23 December 2008

My Tivo HD/Comcast Saga comes to a Triumphant End!

About a week ago, I was in a pit of despair about the fact that I'd had 2 visits from Comcast installers and still my new TiVo HD was not hooked in to my cable. Comcast Customer Support kindly took notice of my blog rant and offered assistance. I was hoping that the "third time's a charm" and I wouldn't need it, but unfortunately that visit didn't go so well either. So, after a call to Comcast Support line, emails and calls with the Support reps who reached out to me via my blog, and a tag team effort by three technicians, everything is right with the world. My TiVo HD is now functioning as more than just a fancy Netflix Streaming receiver.

To be honest, I was hesitant about taking advantage of the Customer Service, especially when they said they would put a note on my upcoming Troubleshooting work order. I've seen that backfire with other companies who essentially mark you as a technological hypochondriac and give you worse service. But, fortunately, that wasn't the case here. Although one tech started to mention another call in which it was actually a faulty TiVo unit and not a problem with Comcast, they were true to their word and stayed for almost 60 minutes to ferret out the mistake made during my last installation attempt and make sure I was receiving all the channels in my package.

Storm Response Forgets Pedestrians

Yesterday, WBZ posted an article and a poll asking whether there should be a law to require vans and SUVs to clear snow from their roofs before driving. This is a fantastic idea and 78% of respondents agree with me. It's not just rude, it's dangerous.

But as I walked to the T in Jamaica Plain the past few mornings, I started wondering if such a law would actually help. After all, there's already a law requiring home- and business-owners to properly shovel their sidewalks, yet every winter major neighborhood streets like Centre (north of the South/Center businesses), Boylston, Paul Gore and Green remain un-shoveled, becoming treacherous moonscapes and forcing pedestrians to walk in the street.

But it isn't just lazy folks (or those in a battle of wills with their landlords) that cause problems. Plows pile giant mounds of snow up onto curbs, blocking the normal flow. In years past, I've just considered this my grumbly fate in winter, but this year it strikes me as particularly backwards. After all, a record number fo commuters switched to using the MBTA this year and most of us require some amount of walking to get to the bus or T stop. It just seems completely outdated that snow removal is still so ver car-focused.

19 December 2008

Snowstorm 2.0

What's better than a giant snowstorm where either you got to leave work early or you'll spend 5 hours crawling home along the Pike? Knowing every bit of data about that snowstorm thanks to Web 2.0 tools.

Winthrop Sq, downtown, 4 pm


18 December 2008

Awesome Women: Molly Wood

I love Molly Wood. As an Executive Editor with CNet, I've been watching/listening to her on Buzz out Loud and my CNet TiVoCast for years. And she just rocks. Not only is she a woman who knows and loves all kinds of tech and gadgetry, but she's a woman who is very pretty but a) on TV (well, okay, the internets, but still) because of her brains, not her looks and b) not insanely TV perfect airbrushed like some tech shows and podcasts use to lure in the guy nerds. Also, she seems to strike a good mom-work balance. She tweets about her kid a lot, but not too much and not horrible tone-deaf parent stuff and she very publicly went through pregnancy, maternity leave and return to work. So, yay Molly Wood.

17 December 2008

Zappos is my new favorite

So, after my little rant about poor service, here's a GREAT service story. I ordered a pair of sneakers from Zappos lat night at about 6:00 pm EST and they are on the UPS truck headed to my house as I type! I even got this expedited shipping for free - it's either part of their holiday free shipping promotion and/or because I payed by PayPal. Awesome.

16 December 2008

My TiVo HD/Comcast Saga Rant

I love TiVo. I love them irrationally in a way that a smart person like myself really shouldn't love a consumer brand. But, seriously, TiVo is awesome. Not only does it serve a technical function that makes me happy (time shift my television watching, allow me to skip commercials, help Suggest new shows I might like and connect me to content through Amazon), but it does it in a friendly, usable way. Even the remote control was thoroughly thought out.

I've had a TiVo Series 2 since about 2004 and have very little complaints. They even replaced the hardware when it started malfunctioning - twice! This last box had lasted through 3+ years and 3 different apartments and is still going strong. So, even though the USB 1.0 is a bit slow for downloading my shows or transferring to my PC and even though it can't handle HD, so my cable/TV/TiVo setup is needlessly complicated, I really wasn't tempted to upgrade to TiVo HD. That is, until they announced Netflix streaming would not be supported on the Series 2. I've been pretty satisfied with Amazon Video On Demand (formerly Unbox) and I may downgrade my cable package and get my TV shows there next year, but I've been frustrated with the lack of new releases to rent (many are available only for purchase for the first few weeks) and I missed the breadth of Netflix's selection.

So, my shiny new TiVo HD arrived a week ago. I tore open the box, thinking I was less than 30 minutes away from my new media heaven only to find the very first paper on top informed me that TiVo HD does not work with my cable box. Rather, I needed to call my cable provider to come install a CableCARD directly into the TiVo. This was unpleasant news. I have had only disappointing interactions with Comcast and I wanted to set up my TiVo NOW. This was also unexpected news. There was no part in the order process that mentioned the CableCARD requirement. (In TiVo's defense, there was a teeny little link to an Installation video in my Welcome email, but a) I've installed 2 other SD TiVos and b) why would I watch the video before the TiVo arrived anyway?)

So, I called up Comcast and said "I just purchased a TiVo HD and the instructions say I need to get a CableCARD installed, can I make an appointment?" The operator put me on hold for a second and returned and gave me an appointment window on Friday. I worked from home and waited and waited. The installer knocked on my door about 10 minutes before the appointment window ended to tell me he was working in an apartment upstairs and would be down right after. I waited and waited for about 40 more minutes - what the heck were they installing up there?

Finally, Comcast guy returns and he has a giant box in his hand and says "So, we're going to remove your CableCARD and install a DVR?" and I stared at him and said, "No, exactly the opposite. I have a new TiVo DVR, I do not have any CableCARDS and I need one." He looks over the work order, which also lists all my current equipment and, sure enough, "See, there it says 'Remove CableCARD,' but here I can see you don't have any on the account." The tech was very nice and apologetic (even though it wasn't his fault), told me he had no CableCARDS with him, mumbled that they'd done the same thing to him at the last call, and called Comcast to schedule a new appointment for me on Monday.

Now it's Monday and a different technician shows up, with CableCARDS but, perplexingly, also with an Comcast DVR box. Anyhow, he starts the installation process and then gets to an error message. He calls in to wherever to report the error and I can hear pretty much all of both sides and it turns out my tech did a few things in the wrong order. There's lots of back and forth and a TiVo reboot and some other activities, but, essentially, the technician screwed up and has now been at my place for almost an hour so he tells me I'll need to reschedule because he can't manage to install 2 single stream cards so someone will need to come back on a day when a single multi-stream card is available (TiVo says either setup should work fine).

Most of this is really Comcast's fault, but I also found the Installation Guide poster provided by TiVo to be fairly confusing. Two points in particular:

  • Step 1 says "Install CableCARD" but then the smaller print says to complete rest of the installation steps 48 hours before the cable guys arrives. So, shouldn't "Install CableCARD" be the last step?
  • TiVo provides YPbpr cables, but also supports HDMI, you just have to buy it yourself. The installation instructions only reference the YPbpr cables through the first 8 steps. I actually began to wonder if TiVo needed to go through setup and either download and update or have me manually change a setting before I could use my HDMI cable. But then way down at step 8 or 9, the small print says "Oh yeah, by the way, you could have substituted an HDMI cable way back at Step 4"

So, now, I guess because Comcast disabled my box before the failed CARD installation, I have a Comcast HD DVR feeding into my still-working SD TiVO and a nearly useless HD TiVo just hanging out.

On the bright side, I got Netflix streaming hooked up and it's FANTASTIC.

12 December 2008

Cool Neuroscience Fact of the Day

Ever since I read Proust Was a Neuroscientist, I've found and been recommended a number of strangely related books on topics ranging from aphasia to Pragmatism to anxiety disorders. All really interesting and all of which make me wish I had any sort of grasp of biology so I could learn about this beyond the pop/mainstream books. Oh well.

Anyway, I am currently reading The Mind and The Brain, a book about emerging discoveries in neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to change itself structurally) and, specifically, how adults can use attention to purposefully rewire their brains. The book covers everything from OCD to Buddhism to quantum physics in explaining why that old adage that you can never learn anything new after the age of 12 is completely false. Many of the experiments used to show this plasticity involve the somatosensory cortex. The somatosensory cortex registers sensations around your body and is typically mapped out so that nearby body parts map to nearby spots on the brain. For example, the area that registers touch of the index finger is usually next to that of the middle finger. Depending on use and experience, more used neighbors can steal neurons and synapses from less used. So the boundaries between regions can be kind of grey.

All right, that's a lot of lead up to the cool fact. In the somatosensory cortex, the area that maps to the genitals is actually located right next to that of the feet, and some scientists posit this may explain why so many people find feet erotic - because rubbing someone's toes is just a few milimeters away (in the brain) from rubbing something a bit more exciting! Crazy.

02 December 2008

Are You Kidding Me?

So, now, I would like to applaud the press for finally waking up and/or growing a pair and doing things like research, asking questions, comparing previous statements to current claims... but you all are about 7 years too late.

The scrutiny over the Clinton selection is killing me. I swear, this is the first time this decade that anyone besides Jon Stewart realized you could go back and pull up old footage of politicians contradicting themselves. You know what, it's irrelevant in this case. I think we're all adult enough to understand there are certain requirements in a campaign and that attacking your opponent is one of them. This pose of bewilderment that Obama would turn around and pick competant, experienced team members who ran against him is just ridiculous.

Where was this magic recording and playback technology when the Bush administration was saying they didn't say there was a link between al Quaeda and Iraq before the war? I could list any number of other examples, but I think we all have our own favorites.

So, why are they doing this? Is it practice because they can't remember how to be journalists so they are starting with something stupid and meaningless? Is it just the continuation of the virulent anti-Hilary sentiment? Or are there not enough kidnapped white girls to fill the 24 hour cycle?