netWert Getting It Right

Getting It Right
TiVo SchmeeVo
September 15, 2003 +
A few years ago I won a TiVo, then sold it on eBay when I decided I didn't want to pay the monthly fee. I wasn't enough of a television wacher at the time to justify it.

Three years on, my television-commercial-producing wife and I watch a fair amount of television, and a DVR would make our lives much easier. But we weren't about to pay $300 for a new TiVo box. Amy spent a decent amount of time ribbing me for selling something so good without considering the long-term ramifications.

The silver lining in our TiVo-less apartment is that Time Warner Cable is a remarkably savvy company, and as a result, we got our first DVR cable box Saturday. The future is now: the "clicker" has now evolved into a programmable system with a 50-gig hard drive and one-click recording.

I spent the weekend appreciating the novelty of the DVR system, hitting the instant-replay button countless times on George Steinbrenner saying "Oh!" in his latest Visa ad. But the true promises of the system were exposed Sunday night, when Amy got called to work and missed the "Sex and the City" finale.

It occurred to me that at last I could set the TV to tape a show without any aggravation (after years of not learning how to program my VCR). And indeed, it couldn't have been easier:
  1. Hit the Guide button like I do every day to check the listings.

  2. Zoom to the listing for "Sex and the City"—by station, time, title, or theme—and press the Select button as though I were jumping to view it right now.

  3. Press the Select button again on "record this show." Done.
I watched the show live (even paused it at one point), and the missus watched it on the DVR when she came home. Bingo bango.

I'm sure this sounds like basic stuff to anyone comfortable with a VCR, but the quantum leap here is in the simplification. For once, technology actually makes a process shorter. No more seeking out the right sub-menus to enter start date, end date, time, and channel. No more setting the digital cable box to jump to the channel that matches the VCR. No more looking for the right videotape wound to the right spot. Terrific.

The DVR itself creates some trade-offs with the cable service. The menus and channel switching are slow, and TWC has a new menu font that's not as easy to read as the old system's. The remote is huge.

The additional features, though, far outweigh the drawbacks. In addition to its DVR functionality, the box has two tuners, so it's an automatic watch-and-record box. The cable box has picture-in-picture. The sound and picture quality seem a little more crisp, too; I remember griping about the jpeg-style pixelization of my first digital cable box.

The DVR cable box costs $7 more than a standard digital cable system. After two days, I can already tell that it's money well spent.

Past tense
March 17, 2003 +
Glasshaus Press closed up shop Friday.

During its brief existence, Glasshaus was a top-notch publisher, releasing books on Web site accessibility, usability and online development that were clear, useful, and enjoyable to read. Their passing is a typical dotcom bust insolvency issue, as far as I can tell, and a sad one.

Glasshaus turned me into an author last year (see right-hand column). I always knew my book would have a short shelf-life; after all, how sites are designed is continually evolving, and today's epiphanies may be tomorrow's gaffes. But I expected the book to dwindle on its own terms.

Still, while I'm being shuttled to the archives a little early, that doesn't take away from the quality output Glasshaus produced in its day, and the joy I felt in participating.

Good luck to Bruce Lawson and his staff, and thank you for your good work.

March 14, 2003 +
I resigned my position as a columnist for Digital Web Magazine today.
read more

Why my desk is cluttered
January 27, 2003 +
Boxes and Arrows: Printing the Web. "Computers are good for storing information, but generally bad for using it. Research shows that difficulty in reading from a computer screen stems from poor resolution: compared to paper, monitors—even of the highest quality—offer only low-resolution reading."

...and he's not gonna take it anymore!
January 14, 2003 +
Mark Pilgrim's rant against misguided W3C decisions on XHTML impresses me not for its content (do what I do, buddy, and stick lazily with Transitional) but for the sheer quantity of its referral links, which Mark tracks with a nifty home-grown system.



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