Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Living in the modern world

I thought you might be interested to know how my BluRay player remote control issue was ultimately resolved.

Through a frigging app.

I've heard people joke that there is an app for everything, and after this most recent experience, I'm certainly inclined to agree with them.

If I were 20 years younger, I probably would have considered downloading an app to substitute for my remote control. But I'm 41, and that is not first on my list of brainstormed solutions. In fact, it doesn't even appear to be in the top ten.

So I'm really glad I put the question out to my friends on Facebook, asking how I deal with the dilemma of not knowing whether it was my remote or the sensor on the player that was broken. One friend responded that he controls many of his electronics from his phone nowadays, because his son is always hiding the remote. (A phenomenon with which I am plenty familiar.) It's worth noting that this guy is at least ten years younger than I am.

I liked the idea, but wasn't too optimistic about it. You see, I'm from the generation that still kind of, sort of, on some level doesn't quite get apps. I mean, there are plenty of apps I use, and any number of times I've had that mind-blowing experience of downloading and starting using them at a moment's notice. Shazam, for one, is pretty much my favorite invention of the past 20 years. But there's still a basic disconnect between fortysomethings and apps, some barrier between us and the technology that we share in common with those 20 years older than us.

Which is why it took me three or four days to actually put my friend's idea to the test. For some reason I figured I'd need to block out a whole afternoon to deal with the various unknowns and potential complications. On Sunday, I got that opportunity, and noted with joy that there were not one, but two apps in the Google Play store that would be compatible with my player. Things were starting to look up.

And then look down again.

No sooner had I downloaded them -- first one, and when that didn't work, the other -- than I realized the shortcoming of these apps. They did not, as I had assumed, just take the place of my remote control, using the phone's built-in sensor (you know, the kind you used to use to beam each other phone numbers from short distances) to send a signal to the BluRay player. No, they relied on my home network. And since the BluRay player wasn't currently part of my home network, and since I figured to need the remote control to join it to the network, I was back to square one.

Except then I threw off the shackles of my fortysomething years, reminded myself I work in information technology, and started thinking outside the box in which my age was trying to trap me.

Any device that joins the network gets an IP address from the router, which is what allows it to communicate with the router and ultimately with the internet. It probably shouldn't matter whether it's a tablet or a mobile phone or a BluRay player. Those things would used wireless connections, but my BluRay player could use a wired one and it would probably be the same thing. The router was functioning as a DHCP server, and it would give out an address to whatever device asked it. The only part I wasn't sure about was whether the device needed to offer a password to get permission to join, but I'd cross that bridge later.

So I took the Ethernet cable out of our Fetch Box (the devices that gives us access to a bunch of on demand TV shows on Australian TV) and plugged it into the back of the BluRay player. And sure enough, now the app could see, and talk to, my BluRay player.

And moments later, I was pausing, forwarding and rewinding to my heart's content. It almost felt like magic.

There was another moment when things started to look down, though. About 45 minutes after I'd set this up, the router went down. None of our computers or phones could connect to the wireless. "Oh great," I figured. "Plugging in my BluRay player has somehow caused an IP address conflict and rebooted the router's settings." It seemed plausible, and if so, it seemed like the death knell to this app idea.

However, after another 45 minutes of rebooting and other troubleshooting, I called the provider, where I discovered and that it was, in fact, a regional outage. Another 45 minutes later, everything was back up, and has stayed that way since.


And that night, I enjoyed all the luxuries of a full menu of control buttons, right there on my phone. I must admit, as I was watching my first movie, I did initially start out by pointing my phone at the player, like you would with a regular remote control. Even if no sensor in the phone was actually sending out a beam of light to my BluRay player, it seemed like the right thing to do.

What can I say? Sometimes old people are clueless.

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