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Archive for August, 2006

Oh, How I Miss Our TiVo

Posted by pete on 27th August 2006

Back toward the beginning of July, Lis and I got completely fed up with DirecTV. I had been thinking of switching to our local cable company (Cox) for a while as they offered a lot of HD content and just had to be more reliable than DirecTV. We had been tired of seeing our coverage slowly disappear in spring and summer as the tree in our front yard got taller. It would also quickly disappear any time a storm came along. Combine that with their crappy service and treating the DirecTiVo as a second class citizen in favor of their terrible DVR and we were ripe for the leaving.

We moved from DirecTV with the DirecTiVo to Cox Digital with the Scientific Atlanta 8300HD DVR. It was an immediate shock just how primitive the SA DVR was compared to the DirecTiVo, but I also figured that part of our negative reaction might just be because the SA is different; after a little while, we’d adjust and it wouldn’t feel so bad. Wrong. Now, almost two months out, it’s still bad and we’re longing for a TiVo.

I find it hard to fathom that others making DVRs can’t even come close to the wonderfulness of the TiVo. Do they actually test their devices with humans before foisting their inferior product on the market? The SA 8300HD’s search functionality if pathetic. You can search only by show title and show topic. You cannot search the show description and you can’t search all the schedule, only by day. There’s no concept of wishlists. The search guide and search display is only five lines, so you have to page again and again to see much of anything. You can only search by first letter, not by a string of letters.

The interface is slow and non-intuitive. If you hit the rewind or fast forward button, there’s a delay while it processes your command with no feedback that you actually pressed the button (such as the TiVo’s “boing!”). The SA 8300HD has three rewind and forward speeds, just like the TiVo, but the SA’s speeds seem to be “slightly faster than normal play,” “slightly faster than that,” and “warp speed.” There’s no sensible speed. When you go from forward or rewind by pressing play, it doesn’t jump back a little bit like the TiVo does; it’s just like a digital equivalent of a VCR. This is actually a pretty good description of the whole SA 8300HD DVR experience in general. It’s like they went out and made a digital VCR without trying to improve anything.

Speaking of forward and rewind, the SA remembers the speed it was last rewinding or fast forwarding at. The problem is, it doesn’t return to that speed the next time you hit the forward or rewind button, it returns to the next speed up or “play” if you were at the fastest speed. Why? This makes absolutely no sense. Returning to the last speed? That makes sense. One faster? No sense.

If you’re looking through your tiny five-line display of all the shows you have recorded and you find something you want to watch, don’t press the play button to — you know — play the show. You press the select button, make sure the “play this episode” option is highlighted, then press select again.

Watching HD is nice, but I think our TV has issues with switching modes and the HD channels seem to switch modes quite a bit, especially shows like Sports Center on ESPNHD. I’m not sure if it’s switching from 1080i to 1080i or that it switches from 1080i to something else (480i?), then right back to 1080i too quickly for our six-year-old TV to handle. Regardless, even mode shift seems to cause the TV to momentarily blank out, then come back with the video input channel and mode displayed prominently on the screen. I think I’d like to find a way to force the DVR to stay in 1080i all the time and ignore the mode changes (although the picture might suddenly get smaller), but I haven’t figured out how to try that.

On the good side, my SA 8300HD seems fairly stable. I’ve heard tales of non-TiVo DVRs being very unstable, but that doesn’t seem to be the case of the 8300HD at least. It also has a nice eSATA port in the back so that I can easily add more capacity of my DVR without opening it up (and voiding the warranty). Since it’s not mine, I’m kind of hesitant to mod it anyway.

The capacity of the 8300HD is a bit of a concern for me, especially when HD content is involved. Right now, during the summer rerun season, we’re hovering around 50% capacity. A lot of this is Gracie shows (which are SD format) that we continuously record. There are a few HD shows that Lis records and watches, but they usually don’t hang around long. As the new shows start coming airing this autumn (and most are available in HD), I think our DVR will start filling up quickly. I’m considering at least a 300GB eSATA drive that should roughly triple our recording capacity, but the longer I wait, 400+GB size drives are looking interesting too.

The one thing that our Cox DVR experience has taught us, though, is just how nice the TiVo experience is. All the little things that the TiVo gets right and the SA 8300HD doesn’t are really important to us: much more so than we expected. This has gotten us eagerly watching for the release of the TiVo Series Three box. It looks like we can stay with Cox Digital and their HD (via cablecards) and still have the wonderful TiVo experience.

Another intriguing development might just side-track our need for the new TiVo. Cox and TiVo have reached and agreement to put the TiVo interface on the Cox DVRs. Eventually — reportedly, the first half of 2007 — Cox will push out an update to the DVR that’ll include the TiVo interface. This would be very cool. We don’t have a problem with the SA hardware, just the interface. If the interface would be made by TiVo, I think most, if not all, of the problems we currently have with the SA 8300HD will be covered. I’m a bit bummed by the “first half of 2007″ (translate: “Middle of 2007″) release date and not sure if the 8300HD will be included in this interface upgrade, but it could save us the (probably high) cost of the TiVo 3 and alleviate my concerns about using the cablecards.

Posted in TiVo | 3 Comments »

Game Over

Posted by pete on 26th August 2006

Once again, Bruce Schneier says things much better than I could. The gist of it is that, with our histrionics, The Terrorists have won and as long as we continue to respond the way we do, they will continue to win, regardless of whether or not a single person is really hurt. The point of their actions is to induce terror in the population. It’s not the number of bodies produced by their actions, but the reactions of the survivors and the attention drawn to their cause that’s the ultimate goal. Until we learn how to sensibly respond to terrorist plots, we will continue to be victims and not victors.

Anyway, go read his article. In this case, I am the boss of you, so go do it.

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Strike Two

Posted by pete on 23rd August 2006

Nope. Turns out that it took only two hours for the bugs to start munching on Lisa. She went to bed around 11PM and around 1AM, just before I headed up, she came marching down all pissed off, showing me the bites. She also found and squashed two of them. I went into the room and within five minutes or so, had caught four more live bugs. The fumigation didn’t work, so we’ve retreated back to the guest room again and will be talking with Protech again.

I have tried to be patient with them. Sure, they apparently made an identification mistake initially and thought our bat bugs were bed bugs. I hear that’s easy to do and they offered to re-fumigate again at no charge, so I’ll cut them some slack. Sure, it costs us around $250 in hotel and laundry charges (all of the laundry and curtains in our master bedroom and the other bedrooms needs to be washed) and that’s not including time any time they fumigate, but everyone make mistakes, even professionals. Where it starts moving from “human” to “incompetent” is now.

If they, ProTech — the exterminators — the bug killers — still can’t kill the bugs even after a second fumigation, then I’m starting to think they just can’t kill bugs. The ProTech people we’ve dealt with have been nice and friendly, but there comes a point where you have to call a spade a spade.

We signed a contract at the outset that covered the initial fumigation and three of four monthly reapplications. It cost around $1700 – $1800 bucks, but we wanted the bugs gone and we wanted them gone yesterday, so we sucked it up and paid. The problem with the contract, though, is that they state that we cannot use (or possibly even consult) any other pest control company without breaking the contract and losing the money we paid. The one exception is “gross negligence” and I’m sure it’d take some pretty bad failure (and possibly a visit to a lawyer) to see that they owe us our money back. The question is, at what point do we say that enough is enough and they’re grossly negligent?

Lis called them today and will be talking with them later about what they plan on doing. The last time, they convinced her that the bites were all in her head. That worked until she found a live one in the bathroom. This time, she’s got some notes and a bag of live bugs, so I hope they’ll be more responsive to fixing up their mistakes.

Posted in Bugs | 1 Comment »

We Have Returned

Posted by pete on 23rd August 2006

We have finally put the sheets on the bed in our master bedroom and will be spending the night in our own room for a change. Only six nights after the exterminators fumigated our house for bat bugs (this time), we feel ready to try our bed again. It’s been nice to not worry about bites for a week though. Lis got a plastic zip-up wrapper for the box spring and a fabric zip-up wrapper for the mattress. They’re both for keeping allergens… in? Out? Whatever. Those wrappers along with the poison will hopefully keep the bites away from us tonight.


Posted in Bugs | No Comments »

Bite Me!

Posted by pete on 14th August 2006

I haven’t posted anything in a while. Well, I haven’t posted anything here in a while. In my head, I’ve posted a lot of things, but I haven’t quite transcribed the entries from BrainBlog to Pleh’s Wordpress. Things about friends’ weddings, catching up with old girlfriends, parents visiting, work issues, being a dad… many different topics all over here on BrainBlog. Too bad BB only has a readership of one (vs the three of four of this one). What is getting me to post? Bugs.

I’m not talking about the computer kind. I’m talking about real live bugs. More specifically, I’m talking about bedbugs. I’ve been debating on whether or not to post this, but since my dear wife did, I figured I might as well too. The idea of bedbugs makes me feel dirty, like some kind of pariah. Gees, our friend(s) will never want to hang around with us. Heck, lots of people only think they’re fiction. We didn’t know they were real either until Lis decided to look into the strangely linear bite patterns we were seeing just about every morning. (I had one on my right wrist in the shape of a sad “smiley” face.)

It turns out that bedbugs have nothing to do with being dirty and more to do with travel. Sadly, one of our current favorite conversation topics it, “Where do you think we got ‘em?” Lisa thinks we might have come in contact with them on one of our two trips to NY for two different weddings (Albany and Syracuse). I think it might have been Albany or a night at the Tyson’s Corner Ritz we did at the last minute a couple months ago. Either way, it doesn’t change the result.
Lis called the exterminators and had them come check. Yup, bedbugs. They would come back the next day and fog the place. We had to vacate the building for the day and wash all of our clothing, bedding, drapes, etc. What a PITA, but Lis put up with most of it. I took the day off from work and we all drove down the her parents’ place. I stayed there with G while Lis went to the nearby laundromat and did some parallel laundry processing. They stayed there that night and I used Priceline for the first time to find a cheap hotel near work. (Lousy Priceline hooked me up with a Holiday Inn near Dulles, about 23 miles from work.) Of course, this happened a day before my parents would arrive for a one week visit. (Side note: I don’t know about you, but I hear it’s fairly normal for wives to get into a cleaning tizzy before their mother-in-law comes to visit. My wife’s like this. Can you imagine how much having a bedbug infestation heightens the fun?)

The next day, Lis and G return home and throw open the windows to the typically cool Virginia summer, unload laundry, and prep the house for my parents’ arrival. Everything is good right? Well, not so fast. A few days later, we start noticing similar, itchy welts.

When the exterminators came, they said the fogging would kill all the bugs that weren’t eggs, then the four monthly reapplications would get these. They said we shouldn’t get any more bites as it takes more than a month for the bugs to mature enough to get to the biting stage. They also said that we might want to talk with a dermatologist to deal with the welts and that sometimes, people develop an hysterical reaction to having the bugs around. In other words, sometimes you head messes with you.

Given this, we weren’t 100% sure when the welts reappeared. We gave it a few days and the bites kept getting more numerous. Finally, soon after my parents went back to Arizona, when Lis found a bug in the guest bathroom, we accepted the fact that the fogging didn’t kill all the adults. (Saturday morning, around 4AM — the time they’re most active — I woke up and found four more of them of them in a short span of time.)

The past few nights, we have relocated to the guest bedroom, which seems wonderfully unaffected by the bugs in our room. We put up tape barriers in the doorways (they can’t fly or jump) and have been very careful about bringing potentially (albeit unlikely) infested materials into that room. G’s room also seems to be wonderfully unaffected by the bugs.

The exterminators come today to do a reapplication. Hopefully, this will be the real end of it. I’m not sure if we’ll ever be able to trust our bedroom, mattress, box spring, bed, or anything else in there again. I think there’ll always be something “bugging” us in our heads. Anytime we get a mosquito bite, our first thoughts will be, “They’re back!!!!” Moving out seems a bit extreme and a completely new bed seems a bit extravagant too, but maybe that’ll be worth the piece of mind.

Update: I forgot to mention that, luckily, bedbugs aren’t known to transfer any blood bourne illnesses. They’re just really annoying. The bites are generally itchier and longer lasting then a mosquito bite.

Update: We just found out from the exterminators that they’re not bedbugs, but bat bugs. Who knew. Still gotta nukem’ though.

Posted in Bugs | No Comments »

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