Friday, 19 June 2009

The Sky is limited

Pop quiz: you need to solve a problem with your Sky TV service. Do you:

a) Call the helpline telephone number that appeared along with the error message on your Sky box


b) Google the fault, and solve it yourself with the aid of the first three results it finds?

I, being in a really silly mood, decided to try option "a" - and that's why I'm blogging today.

To all companies that provide "helplines": if no-one on the other end of the phone has even the slightest ability to "help" me, you're on the verge of being reported for false advertising.

Why was I calling Sky in the first place? It's all John Barrowman's fault.

The dates for series three of Torchwood have been announced. The entire series is being stripped across a week of BBC1's schedule - and it's the second week of our Italy holiday next month. The Sky+ planner only lets you programme recordings up to seven days in advance. Seven days before the series starts, we'll also be in Italy. Bugger.

No problem, all I need to do is set my set-top box up to use the "remote recording" application that I have on my mobile phone. Previously this was done by logging into Sky's website, but now it needs to be done using the Sky Active service on my set-top box.

And here was the problem; the set-top box was refusing to connect to Sky Active through the phone line. I was getting the wonderfully-ambiguous "error 106", and given an 0844-number to call for help.

If I'd just dialled "123" and listened to the speaking clock for half an hour, I'd have received just as much assistance.

After giving my details and explaining my problem, the Sky person said that an error 106 means the problem is with the connection between my Sky box and the phone line. Did I have a message waiting on 1571? No. Oh.

Well, maybe I have outgoing number witholding turned on. No, I don't - when I call my mobile, my number comes through. I ask the Sky person if their system shows them the number that I've called them from. "Yes, sir," they reply, and read my phone number out from their display. Well, it's not bloody blocked then, is it?

"Ah, well, some telephone service providers only stop your number being sent to 08- and 09-numbers."

YOU are on the other end of an 08-number, you bloody prat, and you have my number. So let's stop suggesting stuff that you can already see isn't my problem and try something else, eh?

In the end, the best they could suggest was disconnecting all of my other telephone equipment and ADSL filters, connecting my Sky box directly to the phone line and trying that. Well, sod that for a game of soldiers - if I have to essentially rewire my house in order to access Sky Active, then I'll just not bother.

One quick Google search later, and I have a plan of action of my own:
  1. Do a random product search using QVC Active on the Sky box, and see if that works. If it does, then there's nothing wrong with the set-top box or phone line.
  2. Access the Sky box installer menu, and tell the box to dial using the prefix 1615 - this is Tiscali's "bypass all settings" prefix, and Tiscali are my phone line provider.
  3. Try it again.
Guess what? After following those three steps, it all worked perfectly. In case you're wondering, to access the Sky installer menu, press Services, 4, 0, 1, Select on your Sky remote.

The moral of this story is that Google is more helpful than any so-called helpline. But heaven help you if you're not technically minded.

When the analogue TV signal is switched off, the fun will truly begin...

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

It's not rocket science

There used to be a big deal made about "stupidly easy quizzes". There was at least one children's TV show that gave away huge prizes for being able to answer questions like, "who wrote Beethoven's 5th symphony" or, "what is the name of the suspension bridge in Clifton".

One of the funnier moments came when a teenage girl was asked, "what is the main ingredient in tomato ketchup?". She hesitated for a moment and then said, "pass". At the end, the host was laughing at her inability to give the correct answer of "tomatoes".

The main ingredient by weight in tomato ketchup is sugar.

In a dull moment during GCSE biology (and my God, there were a lot of those), I came up with what I thought was the ultimate version of this: why not treat these questions as if they were being used in Mastermind. It needed a new name; something which starts out seeming clever but gets less and less amusing each time you use it. I settled on Wastermind, and if you pronounce it correctly you see that it fulfils both of my requirements.

I only ever came up with the questions for one specialist subject, so I present them for you now:

Specialist subject - questions which all have "fish" as the answer:
  1. What kind of creature is a trout?
  2. One of the most popular British takeaways is what and chips?
  3. What would you keep in an aquarium?
  4. What does footballer Steve Guppy's surname make him sound like?
  5. What English word is spelled F-I-S-H?
  6. What is the odd one out?
  7. Jesus is said to have fed a large number of people with just two items of food. One was loaves of bread. What was the other?
  8. What type of creature can be gold, star or cat?
  9. A popular TV weather presenter was Michael who?
  10. What do anglers expect to catch?
  11. What prefix completes these words?
    -ing boat
  12. What suffix should be added to sel- to give a word meaning the opposite of selfless?
And so on.

Well, (and that was one heck of a preamble) it seems that Farcebook is getting in on the act too. Recently, something not dissimilar to the following appeared in my news feed:
Twatty McMoron has taken the "What's your birthday month?" test, and the result is "April".
How many questions did they have to answer to find that out?

'Kin hell...

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Physics and talent

Boyle's Law states the following:
For a fixed amount of an ideal gas kept at a fixed temperature, pressure and volume are inversely proportional (while one increases, the other decreases).
Susan Boyle's Law is slightly different:
For a fixed amount of talent kept at a fixed exposure, pressure and success are inversely proportional (while one increases, the other decreases).
The "celebrity" culture that prevails in the UK's media has been subject to my ire before on this blog. This time, the mechanics are slightly different, but the end result is the same: someone that no-one had ever heard of just a few weeks ago has gone into a very public meltdown.

If you don't know who Susan Boyle is, don't expect me to explain it to you. Even people living under rocks have heard of her. 20 million YouTube viewers can't be wrong. Well, no - clearly any number of YouTube viewers can be completely wrong 100% of the time. Scrap that comparison.

Susan Boyle's fame is based on one thing and one thing only: the fact that we're all meant to be surprised that an unattractive person can be talented. Now, this is a frankly ridiculous concept. I mean, Rodin was an ugly fucker but he couldn't half sculpt.

More to the point, pick an attractive pop star. Can they sing? On the whole - no, they can't. Without studio trickery, Girls Aloud sound like they've entered Stars In Their Eyes with the line, "tonight, Matthew, we're going to be five cats struggling to escape from a sack in a canal". Kate Nash may well be easy on the eye, but putting on a mockney accent and talking over a piano track (whilst sounding like you're holding a punnet of strawberries in your cheeks) does not pleasant music make. The talented one in the Spice Girls was the one that looked most like a boy, and the talented one in Savage Garden was the one that looked most like a girl.

I could go on, but I only have a finite amount of pop-related insults and you never know when I might need to use some in the future.

Susan Boyle's performance of "I Dreamed A Dream" was good, but nothing more - not really. Amanda Holden's reaction (especially the face she pulls when Susan starts singing) just makes me want to beat her with a brick. "Oh my gosh, this frumpy spinster can hold a tune!" Piss off, botox features.

When Susan Boyle returned on the semi-final, her performance of "Memory" was poor. Based on that performance alone (which is how the show should work), she didn't deserve to reach the final. In the final, she performed "I Dreamed A Dream" again. Is that the only tune she can sing well? The only reason she was runner-up was because of the storm generated by her first TV appearance.

But even in the semi-final, some of her mannerisms seemed false. They were not really Susan Boyle, they were "Susan Boyle, celebrity", and they were hard to watch. The whole "Piers-y baby" air-humping thing that she did was downright disturbing. No-one likes to watch their gran being sexually suggestive on live television, but that was what this felt like.

Maybe Susan has now "made it". After all, she's in the Priory - and that's where all celebrities go, isn't it? Maybe now normality can be restored. Maybe the media will forget about her. Unlike Jade, I don't see there being a series of reality TV shows made about her future exploits. Then again, the schedule on LivingTV has been rather bare since Ms Goody departed.

Susan Boyle's lesson is an important one for us all. I was cheering for her as the perfect representation of "normal people", who take their chance to shine and seize it with both hands. The trick is to keep your feet on the ground, and perhaps Susan's sheltered upbringing (if what I've read in the papers is true) might be one of the reasons why she's not coped particularly well with the media attention.

It is possible to go from "nobody" to "world star" without losing the plot. Leona Lewis, for example. Beware the price of fame: the higher you rise, the further you have to fall.

And the quicker the rise and fall happens, the harder your recovery will be.