Comcast Tortures People

Ever wonder just how bad Comcast is? Well, I got the chance to experience Comcast up close and personal the other day and let me tell you it was not fun and it was not pretty. I was taking back a DVR for a friend. So I enter the office and am immediately awestruck at how many people are sitting and standing around waiting for Comcast to help them. I quickly count 37 unhappy people. Next I notice that there are now serving number signs all over the place. I locate the take a ticket box which has three large buttons on it. There is a fourth button but it is covered up for some reason with paper and scotch tape. They are labeled Internet, Cable TV, and Telephone. I push the Cable TV button and am rewarded by a letter and number combination printed in lovely thermal ink. You know the stuff, you touch it and you get ink all over your fingers. One of the best technologies ever, oh wait, no it isn’t, it sucks.

So there are all these people waiting around now numbering about 40 people. There are seven CSR stations only two of which have people actually doing any work. There are these sort of hatches that go to a back room where one or more nerds are working away on the hardware. I notice that some of the people waiting are older and some have handicaps. Most of the younger people like myself give up their seats so the older people are able to site down while waiting. I notice there is a sofa an flat screen TV on the other side of the room. So I start to wander over to it. The TV is off. This being a Comcast office I figure all of us suffering can at least watch a bit TV to escape the boredom. I turn on the TV, nothing. I turn on the DVR, nothing. At this point everyone is watching me, there really is nothing else to do, so I’m fully committed to getting this thing working. I find that they are using component cables to give the TV a 1080i signal. Never mind the fact that both the TV and DVR have a DVI port and an HDMI port. Go figure? Only one of the three component cables is plugged in and it is not in the right spot. I plug in all the cables in the right order and I get a screen that shows the hideous Comcast GUI with an error message.

Now I see why the TV is off. The DVR is non-responsive to any input. Both the front panel and remote are useless. I unplug the DVR. Plug it back in. It starts to reboot. I wait a few minutes. I get a GUI but no A/V signal. I try a few channels, still nothing. Then I notice the Coax in is in the out. I swap them, oh now I get a picture. I start to see smiles on people faces. We can cheer up this miserable place.

I ask the watching crowd around, “Sports or News?” News is the answer I get back. So I think CNN should be fine. I ask what channel, some says “41” Okay then 41. The channel tunes in and then we get an error message, “Not Authorized.” Oh joy they have not activated their DVR. Fox News, 49 it comes right in. Strange. But this isn’t HD. I go to Fox News in HD at 690. I get the unauthorized error message again. So I look for CNN, I find it a few channels away. It comes right in. I ask everyone, “does this happen much?”

“All the time.” people tell me. Wow, I can’t believe how bad this stuff is. After talking with a few people they tell me sometimes they have to either restart their DVRs or call Comcast and have them be told to restart their DVRs in order to get rid of the error message. This company and these products are nuts. How do people put up with this crap?

Meanwhile, the line of people continues to grow and not much is getting accomplished. At least we have some CNN to watch. At this point I’m feeling awfully rebellious, subversive if you will, even destructive. I start asking people if they have had a better experience dealing with the DMV? People start getting riled up.

“And we’re their customers! We pay them for this crappy service.” A number of side conversations break out with lots of grumbling. I suggest to the nearby folks to mention that we need to make sure these Comcast employees know how we feel, will otherwise nothing will change. Oh I’m the devil indeed. A older lady is called up, she has a cane. I go over and grab her arm to help her to the counter when her number is called. I remind her to tell the Comcast employee how bad the service is that she is paying for. She begins an awesome tirade about being treated so badly, the government doesn’t treat her this bad. She is old and sick. It was awesome. People are really starting to get ticked off now. I suppress a smile.

At this point our derision is so high no one bothers to whisper any more, and we talk openly about the employees right in front of them. Another younger man goes to the counter and I can hear him ask why does it take 25 minutes to help him. He has better things to do with his time.

Then, two more employees walk in the front area to take up some of the empty CSR positions. I start clapping. People look at like I’m crazy. Several other people join in the clapping. The employees look up like, WTF? Those looks are crusty. It was hilarious. Even better, a lady who drives a taxi and looks like she doesn’t take crap from anyone shouts out, “It’s about time!” I try to hold back my grin but it is hard now.

The whole time I’ve been watching the test bench area behind the CSRs, the back of house as it were. There are little windows where a guy will shove out DVRs and tuners based on the requests of the CSRs in the front of house. All he is doing is running diagnostics, upgrading firmware and then turning the DVR right around for someone else to use. This is one of the major problems with Comcast You just get whatever they decide to hand you. I can only imagine how many of these people are here because the Comcast tech support person on the phone was clueless and unable or unwilling to help them. They probably gave up and told them, “you need a new cable modem sir.” One lady complained that the DVR they gave her was ugly and all scratched up. Too bad. They wouldn’t give her a new one. If after watching this “back of house” area you really think that Comcast is interested in nothing more than the bottom line and in some ways cares about you, the paying customer, I have some oceanfront property in Idaho I would like to sell you really cheap.

Visiting Comcast was like going to the DMV and having a dentist drill on your teeth while you wait. It was horrible. I feel bad for the older people especially the ones with handicaps. Comcast has a monopoly around here and it needs to end. Both the local and federal governments are to blame for this mess. Without competition the consumers get screwed over by Comcast who are focused solely on the bottom line. There should be several providers each offering you competitive rates for service. That simply doesn’t exist here. Making people come into the Comcast office to repair their broken service is truly disheartening. Is all this mess a function of Comcast being evil and heartless, or the result of a giant mismanaged organization with a bureaucracy out of control?

Google finally allows Gmail to be viewed old school.

Google has finally caved in and now allows users to turn off conversation view in Gmail! Hurray. I’m very happy to have this option. Now all you need to do is head to your Gmail settings, find the section labeled Conversation View, turn it off, and save your settings.

Before:

After:

Blockbuster Bankrupt

As I predicted back in March, Blockbuster has filed for bankruptcy. Blockbuster is expected to close as many as 500 stores. Although I would say most of them will be gone. There are a few markets and locations where Blockbuster actually performs well. The Blockbuster near Columbus Circle in Manhattan for example. When Blockbuster filed, it listed assets of $1.02 billion against debt of $1.46 billion. Are all those stores really worth that much? With both feet in the grave and clinging to life with only one arm, the company that emerges from bankruptcy will look very different, if it emerges at all. They will probably relaunch their online streaming service, but will the Hollywood dinosaurs invest in this already extinct beast. Earlier this year Blockbuster’s leadership redefined its business entirely too narrowly – video (retail) stores. A broader definition, “Connecting viewers to films and games they’ll love” might have succeeded. New entrants always seek market spaces that leaders ignore.The company has been around for far too long and has consistently proven it inability to innovate. Of course there is always someone who thinks differently. Carl Icahn will pretty much control what emerges, and he is a pretty savvy businessman. I think ultimately the corpse is to far gone to be brought back to life.

Of course all of this is great news for Netflix and Redbox.

Jeff Zucker tossed out

This is Jeff Zucker. He is the man responsible for destroying NBC. Remember how NBC used to own prime-time television? Remember how they had the number one network news broadcast? Remember how their programming used to not suck? In 2000, he was named NBC Entertainment’s president. A 2004 Businessweek Profile stated that “During that time he oversaw NBC’s entire entertainment schedule. In December 2003, he was promoted to president of NBC’s Entertainment, News & Cable Group as well. Following the merger with French media empire Vivendi Universal, he was promoted to president of its Television Group in May 2004. Zucker’s responsibilities, which already included NBC’s cable channels, were expanded to include TV production as well as the USA Network, Sci-Fi, and Trio cable channels. During Zucker’s tenure, NBC slid from first place to fourth place in the ratings. Shows that Zucker championed such as Father of the Pride and the Friends spinoff Joey were considered failures. It just continues downhill after that. One thing to remember this is the idiot who created the Conan Leno nightmare.

Read this for a full shredding of Jeff Zucker. written by Maureen Dowd. Dowd says that “Zucker is a case study in the most destructive media executive ever to exist… You’d have to tell me who else has taken a once-great network and literally destroyed it.”

As I predicted back in January, Jeff Zucker has been fired. They can call it whatever they want, he was thrown out. You can read about all the gory details of his firing. I’m happy to finally see the USS suckage has sunk as are these guys.

The Comcast NBC Universal merger is continuing its way through the government bureaucracy and now looks like it will succeed.Perhaps there is a chance NBC programming might not suck but that is only wishful thinking at this point. For Comcast to not take a cost benefit analysis to each and every show would be a real shocker. At the end of the day COmcast is full of bean counters who will be unable to withstand the temptation to tinker with NBC Universal.

My Connected Home

It’s been a while since I last updated My Digital Life. There have been quite a few changes, most notably the introduction of MOCA into the house. Oh and a new house as well. I can’t decide which name is the best though, so this time I called it My Connected Home, since I’m not the only person who is reflected on the diagram. Maybe it should be our connected home.

Warning the full size image is 1.5 MB and measures 3223×1815 pixels. It took a ton of space to get everything on there. There is a surprising amount of things in the house. I left off the cars and other vehicles. I also left off most power supplies, that would have added a power cord and a PDU for every device listed. Here is the thumbnail (click for the full size version) to check out.

I’m sure as soon as I upload this I’ll find mistakes. If I ever find more time, maybe, I’ll fix them after Christmas. Things will have changed by then. This idea was shamelessly copied from Randy Krum at Cool Infographics.

HD Channel List

In the continuing race towards the most HD channels the updated list is now available on AVS Forum. Sadly, DirecTV is getting slaughtered. I’m glad that they have a quality picture and all, but there a still a few key channels that are missing for me. These days if it’s not HD I don’t watch it. I’ve become an HD TV snob. I wonder if back in the sixties people thought of themselves as color TV snobs?

What is the deal with D12? It was supposed to add 200 national HD channels. Instead we got a bunch of PPV HD channels. I would really like my BBCA and AMC in HD please. Thank you.

I’ve reproduced the list because the old ones are removed and I like to look back and see how little progress has been made.















DirecTV Upgraded

DirecTV

I recently moved into a new house and I upgraded my service and equipment from D* while doing the move. I added a HD DVR and a HD receiver. I left the old dish at the old house, a non-SWM slimline. FYI, I’ve been a D* customer since 1997.

I am happy with the installation and the service with a couple of caveats. I’m going to mention a few things I did to make sure I had a successful install. First, I made a list of every part I thought I would need for my install. I know not everyone can do that but that is what I did. Then, I called to schedule the install three weeks in advance on a Saturday morning. When I called in I asked some probing question about DECA setup and the newer ODU to gauge their knowledge level. Like any organization there are people who are better at their job than others, so I wanted someone who I could converse with easily and not be challenged. The first person I spoke with was pretty clueless, he kept saying let me look that up for you. I ended up politely telling him I’ll call back later. I then called back in and got a lady who was terrific. She knew everything, was really friendly and was thorough.

I also requested a lead installer. I requested they call me in the morning before coming out to review my install request order with me. I asked for an email copy of everything. The person was great and she really knew what she was doing. After the initial phone call with installation, I then called back three times to confirm every single detail of the order. I went over it line by line. I asked them to read the instructions to me. Two of the times the people were really helpful, but once a person was not interested in answering my questions. She kept telling me everything will be fine, you don’t need to worry about anything, yada, yada, yada. After reading this forum for years I have read about the horrors of installation. In the end a successful installation comes down to two things. First, making sure you understand what you are requesting from DirecTV. Second, getting a good installer. It always comes down to people.

Prior to D* coming out to the house I hired an electrician to remove all the plant that was used by both a previous Comcast install and a Dish Network install. I also had him provide both Ethernet and power in the attic for the SWM splitter. The electrician did all the wall fishing and wire running of the new RG-6 and Cat 6 tough work that a D* installer is probably not going to want to do or be as experienced at doing. The D* installer only had to setup the Dish, SWM splitter and the receivers. Like everyone else I wanted HR24s. I managed to get those, I won’t mention how I did that. 😉

Looking at the diagram the only thing that is different is the LNB. The installer said it was brand new and they only got them that week. I can’t find a picture of anywhere on the Internet. I checked all the sat retailers for it as well. It looks a lot like the one in my diagram but the “wings” are chopped off. I’m sure some of you will know what it is. It is very similar to the AU9-SL3-SWM but it doesn’t have the bands on the top.

Things I am happy with. The speed of the H/HR24s is great. Using the guide is not as painful. Although while the guide was downloading on the first day on the HR24-200 the whole GUI was painfully slow. It had current firmware installed. It is fine now. I really want to get rid of my lone H21 because of the DECA. It is a whole lot of cables that are not needed any more. I’ll have to figure out how to get it swapped out at a later. The wife is happy with the size of the newer boxes as well as they make it easier for her to hide them. She doesn’t like that you can’t turn off the D* backlit logo. I turned off the other lights on the front panel.

All the recovers are setup on DHCP and don’t seem to be having any issues. They are in the main DHCP scope with a 72 hour lease time. The media player capabilities of the D* receivers are pretty weak. I have everything in Popcorn Hour A-200.

In order to get TV Apps to work I had to allow out [URL=”https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Layer_2_Tunneling_Protocol”>L2TP traffic from my LAN on UDP 1701. It is understandable but I had to pull out a packet sniffer to see how it was trying to connect before I got it working. I don’t really use TV Apps much except maybe the game scores. None of the receivers are connected to a telephone connection (because I don’t have one). I don’t get the NFL package so I don’t think I need it.

The whole home DVR (MOCA) technology works pretty well. When fast forwarding and rewinding on a remote receiver it is a little annoying because of the high latency response time before the function occurs. My wife is still complaining about it. There is no problem when viewing on the local reviver. Also, there have been a few recordings that refuse to play remotely at all or just sometimes with the error message, “Playback failed. No audio/video data packets received from server.” Sometimes making repeated attempts yields success. Local viewing is never an issue. I have not been able to nail down why this is happening yet as I lack visibility into the MOCA network. One feature I would very much like is a global Series Manager. I wish I could see the series manager information from all DVRs in the house at the same time much like the play list. The same goes for the To Do list. I really want to be able to see a global view of the To Do list not just the local DVR. This would make recording management much better. My wife has scheduled a program to record on one DVR and I did on the other one. Although I do have to say the interface for the WHDVR is much better on DirecTV than DISH. Also, the iPhone app allows you to specify which receiver to record on. I wish the app would download a copy of your Series Manager and your To Do list so I can view it remotely. I know I’m never satisfied.

Overall I’m pretty happy with the new features. Like anything if you want it done right you need to take the effort to do it right. So this is my write up on my recent install, I hope you enjoyed it.

Here is a diagram of my new setup. I’ve left off other things like AV receivers and speakers. (Yes I know “DECA adapter” is redundant.)

Game over for HDCP.

The master key for HDCP encryption has been leaked. If this is real then you could in theory sign your own device drivers and HDCP will respect them. Game over and thanks for playing. When will companies stop trying to rely on DRM to save them. It has proven to be a costly venture. It upsets their customers because it makes things hard to use and highly breakable. It add costs to products because of the development, implementation, safeguarding and constant tug of war that happens in a product lifecycle. Eventually computers will become so powerful that brute-force techniques will become even more effective and commonplace making the give and take between producers and consumers.

Blockbuster one step closer to the grave.

Reports are starting to fly around the intertubes about Blockbuster preparing for an epic meltdown.

Blockbuster missed yet another interest payment. Of course it tries to paint a mush more rosy picture than what is actually happening.

A Blockbuster closure will force the movie studios hand at making deals with Netflix and Redbox as one of their cash cows dies off. Like so many companies it failed to innovate and its competitors innovated with new distribution methods (the Internet) and they are now facing that unstoppable force. This comes on the heals of Apple integrating Netflix into their brand new Apple TV. These days when Apple throws it’s weight behind you you’ve got something going on.