Sunday, September 19, 2010

NFL Red Zone

We've just recently switched to Comcast from DirecTV. Having done so, I've gotten my first taste of the NFL Red Zone channel. I'm not sure if it's an introductory thing (and will be turned off at some point), or if it's something that comes with the package I've signed up for. All I know is that on DirecTV, you had to pay for the NFL Sunday Ticket package ($300 a year) to get it.

It's the ultimate in short-attention-span football coverage. They put up whatever game happens to have a team in the best scoring position at that moment. No commercials, no bullshit.

It's a wonderful alternative to being stuck watching nothing but the Raiders or 49ers most Sundays around here.

Update It turns out it was a free preview for this weekend. Bummer.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

VTA, CalTrain and Clipper, part 2

I heard back from VTA.

Clipper will not be accepted on VTA before Spring of 2011.

So in the meantime, everyone who is a monthly pass holder on Caltrain starting in October is going to get screwed out of their local fare credit on VTA.


Never mind that I have yet to ride on a VTA bus that doesn't have a clipper terminal at the front covered in a garbage bag.

Really now. How much training does it really take for the driver to recognize the correct form of "beep" noise when a card gets tagged? Yes, I understand that for VTA to actually switch over in a big way to Clipper is going to be a much bigger deal than that. But how about a fucking baby step? How about turning on the terminals that are already installed?

Damnit, why must it always be that government employees forget who they really work for?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

pyTivoX... FTW!!!

So we have a TiVo Premiere in the living room connected up to our TV. Since we have only the one DVR now, our TV in the bedroom would ostensibly be useless, so I moved the mac mini from the living room in there. We can use iTivo to watch shows on it.

But that means that we now have no way of watching dvds in the living room, since the mini was the only DVD drive out there.

Turns out, there's a good solution.

PyTiVoX is a program that acts as a server that does the opposite of TiVoToGo - a sort of TiVoComeFrom, as it were. It will take a directory full of video files and put up a server that looks just like a TiVo. If you ask a real TiVo to transfer a file, it will convert it to MPEG2/AC3 on the fly and transfer it over. Alternatively, if you have a TiVoHD or Premiere, you can stream the stuff instead of transferring it (it shows up in the Showcases menu rather than in Now Playing).

So you can rip a DVD with Handbrake, toss the resulting video file into a pyTivoX share directory and then watch it on the TiVo. It takes a little extra time for Handbrake to do its work, but even with that, it's a good solution.

The only pity is that it doesn't work for DRMed content you can't break, such as iTunes video purchases or amazon movies or the like. But as long as they keep either making DVDs or making the stuff available on Netflix watch now, I'll be happy.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Watch for fraudsters!

We had a yard sale this afternoon, and a fellow came up and bought a pile of DSL equipment. He asked us if we could break a $100. We said 'sure' and I went inside (we keep most of the money inside) to make change.

I came back out with 5 $20s and we did the transaction, him taking the modems and his change.

My wife Scarlet, said just after he left, "Check that bill." She just had a feeling.

Sure enough, the watermark on the bill was the one for a $5 (it wasn't Ben Franklin, like the other $100 bills we got today). I ran after him and confronted him about it and we reversed the whole transaction (yes, the $20s he gave back were legit).


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Lies, damn lies and marketing

I cancelled our DirecTV service this evening after being a customer for more than 15 years.

As is always the case, my cancellation was handled by the "save" department. This is the bunch of phone reps whose job it is to do whatever it takes to prevent you from canceling your service. Every subscription service oriented company has them. Some are more pernicious than others. It should be no surprise at all that companies are working harder than ever to make their web sites handle every possible customer need conceivable.

Except that one.

No, AOL never had a "cancel my service" button. Neither did XM.

Netflix, to their credit, does. And they don't hide it. It's the third link down from the top of the page on the "Your account" screen. They ask you why you're leaving, but otherwise they don't make a fuss. Even if I didn't have them on my resume, I'd admire that attitude.

The DirecTV guy I had on the phone tried to drag Comcast through the mud in a couple of ways - comparing the customer satisfaction ratings of the two companies. He even said, and I am quoting him directly here, "Did you know Comcast has no HD?"

After a moment of stunned silence, I told him I was looking at an HD picture as we speak. He then said, "no, that's 720p. Comcast has no true HD."

Oh. My. God.

Let's look at the situation here.

Comcast's goal is to deliver as much video as they can with as little bandwidth as possible. Ironically, that's also DirecTV's goal - a goal that DirecTV has achieved by switching over to MPEG4 as their main HD codec, which raises the cost of their receivers. But never mind that for now.

720p and 1080i actually take about the same amount of bandwidth. So if you were of the mistaken opinion that 720p was somehow not "true" HD (which it is, by the way.480i is SD, 480p is ED and anything above that is HD), what benefit would it be for Comcast to somehow transcode all 1080i programming to 720p?

No. 720p and 1080i are equal alternatives. 720p is good for high action programming, like sports, and 1080i is better for mostly static programming. But there's never any need or justification for anyone to spend the money to convert one to the other.

Far more likely that that DirecTV rep was lying. Go figure.

The one disappointment I am left with in this whole thing is that we somehow wound up with one of our DVRs being leased. We had an HR21 die on us and it was replaced, and we didn't own the replacement. Go figure that out. So they're going to ship is an empty box to mail it back. Whatever. Even without that, we should wind up getting about half of what we paid for the TiVo out of our old DirecTV gear on eBay.

And with TiVo, we get TiVo to go, so we can liberate our programming from the confines of what The Man says we can do with it. And that, more than anything, is what pissed me off about DirecTV. They went so far out of their way to lock down their programming that they made their service unusable, and/or used that draconian lock to squeeze extra nickels out of us.

No thanks.

The new Apple TV

Oh, Steve, you could have really revolutionized the living room if you'd just have tried a little bit harder.

Where is the iTunes app store for the Apple TV?

Yes, fine, you added Netflix streaming. But what about Pandora? What about XM/Sirius? What about Hulu? What about all of the other streaming media sources on the Internet that want to get onto the TV?

Maybe that's what AirPlay will wind up being. If AirPlay is an API feature that will be available universally to all app store developers, then the AppleTV will wind up being nothing more than a remote display for iOS. That would be ok, I suppose, but if AirPlay is limited to the iPod app, then, again, it's the same opportunity lost.

I see from the AirPlay page that they're going to make AirPlay available to third parties. Please, TiVo, please add AirPlay receiving. Please.

TiVo + Comcast begins

DirecTV is fired.

The TiVo Premiere arrived Tuesday night and Comcast came yesterday.

We'd been using DirecTV for 15+ years, so when we moved into our house we never hooked up the cable. A month or so later comcast physically disconnected our cable and left it dangling in the wind. So when we called them up for new service, I assumed they might need to cut off the last few inches of that cable, put a new connector on it and plug it in.

I was a little surprised that the tech instead actually replaced the entire drop. But he did a solid, professional job, and he arrived on time in the middle of the two hour window. All in all, I now have as high an opinion of Comcast's field service techs as I do of PacBell/SBC/AT&T.

Installing the CableCard took way too long and was way too much trouble, but this may simply be a self fulfilling prophecy. We stuck the card in and he made a phone call to give two series of numbers to the mothership. That done, the TiVo went into a mode where it was trying to acquire the channel list. That went on for too long, so we started doing stuff. What finally worked was repeating guided setup. Either doing that fixed... something... or it simply took so long to do that in the meantime the card got whatever it needed from the mothership and turned on. The problem is that both I and the tech had heard so many horror stories about TiVos and CableCards that we expected the worst from the start.

The biggest problem we face right now is that the TiVo has four copies of our local stations. Not kidding. We have our antenna plugged into the TiVo along with Comcast so that we can get some of the out-of-market stations that come in for us. So, for example, for KTVU, we get it on 2-1 (antenna), plus a copy of the signal on the analog portion of the cable, an SD digital channel and an HD digital cable channel. This is ok, except that I caught the TiVo taping a suggestion from the analog cable channel! Bad TiVo! If you're going to tape a suggestion, at LEAST tape an HD version if it's available (or at least include some sort of option to let me pick which to prefer)! So now I need to go through the channel list in the TiVo and remove all of the SD versions of channels for which we get an HD version.

The only other complaint I have about the TiVo is that it refuses to use the 1TB eSATA hard disk I plugged into it. Instead, they insist that I buy a particular one. Grumble. I can only assume that they've run into support issues and have taken this extra step to cut down on the number of support calls they get related to low quality eSATA drives. Fortunately, the eSATA drive they want you to use doesn't cost more than the same drive does otherwise - that is, they're not charging a premium for it being TiVo compatible. I'm probably not going to go out and get one, however, since the whole idea behind having a TiVo is being able to offload the shows from it onto the computers using iTiVo.