Bluetooth, Autos, And Sunspots

You’ve all seen them. Walking downtown. In the restroom. On the ski chairlift. Talking to themselves, usually loudly. Well, not exactly talking to themselves but to someone else on the phone via their fancy bluetooth earpiece. It’s not until you spot the electronic protuberance stuck in their ear that you realize they’re not talking to you or anyone around them. Word up people – if you use one of these things in public it makes you a bit of a duche (or douche if you’re Canadian). Sorry, that’s just the way it is.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, is so important they can’t stop what they’re doing for a moment and hold a phone up to their ear like a normal person. Unless of course you’re a T-Rex. With those little arms you don’t have many choices. Or Captain B. McCrea from the movie WALL-E. He was a bit arm challenged as well. The rest of us however have no excuse. Unless you live in California which has banned holding a phone while you drive. You can still talk and you still have to look down at it to dial, but you can’t hold it. Important because driving at 70+ mph on the freeway, scrolling through your smartphone’s contact list looking for aunt Winifred’s phone number (who you haven’t spoken to in 3 years) is clearly not dangerous. Actually holding the phone while you explain why you never thanked her for the holiday fruitcake in ’98 is death-defying. I feel so much safer now.

Speaking of safety, there’s the issue of sunspots. Sunspot AR1476 erupted a few days ago. While it didn’t turn into an x-class flare, due to its orientation things could have been bad if it had. Why is this an issue? Next to the zombie apocalypse I think a large-scale, x-class eruption to be our greatest danger. What would such a flare-up do? Nothing much. Just interrupt and/or destroy our power grid and some electronics with massive amounts of electromagnetic energy and radiation. Its happened before. The Carrington Event in 1859. Again during WWII – knocked out all radars for several days.

Can you imagine the chaos if our power grid was down for weeks? Or months? Assuming their brains weren’t fried in the initial radiation waves, all those folks walking aimlessly around with bluetooth headsets with nobody answering…  “Hello? Hello? I’m getting some static here, can you hear me? Can you hear me now?”

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.