Is the BBC’s iplayer changes, pushing developers towards the dark net?

XBMC media centre

So to remind everyone, this is my blog and not the view of my employer (the BBC). If you’ve not seen the outbreak about the iplayer stream changes then I can recommend the BBC Backstage post and the internet blog post. You will see they both link to the register piece which highlighted the problems people are having.

Here’s the Register’s summary of the whole thing.

The BBC has quietly updated its hugely popular iPlayer with a verification layer that closes the door on open source implementations of RTMP (real-time messaging protocol) streaming, The Register has learned.

The Beeb applied the update to its online video catch-up service on 18 February, just four days after Adobe Systems penned a corporate blog post about its “content protection offerings”.

The tweak means that free RTMP plugins offered by the likes of the XBMC community – whose code is based on the GNU General Public Licence (sic) v2* – can no longer stream iPlayer content. The latest iteration of XBMC’s plugin was created in May last year and was being used by UK viewers to play TV and radio catch-up content from the BBC’s iPlayer service. adds to this…

While we understand the BBC’s reasoning for the decision, we surely don’t agree with it. Add to that, a publicly funded media organization has far more obligations than a typical private one.

XBMC could easily be modified in a way that would allow playback of the streams, though it could never be included in the official binaries due to the wretched DMCA.

We hope that news of this change spreads quickly. Feel free to submit this story as well as the one from The Register to your favorite news sites. If anyone from the BBC would like to engage in a public discussion, we would very much welcome it; see our contact page for details. Also, be sure to take their online survey and tell them how you feel. Remember, this change affects far more than an XBMC plugin… all open-source BBC playback implementations are at stake.

*librtmp, the library used to access these streams, uses the lgpl license.

So to be clear, I also understand the reasoning but disagree with the need for this change. This change is easily fixable/hackable/reversed but doing so would break the DMCA or EUCD. So this is a very difficult position to be in because the change is forcing the hand of the developers to do something illegal. Now most of the developers don’t and won’t do it but there are those who don’t give a flying monkey for the law and will easily reverse whatever Adobe creates in the form of DRM. This is why there is such a outrage by most people who understand the situation fully. Verification layer protection is a joke, but a really bad joke which you can’t get rid off by simply shuffling it out the front door. Cory always says…

DRM only affects people who buy media honestly, rather those who nick, borrow or cheat their way to it. In turn that means that the people who ultimately bear the inconvenience, cost and insult of DRM are the paying customers, not the pirates.

And he’s right. The people who are most effected by Verification Layer are those who are the fans watching iplayer streams on their XBMC boxes at home with there friends and family. Worst still they are already license fee payers and early adopters who the BBC really should be spending more time with instead of marking them down as a irrelevant group. This group are very vocal and have the ability to really make the BBC’s future a living hell if its not very careful.

I’ve already seen evidence of a application which strips iplayer of all its content in a slightly questionable way being pushed as a replacement for XBMC’s iplayer script. Its worth noting this application which I won’t link to worked before the change and still works after the change, in actual fact there was no interruption to its service! And if you think thats questionable, I’m sure the usage of BBC content in Bit Torrent, Rapidshare, usenet, etc went flying through the roof as people scrambled back to the dark net to watch there shows. I do wish there was a way to prove this in numbers, just to show how much streaming from the BBC was having an affect on the dark net.

So where do we go from here?

Will the BBC ever turn off Verification layer? Honestly I doubt it and as Adobe creates even more technical hurdles they will also be added. Its a real shame because as we’ve already explored they only effect those who care enough to get there content from the BBC iplayer. Adobe’s measures have no ground in the dark net.

The Trust survey is very important, as that has a massive effect on what the BBC can and cannot do. So its very important that everyone takes part in the survey. Its also worth writing blog entries and telling more people about the issue. This doesn’t only effect xbmc but also all those mobile clients and other media centres. There’s been a lot of comments at the register, iplayer forums, internetblog, backstage forum and backstage blog but not nearly enough posts and twitters.

Finally the BBC needs to talk openly about this stuff, if it was announced this was coming and explained then I honestly I think the BBC wouldn’t get the kickback there getting now. Look at the iplayer forum, who on earth blamed the iplayer RSS terms and conditions for this problem? Yes I’ve been talking to the guys at XBMC and other projects, the BBC needs to build bridges with these communities and at least have a conversation about this stuff. No promises just conversation.

The Essential Mixes

Armin Van Buuren djing is a website where you can stream, download, view tracklists and rate every Radio 1 essential mix since it began in 1993. Wow, but its not flawless.

There are so many amazing mixes on the site… One which takes me right back is Force & Styles mix from 1997. Just check out the playlist from this sweet mix. The only tune missing is the Eyeopener by Dj Brisk.

  1. Force & Styles – “Paradise & Dreams” (Diverse)
  2. Force & Styles – “Apollo 13 Pt II” (UK Dance)
  3. Bang The Future – “Body Slam” (GBT)
  4. Force & Styles – “Cuttin’ Deep” (Diverse Recordings)
  5. DJ Quatro – “Musical Mayhem” (HecTec)
  6. Sy & Bunter – “Connect Your Step” (GBT)
  7. Sy & Demo – “Love & Devotion” (Quosh)
  8. DJ Stompy – “Body Rock” (Hectic)
  9. JDS – “Higher Love” (Stompin’ Choonz)
  10. DJ Eruption – “Don’t You Want Me” (United Dance)
  11. Demo
  12. Ham & Time – “Here I Am” (Jal Premium)
  13. Ramos & Supreme – “Gotta Believe” (Hectic Rewinds)
  14. Hixxy & Bananaman – “Together Forever” (Essential Platinum)
  15. DJ Eruption – “Let The Music” (United Dance)
  16. Force & Styles – “Pretty Green Eyes” (UK Dance)
  17. Force & Styles – “Your Love” (Happy Trax)
  18. Bang – “Cloudy Daze” (Next Generation)
  19. Force & Styles – “Shining Down” (UK Dance)
  20. DJ Demo – “Your Mine” (Universal)
  21. Slipmatt & Eruption – “Sunshine” (First Recordings)
  22. Billy Bunter – “Untitled” (GBT)
  23. DJ Eruption – “Reach Out” (United Dance)
  24. DJ Vinyl Groover – “It Doesn’t Have To Be” (Hectic Rewinds)
  25. DJ Vinyl Groover – “Time After Time” (Obsession)

The site its self is pretty impressive, it really celebrates the dj and the amazing mixes which is good thing. So I went to register and found out, registration actually costs money up front which is a bit cheeky, yes its only 2 pounds 50 but there should be a option to sign up without paying. Then if you want to download, you have to pay. There’s also no clear indication what kind of downloads will be available. I can’t actually tell if the downloads are mp3’s, ogg vorbis or something drm’ed like AAC/WMA?

Reading people tweets, there seems to be a lot of problems downloading mixes, so maybe they should adopt some kind of P2P system like bit torrent to ease the bandwidth problems there having. Something like P2Pnext would be perfect for this setup. Finally, it would be great to have a API or at least RSS feeds.

I’m sure someone is already writing a script/app for this site to go into XBMC/Boxee/other devices, if there not – I might just do it myself.

London nuked in Newswipe

You got to give it up to Newswipe, its a great show and if you’ve not already seen the How To Report The News piece and let’s go live to, where have you been? Great BBC programme which yes you can watch on iplayer or other places. Charlie Brooker is a genius and I can’t believe the first time I ever heard of him was when he did the Gameswipe during Christmas time.

Phone7, What the ipad needed

An ipad using the Windows phone 7 interface

One of the things I never quite understood about Apple’s idea of a massive ipod touch as a ipad, is the interface. Steve Jobs may point the finger at Adobe for being lazy with Flash, but to be honest the ipad interface isn’t exactly cleverly thought out or exciting in anyway. I have already said lovely things about Microsoft’s Phone 7 and even with all the other things it doesn’t do I’m still very impressed. So take the form factor of the ipad (although I prefer the 6 inch screen of my ebook reader) dump out all the Apple crap and load it up with Windows phone7 and you got something much more interesting and the dawn of slate computing. I’m not saying its a perfect match but if it was to happen, I’d much more likely to buy a ipad. Dell and HTC get on it….

Geeks of London takes over from London Geekdinners

london geekdinner logo medium

Sad moment to see the London Geekdinners are no more. As the Formerly organized of Geek Dinners its wasn’t really a surprise. Cristiano Betta and Melinda Seckington took over the running of the events back over a year and half ago when I left London for Manchester. And last year spoke to me about the possibility of changing the direction of geekdinners into something else.

Its been amazing over the years, some of the guests we’ve had include, Stowe Boyd, Tim Oreilly, Adrian and Dan Hon, Brady Forrest, Jen Pahlka, Jyri Engeström, Julie Howell, Chris Messina, Tara Hunt, Chris Anderson, Kevin Marks, Dave Winer, Betsy Weber, Molly Holzschlag, Robert Scoble, Jeff Keni Pulver, Mozilia Labs, Ben Metcalfe, Marc Carter, Dr Sophie Kain, Jeremy Zawodny Howard Rheingold, Holmes Wilson, Dean Jansen,, Paul Boag, Dave Shea, Eric Meyers, Mike Culver, Dave Crossland, BBC iplayer team, Ryan Carson, Paul Jones, Richard Clayton, Becky Hogge, David Terrar, myself and many many more…. (sorry if I didnt remember your name).

Our biggest geekdinner by its self was with Chris Anderson of Wired magazine, although the joint girl geekdinner with Scoble have been huge in the past too. The biggest so called geekdinner was the backstage p. arty/geekdinner/community party which took place in the Cuban Bar back in Christmas of 2006. Over 200 people attended that event and who could forget the massive cake. The most dinners we have done for one single person has got to be for Molly Holzschlag who will remain in our hearts as the Geekdinner queen with 3 geekdinners. had a bumpy time. The domain name is still owned by Nick Swan and the original server which the blog use to sit on has never been recovered. So if you go back in time on (the current server which Cristiano owns) you get to a point where there is no more blog entries. has most of the old stuff thankfully. One of the best things which came out of geekdinners has to be the girl geekdinners which was the idea of Sarah Blow (not of my ex-wife, as I once heard recently). Sarah and the girlygeekdom have done a great job growing the event and looking back done exactly what maybe geekdinners should have done ages ago. I guess by the time we should have got serious, we were already on to running barcamps. Its great what Sarah Blow has done and I wish her good luck into the future.

We certainly moved around in venues for geekdinners. We started off in the cellar of a bar (bonds) just on Derring Street near Bond Street tube, tried a few places including the crown and anchor. Settled on the Polar Bear just behind Leicester Square before it got shut down (as we found out one day after BarCampLondon1). Tried a few more places and settled again at a very quiet place (The Bottlescrue) in the Holborn Viaduct area. It was summertime and we use to take over the whole bar including the outside seating for our geekdinners. This was also the bar we used for the biggest geekdinner with Chris Anderson. But it wasn’t to last, the reason why? Well it was in area of the city where people don’t hang around after 6pm. The bar closed its doors for good after a few months. After a little more bar shuffling including to the bear in trendy clerkenwell, we ended up at the Ye Olde Cock Taven which is still open and sits in Fleet street. We had that for quite a while before the owner drove me nuts and we moved elsewhere. This is about the time I left for Manchester and Cristiano took over. The venue he seemed to use the most was Hummus Bros in Holborn.

So as they say in the Matrix Revolutions, everything that has a beginning has an end. Geekdinners have been an amazing part of my life and I kept considering doing something like Geekdinners in Manchester. But its time to move on. I met some amazing geeks over the time of running the dinners. Some of them I’m still good friends with even now. Flicking through some of the photos, has had me thinking wow so many people, such good times. Geeks of London could be a interesting framework for other smaller events which fell in the shadow of geekdinners. Things like Bowling, Karaoke, heck even Roller Coaster riding might be your thing and there’s always usually another 4-10 people (at least) who also would go if theres interest shown. Who knows maybe there will be a geeks of Manchester one day…

The HTC Desire is coming to Orange

HTC Desire

Jas Dhaliwal left me a tweet which left a massive smile on my face. After my post moaning about Orange’s lack of decent handsets, it becomes clear that Orange are going to be first with the HTC Desire which is a Android 2.1 handset. He’re the details from the Orange Newsroom.

  • Orange to retail the HTC Desire free on selected consumer pay monthly and business price plans from April
  • The HTC Desire will feature Qualcommm’s superfast Snapdragon 1GHz processor and Google’s Android 2.1 Operating System
  • An Orange Signature device, The HTC Desire is the first of several Android handsets to be unveiled by Orange in 2010

Orange today announced it will be launching the much anticipated HTC Desire, the next Android device to be ranged by Orange in the UK. Available this spring across all Orange consumer retail and business channels, the HTC Desire will be free on selected consumer pay monthly and business price plans.

Offering a rich, intuitive browsing touch interface and premium design, the 3G+ enabled Desire is the latest device to feature Google’s 2.1 Android operating system, allowing users unrestricted access to thousands of amazing tools and applications which can be downloaded straight to the handset.

Although I love the HD2 (4.3inch screen), its unlikely to head to Orange anytime soon and waiting another 6 months for my contract to run out is pointless if Orange will be getting decent Android phones soon. I do like Windows Mobile, specially the look of version 7 but its time to move on. So for the next few months, I’ll use my HD1 as a Android phone (video) then in April be first in line for the Desire.

Windows phone 7 interface

Windows phone 7

I actually like the new interface of Windows phone 7. The Zune type interface works well on a small device and to be fair it all makes a lot of sense. I’ll be honest and say its fresh and somewhat exciting to see Microsoft’s Mobile team take a total step back and attempt to redesign the whole experience of the mobile again. No icons, no chrome, no backgrounds, just a sliding scope which logically makes sense. Impressive! I can’t believe this is the same company who worked hard on version 6.5!

I’ll have to reconsider writing off Microsoft in the mobile world.

One social web

Its so odd, the guys behind storytlr were at FOSDEM and I actually watched there presentation but didn’t put two and two together. So I marked down One social web as a project to watch for myself and the BBC but I didn’t twig it was the same guys. If I had known, I would have tracked them down at FOSDEM for some serious conversation about what I want to do with Storytlr and what I thought of the One social web project.

alardw or Alard Weisscher left a comment on my blog post about FOSDEM and then the Lifestreaming blog post talking about One social web, finally made me slap my forehead, oh yeah those two guys were Storytlr.

Anyway, what there aiming to do is impressive and is much more interesting that whats happening with Google Buzz or even Facebook’s XMPP opening.

Orange Valentine day let down

Valentine’s day is always good for me, even without any sweets or cards because I can officially upgrade my mobile phone on my Orange contract. However Orange have such a poor selection of handsets available and coming up, that i’m forced to sit it out and wait for something decent to show up. The only phone I would consider is the HTC Hero Graphite but to be honest, with my HTC HD1 almost supporting Android 2.0.1. Theres very little reason to switch to a lesser capable phone model. I’m tempted with the Nexus One but even thats not a massive upgrade on the Touch HD.

Ideally I’m looking for the HTC HD2, a Motorola droid or one of the new Samsung’s with Android on board. Maybe I was slightly spoiled by having the HD1 over a year ago, and its certainly still an amazing phone, specially since Android kind of works on it.

Forget Scalextrics its all about the K’nex Roller Coasters

When I was a young boy I tried to create a roller coaster system from technical lego by turning the points upside down and slowly changing the angles of the pieces over a long piece of track. Its not obvious how it works but don’t worry it didn’t work so its not actually worth going into more detail about. So I was suprised to see K’nex launched a range of roller coasters tracks. I can’t express how cool I think this is, if I had the time and money, I would certainly get some and get it setup in a room. Instead I get to watch the endless youtube videos and wish instead.

Werewolf: Extra Materials

To be fair to Wired magazine, they did a good piece about Werewolf in the most recent UK wired. I never expected so many pages dedicated to the game which some call the modern social crack. There’s also a huge sum of the variations of werewolf on the Wired site too.

Here’s a couple of the ones not even I’ve heard about…

The Fool: The player who gets this card immediately reveals himself to all the other players as “the village fool/idiot”. He does not speak again for the rest of the game and can’t focus enough to join any debates or lead any suspicions. He watches mutely, helplessly. At the beginning of each new day, while he is alive, he may reassign his vote to another villager by pointing – that newly entrusted voter might be an innocent villager or a werewolf in disguise. If the Fool or the Moderator should forget to reassign his vote, his vote remains with the prior assignee. (So if a prior assignee is a werewolf, it is to the werewolf’s advantage NOT to remind the Fool or Moderator to reassign the vote.)  In his confusion, the Fool wears a ring of garlic around his neck, thinking it will repel the werewolves – when in fact, garlic is used to repel vampires. (If the vampire character is in play, of course, this garlic will protect him.) As a variation, in an attempt to control an unruly villager that speaks out too much or speaks when dead, the Moderator may instantly assign that unruly villager to be the village fool, either immediately during that game or in the next game if that player is already dead.

Not so sure about this one, but we’ve had newbies act the fool before, shouting out or making it too damm obvious what player they are.

The Coroner: Often, there is confusion in the village as to a cause of death or what just happened the night before. With certain character combinations the actual happenings just can’t be deduced – with certainty. As long as the Coroner is alive, the Moderator explains the causes of death and the nighttime happenings. The Coroner, however, does not actually play an active part in the game. Once the Coroner is out of the game, the remaining villagers must deduce everything themselves without any help from the Moderator.

This might be useful for some games instead of relying on the moderator, whos actually not meant to say anything in this issue

The Grave-Robbing Thief (created by Viki Kind, Ed You and our “Uber” Werewolf players): In this variation the Thief is still offered two other villager cards on the first night. If both cards are werewolf cards, he must chose one and become a werewolf. Otherwise, he may refuse both identities and wait till another night in the game to steal the identity of a newly dead villager on the first night following that villager’s death. In this variation the Moderator will ask every night if the Grave-Robbing Thief wants to steal someone else’s identity, fully reactivating that stolen identity and character. Example: if the dead Witch’s identity were stolen and reactivated, both of the Witch’s potions would be renewed as well. A dead werewolf identity may also be stolen and reactivated. The Moderator will have to again announce any activities of the newly stolen and reactivated identity and character.

I had a idea like this a while ago but never really played it out, oh well. I think its good but makes the game quite complex for newbies. You’d only want to play this with pros.

Theres lots more characters but to be fair a lot of them cause the moderator a lot of headache, make the game too complex or too random to get a balanced result to either side.  I tried doing the probability maths a while back and got very confused, but I bet if you could do the maths behind it, you will find a lot the extra characters screw up the game for the werewolves or villagers. The standard pack of villagers, seer, healer and werewolves  seems to be about right.

Fosdem 2010

Fosdem 2010

So its the evening after Fosdem 2010 and I’m knacked. I overall enjoyed myself but don’t know if I’d go back again or not. The conference was well put together and included a lot of talks I wanted to go to but couldn’t due sometimes because they would clash. It seems the conference was formatted around the individual tribes of the open source world. So for example if you were totally into KDE, you could sit in a room all day and listen to nothing but KDE stuff and when you felt like taking a breath, you could hang out at the KDE stand. I’m not picking just on just KDE, this was true of Gnome, Debian, FreeBSD, Mozilla, MySQL, PostgreSQL, etc, etc.

I guess even XMPP was true of this but I felt the programming was a little more diverse as to attract more people. And thats my main point, I felt a lot of the rooms were full of people who were not very friendly or even cooperative. For example the rooms would get filled very quickly and so people were asked to moved to the centre of isles so later comers could sit in the spaces and use all the chairs available. But still people wouldn’t move even when you ask them.

Talking of rude, I can’t understand when was it ever ok to start a conversation in the middle of a session? I heard that a few times in a few sessions and it certainly wasn’t about the subject matter in question. Worst still when the Q&A would start most people would use that as there chance to have a good old natter. It was so bad during Richard Clayton’s talk that you couldn’t hear the amplified questions and answers.

I don’t want this to sound all negative but there was certainly a lack of friendliness in the air. Even during the Friday drinking event people were not very good about talking to new people. I certainly wouldn’t recommend Fosdem by yourself unless you know people going along very well. I can’t work out if its the amount of people (5000 they estimate) or the language barrier?

The venue I didn’t like that much but it grew on me the 2nd day. It was a university campus but some of the rooms were quite a distance away and almost not worth the bother to see if they would be open or full. The campus reminded me very much of the BarCampBrighton’s I’ve been to in the student Uni buildings (actually if you were to do a Fosdem type event in the south east, the university of sussex would be the perfect place).

The whole conference runs pretty much off donations and sponsorship which is amazing because its that big. You have to pay for everything including food and drink but its perfectly fine as the conference is very well put together. For example the network usage was flawless every time I used it, no problem with the wifi either. They were using some very well placed wifi base stations which supported multiple airels. Each box had 6 airels stick out the top and in a large room they had them in 6 different locations across a massive rooms. No interference, no problems both days no matter where you sat. The setup across the board for networking was better than I’ve seen almost anywhere else. I even saw a sign saying use more bandwidth, challenging us all to try and break there network. Amazing…

So what did I see which was worth talking about? Lots of bits and pieces but one which stood out was the session Mirabeau, creating personal media networks. They ran through how they could extend Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) over any network via XMPP to share anything you have attached to your UPnP pool. And because XMPP is mainly being used for Jabber right now, that means you can extend UPnP to your friends very easily. And because its UPnP to UPnP, it would connect to something like a PS3, Xbox360, something with a screen. So in practice I could share any media on my network with anyone who is on my buddy list. I’ve already got experience of doing this with Hamachi VPN at work but this is great because its very simple to do multiple adhoc connections with friends and family plus it goes straight to there screen. Where this gets very interesting is the fact that I could have streaming stuff play with UPnP and the streaming point would be the host connection, which basiclly renders GeoIP unless. So all in all, Mirabeau have just created a software only version of a Slingbox.

I had a discussion with the guys afterwards about the whole thing and decided that there is a lot more to this a Slingbox. Theres actually some very interesting editorial propositions which I’d rather not give away at this moment, although they should be pretty easy to imagine, if you think a little deeper. Here’s one idea, imagine this with a UPnP resolver for Playdar.

Elsewhere, I saw some interesting things like some semantic desktop stuff like GNOME Activity Journal which I’m going to install at some point soon. Vodafone Betavine’s One social web looks of interest too. The scaling sessions by Facebook and were also of interest but I don’t really have that problem right now. I was actually thinking why isn’t someone from the BBC doing a session about scaling? I missed Apache Hadoop, HTML5, SIP Communicator sessions along with all the Haiku sessions but I did manage a few of the Mozilla sessions including Firefox mobile and Thunderbird. I’ve decided I’ll give Thunderbird another try in the near future.

So all in all, it was good but with the cost of the travel and hotel, I’d certainly like to see what other conferences are on the table before going back. No reflection on the conference or the amazing job the organisers do, just maybe the way the FLOSS community is right now.