March 17, 2003

TiVo enters my life, but not easily

I finally went out and bought a TiVo today. I've heard too many people rave about it for too long, so I had to get one. I resolved the question of which unit to buy fairly easily. They have 40-hour and 80-hour units, and since I didn't watch 40 hours of TV last year, I figure the smaller one should be fine.

Setting it up was more complicated than I expected. We have a cable box, so I followed the "satellite and cable box" instructions. They have a pretty diagram in the quick setup manual showing where all the wires should go, so I started to follow that and rapidly ran out of cables. It took me a few minutes before I realized that the diagram showed all of the possible placements of cables, while the written step-by-step instructions on the side skipped various steps depending on your configuration, ensuring that you only plug in the cables you need. Oops. I guess I just proved that users don't read manuals.

Things were complicated further at the cable setup step, since we're in one of those fun transitions between AT&T cable and Comcast. The TiVo showed Comcast as an option, so we picked that, but none of the plans matched the name of the plan on our bill. Of course, our most recent bill is from AT&T, not Comcast. Fortunately, Ruby knew what station Telemundo is for us, so I just went through the plans one by one until I found the one that had Telemundo as channel 18.

Then I had to figure out how to get the TiVo to communicate with our cable box. It uses some nifty infrared thingies to act like the cable box's remote control, but they have to be positioned just right above and below the infrared port on the cable box. The manual suggested using a flashlight to find the infrared port, but we don't appear to have any flashlights with batteries around. Oops. It also mentioned fastening the infrared controllers to the cable box with the provided adhesives, but I couldn't find those in the box. I had to resort to trial and error, iterating over the front of the cable box an inch at a time, while iterating through the zillion different infrared channels the TiVo showed and hoping the lack of adhesive didn't cause the infrared controllers to fall slightly out of kilter and screw everything up. Eventually, it all worked, and there was much rejoicing in our living room.

Shortly after that, the TiVo asked me to choose a local phone number for it to use. It displayed a long list of San Jose numbers, but none with any exchange I recognized. We haven't received a phone book from AT&T yet, so I went to their web site to see if I could find out which exchanges are local for us. No such luck -- all of the AT&T Digital Phone pages redirect to Comcast's home page, which has no information about local phone service. Wonderful. I picked one randomly and moved on. Here's hoping we don't have a huge phone bill next month.

Eventually I got to the point where the TiVo wanted to process its data. It put up a screen saying that it had to process the data for 4 to 8 hours, and that it couldn't be turned off in that time. While moving on from that screen, I managed to hit the buttons on the remote in a way that turned the unit off. Oops. I've had that problem with the remote the whole time -- I keep hitting right when I mean to hit up, or perhaps pressing down in the middle of the arrows. I'm not sure, but I really don't like the design of the arrow keys. I'm continuously selecting things that I didn't intend to select, because the right arrow often selects the current item in a list.

I turned the TiVo back on and waited four hours, hoping that it would recover. In the meantime, I went to the customer support site (which doesn't work in Safari -- is it Safari's bug or TiVo's?), but I couldn't find anything there about what to do when you turn the TiVo off after it tells you not to. I even wandered over to the TiVo Community Forum for a little while, but I couldn't find an answer there, either.

As it turns out, it came through just fine, and four hours later I had a happy TiVo. Now it was time to record a few things. We only want two things to be recorded at first -- a Spanish soap opera that Ruby enjoys called Terra Esperanza, and The Simpsons on Fox (not the syndicated ones; the current season). I went to record Terra Esperanza, but it wasn't listed under Daytime TV. Weird. I found it under All Programs, set up a Season Pass, and all was good. Then I tried to record The Simpsons. No such luck there -- the TiVo seems convinced that The Simpsons is only on in its syndicated version, at 6, 7:30, and 10 every day on some random channel whose call sign doesn't mean anything to me (the non-TV-watcher). I've tried searching by title, by channel, and by time, but I can't find it. Hmph. It's all complicated that much more because I don't know what local station Fox is, but I suppose that's not typical for TiVo users. Still, it'd be nice if they displayed the affiliation along with the call sign.

I don't mean to come across as down on TiVo. I've barely used it, but I can tell that it'll change a few things around here. I'm looking forward to watching The Simpsons and Baseball Tonight for the first time in years, and I'll now be able to do that without having to remember when they're on and reschedule the rest of my life appropriately. I'm also incredibly excited to have a remote that turns off my TV again, since the movers lost the TV remote between Washington and here and I didn't want to pay for a replacement. The TiVo remote is nicely programmable, so we don't need to deal with the cable box's remote control, either. The whole system looks like it's incredibly easy to use -- I've only read a page or two of the manual, and that was just to affirm some guesses I'd made about how Season Passes behave. It's just that the initial steps were more complicated than I anticipated. I won't have to go through that again, though.

Losing faith in Google

Ever since Google bought Pyra, various people around the web have been posting their concerns about Google.

Today, I join that crowd, for I have lost faith in Google. Why? Because today is St. Patrick's Day, and Google hasn't changed its logo. How dare they? They've honored St. Patrick's Day three years in a row. Now, they acquire Pyra and suddenly fail to treat St. Patrick's Day with the respect it deserves. I'm going to have to switch to doing my searches on a site more respectful of the holiday, like That'll teach 'em.


On Saturday I mentioned that the only thing I wanted for my birthday was Entenmann's St. Patrick's Day cupcakes. To my complete surprise, some of my friends actually read this page and they independently set out on multiple extensive quests for those cupcakes. Retailers throughout Silicon Valley must have been wondering where the sudden demand for those cupcakes came from. Alas, no such cupcakes were found, but perhaps the measurable surge in demand (albeit localized to the Bay Area) will prompt Entenmann's to ensure that the cupcakes are easier to find next year.

First place in the Great Cupcake Search of 2003 goes to my friend Ronnie, who discovered that Albertsons makes adorable miniature St. Patrick's Day cupcakes and gave me a box of them. They're not quite as good as Entenmann's -- they're missing the candy on top -- but they're definitely a treat, and much appreciated. Thanks, Ronnie!