Salvage for salvation: budget FM radios in a post apocalyptic world

Historical records suggest that this electronics shoot out was conducted during a chilly, overcast winter morning. It was as bleak and lifeless as a post nuclear apocalyptic scene akin to the Terminator. It was speculated that a small gang of elitists running the incumbent government had somehow vaporized the masses of decent folk with their relentless, soul-destroying dogma and double talk.

Apocalypse  © 2008 Michael Lehenbauer

Apocalypse © 2008 Michael Lehenbauer

All was not lost. The ‘suits’ had left some populist toys to play with. The few broken souls that remained in the city post apocalypse grabbed their toy radios. These were amongst their only remaining electronic devices. Could these rescue them from sheer desperation?

Graffiti: Greed is deadly © 2007 Bart Everson

Graffiti: Greed is deadly © 2007 Bart Everson

It was rumoured that the internet – the old world hub of information transfer had been sold by the self-interested elite to the highest bidder. Restricted to the highest echelons, few mortals possessed the social connections to enable access to the electronic network that once had the capacity to empower the disenfranchised and wealthy alike. Now, social mobility was virtually impossible.

No weather indicators to were available. Accordingly, tropospheric enhancement to FM signals could be tracked on-line. Synoptic charts were not available. The FM band that did exist was as boring as hell, filled only with those routine permanent FM signals. DX enthusiasts (those that monitored distant radio signals) were a forgotten breed. In this new world order, survival was the only concern. Hobbies became solely the domain of the wealthy.

Wise words, In Greed We Trust © 2014 Ed Suominen

Wise words, In Greed We Trust © 2014 Ed Suominen

But the nightmare was only beginning. It is clear that the poor mortals (those determined few that were left) struggled on with their souls intact. As pointless as it seemed to be in that environment, their capacity to test and experiment would endure.

It is now known that amongst the ruins of their old municipalities they conducted many seemingly fruitless tests. What follows is one such test; a shoot-out. Where possible, the original source material is quoted from…

Populist’s dream radio shoot out

The simpletons focused on two cheap ‘bastards’ with a ‘fearsome’ reputation to uphold. When the economy still functioned, these radios were purchased at retailers like Junk World. It was said that the two machines the simpletons had chosen empowered them, coupled with their tenacity to ‘fight it out until the death’!

Junkworld © 2010 Danny Choo

Junkworld © 2010 Danny Choo

A populist’s dream, the contenders consisted of the ADS Tech RDX-155 Instant Radio USB device versus discounter Aldi’s entry level Bauhn ADS-215 dual band portable radio…

Bauhn Digital Receiver ADS Tech RDX-155 Instant Radio marketing photographs

Testers’ performance data

Table 1: Sensitivity equivalence illustrating selected moderate-weak stations

88.5 53mi 26 kW YES YES
89.3 48mi 25 kW YES YES
90.5 43mi 200 watts YES YES
91.1 35mi 10 kW YES, RDS YES,  RDS
91.7 53mi 26 kW YES YES
92.1 43mi 5 kW YES YES
92.5 48mi 25 kW YES YES
94.1 48mi 25 kW YES YES
94.5 88mi 100 kW YES YES
94.9 26mi 50 kW YES YES
95.3 88mi 100 kW YES YES
95.7 53mi 26 kW YES YES
96.9 88mi 100 kW YES YES
97.7 53mi 26 kW YES YES
98.5 88mi 100 kW YES YES
102.9 25mi 48 kW YES YES
104.1 65mi 1 kW YES YES
105.7 48mi 10 kW YES YES
107.3 48mi 10 kW YES YES


Table 2: Marginal signals illustrating reception differences between the two budget receivers

90.9 25 mi 48 kW 2 / 2 0 / 2 – ACI
95.9 40 mi 1.6 kW 0 / 2 – RFI 2 / 2
96.1 88 mi 100 kW 0 / 2 – RFI 1 / 2
99.4 48 mi 2 kW 2 / 2 1 / 2
100.6 48 mi 2 kW 2 / 2 1 / 2

Salvaging suitable antenna connections

The Bauhn ADS-215 radio was also connected to the rooftop antenna via a 1 m / 3.28 ft high grade RG59 cable. To connect the antenna internally would void the warranty. Moreover, it is difficult to achieve this as the plastic case must be plied open, since there are no screws!

External antenna connection on Bauhn ADS-215 © 2014 FM DXing

External antenna connection on Bauhn ADS-215 © 2014 FM DXing

On the unit, cable was connected to the DC adapter ground [not pictured] and the collapsed telescopic antenna. The radio was powered using the supplied 5 volt DC adapter.

Optionally, if cutting coaxial cables is unpleasant, connection can be easily made via a 30 cm / 1 ft twin-lead wire then a 4:1 matching transformer. To be perfectly honest, transformers do pose some insertion loss as part of any antenna system. Surprisingly, no difference in signal strength of weak stations was detected between connection methods.

RDX-155 Instant Radio was connected to the rooftop antenna via a 1 m / 3.28 ft high grade RG59 cable. This cable also may cause some loss of signal and be susceptible to interference from the USB device. Sure, RG6 quad shield cable is better, but in practice the centre conductor is too thick to reliably connect to a pint- sized USB PCB. The laptop was powered using a battery.

It is speculated that access to laptop computers was not a trivial matter. Computers were  rare and prized possessions in post apocalyptic life. Because access to the internet was predominantly impossible, these computers were useful for processing needs only and recording data.

Fortunately, Instant Radio posed few Central Processing Unit (CPU) demands and looks to have functioned remarkably well on these old machines. How the simpletons ever charged that battery without a reliable mains power grid (they could not afford the onerous electricity bills) remains a mystery…

Post apocalyptic broadcasting

Records show that only an FM test was possible. But it was noted (amongst the word processing files found) that with the Bauhn dual band radio, full strength DAB+ reception (174 – 240 MHz) was available with the rooftop antenna. Photos were found of the graphical bars of the signal meter. Its Gyro Signal 1128 chip permitted satisfactory dual band reception at this time. (We don’t know the manufacturer’s objective sensitivity measurements for this module, but an Adobe Reader document with the FM performance of their 2005 module can be found via the end links). Retailing at $30, the Bauhn ADS-215 radio was likely to be an affordable choice for those with limited fiscal capabilities.

No contemporary music was being released or recorded. The broadcasts on the DAB+ multiplexes in these times included songs performed by old school cover bands such as Il Divo & Celtic Thunder. Music that was deemed to be fodder for the oppressed was reportedly banned for broadcast. For example, ‘aggressive’ releases by Neil Young, Metallica, the Dixie Chicks & John Butler Trio were illegal to broadcast, even if the recordings had been retained by some members of the elite. It has been suggested that the themes in these artists’ works may have been incompatible with the extremist ideology of the ruling elite…

Bauhn ADS-215 post Apocalypse © 2014 FM DXing

Bauhn ADS-215 post Apocalypse © 2014 FM DXing

Luxurious RDS performance suggested

Seven signals in the [above] table are known to provide digital Radio Data System (RDS) data. Six of these signals were too weak to decode. Only one quieting-level signal was included in the test, a broadcast on 91.1 MHz. On this channel, RDS data decoded easily on both units. RDX-155 Instant Radio offers faster decoding than the Bauhn ADS-215 radio. The Programme Type data (alone) decoded reasonably quickly on the Bauhn radio, but Instant Radio has a clear edge.

PI code mode on Bauhn ADS-215 © 2014 FM DXing

PI code mode on Bauhn ADS-215 © 2014 FM DXing

Close up, PI code mode on Bauhn ADS-215 © 2014 FM DXing

Close up, PI code mode on Bauhn ADS-215 © 2014 FM DXing

The Bauhn ADS-215 radio will display unique station identification codes called PI codes as part of the RDS digital data. This feature may offer potential value for DXing.

Post war, it is known that the elite took control of electronics and computing power. Whilst the elite played real life games on the stock market, the mortals continued their desperate simple tests. Trivial? Indeed. But it is all they had. They continue…

Riding out the Apocalypse © 2011 David Blackwell

Riding out the Apocalypse © 2011 David Blackwell

Differences testers observed

Where differences were noted between receivers on any particular frequency, the test was conducted twice. Between 95.9 – 96.1 MHz, no signal was heard due to heavy interference obstructing potential reception on RDX-155 Instant Radio. The interference was caused by a spurious signal.

This annoying side effect is a widely reported issue with the device that cannot be readily remedied by ferrite suppression chokes. It will be offset by a masthead amplifier, of course. Conversely, no spurious signals were observed on the Bauhn ADS-215.

Bauhn ADS-215 post Apocalypse © 2014 FM DXing

Bauhn ADS-215 post Apocalypse © 2014 FM DXing

On 99.4 MHz & 100.6 MHz, only weak signals were detected. Nonetheless,  RDX-155 Instant Radio appeared to outperform its rival in terms of sensitivity. On 90.9 MHz, no signal was detectable due to adjacent channel interference obstructing potential reception of the broadcast on the Bauhn radio. Again, this suggests selectivity out-performance by the Silicon Laboratories’ (Silabs) integrated circuit inside in the Instant Radio.

It is thought that back in the ‘olden days’, Silabs produced radio electronics that every man, woman or android could afford. Although Silabs mainly produced chips for portable standalone radios at this time, the RDX-155 Instant Radio represented somewhat of an oddity; a discontinued $17 computer-based tuner in a tiny USB enclosure.

Intermodulation dynamic range was tested on empty or very weak channels. Strong signal immunity is extremely important for FM reception applications and arguably a more important characteristic for any FM tuner than any simplistic sensitivity measurement or test. It is pleasing to report that no ‘ghost signals’ were detected on either receiver, despite the congested band. Accordingly, a high quality signal amplifier (ideally a masthead amplifier, positioned at the antenna) may increase sensitivity without compromising performance.

Instant FM Radio post Apocalypse © 2011 Synx 508

Instant FM Radio post Apocalypse © 2011 Synx 508

Simpletons’ summarized observations

The test (as collated in the table) suggests that potential differences in sensitivity, (if any exist) are likely to be negligible between ADS Technologies’ RDX-155 Instant Radio & Aldi’s Bauhn ADS-215. Weaker signals, such as the 90.5 MHz translator are not readily detected in flat winter conditions. The performance of Instant Radio was superior on three stations (probably due to better sensitivity and selectivity) but internally generated interference tended to offset any gains.

These findings suggest that the simpletons were confident both units would provide satisfactory FM reception for the modest outlay they originally paid at retailers like Junk World.

The broken souls understood a masthead amplifier could be used with these inexpensive receivers to improve performance when coupled with an external antenna.

Junk electronics © 2007 Marco Bernardini

Junk electronics © 2007 Marco Bernardini

It was beyond the means of most, but they found some antenna pre-amplifiers on the streets; regrettably their beloved streets had become so littered with redundant electronics their suburbs resembled a rubbish dump. These cheap radios gave the broken souls hope for the future. Finally their story of hope can now be shared for the benefit of future generations.

Society’s future is unwritten. Government policy or individual action that promotes greed, entrenches class divisions & exacerbates poverty is the real ‘junk’ of the world!

Non-fiction reference material!

Extensive test of Instant Radio RDX-155

Boxing kangaroo test of Bauhn ADS-215

Gyrosignal 1122 FM/DAB receiver module specifications

Masthead amplifiers potentially benefit weak FM signals

Role of RDS data in long distance FM reception

Dusting off your collection: the legacy of INXS

During February, even the most uncommitted INXS fans ‘came out of the woodwork’ to celebrate this Australian band’s music. Many of this blogger’s peers are dusting off the memories and reflecting on the musical journey that shaped the albums.

This blogger was a fan of INXS until the early 1990s. The first album that was purchased was Kick on cassette. Frankly, everybody owned this album! A failed search for this blogger’s rarely-played copy was conducted during the INXS frenzy that accompanied the free to air television mini series. At some point over the years, someone has probably stolen it from the cabinet. This is not unusual occurrence, it’s a fate also suffered by the Don’t Change 7-inch!

INXS Kick © 2007 przybysz

In the 1990s, vintage albums would be played in entirety and commercial-free, late at night on the local commercial FM radio station. One night, Shabooh Shoobah from 1982 was played. That broadcast was taped on a cheap TDK D120 and the album was one of the band’s most interesting. It’s strikingly different to the late 1990s INXS sound.

INXS Shabooh Shoobah © 2010 epicletic

Of the albums in this blogger’s collection (below), X from 1990 may be the most underrated. Lesser known album tracks such as The Stairs hold up well to this day. Unfortunately, the album leads with the catchy single Suicide Blonde which might be the artistic equivalent of Blur’s Song 2! (Sorry if this opinion disappoints fans of this song! Each to their own).

Both Kick and X were remarkably consistent albums and it was predominantly through these releases that people such as this blogger became fans. Nonetheless, in the process of trimming the perhaps indulgent B-sides that frequently peppered earlier releases, did the unique and enigmatic edge to their music fade? A certain level of artistic obscurity seems to accompany musical credibility! For musicians, it must be extraordinarily difficult to remain both fashionable (‘cool’) and maintain popularity amongst fickle consumers.

By 1991, INXS probably realized they needed to experiment again. The miniseries suggests this was indeed the case. This yielded mixed results, as Stephen Thomas Erlewine explains succinctly at All Music Guide. Cue Regurgitator’s I Like Your Old Stuff Better Than Your New Stuff,  a track which highlights just how frustratingly fickle consumers can be.

Most of the collection © 2014 FM DXing

Should one invite people over… only a single INXS album ever consistently gets played by strangers, and that’s The Swing from 1985. Dancing on the Jetty is this blogger’s favourite track on the album, by a considerable margin. As most fans will know, that album yielded the US breakthrough with two singles

INXS The Swing (Remastered) © 2014 FM DXing

As has been widely reported in the mainstream Australian press, in the television miniseries there was scant attention directed towards Hutchence’s Max Q indie project, nor his earlier single Rooms For the Memory. That track appeared on a magnificent 1987 compilation from the Australian indie movie Dogs In Space which starred Hutchence. In this blogger’s opinion, even in 2014 this film remains thoroughly entertaining, capturing the essence of late 70’s suburban rock, not to forget the pitfalls of living in ‘share houses’!

Max Q autographed © 2011 Luna715

Max Q’s Way Of The World was certainly not a disposable single, but this blogger did buy the Max Q cassette album from a discount bin at Myer… which highlights just how commercially unsuccessful it was. Fortunately, the Max Q singles do still receive commercial radio airplay. Even the video of Sometimes was chosen on an edition of Rage last week by the Sunnyboys that was worth missing (much needed) sleep to watch!

Most of the collection, another angle © 2014 FM DXing

Critics will always be divided about the accuracy of any biographical production. Hutchence’s family might argue on commercial radio about whether the script was reflective enough of his individual musical genius. That alone seems somewhat odd, because it was an INXS (i.e. a collective) biography. One thing is for sure. Making a biographical miniseries has drawn old fans (like this writer) back to the music of INXS. Perhaps through the mainstream attention, the band’s work has even captured a skerrick of a newer audience? And that’s important.

Singles of INXS can be viewed at ARTISTdirect. The solo singles of Michael Hutchence, including the Max Q collaboration can be viewed on Youtube. Readers might also enjoy The Boss covering the classic INXS single Don’t Change last month, whilst performing in Sydney.

‘Tis the season for beer (Part 1)

This blogger first started brewing beer in 1998. Due to other commitments, the hobby was unintentionally discontinued after 2005. Perhaps priorities changed?

Sterilization phase © 2013 FM DXing at WordPress

Nothing messes up a tidy kitchen faster than brewing, especially when using vintage equipment designed back in glorious 1990s!

Wort phase © 2013 FM DXing at WordPress

The first brew to contemplate ‘back on the trail’ needed to be as simple as possible.

Wort phase © 2013 FM DXing at WordPress

Compared to previous brews, relatively inexpensive commercial ingredients were chosen, for example… no heating of grain on the stove. Nothing hard core or even remotely ‘expert’ was to be attempted on this occasion. After an extended absence, it was more important to try and re-acquaint oneself with the fundamental techniques of temperature control and sterilization. Minimizing equipment failure is also a factor at this point due to the age of the kit.

Keeping this brew simple © 2013 FM DXing at WordPress

Pale Ale recipe

1.7 kilograms Cascade Imperial Voyage Pale Ale
1 kilogram Ultra Brew fermentable sugars
15 grams Cluster Hop Pellets (steeped for 20 minutes)
1 packet Dry Yeast (supplied with can of concentrate)
3 litres freezer-chilled Spring Water (to cool wort before adding yeast)
Tap Water

Fermentation phase © 2013 FM DXing at WordPress

Key measurements 

Alcohol by volume 3.6 percent
Original gravity 1.040
Final gravity 1.012
Apparent attenuation 70 percent

Fermentation was complete after five days. The final gravity measurement taken with the hydrometer at this point remained unchanged for the next 48 hours. Bottling took place after seven days in the fermenter.

Fermentation phase © 2013 FM DXing at WordPress

Temperature chart

22 Friday 19.5 27.1
23 Saturday 21.9 28.1
24 Sunday 20.0 29.2
25 Monday 20.5 27.0
26 Tuesday 20.0 25.9
27 Wednesday 15.9 25.5
28 Thursday 17.1 26.6
29 Friday 18.6 29.3

Unfortunately, the beer sat in the fermenter at summer temperatures (maximum average 27 °C or 80 °F) a day longer than necessary. This was unavoidable as the bottling process takes two and a half hours in the cool of the evening. The exterior of the fermenter was cooled with ice during the final day prior to bottling. The cooling arrangements were implemented the night before, since the temperature forecast suggested the last day was to be the hottest of the month.

The bubbling had subsided after day five when the first hydrometer measurements were taken. On the final day (seven), the airlock continued to bubble (at most) every half an hour. The notoriously unreliable airlock should never be relied upon as an indicator exclusively!

Hydrometer monitoring phase © 2013 FM DXing at WordPress

The chilled, uncarbonated, unsweetened beer exhibits a dark maroon colour. Tasting suggests a slight resemblance to Newcastle Brown Ale. No strong ester characteristics were detected. Should it be left in the fermenter too long during high temperatures, beer may taste like ‘fuel’ or exhibit a solvent flavour prior to bottling. These harsh tones may dominate and ruin the flavour of the beer, even after aging.

Bottle priming phase © 2013 FM DXing at WordPress

During the bottling phase, commercial carbonation drops and a two litre Darwin stubby were used to save time. Priming 60-odd 375 ML bottles is old fashioned, but old habits die hard! 🙂

Bottle priming phase © 2013 FM DXing at WordPress

Why was an ale chosen?

According to Frey, Scheetz & Sheidy:

Ale is beer that is brewed using only top-fermenting yeasts, and is typically fermented at higher temperatures than lager beer (15 – 23 °C, 60 – 75 °F). At these temperatures, ale yeasts produce significant amounts of esters and other secondary flavours and aromas, oftentimes resembling those of apple, pear, pineapple, grass, hay, banana, plum or prune.

Daniel Stromwall, Andrea Lin & Chrissta Maracle offer further enlightenment:

If the wort brews at a higher temperature 10 – 2 (50 – 77 °F) using an ale fermenting yeast, the fermentation process will favor the production of esters and diacetyl compounds. The result is a beer that is fruitier and more robust in flavor while having higher sugar content and lower ethanol content than lagers.

Exhausted but completed © 2013 FM DXing at WordPress

In a nutshell, it is more difficult for high temperatures to ruin an ale when undertaking a potentially challenging summer brewing schedule. Bottle conditioning of this ale now requires at least four weeks in a cool dark place. The ale will be ready in time for Christmas, with additional aging to potentially improve the taste of the beer by the New Year.

Temperature data sourced from Bureau observations during the seven day brewing period, 22-29 November 2013. Thank you to all those kind folk, including master capper Fat Crap who shared the hard work!

Big Brother Australia vs. Big Brother USA: Who’s the best? (Part 2)

Sonia Kruger hosts Big Brother Australia's 2013 season on Nine Network.

Sonia Kruger hosts Big Brother Australia’s 2013 season on Nine Network.  Credit: Nine Network.

I recently wrote about the differences between Big Brother Australia (BBAU) and Big Brother USA (BBUS), focusing mostly on fundamental game differences and the appearance of both shows.  Now, after watching all of the BBAU series to date, I decided to compare and contrast both countries’ Big Brother offerings a little bit more.


For those who haven’t read Part 1 above, I am an American who watches BBAU on delay via Youtube.  BBAU is not aired in the United States on any US TV channel.  Both shows, although sharing the same name, are largely different games.  On BBUS, contestants (called ‘houseguests’) vote to evict one of their own while Australia, like many other countries who air BB, rely on a public vote.  The US show is more competition-based and includes something BBAU doesn’t have: Head of Household (or HoH).  The winner of the HoH competition earns the right to nominate two houseguests for eviction, among other luxuries.

Chima was a BBUS houseguest in 2009.

Chima was a BBUS houseguest in 2009 who was expelled after disobeying Big Brother. Credit: CBS.

Picking right up where I left off in Part 1, the likelihood of houseguests obeying Big Brother seems to be major difference between the two series.  On BBAU, the houseguests largely followed instruction when told not to talk about something.  On BBUS, however, obeying BB is more of a suggestion, not a requirement.  On the BBUS live feeds, houseguests are forbidden from talking about production, diary room sessions or people who have not signed a production waiver.  Houseguests are not allowed to sing, either, regardless of if it is a real song or made up.  Yet, when houseguests do many of the aforementioned no-nos (it happens quite often), they are told to stop typically without any real consequences.  Perhaps the largest example of houseguests disobeying BB was in series 11 (2009) where houseguest Chima refused to go to the diary room after throwing her microphone pack into the pool following a game twist which rendered her Head of Household nominations null and void the week before.  The video clip shows Chima blatantly refusing to go to the diary room after multiple requests from production, leading to her expulsion from the house.

BBAU housemate Mikkayla (right) cries after hearing Ben (left) was evicted from the game.  Housemates later learned Ben's eviction was staged.

BBAU housemate Mikkayla (right) cries after hearing Ben (left) was evicted from the game. Housemates later learned the eviction was staged.  Credit: Nine Network.

Eviction episodes on both shows are polar opposites.  Time and time again, on BBAU, the houseguests uncontrollably wept when a houseguest was voted off.  Tully and Mikkayla were notorious for sobbing as the houseguest left the backyard eviction door.  On BBUS, evicted houseguests are typically maligned by the majority alliance in the house due to houseguests (not America) having the sole eviction votes.  Instead of the entire US cast crying, most are high-fiving, cheering and insulting opposing-side allies of the evictee when they are evicted.  I think the differences in this case boil down to the differences in the BBAU and BBUS games.  Since BBAU housemates don’t vote each other off, the US element of ‘one-upping’ the opposing alliance by voting out one of their members is absent in the Australian game.

Housemates on BBAU are not allowed to talk about nominations.  Several houseguests this year were penalized for doing so.  BBUS, given the inherent changes in game format, encourages nominations talk.  Watching BBAU for the first time this season, it puzzled me as to how good the show would be with banning nomination talk, however I was pleased to see that the Australian show carried its own weight in the topic’s absence.  However, for one week only, BBAU housemates nominated face-to-face and with it, Big Brother allowed nominations to be discussed.  I thoroughly enjoyed this ‘hybrid’ of the BBUS and BBAU formats.  Nominations caused lots of drama and kept the show interesting, at least for this US viewer.  But I can see how allowing continual nomination conversations could take away from other things going on in the house, so I don’t fault BBAU for not allowing it otherwise.

BBAU housemate Tully nominates in the soundproof Nominations Chamber while her fellow housemates look on behind her.

BBAU housemate Tully nominates in the soundproof Nominations Chamber while her fellow housemates look on behind her.  Credit: Nine Network.

One element of BBAU 2013 I thoroughly enjoyed was the Nominations Chamber, a room which had a soundproof booth where houseguests would make their nominations in front of the entire cast.  It was such a difference from the typical nominations ceremony on BBUS, where the HoH would nominate two houseguests in the house dining room while pulling a key out of a box.  But what I didn’t like was how BBAU retired the nominations chamber in the later weeks of the season, save for one week where houseguests’ loved ones helped them nominate from the chamber.  The lack of structure and location of the nominations process took away from the game, in my opinion.

The lack of structure in the BBAU schedule was also a downside of the show.  Several times throughout the 2013 season, Nine Network moved around the order of the episodes.  For example, the eviction episodes were on Monday or Wednesday, depending on week.  The ‘Late Night Feast’ episode, which centered around the weekly party dinner, was scrapped late in the season.  Showdown, which originated this year as a separate episode complete with play-by-play from several people, were cut in lieu of a narrated portion of a regular episode.  Although the changes didn’t largely affect me as an international viewer who sees it on delay, I can imagine it was confusing for the Australian public.

Julie Chen has hosted all 15 Big Brother US seasons since 2000.

Julie Chen has hosted all 15 Big Brother US seasons since 2000.  Credit: CBS.

Although the daily catch-up BBAU episodes were fun and enjoyable for me, I typically disliked the eviction episodes.  Although I believe host Sonia Kruger is a great BB host (on par with BBUS host Julie Chen), the BBAU eviction show format is tiring.  Perhaps the show, at 90 minutes, is just too long.  Most of the show is filler with contrived segments on topics such as ‘will the showmance survive?’ or ‘who is the biggest threat?’  About 3-4 minutes of taped diary room sessions typically fit the bill with these segments.  Another segment includes drawn-out conversations with nominated housemates’ families.  They are all a waste.  I typically skip them while watching.  BBUS’ eviction episodes are 60 minutes, including one catch-up segment, an ‘interaction with the house while live’ segment, a segment where houseguests vote to evict, then finally the eviction and evictee interviews with Chen followed by the HoH competition.  BBUS evictions are more ‘to the point’ and dramatic than BBAU evictions.  One area where BBAU trumps BBUS in this area, however, is that BBAU tends to more thoroughly interview evictees, while Julie Chen interviews the US evictee for about 2-3 minutes before the commercial break.


BBAU 2013 intruders.  From top left to bottom right: Justynn, Nathan, Madaline, Boog.

BBAU 2013 intruders. From top left to bottom right: Justynn, Nathan, Madaline, Boog.  Credit: Nine Network.

As a US viewer, intruders were a fairly new concept.  BBUS has never had an intruder enter the game at a later time as seen on BBAU.  The closest BBUS had was in series 5 (2004) where twins were playing the game as one person, switching places in secret every so often.  Later in the game, the secret was revealed to the house and the other twin was allowed to enter the house to play the game individually.  However, even with the novelty of intruders on BBAU, I feel they entered the game way too late (week 9 of a 15-week season).  The intruders this year, except for Boog, were largely very boring — a stark contrast to the very interesting pre-intruder BBAU 2013 cast.  Intruder Nathan even walked off the show less than two weeks after entering the house.  Why waste our time with boring housemates?  I see enough boring houseguests (the majority of the cast) every year on BBUS!

Brendon (left) and Rachel (right) were a powerhouse showmance alliance on BBUS series 12 and 13.  The couple later married after starring on the sow.  CREDIT: CBS.

Brendon (left) and Rachel (right) were a powerhouse showmance alliance on BBUS series 12 and 13. The couple later married after starring on the show. Credit: CBS.

The inclusion of showmances, or romances between housemates, on BBAU was largely different than BBUS.  On BBUS, showmances typically form and the participants are a large force to be reckoned with.  They also seem to egregiously flaunt the relationship to the point of making their fellow houseguests (and viewers) sick at the constant smooching and (quite often) X-rated nightly activities, as seen on the BBUS live feed.  The BBAU showmances, largely Ed and Jade with a few random interactions among other housemates, seemed tame and more modest in comparison.  Perhaps it is because Ed likely doesn’t want to be with Jade after the show, but showmances are not as large of a part of the show as it is in the American series, at least not in the 2013 series.

Overall, I still stand by my original article in saying that BBAU is much better in all aspects than BBUS.  However, several things about BBAU annoyed me a little bit.  Regardless, I’m looking more forward to BBAU’s 2014 season than next year’s BBUS show.  We’ll see what next year brings…


Further reading

Big Brother has us fooled

Big Brother daily episode guide

Big Brother housemate features, conspiracies & censorship

We’re watching Big Brother

Big Brother’s Executive Producer answers your questions

Big Brother is biased towards Tahan? Proof.

How the Palmer United Party came out barking

By Scott Prasser

A funny thing happened at the polls in Queensland over the weekend. To great surprise, the two right-of-centre minor parties – Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) and the recently-established Palmer United Party (PUP) – had different levels of electoral success, and not in the way that many pundits had predicted.

While most commentators agreed there would be an overall Coalition win – and there clearly was – many were left red-faced over their prediction that the nascent PUP, led by former LNP member and mining magnate Clive Palmer, would not win any seats.

The view was that the well-known Bob Katter and his KAP – which had a good run in last year’s Queensland election, winning two lower house seats – would perform better than the PUP. Instead, Katter’s own primary vote in his seat of Kennedy in north Queensland plummeted by over 17% as a result of a strong campaign by the LNP. He will just hold on.

Elsewhere, KAP failed to attract much support, receiving just 3.6% of the total primary vote in Queensland. Importantly, the expected win by KAP of the sixth Queensland Senate position also failed, despite a preference deal with Labor.

By contrast, PUP received 11.33% of the overall primary vote in Queensland and outpolled KAP across most seats. More importantly, it appears that Palmer himself will win the once fairly safe LNP seat of Fairfax on the Sunshine Coast, which is just 100km north of Brisbane.

Coolum Beach in the federal seat of Fairfax © 2011 IDS photos

Coolum Beach in the federal seat of Fairfax © 2011 IDS photos

Since its establishment in 1984, Fairfax has always been held by one of the two major non-Labor parties – the Nationals from 1984 to 1990 and then the Liberals since. It was expected to stay that way, even with the retirement of long-standing LNP member Alex Somlyay.

Instead, Palmer received 27.5% of the first preference vote and although seemingly far behind LNP candidate Ted O’Brien’s 40.9%, Palmer is now expected to get elected as he is garnering most of the second preferences from the ALP (18.5%), Greens (8.2%), KAP (1.79%) and other minor parties.

In the Senate, KAP’s lead candidate, country and western singer James Blundell, has been beaten for the sixth spot by the PUP candidate, former rugby league player Glenn Lazarus.

Clive Palmer  © 2013 Benjamin J MacDonald

Clive Palmer © 2013 Benjamin J MacDonald

How has this happened? Is there something about Queensland that spawns these sorts of right-wing movements? Is PUP’s success similar to Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party’s surge in the 1990s, that saw her party gain 12 seats in Queensland state parliament at the 1998 election?

There are several explanations.

First, the amalgamation of the Liberal and National parties (LNP) in 2008 has caused concern that regional interests were not being adequately represented. The new LNP was seen by some as being dominated by “city” interests. This has had some impact on the success of KAP, particularly at the 2012 Queensland elections – but more importantly, they outpolled the Labor Party across a large number of regional electorates.

Protest poster showing disaffection for QLD LNP © 2012 Leonard John Matthews

Protest poster showing union contempt for QLD LNP © 2012 Leonard John Matthews

It might also be assumed that the vote received by the PUP – especially in Queensland – included a large proportion of Labor voters disaffected with their party, but also those who found it difficult to vote for the LNP and Tony Abbott. Consequently, they decided to park their vote with PUP, partly in protest, partly in jest and partly in frustration with the existing two party system.

Then there is the issue of funding and resources. PUP, thanks to Palmer, had a lot of resources – far more than KAP. PUP spent big, with an estimated advertising spend of over A$3 million. It has helped to create a high profile for a very new political player.

Finally, there is the matter of personalities. In these days of increasingly identikit candidates and lookalike political actors from the major parties, PUP with Palmer as their frontman broke the mould. Palmer said what many voters were thinking but might be unwilling to say themselves. And although some of these comments might be seen purely as entertaining by the media and confusing by political analysts, they resonated with enough people in Queensland to translate into votes.

This election suggests that ideological politics is declining along with party loyalty, and that an increasing part of the electorate is attracted to personalities as distinct from partisan loyalties. Joh Bjelke-Petersen had that personal appeal when he was Premier of Queensland, at one stage attracting considerable support from blue-collar and traditional Labor voters because of his strong leadership style and simplistic solutions to complex issues.

QLD Premier, Joh Bjelke- Petersen & Roy Deicke, Carina Speedway © 1981 srv007

QLD Premier, Joh Bjelke- Petersen & Roy Deicke, Carina Speedway © 1981 srv007

The election of Palmer to the House of Representatives will make for an interesting dynamic. Even more interesting will be how the possible election of a PUP senator from Queensland (and probably also in Tasmania), along with an odd mix of minor party senators, is going to create a new dynamic in federal politics. It might test the skills of the new Abbott government in unexpected ways.

Scott Prasser 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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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,

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

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.


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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Saturday Showdown

Beautifully Twisted

Jessie & Candice nominated

The Opening Show

Let’s Talk About Big Brother

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.

The Conversation

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