Freesat via a Humax Foxsat-HD

I’ve had this little box for a couple of weeks now, and am very
impressed not only with the box but with the BBC and Humax as a

As I live in the Isle of Man, an island wholly forgotten about in the digital
switchover and other modern technologies implemented by the BBC and others, my options for receiving reliable digital TV have previously been limited to lining
Ruper Murdochs pockets. Lucky people living in Ramsey can receive a reliable
signal from across the Irish Sea in Cumbria, but having moved to Douglas, this
is not an option until 2009 when we won’t even get the full complement of
channels anyway on the Freeview platform.

Therefore, the Freesat offering from the BBC really helps islanders make that jump to digital without subscribing to the – much of it quite frankly crap – content available on Sky. For a one off purchase of between £100-£200, it is possible to get either a standard box or one with HD functionality. I’m not sure of whether the island’s retailers have taken Freesat on board, having bought mine from Currys. (Note that I thought the box didn’t come with an HDMI cable, so bought one for £18, turns out it does)

My set-up is quite complex, my installed Humax Foxsat-HD outputs an SD
content through the RGB SCART output into my Windows Vista Media Centre and a second HDMI content straight into the back of my Panasonic LCD TV. The box
therefore is particularly useful as it outputs to both SD and HD connections,
enabling me to integrate it into my PVR functionality of Media Center, yet still
watch HD content “live”. Unfortunately, as UK HD content is broadcast in H.264
format, which Microsoft don’t support, there is no option at the moment to
integrate HD content into my PVR set-up.

The box itself is quite petite, and has buttons hidden behind the flip down
panel on the left for when you can’t find the remote. An LED display shows the
current channel, a useful improvement on a Sky box. On the back, outputs are
available for RGB SCART, VCR SCART, Component Video, HDMI and digital audio via a TOSLink port. Additionally, the box also sports a USB slot and an Ethernet port. While I don’t expect the USB port to support anything other than firmware upgrades, the Ethernet port is exciting particularly as it is required in any
Freesat platform – BBC iPlayer will surely appear on these devices soon.

The Humax device fits well within a Windows Vista Media Centre set-up,
although I did have to teach Media Centre the remote codes for the device. Once
done, channel switching can be done on “Fast” and is reliable. The GUI on the
device is attractive enough, and a full EPG is provided. Obviously, as I
primarily use Windows Vista as my schedule planner I am not able to really give
any detail on the EPG function but I have found key features such as programme
descriptions, auto-turn over functionality and the data is pretty comprehensive
and up to date. One issue I did find in setting the device up with Windows Vista
Media Centre is that the Freesat platform is not yet configured as a complete
EPG, instead only “Freesat unmapped” is available. Obviously, an unmapped
configuration is next to useless, so I had to opt for my Manchester postcode on
a Sky platform and walk through the channels renumbering the ones I did receive.
A couple of hours doing this, though, you should be sorted.

The BBC have obviously been key to the whole process of developing the
Freesat platform, and much credit has to go to their technical teams in being
able to roll out the platform in time for the European Cup, Wimbledon and
Olympics. Unfortunately, the schedule was particularly tight, so the Euros and
Wimbledon did not see the multiscreen functionality that the Sky and Freeview
platforms sport. As a Wimbledon fan, this is a bit disappointing, but as the BBC
output to so many platforms, I can hardly complain! While I am truly struggling
to receive a reliable signal, I am enjoying what WImbledon coverage I can
receive. Unfortunately, my annual holiday watching WImbledon (either there or on TV) has been ruined this year by a tree that has grown too much in the last few
weeks and is now blocking my dish. That said, the content I have received is
very good, particularly BBC HD. I am not exagerating when I say that you can
pick up the detail in the scuffed grass at each baseline. (Wimbledon is
broadcast in 1080i.)

More credit also has to go to Humax for their involvement in the userbase. As
I have said before, in particular at the previous Work Connexions site (which I
wrote 😉 ) companies must open up to the internet community in their product
development. Both the BBC and Humax have done this. The various BBC blogs all provide opportunity for users to feedback to the editors – who do reply to posts to show that they are at least taking notice of feedback. Also, Humax have also
contributed to a support thread at the very good site Digital Spy, further showing that they are open to feedback and are willing to act on it in as transparent manner as possible within their corporate policies.

In the future, I’m looking forward to a high likely iPlayer implementation,
further bug-fixes and software updates on the platform and more channels
becoming available. While the BBC is planning some exciting content and services
for the Olympics, which I’d love to see, I won’t be watching it for reasons of
principle (Human Rights, Tibet not being autonomous), but I’m pig-headed like

Why I might just be a Twitter Quitter

So I’ve tried Twitter for about a month, now. So, what do I think of

It’s now about a month since I said I’d try the Twitter phenomenon out, after seeing a few Facebook friends use it for intriguing purposes.

For example, I love the way you can drop down what you are doing, or a random
thought that you think someone else might be interested in. Believe it or not, I
often have moments when I want to express 140 characters in concise form. I’ve
seen users use it to provide status, thoughts, ask questions and highlight
recent blogging entries. It is for this reason I thought I’d join in with the

Initially, I thought it would be a great way to crank up some interest in
the TT-related project I was working on. This project was challenging, and quite
stressful at times and is the focus of the site, allowing users from
around the world to be able to access times, data, webcams and radio broadcasts
for the bike racing that takes place at this time every year on The Isle of Man.
Maybe I could even get some sales from it? Then, I also used it to highlight
random thoughts and when I posted a blog entry. (No doubt I’ll do the same again
to highlight this post).

It seems like a good idea. Unfortunately, it is full of “noise”. Noise that I
find can be completely meaningless unless you know the people Twittering,
personally. Half the messages are also written in some form of code, in order to
get messages within the 140 character limit. You thought text messages were bad,
having to limit to 255 characters – you want to try Twittering and reading other
peoples’ twitters/tweets/whatever. So, assuming you can apply a bit of noise
reduction by occasionally reducing the number of “followers” you have, I can
limit updates to just those people I know and am actually interested in.
(Incidentally, I have had a number of people following me, who I have never met,
so how come? Do they randomly select me, or have I been recommended?)

I have a big gripe with the service, however. It is unreliable – really
unreliable. Think of the technology behind the scenes – you have 1x web form,
which takes a single line of text and updates a database somewhere, which is
used to output the change to somewhere else. Really simple, yes? Apparently not.
I have lost count of the times the service fails to update my Facebook page,
faisl to update even its own status … or just outright fails. It has worse
reliability than Facebook for errors. At least Facebook is never “down”.

Twitter is far too complex. It uses AJAX, which takes forever, the whole
point of AJAX is to make the user feel that a web application is responsive.
Twitter just sits there with a spinning thing spinning away for 30 seconds or so
while it updates itself. I’d rather a conventional POST, to be honest, at least
I’d feel like something was happening.

Obviously, this service is very popular, and clearly needs some degree of
load balancing. I wonder how this has been implemented, if at all. The site has
recently come out of a particularly poor period of unreliability which saw
various services being turned off, the site being down and a database crash. I
mean, a database crash? How often does that happen? Maybe they should be using
some Microsoft tech instead of this open source gubbins they seem to be using.
I’ve never had a SQL Server database fail on me.

I have learned a lot, and have actually found some Twitterers enlightening,
as it has opened my eyes to other professions which I always like. The idea is a
sound one, though I do have misgivings about egotistical natterings that have no
real purpose. If I post something, I hope people find it interesting,
particularly when talking about the TT project I was involved with, whether it
resulted in any sales I don’t know and probably doubt. It is also great for an
asynchronous chat. People can ask you questions and when you update your feed,
you can reply. Finally, it’s a great way of letting people know you’ve just
written something enlightening and insightful, much like this post? No?

So, I think my initial reluctance to use the service has been overcome.
Though if I were to continue using it, I would hope that the service reliability
improves significantly in terms of uptime, speed and suitability for purpose. It
is such a simple concept, it would be a shame to see it fail. It would also be
good if there was some way I could select Twitterers that were interesting to
me, for example, e-Marketing twitterers would be good at the moment! Anyone?

Thanks must go to the following Twitteroo’s: sherrilynne, OwenC and dunkjmcd who very kindly left feedback for me about my new web site – via Twitter.

Compassion is a product of Human Nature, not faith

I’ve just seen a brief section of a Sunday morning show on BBC1 this
morning that offends me … as a human

The programme was talking about children who had been orphaned due to their
parents having the HIV/AIDS virus in Africa. A touching story that grabbed my
attention immediately.  Some shots of a couple of littl eboys helping each other
to put their shoes on was shown, pulling at the heart strings further.

Then, we cut to a couple sitting on top of a four-wheel drive who were
talking about how they came over on a Honeymoon and saw the children and felt
they had to help. A beautiful story and a most honourable sentiment, I’m sure.
However, they said “As Christians, we had to help”.

“As Christians?” what about “As Humans”? So I, who am not a
follower of Christianity, would walk on by? You should help as humans, with the
assurance of your faith. You do not need faith to experience sympathy, empathy
or compassion. Faith may help, but it certainly is not a pre-requisite. It’s
almost as if these people were justifying their actions, and their faith, in

To look at another faith, Buddhism also says that compassion, kindness and
respect should be exhibitied at all times, particularly to those in need. But
these are based on human nature, not a as a tenat of a particular
religion, which infers that other people and faiths would not exhibit those same

And that is why I won’t watch such programmes on a Sunday morning. I missed
the Dalai Lama, too. Though why he would think the UN should move to Russia does confuse me somewhat. It’s hard enough keeping corruptionout of the UN without moving it to Russia, which is currently experiencing it’s own corruption
scandals – particularly with regards the Litvinenko affair.