Tag Archives: virgin

I hate to say I told you so….

Well, that’s a lie, but it’s a traditional thing to say…

I’ve previously mumbled about the long-running farce involving private operators running the East Coast Main Line service that runs from London through York and Newcastle to Edinburgh and points beyond.

Back in 2006, having bid far too much money, GNER stepped away from the contract. The government then handed it over to National Express, who, having bid far too much for the contract, ran away in 2009.

At this point, wiser heads prevailed (or nobody could be persuaded to offer stupid amounts of money), and the service was taken back under state control.

And then a funny thing happened. The service improved. Customers (formerly known as passengers) expressed increased satisfaction in those trivial things like reliability, customer service and the like. It all seemed to be going very well.

So, quite naturally, the government couldn’t allow that to continue, as it made the whole privatisation model look a bit silly, so private operators were again invited to bid far too much for the contract. This was duly awarded to a consortium of Stagecoach and Virgin, with Stagecoach by far the majority partner, so naturally it ran under the Virgin brand, taking over in 2015.

Despite the small detail that the planned new trains had been ordered by the government and would be owned by a leasing company, the new operator made a great fuss about them, implying that they were responsible for upgrading the fleet.

At the time, cynical old Les gave them a couple of years to realise they’d bid far too much and would walk away from the contract. Well, silly me! It was actually closer to three years.

Yes, as of today, the line is back under public ownership, this time operating as the London North Eastern Railway (LNER), a name salvaged from the past.

Karl Marx said something along the lines of

History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce

I don’t think he was expecting the third time…


I’ve had my Virgin Media TiVo box for longer than I realised – over four and a half years, which is quite a long time for a thing with a hard disk that does a lot of large writes. Lately, I’d noticed occasional problems which made me wonder if the disk was beginning to suffer – it would randomly pause on playback, or there would be brief burst of odd digital blockiness. But as these were intermittent and infrequent, I just mentally filed them as something to think about later.

Then on Tuesday night, there was an overnight power cut. The TiVo has survived plenty of these in the past without any problem, but this must have been just enough to send it over the  edge. As it happened, I didn’t switch it on at all on Wednesday (wine club after work), but when I got home on Thursday, I noticed something odd. The TiVo doesn’t have much of a display – just a couple of rows of LEDs, which indicate things like “having a signal”, “being switched on” and “recording”. I’d never seen anything other than red or green lights, so I was a little surprised to see a blue one. I didn’t even know it had any…

So I switched it on and was greeted by this:

It's dead, Jim

It’s dead, Jim

Oh. I left it to reboot itself. Again. And again. At this point, I decided I wanted to watch some things, and used the built-in on demand services on my TV. Which worked nicely.

I left the TiVo to talk to itself overnight, and as it was doing the same thing on Friday morning, I did a bit of research and found that this display means pretty much what I suspected: the hard disk is an ex-hard disk. This means I’ve lost my recordings (not a major problem, as the only unwatched stuff can mostly be found in iPlayer and other such things) and my recording set up (numerous things set to record whenever they appear). Recreating that for current shows will be easy, and I’ll have to keep an eye on the listings for the rest.

Reading on the forums suggested that Virgin often just send out a replacement box rather than sending out a technician. I’d have been fine with that, but it would probably have left me TiVoless for a few days. So, I called the customer support number, where the automated wossnames took me though various steps before passing me to a human (their automated thingy is now actually pretty good, and can do useful things like checking your kit remotely). The human asked me to do the traditional business of turning the power off and on again, which made no difference, as I expected. He then said that the best thing would be to send someone out, which suited me fine. The first available time would be Saturday (that’s today, the day after placing the call) between 8am and 12 noon, and would that be OK? Well, that was ideal.

And the Virgin Media man arrived nice and early, only it seems he wasn’t given a proper report of the fault, so he had to go away again to pick up a replacement TiVo. He found one of his colleagues in the area rather than going back to base.

He then removed the old TiVo, hooked up the new one (the box looks identical other than having a Samsung[1] badge on it rather than a Cisco one), and did the setting up bit (basically, allocating the new box to my account, and letting it update itself. Everything worked the first time, and he was gone by just after 9:30.

I’ve set all current programmes to record, and I’ll just have to watch the TV listings for the rest. And I spent a few hours today watching the things I’d recorded on the old box using iPlayer and other services. The TiVo is good for that, as if you find a programme in the guide, or search for it, it helpfully offers a link to episodes available on catch up.

So, job done, problem solved, satisfied customer.

[1] This means that my AV setup – TV, soundbar, Blu-Ray player and TiVo are all Samsung. The only exception is the Apple TV. Oh, and the clever remote control thingy…

Weight and Stuff Report – 5 September 2015

Hmmmm, up a bit today.

After breakfast, I headed out to the station with a plan in mind, and it actually came off. I had only a short wait for the next train that would stop at Berwick upon Tweed[1]. I had a bit of a wander in the rather busy town[2], around some of the ramparts and then along to admire the bridges. I’d just about finished getting my bridge pictures, and was turning to head back up to the town in search of a wee bit of lunch when I heard an unmistakeable sound, so I turned around and got some more photos. Well, a railway bridge does look more interesting if there’s a train on it, doesn’t it? So here’s the lovely Royal Border Bridge with a southbound Virgin Trains East Coast InterCity 125.

Southbound Again

Southbound Again

Camera: X-T1
Aperture: ƒ/10
Shutter speed: 1/500s
Focal length: 18mm
ISO: 200
Taken: 5 September, 2015
Location: 55° 46.3695′ 0″ N 2° 0.6868′ 0″ W

[1] Carefully not getting on the first Edinburgh train, which only stopped at Alnmouth
[2] Seriously annoying traffic…

Going off the rails again

You might recall the long sorry saga of how letting private companies run the East Coast rail service didn’t work out too well. In 2006, GNER ran into the slight problem of not being able to pay the huge amount of money they’d promised to the government, and ended up giving up the contract. Undaunted, the government of the time handed the contract over to National Express, who a couple of years later found that they couldn’t pay the huge amount of money they’d promised to the government and ended up giving up the contract.

But this was 2009, when the economy was still melting, and it didn’t seem like a good idea to find another operator to lie about how much money they’d be able to pay for the lucrative contract. And so, the service has been run since then by a state-owned enterprise. And would you believe it? Passenger numbers and perhaps more importantly, passenger satisfaction are up. Reliability has improved. Lots of money is being paid into the government. All in all, the way the East Coast line has been run makes most of the rail network look like the idiotic mess it is.

But this situation could not be allowed to continue, could it? Everyone knows that public sector is bad and private sector is good[1], so despite the success of the service, it was put out to tender again, and it’s been awarded to a consortium of Stagecoach and Virgin, who have promised to pay billions of pounds into the government. Haven’t we heard that before? Where’s that money going to come from? Will it actually be paid?

The government’s announcement talks about how the service will be improved by new trains, implying that these have something to do with the franchise holder, which is not strictly accurate[2]. The trains had already been ordered, and would have been used by whoever was going to be running the service.

I give it the usual two years from them repainting the existing trains to realising that they’ve offered far more than they can pay.

BBC News – Stagecoach and Virgin win East Coast mainline rail franchise.

[1] For an arbitrarily “brain dead politicians” value of “everyone”
[2] For an arbitrarily “big fat lie” value of “not strictly accurate”

Weight and Stuff Report – 29 June 2013

Up again today, shock horror.

I had a bit of a different Saturday today. I started by paying a quick visit to the new teeny tiny Tesco’s that’s just opened on Coatsworth Road. It doesn’t have enough stuff to replace the big one in Gateshead for my usual weekly shopping trip, but it is nicely located for quick access to croissants for breakfast.

After breakfast and a few routine jobs, I did the usual shopping trip and came home for a bit of lunch before heading into Newcastle for the Naked Wines tasting event, which I’ve been looking forward to since it was announced. I’ve been to events organised by Virgin Wines and Laithwaite’s, and was expecting something similar, but it turned out to be a lot better. The way these things usually work is that there are tables around the edge of the room with people behind them who pour small measures into your glass. Naked Wines adopted a different approach. The tables were side-on, so you could get on both sides of them. Staff and winemakers were on hand to talk about the wines (or just chat), and customers were free to pour their own measures. Woo hoo!

There were 100 wines on offer, so there was no chance of trying more than a selection, but I did make a good effort, and tried some I hadn’t had before (I made a point of not tasting the ones I already knew to be good). The deal was that if you ordered at least 12 bottles, the cost of the ticket (a quite reasonable £15) would be deducted from the bill, and I did indeed order some wine, which I’ll get some time next week.

While I was there, I enjoyed a nice selection of cheeses from a company who had a table there – all good stuff, and I really should have made a note of their name, but never mind.

No fresh photographs today, but here’s a bit of art I caught with my iPhone on High Bridge earlier this week:

Street Art

Street Art

Camera: iPhone 4S
Aperture: ƒ/2.4
Shutter speed: 1/150s
Focal length: 4.28mm
ISO: 50
Taken: 25 June, 2013
Location: 54° 58.32′ 0″ N 1° 36.69′ 0″ W

I like that a lot.

Doctor Who – The Ark in Space (Special Edition)

I seem to be in full on catching up with myself mode, so I’m going to make a start on some classic Doctor Who DVD reviews. This is another of the improved releases – the original came out in 2002, and was a little light on extras.

This four part story, first shown in January/February 1975, was Tom Baker’s second story as the Doctor, following on from Robot. He’s accompanied by Lis Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith and Ian Marter as Harry Sullivan. The TARDIS, in typically random fashion, arrives on a space station in the far future. It turns out to be full of people in suspended animation – they left Earth before it was devastated by solar flares which rendered it uninhabitable. Unfortunately, the system that was supposed to wake them all up after a suitable interval failed. Even more unfortunately, Something Nasty has got on board – a Wirrn, a giant space insect that has nasty reproductive habits involving taking over the bodies of other lifeforms. Something like an ichneumon fly, only bigger and more intelligent, which is not something you’d want to wake up to after thousands of years asleep.

There’s lot of the usual running around, Sarah getting into trouble several times, and the Doctor being very Doctorish. Indeed, it’s quite impressive to see Tom already getting his characterisation more or less perfect. Good stuff.

This being a revised special edition, there’s a pretty good selection of extras, spread over two discs. These include:

  • A new frontier – a new making of documentary 
  • Doctor Forever! – Love & War The first in a new documentary series about how Doctor Who was kept alive during the brief unpleasantness while it was off the air. This one looks at the books initially published by Virgin, then by BBC books, and includes contributions from some of the authors. Some of them went on to have some involvement with the revived TV series, including Russell T Davies and Mark Gatiss.

There are also lots of little effects pieces, some 2002 CGI sequences, TV news clips, the usual production subtitles and much more.

Now that’s what I call quite fast

Well DoneQuite some time ago, I upgraded to Virgin Media’s 50Mb internet service. Not so much because I need blindingly fast downloads – it’s more the relatively faster upload speed that comes as part of the deal. Faster uploads mean my backups to Crashplan work properly, and uploading photos to my  various web thingies doesn’t take too long.

Anyway, a while ago, Virgin announced that they’d been doubling my speed. And recent test showed I was getting something like 80Mb/s, which is pretty damn fast, especially if you remember dial-up connections.

Since then, I’ve replaced my router, and I’ve now got a Virgin Superhub thingy instead of the old cable modem[1]. I was quite impressed with the activation process for that. Last time I got a new modem, I had to speak to an actual person. This time it was all done automagically – call the free number, press 1 to confirm you’re calling from the number associated with the account in question, press 1 to confirm you’ve plugged everything in. A few minutes later, it was working. Nice.

And once I’d put it in modem mode, it was time for another test:

Speed test

Fast or what?

Woo, hoo, etc. Apparently it’ll be going up to 120Mb/s before long, with the potential for more in the future.

And I know some Virgin customers don’t do as well as that – it seems to vary widely across the country. As far as I can see, the Gateshead bit of their network is pretty damn reliable.

[1] I’ve followed the advice of most technical people who have the Superhub thingy and put it into modem mode, rather than using its router and wireless functions

That’s OK, take your time…

I listen to 6Music in the mornings through my Virgin Media TiVo, which generally works just fine. I turned the toys on this morning in the usual way (automagic control with my Logitech Harmony clever remote thingy) and all seemed well. But when I came back with my first espresso of the day, it was a bit quiet.

Hmm. OK, let’s have a look. Turned on the TV so I could see what it was upset about and saw one of those “channel not available” messages. These usually go away after rebooting the box, which I did, and sure enough music resumed. But there were some odd messages on the screen suggesting that some services were unavailable, and that I should check the status page on the website for details. So I did, and saw this little gem:

Or maybe April?

Or maybe April?

Yup, a vague “known problems” with a guessed fix date of one month away. I think that’s probably a default placeholder thingy, but it’s still a bit silly. Maybe I should try that one at work…

Update: And since then, the channel has been on and off intermittently. Looks like some significant borkage…

Virgin Media TiVo – Now with added app goodness

It’s been a while since I last talked about the TiVo in any detail, which is more to do with the fact that it quite simply sits there and works rather than any loss of interest in the beast.

Since that last report, it’s had a major update which apart from simplifying a few things (fewer steps when setting a series link, for instance), removed a moderate annoyance. Before the update, it wasn’t possible to completely disable the parental controls stuff, so that if (as is often the case) I wanted to watch something originally transmitted after 9pm at an earlier time of day (Sunday afternoons are when I often catch up on things), I had to enter the PIN to confirm that I was an adult. A bit annoying, as there are no kiddies, supervised or otherwise on the premises. Following the update, that’s gone away – I was able to tell it to not bother me again with such things, which is a definite improvement.

Something Virgin had mentioned previously was that a future update would enable the use of an iPhone app for remote setting of recordings. This can already be done from the website, though last time I tried to use it from a non Virgin connection, it had a bit of bother loading the programme data after I logged in, which meant that I wouldn’t have been able to set recordings if I’d wanted to. But while I was waiting for a train at Cardiff station last week, I remembered the app promise, and had a quick look. Sure enough, there’s a Virgin Media TV guide app in the store. I downloaded it while I was waiting and found a quite neat TV guide. You can set it up so it uses the correct TV region, you can select which channels you want it to list (so you don’t need to scroll past a load of channels you never watch, nice), and you can immediately see what’s on now and next for all channels. Tap on a channel and you’ll see the full day’s listing.

Then comes the clever bit. Sign in to the app with your Virgin Media ID and you can then set recordings! Woo, hoo, etc. I did a couple of tests, and it does indeed work. A very welcome extra feature – ideal if you realise you’re going to be late home and you’re going to miss something, or if you’re away and find out that there’s something on tonight you really, really, really don’t want to miss.

There’s no way to change existing recordings – it’s strictly a one way push to TiVo thing, but that’s good enough for now.