02 August 2005


I sit here writing this looking at the LCD screen of the Virgin
Atlantic entertainment system in front of me.

This is not a basic entertainment system. This is state of the art
aboard an Airbus A340-600 with lots of stuff available on-demand.
(Did I need my iPod?)

Without going into details, the screen looks very similar to the DOS
start-up screens of old - at least when something is wrong.

In beautiful monochrome 80 x 24 I've got basically a "Bus Error in
svgalib:Signal 7. Please press Enter to continue". But of course,
there is not a single key marked "Enter" on the double-sided keypad,
with TWO sets of up/down/left/right/select iPod shuffle-style buttons
on just the one side.

Ah well, it's been rebooted now by the cabin attendant (ctrl-alt-
del?), and something is happening.

Actually it's all in Linux apparently (given away by one of the lines
of error message).

We were also asked not to start it all up at once - apparently 300
passengers overloads the server!

Now, I'm sure this is great really, but why put this output up on a
screen read by a passenger? It's now taken 3 minutes from the reboot
to the loading, and I'm still getting an eggtimer. Now the screen's
gone blank again with no feedback. It's just the BSOD (where B=Black
in this case)

I used to be quite happy with the 16 channel video service offered.
That plus an iPod and a book was all you could really ask for. And
it worked.

And, it was massively better than any US airllne. I once got on a
brand new United Airlines Boeing 777 (it was 2 weeks old) in business
class too.
I looked and looked for my seatback video, but couldn't find
anything. So, I asked the stewardess. She said, that they'd "had a
choice between seatback video and vibrating seats, and plumped for
the vibrating seats on this plane". This was the last century, but
only just. By then Virgin had had video in ECONOMY for, what, 8
years? This is a completely true story! I have never flown United
Airlines again.

Now, back to the flight: the cabin attendant has said she will reboot
the whole system as it's affecting a lot of people. This will take
about 10 mins. If this doesn't work, she'll have to turn it off
completely and back on, which could take 40 minutes!

Glad I brought my iPod and book after all!

update: penguin back, and lots of scrolling nonesense. It's only
been about 15 mins now since I started this post. I could have
photo'd this, but I'm not supposed to use my phone!

(I also believe this system has been around for almost 2 years now -
my other half had it on the same type of plane to Tokyo. So, it's
had plenty of time to work out the bugs. Come on guys!)

update 2; now loading fonts. Fonts? 7%, 10%, - 2 minutes to load
verifying configs... stuck again!

Eventually, a hard reset was necessary, and it took about another 30
minutes (in the end we had no entertainment for the first 2 hours),
but surprisingly it worked. I was able to watch the complete first
series of the Office and the first one of Nighty Night - there is a
truly huge selection here. And the CD jukebox feature is also quite

However, the user interface really sucks. The two ipod shuffle-like
groups of keys are confusing (when to use which set) and you are
often flipping between the two to achieve even basic tasks. The Play/
Pause I would have expected to be the centre button, but it is around
the top (ie equivalent to volume up on ipod). And, the wiring on the
remote means it's quite hard to keep it in the right orientation, so,
you are sometimes pressing it upside down.

Anyway, you got mostly my realtime thoughts here, so apologies for
the rambling.

ps: KISS = Keep It Simple, Stupid for those not in the software biz

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