Saturday, March 27, 2010

Downgraded our cable due to copy protection

Alana and I just downgraded our cable TV service.

Last month, our cable box started acting up. The sound would break up on 4 channels, and the channels would pixellate. I used Comcast's online chat several times, but in the end they told me I had to replace the cable box. That's cool, electronics fail.

This morning I discovered that although I scheduled our DVD recorder to record Australian Grand Prix qualifying on Speed Channel, nothing recorded. The error message said that the program was copy protected.

The new cable box prevents us from recording channels above channel 120 or so on our DVD Recorder. Problem: I record Formula 1 on Speed because the races are at ungodly hours. Tonight's Australian Grand Prix is on at 1 am. Usually coverage starts at 6:30 am on Sundays. The Asian and Australian races are usually in the wee hours. Each season Fox runs several races (and butchers the time-shifted ones to fit in commercials), so there's only one race on Speed that is on live at a half decent time, the Brazilian Grand Prix.

Speed and BBC America are the only two channels we regularly watch on that tier (BBC America isn't copy protected, but Speed is, so not all the channels are considered worth protecting; for some reason, Speed is). There are others I'd watch from time to time, like IFC, if I remember to look down there for a show, and if it happens that there's something on at the time — this is the same issue I have with HBO.

So, my options:
  1. Watch the races live when I can.
  2. Pay extra money and get Comcast's DVR. (The offered it to us for $5 a month for 6 months, but then it bumps up to $16 a month).
  3. Drop the Preferred tier entirely and download the races.
  4. Stop watching F1 entirely, except for when Fox carries it. Given the snorefest that was Bahrain, this isn't much of a hardship.

Note that the FIA is woefully behind the times when it comes to access to F1 races. I can watch edited versions of the races a couple of days after the fact. Of course, to do that I have to go to the F1 site, which loudly proclaims the last race's winner. And you don't get to see the whole race. (In the case of Bahrain, that's not such a bad thing.) Oh, well. It was only my favourite sport.

I'm still deciding what to do, but we canceled the Preferred tier. We can watch Top Gear episodes online, which is about all we were watching BBC America for, anyway. The extra money can come in handy. Things are tight, though Alana is back to work (temporarily, for the Census Bureau). Reducing our bills by $16 a month helps.

So, by stupidly applying copy protection against someone paying legally for the channel — and who was only recording in order to time shift — they lost $16 a month and a viewer. Proof, again, that copy protection schemes mostly harm paying customers. Thanks for the "help", Comcast.

Oh, and the cable box is still messing up. So the replacement didn't even help, and I have to run it up there and get another replacement.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Alana and I are extremely close in our thinking, and our likes and dislikes. There is, however, a slight generation gap, as I'm *gasp* 5 years older. It usually doesn't show up except in the songs we liked in the early 80s, mainly I suspect because "the 70s" doesn't usually come up much in conversation. I was Logan's age in the middle of that decade, while Alana was still just a little tyke. So, I offer this web site to her as a connection to my tween years.

PlaidStallons is a blog about the 70s. Primarily, the blogger posts pictures from 1970s catalogues, with an emphasis on clothing and toys. He occasionally posts links to 70s TV shows (I just came across a three-part episode of the old sci-fi garbage man show, Quark), and other items of 70s pop culture.

If you know me, you know what I'm primarily interested in. That's right, the toys (and, oddly, more often the packages) They trigger major episodes of nostalgia ("I had that!", "I remember that!", and, most frequently, "I wanted that!!!").

Here's a picture of the G.I. Joe Field Training Center. I believe my brother had this, though we shared as we were both huge Joe fans:

Plastic model kits were huge in the 70s, probably because there were no real video games until the ned of the decade, and then they were horribly expensive. At some point I had all of the models on this page. (I hadn't thought about the one in the bottom, right corner since, oh, the early 80s? It wasn't tied to an actual TV show, it was just a cool spacecraft. Oh, and the plastic was glow-in-the-dark green.)

The 1970s were a period of transition, style wise. By 1978, casual clothing wasn't that much different than it is today. The early 70s, though... oh, man, it's like everyone was clothed by a costumer from a bad sci-fi flick. I distinctly remember having not one, but two polyester leisure suits during this period (one was maroon, the later one was beige).

I mentioned the packaging earlier. This hit home when he posted a pic of a Halloween costume in a box. You don't see that now, but the cheap, superhero costumes of the 70s, made of some vaguely plastic-infused material with a thin plastic mask (I can still smell the plastic as it off-gassed) came in cardboard boxes. I completely forgot that. The box itself triggered deep memories that the costumes did not. Weird how our memory works.

There's some pretty obscure stuff on this site that I hadn't thought of for decades. I mean, like, Crazy Foam, a bath foam/soap alternative that shot out of a can painted like a superhero's face.

The blog really hits me personally because the blogger is Canadian. For instance, he mentions Uncle Bobby, the host of a kid's program that everyone in Ontario of a certain age will remember. I never cared for the show, myself, and always found him kind of creepy. That makes me feel bad, now, as Bobby Ash (the actor) was apparently a nice enough guy.

The blog has pictures taken from Consumers Distributing and Shop-Rite catalogues. CD and Shop-Rite were catalogue stores. They had display cases with jewelry, watches, and the like, and they had the occasional big item on the display floor. Everything else was in the back, on shelves. You walked up to a bank of catalogues and pulled out an order form. You filled in your name, the page number where you saw your item, and then the item number. You handed it to someone at a counter, and they went back into the warehouse section. Minutes later, your item was sent down a roller track, where someone picked it up and took it to the cash register. You got to inspect it at that point.

The Wikipedia entry on Consumers Distributing mentioned that there was a perception that things were always "out of stock". That's a fair description. It was frustrating to fill out the form, stand in line, only to find that the item was gone. They partially blame Wal-Mart in Canada for CD's demise, but I don't recall Wal-Mart being that big in Canada when CD went into bankruptcy. I worked at Kodak Canada in the 90s, and I heard some "interesting" things about how they treated their vendors. In the end, when they started to run into problems, none of their vendors were really willing to extend them much credit.

Of the two, Shop-Rite was my favourite. It didn't last as long, and it was considered a lesser chain compared to CD (even though it was owned by the Hudson Bay Company). What I liked about it was that Shop-Rite sold Avalon Hill wargames. I still have a couple, including a copy of Panzer Leader (my first wargame, 35 years old this year) that came from Shop-Rite. Now that I think about it, for a while you could buy SPI wargames at The Bay. Ah, memories...

Anyway, check out PlaidStallons for a trip down memory lane, or for a pop-culture tour of an unfairly forgotten decade.

Thanks to Shane Ivey for mentioning this site on Facebook.