Blogathon 06/17: Licence to print money

BBC something's up

The BBC have announced a revamp of their iPlayer service.

A recent change in the law has already tightened up the rules about how and when people can use the iPlayer.

The rules are now very clear.

BBC iPlayer

You need to have a TV licence to watch BBC TV programmes, whether you watch them via broadcast, or watch them via the iPlayer catch-up service.

This is fair enough.

Because if you don’t have a licence but you do consume BBC TV output, you are a content thief.

Let’s face it, if you live in the UK you get a pretty good deal from the BBC.

  • A local radio network that mostly delivers unique content 24/7
  • Ten national radio networks that all deliver unique content 24/7
  • Eight national TV networks that mostly deliver unique content for a large part of the 24-hour day
  • A comprehensive news/magazine/weather website that is updated 24/7
  • A global network of BBC reporters, capable of reacting to, and reporting on, almost any event that that is thrown at them

And you get all of these things, advertising-free, for £145.50 a year.

That’s a pretty good deal.

Actually, no, it may not be.

It is only a pretty good deal if you actually make use of BBC content.

If you don’t consume any BBC content, it becomes a tax on a commodity that you’re never going to use.

There is a Facebook group dedicated to not paying the BBC licence fee.

BBC Licence Fee Witholders

I hung around there for a while, and was very disappointed to see that most members of that group are only concerned with not paying the licence fee whilst getting all the benefits of using all of the content.

People in that group say things like ‘I only have the BBC for my children’, and ‘I only watch Strictly’.

No, really they do.

Ironically, a significant number of the people in that Facebook group have Sky (with all the exorbitant costs that involves).

*eyeroll*

Anyway.

The thing I don’t like about the BBC licence fee is that there is no opt-out.

The way the law currently works, the licence fee agents (Capita) have to prove in a court of law that people are consuming BBC TV programmes, and the defendants have to show that they aren’t.

It’s one word against another.

This adversarial system is obviously flawed, and for the C21st, it is outdated.

We need a better, a fairer, and a more modern model of funding the BBC.

And of making sure that only those who consume BBC output pay for it.

I feel certain that the new version of iPlayer will have some sort of TV licence/account authentication mechanism built in to it.

And, in this digital TV age, it would surely be simple to encode BBC TV transmissions, and to have them decoded with a licence-related PIN?

I realise there are people who wouldn’t like this thinking, but moving the TV licence fee to a subscription model would be a step towards a fair system.

Wouldn’t it?

What’s the alternative?

Is there even an alternative?

Hunted (and how to win it)

Are you watching the second season of Hunted on C4?

We have had two episodes; the third will air later this week.

The basic premise (if you haven’t seen it) is that it’s a game show.

The challenge facing the game show contestants is that they must spend a month moving around the UK, whilst evading capture by a team of experts.

These experts have the full range of State information systems at their disposal.

CCTV, ANPR, etc (or simulations thereof).

The experts are able to access these systems in real time, and thus can track the progress of the game show contestants, also in real time.

Supporting the office-bound electronic intelligence/surveillance  experts are a national team of ‘hunters’, who are the arms and legs of the organisation; they will capture the prey.

And that’s it, in a nutshell, that’s Hunted: evade capture.

It is not about having a jolly across the UK for a month. If you think it is, you will be caught.

It is not spending a month ‘off the grid’. If you think it is, you will be caught.

It is not about ‘going on the run’. If you think it is, you will be caught.

The prize is a pot of £100,000.

This is divided by the number of winners per series (or, to put it another way, is divided by the number of game show contestants who successfully evade capture).

Hunted is, in its own way, quite an endearing game show.

But the contestants in series 2 are making exactly the same mistakes that the contestants in series 1 made.

Yet the series 2 contestants would have made special effort to record and watch series 1 many times, yes?

Yes. Obv. Else they would be terminally stupid.

So why are the contestants in series 2 falling to their hunters as readily as the contestants in series 1 did?

Because they haven’t learned from series 1?

Yes, it’s that simple.

So for the hard of learning, and in case anyone from any future seasons of Hunted should tune in before the show is filmed, here’s a few informed thoughts on how to get close to the prize.

And, for the record, I have worked for *** and also worked for ****.

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Preparation: Cyber Security
The minute you mail in your application, you must burn every shred of your online presence. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Dropbox, YahooMail, GMail, GoogleMaps, Google+, YouTube, WhatsApp, Satnav, Periscope, Netflix, iTunes, Hotmail, Webforums/Chatforums, Online clubs, Online results for sports, Ebay, Amazon, all online accounts with everyone (Ocado, Cineworld, photosharing websites, games websites), even MySpace. In short, everything that you pick up a smartphone for, everything you touch a keyboard for. Burn it all. Do not plan on getting any of these services back after the game show. If you need any single one of these back, don’t do the game show

How do you burn them? Use a secure password generator, reset your passwords, and then close it all down. Everything. Close them all down

The show will want an email address for contact. That’s fine. Give them the email of your boyfriend, or your girlfriend. Do not sign up to a new account. Every time you email the show your IP address will be captured and yes, they will use it to trace how you access the Internet

The show will ask for a phone number. Get someone to buy a used phone on eBay for you. Buy a PAYG SIM, and give the show this number. As soon as the show starts, throw the phone away, do not retain it for ’emergencies’. Bin it

Tablets. Smartphones. Laptops. PCs. Any devices that you have ever signed in to any web-service with. Destroy it. Destroy them all. If you hide them, they’ll be found. When they are found they will be hacked, and no matter how carefully you hide them, they will be found. Destroy them now

Preparation: Build a network of cut-out contacts
Use your friends to use their friends to use their friends. Your 2nd/3rd layer conduits must not be people who you know. Your end-destination contacts must be someone you have never met. They must be people from a different world to the one you know now. You must not make direct contact with your end-destination contact. You and they should use spook tradecraft to communicate: dead-letter drops are ideal, with signals to signify when a message or a response has been dropped. I’ll say it again for emphasis: do not make contact directly with your end-destination contact. You should not know their name or what they look like. They should be unaware of your appearance and real name. If there are no isolated cut-outs between you, you may as well just invite them in to meet your friends and family. If you ever contact a real friend, by any means at all, you are wasting everybody’s time by entering Hunted, because you will be caught.

Preparation: Identity
Get a dummy address. Use your end-destination contact for this. Build a new persona. Right now. The minute you email your application off, put together a new you. Create some ID. That’s a huge step forward. Get a library card in a nearby town/city to your dummy address (not in the same town/city though). Start to build the new you a track record of information. Buy a TV licence in your new name at the dummy address (pay by instalments so you can bin the cost once you have what you need). Build a profile at your dummy address. Do not bring any of this information in to your home or in to your workplace. Do not write it down. It’s a long haul, but you need to begin collecting, in your new name, at your new address, anything official. Invoices, bills.

Preparation: Lifestyle
Move to cash. Do it now. Get used to a cash economy. It’s a big transition. If you have any credit/debit cards the temptation to use them will be strong and if you do, you will be caught. The show gives you a small amount of cash on a debit card. Get it all out in one go the minute you start your run. Just about every cash machine in the UK is covered by CCTV. Throw the card away as soon as you have withdrawn the money. Learn to live with less. Your ‘absolutely necessary belongings for a month of avoiding capture’ should be the epitome of travelling ultralight. Oh yes, and get fit.

Preparation: Planning
Have a plan. You obviously need to avoid ANPR and CCTV, but you are also required to move around. Plan this. Plan how you are going to move around, and where you are going to move to next, and next after that, and next after that and so on. Have a plan for the whole month. Be meticulous and detailed. Also, have backout plans, in case your plan goes wrong. You must have alternatives. Again: if you have no plan you will fail. CCTV is almost everywhere, but use a little of the time now to see where CCTV isn’t. Use maps. Use common sense. Do reconnaissance if necessary. You will be surprised how much of the UK isn’t covered. Build your plans for the month around these places. Plan earning a living. You need to eat, but you need to avoid looking like a tramp. You have a very small amount of money, but it is insufficient to live on for a month. Plan how you are going to earn money, and what you are going to do. Plan where you are going to do it. If you do not have a plan for survival you will be caught.

Preparation: Appearance
Plan to change your appearance within 24 hours of hitting the road, when you are in your first safe house. Have preparations to be able to change your appearance several times during the month. Think long-term, do not think ‘once’. Any appearance changes should be very simple to effect. Change your walk. Skilled spooks can spot you in a crowded train station on CCTV by your walk. The simplest way to throw spooks off this trail is to put a small stone in your sock. Really. Also, don’t look as if you are looking for a pursuer. There is nothing more suspicious than a sweaty person who is looking hunted. Let the hunters look as if they are hunting; you just need to keep your head down like anyone else who might be worrying about how they’re going to pay the mortgage next month. In crowds, do not move quicker than the crowds. I’ll say that again. Do not run, not even if you think you have been traced. Because innocent people do not run with backpacks (etc) banging around behind them. Fit in. Blend in. Be part of the wallpaper, do not be a discordant pattern. If you are hitch-hiking, do not get out of the car where CCTV is placed. That’s motorway services, filling stations, train stations, underground stations, metro stations.

Evading capture: The basics
Do not enter the game show Hunted with anyone else. This is simple logic. You either go solo or you get caught. The choice is yours. Do not have any contact with family or friends. The phones (home phones, work/desk phones, mobile phones) of all of your known associates will be tapped, and calls to them will be traced. This isn’t an ‘if’, a ‘but’, or a ‘maybe’, this is a certainty. That one phone call to a wife, boyfriend, partner, or offspring during their birthday, will cost you £100,000. If you can’t go completely silent and no-contact for a month, do not waste everybody’s time by entering the game show.

Summary:
Hunted (and indeed the ‘hunters’) rely on 21st Century technology. In order to defeat them, you have to use mid 20th Century spook tradecraft. Take the technological advantage away from the hunters. There is no surveillance technology on the planet that can cope with dead-letter drops. And if you want to win at Hunted (and why else would you even consider signing up for the game show, if not to win it?), you will need the help and support of a network of blind cutouts in order to succeed. These two spook tools (dead-letter drops and a network of blind cutouts) are unbeatable. British Intelligence ran networks of undercover agents in the most heavily monitored States in Communist Eastern Europe, for decades.

And if you do decide to send in an entry, let me know how it goes for you.

Heart Attack Diary: #4

Death by Daytime TV

 

  • Homes Under The Hammer
  • Street Auction
  • Bargain Hunt
  • Jeremy Kyle
  • Loose Women
  • Cowboy Builders
  • The Wright Stuff
  • Four In A Bed (not as exciting as the name implies)
  • Escape To The Country

The list of mediocrity that is Daytime Drudgery TV goes on and on.

Let’s be clear, I haven’t sat through these.

I sampled a couple, briefly, and then hit the off switch before you could say Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

Thanks, daytime TV, but I’ve had a heart attack, not a brain attack.

Annoyingly I feel fine.

Normal.

Normal for me, obv.

So I’m finding all this ‘slow down, take it easy, do *gentle* exercise, don’t rush, I told you to take it easy, stop doing the washing up, don’t make tea, no really why don’t you bloody take it easy, don’t do the laundry, stop doing that thing now!’ really difficult to cope with.

I am not, nor have I ever been, a good patient.

This one time at band camp RAF Hospital Wegberg, a few days after an emergency admission from my squadron, I slipped out of the ward late at night and went to a disco up the road at RAF Rheindahlen.

I got in to some trouble over that.

Oh, the neighbour’s dog has stopped barking. We had a chat, the neighbour and I, yesterday afternoon.

There’s a tentative offer from me to take the dog for a walk, if that might help?

This hasn’t been taken up yet.

And I had a long phone call from the Cardiac Rehabilitation Unit.

The bottom line is that I have a follow-up appointment, back at the hospital, in a few weeks.

And Ruth, the friend who edited Crossing The Line, has suggested that if I’m bored I could go back to writing, to fill the time.

Which is really nice of her.

But man, I just wish I could be out there *points to out there* doing something.

Flux (no capacitor)

It is a time of significant change.

I have moved from Rugby. It wasn’t that much of a wrench to leave. Although that little house was perfect for me (and perfect for the bikes), the fact that I haven’t lived there for the last six months made the parting easier – and very logical.

Unfortunately I have had to shut down the podcast for a while, though I do I hope to bring it back when the world changes once again.

I do miss the stream of gigs that out-of-reach Oxfordshire offered. But I think I miss seeing my favourite bands live more than I miss the regular gigs themselves. Besides, I’m getting home too knackered to consider going out on the weekday evenings, and my weekends don’t have too much down time!

I’m mostly commuting to work (Northampton) on the ZX9R. Except when the weather is awful, obv. I need to check the mileage on the ZX9R, but I keep forgetting. I’ve had it just under a year and I reckon I’ve put about 20,000 miles on her clock in the last 12 months. I haven’t heard from the insurance company about the future of the Daytona.

In the tech world I’m having an interesting problem with directory-based permissions on a server, where the FTP user can upload files, but the WordPress user can’t (error message: the uploaded file could not be moved to wp-content).

And I discovered a very interesting domestic technical problem yesterday, where the Smart TV lost a bunch of stations. Eventually I switched the TV off at the mains, unplugged the aerial, switched on, rescanned and found them again. An hour later they were gone again. As the problem was obviously ours, not the transmitter, I played around with some of the other devices nearby. I soon discovered that if I switched the Playstation off, the missing channels came straight back. Bizarre.

Nothing on

In the days when Mars bars cost 4d each, and for a penny one could get four strawberry chews, and an Amazin’ bar cost 3d, life was simpler.

I used to terrorise the four-wheeled, and the two-legged populations, on my gloriously individualistic, wonderfully/badly hand-painted Raleigh.

I dashed, and ducked, and dived all over the place, and sometimes I covered absolutely bonkers mileage on a whim. Much like my two-wheeled activity these days, really.

I bolted a 3′ whip aerial to the handlebars, and pretended I was Z-Victor-One, as I zoomed around the Welsh hills and valleys.

I would frequently arrive home feeling hot, sweaty, worn-out.

Tea was usually taken at the kitchen table – wolfed down with undue haste, and under stern parental frown – as a precursor to the main event of the evening.

Television!

The viewing choices weren’t huge.

There was BBC (no numbers), and there was ITV (also no numbers).

Dr Who. Softly Softly. A Man Called Ironside. Danger Man. The Saint. Department S. The Champions. Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). The Morecambe & Wise Show.

And more.

Because I’m not listing the films. Or the one-off dramas. Or documentaries.

For a two-channel network, things weren’t too bad.

There were, inevitably, times when we would say “There’s nothing on”.

And we’d play.

Or read a good book.

Or build something.

Or listen to the radio.

I had a variety of radio receivers that would pick up most things.

I used to listen to the fade in/fade out of Radio Luxembourg. Or the more resolute (but slightly dull) Radio North Sea International. Or Radio Jackie. Or the best of them all, Radio Caroline.

Yeah, sure, sometimes “There’s nothing on” was a justified complaint, but there were plenty of other things to do.

And despite there being, occasionally, nothing on, we were never bored.

My Smart TV can access so many TV channels I can’t count them all.

There are the digital Freeview terrestrial channels.

There are the almost-but-not-quite-identical Freesat satellite channels.

There are the Internet channels.

There are the On-Demand, catch-up channels.

And there are a huge number of digital radio stations.

And yet last night we watched a DVD.

And tonight I am watching the remake of Battlestar Galactica on Netflix. Whilst listening to some Gabriel-era Genesis.

And whilst supervising a huge data migration between servers.

And writing this.

Why am I less than half-watching an on-demand repeat of a show that I couldn’t be bothered to watch the first time around?

Because even with the hundreds of channels available to me…

There is nothing on.

I’m trying to explain this unbelievable state of affairs to my 10-year old self.

And I’m failing.

The Apprentice: Modernising Christians v Lions

Rome’s Colosseum has been through some major changes in its history.

It was originally intended as a theatre.

Mock sea battles, and mythological dramas were enacted for the well-educated Roman public.

But as time passed, and as the Roman Empire began to wane, successive Roman Emperors felt they needed to hold on to their grass-roots support.

The Colosseum began to change.

A number of additional levels were built on to the original design.

A heavy canvass roof was added, to provide shade to the spectators – to encourage them to stay longer in the company of the Emperor.

Colosseum

Colosseum productions began to change; shows became shorter, and a typical show had more breaks, during which popular news items were read out.

And with these changes, came darker changes in content.

The competitions gradually began to pander to the lowest levels of Roman society.

Re-enactments gave way to brutal Gladiatorial fights.

Tales of glorious deeds from Roman history were replaced by the unedifying blood-letting of Christians v Lions.

And at the head of the blood and gore, judging the mood of the public to ensure his decisions echoed their views, sat the Roman Emperor.

Ironically, the morally-declining spectacles that were performed in the Colosseum could be seen to document the decaying slide of the once-great Roman Empire.

I used to like The Apprentice.

As ‘reality’ TV went, it was one of the better offerings.

The Apprentice was an eliminiation-based show, where a clutch of hopefuls would be put through a range of business-orientated tasks.

Sitting in judgement over their performances would be Sir Alan (now Lord) Sugar, and two of his advisors.

The Apprentice

At the end of each show, one of the candidates would get rejected by Sir Alan/Lord Sugar, until – at the conclusion of the series – the surviving candidate would be offered a job in the Sugar Empire.

Lately – in the last couple of series – I have lost The Apprentice faith.

Despite the title sequence which proclaims the candidates are the brightest and the best, the reality is that they all seem to have been selected from the shallow end of the gene pool.

And they’re becoming more stupid, with each passing series.

The Apprentice candidates now seem to be drawn exclusively from a place where common sense, intelligence, and business acumen are all remarkably absent.

The candidates are so handicapped by their stunted personalities, that watching The Apprentice is now like watching a bunch of drunken stupid people, failing to complete a child’s jigsaw.

And really, if you ran a successful business, would you want to enter in to a commercial arrangement with any of the current crop of examples of hopelessness?

So it occurs to me, that it’s time we updated The Apprentice.

Rather than have the show mirroring the decline of the entertainment that the Colosseum came to offer, it is time to turn the show on its head, and time to bend the show back, towards reality.

The Apprentice candidates are vying for a place in the business arena, yes?

Why not put them there?

Why not create a dummy company, and put each of the candidates in a number of positions of managerial responsibility?

And why not have their performance judged  by the other (real) members of staff?

The Apprentice candidates are supposed to be aiming themselves at success in the business environment, yes?

What better way to test the business acumen of these candidates, than by putting them in to positions of corporate responsibility, where they can be assessed by their own subordinates?

It’s a kind of reverse appraisal.

Currently The Apprentice candidates are assessed against an unwritten criteria.

They are judged on how well they have performed on a task that usually involves selling things that people don’t really want.

But in my redesign, ‘the brightest and the best’ would have their business suitability assessed against on-the-job scenarios.

And they would be judged by their colleagues/staff.

Successful candidates could be moved forward to another role in the dummy organisation.

The less successful candidates would be consigned to the mail room.

Or the car pool.

Because, let’s face it, there is more to business than selling.

The Apprentice candidates must know – and must experience – that being successful in business means being competent in all aspects of running a business.

Selling ice to Eskimos is just one small facet of being in business (assuming that one’s business is selling ice to the Eskimo market).

Because it doesn’t matter how good a salesperson one is.

If a person can’t actually run the company in the first place, the business will die.

So let’s steer The Apprentice away from the ‘Throwing Village Idiots To The Lions’ game.

And let’s produce a generation of business leaders while we’re at it.

Because that would be cool.

That would be Entertainment Plus.

Not getting the whole picture

I have bought a new TV.

For someone who watches as little television as I do, this new acquisition is a really big deal.

It’s one of these:

TV

An LG 42LB580V 42-inch Widescreen 1080p Full HD Wi-Fi Smart TV with Freeview HD (as the blurb has it).

I think this is good (but I’m still learning to use it).

I have tuned it, have connected it to my WiFi. I have set up my Netflix account. I’ll do my YouTube account tomorrow. But I have noticed an interesting thing.

Although I can get BBC1 HD  (101), BBC2 HD (102), etc, I can not receive any HD channel above 105.

Yes, I have retuned the set.

That clever young Daniel said, over on FB, that COM7 is an HD only mux and might just not be available on whatever mast my aerial is pointed at (Sutton Coldfield as far as I know).

Incidentally, I Daytona’d past the mast at Waltham today and that’s a pretty impressive-looking structure from Melton Mowbray.

Anyway.

So that’s where I am, as far as TV reception goes.

Which is actually a big step further forward than I was before the new TV arrived.

Because the previous set would only receive unwatchable, broken-imaged, pixellated rubbish.

But now I have an almost full set of digital channels.

And various internet and app-based goodies too.

Not too shabby, eh?

Meanwhile, in another galaxy

I’ve been writing film reviews again. I can’t help it. I’m now conditioned to write film reviews, after all the years of high living that writing film reviews has given me.

Aaaaahahahahahahahaha!

*wipes tears of not laughter away*

Ahem.

I shouldn’t grumble about the weather. People have been seriously injured through unfortunate weather-related events. And worse than seriously injured.

And it is, after all, the winter (and for all of the faults with the UKs weather system, it is consistent at bringing us rubbish weather at this time of year).

A colleague at work said her father had been without electricity for four days. I thought that was an extreme way to avoid watching the crap that was served up by our television channels, over the festive season.

And let’s be totally honest, this year the calibre of the Christmas viewing that our mainstream TV channels have offered us, has been spectacularly mediocre (even at its best).

But speaking of mediocre viewing…

I am working on an idea, and I sort of need some kind of assistance, sort of. Kind of. A bit. Perhaps. Maybe.

I’m working on a series of *very* short videos; it is a project for a childish audience (4-400 years).

I’ve written the scripts for 25 episodes (I did say they were *very* short, right?).

I’ve sketched out the design of the set backdrop (as much as a person like me – who can’t sketch a straight line with the aid of a ruler) can.

I have a design in mind for the occasional foreground.

What I now need is the cast.

Of two.

Yes, that’s right.

Two characters.

I’m thinking of Action Man-type dolls.

Look, stop asking questions. This will be much quicker if you let me get to the point in my own way. Right?

Good.

So, in my head (which is a funny little place at the best of times), I have two Action Man-type dolls dressed as, erm, the subject characters.

I’ll set up the lighting (going to use my portable lighting rig). I’ll mount a camera on a tripod (single angle camera, I only have one pair of hands, and don’t have the patience to coordinate twin-camera shots by myself). I’ll film. I’ll edit the film to my scripts. And then I’ll record, and edit in to the mix, the audio (the audio will be the VO and a musical track as intro, soundbed and outtro). I’ll template the titles/credits, and just copy them in to each episode.

So, as (I hope) you can see, I’m well advanced in the planning of this project.

Except I have a problem.

A teeny tiny sort of a problem.

*cough*

Ahem.

I actually have none of the Action Manesque dolls.

En to the Oh to the En to the E.

Sadly.

This is, it must be admitted, something more than a minor inconvenience.

Yes.

So if you happen to know of either one or two Action Man-type dolls, not having much to do for the next couple of weeks, could you let me know?

Thanks.

In other news.

I’m off to various DIY places this weekend to look for suitable material to begin painting the backdrop on.