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A new year begins

It's a new year, and as such I have been paid interests on my savings. It's not a lot, but it is better than nothing... especially given as, typically, the interest rates offered on savings by the French banks (typically half a percent!) are barely better than the "stuff it in a mattress" approach to savings.

The SMIC (statutory minimum wage) has also gone up. It'll be interesting to see if my wage has gone up in step, or if I'm back to "basically SMIC".

And, alas, following some rather pleasant weather with the occasional storm, it looks like winter has finally arrived. And with a vengeance. This might be the last time for a while that I can sit in the living room and write this on the older Pi2. It's about 8°C in here, so heated blanket is a must, and coming soon are days where it'll be -4°C at night. Since this room is not insulated, I expect the temperature to drop to something that isn't comfortable, even for somebody who is less bothered by the cold than the average person.
Accordingly, I bought myself two largish pillows on a buy one-get-one-free offer in order to make my bed more suitable for sitting in to attempt to catch up on some of the Netflix stuff I had planned to watch over Christmas.

 

Prime Video advertising

I am not aware of it rolling out in France, though Amazon have done it in America, Britain, and Germany. Maybe a few other places. Anyway, not content with buggering up their Prime Music service, Amazon are now looking at including advertising in their streaming video service. And unlike Netflix where the advert-tier is cheaper, Amazon has it that you'll pay extra for an ad-free experience.

I suspect the streaming services are forgetting (due to the usual dollop of greed) that people started to engage with streaming because of three things:

  • Exclusitivity (titles made by the platform for the platform)
  • Freedom of choice, no longer bound to the schedule of broadcast TV
  • No bloody adverts

I don't watch broadcast TV any more. I used to watch at least Eurovision, Doctor Who, and some random stuff over Christmas. Well, Eurovision comes commentary-free on YouTube (Norton's commentary isn't that bad, but the semi-finals are ruined by the lousy attempts at "humour"), I never got around to checking the dish for the new season of Doctor Who (the second season with what's-her-name) and, well, meh. And for Christmas I... didn't actually watch a lot. Did other stuff.

Way back when Sky was analogue and films all had the tell-tale lines of Videocrypt, I was given various offers to "go digital". But something happened that made me decide to give it up. I was watching David Letterman on Sky1 (I think he followed something I was actually watching, and this chat show was what was on afterwards). After a lot of adverts, Letterman started. He did his opening monologue as is typical for American chat shows, and then we went to the opening titles. Which faded out. For another round of adverts.
It was at that moment that I asked myself why I'm paying "quite a bit" (something like £25/month in the mid '90s) for a service that carried more advertising than the regular broadcast channels. Sure, I saw some interesting stuff on Sky, but ironically not via Sky itself but third parties. Like Daria on MTV or various off-the-wall movies (from Genocyber to The Toxic Avenger) on... I think it was called Bravo? Plus, back in those days, I tended to listen to CMTE a lot. That was a music channel specialising in country, but attempting to play something more than the stereotypical "oh, look, a slide guitar".

Speaking of music, pretty much the only music channel that I actually miss is "ClassicFM TV", a free-to-air music channel on the Astra 2 platform (basically "SkyDigital and all the other UK channels") which played what could best be described as "classical transition". Think Hayley Westenra or Adiemus.

I have no interest in subscribing to Netflix's ad-laden tier. In fact, my general approach to advertising is that if it becomes annoying then I will actively avoid the product that is being advertised even if it would otherwise be of interest to me.
Case in point? The Tefal "Cake Factory" machine. It's a little expensive, but cake is always good. Homemade cake, even better. But having to wait a long time for a high resolution advert to download, then attempt to play, then pause while buffering... being something like a minute long and not skippable... getting this once would be "okay, that was annoying but potentially interesting product", but getting it as many times as I did turned it, I'm afraid, into a case of "Dear Tefal, screw you".

As such, I was wondering what I thought about Amazon's idea of putting adverts into their video service, until it dawned on me that there hasn't really been that much of interest on Amazon. I liked Papergirls (cancelled after one season), I liked The Expanse (picked up after three seasons elsewhere, cancelled after another two), and there were some other things that were "okay" if not outstanding. Given that Prime tends to have a number of non-French movies that are only supplied with a French dub (including a number of silly English language things like "Sharknado"), I don't watch movies on Prime Video as much as Netflix. If it's for my enjoyment, in English, thanks.
So when I was thinking about whether or not it would bug me to have adverts on Prime Video, I think the truth is that it's another half-arsed freebie that comes with a Prime subscription, and that's pretty much only for the 'free' postage.

However... it's a video service that I don't use much, and it's a music service that they have broken for me (the previous more restricted music service offered far fewer albums but the ability to download for offline listening, so I would download one or two and listen while mowing; this "must be streaming" and "we'll play what we think you might like" is a total deal breaker). As such, you might have thought that the €69,90/year for Prime would come under review.
Postage from Amazon (non-Prime) is currently as follows:

  • Media only (DVDs, CDs, etc) : €2,99 per order
  • Non-books : €3,99 per order
  • Any books (including for Prime) : €3,00 per order
  • Orders over €35 - free postage
  • Postage for marketplace sellers varies, there's no freebie unless fulfilled by Amazon

This means I would need to order at least 18 things in a year in order to get any value from the so-called "free" postage.

Well, in 2023 I made fifty orders, but two were marketplace so don't count. So 48 orders. A few were over €35 and I can't be arsed to look through all the orders, so let's just assume eight. Which means 40 orders for "random crap". Which would be about €160 in postage if non-Prime.

So, for now, I'll stick with Prime and not worry too much about the freebies that I rarely use.

 

MOTs for toy cars

To be honest, I found it more surprising that the little without-licence cars, like the one I drive, never needed a roadworthiness test. There's no way that Felicity would have passed. To say her brakes were "soft" would have been a massive understatement, and to say her suspension was "soft" (to the point of fearing rolling on turns at speed) would also have been an understatement. The spare tyre was not only flat, but cracked as it was so old. There's no way it would have functioned if it was needed.

As of April, these little cars will need to have an MOT. Or "Contrôle Technique". It counts, first, for all of the older cars. Newer ones next year, the newest the year after that. Afterwards, a CT every three years unless selling it to an individual in which case the CT has to be less than six months ago.

Thankfully it looks as if a failure of the ABS unit is considered a "minor" issue so long as the brakes work. The top line translates as "Defective power-assisted braking device".

Brake system tests
Brake system tests.

I'm not aware of any other major issues. The engine mountings are worn, as are the front brakes, but both are planned to be replaced in the next service (in about 3000km (expected to be around the end of April or early May?)).
My car is "débridé" which means the speed limiter has been disabled (Not! By! Me!). I'll need to get that redone as that is something that is specifically checked. It won't matter much to me, the fastest I've ever done has been about 53kph downhill, my usual speed is about 47kph. I've never floored the pedal on a flat road to see how fast the car can actually go. It's a thin aluminium frame with plastic bodywork and no airbags. Crashing at speed would likely be... ill advised unless continued corporal existence is undesirable.

What does worry me, however, is the emissions test. It's an old (Euro2) diesel engine, and the limits applied are the same as for traditional road cars despite this engine not exactly being intended for road cars.

Emission test limits
Emission test limits.

I recall seeing the mechanic, upon testing the repair to the drive pulley, was tearing up the road, he said the GPS speedometer said nearly sixty (!), and when I commented on the cloud of black smoke coming out of the exhaust pipe, he said it was normal.
For some reason I don't understand, this is a smokey engine, a cloud of it puffs out when I start the car. I don't recall Felicity being like that, despite having the same Kubota Z402 engine.
Even more galling is that Felicity wouldn't be tested, as vehicles on the road prior to June 1999 are exempt from this test (though, to be fair, she'd fail on many other points).

Still, that exhaust opacity test worries me.

As long as the exhaust test isn't too onerous (in other words, a failure), I don't see any particular problem with having a three-yearly road worthiness test. There are many such cars that have had their speed limiters disabled, I've been overtaken by some (and the engines were not happy), and I suspect that Caoimhe had a "boy racer" that drove her hard, potentially damaging the engine in the process and I have a repaired engine ... well, something must explain why a €15K car was being sold with 42K on the clock and a price tag of €6,800 - remember Felicity cost €3,000 and after I traded her in she was fixed up and sold on for €2,500.

Indeed, speed limiters aside, I've seen some awful vehicles on the road with pieces held on by gaffer tape or baling twine. As no tests were ever made, people also did their own repairs with varying levels of competence. All to mean there are probably quite a number of these vehicles around that are downright dangerous. Well, more than their normal "you crash you die" bodywork.

 

EU Cyber Resilience Act

This is a new piece of legislation being proposed by the European Commission. The idea is to make software more secure by requiring it to be delivered with no known vulnerabilities, those that are found to be disclosed and fixed, and the threat of large fines for non-compliance.

The legislation does provide an 'out' for open source development, based upon it being completely free in every sense of the word. If you have a Patreon, well, that's making money so the CRA may well apply.

Additionally, the law seems to take the approach that one can "add security" to any given piece of software. I'd invite them to look at RISC OS for a good demonstration of the folly of that. But more ominously, there is absolutely no distinction being made between corporate software that sells millions of copies (say Microsoft/Windows) and a lone programmer who simply wouldn't have the resources to assure legal compliance, never mind being able to expediently fix bugs.

This will have several effects.

  • Firstly, the EU is liable to become a technological backwater. I could well understand if this was aimed at firmware inside devices, as god knows there's enough crap out there with old firmware that simply doesn't ever get updated. From internet-connected cameras to mobile phones, something like this could help make products better. But trying to apply this to everything is a massive overreach.
  • Therefore, secondly, expect to see more and more things being offered with the caveat "Not for use in the EU".
  • And, thirdly, expect to see price rises of things that are still available. The software won't magically be better, but the price will go up.
  • Expect, also, to see companies bail on the EU market. Companies exist to make money. If the risk of penalties is more than the potential profit, they'll walk.
  • Additionally, expect to see more lone programmers and smaller software companies simply giving up. If the risks are too high, well, there are plenty of jobs that a nerdy person can do that won't carry such penalties, and... let me ask you, where will the future coders come from? Most of the major tech companies are in the US, most of the major tech hardware is made in the Far East, and exactly sod all on either count is within the EU. Surely putting up more barriers is just the EU gratuitously shooting itself in the foot? (repeat previous comment about tech backwater)
  • More worryingly, while some bugs are easy to fix, others require a lot more work to track down the causes and provide a proper correction to the code. But with the mandated 24 hour delay for disclosure, there simply won't be time to do any sort of proper fix. Instead the immediate problem will be patched to make it go away; and furthermore due to the risks of introducing vulnerabilities, there may well be no appetite to subsequently do anything after that a quick patch.
  • Oh, and EU versions of software products might attempt to sidestep potential problems by simply disabling functionality (because they'll have legal that can interpret the rules and identify what would and wouldn't count).
  • Meanwhile, all the lousy shit will still be plastered all over Amazon, eBay, Temu, Alibaba, and maybe even flogged in various retail shops. Meaning... meaning what? Good luck going after an anonymous Chinese box shifter.

What the proposal actually says regarding its scope:

"The proposed Regulation will apply to all products with digital elements whose intended and reasonably foreseeable use includes a direct or indirect logical or physical data connection to a device or notwork."
[...]
"This includes both products that can be connected physically via hardware interfaces and products that are connected logically, such as via network sockets, pipes, files, application programming interfaces or any other types of software interface."
[...]
"'product with digital elements' means any software or hardware product and its remote data processing solutions, including software or hardware components to be placed on the market separately".

As you can see, it appears to be concerned with products (software or devices) that communicate with other ones, that may or may not be remote.
Non-compliance with "essential cybersecurity requirements" will incur a fine of up to €15,000,000 or 2.5% of global annual turnover of the previous year, whichever is greater.
Other non-compliance will incur a fine of €10M or 2%.
Supplying incorrect information is €5M/1%.
It's not optional, software in the EU? Pretty good chance the CRA will apply.

As such, as and when this is made law (and I hope it'll be tossed out by the Council but it doesn't look like it), I will have no option but to go through my website and delete all of my software.
Very little uses a network connection, but the descriptions as given are far too vague - what if it's reading a file from a shared filesystem? That's an indirect remote connection isn't it? Must I meet the requirements of the CRA because the user might be using a share?

Sorry, but I do this for free. I do this for fun. I don't get paid for my software. Since most of it is not open source, I can't use that figleaf (nor do I plan to go through and audit/check to make everything open source).
I can't afford legal advice to know what may or may not be actually concerned (if anything), and I sure as hell can't afford any fines (given that France is a notoriously beaurocratic country that is very much in love with vast amounts of paperwork, so I can't even rely on the "this bloke writes some crap for fun that's used by maybe ten people" excuse).

This proposed legislation is well meaning, but terrible. It's quite liable to cause more harm than good, and, to be polite, I think my impression on how to deal with the situation is best explained as:

  • Coitus that excrement.

Seriously, the only viable option given this proposal is to log in to the server, look for archive files, and just delete them.
Sorry, but you'll then need to use Wayback or put up with the 404s and accept that there will be no further updates or support or releases. That, right there, is your cyberresilience. Give the Commission a slow hand clap.

[ hint: grab a copy now of anything you're interested in ]

 

So, yeah, I can see 2024 is starting well...

 

 

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Rick, 6th January 2024, 16:20
By "notwork" I meant "network", but any of you who ever tried to get Windows 3.1x or W95 talking to something else using TCP/IP will probably agree that "notwork" is a more descriptive word. ;) 
David Pilling, 7th January 2024, 01:56
I'd be inclined to see how CRA turns out. Not just from the point of view that they will probably not start with prosecuting you, but how it is interpreted in practice. Maybe software will help, put your code in a compliant wrapper. 
 
Lone coder... you can't do gas or electric work without having passed the exams and following the rules. You can open a food shop and poison people with minimal qualification.
C Ferris, 7th January 2024, 10:47
I presume Rick is contacting his MEP over this - or does he think it a waste of time!
Rick, 7th January 2024, 11:15
As a *BRITISH* citizen, please, do enlighten me as to which MEP this would be? 
 
Bear in mind, also, that there are *no* British MPs representing expats; and we longer term expats have only just been given the ability to vote (though the official website *still* mentions the previous 15 year limit). https://mpsforexpats.com/
Rick, 7th January 2024, 11:29
David - making errors with gas and electric are a whole different thing to making errors with software; especially for those of us who write little utilities (as a hobby) and release them for free. It's not as if I'm hacking together a flight control system or a controller for a dialysis machine... 
 
Over here, food places get inspections (sometimes unknown about - a "customer" will order something and send it off for analysis). These inspections are a lot more severe if there is reasonable belief that the place made somebody ill. 
 
...probably the only reason the burger joint didn't suffer that is by the time my doctor arranged for me to be tested, it was out of my system. Apparently I should have gone to A&E. Which would have meant driving myself twenty miles in the middle of the night having vomited enormously and let's just not even talk about the other end... 
Over here ambulances are private and they cost money (that 20 mile trip would probably cost about €200 plus whatever night rate adds on) unless you meet certain criteria. And then, of course, there's the journey back, likely to be about €120 in a taxi. 
(actual price depends upon time and whether or not they can double up with other people on the journey or the return).
David Pilling, 7th January 2024, 12:58
Don't M(E)Ps represent everyone in their constituency. Other way around, one could say I'm a Brit, my software is on a server in Britland. 
(I am a Brit, my server is in the USA, and it is all free with source code - hah - rats and sinking ships). 
But yeah, as there is a get out for amateur electricians, maybe there has to be for lone coders, tick a box to say you're a friend. Because taking it to the limit if I write code for myself or for a personal acquaintance I can't see it being relevant - probably true under the free/open get out. 
 
So I write a program for myself and then I lose the source code - I am now a criminal, pay €15,000,000. 
 
No doubt all the loopholes will be investigated at great length and cost. 
 
I wonder if lone coders matter - how many, how much do they generate in money. Putting them all to the sword might not bother the powers that be. They are not as visible as the one man coffee shop. My own experience is that the common person is not in a rush to try software from random sources. I never encountered someone who I was acquainted with in real life ask to use any of my Windows software. 
 
C Ferris, 7th January 2024, 13:24
'Rick' the English Man abroad :-/
Rick, 7th January 2024, 15:11
Grrrr! 
 

 
Am 
 
*NOT* 
 
E N G L I S H ! ! ! 1 !
C Ferris, 7th January 2024, 17:52
Hmm - I wonder what your neighbours call you :-)
J.G.Harston, 11th January 2024, 23:12
Can I just say "Horizon".
J.G.Harston, 11th January 2024, 23:21
Ooo dear, I've had sample code on my website since 2004 that I ripped out of programs I wrote around 1985 (and the programs that use it) that would be caught as it's a set of routines for the ZX Spectrum to parse filenames and allows "S:filename" and "N:filename" to load from a serial or network link to a server! Argh!

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