When cable modems go bad

One of the in my spare time activities of life as a techie is providing network administration support to the family. Lately the in-laws have had some challenges getting online. When I asked them to visit http://whatismyip.com they would get different results each time. Their TiVo folks had said they had a problem with their IP address and that was why the TiVo wasn't working. Things got more interesting when I started looking up the ip addresses. The IP addresses reported belonged to companies on the other side of the globe. From Cambodia to Poland the information didn't make sense.

Interestingly although Remote Desktop wouldn't provide access (because of the bad IP address) screen sharing in iChat did work. Upon logging in and firing up AirPort Utility I expected to see that the AirPort knew it had a different address. But alas the AirPort resolutely stated the IP address in Poland.

Cutting the cable

Tom wrote recently about ditching cable TV. Over the last couple of years we've been watching not much TV. With our move last winter we ended up in a house that for various reasons isn't suited to cable or satellite.

This situation brought out the rabbit ears and there is an amazing revelation that free TV is still available via plain old rabbit ears. The coming conversion to digital TV won't even render them useless though an old TV set will need a converter box. But there is the lack of TiVo. That all powerful system for time-shifting shows. Fortunately there is a reasonable solution there too.

Admittedly the Eye TV Hybrid takes some cash up front. However, it pays off in the long run. There are no TiVo fees, no requirement to use anything but a computer and some rabbit ears. Though I don't yet have even the latest software, it does a great job of turning a 20-inch iMac into a great media center. Hook it up with an AppleTV and it's even better than TiVo in many ways.

RSS wish list

My new killer application would be TiVo for my RSS feed. Actually there's one part of TiVo that my RSS reader needs - ratings. There are a number of RSS feeds that contain both useful and not-so-useful information. Today it is an all or nothing proposition. The reader either gets all of the feed or none but can not easily say "more like this".

Actually the full ratings system would be great and would allow a newsreader to find "suggestions" ala TiVo. Long before that there could be a great application for RSS feeds of job postings. Suppose I want to see job postings in the Seattle area. I would subscribe to a feed for all jobs in the newspapers in the area. When it comes to postings for drivers or cooks which I lack the skills for simply mark the first few as "thumbs-down". As the system gets trained it learns that I don't want to see ads related to sales positions but sales engineers or sales support postings would be interesting.

This could be done on the reader side or on the server side. Even in middle ware could be developed to handle aggregating the feeds and then disseminating posts along with an added tag line for "thumbs up" and "thumbs down".

The cable guy

Part of this weekend's activities includes fixing the in-laws TiVo system and getting their home entertainment system working. Since we were to help set it up initially they've moved it to a new cabinet and had the local cable guy out to help troubleshoot.

Somewhat unsurprisingly the cable guy's answer is to give up on TiVo and go to the cable company's second rate DVR system. Ultimately the problem stemmed from two cables that the cable guy wasn't sure what to do with and just stuck in the back of the case. Low and behold when the TiVo says it can't connect it is possible that the network connection cable is important. Similarly when the cable guy says "TiVo doesn't work with our system," it really means he wants to sell you something else more than help you. It also means that he won't take the time to read the one-page instruction sheet or think for a few minutes about why the TiVo can't control the cable box without the connectors. Imagine.

Basic advice for everyone. Don't let the cable guy do more than pull the cable to your house. If you need help with your system find a local independent expert and get them to come help you. You'll get a much better deal and you'll have hair left at the end of the process.

Thoughts from vacation

We spent last week traveling and relaxing. It was easily the best break I've taken since starting my present gig a couple of years ago. However I would offer some observations from the trip.

Your kids aren't that cute - Sorry to be the one to tell you but your screaming kid is not as cute as you think they are. Even if you've programmed them to scream intermittently (every 5-10 seconds) instead of continuously they are still not cute. Here's an easy test. If you think your kid does something cute multiply the cuteness by 0.1 and you'll come up with an estimation of how cute others think it is. There are plenty of parents in the world that have well-behaved polite children and you can too. However ignoring your screaming child will not make them stop, especially when they've been programmed that the only way to get attention is to scream your name repeatedly.

Also there is another part to this equation. While it is not easy to take your toddlers in and out of backpack carriers when getting on or off a shuttle bus, it is the right thing to do. Stacking them off to the far side of the bus as one more piece of baggage will not make the trip enjoyable for any of your fellow passengers.

Hotels need TiVo - I largely gave up on watching TV some time ago. However in the motel room I still tend to turn the boob tube on and see what I have (or haven't) been missing. There seems to be a rule of motel-TV scheduling, however, that says the one thing you'd like to see will be on at the only reasonable time to eat dinner, go to the pool, etc. Which of the hotel chains will be the first to add TiVo to the room?

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