Sunday, October 09, 2005

Comcast HD boxes unstable?

Perhaps it is just a random hardware failure. At least I hope.

When I first started this blog back up, part of me said " What if I don't have enough content to make it interesting". The other part said..."This is the reason you started it up again".

On a normal day, having your cable box fail is a non-issue. Put in context to all the other ridiculous crap like this, it makes for one tiring life. If I have one more piece of equipment fail, I am going to become very unstable.

Okay... so let me say this... I am a hardcore insomniac. So I know within a very small window of time when this box failed. Four mornings ago.

I am still a little paranoid about messing with the wiring on the heater, even though the more logical part of my mind knows the fuse will catch a problem. So when in the wee hours of the morning I start hearing an electrical "click" my brain pops wide awake. Ah... no alarms, so the house must not be burning down. Now, as I lie in bed, I start to diagnose where the sound is coming from. It's sort if a fun little game you play now days. "Where is that beep coming from", "what is that electrical noise", and so on.

I finally realize that it is our cable box cycling on and off, over and over again. Yeah... when you are an insomniac the sound of your cable box cycling can keep you awake. Though it is oddly loud. I manage to eventually get back to sleep, and break the news to my husband later that morning to the chorus of "what next".

It seems to stop at that point, and because lately at night we have only had time to watch Tivo stuff, we didn't realize the box had frozen on one channel.

Besides...when something happens with your cable, you can never realize it before Friday, so you never get it fixed before the weekend.

I guess I am have some residual bitterness... because one, this box is less then 2 months old. In the eight years we have lived in this place, we have only had to replace a bad box once, after several years of dutiful service. This one is failing after two months? And 2, my husband just informed me last week the roll out to HDTV has been moved back.

We didn't really intend to be ahead of the curve, but our 3 year old SONY TV died. My husband didn't want to get HD, but I convinced him that fully half the TVs in every store were HD, and that proved they were going to transfer sooner than later. We would have to upgrade within a couple of years anyway, so we should just buck up now. looks so cool.

It just pisses me off... because we have like 20 HD channels, and fully half are f-ing sports. Listen Comcast! Women make up roughly half of the electronics buying decisions, and most of us hate sports. So as I am bitching about this.. my husband makes some snarkey comment about "what, you want HD Oprah"? Which I think.. no what are you, high?.. and then reconsider. Even HD Oprah is better than f-ing football. Besides... I dont think Oprah is on the weekends.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

RoboNexus is much better this year.

Took a break from the whole house thing to check out the RoboNexus. Last year I was a little surprised at how small it was. I had never been. Don't get me wrong, it was great, but I expected more. I thought there would be a lot more companies. Last year seemed to be more hobbyist's. I would say fully half was hobby kit type companies, and of course the Battlebot robots were there. So again... it gave a more "garage" type feel.

This year however, I was pleasantly surprised to see that not only had the venue had changed, but the feeling was more CES or trade-show-ey. The space wasn't really all that bigger, but there were less hobby booths, and more application type booths. I completely filled all three of my camera cards. So... lets start with iRobot. The event sponsor, and the first booth you see when you walk in. Because, lets face it, iRobot has become our friend. If you have a roomba, chances are you have named it like a pet. This is one item helping our people in Iraq:

Then, there is the much awaited Scooba. The item that will make some of us lazier, and others able to deal with their crazy hectic lives. If you have pets and construction, you just can't live without iRobot. Even though this was a prototype, it really did a decent job. The second shot is of the Scooba taking care of some spilled Pepsi.

You just can't live without one of these shirts.

I'm willing to do product placement for iRobot. We early adopted Roomba. I believe we had one problem in more than a year, and iRobot sent a free replacement part lickity split.

The second coolest item this year? The future, man. The future is here. 3D laser printers. My husband and I have been watching this technology for a couple of years now, and I was super excited they had a booth.

These are the items they had on display. Including a replica of the machine itself, and colors here and here!

There were a lot of miniature toy robots. Robosapian, and Croino. We were bummed we didn't get to see the demo, but we arrived right after the first demo, and weren't going to stay for the next. Next time, they should at least have a demo every hour.

These people had a big crowd everytime they did a demo. Here, here, and here. I had stepped out of the crowd after getting a few shots, and wished I had stayed, because I couldn't get close again after realizing the demo was much longer than I first had thought.

The Sony Aibo dog was there. I was more impressed than I thought I would be. It was very good at mimicing a real pet.

An oddity was this theraputic robot seal. Here, and here.

Lastly, a robot show would not be complete without movie robots.

Thursday, October 06, 2005


Let me give you a little background. A situation occurred at the beginning of the year that I may talk about later which has caused my husband and I to need to sell our house, as soon as humanly possible. We were about 50% done with a fixer-upper, and have needed to complete the other 50% by the end of the year. Much of the process has been like crawling through broken glass. No... make that crawling through broken glass while having a seizure, while having someone jump up and down on your back so the glass is imbedded really deep.

While trying to complete the house... many, many things have interrupted the flow of getting things done. This is just one of many.

I would say about a month ago, our really old dinosauric heater died. My husband and I debated whether to just replace the unit. Normally, that is what we would have done. The hitch is that if we replaced the unit, we would have to add AC. If we don't, likely the new owners would have to - due to the heat in our area. Or wonder why if we spent the money for a brand spanking new heater, we just didn't spend an extra few grand to add AC. Adding AC to this house has always presented a problem because of the location of the furnace. Perhaps new owners would be okay with an AC unit on top of the house. I personally have never liked the idea. Let them figure out what they want to do. AC doesn't add that much to resale value anyway.

So after trying to diagnose the problem, we threw in the towel and started calling HVAC techs to come out. Since our pilot light stayed lit, the net was almost useless to us. The usual route went "blowers wont ignite". Resolution "check your pilot light". Thanks a f'ing lot.

The first company couldn't get to us for a few days. No problem. I called on a Monday, and had an appointment for Thursday. They called back later that day to move my appointment from the morning to the afternoon. I am fine with this. It isn't cold yet, but I am watching the news everyday and getting a little jittery. 70 bucks just to knock on the door. Still no problem. On Wednesday, the company called to reschedule for the following Monday. I was kind but firm and told them no way, my furnace is broken. The receptionist actually told me" Well, we thought it was warm outside". I of course was speechless. In my head I am thinking "are you people insane!?!", but I can't actually even say anything.

First, my repair doesn't hinge on your feeling that it was warm enough to put me off for a full week. Second, why would we trust a company that conducts business like this? The weather turns on a dime around here. Often, like flipping a light switch. After I balked, she actually started dialing the time back.

Her, "how about Saturday".
Me, no.
Her, "well what about Friday".
Me, "speechless".
Her, " maybe we can get you in Thursday afternoon".

The same day in fact the appointment originally was. At this point I want to be really sarcastic, but I just can't bring myself to do it. I call my husband who is more level headed and have him tell them we are going with another company.

So we call the next company. Discovery Quality Service Inc. 3393 Clayton Rd. Concord California. 925-687-9860. They can come that day, but my husband isn't home, so I schedule for the next morning. 45 bucks just to knock on the door. Again... no problem. The house call seems pretty cheap compared to the other company. The techs actually arrive. I am super happy. It hasn't been easy to get workers to even show up. The economy can't be that bad because contractors don't seem to be hurting for work.

Then the trouble begins. They spend about a half an hour on our fuse box. To this day, I really can't figure out what they were trying to do, but the end result was they broke the box, and wound up wedging it out of the wall. The fuse was unrecognizable. They diagnose the problem as a bad fan center. $395.00. The estimate is $687.00 including $85.00 to replace the fusebox that they themselves broke. Not counting the $45.00 just to come out. At this point we are still in HVAC illiteracy. We weren't that happy about them ripping the fuse box out of the wall, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. So we weren't pissed. It is an old machine after all.

I take the fuse box to a lighting store who had a lot of retro parts. This is when we started to figure out just what fuck-ups these guys were. The lighting store guy wedges out the remaining piece of the fuse, and is able to give me a replacement. 3 bucks. BTW, the fuse screwed out like any other fuse of the type. The box is still broken, but he says if we can't find a new box, in a pinch we can just superglue it back together. Not happy about that...we start looking on the net to find the part they were going to charge us 85 bucks for, was $10.00 retail. Still not upset at this point. We get markup. My husbands dad knows people in the HVAC trade in a far away state, so I figure he can find a new compatible fan center. My logic is that they are at least charging 100% markup on the part, so with shipping we would still come out ahead.

Come to find out, the part is under 30 bucks. Now that we know what we are looking for, we again look on the net and are able to buy the part retail for about 50 bucks. Getting a little irritated, and shocked considering they were going to charge us almost $400.00 for just the part. Not even labor.

We wire in the new fuse box, and the new fan center, still dead. My husband (who is not an HVAC tech) started tracing back the electricity and finds our fan motor is blowing the fuse. My husband pulls the housing, and we take it into a parts shop, who opens it up. Low and behold.. the motor has fully fried. I feel relief. Yeah.... we are going to have heat. No mistaking the fan motor is bad. New fan.. 150 bucks. At this point, we have spent roughly 200 bucks. No big deal. We are irritated they didn't diagnose the motor, but shit happens. Well.. maybe that is not the honest truth. I am getting more irritated, because for the first part that cost 50 bucks they were going to charge $400, so I start to wonder how much they were going to charge for a part which cost us 150 bucks.

So we clean up the housing, put the new motor in. It spins beautifully. We're gonna have heat. We're gonna have heat. Wire it up, we are still dead. The blowers don't fire. Which they did before the HVAC techs came out. I'm going to slit my wrists, and start talking about just bringing a tech back to the house.

At the last minute we decide to wire the old fan center back into the furnace. We get it back in, fire the pilot light. Turn the thermostat up, and whoosh... the blowers ignite. I stand there looking at them like someone walking the desert for days who happens upon a lake. We are gonna be saved after all. We aren't going to die!

Well... all that is a lot dramatic, but this has been a long horrible, trying situation. Getting information has been incredibly difficult.

So let us recap. Discovery Quality Service Inc. 3393 Clayton Rd. Concord California. 925-687-9860 were going to charge us practically 700.00 for a part that was perfectly good. <insert heavy sarcasm> When it didn't fix the problem, they would simply tell us our motor had fried and take the other part out.

Unless specifically requested, I bet they wouldn't even have tested the old part to make sure it was bad. Plus.. I think most people would have just been so excited to have it fixed, they wouldn't have even questioned it.

Now, I don't mind paying a guy to come out to diagnose my problem (which right now is trying not to go ballistic), but what I do mind is paying for them to come out and railroad me into paying for a few unnecessary parts. I also mind that they have you bent over fully lubed because they charge for a house visit, and they count on you not wanting to pay for more than 1 or 2 house calls. Who wants to pay a couple hundred dollars to comparison shop? I also fucking mind paying 1000% markup. I mind paying $165.00 in labor for a part they broke, and to replace a part that would have taken an experienced tech 15 minutes to replace. (It took us less than an hour, and we have no experience at all.)

Don't get me wrong, the first time we put in the fan center it was a bitch, but mostly because we wanted to make sure we were careful with the wiring. The second time it took us about 10 minutes. Yes.. I know they charge an hourly rate, but 165.00 an hour is fucking excessive. I really fucking mind that the reason they do this is so they can sell you a new set-up. And don't give me that bullshit about energy efficiency. Apparently just putting in a new motor makes it quite a bit more efficient.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

A new direction.

This blog has been silent for a very long time. I had grown very tired of blogs who did nothing but bitch and complain about... well... everything. It wasn't just the bitching really, it just seemed to be the needless bitching. The "Starbucks Espresso bar" got my coffee wrong this morning, and it must be George W. Bush's fault type bitching.

Perhaps I may fall into this same trap, but this blog may now be a mix of the bitching I list above, and consumer type issues. Feel free to tell me I am a hypocrite, because I have had it, and I probably won't care.

Having said that... the bitching will commence.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

A Politically Correct (True) Fish Story

Living in California, you come to expect crazy liberal standards...but even I am floored by what happened this morning.

My husband and I decide to go out to the "design center" to find a light fixture for the bathroom from hell. (should a bathroom remodel really take 10 months?) At any rate, we aren't morning people. But somehow we manage to get out the door early, and arrive 20 minutes before the store opens. Across the parking lot is a Petsmart.

I had been trying to find a friend for "Puffy" our puffer fish. He is sort of a demon fish. When I bought him, I didn't expect it to be a lifetime experience. I figured fish live a few years, they die, and you figure out your next move. Which for me would be be a saltwater tank. Well... five years later, he's still alive, and as a responsible pet owner I have to go though this weird fish ritual to find him friends. He is suppose to be aggressive, but he lived happily with one of those goofy glass fish they inject with the color. But like all fish (I thought), after a couple of years he died. So then I decided to get him another friend, a more aggressive breed who should be in its same temperment category who turned out to kick his ass. He had to go, because we have been feeding Puffy all this time. He has seniority. Okay... enough about the stupid fish friend stuff. After all, this wouldn't even be worth telling if it weren't for what happens next.

So my husband and I walked through all the fish, and didn't find anything suitable. But they did have crabs. Crabs are entertaining, but no matter how giant of a crab you put in the tank, Puffy will find a way to eat it. So we decide to blow a couple of bucks to get Puffy a treat. I mean... who doesn't like crab... right? So I have got the salesgirl, net in hand, in the crab tank fishing out our crabs. She asks me "so what kind of tank are you going to put them in"? I say "they're food". Because I know that eventually, they are just going to be Puffy food.

She says "I don't think I can sell these to you". I say "What"? (Let's say it all together: "What?") She calls to another gal and asks "she wants to feed these crabs to a puffer fish. I can't sell them right"? The other girl confirms, that these crabs are to be no fishes food. Then the first girl says something about a guy wanting to buy mice to feed to his snake. Which I kinda understand. I thought pet stores had mice precisely for that, but what do I care? (If I'm being realistic, I'm betting more mice die in their store waiting for homes, than die winding up being snake food.) I try to plead my case again, and tell her I understand about the mice, but these are crustaceans... crabs for Christ sake. She isn't budging. I walk out without them, muttering about political correctness.

My husband and I go to lunch, wind up at another pet store, and I now have six crabs in my tank. Making sure of course when I was buying them that I didn't mutter anything about them eventually getting eaten.