Vital Statistics

Current reading: Just A Geek by Wil Wheaton
Recent listening: Coverville, The Cure, Yo-Yo Ma Plays Ennio Morricone
Recent viewing: Sportscenter, The Colbert Report, The Daily Show, South Park
Recent playing: Poker Room
Most Important To Do: Cut out Pinewood Derby cars

Saga of the New Tivo, Part VI

Previously : “The replacement card was now “linked” to our old DTivo (the one in the Big TV room) and the card that had been in the old DTivo was now a useless piece of plastic.”

As you may recall from Part IV of our story, I had determined via troubleshooting that the electrical problems had rendered two of my four satellite channels inoperable. The dish would either need to be fixed or replaced in order to get the new Tivo online.

Sometime during my many conversations with DirecTV (DTV) representatives, one suggested that I sign up for the DirecTV Protection Plan, which costs $8/month but provides free replacement for all of your equipment. I specifically queried this rep about my particular situation, and he said I could sign up for the plan and call the repair department the next day. Otherwise, it would be at least a $60 fee plus the cost of replacing any defective hardware. It was an easy decision to make and I signed up on the spot.

Thus, yesterday I found myself on the phone again with DTV explaining my problem and describing the troubleshooting steps that I had taken. After a few minutes of questioning, the rep concluded that I needed onsite service and transferred me. After ten or more minutes on hold, I went through the same process with another rep in a different department, even though the first rep had said she was making notes on my account. The second rep then confirmed that they would need to schedule onsite service for me and transferred me again! Again ten or more minutes of holding before the third rep booked an appointment for onsite service on January 15, 2006 (Sunday).

I still have to run coaxial cable from the junction box on the side of the house to a second set of connectors in the Big TV room, but I’m going to see if I can talk the technician into doing it for me since he would do a much nicer job than me. Failing that, I’ll have Sunday afternoon to do it myself. If I’m successful, this saga may finally come to an end and Tina will have her birthday present before Valentine’s Day.

Next: “And it only took three months to get everything working.”

Vital Statistics

The road home tonight was wet. Very wet. It was pouring when I rolled my bike out of the office and into the brightly lit darkness of downtown Portland. I raced the seven blocks down Stark Street to the Max Station on Front where I waited and hoped for the Blue Line. Red Line to Airport. Damn. Instead of a five minute downhill ride, I was looking at twenty minutes possibly against some vicious east wind out of the Gorge.

Thankfully, the wind was out of the south but the rain pummeled me the whole way home. When I cut across the Fred Meyer parking lot, there was a water puddle so large that it had waves rippling through it. At that moment I looked up at the sky to see that each drop of rain was clearly visible in the street lights of the parking lot. Torrential.

I stripped down to my shorts when I got home and everything went in the wash and then the dryer. Warm, dry clothes feel so good after a good soaking.

Bike odometer: 5653 miles
Current reading: Just A Geek by Wil Wheaton
Recent listening: New Roman Times/Camper Van Beethoven, Coverville, Blame The Vain/Dwight Yoakam, Yo-Yo Ma Plays Ennio Morricone
Recent viewing: The Colbert Report, CSI: Miami, Countdown with Keith Olberman
Recent playing: Falling Sand Game
Most Important To Do: Call DirecTV to get satellite dish fixed

Vital Statistics

Current reading: Just A Geek by Wil Wheaton
Recent listening: New Roman Times/Camper Van Beethoven, The Carter Family, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot/Wilco, Liz Phair, Especially For You/The Smithereens
Recent viewing: NFL Wildcard Playoff games, Distraction, South Park, ER, CSI
Recent playing: Falling Sand Game

Saga of the New Tivo, Part V

Previously : Troubleshooting and a new plan

Fast forward to December 23, 2005. I had been working 80 hour weeks for three weeks in a row. We had visitors in town over Thanksgiving and other obligations kept me from completing the Tivo saga. But now I had vacation for the rest of the year and some time to finish it. In the meantime, I had received email from Weaknees telling me that I had to activate the new Tivo soon or face penalties charged to my credit card. I called them and got a brief extension and, so, activating the replacement Tivo was my mission for the day.

For those of you not familiar with DirecTV (DTV), each receiver has a little slot in which you slide an “activation card” that tells DTV that you are legally using their satellite service. The card is exactly the same size as a credit card and has what appears to be a small amount of flash memory on it. I had successfully activated the previous DirecTV Tivo (DTivo) before frying it but Weaknees needed to have the replacement DTivo activated in order to fulfill their contract with DTV.

I pulled the replacement DTivo out of the box and opened up the little door that covers the slot for the activation card. To my surprise, there was no card inside. I then scoured the inside of the box only to find the little plastic bag in which the card came and some packaging materials. I searched around the house in spots I thought I might have left the card. I also showed an activation card to every member of the family and asked if they had seen one like it. Negative on all counts.

Now in a semi-panic I remembered that I still had the card in the broken unit. I called DTV and told them my situation and asked if I could use the card from the broken unit in the new unit. The representative said I could do that and he would walk me through it. Thirty minutes later the new DTivo was activated with the older card. Then I called Weaknees to apprise them of the situation and to find out exactly what remained for me to get square with them.

Well, Weaknees was not cool with the activation card shuffling because, according to them, it would get them into trouble with DTV. Explaining that I had lost the activation card I had received with the replacement DTivo, I said I wanted to make good and asked how I could do so. Here’s the course of action they requested:

  1. Call DTV and ask for a replacement for the lost activation card.
  2. When the replacement card arrives, activate the replacement DTivo with the replacement card.
  3. Call Weaknees when activation is complete.
  4. Send back the broken DTivo to Weaknees with original activation card.

So I called DTV again and told them the plan. Their representative was doubtful about the need to do all of it, but I wanted it done and they were willing. The rep had a replacement card sent to me to arrive the next day and he waived the activation fee they normally charge.

Unfortunately, due to the holidays, the card did not actually arrive until the next week on December 28. It came with a set of directions on how to activate it via their automated phone system. I followed this procedure nearly all the way through before I noticed in the printed material accompanying the card that it was set to replace the card in our working DTivo! I aborted the automated procedure so I could talk to a rep, but after he put me on hold for 15 minutes, I discovered that it was too late. The replacement card was now “linked” to our old DTivo (the one in the Big TV room) and the card that had been in the old DTivo was now a useless piece of plastic. The only recourse was for DTV to once again overnight a replacement card for the lost card—which they did and at no charge again.

The next day, the replacement card arrived and I called a representative at DTV and described exactly which DTivo (by serial number) needed to be activated for the new card. After 10 minutes, the card was activated for Tina’s DTivo and I was almost ready to move on to the next phase of the operation. But first, I called Weaknees and gave them the skinny on the activation situation. They were not happy with the long delay (remember this had started two months before), but said that I should return the defective DTivo immediately, which I did that day.

Next: “…this saga may finally come to an end and Tina will have her birthday present before Valentine’s Day.”

Smoker Confrontations, Part I

\January 1st marked the first day of the new smoking ban on TriMet property, including Max light rail platforms. They have been slowly putting up the “No Smoking” signs since October but haven’t begun enforcing until now.

Until recently, scientists haven’t been able to explain why smokers have more exaggerated responses to viral infections. Smokers have been more likely than non-smokers to die during previous influenza epidemics and are more prone to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Furthermore, children who are exposed to second-hand smoke have more severe responses when infected with respiratory synctial virus, talks about how it affects your body.

The prevailing view has been that cigarette smoke decreases anti-viral responses. But the Yale researchers—lead author Jack A. Elias, M.D., the Waldermar Von Zedtwitz Professor of Medicine and chair of internal medicine at Yale School of Medicine, and first author Min-Jong Kang, M.D., associate research scientist—found the opposite to be true.

Their experiments showed that the immune systems of mice exposed to cigarette smoke from as little as two cigarettes a day for two weeks overreacted when they were also exposed to a mimic of the flu virus. The mice’s immune systems cleared the virus normally but the exaggerated inflammation caused increased levels of tissue damage.

I don’t think smokers realize how much of a burden cigarette smoke is for non-smokers. While I don’t buy many of the second-hand smoke health claims, I do know this: If I’m 30 feet downwind of a smoker, I can tell somebody is smoking before I see the smoker. The first thing I notice is a little twinge in my throat that tells me it might be a good idea to cough. The smell follows shortly after that and my brain puts the two together and tells me, “Smoker nearby.”

As I stood on the Max platform this morning waiting for the train, my brain told me, “Smoker nearby.” I looked around and spotted an older guy sitting underneath one of the shelters smoking. Why must smokers always smoke in the shelters when it is raining? Well, now it’s not only inconsiderate it is also against TriMet rules. I looked around for a “No Smoking” sign that I could point out to the gentleman, but there weren’t any in the shelter.

After hesitating a bit and noticing others on the platform nervously glancing at the man, I strapped on my courage and walked up to the man:

Me: “There’s no smoking here.”
Him: “OK.” (but did not put out the cigarette)
Me: “There’s no smoking here, man. You have to put it out.”
Him: “OK.” (but did not put out the cigarette)
Me: “Do you want me to call security?”
Him: “Do what you have to do.”
Me: “OK, I will.”

After which I walked back to my bike to wait for the Max to arrive. When it did, I would be able to tell the driver and he would have somebody go to the platform to take care of it. But would that work? Thinking it wouldn’t, I considered other options. How about if I just walked over there and plucked the cigarette out of his mouth and threw it away? That would be extremely aggressive,” I thought as I reached down on my bike for a drink from my water bottle. The water bottle that I had just filled up that morning. The water bottle that puts out a stream of about 1/4 inch in diameter. “Wouldn’t it work swell for putting that cigarette out?” I thought.

I glanced over at the smoker as I contemplated this action only to find that the cigarette was gone. Evidently he had heeded my threat of calling security and had disposed of the cigarette.

A victory, I suppose, but wouldn’t the water bottle solution have been funnier? Here is a spot to read the Puffco Pro 2 Review At

Vital Statistics

Today was my first day back on my bike for about a month. The ride to the Max was smooth and dry but I had to wait 20 minutes for the photographer from the Oregonian. Caught the Red Line home which means a longer ride than I like at night and the wind was blowing very strongly from the Gorge. I couldn’t get much over 10 mph most of the way and was very tired when I got home. Listened to The Carter Family on the way to work and Kindred Spirits coming home. A fitting combination, I thought.

Bike odometer: 5631 miles
Current reading: Just A Geek by Wil Wheaton
Recent listening: The Carter Family, Kindred Spirits: A Tribute to Johnny Cash, Imagine/John Lennon
Recent viewing: Medium, CNN/MSNBC coverage of the mining accident, Fiesta Bowl
Recent playing: Falling Sand Game

Joe Dumars is an asshole

I don’t know how else to explain it. After examining the evidence, it can be the only conclusion. Sure, I know that he was so well-regarded by the NBA as a player that they named their Citizenship Award after him. I also know he was the only player during the Bad Boys era that was considered to be civil. But as an NBA executive, he:

  1. Was named President of Basketball Operations for the Pistons before the start of the season in 2000. Presumably, this means he is the boss there answerable only to the owner of the team.
  2. Hired Rick Carlisle as head coach prior to the 2001 season. Carlisle was named NBA Coach of the year for that season as he led the Pistons to a 50-32 record and the playoffs. The next year the Pistons posted the same record and made the playoffs again. Carlisle was inexplicably fired.
  3. Hired Larry Brown to replace Carlisle as head coach following the 2002-2003 season. Brown led the Pistons to the NBA Finals two years in a row, beating the Lakers in the first and losing to the Spurs in the second. Following the Finals loss to the Spurs, Brown was fired.
  4. Hired Flip Saunders to replace Larry Brown as head coach prior to the 2005 season.

So not only did he fire a coach who posted 50-wins in every season which he coached for Dumars, he also fired a coach who went to the Finals every single season in which he coached the Pistons. Evidently it’s not enough for Dumars to have a winning record or even to go to the Finals, but his team must win the championship every year! How insane is that?

This is precisely the kind of thing that is wrong with professional sports today. There will never be another “Dean Smith era” or “Red Auerbach era” because no team, organization or even fanbase has the patience for a losing season anymore. Did Dean Smith make the NCAA Tournament every year that he coached? Even Auerbach didn’t win the NBA Championship every year (although it seems like it). In fact, he didn’t win a championship until his 7th year as coach of the Celtics. Can you imagine a coach today keeping his job that long with no championship to show for it?

People blather on and on about the culture of selfishness that reigns among NBA players these days, but their attitude is no different than the owners and executives. Namely, “what can you do for me?” and “what have you done for me lately?” Winning in the short term has become so important that the NBA has lost sight of the possibility of winning in the long term.

And where is Dumars in all this? He is the worst possible offender. One could argue for the short-term advantages to firing a coach after a losing season, but firing your coaches after they perform exceptionally well? Inexcusable and an action that only be performed by an asshole.

Saga of the New Tivo, Part IV

Previously: : “But what about when you join the reversed circuit to a “normal” circuit via a coaxial cable connection to the satellite dish?”

After exchanging a few emails with Weaknees, they agreed to send me a replacement DTivo immediately. I received it the next week. I tried hooking it up in the bedroom again, but as I suspected I could get no signal from the satellite. Now I had to figure out what had been burned out by the bad electrical situation. Here’s the sequence starting from the dish:

  1. Four coaxial cables come out of the dish,
  2. Those four cables are connected to what I would describe as a “breakout box” that has four incoming coax connections and four outgoing connections.
  3. Two outgoing connections on the breakout box go to the Big TV room DTivo, one goes back to the bedroom and one is capped.
  4. The cable going to the bedroom runs along the outside of the house until it gets to the bedroom where it enters the outside wall.
  5. Inside the wall the external cable is connected to a faceplate splitter.
  6. The other side of the splitter is connected inside the bedroom to the cable that goes to the DTivo.

So, by my count, any or all of the six components in that chain could be faulty. I started testing at the breakout box by hooking the DTivo directly to it’s output side. No dice. With trepidation, I connected via splitter directly to the coax from the dish. Coax 1 and 2 (which were connected to the Big TV DTivo) worked fine, but 3 produced a signal level of only about 37% and 4 was completely dead. So I retreated and rethought my plan for a few days.

Clearly I would need a replacement dish which I priced near $200 on the internet. Dave Camp, a friend of mine who used to be a DTV customer suggested calling DTV customer service and describing my problem. They might fix it for free or minimal charge. I certainly had nothing to lose. I resolved to do this but just then work intervened in a way that would leave me no free time for several weeks.

In the meantime, I came up with a better plan. Remember the original plan was to place the DTivo in our bedroom and hook it to the single coax that was already there. Eventually, I would have to run a second coax from one end of the house to the other to get the full dual tuner capability enabled. My friend, Rob Marquardt, provided the inspiration for the new plan, which was much easier to implement and potentially better for everybody.

When I visited Rob back in 2003, he had an Infrared Extender which let him control his Tivo from other parts of his apartment. He could also view his Tivo from three different rooms. The new plan would have the new DTivo in the Big TV room with our original DTivo making it simpler to run the new cabling (25 feet vs. 80 feet). I would utilize an old coax cable installed during our cable TV days to connect the new DTivo to the TV in the bedroom. Add the infrared extender and we would be able to watch and control the new DTivo from the bedroom, but would also be able to watch and control it in the Big TV room. Cool, huh?

As a temporary measure, I purchased the infrared extender set from Radio Shack and wired our old DTivo to the television in the bedroom. This would help ease the pain of no TV in the bedroom Tina had experienced since the saga had begun two weeks before. Although she was not completely satisfied with this temporary solution, it was better than no TV at all.

Next: “The replacement card was now “linked” to our old DTivo (the one in the Big TV room) and the card that had been in the old DTivo was now a useless piece of plastic.”

Hawkeyes got screwed

Although Iowa made some crucial mistakes in the Outback Bowl today (i.e. blocked punt and fake punt), the officials seemed to have it in for them. To wit:

  • On third down, the Gators’ drive stalls two yards short of a first down when an official calls them for “helmet to helmet contact.” Replays showed the call was wrong but they don’t review it. The drive is kept alive and eventually the Gators score a touchdown just before halftime.
  • During a Hawkeye drive in the second half, an Iowa receiver is called for a face mask. Offensive face mask? Replays showed the receiver getting pulled down to the ground by his face mask by the defender. Both of the receiver’s arms are stretched out perpendicular from his side.
  • On another drive during the second half, an Iowa receiver makes a great catch for a first down but is shoved out of bounds before his feet touch the ground. The play is ruled an incomplete pass and the drive dies.
  • With less than two minutes left, Iowa scores a field goal to get the game within 7. Everybody is set for an onside kick, which is delivered perfectly. Iowa recovers but officials rule that one Iowa player was offsides. Replays show no one offside.

It hasn’t been a good year for the Big 10 in bowl games. Aside from the bizarre ending, I seem to recall that Michigan had two crucial calls incorrectly go against them, too. Let the conspiracy theories begin!