Monday, July 10, 2017

Rage against the (Hopper) machine

“Those opposed to DRM contend there is no evidence that DRM helps prevent copyright infringement, arguing instead that it serves only to inconvenience legitimate customers, and that DRM helps big business stifle innovation and competition. Furthermore, works can become permanently inaccessible if the DRM scheme changes or if the service is discontinued.” – Wikipedia

Well, as I initially suspected, Thursday was the last day of our receiving the Buzzr channel at Rancho Yesteryear with our DISH “Flex Package.”  What made me wary that it would be a temporary thing was that we experienced something similar when DISH added the Grit subchannel a while back; when I noticed that they added a few “new” reruns to their lineup—one of them being The Californians, which I was curious to check out—I went to program the DVR only to discover it had completely vaporized from our system.

I recorded reruns of To Tell the Truth, What’s My Line?, and I’ve Got a Secret from Buzzr for two purposes—the most important being that I had planned to use these episodes as “filler” whenever I dubbed a ninety-minute movie to a DVD-R.  (I’m kind of anal about that sort of thing.  Please do not look upon me with bewilderment and pity.)  Friday afternoon, I decided to get started with the dubbing and as I set up the first installment of Truth…I get an onscreen message telling me that I can’t watch this recording because I’m not subscribed to the channel.

This is not the first time this has happened.  My Mom had the same trouble watching Gone Baby Gone (2007), which I snagged during a Starz “freeview” some time back.  (I had already managed to dub this one off onto a disc, and offered to run it for her but she waved me off.)  The peculiar thing about all of this is that we never experienced these difficulties until DISH uploaded a new “interface” for their Hopper DVR about two weeks ago.  I got an earlier heads-up about this from Andrew “Grover” Leal, who told me he could no longer watch a movie he DVR’d from HBO a while ago.  (He’s also been experiencing trouble programming his DVR since the changeover.)  I checked out an HBO recording I made—I believe it was The Sixth Sense (1999)—and it seemed to play fine, so I didn’t think much more about it.

But the Buzzr situation really got me steamed.  It angered me because the recordings were only a month old, if at that—I could understand it if I had DVR’d these last year but this just seemed to be one big clusterfudge.  I decided to call someone at DISH about this nonsense.

You’d think when you get to be the age I am now you’d learn that anytime you must contact a cable or satellite company about a problem it’s not going to end well.  There is a simple reason for this.  These companies are staffed by people working for human-weasel hybrids.  (I used to think that everyone employed there was some sort of half-human, half-weasel until I further contemplated on the matter and decided that it was probably just upper management—the rest of the proles were unhappy humans forced to work for the company to afford luxuries like food, clothing, and shelter.  This does not, however, resolve them from any of the evil their masters do nor their tireless efforts to see just how high they can raise my blood pressure.)

When we moved into Rancho Yesteryear (the Winterville edition) in July of 2015, we didn’t have many options re: TV service; although our mailing address is Winterville, we’re technically outside the city limits…where no cable installer has gone before.  So, it came down to DISH or DirecTV, and after hearing a few of my friends bitch about how DirecTV loves to raise their rates more than they love their children I decided to go with DISH as our provider.  (Plus, there was already a DISH dish in the yard.  I figured it would make things easier.)  Since that foolish decision, DISH has gone above and beyond the call of duty to keep me in a continually ulcerated state.

It started when Mom and Dad were upset because they couldn’t watch Braves games on the weekend; the channel (Fox Sports South) that televised the games would have a notice onscreen that the outing they wanted to watch had been blocked in our area.  I called DISH to ask what the dealio was and the rep I spoke with swore on the lives of her children that this was completely out of the company’s hands.

Yes.  This woman flat-out lied to me, thinking smugly: “This guy sounds too dumb to even look it up on the Internets.”  Because here’s the thing: it’s bad enough that you’ve aroused my ire by doing this kind of sh*t in the first place (although it was really more of my parents’ ire…since I had no f**ks to give regarding the televised games) but then you compound this by not being straight with me.  All she would have had to say is: “Yes, we’re too cheap to pay Fox for the weekend games.  I know you, as a customer, probably don’t agree with what we feel is a principled stand…but we really don’t care because you have no other options regarding TV.  Have a nice day, asswipe.”  (Sure—I still would have been angry…but it would be an honest anger.)

Let’s get back to the present.  Before DISH instituted its new “interface”—there was never any problem with my DVRing movies from freeview weekends and then watching them when I had the time.  After the changes, however—this crap starts happening.  Now—I know that believing correlation equals causation is a logical fallacy…but it just seemed odd that this kind of problem would rear its ugly head after DISH changed their Hopper/Joey.  I had an online chat with a rep to find out what was going on.

I should have foreseen that this person was not going to give me any sort of honest answer—that she had, in fact, been conditioned by her human-weasel masters not to get sidetracked from the official story (I’m guessing it was a combination of snakes and live electricity).  She kept prattling on about it being a DRM (digital rights management) issue—that practice that companies have adopted to, in the words of Wikipedia, “restrict usage of proprietary hardware and copyrighted works.”  Since I wasn’t subscribed to Buzzr, I couldn’t access any programming I might have recorded…and if I did record a show, it would expire after a 24-hour period.  (“What’s the point of having the DVR if I have to watch this stuff before that time limit runs out?” I asked to no reply.)

This made no sense to me whatsoever.  What she was saying was, if I was subscribed to Buzzr—I could continue to access the programming I had legitimately recorded…but how would that stop me from “piracy”?  (Wikipedia: “Proponents of DRM argue that it is necessary to prevent intellectual property from being copied freely, just as physical locks are needed to prevent personal property from being stolen, that it can help the copyright holder maintain artistic control, and that it can ensure continued revenue streams.”)  The most infuriating part of the conversation was that she steadfastly maintained that this had nothing to do with the new interface…even though these “piracy” threats were not a problem with the old interface.

My favorite part came at the end, when she acknowledged that this might not have reached a satisfying conclusion but was there anything she could do to “better the experience”?  My response was no, there was not.  “You are doomed to spend eternity in Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell, along with politicians and pedophiles,” I explained to her. “I couldn’t do what you do for a living because I have a conscience.”  All she would have had to say to me would be: “Yes, unfortunately one of the side effects of the interface change is that it puts the screws to people who like to record movies.  Here’s a coupon for the inconvenience.”  (The ‘rents would have liked that part.)  I guess if there is a bright side to all this I now have some space cleared on the DVR because I had to delete all the movies I grabbed during the freeview weekend as well as some TV episodes I obtained from the Encore Westerns channel.  (Oddly enough, there were a couple of movies I could continue to access…though those might be history by the time this tirade posts.)

And they wonder why people despise cable/satellite companies so much.  Okay, rant over.  Back to business tomorrow.

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