Tonight brings a few short takes, since I’ve had a few tabs open in my browser for days now waiting for a chance to get ‘em posted.

  • The New York Times published an incredible article last week about the ways the Karitiana Indians feel they have been misled and abused by various medical research teams who have visited the tribe and made promises in return for participation in research. The Karitiana are a tribe from western Brazil and have historically remained relatively isolated and close-knit, and both in the 1970s and 1990s, both these traits led American medical teams to ask for blood in order to study how disease penetrates through generations of families, promising access to modern medicines and care in return. The tribe never received the promised returns on their participation, though, and recently learned that the collected blood and DNA are now being sold by private companies in the United States and France. Needless to say, they’re not pleased.
  • It seems that DirecTV is about to introduce a sorely-needed feature to their high-def DVRs — autocorrection after fast-forwarding, similar to what TiVos have had pretty much forever. This is, bar none, the biggest annoyance of using the HR20 DVR after having had a TiVo for the last seven years, so I’m certainly thrilled that the feature looks to be coming soon! (I’m also excited about next week’s scheduled launch of the DirecTV-10 satellite, which promises to bring a slew of new HD programming to DirecTV users as soon as they’re able to put it through it’s paces in orbit.)
  • A study was published in this month’s Archives of Internal Medicine looking at the effect of doctors talking about themselves during patient visits, and as I’ve come to expect, most of the news coverage misses the nuance and makes sweeping and indefensible conclusions. The study used fake patients and judged their subjective reactions to physicians talking about themselves during first visits; unsurprisingly, most of the “patients” didn’t feel that the physician’s personal chitchat added much value to that visit. Reuters more or less blew off the “first-time patient” detail in its coverage, implying that there wasn’t really ever a place for that kind of doctor-patient conversation during visits, but the study doesn’t say that, and my personal experience is that with longer-term, established patients who might see you once (or more!) a week, there’s certainly a place for occasional personal comments or observations, all of which can help keep the therapeutic team (doctor, patient, nurse, psychosocial providers, etc.) intact and functioning at its best.
  • Finally, I’m really getting excited about Movable Type 4, which is now in beta — damn, are there some great features lurking in there! If I didn’t have such a complicated setup, I’d migrate over this very second. As it is, though, I probably have an hour or two of work ahead of me before I can get my site into MT4 exactly as I want it to be, so I’ll probably wait a week or two, when I can carve a chunk of time out to make the move. I can’t wait!

Does anyone out there actually use TiVo’s podcasting client? I saw it appear on both my boxes after a system update around six months ago or so and putzed around with it then; it felt raw and unpolished, so I figured I’d check in again a little bit later to see if the folks at TiVo had made any progress. I just tried the application out again, though, and have to say it’s just awful.

When you’re listening to a podcast, you can’t pause it, nor can you fast-forward or rewind within it; it seems like all these options would be available to you given that you’re listening on a freakin’ TiVo. If you want to walk away from a podcast, you have to just stop it, and then the only option available to you later is to restart it and listen from the beginning. What? Could this break the TiVo playback model any more? (Fascinatingly, a TiVo employee revealed how little they get it in a post to the TiVo Community forums, where he said that the fast-forward, rewind, and pause functions weren’t available because most podcast servers don’t support them. Do the television broadcast networks support these functions? Of course they don’t — TiVo invented the technology that allows users to layer them atop television, but is acting like the same model wouldn’t work with podcasting.)

It’s also difficult to listen to podcasts that aren’t in the list that TiVo provides — you have to enter the URL manually, using the directional arrows and select button to type out each character of the address. There’s no option to use one of the many podcast directories to find the one you want, nor does TiVo provide any handy shortcuts for commonly-entered strings within the URL-entry interface (things like “.com” and whatnot, strings that have shortcuts in the interface in which you enter your email address during Guided Setup). There’s also no function that actually allows you to download and store podcasts as they become available so that you can listen to at your leisure; instead, each time you listen you have to download the podcast anew.

The whole thing is clumsy, and the interface feels like it’s doing everything it can to dissuade you from actually using it. Honestly, I’d expect more from TiVo than this piece of crap.

There are times I laugh my ass off when I read the latest Bill Simmons has to say in his Sports Guy column over at, and then there are times when I laugh my ass off and recognize him as a total genius. From his mailbag column this week, in which readers email in questions for him:

Q: I love TiVo, but why can’t I change the name of my saved shows? In the days of the video, I could tape what I want, change the name to “Broncos Highlights — 1994” and rest assured my wife would never look at it. Now, if I TiVo something she might not like, “Naughty Nurses” is right on the saved list. Has there ever been a better product with such an obvious oversight?
—Brendan Lane, Darnestown, Md.
Sports Guy: You’re a genius. They should add a special feature called “TiVo Camouflage” for an extra $9.95 a month. Every time you record a movie like “Naughty Nurses,” TiVo Camouflage automatically changes the title of the show to something concurrently running on the NFL Network. That can’t miss.

Seriously, this might be the best thing ever.

I swear to you that when I saw the title to this TiVo Blog post in my syndication aggregator, I immediately wondered how my wife and I got roped into contributing… and it took a good 10 or 15 seconds for me to realize that there are probably other “Shannon & Jason” pairs that might exist out there on the web. Perhaps I should take this as a good reminder that it is possible for my life to be less wrapped-up in the online world…

Ever since our Series2 TiVo downloaded the operating system version that allows TiVoToGo transfer of recordings, Shannon and I have suffered through possibly the worst bug I’ve experienced in my PVR lifetime — every time we changed the channel, TiVo would put us through between five and ten seconds of jumpy, pixellated video and stuttering audio. It made it so that channel browsing was completely out of the question, and every single recording would start with the tail end of the buggy behavior (since they all started with the channel being changed to the one with the program to be recorded). The various online discussion boards have been going on and on about the bug, and most users were reporting back that when they called TiVo to report the problem, they were getting either a deaf ear or an outright denial. Recently, we told some of our friends that the whole thing was bad enough to make us not want to use the TiVo anymore, and look into getting a PVR from our cable company.

Imagine my surprise, then, when the affected box downloaded a service update last night, and the bug is totally gone! Having abandoned the discussion boards, it turns out that there was a thread two weeks ago mentioning that the upgrade was in the pipeline. I’m pretty happy about it, since it returns our living room TiVo to the Land Where It Can Be Used Without Wanting To Throw It Out The Window, and because it looks like TiVo was actually listening after all.

In news that makes me pretty happy, TiVo and Comcast announced a deal today to bring TiVo’s technology to Comcast’s cable set-top box offerings. That’s great news for TiVo, which has been under a deathwatch for a little while now; Comcast has over 21 million customers, and could bring a lot of business TiVo’s way.

As soon as my TiVo downloaded the latest operating system and enabled TiVoToGo, I downloaded the trial version of Sonic’s MyDVD that includes support for burning the TiVo files to DVDs. For the most part, the software worked — despite an incredibly slow transcoding process, out of the ten or twenty shows that I tried to burn to disc, only two or three of them failed. (I wasn’t ever able to get MyDVD to burn non-TiVo videos to disc reliably, but that’s another story entirely.) All in all, I’d have to say that at the end of my trial period (last week), I was just where Sonic wanted me — ready to send them money to buy the full version of MyDVD.

Alas, that’s when I started reading the TiVo Community forums, and came across a post that described someone’s experience with what happens when a computer’s clock accidentally gets changed during a MyDVD trial period. After resetting the clock to the correct date, MyDVD still wouldn’t work; uninstalling and reinstalling it didn’t fix the problem either, and Sonic didn’t reply to requests for help. In the thread, someone mentioned that installing MyDVD created a few registry keys and directories on their computer that referenced “PACE Anti-Piracy,” and I filed that little fact away to look into later, before deciding whether I’d buy the software.

Today’s when I looked into it, and I’d have to say it’s opened my eyes a little bit. It turns out PACE Anti-Piracy is a company that develops applications which can enforce trial periods and other restrictions on downloaded software. That’s all fine — companies should be able to release trial-period software without knowing that they’re going to lose business to people who figure out how to get around the restriction — but it also turns out that PACE does a bit more. According to this page by an end-user and PACE’s own documentation (PDF file), the software installs a kernel-level driver onto your Windows machine, does its best to blend into the woodwork (the device driver is named “TPKD”, the support files get buried in a common-apps directory, and at no point in the its process of validating a trial period does it display its name or other information to the user), and uses some method of compiling unique information about your computer in order to do its anti-piracy thing. And there’s no obvious way to get the PACE Anti-Piracy software off of your computer once it’s there.

So in this specific case, I installed MyDVD and had no idea that I was also installing another company’s application that includes a kernel-level driver and doesn’t include any mechanism for uninstallation. The MyDVD website omits this fact, as does the email that I received with my trial serial number and the clickwrap license to which I had to agree during the installation. Hell, even the Sonic privacy policy talks about their use of updater software that sends out information about your computer, but is silent on the fact that they also install another company’s apps alongside their own that could be doing pretty much anything. (Where I come from, they call that spyware.) This all doesn’t sit well with me; I guess I’ve swung from being a ready, willing Sonic customer to being a person who’s unlikely to spend any money at all with the company unless they clean up their process of giving customers complete information.

I made my debut today over on PVRblog today, posting about the built-in webserver that’s part of the new TiVo operating system.

the tivo dude

When the latest TiVo upgrade was released back on January 3rd, I put in a priority request for an upgrade and sat back to wait; most everything I saw said that it would take around four to six weeks to distribute the new version even to those who made it onto the priority list. (Since I use a Powerbook — a machine unsupported by TiVoToGo — as my primary laptop, I wasn’t in any huge hurry to start playing.) Tonight, for no reason at all, I decided to force a daily call — and lo and behold, in came the update! Over broadband, it took about eight minutes to download, another six to eight minutes to process, and final ten or so minutes (and two restarts) to load and return control back to me. (I took a couple pictures of the upgrade process and resultant changes in the menus.)

Happy happy! Now, if TiVo can get on that MacOS support for TiVoToGo, I’ll be pleased as can be.