Thursday, September 11, 2014

The end of one recorder era

My Panasonic DMR EX75 HDD/DVD recorder has given up on the Freeview signal again. Checking the usual overheating 680 microfarad capacitor, I didn't find obvious signs of failure. It wasn't blowing it's top as the previous failures had done, for example -


But given the inexpert deposit of excess solder I left the last time it's possible the failure was internal or further under the board. I decided to attempt to replace the capacitor again anyway. Unfortunately two attempts to replace it failed, largely due to my incompetent soldering skills, I suspect.

Tinning the soldering iron tip proved unusually problematic this time. So I cleaned it with wire wool before the second attempt (and after it had cooled completely to room temperature). Note that you need to be really careful with this not to strip the iron surface bare or you'll find yourself in need of a new soldering iron.

As I said before, though, if you're thinking of tackling something like this, especially if you are an infrequent actor in such an arena, be sure to snip the legs of the failed capacitor quite high up on the first pass, so that you have a solid base to crimp the legs of the new capacitor to before soldering. My original failure to do this meant successive replacements over the years have been increasingly difficult to crimp/graft and solder.

I seem now to have reached the point of no return, at least as far as my rusty engineering repair skills are concerned.

I blame middle aged eye-sight and the need for reading glasses for close up work too. It's probably just as well I don't have to build flight simulation rigs any more, though I'm pretty sure I could still do the mathematics, the modelling, the design and the testing the parts of aircraft to destruction bit - operating the rigs and running the tests was never as tricky as constructing them.

Well the saga of the Panasonic DMR EX75 HDD/DVD recorder draws to a close. In any case, the machine won't now pick up the Freeview signal and though I can play what was recorded up to losing the signal, I can't record anything else. The old box of electronics is going to have to be retired. It's taken in
I hope the next recorder finding it's way into the B2fxxx household has a long but less eventful existence.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Virgin Media connection issues

Well, our Virgin Media broadband connection was down again yesterday.  It had apparently been playing up all morning but their was significant angst in the Corrigan household when I got back from my cycle circuit about 10.30am. Connectivity had been erratic but now there was no connecting to anything despite the lights on the hub suggesting it was getting a signal. And despite multiple modem re-boots.

So I phoned the local principle Virgin Media engineer, Jacob, who had asked me to call him as and when we experienced connection problems.  On speaking to him, I immediately felt guilty because it turns out it was his day off. He nevertheless volunteered to go into the office and check the signal from their end. Virgin Media management should take note - that was above and beyond the call of duty - it's committed people who care that make the difference between lousy base standard and decent service.

A little later Jacob called from the office and said he was on the system and noted the network was effectively unusable in the area. Though a signal was just about reaching my modem it wasn't going to be any good for anything and it was the same across the district. So he had called the chief network engineer, Mark, into the picture and was asking that he do what he can to fix the problem.

The connection was down all day but thankfully is back this morning. When I checked the automated recording service fault line later in the evening, the official line was that customers with Ntlworld email accounts were experiencing problems but engineers were working to sort out the issue as soon as they could.

The Corrigan clann are back in the land of the internet for now. I'm not sure for how long this time. But thank you to the front end Virgin Media techies who did eventually get to the bottom of and rectify the network failings and kudos especially to Jacob for going that extra mile and more on your day off.

Update: 12.15pm on day we got connection back.  Connectivity down to a crawl again. Annoyed!
Update 2: 1.30pm on day we got connection back. Connectivity seemingly ok again. Wireless connectivity usable but erratic in the evening.
Update 3: Monday am and early afternoon - connection down/dodgy.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Jennifer Lawrence and the right to be forgotten

Privacy is back in the news because some celebrities, such as the talented Jennifer Lawrence, have had compromising photographs leaked and the police have been accessing a journalist's phone records.

Can the latest scandals throw any light on the mislabeled and erroneously reported Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) Google "right to be forgotten" decision?

Well perhaps, at least in the case of the leaked photos. Some of our US cousins, for example, find it hard to understand the ruling and consider it fundamentally incompatible with US First Amendment guarantees for freedom of expression.What the hell do those regressive Europeans think they are doing?

These same horror-stricken people, however, do see that a movie star, who has embarrassing photographs copied or stolen and leaked around the world, should have some means of redress, recovering those photos and/or suppressing their distribution. Likewise the victims of revenge porn or blackmail as in AMP v persons unknown.

It's not the same, but did Mario Costeja González have the right to redress in relation to Google's prominent display in search results of a link to a news article about historical financial difficulties?

Lilian Edwards did a terrific job explaining that EU law requires that yes he should, in the process nailing some of the key myths circulating about the decision.

Having been completely neglectful in not yet analysing the case here, I've been prompted to some brief thoughts by the latest round of stories. Disclaimer: This doesn't constitute a proper analysis (for which, sadly, I have little time at the moment). In any case...

Firstly, everybody makes mistakes and suffers embarrassment.

Fear of same actually constrains some people so much they neglect to do or say anything that in any way might rebound on them or be used as a metaphoric stick to beat them with by the communities within which they exist. This can be incredibly debilitating.

Historically, however, society has enabled "recovery" from mistakes or embarrassment through collective fading and displacement of memories of those events.

We have now, though, spent the best part of the last 30 years enabling, actively and/or passively, the building and operation of a communications mass surveillance infrastructure and 'permanent' digital memory store, unparalleled in the history of the human race. We've been happy to revel in the benefits of these technologies as have governments and large economic actors like Google. But as John Naughton so eloquently puts it, our " indolence is a shocking case study of what complacent ignorance can do to a democracy, and we are now living with the consequences of it."

We are, nevertheless, where we are and it presents us with a complex mess to sort out.  So on the Google case specifically, it's worth at least asking a few questions.

Supposing Google or other economic agents or governments prominently and permanently tags/connects a past mistake or embarrassment to a person's name, so that we cannot "recover" through fading or displacement of collective memory. Supposing also that these agents prominently flag these mistakes through headline search results that, in our world of short attention spans, means we can never escape them. Let's face it we are a society quick to condemn on the basis of flimsy, minimal or non-existent evidence and occasionally don't even bother to click on the link, merely judge by the headline...

Is this a problem?
  1. for the individual?
  2. for the individual's family, friends, community?
  3. for society generally?
  4. for Google and other economic agents as collectors, processors and controllers of the personal data at issue?
  5. for government and the courts?
I'd answer 'yes' to each of these to a variety of degrees for a variety of reasons. If you answer yes to any of them we have a significant mess that requires sorting out. The part of that mess the CJEU attempted to target in the very narrowly tailored Google Spain v González decision was, on balance,  a tiny step in the right direction.

Even Google have got over their original hissy fit over the decision and are getting on with it. They've stopped 'loudly' indicating results were being censored and anyone wanting to see them could click on a convenient link, provided on the search results page to the US version of Google.

The decision itself requires only the link from the name of the person formally requesting a takedown to the page that name appears in be removed. The webpage with the information about the individual's past remains in place. Someone with semi coherent search skills can still easily find it. Lazy name searches, for those subjects who successfully request it, just don't now lead directly to the equivalent of a digital loudhailer proclaiming the individual, like everyone, has some mistakes in their past that society should accept are spent.

The ruling does not constitute a general 'right to be forgotten' which might itself present all kinds of challenges. The one major problem with it is that it delegates a public interest and fundamental rights decision to a private economic actor, Google in this instance, that should probably sit within the remit of a court, tribunal or at least some other quasi-judicial public authority.

And finally, for the 1st Amendment absolutists, how free to speak is the sensitive man/woman/child terrified that any misspoken comment, mistake or embarrassing situation will be blown up and held against them for the rest of their natural lives? This, given our out of control mass surveillance society, is a 1st amendment issue too, just not necessarily in the way you suppose.

Update: John Naughton's exposé of the ugly side of human nature "celebgate" reveals is essential reading.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Deja vu: Dear VirginMedia executive team - about that poor broadband service yet again

Re-post below of most of the entry from 24 August which disappeared earlier today.

For information for those who might find themselves in a similar predicament, I located this majority part of the post by typing the original url, http://b2fxxx.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/dear-virginmedia-executive-team-about.html, directly into DuckDuckGo. (I was only able to dig out the original url because I had put the link on Twitter).

Google searches proved useless. Dogpile, Yahoo and Bing equally so. Yet DuckDuckGo pointed me at a Google cache version of the post which I've cut and pasted below. I tried Google cache directly with no luck. CachedPages.com found it too, in Google cache. CoralCache and the Internet Archive didn't have it.

In the cached version copied below, there is a missing update from Monday 1/8/'14 and this morning where I thanked the excellent VirginMedia technician, Craig, for his efforts, on Monday, to sort out the connectivity problems. In attendance at the (as ever) wonderful Gikii 2014, I wasn't available on the day but my better half tells me Craig did a thorough hardware and signal diagnostic check inside and outside. He noted that the signal was significantly outside acceptable parameters, tightened all the connections inside and out, noted there may have been neighbouring wireless interference via the splitter outside which is sometimes prone to water leakage, fitted a 10dB attenuator to the modem hub and generally tried to be very helpful and informative. He also upgraded the connection from a 60Mbps to a 100Mbps signal.

Connectivity has been largely ok for the past couple of days (and had actually been pretty ok for the previous two days, over the weekend, for the first time in ages). So hopefully Craig has got to the bottom of the problem and put it right. Though I notice from a couple of speedtest checks that there has been spiky variability on the signal again this evening. It's currently running between 20 and 80 Mbps but that may be down to it being a busy period of the evening.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Dear VirginMedia executive team - about that poor broadband service yet again

My VirginMedia broadband service has been deteriorating and getting erratic again. So I've written to the VirginMedia Executive Team, including a copy of the open letter I sent the CEO the last time it was really bad.

I really can't face the endless telephone tag, the effusive exuberance of the recorded young woman's voice they use on the phone lines, the VirginMedia website mining, the days of superhub channel changing experiments, the plugging the hub out and in, and all the other usual suspects that involve vast expenditure of customer time and energy largely to no useful end. I've kept it short this time. 
Dear VirginMedia Executive Team,

Your broadband service has, yet again, been erratic, wireless connectivity exceptionally so. It has been deteriorating again for weeks. One laptop simply cannot connect wirelessly at all today.

Your “check service status” phone line “confirms” that Virgin Media believe/assert “there are no problems” in my area. Your “check service status” facility on the web -https://my.virginmedia.com/faults/service-status 
says there is “Good service” in my area.

As is regularly the case, they are both wrong.

As before, I'm merely asking for an operational service and now I'm going to repeat myself: 

When there is a problem with my broadband service – it’s slow and/or down and/or erratic and/or there are power fluctuations on the line – I want Virgin Media to know about it, let me know about it in an accessible communiqué, work hard to fix it asap and deliver a reliable service. I don't want to play telephone tag for hours, days or weeks or go on endless, fruitless Virgin Media website mining expeditions, in an effort to find a temporary DIY patch for the prevailing problem to tide me over until the next disruption.

Given that my bills are paid regularly regardless of the standard of service you provide, it really doesn't seem to much to ask that that service be robust and reliable.

Regards,

Ray Corrigan
Open letter to Tom Mockridge, CEO of Virgin Media, (draft originally addressed to Richard Branson before I remembered that Mr Branson sold the company toLiberty Global last year).

Dear Mr Mockridge,
Much though I appreciate the regular opportunity to navigate your Virgin Media broadband service telephone tag maze and engage your stressed call centre staff in friendly conversation, I'm rather busy with other personal and professional things in life at the moment. 
Your broadband service which I subscribe to at home has provided a variable wireless connection to my collection of digital devices for several days and has been deteriorating for several months.  Though the connection to the computer directly wired to the Virgin Super Hub has been more or less ok, apart from the odd day or two or threes interruptions to service here and there, the wireless connection to other devices has been erratic and often slow with download speeds slipping below several tenths of a Mbps.
As when I wrote to Richard Branson in October 2012, I'd just like to point out, again, that this is disrupting my family’s work, education, social activities and access to public and commercial services.

Your “check service status” phone line “confirms” that Virgin Media believe/assert “there are no problems” in my area.
Your “check service status” facility on the web -https://my.virginmedia.com/faults/service-status
says there is “Good service” in my area.
 
They are both wrong.
 
As I believe I explained previously, to Mr Branson when he owned the company, when there are problems it is somewhat irritating if Virgin Media declare/think/pretend there are none.

Your labyrinthine, do-it-yourself (DIY) ‘check and fix your own problems’ approach on the Virgin Media website is quite something.  It assumes customers have the capacity and the skill to hunt down and follow a series of Russian doll like instructions and articles about where you might find instructions which rarely fix anything. This does, however, generate significant angst. I'm at risk of repeating myself here but one of my least favourite activities, when I get home from work, is going through a series of convoluted, difficult to access (via your website or phone helplines) routine processes I know to be futile, in an effort to demonstrate to one of your difficult to access call centre folks that I’ve already tried the stuff on their crib sheet without success.

Your various “helplines” – out of which, these days, positively dance the effusively cheery young woman's recorded voice, seemingly nothing short of delighted to hear from me - are not very helpful. Incidentally the consultants – that advised your people or your people's people that customers, reduced to having to engage in endless telephone tag about a fault, would have their disquietude quelled by an extravagantly high spirited recorded voice – were wrong. 

“Press 1 for…” queuing, canned music, notes that staff are busy (me too) and I'll have to stay on hold for x minutes, opportunities to choose the type of canned music I'd like to hear (my kids thought that was hilarious), more of the excessively upbeat recorded female voice and eventually, at the end of a long wait, connect to a member of call centre staff who can’t help. Apparently I'd been routed to cable services instead of national services. So cable services' Jay therefore had to transfer me to another part of your operation which in its turn can't help because I've been misdirected; so will transfer me to someone who they guarantee, absolutely, this time, will be the right person. None of this is conducive to soothing already fragile customer relations.  

I spent about 40 minutes on the phone yesterday evening and after three false starts got through to a senior technician, Anjan, who seemed pretty stressed and worn out himself. I explained the wifi problem and Anjan declared Virgin could not guarantee a stable wifi connection. Not a promising start and something of a contrast to the response I got from a very helpful lady called Shambhavi when I had an equivalent wifi problem in August of 2013.* 

In any case Anjan re-booted the super hub and changed the wireless channel. Neither activity helped. (They didn't the last time I tried them either.) So he said the best thing to do would be to send a technician round to physically relocate the super hub. Now given the super hub has not moved and we haven't acquired or run any extra digital technologies in the past week, I'm skeptical that the notion of physically moving the hub will make any appreciable difference to the erratic wifi connection. Nevertheless I accept that Anjan, as he said, was at the end of a telephone line and couldn't see the relative layout of where the wireless devices were in relation to the hub.  

So I await your technician to work his/her magic next Tuesday between 1 and 6pm . The restoration of my wireless connections to something in the realm consistent usability and the banishment particularly of that irritating video buffering circle to the annals of history will be most welcome, if it can be achieved. I will, by the way, have to miss an important meeting to be at home to accommodate this visit.
 
To any Virgin Media staff who trip across this open note - if you have, thanks for taking the time to read it thus far. To the Virgin Media call centre staff most of whom are doing your best in the face of problems outside your control - thank you for your efforts and your understanding, when you can muster it up, that I did not call to make your life miserable, merely to ask for an operational service. 

To Mr Mockridge - as I said to Mr Branson, when there is a problem with my broadband service – it’s slow and/or down and/or erratic and/or there are power fluctuations on the line – I want Virgin Media to know about it, let me know about it in an accessible communiqué, work hard to fix it asap and deliver a reliable service. I don't want to play telephone tag for hours, days or weeks or go on endless, fruitless Virgin Media website mining expeditions, in an effort to find a temporary DIY patch for the prevailing problem to tide me over until the next disruption. 

BT write regularly encouraging me to switch broadband provider.  The series of disruptions in Virgin Media services in the past year alone is causing me to wonder whether that alternative would be more consistently reliable, with the additional bonus of access to BT Sport.
 
Yours sincerely,
 
Ray Corrigan
Update 28/8/'14: I've had an email from the CEO Case Manager at Virgin Media, Alex Poole, on 26/8 indicating my case would be assigned to a specialist complaints agent within 24 hours. I did indeed get a call from a very helpful Virgin Media member of staff, Andy, yesterday who I talked through the problem of the erratic connectivity. He suggested sending a technician out to diagnose and hopefully resolve the problem next Monday.  Additionally I've had another call today from the principle engineer, Jacob, who also tried to be very helpful and is keen to resolve the problem. Jacob mentioned that they had not spotted any network problems in my area through their diagnostics. I noted that my connection was down completely for about 30 minutes yesterday, so he's going to recheck the logs for the past 24 hours or so. In any case, hopefully this encouraging willingness on the part of Virgin Media's staff means I'll have a robust reliable connection by early next week.

Dear Blogger, Why has my post on Virgin Media disappeared?

Dear Blogger,

A recent post on this blog on my experiences with Virgin Media home broadband service, (which, incidentally, I updated this morning to thank the excellent member of staff who called and attempted to sort out the problems), has disappeared.

The link was http://b2fxxx.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/dear-virginmedia-executive-team-about.html

Why has this happened?

What prompted it?

Has it been deleted in error or deliberately or upon request by person/persons/economic-agents unknown?

If so can said requester/s be identified and the purpose of their request for deletion/take-down made known?

Have I inadvertently deleted the post? I have been using Blogger for a long time so I do believe this is unlikely but I'd appreciate knowing what I might have done to lose the post, the first of 4626 I would have lost in my well over a decade's use of Blogger.

Regards,

Ray Corrigan


Friday, August 29, 2014

Workshops on key economic issues wrt IPR enforcement in EU

The European Commission is holding a series of workshops on the economics of IPR enforcement.

I've been invited to attend the first of these scheduled for 19 September at Directorate General for Internal Market and Services in Brussels. The focus of this first session is -
"the question whether the concept of 'commercial scale' or 'commercial purpose' provide useful guidance in IPR infringement cases from an economic perspective and whether there are economic concepts that could be used to make the concept more precise and operational."
Additionally the EC is interested in  how best to design this workshop series
"and to learn about your views regarding IPR enforcement issues that should be addressed in future workshops"
My views on the need for evidence based intellectual property policy across the whole IPR landscape are familiar to readers of this blog but I'm happy to consider any comments, suggestions or views on the issues anyone would like to send me in advance of the workshop.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Parody, quotation & format shifting exceptions coming to UK

This blogger is not known for his unstinting praise of government policy in the intellectual property arena.

However, little noticed by the wider world and much to the collective chagrin of the big music labels, changes to copyright exceptions were approved by Parliament this week. After a hiccup earlier in the summer when they were postponed by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (JCSI), the

Copyright and Rights in Performances (Personal Copies for Private Use) Regulations 2014

and the

Copyright and Rights in Performances (Quotation and Parody) Regulations 2014

were approved by the House of Lords shortly before 6.30pm on Tuesday, 29 July. The regulations are now due to be implemented on 1 October 2014.

Debate commenced 4.42pm (at column 1553) and there was a further last minute attempt, by members of the Lords sympathetic to traditional big music labels' interests, to undermine the format shifting exception. It nevertheless passed unscathed.

It means that from 1 October, for the first time in the UK, we will be lawfully permitted to copy our CDs to our digital music players and from old to new music players, for private use. Though most people don't realise this common act is not currently allowed under UK copyright law. Likewise it comes as a surprise when people find out that parody is also not a currently recognised exception to copyright in the UK.

These regulations are important additions to the IP policy framework that bring the UK closer into line with international norms, although the parody exception is quite narrowly construed to allow only 'fair dealing' use of the original work.

So it is well done to -

Lord Younger of Leckie, the previous intellectual property minister, who saw these regulations through at government level for most of the past 18 months

and

Baroness Neville-Rolfe, the very new IP minister, who steered the regulations through their final hurdle.

Most especially, however, significant praise is due to Matthew Williams and the copyright team at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Tony Clayton and his team of economists at the UK Intellectual Property Office, all of whom have been working tirelessly for years on improving the UK's IP policy.

There are a lot of very smart, hard working officials in public service attempting to educate the government on the need for evidence based policy making in the intellectual property and wider technology, security, economics, social, environmental and human rights policy arenas.  They deserve our respect and thanks and so, for once, I'd like to make an effort say thank you, especially to everyone involved in bringing these regulations to fruition.

Thanks also for listening and taking account of the work of my old friend, Mark Rogers. Mark would have been pleased but he'd also have been the first to remind us, gently but firmly, that we still have a lot of work to do. The road to sustainable enlightenment in policy involves unfailing care, hard graft and eternal vigilance.