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Dear geek, the BBC is not your friend

The BBC have a policy of tightly controlling access to their “iPlayer” IPTV services. Last I checked, access to the HTML video “iPlayer” front-end is restricted to devices authenticated via SSL, through a vendor private key signed by a BBC certificate authority key. General web browser access to “iPlayer” is via the now obsolescent Flash applet technology, using RTMPE streams.

BBC management appear to be under the impression that Flash RTMPE secures access to the video streams. Or rather, they appear to wish to seem to believe in that impression, because I know for certain their management are aware it does not. There is, of course, simply no way that you can deliver content to a general purpose computing device AND prevent whoever controls the device from easily copying the digital content. The BBC iPlayer Flash streams are easily recorded using non-BBC approved software. Some of which perhaps exists to aid piracy, but some of which exists because the BBC decided to shut-out certain users of iPlayer (e.g. those who prefer not to run insecure, proprietary software from Adobe). If you mention such software exists on BBC forums your comment will be deleted and you will be warned that you are violating the BBC ToS. The BBC takes a firm “head in sand” approach to the futility of trying to secure stream access, at least for the present.

To my thinking, the BBCs’ current digital/ondemand strategy is anti-competitive and hence at odds with its public service remit. To the extent my previous concerns were about the use of Flash, the BBC has answered them by (it seems) moving to HTML video interfaces for 3rd party device access. However, by requiring those devices submit to BBC type approval, and enforcing this through strong cryptographic authentication, the BBC have increased my concerns about competition. The BBC is even in the position where it is a major share-holder in “YouView”, a company that makes a cross-UK-broadcaster IPTV software platform and consumer device. Dragging the BBC even further into anti-competitive and anti-public-interest commercial interests.

The BBC tries to deflect these concerns by trumpeting there are now “an astonishing 650 connected TV devices”. Those 650 devices are from just 21 vendors however, those few blessed by the BBC. One of the criteria for receiving this blessing is that you be large enough to make it worth the BBCs’ while. I know this as the BBC refused to certify my IPTV device, on the grounds the market I would serve was not significant enough (i.e. initially just my family).

Basically, if you’re a net-neutrality geek, or an open-access geek, or a competitive-markets economics geek, then know that the BBC is not the cuddly, friendly public champion you might think it is. Rather, the BBCs’ digital wing has and continues to work hard to ensure the future of IPTV, at least in the UK, is a tightly-controlled arena, controlled by the BBC and a select few large players. The BBC are working hard to ensure you lose the right to record your TV. The BBC are working very hard for a future where, if you want to watch the BBC or any TV, you must choose a locked-down device, controlled by the BBC or organisations it approves of.

If you are such a geek, know that the BBC is not your friend.

Edits: Fixed some prepositions. Removed a redundant sentence. Changed “the” in “the major shareholder” to “a”. Changed “ondemand strategy” to “digital/ondemand strategy”. Added link to the 21 vendors.

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Distributed k-core algorithm

Earlier this year I gave at the talk at the March 4th, 2011 meeting of SCONE (Scottish Networking Event), on “Distributed k-shell graph decomposition”. The talk is on the k-core or k-shell of a graph, given in papers such as Seidman’s “Network Structure and Minimum Degree”, and it presents a new, efficient, distributed, algorithm for computing the maximal k-core membership of each node.

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Critique of Diverse Double-Compiling

David A. Wheeler has described a technique called “Diverse Double-Compiling”, for which it is claimed that it fully counters the attack described in Ken Thompson’s classic paper “Reflections on Trusting Trust”. While it seems an interesting technique, with some potential practical application, it does not seem to me that it reliably detects the Thompson attack – indeed it seems to me that the DDC papers re-inforce the point made by Thompson about trust. I’ve written up these thoughts in a short paper here.

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Microblogging / Social Networking updates

Micro-blogging, like Twitter is the latest rage. Not understanding why I, of course, have decided to try it out. My Twitter account is pauljakma, and my account is paulj. is quite handy as it has the ability to connect to Twitter and Facebook, and update your status there as/when you update your status on it. I am also using gwibber, a Linux/GNOME micro-blogging client which can connect to several social-network and micro-blogging sites, including all the above. The resulting flow of messages is best described here. I have also installed mobidentica, a light-weight Laconica/Identica client for Symbian S60, onto my Nokia E51, for on the go micro-blogging but I haven’t really used it in anger yet.

So basically, I can update my status on Twitter, and Facebook all in one place. E.g. from Gwibber, if I’m using my desktop; or via if I have access to a browser; or mobidentica via my phone. can also synchronise with services that use the Jabber IM protocol, like Google Talk and Nokia’s Ovi chat client.

The one downside is that there may be a bit of an impedance mismatch in audience between different micro-blogging/social-network sites. E.g. my Twitters/’dents tend to be more techy, which could seem strange to various Facebook family and friends who are not techies.. It’d be nice if had a fine-grained, in-line way to control which ‘dents were sent to Facebook.

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Science and Religion: The Quick Guide





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Hello world!

This is my new, personal blog site – taking over from
my old, Sun blog.

Welcome 🙂

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