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It's no news that the British Parliament is to be shut down (prorogued) for an extended number of days. While only the Queen is able to issue the right to prorogue Parliament, her doing so does not mean she supports Brexit, as some have suggested. In actual fact, Her Majesty takes advice from the Prime Minister. And since he is the one wanting everything shut down... you can see where this is going.

It is expected that following the shutdown, he will declare a General Election. This, too, shuts down Parliament for the election process. It's a risky gamble (he might lose) but it ought to more or less mean that Parliament doesn't get to debate anything related to Brexit, and the date of leaving will come... and go... And the UK will then be "out means out".

The problem here is that Britain is run as a Parliamentary Democracy. This means that the functioning of the government is not dictated by the citizens, by mob rule, by referenda, or the media (although all can have an influence on important topics). Instead, it is down to the elected representatives of the citizens (note very clearly - Nigel Farage is not one, yet he currently weilds more power than most MPs) to sit and debate, to scrutinise, to examine. Proposals will be passed to the Lords for a more learned scrutiny, and then back to the Commons. It's a little bit convoluted, but that is basically how it works.
By shutting down Parliament for a single day at a time like this is removing time that the MPs have to discuss Brexit and the exact manner of leaving.

But, wait, it's taken three years and nobody has any sense of agreement on what is actually wanted!? Yeah, that's true. Part of the reason lies with the fact that Brexit is an In or Out scenario. There is no middle ground. EFTA was rejected because that's basically In without actually being In. That leaves... Remaining, or Leaving. Polar opposites.
Another part of the reason is that in the years since the referendum, Brexit has ceased to be a question of whether or not EU membership is a good or bad thing, and has instead evolved into a quasi religion. And like any other religion on the planet, emotions run high and logic flies out of the window.
It doesn't matter that these many promised trade deals don't exist, and any dealings with America will put the NHS up for sale. Having the social health service raped by mega-corporations is nothing compared to the extreme evil of straight cucumbers. But, then, there's no heaven and evil is not from satan but from within ourselves.

Where does this leave Britain? Well, given that the Home Office is actively refusing citizenship rights to people who've spent most of their lives in the UK and the government wants to raise the age of retirement to 75; I think it's time for a wider look at the state of the country and ask "what does Britain stand for?" and "can it even survive the sort of economic shock that a crash-out Brexit will bring?".
I think it would be for the best if I simply leave you to think about the unthinkable, because the unthinkable is now the norm.


As for me, personally? How many years down the line and still no clear idea what the hell the future holds. I don't mean in an "I'll marry a cute Canadian and we'll have two daughters" because I could be killed in a car crash tomorrow. But given that I came here seventeen years ago as a European citizen, and used my European rights to live and work in a European country..... rights which look to be terminated soon by others. All France has really said on the matter is that it expects continuation of rights to be reciprocal. But given that the current Home Secretary leans to the far right (and has argued that it is wrong for citizens to hold the government to account via the courts - WTF?), I don't expect good things in the future.
All I can say is that at least I'm on this side of the Channel, as I am a European. It is a fundamental part of my identity. I am British, and I am European.
If Brexit is going to force me to discard a part of that identity, well, please look to my recent domain name change to understand how that's going to go.


Livebox Play

I was recently given a Livebox Play, the third major revision of the Livebox range from Orange.

The press wasn't overly impressed, given that the Livebox 2 seemed little more than a Livebox Mini in a different box. They seemed to feel that the Livebox Play was basically a rehashing of the Livebox 2, only this time in a black box instead of a white one, but it seems that there are a reasonable number of changes inside even if the HTML-based user interface looks identical.

First, let's look at the box. Here's the front:

Of note here is that we finally have a USB 2 socket on the front, for quick and easy connection of removable media. Beside the USB socket is a button for turning WiFi on and off.
To the right of the button is a big blank space. That blank space is actually an orange coloured matrix display (something like 128×32) that gives status messages and information. In normal use the display will be off, and the 'i' button to the right of the display will glow green if everything is okay, and red if not. Pressing the button will call up information and messages. No more trying to decode a row of glowing LEDs with strange symbols beside them.

Now, the back:

On the left is a button for associating WPS WiFi devices and compatible DECT telephones. Then four Gigabit Ethernet sockets. A new addition is a red WAN network socket. This is for connection to fibre. A separate device connects to fibre, and provides an ethernet connection to the Livebox.
Beside that is a Reset button. Unlike most other devices on the planet, this does not reset the box. It resets the internal configuration (if you want to reset the box, just turn it off and on again).
A barrel connector is the fairly standard 12V power supply. This is followed by a grey RJ11 socket (it's a little narrower than the RJ45 Ethernet sockets) for connection to the incoming phone line for DSL.
Next, a green RJ11 socket for connection to a splitter that provides a normal phone socket. In France, phone sockets are massive. This provides VoIP and works with any traditional DTMF telephone. It can run an old mechanical dial phone, but the Livebox does not understand loop-disconnect dialling. You'll need to fit an adaptor to translate pulses into tones - something like the Rotatone.
Finally, another USB 2 socket (for harddiscs and printers and stuff likely to be left connected) and a flick-switch for turning the box on and off.

The Livebox 2 offered an Ikanos ADSL chip with an ADI Fusiv 160 processor at about 200MHz, 128MiB RAM, 32MiB Flash, standard 2.4GHz WiFi b/g/n, 2 USB 2 sockets, and four 100Mb ethernet sockets.

The Livebox 3 (known as Livebox Play) released in 2013 upped the specification. The processor is now an Ikanos Vx185 clocking 500MHz. 128MiB RAM (DDR2-400) and 128MiB NAND Flash make this a worthy enough upgrade from the older Livebox 2.
Yes, other ISPs were providing better boxes - especially Free - but Orange has always been fairly conservative in that respect. They aren't trend setters.

But, wait, there's more. Let's whip the lid off. There are four screws hidden underneath rubber feet. The screws are star-shaped, but any worthy geek won't be fazed by weird screws. Perhaps stranger is that there is no fifth screw hidden under a fragile label, or an obvious "void if broken" sticker.

With the top off, we can look at a fairly empty looking motherboard:

I had the silver can lids off earlier (but not the heatsinks - don't touch those if you plan to use the box!) but not for this photo. Why a new photo? The older one was done on a cloudy day and it looked rubbish.

Anyway, let's start at the front left:

Hidden in here is a DSP Group DECT chip for communicating with CAT-iq 2.0 DECT phones. That means ones that support HD voice. I don't know if traditional DECT handsets can be used. A potential issue may be that the DECT interface supplied with the phone may also be the phone's charger...

Across to the front right, we see some interesting things:

There are three WiFi antennas. The first is printed on the circuit board (not quite visible in this photo). The second and third are strange little metal stalks. But if you look, you'll also see tiny MMCX sockets for connecting classical style antenna.
But there's something even stranger. Do you see the two silver boxes? Well, the one on the left is an Atheros AR9382 that is a dual-band WiFi controller that can work with 801.11b/g for 2.4GHz and 802.11a for 5GHz, and 802.11n in both bands. It is likely that this controller is being used purely for traditional 2.4GHz because...
The box on the right is an Atheros AR9380 which is a faster WiFi chip, and one would imagine this is being used for the 5GHz band. It's strange having two WiFi chips, but might indicate a general shift to more WiFi-based devices such as phones and tablets.
For what it is worth, given the thick walls and a desire to air-gap things to try to minimise the potential damage of lightning strikes, nothing here is wired other than a cheap DECT phone (out of necessity).

Rear-right now:

Another Atheros chip hiding under the big heatsink. This being an AR8327 seven port Gigabit ethernet controller. There are five ports available for Ethernet sockets, and two (RG)MII interfaces for connecting to the host processor. This version does not support hardware NAT, but it does support Jumbo frames. Behind that, three Delta filters. A small one for the WAN interface, and larger ones for the Ethernet sockets. The big ones ought to contain around 12 tiny magnetic isolators each.

Across to the rear-left:

There is filtering and a fuse on the line input, and a section of unfitted circuitry around the telephone (VoIP) socket. I wonder what that is planned for?
Also of note is that the barrel connector for the power (behind the grey phone socket) is connected to the rest of the board by two zero ohm links. I would imagine the pads are to permit diodes to be fitted to protect the board in case an incompatible power supply (with reverse polarity) is plugged in by accident. It's no big deal feeding 5V or somesuch to a device expecting 12V. It is a bigger deal getting the polarity wrong.
More interestingly, the little chip by the big white blob is an Ikanos FXS7OIF1 which is an ADSL interface capable of ADSL (up to ADSL2+) and also VDSL2. VDSL is a new technology that claims to achieve up to 100Mbit downstream and upstream using standard twisted-pair copper cabling. It is really only useful in cities as the maximum rate of 100Mbit is only available up to around 500 metres from the cabinet, up to a kilometre it is around 50Mbit, and at around 1.6km its performance is akin to ADSL2+, but unlike the original VDSL it can achieve 1-4Mbit at 4-5km distances.

Finally, in the middle:

A better view of the ADSL/VDSL chip. To the bottom, 29F1G08, a Micron 1Gbit SLC Flash. That's 128MiB. To the right, two Hynix H5PS5162GFR 512Mbit DDR2 memory chips. That, also, is 128MiB.
And, finally, the MIPS core SoC which contains a DDR2 memory controller, two PCIe ports (used for the WiFi), and a two port USB controller.
They missed a trick here. The SoC has onboard SATA.


In use, setting it up as simplicity itself because I cheated. I saved my configuration from the Livebox 2 and tried loading it on the Livebox Play. It actually worked, and set up the Livebox Play as an almost-exact clone of the current Livebox. Almost - it didn't change the login password (by default part of the MAC address) and it didn't seem to copy over device names, though it did keep MAC addresses and assigned IP addresses.

In use, nothing happens for about twenty seconds. Then the display shows the Orange logo for about half a minute. It then pops up a message saying that it will be connected to the Orange network in two minutes. An earlier firmware used to provide more details of the boot stages, along with a sliding bar animation for how much had been done, but a firmware update got rid of that. I guess it's only geeks like myself that care what a box is doing while it boots.

The Livebox Play is quicker at doing the actual booting (well, it's not hard to beat the Livebox 2, you could probably defrost a freezer faster than it takes that thing to boot) but it appears to take longer to perform the actual DSL synchronisation. Again, the original firmware used to say when it had ADSL sync, when it was logging in, and so on. But no longer. You only get a message if it goes wrong.

I would imagine that things "run faster". But I didn't test features like media sharing. I did notice that it consistently maintained a faster ADSL link.
The Livebox 2 tends to provide between 3.6 and 4.1 megabits, it depends upon the weather. On the day of testing, it was achieving 3.7 to 3.8 megabit.
Switching to the Livebox Play got a solid 4.4 megabit every time. That's over a half megabit faster. And the Livebox Play will tell you this on the screen, no faffing around in the configuration pages or the app.

Some reviews have observed that the Play has a tendency to lose sync on lines where the older Livebox is solidly reliable. I would imagine this has been fixed in the six years since it was released, but maybe it's due to pushing the link a little harder than earlier hardware? When I first got my original Livebox I was told that the most I could expect was 1 megabit because of the age and length of the line. This was bumped up to 2 megabit, and sometimes went a little faster but the Livebox tended to lose sync a lot in going faster, so would be harshly stepped back by the DSLAM (sometimes resulting in it running slower than half a megabit). At the time Orange had a diagnostic tool that would somehow communicate with the DSLAM to tweak settings to provide the best speed. I've seen it go from about a hundred kilobits to just under two megabits by running the tool twice. Orange did away with that, and at the same time removed their 512kbit minimum guarantee.
Now, as I sit here, at the end of around 4700 metres of twisted pair and numerous patches and joints and fixes, I find it quite mind-blowing that an overhead rural phone line that may well predate my existence actually manages to sync at 4.4 megabits. That works out to be about half a megabyte per second. So, that'll be Amazon Prime Video streaming in fullHD then... ☺

But we're not done yet. There's another big change lurking inside this box.


At last.
Not that RISC OS can do it, nor do I trust XP to do it correctly. And a fair few of the internal devices (IPcam, and it looks like the Vonets) are IPv4 only. I personally prefer IPv4, addresses are easier to remember and devices can be hidden behind NAT so there's no direct connection between a device and the outside world.

But having IPv6 available is a start, and I noticed that my HP printer was using it.


I have reverted to the Livebox 2 for one simple reason. The Vonets (that provides the Pi's connectivity) appears to associate itself not by SSID like everything else, but by MAC address. As such, it doesn't recognise the Livebox Play. It's a simple enough thing to fix, but I can't be bothered doing it right now.



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