The Day Netflix Became Stupid

As a systems administrator of 21 years, 7 of which has been spent working in the film industry for two Academy award-winning companies (one winning an Academy science-tech award for their contribution to the VFX and post-production community), I can tell you that there is nothing worse dealing with a Big Content company such as Netflix and telling them they’re plain wrong about something, only to be brushed away like a pesky fly.

The bother surrounds Netflix’s download function on iOS devices.  At the moment I’m downloading TV shows like Star Trek Voyager and Star Trek Deep Space Nine to watch while I’m commuting to work.  I’ll do this on my home internet connection via Sky Broadband if I remember, otherwise, if I have good 4GEE Max connectivity on my phone connection, I’ll use that.

ALAS!

As people have been using VPNs to circumvent geoblocking and accessing content that hasn’t been licensed to a particular country or region, Netflix has been coming down hard on IP connections that do not match the country in which the account is in.  However, this is a lot more complicated in practice because of the complete lack of IPv4 addresses (with many blocks being re-allocated from different countries) and things like the ARIN/RIPE databases not being up to date, or any other geolocation database from any third parties not being particularly inaccurate.  There are many other considerations to take into account too.

Recently, while attempting to download an episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine on the Netflix iOS app on my iPhone X, one episode downloaded.  The next failed.  And the following episode also failed to download.  I was at Woking station at the time, waiting for the train, and had good 4G connectivity.  I should mention I also have a highly generous bandwidth allowance from EE too.  Upon looking up an error code (what is it with error codes – please make errors more meaningful!) it apparently meant that I was using a VPN or proxy and should disable it.

ALAS again!

I’m not.  No VPN connection.  A proxy?  Only if EE is transparently routing me through some form of web proxy.  But that doesn’t explain how previous downloads have all worked perfectly well when connected to the EE 4GEE Max network.

Now, if EE is doing some form of proxying to cache/reduce the load on their network, the IP address blocks which they use should show that it is coming from the UK.  Every EE block I’ve looked at is designated GB as the country of origin.  But Netflix wasn’t having any of it.  Looking at the IP I had been allocated through several iOS apps and mobile Google Chrome (just use the query, “What’s my IP?”) and using a Mac terminal to WHOIS the IP, it’s in the UK.  So I went online to chat with a Netflix representative..

You
Netflix says ‘There was a problem with this download. (10013)’~~https://help.netflix.com/en/node/59986
Carolina Netflix
Hi there, thanks for reaching us today. I see that you are experiencing error code 10013 Click Here in this case you would need to disable any vpn connection
You
I’m not using any kind of VPN or peering software. I’m directly connected to my phone provider’s 4G network.
You
Netflix systems are misidentifying the IP address. At the moment, it is 213.205.194.220 according to Googling “what’s my IP?” in Chrome mobile browser.
You
route: 213.205.192.0/20descr: EE routeorigin: AS12576mnt-by: AS12576-mntcreated: 2012-12-07T14:43:16Zlast-modified: 2015-04-27T10:21:30Zsource: RIPE
Carolina Netflix
Can you please check the ip address you have by following the steps on this article Click Here ?
You
But I’ve already done that as evidenced by the the above – full output from WHOIS: inetnum:  (snipped for brevity – the key point is country: GB
Carolina Netflix
If you are getting that error message, it’s because we have identified a different ip address and we are unable to know what is your physicall address, that’s why the service was stopped. Now, to recover the access you would need to get in contact with your ISP to request an IP address that matches the country in which you’re located.
You
How about putting some diagnostics into the Netflix iOS apps that can display this info as well as report back that info to you guys, because all I can do is repeat the IP address and IP block that I’ve given you based on information obtained from Google in a mobile Chrome session.
Carolina Netflix
What happens Martyn is that our service is not designed to work with VPNs or proxy connections. You may have trouble using our service when connected to one, and since this is the case, you would need to disable them and we cannot do it on our end. That’s why we recommend you to get in contact with your ISP so they can assist you better provinding you the reason why this is happening and the right resolution to go back to streaming
You
The responsibility for me to prove where I am should not be mine. Having worked as a systems administrator in the film industry (2 academy award winning VFX companies) managing networks, I find this sort of thing extremely frustrating.
You
Just as a matter of interest, what are your systems reporting back as the IP I’m connecting from. If I have to speak to EE about this, I need some evidence from your side.
Carolina Netflix
Sorry about that Martyn, this has to be done with the ISP, they are the proper team that can fixed this inconvenience on your end.
Carolina Netflix
This error code Click Here provide us the steps to work on, and it recommends to contact the ISP

I don’t believe it should be up to the Netflix subscriber to contact their ISP.  It should absolutely 100% be on Netflix to take the report given to it by the subscriber and work with the ISP concerned to determine how they’re connecting to the Netflix network.  In order to do this, Netflix should be building diagnostics into their applications so that everybody can see the IP address and network that’s connecting to the Netflix network.  I can only provide the IP address I see to EE (who have reached out, which is kind, but I don’t believe they need to act on my behalf – it should Netflix who should be doing so).

What did Netflix actually see when I attempted to download those episodes?  Given that I work with multiple third-party network providers (Akamai, Limelight and CloudFlare to name but a few) in which a customer’s real IP is carried through a number of proxies, we can still determine with reasonable accuracy where they’re coming from.  It’s important for us because we need to allow/deny to various internal systems based on the real IP.  Granted, that IP is likely to be static, and granted, we know in advance where they’re connecting from regardless of whether or not that is a VPN endpoint.  I appreciate this is rather more complicated in Netflix’s situation.

We are in this mess because of Big Content and people trying to circumvent restrictions.  Hollywood is still a massive headache for everybody (and belive me, as a former film/TV sysadmin, Hollywood.   Piracy is still a massive headache for everybody.  Rights are still a massive headache for everybody.  But please, don’t make it any harder on the consumer/subscriber than it is necessary to do so, else people will simply go elsewhere.  I’m finding that I’m buying more content from iTunes than I am consuming from Netflix and Amazon because Apple makes it easier for me to watch their content.  We just need Apple to offer TV shows in UltraHD/4K where available and offer iTunes Extras for TV shows and we’re good.  As for the Apple TV streaming service, let’s hope it works as well as iTunes film/TV.

When streaming services and more ISPs support IPv6 – now that’s going to be FUN!  Though, in theory, it should help things along a bit.  Providing everybody keeps their IP allocation entries up to date with the relevant Internet authorities.

At the moment I’m still deciding whether to keep my Netflix subscription or not based on that exchange.  I hate being made to jump through hoops to get something working because of something that isn’t my fault.  I have contracts with both Netflix and EE, but the responsibility for me being allowed to watch those shows should be on Netflix.  If the cell/ISP throttles or restricts video streaming, why shouldn’t I be allowed to use a VPN to access it (providing endpoint is the same country as my account)?  Mind you, if that were the case, I wouldn’t be using that kind of ISP in the first place – have always avoided those sorts,

I’m all about that bass, ’bout that bass, no treble..

.. except there’s a decent amount of treble in Apple’s new HomePod “smart” speaker.  But that bass!

The press has certainly not been wrong in stating that this is perhaps the best quality of speaker of the current generation of “smart” speakers.  The bass and response of the sound emanating from this tiny, yet tubby speaker definitely has put my now redundant Alexa-enabled Echo Plus to shame.

The fibre mesh is lovely to touch, it’s almost difficult not to walk past and give it a bit of a stroke..

Set-up was extremely easy – just plug it into the mains and then hold your iPhone (it must be an iOS device – forget buying one of these if you’re not heavily tied into the Apple iOS ecosystem) near the speaker.  Set-up begins on your iPhone and ends when Siri fires up and prompts you to try her out.

The biggest weakness of this speaker aside from no physical inputs or outputs, plus no Bluetooth support?  Siri.  It has yet to get any of my requests of songs or playlists right (I’m an Apple Music subscriber – albeit using the 6 months free subscription with EE at the moment – I’ll have to start paying again in April) – but I can AirPlay stuff directly from the phone without any bother.

However, what Siri can do is interact with my Philips Hue lights far more quickly via Apple’s HomeKit than Amazon’s Alexa ever could.  I have been extremely impressed with HomeKit’s performance on iOS and Siri so far.  While HomeKit support is still fairly limited within the “smart” devices industry – for example, British Gas’ Hive could REALLY benefit from such support – it does mean that for many devices would have to be refreshed in order support a specific chipset that HomeKit requires.  So we may not see Hive support for quite some time.

If you’re curious to know what’s going on inside the HomePod, this iFixit teardown will show you that it’s next to impossible for the average consumer to fix.

It’s funny how the music industry has changed over the past few decades.  When I was a kid growing up in North East London, I was over the moon with the hand-me-down Amstrad tower system which compromised of a turntable, an FM/AM radio/tuner, dual deck tape deck (Amstrad was famous for this).  I didn’t even have a CD player for quite some time.

Now we tend to subscribe (monthly or annually) to music services rather than paying for individual tracks or albums, listen on mobile phones or computers, or stream music to speakers.  While many people who take music seriously will still have an amplifier with built-in equaliser (another thing that the HomePod does away with – it’ll automatically “equalise” the music for you), a great many people will still be using these smart speakers in place of a traditional hi-fi set-up.

I’ve been a big fan of Apple’s audio products over the years.  I started off with a 3rd generation click wheel iPod and have made my way up to the iPhone X.  I’ve also bought three types of Beats headphones – the Beats Solo 3 wireless, the Beats EP and the granddaddy of them all, the Beats Studio 3 wireless – and perhaps my favourite of all – the AirPods.  None of these is cheap, and none are the absolute best in class, but I’ve always found a use for them (the Studio 3 wireless is ideal when the neighbours are doing late evening DIY, the Solo 3 for general computing use, the AirPods for daily commuting, and the EP for anything else (I originally bought it in Edinburgh when the Solo 3 unit suffered a charging problem and I had to send it to Apple for repair).

Porgy and Mess: Star Wars – The Last Jedi

I finally went to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi this week after waiting it out and trying very hard to avoid internet spoilers.  My patience was rewarded (of sorts) as I went to see it outside of peak hours at the local Guildford Odeon.

ALAS!

Using my Odeon Limitless pass to book the showing was one of the most difficult things I’ve experienced so far during the time I’ve had the subscription.  I wanted to go to an earlier showing, but for some reason, the Odeon’s website was playing up.  I wasn’t able to book the same slot again, or the later slot.  For some reason, Odeon’s website locked off all uses of the Limitless cad and refused to let me use it.

More error codes then there were stars in heaven.

As the Odeon is now very heavily reliant on the website for bookings, the availability of customer service via telephone is rather limited (9am – 4pm Monday – Thursday, 9am – 5pm Friday at all other times).  I was booking this on Friday evening.

What really got my goat was that Odeon does not publish email addresses.  Internet standards are ignored – an email to webmaster@odeon.co.uk bounced.  This is extremely bad practice, Odeon.  Let me, as a customer, choose how to contact you.  Web forms aren’t always appropriate.

I had to wait until the following morning to call and try and sort this out – and even then, not much could be done.  The system enabled me to book for the later Monday performance, but there wasn’t confirmation that credit I used from an Odeon Gift card to upgrade seating would be refunded immediately.

I popped along to the Odeon on Monday and found this:

As I didn’t use a debit or credit card for this booking, I usually pick up tickets at the Box Office.  So I had to go to the confectionary counter to figure out what was going on.  I was told that the ATM machines can dispense tickets with a booking reference, but it’s not entirely obvious from the choices on display:

Perhaps Odeon needs to reword that third option – just say that if you have a booking reference, you can pick up tickets using that rather than implying it may only be for Tesco and Business Voucher holders.

The third complaint was that it appears Odeon do not sell Butterkist Toffee Popcorn.  I’m not a fan of the sweet or regular flavoured stuff served in buckets the size of my head.  In the end, I chose Aero mint balls and the smallest Coke Zero at the extortionate price of £6.68.  I’ll pay it, however, because I do like the Odeon and would still like to see cinemas remain in business.  But if I had a family, kids and all, this would definitely bankrupt me if we visited regularly.

As for the film?  It was alright.  I think the sooner the main franchise moves away from the Skywalkers, the better.

Back to basics!

With the news that practically all modern Intel, AMD (though to a lesser extent) and ARM CPU architectures are vulnerable to attack, it’s time we ditched our fancy pants computers and go straight back to the glory days of 80’s computing prowess:

My beloved (and also very crash prone) ZX Spectrum +2A. Notice the mouse in the right hand corner of the photo…

Or pre-Mac Apple:

I was an Apple fan long before it was fashionable to be so…

I’m very glad I don’t work for a hosting company anymore because I’d hate to have to coordinate and apply the forthcoming patches across a big estate.  That’s not to say I won’t have to do something since my work involves the system management of several large sites and as such, will need to work with the hosting partners to ensure that patching is performed correctly.

At least Apple is on the ball as – allegedly – MacOS already contains mitigation patches in place within the latest release of High Sierra.  Still, the news wouldn’t make me feel any better if I had spent up to £12,500 on a new iMac Pro (which contains Intel’s new Xeon W processors – which I’m guessing are also vulnerable).

Subscription shaving?

Yes, it’s true.  Everything is subscription based now.  And shaving is no exception.

Being fed up with having to remember to buy expensive Gillette blades and gel every few months (£15 for a pack of 4) or growing a terrible beard, I was bombarded by adverts from Harry’s, a US-based shaving company that’s now selling to the UK.  It’s subscription-based in which you sign up for a trial for £3.95 which includes the razor, one blade and a small bottle of shaving gel, after which you can choose to receive either a set of 8 blades or 8 blades and some gel every 2-3 months.  It’s cheaper than what I’d splash out on Gillette stuff, so I decided to give it a go.

Having received the trial kit (it arrived at my neighbours as it seemingly wouldn’t fit through the letterbox – so all future deliveries are being sent to work), I’ve got to say that the presentation is pretty good.

Harry’s trial shave kit unboxing!


Having used it for a couple of days, I am hugely impressed with both the gel and blade – a very smooth shave and I find it doesn’t irritate my neck as often the more commercial blades do.  So I’m keeping the subscription going to see how it fares in the long term.