lexington, Kentucky. International carriage is available from these sources. Prior to publication stocks were available.

Programme details in RDS Spy © 2013 Jan Kolar, Czech Republic

Klaus Hirschelmann notes that the tuner module features an Multiplex Output for RDS use. Whilst this blogger has not tried it yet (perhaps after the Ashes test cricket series) the Data and Clock signals (found on pins 13 & 14) can be fed via a shielded cable to the Line Level Input on a sound card. In theory, this should enable RDS decodes with RDS Spy software, illustrated above and below.

Sound card input in RDS Spy © 2013 Jan Kolar, Czech Republic

For those craving more experimentation, H. Chew suggests the Philips tuner can also be used as an SDR under a Linux operating system. Polish enthusiasts have even built the module into a ‘stand alone’ RDS component tuner!

Specifications quoted above may not necessarily be indicative of performance. There is nothing preventing manufacturers from using different test signals to make measurements in an effort to improve performance specifications for marketing purposes.