Saturday, December 30, 2006

i am The Flash

Thanks to the folks over on the LifeDev blog, I took a superhero quiz this morning to find out I'm Flash of all heroes. I guess I'd better get used to wearing red spandex.

I am The Flash Fast, athletic and flirtatious.

Click here to take the "Which Superhero are you?" quiz...

Friday, December 29, 2006

idea for the Gmail team

I'm a huge fan of the Gmail interface, and I especially like that its so easy to access from my Treo 650.

If I could change but one thing, it'd be the "delete all spam" function in the spam folder.

I try to keep my spam folder clean, and I love the "delete all spam messages now" button that appears at the top of the page. However, when I click the button, I'm challenged with an "are you sure?" prompt that requires yet another click. Two clicks to delete all the spam.

However, if I choose to select all messages from the selection menu (that's one click) and then choose delete (that's two clicks), I get the same result.

IMHO, the "now" function should be a one-click function, n'est-ce pas?

Maybe they have those lazy users with pages of spam in mind for the now function?

My DirecTV HD DVR bug workaround

As posted earlier here and here, I'm still having trouble with my DirecTV HR20 HD DVR. In talking with Customer Support and poring over the DBStalk Forum, I've discovered a troubleshooting sequence for the IKD bug (aka the Instant Keep or Delete bug):
  • If your program is infected by the IKD bug (when you try to play, it immediately asks you to keep or delete the program), try to play the infected program several times in a row, answering "no, don't delete" each time. There are reports that this technique has gotten the programs to play... I'm still waiting for the magic to happen to me.
  • If the above doesn't work, try a soft reboot (press the red button in the compartment where the card slot is, front right bottom of the HR20) to see if they'll work... DirecTV Customer Support has this trick in their support script.
  • If all else fails, do a hard reboot (i.e., unplug it from the wall, wait 20 seconds, plug in and power up) to erase the IKD-infected shows from the play list.
Yesterday, the IKD bug struck my HR20 again. Before calling customer service, I tried the above steps and finally had to do a hard reboot and I lost the 12 programs that had been "recorded" in the last day. So, no Scrubs, The Office or 30 Rock this week. And no Windtalker off the HDNet Movies Channel.

I spent 20 min on the phone with Theresa at DirecTV Customer Support last night and she apologized for the inconvenience and reported that the IKD is a known bug and they'll be releasing a software update again soon (per forum, the IKD bug was first reported on 9/27/06). Interesting, I'd heard that promise before.

My HR20 DVR has been running the "latest" software upgrade (ver. 0x10b) since Tues, Dec 19, and according to Jamie, the Tier 2 support rep I spoke with on Dec 15, the latest upgrade was supposed to solve this IKD bug. Needless to say, it hasn't.

I told Theresa (phone call on Dec 28) that I still hadn't been called back by a service tech (from phone call on Dec 15) to help resolve my "disk almost full" problem. She said that's unacceptable and someone will call soon. I'm not waiting for the phone to ring today.

They've once again failed to follow through. I've decided I'm going to call in each time I have problems so as to build a case for their failing to uphold their end of the service contract I've signed. In case I want to switch back to TiVo and splurge on a Series 3, natch.

100 things we didn't know last year...

The BBC has pulled together its list of trivia, pulled together from its Magazine's weekly "10 Things We Didn't Know Last Week" segment.

Among the full list of 100 facts, my favs include:
  • The lion costume in the film Wizard of Oz was made from real lions. (more details)
  • When filming summer scenes in winter, actors suck on ice cubes just before the camera rolls - it cools their mouths so their breath doesn't condense in the cold air. (more details)
  • Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobiacs is the term for people who fear the number 666.
  • Music can help reduce chronic pain by more than 20% and can alleviate depression by up to 25%. (more details)
... and to settle the argument once and for all:

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

DirecTV HR20 HD DVR problems, cont.

Grumble, grumble.

It's now four days since Tier 2 Support at DirecTV informed me I'd be getting the software upgrade that will prevent my DirecTV HR20 HD DVR from skipping recording the shows I've asked it to. Turns out that's not a bad thing, as once the software upgrade comes through, I've been warned I'll lose the ability to get help from Customer Support because they won't know how to support the build (why doesn't this bother me more than it does?)

The good news: I've only had to reboot the machine once since then (because the remote decided to stop functioning, even after fresh batteries were installed). And I've found the DBStalk forums for lots of geeky advice on how to work around issues related to the HR20.

The bad news: My progress bar shows that we have only 15% of our hard drive free due to the phantom "new items" that were recorded but I can't get to thanks to the software bug. And I don't have the frickin' time to be trolling the DBStalk forum trying to get this device to work.

When I visited the web site, I was more than a little surprised to see that "due to unprecedented demand," the DirecTV HD DVR is waitlisted. It's either high demand, or they're still trying to iron out the bugs before shipping more of the units (see what's happening in the DirecTV HD DVR forums).

I see there's a deal over on for a new TiVo Series 3 for "only" $649.99. If I get my purchase price refunded from DirecTV for the malfunctioning equipment, the gap closes to something palatable. It's sorely tempting to jettison the DirecTV HD DVR and go back to good old TiVo, but I'll have to read the fine print on the HR20 purchase agreement to see how long I'm shackled to a poorly functioning device... I'm sure the large switching penalties are tucked in there somewhere.

Friday, December 15, 2006

DirecTV HD DVR recording problems

I just got off a 65 minute call with DirecTV trying (unsuccessfully) to retrieve the last week's worth of "recorded" shows on our DirecTV HR20 HD DVR. Even though I've been credited with a month's worth of programming on our bill, I'm pissed that we've lost a week's worth of shows. What's the use buying a time-shifting device when it's unreliable?

The playlist on our DVR has been filling up as it's supposed to with the names of shows we've asked it to record. Since I've been gone on business, Melanie didn't watch any of the shows so we can watch them together.

When we went to watch the season finale of Amazing Race (recorded last Sunday), we chose the show from our playlist, pressed play and were greeted by a grey screen and an immediate popup of the "Delete Recording?" message that usually comes up when we reach the end of a show that's been recorded.


We tried it on a few other shows in the list, and it was the same thing, no matter whether the show was in Hi-Def or standard-def.

I called the DirecTV support line and the first thing it tells you to do is reset your receiver (the old "reboot" solution). So I did... And I went back to the playlist to find that every single show that was "recorded" since Dec 8 has mysteriously disappeared from our playlist.

Again, WTF!?!?

The disk space indicator on our Playlist indicates that the shows should be there. The History list indicates that the shows were recorded. But there's no way to watch them.

By this time, I'd been shuttled forward to "Tier 2" support for the new-fangled, complex equipment supplied by DirecTV. After 10 minutes on hold I finally spoke with Jamie and described my problem. She indicated this was a novel one and put me on hold again (with my consent) while she looked up the solution.

When she came back, she asked me what software version I'm running (version 0acf, downloaded on 11/22/06) and this seems to be the problem. Since this software was downloaded, several others have encountered the same issue with "phantom recordings" in their playlist.

BUT, no one else seems to have the disk space anomaly that I've got.

We did a hard reset (unplug from the wall for 15 seconds) of the system so that the next software patch will initiate within 24 hours. At that time, we'll be upgraded to version x10b, which is the new version that has supposedly fixed the Nov 22 version's phantom recording glitch.

Whether or not this is going to resolve our faulty disk space indicator is unknown, and Jamie was kind enough to forward the details to the engineers to take a look at (and hopefully resolve). Part of me hopes the shows are still on the drive, but just in need of some remote button hack sequence to free them.

However, given the fact that Jamie says the next step is usually to reformat the hard drive, thereby erasing all my recorded programming, I'm not holding my breath.

As I told Jamie, this really feels like a horribly designed product. Why should I be forced to give up months worth of saved television programming as a "troubleshooting technique"? The DirecTV product design folks really missed the mark on this thing.

I want my TiVo back.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

back in the city

Landed at JFK airport about 90 minutes ago and am back in NYC for the first time in a little over a year.

The view out my taxi's window on the BQE looking toward the Manhattan skyline at dusk was stunning. All the skyscrapers are in their holiday light finest.

Odd to notice I've been here so infrequently, it's still suddenly odd to find the WTC towers missing.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

the perfect gift for your cook

It seems like years ago that I saw a blurb in the San Jose Mercury News Food section announcing that there was a cookbook editor seeking recipe testers. Thinking it'd be fun to test recipes, I submitted my contact info and a short bio asking to be included as a tester. The promised mention of "credit" in the book as well as a copy of the book for my own collection wasn't my prime motivator: I wanted to see what it was like to take a draft recipe and give feedback that'd help idiot-proof the thing for the next user.

I remember testing recipes for broiled chicken (where I learned how to get the skins extra crispy), a blueberry pie (waaaay too sweet), cheese sticks (came out a little on the salty side) and submitting my comments to the editors. Unfortunately, I lost my recipe printouts with notes scribbled on them while mixing/sauteeing/baking, but I have the originals in my gmail box.

And now the book has been published, and I have my very own autographed copy on the shelf alongside all my other cookbooks. As a tester, I've been forwarded the following special deal to share with you all. You can get a copy of this book for yourself (or to give as a gift) and you'll find me and the other testers in the Appendix in the back.

Get your autographed copy of The Good Home Cookbook for only $15! You will also receive a FREE retro magnetic grocery pad!

Plus you will be entered to win a FREE gift box containing our best-selling Retro Diner and More Retro Diner cookbooks, a large diner-style coffee mug, and The Good Home Cookbook apron.

Offer expires December 15 so don't delay! Order at: Enter the code "DEAL" to receive this generous offer. Order a few extra for gifts at this incredible price!

Of course, if you ask nicely, I'm happy to autograph your copy, too. ;^)