Saturday, March 13, 2010

How Dumb is TIVO?

So the new miniseries "The Pacific" is coming up. "Band of Brothers" was excellent, so I want to watch this one in the initial HBO broadcast rather than some watered-down network version.

I call Comcast, press a few buttons to route my call, and reach a very helpful lady who gives me two options: just HBO for $18/month or HBO and 7,000 other channels for $14. Hmmm... I accept the $14 deal and she flips the switch - the channels are live while I'm on the phone with her. That's an amazing experience (and I never thought anyone could have an amazingly positive experience with comcast).

So then I have to train my Tivo that we have these 7,000 channels. I start the channel updating process, and it asks me what network I get on channel 35. How in the world should I know? (The whole point of Tivo is that is removes me from having to know such mundane things).

Now, it used to be that Tivo would show you the channel underneath the question, so you could get an idea of what you were watching. That feature seems to have been removed.

I boot up my computer and go to comcast to get the channel lineup. Tivo wants to know about two channels, so I get the info and confirm Tivo's suggestions. Then, it does it again (probably because I have a two tuner tivo). Something tells me that there's an optimization to be had here, like maybe asking, "Do you get the same channels on both tuners?"

Once I'm done with both tuners, Tivo needs to download the new program info, which it estimates will take 35 minutes. Here's the rub: your Tivo is unusable during this time. I can understand that you can't use the guide, but you can't even watch live television and you can't watch any saved programs.


Tivo, there are these things called "threads" in software - you can run more than one! Or, you take a line from Apple and make non-modal dialog boxes.

This blog posting is all Tivo's fault. Not only was the experience bad enough to write about, but my computer was off before I had to lookup the channel lineup. If I didn't have to boot up the computer, I probably wouldn't have written this post.


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Friday, August 11, 2006

Front-Line Technical Support

I called a company for tech support this morning. I use their product on one of my web sites. When I discovered there was a problem, I updated the html they provide - there was one small syntax change (including language="JavaScript" in the script block). This client-side change didn't fix the problem, so I called for help.

Since I made the mistake of telling them about this change, their answer was, "wait a while and call back tomorrow if it's still happening". Their systems needed to "recalibrate". The fact that it was a client-side change didn't concern them at all.

I understand the cost of having technically capable people do technical support. This company has competitors in their space. I wonder if they realize the cost of providing dumb support?

Thursday, January 27, 2005

iPod, part deux

[ This post sat as a draft for a while. Might as well send it out. ]

So, it's been about a month since I got the iPod. Here's the latest:

  1. The iPod locks up when I try to install music on it. I took it to the Apple store in the local mall, and they admitted that connecting an iPod to a PC seemed to be a bad idea.
  2. Trying to make life as simple as possible on the poor iPod, I connected it directly to my media server (instead of my laptop, which reads the files over the network). I don't know why, but it seemed to like this more. The good news is that I finally can listen to all of my songs, but my media server didn't have my playlists...
Probably 80% of my songs have meta data now. What a pain.

Another problem discovered with iTunes:
  1. When you update the meta data on the playing song, it stops playing. Can't they buffer up a few seconds when I hit 'Save'?

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Lots of information, but still stupid

Ever send something via the US Postal Service, ExpressMail? They issue you a tracking number for your package, just like FedEx and UPS. The big difference is that the USPS web site is updated once per day, only if they feel a package has changed status.

I recently was sent a package from New York. There was no update on their site for two days - from when the package entered the system to when it was delivered.

They should be embarassed.

Apple, King of the User Interface?

If you get past your euphoria after unwrapping your new iPod, did you happen to notice:
  • the battery takes 5 hours to charge?
  • the date and time are wrong?
  • the unit needs to be formatted before use?
  • there's no obvious reference to formatting in the manual?
  • there's no index in the manual?
  • during formatting, there is no indication of how long it will take or when it might finish?

So, you've waited the several hours to charge and format your shiny new toy... Now, you need to tell iTunes about all your music. This is when you discover how bad the meta data in your files really is! Take the several hours to cleanup the artist and album names!

Once you're done with that, now you need to wait to download all your music. Whatever you do, don't do this wirelessly! :)

So, now you've downloaded all your music... Congrats!

Out of the box, what can you do with this new toy?
  • play by artist. If your favorite artist begins with Y, be prepared to scroll a lot!
  • play by album. Of course, you have to remember who recorded that album you own titled, "Greatest Hits".
  • by song title. Now you have a big problem if you ripped your music with the track number in the title, e.g. "01-House of Pain", because that's how they'll sort. You know, with over 5,000 songs, it won't take long to clean that up.
  • by genre. This is the from the meta data when you ripped the CD, which I believe is user-contributed. Anyone know the difference between Alternative and Alternative Rock?
  • by composer. I haven't downloaded my classical music yet, but I don't think any of my other music had this piece of meta data.
So, you pick a Genre (the most populated set) and start listening.

If you hear something you like, you can mark it with more stars (1-5).

More things you can't do from the iPod:
  • add songs to playlists
  • get back to the playlist you're using if you navigate somewhere else
  • tell what playlist you're using
If you update the meta data within iTunes, it seems to download the entire song to the iPod. You'll do this a lot while cleaning up the beta meta data from the ripping process. Why can't they checksum the audio contents and determine that the song hasn't changed?

Things that don't work well in iTunes:
  • it has autocomplete when entering artist and album names, but it doesn't limit the album choices to the known albums for this artist.
  • sync'ing just the pictures from iTunes to the iPod. In theory, you should be able to un-check all the songs (ctrl-click) in your library before syncing to have it ignore them, but iTunes crashes everytime I try this.
  • import a cd, then eject it. Insert a new disk. There's no way to refresh the song list.

Oh, here's another fun one... I finally was able to uncheck all the songs in my library without iTunes crashing. I checked the 70 songs that I had added or edited and plugged the iPod in. Can you guess what happened? It deleted the 5,000 other songs from my iPod and left me with 70 songs. Now I have to push all this data back to the iPod again! A bonus feature is that all of the ratings I had set on the iPod since my last sync were lost when it deleted the songs.

Things that actually work:
  • ratings set on the iPod make it back to iTunes.

Seems like they have a few issues to address. At least we've paid them enough money for the hardware that they won't need to have layoffs.

Friday, December 17, 2004

News Reporting on the Web

Today, the SJ Mercury News posted an article entitled, "
State unveils Megan's Law Web site." (Try to read it before the Merc locks it up behind their lame registration system).

If you've read the article, you're probably assuming I'm an ACLU weenie who is going to complain about the lack of privacy - but you'd be wrong.

In this entire article about the state's new web site, guess what they forgot? You guessed it, the URL!

Even with a good search engine, finding specific pages on the web - especially new pages - can be difficult. Finding and navigating government websites is notably painful.

The Associated Press, the reporter (

Thursday, July 18, 2002

Unix on the Desktop

For years (decades!), many companies with large development organizations have been trying to come up with a version of Unix that would unseat Microsoft Windows on the desktops of average computer users worldwide. In this battle, they've run across many obstacles:

  • Unix's overall complexity
  • Clumsy user interfaces
  • Lack of office productivity tools (spreadsheets, etc.)
  • Non-standard Unix variants from different vendors
  • User inertia

These companies tried many things to get past these problems, but with little success.

But one company may finally have succeeded in producing a Unix system for the desktop. That company? Apple.

Stay with me here... Apple's OS/X is, at it's core, a Unix machine. On the outside, it has a pretty good GUI. On top of it all, it runs the applications that users want.

Will it succeed? It's probably too early to tell. Certainly the mac fanatics will give it a try. Maybe there are enough Unix people who will climb aboard as well. And I know some Windows users who are very mad and looking for alternatives.

"Isn't it ironic, don't you think?"

Sunday, April 14, 2002

More Product Design

Continuing the discussion on usability, do people really think about how their users will actually use their systems?

Take job sites (topical for me!). I've hit so many sites where you have to register and submit your entire resume - field by field - before you can search for their jobs. The one that prompted this post ended up having one job in their database!

You will keep users if you:

  • make it easy for users to find things on your site
  • consider the flow of the process for the product or service you provide

Of course, keep a way to contact the user for the day when you improve your site.