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This is a compilation of all the articles I wrote last week and never got around to uploading. So it's a little lengthy.



In the news recently is that Germany is holding off on ratifying the ACTA treaty, following various Eastern European countries saying "hold on", plus a French MEP resigning in protest.

The problem here isn't necessarily ACTA or the crux of what it is trying to achieve. The problem is that ripping of music/films is a rather different proposition to counterfeit medicines and the like. It would make sense if ACTA covered illegally produced DVDs, but it appears that it might also cover downloads. This is copyright infringement, a civil offence in most places, to criminalise that would be a bad move in my opinion. Consider that the first problem with ACTA. The second problem, and the one that most sane protesters are railing against, is simply the fact that this is discussed in secret with various country's political processes apparently willing to sign up to the treaty and its provisions with no democratic process involved.
I notice this with the measures regarding the various agreements taking place within the EU - there is discussion of if it is treaty change or not, to decide whether or not a referendum should be held.

Let me make it simple - anything that substantially affects the citizens of a country should go to referendum. Whether that be accepting austerity measures, ACTA, or whatever. It is about time those in power remembered who put them there and what their job is.


Yay Freetards?

On a related note, the French National Front party are planning an idea to kill the despised "HADOPI" (three strikes) and replace it with a form of licencing to legitimise downloads. If we consider a real party taking up the mantle (as opposed to the wannabe nazi mob), it would be something I would consider given my downloading of fansub animé (thanks to so much good stuff on CrunchyRoll being unavailable) - though I'm under no illusions as to my favourite Japanese producers ever seeing a centime of this "licence".
The problem, however, is that there are those who will fire up Newzbin and stoke up the torrents and max out their connection 24/7 because... well, because they can. There needs to be some method arranged where moderate downloading of copyrighted material is permitted, but not in a form that would be excessive. For my own use, the stuff I look for is, simply, not available. I would pay for a service that offered English subtitled animé, the current broadcasting in Japan, as either AVI or MKV (depending on hard or soft subbed). Download ability is important, I watch some of this stuff on my phone while on breaktime at work. That's pretty much what my download activity is, if you ignore J-Pop and such on YouTube. And for that I would hand over cold hard coin. But no, I live in the wrong place or <insert bullshit excuse>.

For what it is worth, I've dropped the Haruhi manga and instead am up to date with the light novels (hardback too, better cover design). They give much more depth to the story. I'm eagerly awaiting "Steins;Gate" to be released as a box set on DVD, and so long as the prices aren't scary, ditto "Chihayafuru" and possibly "Another" (depends how the story pans out).


New car!

I am now the proud owner of my second car.

And I still don't have a driving licence.

The Saxo is coming on ten years old and is starting to make 'noises'. One very prominent noise is the "fanbelt" (well, it pretty much only goes between the crankshaft and the alternator these days). I asked our mechanic to change it and he gave some crap about 100,000km. I don't imagine I'll be going back to him (if I say to change a €10 part, you bloody well do it, okay?). The second noise was a sort of rattly vibration on changing gear. My suspicion is the clutch bearing is getting on a bit. This again isn't an expensive thing, but when you are looking at clutches and (soon) catalytic convertors... it's all a lot of work getting to the things that need fixing.
In addition, the "engine fault" light came on a few weeks ago. We took it for diagnotics and with my wallet being fifty euros lighter, the guy said the report didn't exactly make sense, perhaps the anti-pollution sensor is duff, I'd change that first. Then he quoted a figure on the wrong side of half a grand. For those sorts of figures on my sort of pay, I'm not willing to go on a ghost chase. If I lay down that sort of cash, I want the problem to go away, not find out that the sensor was - actually - working correctly and saying the cat was on the way out (and there's another 6-7 hundred). Make no mistake, by the way, for the sensor is about thirty euros. All the parts and seals and stuff would run under a hundred euros. It doesn't appear to be a hard thing to fit. A little delicate, but not too difficult. The rest of the price is pure sharkery - for this is a car mechanic we're talking about. Not our regular guy, I should add, for he doesn't have diagnostic kit. But for all the use this person was, I wonder if he got his diagnostic gear off eBay?!?

Either way, the Saxo's days were numbered.

Enter... The New Car. Cost me €8800, but I had a reduction of €1500 on the Saxo (wow). With a manageable bank loan over four years, it's now our replacement vehicle. A mere two years old. By the time my loan is done, it'll still be younger than the Saxo, and given it started with 7500km on the clock, it'll probably be lower kilometrage too by that time.

Our new C1

It is a Citroën C1. A little thing with, like, no bonnet, not much in the way of a boot, but surprisingly spacious inside. While the petrol gauge absolutely sucks (it's a six-bar digital thing so it is going to take time to get used to that rather than a moving needle display), the performance isn't that bad...
...from a three cylinder engine.

Seriously, under the hood is this dinky little engine. Compared to the Saxo, this car seriously lacks power - it probably wouldn't hack overtaking while going uphill, and you'd probably be flooring the accelerator to get much beyond 110kph on the motorways. But, then, this car wasn't designed for sex appeal or to outrun the fuzz after a bank heist. It's a little, efficient, runaround car. The sort of thing moms go shopping in, take the kids to school, etc. We chose the C1 as it ranks high on the reliability stakes (in a magazine called "Que Choisir" which is like the French version of "Which?") plus it should be a fair bit more fuel efficient. 98 octane petrol is, currently, running in at €1,60 a litre. Americans, prepare for incontinence, that works out to be $6.06 per US gallon. A fair whack of my pay goes on petrol. The car's tank is a mere 35 litres (about 9 US gallon) so I guess they expect it to manage a reasonable distance between fills.

I will say more after some time getting to know the car. Both, it and the Saxo, have proven to be quite reliable in this god-awful cold weather. I would say much of this is due to managed engines and sensoring. No more fiddling with the choke and cranking the engine desperately hoping for a spark as was the norm on British winter mornings up and down the '80s.


Clisson signUpdate: We Like Down South - Clisson area. White-walled houses, red tile roofs, it's like something Italian. If we won some cash on the lottery, we'd be there in a heartbeat. But since this place is like a stone's throw south-east of Nantes, we'd need lottery cash to afford a place there. :-(

Anyway. It's a drive. A fairly long drive, but one we can manage. The C1's petrol tank is 35 litres. The top two bars of the fuel gauge seem to get 140-150km, then 130ish for the next two. The last one is a reserve amount so that claims 50km from when the thing starts blinking at you. I would say it might be within the realms of possibility to have this car manage >650km from a tank of fuel. That's about 400 miles. Which when converted is around 45 miles per US gallon. This is, of course, only a rough estimate (depends on how far the penultimate bar lasts for, and if the final bar flashes a warning immediately or not - I don't plan to run it near dry to find out). I would imagine the car is capable of 45-50mpg of real-world driving. These are, I should point out, calculated to US gallons. In British gallons, the figure would be approximately 52-56mpg.

While it's a little engine that can run rings around town with little more than a brief sniff of some spilt petrol, it's a capable enough car. Kinda basic in odd ways (the pop-open rear windows, cabin light only lights on driver's door) yet advanced in other ways (automatic front windows, passenger airbag can be easily disabled so a child-seat can be fitted). All in all, it's a cheery and generally fun little car. We've been down south twice already (see also my video of the Frozen Loire), plus the work run, and I've filled it, like, one and a half times. Given the price of petrol and the efficiency, I rather suspect that the savings of fuel will help counter the cost of the loan. Yay.


New digital satellite receiver

[this, final, article contains many screenshots. if you're reading this in mobile format, the image reduction will... suck... you'll be best looking at this on a desktop machine or on a good resolution tablet]

With many thanks to Mick for sorting this out for me, I'm now the owner of a replacement free-to-air receiver from Lidl. I really liked my old Comag/Silvercrest SL-65. However it started to develop problems with intermittant restarts, and more recently these restarts were affecting channels I'd want to watch (namely, the box would just sit in a loop restarting over and over). I suspect the capacitors in the power supply module are on the way out, making the 3.3V line unstable, and some event or other sucks too much power so the power drops out and the system thus restarts.

The new receiver, again badged Silvercrest but this time made by "Targa". It is another small digital receiver, LNB input (no loop-through), all the usual analogue outputs (CVBS, Y/C, RGB) plus an HDMI socket for providing 576/720/1080 (obviously upscaled, it is not an HD receiver).

The picture and sound seem okay, but I've not played with it much.

The user interface, however, is remarkably clunky. I will miss my SL65 all the more!

The first issue was, once I figured out how to set up DiSEqC (I use a switch to select between British TV at 28.2°E and European TV at 19.2°E), I could switch to NHK World at 19.2°E, but switching back frequently reported "No signal" on numerous channels, yet others worked fine. Then the ones that didn't work suddenly did.

New satellite receiver - setting DiSEqC associations
The thing is, while the receiver is quite powerful when it comes to positional motors (you can specify a number of commands for setting up and calibrating your motor), it is more basic when it comes to switches. In the picture above, you can see that I have set the British bird to be switch position 1 (A) and the European to be position 2 (B).
The actual fault was that, out of the box, Astra 2 and Eurobird were listed as separate satellites, and only one of them could be specified in the DiSEqC settings. So I removed the Eurobird definition, and ran a channel scan to push all of the available channels onto the Astra28.2E definition. Now it works correctly.
[technical mumble: while Astra 2 and Eurobird are different satellites run by different companies and actually different places in the sky (28.2°E for Astra 2, 28.8°E for Eurobird), to the dish they'll look like exactly the same thing from exactly the same place. The British channels are spread across the two services. Thus, they should be considered the same for the purposes of configuring a satellite receiver!]

Setting up channels is pretty painful. The actual act of finding them is effortless, just enter "Professional scan" and look for All transponders. This will take maybe five minutes to whip through and collect many channels.

New satellite receiver - automatic channel scan

Once this has been done, there's a quirky sort of arrangement where you can move/copy found channels into the channel list, although my test seemed to have done this anyway? Sometimes, but not others. I'm not sure why. Note that for some reason you'll need to scan a single transponder looking for scrambled channels if you wish to pick up 5* and 5USA. The transponder is 10964H 22000 and the free to air channels seem to come up as "scrambled". They aren't. But merging them into the channel list is, again, a pain.

New satellite receiver - merging in new channels
The "Activate" entry will select and tune to the highlighted channel as the background video, so you can preview a channel before adding it. I guess "Preview channel" would have been a better option than "Activate"...?

I wish there was a way to wipe the channel list and restart. Sky seems to have an annoying habit of pushing things around so I wonder how many listed channels (built in as default) are now out of date?
Thankfully you can tweak channels individually (extremely detailed!) to counter the random shuffles.

New satellite receiver - channel info

There are several possible favourites lists. I have defined one (calling it "My channels") and placed in here the channels I want to be able to access frequently. On the SL65 I simply went through the channels marking the ones I wanted as "Fav". This built a favourites list. I could then rearrange the list for the order I wanted (ie BBC1, BBC2, ITV1, C4, etc). These would be accessed, while the favourites list is active, as channel 1, channel 2, and so on.
The Targa receiver asks you first to build your list in order, which because the channels are in no specific order from the scan and you can't rejig the list later (well, you can do something with the list, but it's about as pleasant as major dental work), means a lot of faffing around.

New satellite receiver - building a favourite channels list
You will notice, also, that the channels in the list retain their channel number. NHK World is the fifteenth channel in the favourite list. It is not accessible by entering 15. It is accessible as channel 640.

It is important to consider a favourite channels list, for you cannot switch satellites - channels are just one long list counting from one and after a while (or by direct number entry) you'll leave the channels off one set of satellites and discover the channels on another, invoking the switch/positioner accordingly. Yes, it really is that poorly thought out.

The on-screen UI is fairly basic, none of the style of the SL-65. Here's the service menu. From here you can set up stuff, play tetris (!), or update your receiver.

New satellite receiver - the main menu, a touch of gloss would have gone a long way

The channel banner that appears briefly is extremely basic but says what needs to be said. A nice touch is that little white/orange line to show you how much you've missed. The blue OPT key is for selecting alternative audio (a lot of stuff on the mainstream channels carries a narrative track for partially-sighted people).

New satellite receiver - useful but depressingly plain pop-up banner

The pop-up information is... again, functional and adequately detailed but... fugly.

New satellite receiver - even Zooey Deschanel's cuteness can't make up for how damned UGLY this info display is

The EPG provides now & next.

New satellite receiver - now and next, functional but not nice to look at
Ignore the Red prompt. There is no full EPG support regardless of what the user guide says. This is because the receiver works with the European EPG system. The two in use in the UK (Sky's proprietary OpenTV and the more standardised Freesat version) are not supported. Here's EPG information for "TV5 Monde":
New satellite receiver - EPG info on a (compatible) European channel
Radio support is as you'd expect. Functional but boring. Apparently if additional information (pictures, notes, etc) are broadcast, these can be displayed. Again this seems to be something that isn't supported by British broadcasters. Instead we see...
New satellite receiver - the radio works, that's all I'm saying...
Didn't the SL65 have a cool radio graphic?

The signal meter seems to be something of an afterthought, with no bleeper. So for 'blind' tuning in, I'll need to reconnect the SL65.

New satellite receiver - signal strength, ought to have had a beeper

Two nice features. The first is the on-screen help text. It's a little terse but it helps prevent you referring to the user guide every time you want to do something new. The second nice feature is the low power standby. In this mode, the selected favourites menu is forgotten and there is no clock on the front panel, however the pay off of this is that the receiver (consuming ~30W in use) drops to using <1W. I may not use this mode much, as an unfortunate side effect is that when it is in energy-saving mode, it will power itself off after three hours of inactivity, meaning I can't leave it on to record stuff without setting a timer. Meh. That said, it is something to look at more closely. That and reducing the electricity consumption of appliances. For instance, my VCR (the tape one) is hooked up and on standby. I've not used it in over a year, does it even need to be plugged in any more?!?

The verdict, so far, is an example of perfectly acceptable hardware let down by lacklustre firmware. This seems to happen so often it ought to be like some sort of theme song for this b.log. I guess the difference may be that Targa make satellite receivers to sell, while Comag make receivers to use. Perhaps there ought to be a rule that the directorship of a company and/or their family, are obligated to use their company's products? Maybe then we'll see an awful lot more attention paid to eradicating those silly little quirks that make or break a product. There is hope in that an update process is available and appears to function, but honestly, for all the update functions in the world, the majority are only used when something has gone very badly wrong... There is no serial port, so it isn't something that can be easily updated with third-party firmware. That said, the firmware hacks for the SL65 were mostly interested in working around weak encryption systems rather than implementing better core functionality. This probably stands to reason, however, as I suspect that in my life, the SL65 will probably be the best receiver I'll ever have owned.

Still, when all is said and done, at the end of the day, when the fat lady sings, blah-blah, I have "NHK World" back. That's the important part. ☺


One final thing, a more personal interest...

Here's how the SL65 did teletext:

New satellite receiver - old school teletext, this is how the weather report is supposed to look ;-)

And here's how the new receiver does it:

New satellite receiver - the Targa's teletext implementation
I don't know if the new receiver outputs on VBI, my TV capture card doesn't show that stuff.
Newsflash (text-in-picture) works overlaid as you'd expect. I think the list of numbers (second row) is inserted by the receiver to show available subpages. With something like an 8000 page memory, it snarfs what it can in moments, leaving you to wade around in page after page of low-res no-crap information. Pretty much everything these new "interactive" services suck at. Sure, BBCi looks a lot better, but it's slower and clunkier and carries less content. This, my friends, is progress...


Your comments:

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joe, 26th February 2012, 10:22
Hi Rick, 
you have missed the perfect opportunity of getting rid of your TV and satellite channels, and become a free man, you have enslaved yourself again.
Rick, 27th February 2012, 04:03
Mmmm, thanks to my PVR, I watch very little as it is broadcast [working night shift tends to preclude doing such a thing], so I am not enslaved. Well, not by television at least...
opal, 10th March 2012, 23:25
Congratulations about the new car. My first car was french too :) (Renault Kangoo, 2005, 1.5 TDI, 50hp, manual). 
When are you getting your driver license ? Do you have an option to pass an exam for it in English, or French only ? How does the exam look ? 
In Ukraine it takes to answer 20 questions and drive a bit with a traffic control inspector. Off these 20 questions you are permitted to make up to two mistakes.  
Are there limitations for fresh drivers, like in Ukraine (70 km/h max. for first two years and you can't teach driving for first three years) ? 
Rick, 10th February 2013, 21:16
I am not looking to pass a driving test at this time. I'm paying for the car, don't have enough cash to pay for driving lessons too. 
As far as I remember, there is a 24 question visual examination (you see a photo, answer A, B, C, or D) plus a physical driving test where an examiner has you drive around and do various things (navigate roundabouts, turn crossing traffic, etc). 
I wonder how strict the tests really are given that speeding and overtaking the car in front (regardless of road conditions/oncoming traffic) seems to be a national affliction. 
I would assume there are restrictions (no motorways, can't leave the country) for new drivers. I'll know more when the time comes. 
However... There is an alternative. It is a microcar known generically as a "sans permis". The name means "without permit". They are noisy single-cylinder cars that can do about 50kph flat out (downhill, with a tail wind), but they can be driven without any sort of driving licence. 
I enquired about renting one. It would cost around 250 euros a week. I said "I don't know how to drive, you are going to be willing to loan me that?". The girl replied the price covers the insurance. So I said "I pay and you hand me the keys and I can drive off?". She replied, "Almost, once the paperwork is in order, THEN you can drive off". With zero experience? Yes. 
I am tempted, some time in the future, to consider this so that I have a little bit of practical on-road experience prior to entering for driving lessons - because what kind of 39 year old male has never taken a car on a road? Jeez, that's SO lame! ;-)

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