Monthly Archives: February 2005

iPod Heart Attack

Yesterday, I was updating iTunes on my PC and noticed that there was also an update to the iPod software. I think I missed the last update, so I figure its probably a good time to get caught up. So I download the 40Mb updater.

I run the installer, it says connect your iPod and then hit the update button. So, I connect my iPod and hit the update button. No surprises yet.

Then it says its completed, to disconnect the USB cable, and plug in the wall adaptor to complete the update (it said something about needing to flash the update into the chips). Nutz, I’m at home, my wall adaptor is at work. Guess I’ll just wait until I make it in to work to finish.

This morning I roll into work and click my iPod into its wall adaptor. Hmm, strangely, nothing. So, I click the buttons; still no dice. Eeek! As I kinda feared, you have do that plug in operation soon after the update. I’m wondering if I done busted it for keeps.

Thankfully, after connecting it to the computer again for a second, it springs back to life and asks to be connected the wall adaptor. So, I did that and grinds away for a little while with a progress bar. After that it comes back up with a few new bells and whistles from the update, and life is good again.

Phew…

Building your own DVR, Part I

In my last blog, I brought you up to date on the hell that is dealing with Time Warner Cable for service. In the comments, my pal Sean was surprised that I didn’t just dump the Time Warner DVR and buy my own. I don’t think I’d buy a dedicate DVR myself (like one from Scientific Atlanta) but, I have considered building my own. I thought I’d share my research so far…

Tired of paying way too much money to Time Warner Cable ($75/month) for cable TV service and DVR box rental, I started down the road of figuring out what it would take to build my own DVR. After spec’ing out a PC do the job, I eventually abondandoned the idea when I figured out that I’d only save about $15/month of the cable bill and lose a lot channels in the process. But, with my latest problems with Time Warner service, I think I’m gonna dust of the building a DVR idea again.

Let’s start with pros and cons…

Pros:

  • Don’t have to rent it from Time Warner.
  • If it blows up, I can (probably) fix it myself.
  • I can have more than 2 tuners if I want (can record more than 2 shows concurrently; seems kinda silly, but it happens frequently)
  • Capacity. I can have as much as I want.
  • Storage Reliability. I can use RAID to protect my recordings.
  • Flexibility. I can use a number of different PVR software packages (MythTV, SageTV, BeyondTV, etc.)
  • Hackability. MythTV is of particular interest, it appears to be easy to add your own skins and additional functionality.
  • Exportability. I can back up recordings to DVD.

Cons:

  • No digital content. In the Time Warner Cable system, you must use their cable box (standalone or the one built into a DVR) to receive digital quality cable.
  • No digital channels. In the Time Warner Cable system, a significant number of channels are only available when you have the digital package.
  • No high def. Its not too big of a deal now because there are only about 8 high def channels available, but as more channels convert, it would be nice to get full usage of my high def TV.
  • Noise. Unless I invest in pricey noiseproof pc components, I’ll have to live with the white noise of a standard pc. Not a deal breaker, but kind of annoying.

In my next installment, I’m going to start to spec and price a pc for DVR use. Stay tuned.

I just wanna watch TV… Part II

So in the last installment, I was left with a HD cable converter, and a charge to keep calling Time Warner Cable to inquire if they had any HD DVR boxes available.

So, Thursday I give them a call. I give them all the background and they put me on hold trying to figure out if they have the HD DVR box. “Sir, good news, we have one box available.” “Can you come and pick it up in the next 15 minutes?” Huh, aren’t they open until 8pm? “Can you just put my name on it and I’ll come in for the swap after work? “I’m sorry sir, but we can’t do that.” “Whatever, I’ll just try again tomorrow.”

Busy morning at work, so I didn’t get to call them again until 3PM. Gave them all the gory details again. “Sir, good news, we just got a bunch of them in today.” “Can you just put my name on it and I’ll come in for the swap after work?” “I’m sorry sir, but we can’t do that. We did get a number of boxes in so we should have some when you get there…” Ok, whatever.

Drive home from the work, the weather is starting to get ugly (even for central New York), with one of our trademark mid-winter lake effect blizzards. Rather than haul myself all the way back to Time Warner for nothing I call them again. “Yes sir, we still have HD-DVR’s available.” Good, I’m looking forward to getting this wrapped up.

I walk in their storefront with the HD cable box in tow. I talk to the same women I worked with on Tuesday. Of course, she doesn’t remember anything about my problems. She goes rummaging around in the back and emerges with a nice new cardboard box with a set of HD cables on top. Phew; the end of the road is near! The woman says, I did get another minor bonus, its a newest DVR model. She steps out and says that a new trainee will finish my convert box exchange process. After some learning curve glitches and a printer out of paper, I’m on the road and feeling good.

Until, that is, I get home and open up the cardboard box. Cripes, its a regular DVR box (not HD). Come on, you gotta be kidding me. I pick up the phone and dial my new favorite number, Time Warner support.

I give yet another CSR the updated situation and ask to be transfered to the service counter from which I just returned. “Ok, I’m going to schedule for someone to come out and swap the box for you.”  Cool, I think they’re gonna make my life easier. “Can you be at home 8-12 or 12-4 on Monday?” “You’re kidding right? I’m gonna take time off to wait for your guy to show up in the last 2 minutes of the time window?”

“Can I just bring the box in myself?” “Sir, I’m sorry we don’t allow self install of our HD equipment…” “Really, wasn’t a problem the two times that I already did it this week.” “Really? We don’t normally allow that.” “Can you just transfer me to the service counter?” She puts me on hold. “Sir, I’m sorry but I can’t transfer you.” “What? you’re in the same building! They don’t have phones down there? 2 other techs have done this same magical feat today already.” “Ok, let me try something else.” I suffer through some more Time Warner ad spam on hold. “Sir, I tried calling down there again and no one picks up they must have left for the night.” “What? according to your hours, they’re open until 8PM. Ok, you people are killing me. You’re about to lose a formally loyal customer and $115 a month in service.” “I’m sorry sir, I apologize for the all trouble you’ve been through…” “Thanks…”, click.

After brewing for a few minutes, I get back in my car and go back to Time Warner again. Hmm, new trainee looks scared. Hmm, why is this guy coming back? Can’t be good. Of course, there are about 5 people hanging out behind the counter, schmoozing, and goofing off. “Ok, you may remember me, I was here about 30 minutes ago. The box you gave me is not an HD DVR” “What, lemme see that… What do you know, it is a regular DVR box, ooops.”

Another CSR disappears and comes back with the HD version of the same box. “Sir we’re so sorry, we didn’t realize that we had regular and HD versions of the new DVR model.” “Hmm, I would have guess that your fancy computer would have been smart enough to catch the problem. HD DVR service, but regular DVR box. Guess not.” “Again, we’re sorry for all this trouble, let me get the box exchanged for you.” He grinds away on the computer for another 10 minutes, stopping every 3 seconds to squint at the serial number on the box. Guess a bar code reader wasn’t in the budget. I’m sure they had to bring on another customer or two cover the expense.

“Ok sir, you’re all set.” “Ok, I’m gonna get another credit for this right?” Apparently, it wasn’t a no brainer for them. So one in the back yells, “Yeah, we’ll give you a $20 credit.” Ok, whatever; Time Warner tech’s get paid $45 trip charge for a house call, and I’ve driven out to their place 4 times this week for $20; great!

“Ok, folks, I have 2 items for you if you care. First, your phone CSRs are hopelessly inept. One told me there was no way to call down here from the call center, even though other techs have been doing it all week.  They also told me that they don’t allow self installs on HD equipment.” They reply with “whoops, those darn phone CSRs.” “Second, this is your last chance. If this DVR is DOA or kicks it inside of 6 months, I will cancel all my Time Warner cable services.” “Sir, we’re sorry you feel this way, but… but…” I walked out before they could finish. I know, that was not at all mature, but I needed to do it to keep from maiming someone there.

Lucky for them, the HD DVR box they gave me this time seems to work. Let’s hope it stays that way.

I just wanna watch TV…

Last week, Sandy and I were watching a DVR’d show. Suddenly, the playback started to skip (kinda like a scratched DVD), and then we hear the awful sounds of hard drive preparing to eat itself. But then, it went away and all was right in the world again.

Then Saturday morning, I fire up the DVR to catch up on some of the stuff I taped during the week. I hit the list button and get an Unexpected Write Error. Hmm, that can’t be good. Then, I notice the box is strangely quiet. Hard drive not spinning at all any more. Man, this is gonna hurt. Bye bye to about 40 hours of taped shows. Sniff!

Monday morning, I call up Time Warner customer service line. They start down a line of debugging questions that’s pretty much endless. I tell them, I’m up on electronics stuff and I know its not TV or cable line, and that I’ve heard a hard drive singing out its final notes before. They offer to send a tech out. I counter offer by saying that I can bring the box in for a swap. For all the good times the DVR has given me, I’m ok with a little work every couple of years if necessary.  So I unhooked the 10 or so connections on the back and head over to customer service office.

I talk to a nice rep and they start along the same line as “did you try this, did you try that?” I tell them again, trust me, its dead. They say, “OK, lemme grab another one out of the back.” I cringe when I see her grab another box that’s just sitting on the counter. I wanted to see something come out of a nice new cardboard box. When she brings it over, I see that its definitely got some mileage on it already (cosmetically, its a little beat). The rep gives me some install guidance, “Don’t mess with the box until its done booting, y’know when the display shows the time, not that code stuff” I’m pretty sure the box is a really fine paper weight until then, anyway.

So I get it home, hook up those 10 wires, plug it in and wait.  Eventually, the time comes up, so I fire it up. Hmm, seems to be stuck on the boot screen. I leave it for a while longer, and it eventually kicks in the run mode. Either the box had been reset for a factory fresh, or the previous user had a different HDTV setup, because the output was only using middle of my HDTV with about 4 inches of black on all sides. So, I googled around for documentation for the box, as there’s some special non-obvious key combination to set the HDTV output settings. A few more minutes of messing around things seem back to normal. I change to the Simpsons and walk away to start dinner.

Sandy comes in is delighted to see the TV on and a new DVR box. Then she asks if its still booting. Eh? She says that the screen is black and the display on the DVR is scrolling through some jibberish. Crud, that can’t be good. I watch the display for a while. It says “d.###” where ### is a hex number decrementing. Hmm, I’m such a nerd, so I wait to see what happens when it gets to 000. Doh, it gets all the way to 002, stays for while, acts like its gonna reboot, but never comes back from the great bit beyond. I try the magic cure a few more times (pulling the plug and waiting), but get the same hex counter and reboot to oblivion.

Tuesday morning, I unhook the 10 wires again, and throw it (almost literally at this point) in my trunk and prepare to return to the Time Warner office again after work. I get a different rep this time. I give her the sad story and she gives me even better news. They don’t have any other HD-DVR’s available at the moment and they don’t really know when they’ll be getting more either. Great. So I ask, “Can you call me when you get one?” a reasonable request I thought. “I’m sorry sir, we can’t do call backs like that; Please call us back every day and we’ll tell you if we have one in.” Me, being reasonable, try to understand. “Can you give me a direct number, so I don’t have get stuck in the calling queue?” “Sure, here you go…” And she procedes to give me the general customer service number; gee thanks.

This is going so well, I press further. “Since I have to wait, can you tell me when there’s a new DVR box available, and I’ll just wait until then? I don’t wanna have to go through this hassle again when you give me another used box that the previous owner dropped down the stairs or spilled their beer in and it stops working in week.” “I’m sorry sir, we can only give you what’s
available.” I say since I have to come back eventually anyway, can you give a normal cable box so I can watch something in the meanwhile. She says that’s not a problem, and give a HD cable box. I finally move on to billing adjustment. I have to admit they did handle that pretty well, they credited my account 1 week of service and 1 month of DVR service.

Now the super kicker! After getting home hooking up the HD cable box (including the getting HDTV settings figured out again), the phone rings. Hmm, caller ID says its an 800 number. I’m feeling pretty fiesty at this point, so I take it. “Hello, this Time Warner Customer care making a courtesy call. I see that you’re digital TV and RoadRunner customer, how have these services been working for you?” “Buddy, you picked a great time to call…” I gave them the story above and he nodded along and said “I’m sorry you’re having trouble with your cable setup; outside of that are you happy with your service?”

Hmm, I think know where this is going. I said my Roadrunner generally works pretty good. He continues with, “well, I’d just like to let you know about our exciting new digital phone service…” I silence him, immediately with “don’t care, already use Vonage, very happy, pay less than half their digital phone charge.” He thanks me for my time, and bows out.

I guess I’ll be adding the Time Warner support line to my speed dial, as I think I’ll be ringing them a lot in the near future. Maybe I’ll go back to my idea about building my own DVR…

New Dave Matthews Band Ice Cream Flavor

Nancies.org reports that Ben and Jerry’s is rolling out another Dave Matthews Band themed flavor, Dave Matthes Band Magic Brownies. Hmm, the name is a little suspect considering usually tries to down play their stoner image.

Not sure where that leaves their original DMB inspired flavor, One Sweet Whirled. Its not listed on the Ben and Jerry’s website in the Flavor Locator or the Flavor Graveyard. Hope its not gone for good, I really enjoyed it.

Now That’s Some Bad Publicity

Was listening to NPR (on our local station WAER) on the way into work this morning and caught a story about tax preparation programs. One of the hosts who had never used tax prep software before was going through building a return in Turbo Tax. When it got to the part about dependents, he said he didn’t have any in 2004, but a daughter was born in January 2005.

He took the help link for dependents and asked if he could claim the new child, and after entering the date of birth, it asked some questions about how much the child was supported in 2004. Besides the chuckle from the hosts, not the kind of stuff you wanna hear about a veteran tax program in the middle of tax season.

Hmm, if they missed this little glitch should you trust them with the rest of your taxs? In my previous experience with Turbo Tax, I found that it was really bad at rounding; so much so, I was paranoid enough to print out the form they generated, correct the mistakes and copy it over by hand.

This year, I’m gonna go straight to an accountant.