Category Archives: Rant

BBC iPlayer – A different type of TV download

This is a repost of a comment I left on a thread on the BBC Internet Blog back in September.

Yes, the tone was completely humourous but the points I raise are valid. The feature-set of the iPlayer, along with some of it’s most persistant bugs, really let it down in comparison to other… less official means of acquiring TV content.

It all becomes clear whe you realise that, above all else, BBC iPlayer is a legal download service. As such, it has to distance itself from any other method of viewing content via thw internet, just to make sure that nobody gets confused and uses… other means for catching up on what they missed.

“Unofficial downloads are illegal. BBC iPlayer is not.”

Good start good start. Fantastic in fact. This is exactly how it should be. So now we’ve got our theme, lets run with it.

“Unofficial downloads are free of social sites such as Facebook and Twitter. BBC iPlayer ensures you are not missing out of the social networking revolution”

Ummmmmm. OK. I guess. I follow a lot of people on Twitter whose recommendations I trust. Were I to use iPlayer, this might be useful. Maybe.

“Unofficial downloads can work on almost any platform you can name. iPlayer makes sure that you can only use the hardware and software we endorse.”

If you say so… After all, you’re the BBC. Anything you don’t support obviously isn’t worthwhile as a media player.

Although… I do seem to recall my Xbox 360 handling DVD, downloaded and streaming content quite well. But I must be mistaken. After all, no iPlayer. So it can’t be any good. Right?

“You can watch unofficial downloads offline. Whereas with BBC iPlayer, all but one of our solutions works purely by on line streaming.”

Good. Good. Because I wouldn’t ever watch to watch files when out of signal. Or during a peak time of the day. It’s not like those hours I’m asleep or at work could be used by any of the devices I might have when I’m not in the lounge.

“Unofficial downloads can be kept after you’ve watched them. BBC iPlayer deletes things before you’ve even had the chance.”

See. Another feature that you don’t get from the Torrent sites. No why would anybody wish to break to law when we offer functionality such as this?

So yes. It’s a marvel of success. BBC iPlayer is a download service that works nothing like the non-legit ones. There’s no way anybody could confuse the two whatsoever. 100% legal. 0% like Torrents. After all, it’s not like any of those “other features” could ever be of use to anybody…

– Tiggs
(with tongue firmly in cheek)

Budget Concerns

The recent UK Budget concerns me. I certainly think it spells major problems for where I work.

It’s not that I don’t see the Big Picture. I know that the economy is messed up, but I can’t see the proposed changes being a good thing at all. Maybe that’s to do with my job.

I work in University IT.

Back in 2007 we had a major restructure at work. So major it took a year from proposal to implementation. It was all in the interests of cutting costs. And, personally, I think we’re almost back on balance three years on. I certainly don’t see anywhere on campus that’s not struggling due to staffing levels. Admin staff were decimated. Or at least, it bloody well felt like it.

I’m sure the long-term big picture effects of it will turn out for the best. But i don’t see the higher-up view. i see things from shop-floor level. And that’s what I see with the budget. Public Sector cuts are going to have a major impact on universities. An impact I’m not sure all of them will survive. We’re not VAT exempt, and the state of technology is moving at a furious pace. And a pace that many students these days keep up with. And if we’re to keep up with them, maintaining the Student Experience, we’re going to be buying pricier kit with less funds. Fantastic.

Add in the inevitable Tuition Fee rises and the students, understandably, feel like customers. They demand a higher level of service. And, to be honest, why shouldn’t they when they’re paying for it? Problem is, we don’t see the money. Not really. They pay more, and expect more, and we get less with which to provide it.

Bollocks!

We’re being asked to perform better with less. It’s obvious that the Chancellor’s not a techie.
And, yes, I know I’m slightly biased here.
Occupational hazard – I never trust financial types with technical decisions.

So yeah. Tough times ahead. I’m pretty sure I do earn just enough to be hit by the pay freeze. And everyone gets hit by the VAT rise. Petrol prices will rocket. Oh, and I’m trying to move house this year. Make my first steps onto the property ladder.

Good job I don’t have a history of depression, (social) anxiety and stress. Oh, wait…

The long-term big picture may indeed improve. But all I can see is no end to the nightmare. The light at the end of the tunnel has been removed for the greater good.

The Futility of DRM

I’m following several discussions relating to DRM (and other methods of content restrictions & protection). They’re mainly in conjunction with the BBC, owing to some changes they recently made to the iPlayer service in freezing out unofficial third-party clients – such as XBMC.

Many people bring up the quite valid point that the restrictions are seen as stupid because people getting caught out by them will just turn to Bit Torrent.
This is not to say that it’s legal. Just that it’s convenient, and such acquired media files tend to work with pretty much any media player going.

The responses against that tend to be “this is illegal”.

No… kidding… Sherlock!

But that’s missing the point that people are trying to make.
They (we) are not trying to advocate illegal means. We’re trying to say make the legal means easier and more convenient.

To put it simply, illegal downloads are a competitor. This does not make them legal. But them being illegal does not make them any less a competitor. You need to make the legit options appealing, convenient, and pretty much platform-agnostic.

Everybody “loves” a car analogy. Mainly as they suck, and everyone loves to slate them. So here’s mine…
Only, it’s more of a car boot analogy.

The BBC iPlayer is like a drive-in movie theater. It has a certain barrier to entry, naturally.
Between the limited platforms and DRM requirements, it is like having a dress code (or restriction to certain specific car brands) to get in.

This is the only legal way to watch the content. We’re not arguing that other methods are legitimate.
We’re just poking at the idiocy of the situation that trying to pitch a platform-limited legal alternative whilst Bit Torrent exists is akin to the following part of the analogy…

You’re opening your drive-in across the street from the weekly car boot sale where Pete’s Dodgy DVDs operates on a constant basis.

The alternative is not legal. But it’s convenient, accessible, and doesn’t have the same barrier to entry.

The thing is that the moment you drop your barrier to entry then people don’t need to visit Pete’s car boot. (Or whatever torrent aggregation sites are popular and active on any given week).
But the problem with this is that the people who mandate the barriers honestly think that merely being legal is enough of an incentive. Even if it restricts someone’s choice of player.

Well here’s the real choice you give people by locking the content down. If people don’t like the restrictions, they go one of two ways.
They acquire it anyway. You lose. Or they just don’t watch your content at all. You still lose.

BBC HD – Quality Observations

I was wandering around town today, desperately trying to find anywhere that stocked a particular model of Freeview+ PVR. In this I was woefully unsuccessful. However, two of the shops I tried were showing the BBC HD Preview Loop.

First one I looked at did look ever so slightly on the grainy/fuzzy side. It was still an improvement over what I useually get when SD is upscaled on my modest 22″ TV. But the edges seemed to lack a little. Nothing that would seem to justify the wailing and gnashing of teeth that is increasingly common on the BBC Internet Blog.

Then I looked at the TV next to it.

Continue reading BBC HD – Quality Observations

On BBC HD and Whining Users

There’s a bit of a crapstorm currently going down on the BBC Internet Blog, especially one of its posts concerning picture quality and bitrate. Now, on the one hand I do sort of want to stand with the people doing the complaining. On the other,  don’t have HD myself and can’t help but empathize with those being complained at.

I can’t help it. I work in IT, spending a fair chunk of my time dodging users. I spend a lot of that time taking a lot of flak for when the way things are don’t match with what the users want. And users/customers always seem to have this sense of entitlement that’s one step out of phase with reality. (Can you tell I once spent a year working in a Supermarket..?)

I guess the problem is more noticeable if, like me, you’re not affected by the issue at hand. I observe it logically, not emotionally. And I compare it with Strictly Come Dancing.

Stay with me here…

Many of the comments are like Craig. hardly ever happy. Always picking fault. And I mean always. And when someone genuinely dances awfully, they still side against Craig despite him being right. And I’m reminded of him when some people were complaining about the picture quality when others thought it was at least passable. Now, when there seems to be a real issue, the same people make the exact same comments and it’s really hard to take them seriously.
Then there’s Len. he nearly always tries to pick something positive out. So when he rails on someone, it means they really are bad. His negative opinion counts, as it usually means there really is something wrong. And some of the commenters are like that. They defend the BBC when they can, and slate it when it’s wrong.

My problem is that I can’t really side with the “users” in this particular case. For “picture quality” substitute “printers and photocopiers” and you get exactly the same tone of complaints that I deal with at work from people who simply won’t accept anything other than their view of how things have to be.
If it’s like any of the situations I face at work, if anything could be done it would be. The fact that the bitrate has been cut means that it’d been cut for a reason. It may be a good reason, it may be a crap one, but there’s a reason for it. And such decisions (especially the bad ones) don’t often get unmade. And it’s the poor sods in the firing line who get the flak.

And having been one of those poor sods in the past (and present), my sympathies lie with them. As do my congratulations, as I’d’ve gone off on one by now were I in their shoes.

Troubleshooting Woes

Sometimes I hate trying to use the Web to troubleshoot a problem. Whether it’s via a general search engine or a sites own internal search, it’s often impossible to find a decent solution.

Instead, I often find the following:

Try Option X

Which is all well and good, but I’ve usually already long-since tried that. By the time I search, I’ve already discounted this as a viable option.

Please Search Before Asking

Yes, thankyou Mr Forum Policeman. In an effort to reduce people re-asking the same problems, you’ve just diluted the efficiency of the searches you’ve just recommended. Often the true answer is hidden in a sea of hits for “please try searching first”.

Counterproductive, much?

Alternatives to using Y with Z

Congratulations! You’ve made it that much harder to try and find a solution to actually getting Y and Z to work by providing a very detailed webpage detailing exactly what I’m not looking for.

If I’m searching for a certain scenario using a specific product, the last thing I want is a hit for that scenario followed by:

Of course, I could use (insert product here)

That’s just polluting the search-space.

Freshmeat.net – moving forward, when needs don’t

I’ve been a bit vocal on Twitter and FM’s own blogs in my opinion that Freshmeat.net‘s new version (FM3) is fundementaly broken.

No more can I use a combination of searching and true catergory heirarchy drill-down, it now has some sort of hand-wavy tag-cloud system.

I’m sorry, guys, but you’ve totally screwed it. I just saw an archived version of FM2. It was planer, more borring, but it bloody swell worked for what I needed out of a software-search site. The ability to actually search it.

Yes, imporvements have been made since it went live. In fact, it seems like the site was put out in an incomplete state, which is even worse. It’s getting better, but it will never be what it once was.

And that’s a shame, as it once worked.

Training Woes

I’ve noticed an interesting aspect of in-house training for computer systems. You end up using a test logon with generic system access. The drawback with this is that it ends up being practical experience that is still largely theoretical.

As somebody who learns by doing, I really learn by doing. Yes, playing around with a test system gives me a damned site more useful information than merely reading a manual. The problem, though, is that it isn’t real experience.
For example, if my department does things a certain way, I really need to see the system set up the way it will be. I cannot get a full picture of how things are going to work if it doesn’t truly reflect how I’m going to actually use the system.

Things take time

OK. Here’s the deal. Things can take time to fix, or to set up. This is unavoidable. If your computer needs fixing, your IT department will need time to fix it. If really busy, it will take longer.

Now this is where people’s understanding of computers tends to break down. Your computer does not care how busy you are, or how inconvenient it is to do without it.
If it’s going to break, it’s going to break. If fixing it will take two days, then it’s going to be two days. It sucks, but it’s the way it is.

Now here is a little secret I’m going to reveal. And it has to be a secret, because it is incredibly clear to me that nobody is aware of this.
Saying how urgently you need something does not make it any faster to fix or implement. No, seriously. This is true.

I often get the distinct impression that people think that saying how urgently they need their computer either makes the problem easier to fix, or that it is a way to get their IT Support Staff on side. Especially after aforementioned staff have patiently explained why something is going to take as long as it will. Or why it needs doing. Or any other such reasoning.
Somehow every computer user thinks that by asking enough times, or stating their case, or going to the next line in management, that things will happen faster.

All that really happens is that they end up being told exactly the same thing, and prolonging the amount of time needed to get it done in the first place.

Oh and, whilst I’m at it, barging past the IT Manager to talk to one of the support team, and making said manager drop things… That really isn’t going to get your query seen to any faster.
And yes, I have known that to happen.