Thursday, August 26, 2010

Freedom of information request to Ofcom on Freeview, BBC DRM

I've just sent a freedom of information request to Ofcom via asking for the submissions from the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 that proved conclusive in the decision to approve DRM for HD Freeview broadcasts. Copy below.

Dear Office of Communications,

I would like to make a freedom of information request for full and
complete copies of all the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 communications
with Ofcom relating to the Ofcom consultation 'Content management
on the HD Freeview platform' (Start date: 22 January 2010, End
date: 02 April 2010).

In particular could you send me:

(a) A full copy, including the redacted sections noted on page 1
and 7, of the 'BBC response to Ofcom consultation of 22 January

(b) A copy of the BBC submission to Ofcom of 8 December 2009 on
this same matter

(c) Details supplied by Channel 4, not part of its formal response
to the consultation,,
relating to specific content which, in its view, may be at risk in
the future if content management is not introduced and also those
titles which it believes are currently sensitive.

(d) A full copy of ITV communications with Ofcom relating to
'Content management on the HD Freeview platform'. ITV's submission
is not obviously available on Ofcom's webpage relating to the
consultation at

Thank you.

Yours faithfully,

Ray Corrigan

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

DRM Strikes Again: Samsung Blu-ray Firmware Update Means No Warner Or Universal Movies

This story struck a chord today, though my distaste for DRM is not a secret.
"owners of Samsung Blu-ray players have been discovering that the latest firmware update means that movies from Warner Bros. and Universal don't play. Instead, they just lock up thanks to the DRM built into Blu-ray."
My Panasonic DMR EX75 DVD recorder has decided it doesn't want to play my DVDs any more.

I tried to copy something from my HDD to a DVD, the first time I’ve ever attempted to do this.  After 2 hours of apparently copying the programme to the disc, the machine indicated the DVD disc was damaged and it had not copied properly. I pressed the ok button and removed the disc.

The system still registers that there is a disc in the machine even though there is not. Now it will no longer play any of my DVDs. It gives a clunking and whirring noise followed by a No READ error when I insert a movie DVD disc.

I've tried switching it on and off, unplugging the machine for 20 minutes and plugging it back in - standard simple fixes. The problem remains. If it is just a case of dust in the DVD head I'm not averse to lifting the lid and cleaning it.  The clunking and whirring, however, suggests the disk drive may need replacing - ridiculously expensive and a bit of a cheek that it should fall over the first time I try to copy to it from the HDD.  On the other hand if it is the DRM in the machine throwing a wobbly I'd be equally irritated.  In either case I've now got a less than fully functional HDD/DVD gadget sucking electrons out of the wall.  Any suggestions on possible simple fixes gratefully received.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Credit Blackpool supporters

I was at the Emirates Stadium for the Arsenal v Blackpool game on Saturday and just wanted to note how impressed I was with the Blackpool supporters.  They sang and cheered the whole way through the game particularly in the second half, even when their team was taking a pasting.  The 6-0 final scoreline could have been much higher if Arsenal could convert the chances they create at the same rate as rivals Chelsea or Manchester United.  Arsenal had 21 clear chances in the game.  By comparision Chelsea converted 6 from 10 chances two weekends in a row.

Yet despite the fact that their team were totally outclassed, the Blackpool supporters sang on about how it was their best day out ever and even cheekily critiqued the Arsenal fans with a chorus of "5-0 and you still can't sing".

Compare that to the Arsenal fans who were singing "Stand up if you hate Tottenham" to the same tune and it is clear which set of supporters are likely to being most enjoyment to football stadia this year.  My 11 year old was embarrassed about the hate chant and asked why Arsenal supporters disliked Tottenham so much.  I explained the history - Arsenal's move from Woolwich to Highbury, and the way in which Henry Norris the club chairman at the time managed to get Arsenal promoted at the expense of Spurs just after the first world war, despite the fact that Arsenal had only finished fifth in the second division.  My son's assessment -
"It's stupid that the supporters should still hate each other for that. It's stupid that football supporters should hate each other at all."
Smart kid. Being biased I would say that of course. In any case I just wanted to note my admiration for the Blackpool fans whose good cheer and positive attitude is to be commended most highly (as Hercule Poirot might say). 

It's worth noting too they had a point about the Arsenal fans not being able to sing.  It's been of concern to Arsene Wenger since the move to the Emirates stadium that the atmostsphere can be a bit dead on match days. The Arsenal authorities decided to try and improve that by renaming the stands and playing the music over the tannoy much louder than before on Saturday.  The thing is, the kind of folk who can now afford a seat at the Emirates (eg yours truly occasionally) are not necessarily comfortable with singing and cheering as part of a mob in public, whilst sitting in an ordered arrangement of modern padded seating well removed from the pitch.  A couple of teenagers not far from us, who lead the hate Tottenham chant, repeatedly, reinforced with expletives, yelled at the crowd to "sing up". They made clear their displeasure at not getting a response with further expletives, whilst parents (we were in the family enclosure) round and about did their best to protect their offspring from the bad language. 

Now kids love singing and it really shouldn't be too difficult to get them to sing - in the section of the crowd we were in - to support their team. And don't get me wrong, the crowd did manage occasional choruses expressing admiration for Arsene Wenger, Cesc Fabregas and the 'best team there's ever been'. But there really is something about the combination of the architecture of a modern football stadium, the natural reservedness of the kinds of people who can afford to frequent such venue, and the antagonistic attitude of the modern football supporter which we recoil from which can deaden the atmostsphere in the ground.  I don't know if it is something that can be fixed.  Maybe a strategically placed collection of cheerleaders with a fun Blackpool supporters' type approach could help.

Finally credit should also go to the Blackpool players who, despite being hammered and being down to 10 men after half an hour, battled on until the end, kept trying to play decent football and never resorted to the usual 'kick 'em off the pitch' tactics of many of Arsenal's opponents. Very well done to Blackpool football club and their supporters.

Evoting researcher arrested

In May this year, Hari Prasad, along with Alex Haldermann and Ron Gronggrijp, demonstrated the vulnerability of Indian evoting machines to fraud.  On Saturday Prasad was arrested, charged with the theft of an electronic voting machine.

On 12 August a group of prestigious evoting experts wrote to the Chief Election Commissioner of India explaining that "that India’s EVMs do not today provide security, verifiability, or transparency adequate for
confidence in election results." The Indian Election Commission has previously consulted Hari Prasad on how to improve the security of the voting machines.  The Commission now stands accused, however, of arranging Prasad's arrest.

Update: Comment from EFF.
"The Election Commission of India should have given researchers access to the voting machines in the first place. Rather than attempting to persecute Prasad and the anonymous source, the government should be focusing its attention and resources on the real problem: electronic voting machines with no mechanism for accountability."
Comment from Alex Halderman:
About four months ago, Ed Felten blogged about a research paper in which Hari Prasad, Rop Gonggrijp, and I detailed serious security flaws in India's electronic voting machines. Indian election authorities have repeatedly claimed that the machines are "tamperproof," but we demonstrated important vulnerabilities by studying a machine provided by an anonymous source.
The story took a disturbing turn a little over 24 hours ago, when my coauthor Hari Prasad was arrested by Indian authorities demanding to know the identity of that source.
At 5:30 Saturday morning, about ten police officers arrived at Hari's home in Hyderabad. They questioned him about where he got the machine we studied, and at around 8 a.m. they placed him under arrest and proceeded to drive him to Mumbai, a 14 hour journey.
The police did not state a specific charge at the time of the arrest, but it appears to be a politically motivated attempt to uncover our anonymous source. The arresting officers told Hari that they were under "pressure [from] the top," and that he would be left alone if he would reveal the source's identity.
Hari was allowed to use his cell phone for a time, and I spoke with him as he was being driven by the police to Mumbai:
If any good has come from this, it's that there has been an outpouring of support for Hari. He has received positive messages from people all over India.
Unfortunately, the entire issue distracts from the primary problem: India's electronic voting machines have fundamental security flaws, and do not provide the transparency necessary for voters to have confidence in elections. To fix these problems, the Election Commission will need help from India's technical community. Arresting and interrogating a key member of that community is enormously counterproductive."