• TVstuff: Ditching the Dish


    After more than seven years with DirecTV, the International House of Johnson will switch to cable television next week. Why? The bundle. Time-Warner is offering us some fairly significant savings if we bundle our phone, Internet and television services, which we currently get through MCI, Time-Warner and DirecTV, respectively. 1The bulk of the savings will come from switching the phone service, but we’ll get a slight discount on the Internet and television services as well.

    I’m a little trepidatious about the switch, especially because I really have no major complaints about DirecTV service and I’ve got a slew of movies on the DVR that I haven’t gotten around to watching yet:

    • Live Free or Die Hard
    • Meet the Robinsons
    • The Invasion
    • Larva
    • Beneath Loch Ness
    • Raging Sharks

    Speaking of the DVR, I neglected to ask the customer service representative what the capacity of the Time-Warner DVR is; I’ve gotten used to having 100 hours to play with and I’ll be a little disappointed if that drops to 35 hours, which was the capacity of our original DirecTiVo.

    On the other hand, I’m looking forward to On-Demand programming, which wasn’t an option on DirecTV unless we significantly upgraded our service and equipment. If there are enough On-Demand titles too keep a certain young apprentice happy, I may never have to record an episode of LazyTown again. 2Which is not to say I don’t like LazyTown. Like most of the shows Kyle enjoys, it has its own special, freaky charm. I give Stefan Karl, who plays Robbie Rotten, a lot of credit for being a … Continue reading

    The other thing I’m a little nervous about is giving up our POTS. The Time-Warner bundle includes their branded VOIP service, and as with any Internet phone service if you don’t gots Internets, you don’t gots a phone. Thankfully, I can think of only two times in the past year when our cable Internet service was out, and one of them was for less than 30 minutes.

    We’ll make the dish-to-cable transition on Monday (provided all goes well) and the POTS-to-VOIP transition in early January. The latter is delayed because MCI requires notification thirteen business days in advance of switching service provideds, which I think is just ludicrous.

    1 The bulk of the savings will come from switching the phone service, but we’ll get a slight discount on the Internet and television services as well.
    2 Which is not to say I don’t like LazyTown. Like most of the shows Kyle enjoys, it has its own special, freaky charm. I give Stefan Karl, who plays Robbie Rotten, a lot of credit for being a very entertaining physical actor; he’s also a surprisingly good-looking guy under the prosthetics.
  • Comcast is buying Plaxo.

    Unless you’ve been living under Dwayne Johnson for the past 10 years or so, there’s a good chance you know what Comcast is: they’re the cable giant that wanted to charge me $70/month for cable Internet 1A service which, by many accounts, was governed by draconian usage rules and secret bandwidth limits that customer service representatives wouldn’t disclose to subscribers. because I don’t subscribe to cable television. Rather than pay what I felt was an exorbitant rate, I suffered with dial-up for six long years before Time-Warner came to my rescue, buying out Comcast and charging a much more reasonable $34.95/month for the same service. I still don’t subscribe to cable television; more on that in moment.

    Comcast is also the company that gutted TechTV; they bought the home of The Screen Savers, merged it with their G4 network, and promptly fired pretty much everyone who made the geeky channel worth watching. The result is pretty much SpikeTV with more video games and I’ve removed it from my channel lineup so I don’t have to see the grossly inferior Attack of the Show sullying my on-screen guide. On the other hand, Leo Laporte and Patrick Norton went on to start This Week in Tech, one of the first podcasts I ever listened to, so maybe I owe Comcast a vote of thanks on that score.

    So, that’s Comcast, but what the heck is Plaxo?

    Well, it’s essentially an online address book. A sort of social network-cum-contact manager that combines the functionality of a Rolodex with the networking capabilities of Facebook or MySpace, but without all the auto-playing music, sparkling animated GIFs and vomitously bad page templates that make me want to toss the entirety of the Internet into a dumpster and run off to live in a cave. Unlike MySpace or Facebook, I can see how Plaxo might actually be useful, and I don’t feel like I’ll spontaneously develop ocular stigmata just from looking at the site.

    Except now Comcast owns it. Comcast, the corporation that tarted up TechTV. Comcast, the corporation whose nigh-extortionary cable Internet pricing kept me on dial-up for half a dozen years, a period during which I commonly referred to the very idea of writing them a check each month “dealing with the devil”. Exaggerated? Probably. Irrational? Perhaps. But the idea of continuing to use Plaxo now gives me a bit of the heebie-jeebies. Not out of privacy concerns, which I know have given others pause, but just on general principle.

    So I tweeted about it this morning. And Comcast’s human face, 2Perhaps one of many humans they employ. a VP named Scott Westerman tweeted right back at me. I’d heard of such things—megacorps monitoring Twitter and using it as sort of a public relations/customer service playground—but this was the first time I’d been the recipient of this new brand of personalized attention.

    I wasn’t really sure how to respond. Ranting against a faceless corporation is one thing, but Westerman is, from all appearances, a flesh and blood human being! So I Googled “scott westerman comcast” and found that I’m not the only one who’s a bit unsure of how to handle this. In a blog post titled How Twitter is Humanizing Comcast and Why That’s a Terrible, Terrible Thing at goodCRIMETHINK, self-proclaimed “conscious comic and vigilante pundit” Baratunde Thurston wrote “CORPORATIONS DON’T LAUGH. THEY EXPLOIT. Stop acting like people! stop ‘talking’ to me!!”

    I’m neither pundit nor activist, and I’m definitely not confrontational. I’m not used to telling people I think the company they work for is…well, “evil” is such a strong word.

    See? That’s what I’m talking about, right there! Before there was a “Scott Westerman”, Comcast was evil! It was so easy to throw words like “draconian” and “devil” and, yes, “evil” around when it was just a logo, a website informing me that the company behind that logo wanted seventy dollars a month to provide me with high speed Internet service, and a couple hundred anonymous customers and former customers ranting about their horrible customer service experiences. Of course, it’s that last bit that Scott Westerman is trying to tackle, isn’t it?

    My response to Scott’s tweet was truthful, but I felt like the righteous wind had been taken out of my indignant sails. My rants (large and small) are supposed to be answered by a handful of friends chiming in to agree, not by the source of my annoyance extending an offer to address my concerns. What’s next? Is Bill Gates going to respond the next time I bitch about Internet Explorer’s mangled handling of Cascading Style Sheets?

    Is Westerman going to convince me to keep using Plaxo? Honestly, I don’t know if I really need convincing; the idea of trying to find a similar service and then transferring all of my contacts isn’t terribly appealing and the basic Plaxo service is free…for now. I don’t anticipate abandoning the service, nor do I expect I’ll be upgrading anytime soon. 3I understand that current Comcast customers get a complimentary upgrade.

    And it’s not like I can be talked into Comcast’s cable television or Internet service; Time-Warner owns their northeast Ohio network these days. But in a bit of irony, I placed a customer service call to DirecTV (my alternative to cable television lo, these many years) when I got home this evening. Seems I need my dish relocated because the trees behind the house have grown quite a bit over the past six years and are now occasionally blocking the satellite signal. At least Mother Nature continues to reaffirm my long-held belief that change and growth are bad.

    1 A service which, by many accounts, was governed by draconian usage rules and secret bandwidth limits that customer service representatives wouldn’t disclose to subscribers.
    2 Perhaps one of many humans they employ.
    3 I understand that current Comcast customers get a complimentary upgrade.
  • TV Stuff: Missing my TiVo.


    Okay, so my DirecTiVo could only store 35 hours worth of programming and my new DirecTV DVR will hold about 100 hours. You know what? It was still a better DVR.


    Oh, I’ll tell you.

    1. I could skip to the end of a recorded program with the press of a button, and to the beginning with another button press. This may not seem like a big deal, but when you’ve got a handful of episodes of your kid’s favorite shows, it would be nice not to have to fast-forward or rewind 10 or 20 minutes to start watching them from the beginning the next time. It’s a DVR, not a VCR; I shouldn’t have to rewind to get to the beginning, regardless of where I stopped watching. Oh, and if I accidentally fast-forward too far at the end of Top Gear and miss that last little bit of the show, I’ve got to start over at the beginning and fast-forward through 58 minutes I’ve already watched just to catch the last two minutes. Once the “Do you want to delete this program?” message appears on-screen, I can’t rewind anymore, and that’s just plain frustrating.
    2. The DirecTiVo was more responsive in general. The delay between when I push a button on the remote and when I see the desired result on the DirecTV DVR is sometimes measurable in seconds. Ridiculous.
    3. Speaking of the remote, the one that came with the DirecTiVo was a thing of beauty. It properly handled my television (including switching inputs) and surround sound system, all without having to switch back and forth between “DirecTV”, “AV1”, “AV2” and “TV” modes. Yes, I can control my DVD player in AV2 mode, something I couldn’t do with the old remote, but it’s a feature I’d gladly sacrifice for the ability to turn off the television and the surround sound with a single button.
    4. Still speaking of the remote, Laura hates the new one. Period. I can see why: the layout just isn’t as simple as the old one, even the DVR controls are counter-intuitive.
    5. Anytime I was dealing with a list of channels on the DirecTiVo, I could always jump to the channel I wanted by simply entering it on the number pad. Not so on the DirecTV DVR. When I’m setting up a manual recording and the list of channels pops up, if I press 2-4-9 for Comedy Central, I first get channel 25, then channel 43, then channel 9 thousand-something. Ludicrous! And speaking of manual recording…
    6. Daylight Saving Time. I’ve got a one-hour manual record set up for The Daily Show and The Colbert Report Monday through Thursday at 11:00pm. The fact that I have to do this if I don’t want the DVR to record both shows three times in a single day is a testament to the crappiness of the online guide for Comedy Central, but the fact that the DVR decided to start recording at 12:00am instead of 11:00pm after the time change on Sunday (despite the fact that the clock on the damn thing changed and the manual recording entries still show an 11:00pm start time) is just plain stupid. I just had to delete and recreate all four manual entries and I’m still not confident that it’s going to work properly.

    Extra recording space be damned. I miss my DirecTiVo.

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  • Non Sequitur: Badges, DVRs and More Badges


    The Secret Lair: KrisCheck out my official Overlord Badge for The Secret Lair! It’s another fantastic creation from Natalie Metzger, Secretary of Artistic Propaganda. There’s more (and not just from Natalie), but I don’t want to unveil it all at once. You may not be able to make out the details, but that writing implement in my shirt pocket is an official Dungeons & Dragons 30th Anniversary mechanical pencil. Yeah, that’s how I roll.

    In other news, my beloved DirecTiVo died over the weekend; one of the tuners decided that its alignment was Chaotic Good and channels above the 200 mark were made of Evil. When we attempted to watch one of these channels on Tuner 2, the response would be anything from a lost signal to a warm reboot.

    DirecTV gave me a couple of options: lease one of their branded DVRs or get another DirecTiVo receiver. The former required a two-year commitment to the DirecTV service and a $20 shipping charge, while the latter would cost me $350.00 out of pocket. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of giving up my TiVo service, but every man has his price and mine happens to be right around $350.00.

    When I got home from work today, the new receiver was waiting for me. One not-so-quick call to DirecTV customer service 1Seriously, you’d think these customer service reps would perform these activations so often they could do them with their eyes closed. Yeah, you’d think that. But you’d be wrong, … Continue reading and I was up and running. The new 2Okay, refurbished. DVR has about three times the capacity the old one did, but I’m already disappointed in the “universal” remote that came with it. Funny how we take little things like the ability to turn off both the television and the audio receiver with a single press of a button for granted.

    Now my young apprentice and I are watching Max and Ruby on Noggin and (in theory) Scrubs is recording on the other tuner. Ruby is trying to get yet another damn Bunny Scout merit badge while Dr. Dorian and the rest of the gang at Sacred Heart are undoubtedly involved in some wacky shenaniganery that is (again, in theory) being preserved in all its digital glory for my enjoyment at a later time. Max wants a popsicle, but Ruby is too busy putting splints on dolls to pay attention to her younger brother; I swear, if there’s a Bunny Scout merit badge for being a good elder sibling, Ruby doesn’t have it.

    1 Seriously, you’d think these customer service reps would perform these activations so often they could do them with their eyes closed. Yeah, you’d think that. But you’d be wrong, baby. So very, very wrong.
    2 Okay, refurbished.