Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Recently I’ve had to deal with telephone customer support. This of course is an activity that most rational human beings avoid like the plague. Generally speaking I’d rather endure toenail surgery without anesthesia than spend time dealing with “customer service”. Unfortunately the problem was that I was unable to watch the latest Game of Thrones on HBO and that is a DEFCON ONE crisis. All of a sudden I started receiving the following message on the HBO channels: “Your TV does not support this programs content protection. Replace the HDMI cable with component cables.” Since there may be children in the room, “WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT!!!”

HDMI is the highest-end cable available for HD video. HBO and/or Direct TV are requiring a (slightly) lower-end cable? Makes no sense. Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen were waiting for me, so off to Direct TV support I went. Menu after menu, repeated account number inputs, depression, a new gray hair, and I finally got a live person on the line.

Complaint number one: If you have a fancy voice input system that asks repeatedly to provide your account number, name, hair color, and soft drink preference, why is the first thing a live person asks is to provide the same information? I think the strategy is to induce a state of depression so deep you simply give up and watch infomercials instead.

Complaint number two: When I was finally asked what the problem was I replied “I’m receiving an error message”. Without waiting to hear what it was, her response was, “let’s go ahead and reset the box”. Now if you’re unfamiliar with a satellite STB box reset it takes about 7 minutes of sitting through on-screen messages cheerfully informing you “almost there!”.  I’d actually already tried that before calling, so there was no way in hell I was going to do it again. I’m not a particularly chatty person, so seven minutes of small-talk with a support rep to do something I’d already tried just wasn’t going to happen. Naturally I spent longer than that arguing that I wasn’t going to do it, than it would have taken to just meekly follow along with her troubleshooting script.

Here’s where my brains began leaking out my ears.  I finally convinced her to let me tell her the error message and then asked, “Are you or HBO no longer supporting HDMI cables?” Her answer – “Sir, I’m not familiar with what this HDMI is. Have you checked our on-line forums?” I’ll spare the rest of the gory details, but after multiple escalations the best answer I was able to get was that this was a change HBO just made and it’s out of Direct TV’s control. Sigh… Fortunately I have access to Al Gore’s INTERNETS (side note, I’m wondering if I should switch from AOL? I have all those free CD’s).

I spent some time on a few AV forums. Fair warning, it’s important to severely limit your time there – that’s a level of geekdom that results in a strong desire to play D&D. What I did figure out is that HBO started implementing HDCP several years ago. WARNING, technical content to follow! Any fairly recent (~5 years) HDMI implementation includes HDCP which is a content protection protocol. The host device queries connections and, upon discovering an HDCP compliant port, establishes a sink and provides a key for decryption. This enables content providers to encrypt video with the master key and for your device to decrypt it. Turns out some clever folks have been able to pirate (gasp!) content via non-HDCP HDMI cables. HBO (and most content providers) either have already, or will begin going this route shortly.

For anyone left reading, here’s the “can we all just get along” part. My TV (Samsung) is brand-new and the specs indicate HDCP compliance. Direct TV claims their HD STB correctly implements HDMI/HDCP and it’s not their problem if Samsung doesn’t correctly respond to the HDCP handshake. The Direct TV support rep doesn’t know what HDMI is. The Direct TV technical escalation engineer claims HBO “just” implemented this a few weeks ago. HBO reportedly implemented this several years ago. HBO provides no way of contacting them other than carrier pigeon or via email that thier web site states “due to volume of mail received we can’t respond to all inquires”.

I love technology. Seriously. But the more technical the advances the more complicated the interactions become. Supporting them becomes a massive finger-pointing exercise in futility. If you were making minimum wage as a support rep, would you be interested in discovering HDMI/HDCP handshake sequences? As Mr. King once said (no, not that Mr. King) “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle”. He also reportedly said “Kids, you tried your best and failed miserably. The lesson is, never try”.

Small chance that last one might have been Homer Simpson, I’m not sure.

Unwelcome Guest

You start by dropping subtle hints. “Boy, I sure hope the septic system doesn’t explode today.” Or, “I wonder if giving those Mexican cartel guys my address was a bad idea?” If your guest doesn’t start packing, the next step is to assemble a potpourri of utensils and first aid supplies; tin snips, boning knife, a small chefs blow torch, a red-hot poker for cauterizing wounds, Bactine (no sting formula of course), and two small band-aids. No, I’m not talking about removal of those pesky in-laws. It’s the season for our outdoor friends – the relative of the arachnid family called Ixodidae. Otherwise known as the common tick.

While showering a couple of days ago (side note, I subscribe to the French method – bathe once a week, needed or not!) I noticed a new mole on the backside of my calf. Aside from ruining the photogenic qualities of my massive cycling gastrocnemius muscle, I wasn’t too worried about it. That is, until I examined it more closely and realized it was a freakish goblin sucking my life fluid from my body.

Eventually I contained my panic and the neighbors convinced me to go back inside. Everyone gets a little sensitive these days about naked guy in a tree covered with shampoo. I was fully prepared to lose the leg. They’re doing amazing work these days with prosthetic limbs, so I was pretty sure my long-term prospects were good. Fortunately just prior to slicing open my calf and slapping hot iron on the wound I remembered I’d purchased a tick key a while back.

 This cool little tool makes it super easy to remove the suckers. Just slide it over them and they pop right off. What’s not so easy is replacing all my clothes after the fire. I was going to wash what I’d worn hiking, but then I started thinking that I’d just have clean ticks in my basement. Logically it made sense to burn the contaminated clothes. Unfortunately those clothes had been thrown in the laundry basket… which of course was in the closet with all the other clothes.

Let’s just say that the fire and police departments didn’t appreciate the frenzy of lighter fluid and resulting bonfire in the backyard so soon after the naked tree incident. Lesson learned. On a positive note, it’s probably good my disco outfits went into the fire. Seeing how polyester and rayon burn was a little disconcerting.