Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A tale of streaming video - and complexity

A hacker attacked a company in Tokyo and broke my movie service in New York. It took a vast amount of systematic problem solving to get it back.

It shows much of life is becoming much more filled with possibility and choice - and also vastly more complex.

People increasingly need much more ability to understand highly complex and overlapping systems to do even simple things. We increasingly float on a smooth surface of convenience in daily life which hides turbulent ocean depths of complexity if anything does not work.

I spent part of yesterday evening trying to get our Netflix streaming account working via the PS3 again. Netflix streaming is a service here in the US that lets you instantly choose from thousands of different movies and tv shows, and start watching immediately via an internet connection.

It works on PCs, Macs and has a wonderful implementation on the iPad. But we mostly use a connection via a Sony PS3 playstation/bu-ray player, because it makes it easy to select movies on our big plasma tv, using just a standard remote control from our sofa.

Our netflix connection hasn't worked since Sony's network collapsed after a hacker attack earlier this year. We sometimes relied on streaming via a HDMI cable from our iMac instead, but it is much more awkward.

I solved the problem in the end, but it got me thinking. The complexity of many normal activities is remarkable.

Twenty years ago to watch a similar movie on tv, you just plugged the VCR or aerial to the TV, and that was it. True enough, programming the VCR was beyond many people, but the actual connections were fairly straightforward.

Now there are many separate elements that need to work together. It was not clear why it was not accepting the netflix password and refusing to let us log on. Was the problem with the netflix password, the netflix app, the Sony Playstation network password that is needed for the pS3 to access the internet, or something else?

It took about ten attempts entering various passwords to work out which login was causing the problem, and which link in the chain was broken. I discovered the Sony network was not logged on, and needed to have a software update carried out to work at all.

Then it turned out the netflix app had to be reinstalled. It needed its own login password. I logged on from the computer just to make sure we had the correct password. We did. So the netflix login worked.

For the first time in months, we could open the netflix app successfully, only to find it was not showing the choices correctly. The titles disappeared off the screen, as if everything was zoomed in and too big.

I resorted to google to try and find an answer. One suggestion in a support forum was to reset the video display settings so that 1080i and 1080p were not selected, just 720p. I found the settings menu, changed the video setting, and opened up the netflix app again. It worked.

I happened to know what 1080i was, but it assumes a huge amount of knowledge for someone to know the difference between different progressive and interlaced high definition video standards to be even able to understand the solution.

So here is a tale of remarkable complexity. A hacker attack on a corporation in Tokyo broke my movie streaming service in my apartment in New York. It took diagnosing two different networks, multiple software updates, and delving deep into the inner settings of a complex HD device to get it to work again.

Indeed, it could have been an even more complex problem. The streaming also relies on Time Warner Cable Roadrunner internet service being up and running, the cable modem functioning, the ethernet cable to the router working, the router and broadband wifi working, the login for the PS3 to my domestic wifi network working, and the HDMI cable and settings between the PS3 and the Pioneer HD TV working.

The connections ramify and multiply. Figuring out what is wrong when there is a problem involves layers of trial and error and systematic problem solving.

Twenty years ago you just shoved the videotape into the machine, changed the channel on the tv, checked the cable, and that was that.

But it is also remarkable how the resources for fixing problems are also developing. I don't know how many times in the average month I know google with a problem and find an answer on one kind of support forum or another. Technical support is increasingly not a person on the phone, but vast internet archives of postings discussing problems.

No comments:

Post a Comment