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Technology doesn't like me much (and I'm not so sure about it)


It occurred to me sometime in the past week or two that my latest spate of Issues has been (mostly) less a customer-service thing and more a technofailure thing.

For example:

About a month ago, on a Thursday or Friday morning, there was a power failure at my place. It lasted maybe five seconds. But I later discovered that it had knocked my cable box offline, which meant that that week's Dr. Who and BSG didn't get recorded.

Not a big deal. I power-cycled the cable box, and (although there was some odd confusion at first about which signal went with which channel number) everything seemed to be fine.

So I left town on one trip or another, and when I came back, I discovered that the cable box had stopped working again while I was gone, and had thus failed to record those shows. Instead, I got two hours of a screen saying "One Moment Please," which is what the cable box shows when the power is on but it's not getting info from Comcast.

(It should be noted that those two shows are the reason I have (and pay for) cable TV, and at the moment are the only ones I watch. I was doing fine without any TV signals at all coming into my house, until the Sci Fi Channel had to go and start broadcasting good shows.)

I reset the box, and called Comcast, and used their automated system to send a reset signal to my box, and all seemed fine. So I left town again, and you can guess what happened.

I called Comcast and scheduled an appointment. The customer service agent on the phone was friendly and effective and sympathetic. And the tech guy showed up within the appointed timeslot, and spent quite a while rebalancing my signal, and rerouting a long cable through my house, and so on. In the end, he said everything was now fine.

Two hours later, the signal went out again.

I reset the box a couple of times over the next 24 hours, but it still managed to shut itself down in time to miss the rebroadcast of one of the Dr. Who episodes that had failed to record previously.

Comcast sent another guy out. He told me everything looked fine, and to replace the box. He didn't have a replacement box (or rather, the one he had was an old model roughly 8 times the size of the one I had), so I went to the Comcast store near my house (which I hadn't previously known about) and got a new one. (More friendly and helpful customer service.) Got it home, set it up, all fine.

Until a few hours later, when it stopped working. With an entirely different symptom than the previous outages: this time, it was just a blank screen.

I spent 15 minutes on the phone with a friendly and patient Comcast support guy, who eventually figured out that the power was off on my box (I hadn't known that was possible with it plugged in). Turning the power on made it work. Embarrassing.

But the guy couldn't tell me why it would have shut itself off. And I have no particular faith that it'll still be on when I get home from my current trip.

Speaking of which:

My flight yesterday was nicely uneventful. Arrived at SEA, eventually found the shuttle stop to the Enterprise rental lot. The shuttle took a long time. Then the rental process itself took quite a while. I've been using National for years, and have gotten used to a fairly efficient rental process (except for sometimes having to stand in line for 45 minutes, and/or spending twenty minutes wandering through the parking lot trying to find the right class of car), so I assumed all rental places were like that now. (I picked Enterprise this trip because it was only a little too expensive, not ridiculously too expensive like National.) Not so: the guy processed my reservation quickly, but then he took me outside in person to find a car, and then it took him two or three tries to figure out what car to give me (and to find the keys for it), and then he insisted on walking around the car with me, noting down every tiny scratch on the paint (but entirely missing a severely broken hubcap). National doesn't care about that stuff; they just say "go find a car on the lot and take it; the keys are in the car."

Anyway, so I got in the car and headed for the freeway. And about two blocks later, saw a mysterious warning light on the dashboard.

I decided to pull over instead of getting on the freeway. I found the owner's manual for the car, and found the warning light info, and discovered that it was the "low tire pressure" light.

Went to a gas station, tried to get change to turn on the air machine. Clerk nicely turned on the machine for me from inside, but said I would have to push the button on the machine itself to get it to work. I spent several minutes trying to find the button. There was a coin-return-like button on the coin box, but I pressed it several times and nothing happened.

I went back inside, she told me to press the button. I tried again, and it worked.

So I checked in at my hotel (only getting slightly lost when Google Maps on the iPhone had the wrong name for an exit), and then went and hung out with Debby for a couple hours.

Then I headed back to my hotel, but made the mistake of trying to follow the decidedly odd surface-streets directions that Google Maps on the iPhone gave me. Bad move. I got past the obstacle of it telling me to turn left at a right-turn-only spot, but it was too dark to see most of the street signs, and I took two or three wrong turns in the supposed-to-be-ten-minutes drive.

Eventually made it back to the hotel. Went to my room . . . and my card key wouldn't work.

This time around (unlike last time), it made the mechanism operate, but when I turned the handle and pushed, it felt like something was holding the door in place.

After several tries, I went down to the lobby, feeling a little surreal. The desk clerk gave me instructions on how to operate my door, which were what I had done already (and what I had done several times previously to get various doors here to work).

I went back up and tried again, and this time I pushed the door a little harder, and it opened. I think maybe the safety latch on the inside had gotten partly engaged or something. Not sure.

My point, though, is that technology is not working so well for me at the moment.

(Of course many things have worked fine. The airplane. My computer, more or less. The microwave. But I'm seeing a lot more technological failure than usual lately.)

. . . But the very latest unfortunate incidents were not technology failures, unless you count earplug technology.

I was up 'til about 2:30 this morning working on a project for work ('cause I left work early to catch my plane, and I have a deadline). Went to bed, slept soundly--

Until 4:30 a.m., when a very very loud garbage truck sat right below my window for several minutes, as someone who must have been dressed as Iron Man (based on the amount of noise involved) retrieved some loudly clanking garbage cans and processed them.

I somehow managed to take this relatively calmly, rather than getting up and calling the front desk and yelling at them, which was my first impulse. Got back to sleep fairly soon.

And then was awakened again at 7:30 by another (less loud) garbage truck (who knows, maybe it was recycling) processing material right below my window.

Tried to get back to sleep, couldn't, decided to write a journal entry and then get some breakfast.

I was going to say that I rather like this hotel. But I definitely don't recommend staying in room 201 on a Wednesday night.


I realize this is the smallest part of the problem, but do let me know if you need copies of those shows? I have a new thing that lets me put TV shows from [my roommate's] TiVo and burn them to DVD, and I love it and would be happy to use it on your behalf. If by any chance you haven't gotten that worked out by now.

Thanks, Jessie! (And thanks to the other person who offered.) It's possible that I'll take you up on that, but I think for now we're okay.

Because I've discovered that it's trivially easy to use BitTorrent to download very high-quality illicit copies of the latest Dr. Who episodes. (It takes a few hours, but very little effort.)

Normally, I wouldn't do this. But given that I'm paying to be able to watch them and my cable service provider isn't providing them, I'm okay with it. (Even though a little hesitant about the uploading aspect of BitTorrent.) And the one that we've downloaded and watched so far was really a remarkably high-quality recording.

As for BSG, the last three episodes were available in streaming format from the Sci Fi Channel last time I checked. I think the only one I'm missing at this point is the half-season finale, which I think we'll be able to watch online for the next couple weeks. That's at a noticeably lower quality than the broadcast version, but I'm okay with that.

Anyway, it's entirely possible that some further technofailure will make the various current options infeasible, in which case I may well take you up on your offer. But if you end up needing the space on your TiVo, then go ahead and delete the episodes--I'm pretty sure I'll be able to find them.

I do really like the option to burn DVDs from TiVo, though. I've been tempted several times to get a newer-model TiVo that can do that, or even one that can dump video direct to (computer-accessible) disk. Haven't quite gotten around to it, though--and in most cases I would rather just wait and buy the commercially produced DVDs anyway.

Jed, you are easily one of my three favorite nephews. I make that statement without fear of contradiction. Absolutely no question about it. Partly because, at half my age, your (forgive me) Luddite experiences make me feel less "totally beyond electronic redemption." [However, I am likely to beat you about the head and neck if you come to SEA again without making time to say hello. (Oops. I'll be in San Jose next week and forgot to call about seeing you. Are you available?)] Another reason is that you auto-loaded "Uncle Paul" in this response device. I don't like to stand on ceremony, and generally want to be just "Paul," but the "uncle" thing once in awhile feels magnificent. Just as I love it that Jordan and Crystal have taught Carter and Crystal to call me "Granddad"--a beautiful, endearing title if one ever existed. And a third reason is, of course, because I only have three nephews. (So you'll identify with Kenna, who hates it when I call her my favorite daughter.) What a gift you are to the universe, nephew Jed.

Okay, just let me know! I don't actually have a TiVo with a DVD burner--I have a piece of software called Roxio Toast (?) that lets me browse the TiVo over the network, download shows to my iMac, and burn them on a DVD with the iMac's DVD burner. It cost something like $80, and I bought it so I could make DVDs of clips for my class, but it's useful for loaning as well.

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