Thursday, October 27, 2005

Looking a gift TiVo in the mouth

It should not be this difficult to watch TV.

D bought her Mom a TiVo box for her birthday, which box we're going to deliver this weekend when we visit. D also wanted to include a gift subscription, so she went online and placed an order. However, the order confirmation didn't give her the redemption code needed for activation.

After more than half an hour on the phone with agents both unhelpful and clueless, "Megan" finally told us that TiVo doesn't distribute those codes online or by email anymore. A visit to the web site confirmed this sad fact. My emphasis below

That was then:
After you purchase a TiVo service gift subscription directly from, you'll be given a 9-digit redemption code... During checkout, you can choose to send the recipient an e-mail with the 9-digit redemption code automatically included.
This is now:
The gift certificate with the 9-digit redemption code will be shipped to you directly... If you want, you can also have TiVo send the gift certificate directly to your recipient--just enter their address as the shipping address!
Yes, I might think that was convenient, if I didn't know how much easier the old process was. For a company that wants its customers to do everything online-- including activation-- they're sure doing their best to screw things up. I mean, they don't even offer support by email. You'd think that a company still struggling to be profitable would look to do something more cost-effective than running a call center.

I love our TiVo, but I have a bad feeling that the company is going to wither and die slowly, just as Palm has been-- by starting out with great technology, but later squandering their goodwill with users by running the business badly. And now that I have an HDTV, I'm just waiting to see whether DirecTV or Dish Network wins the race to upgrade to MPEG-4 transmission and produce a non-lame, integrated DVR receiver, so I can get all my channels-- including local-into-local (LIL) stations-- off the same cable.

It should not be this difficult to watch TV.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

It's a Sign

Earlier this month, I decided to toss my hat in the ring for this year's National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo), using a premise that I'd scribbled down several years ago but never developed-- briefly, it's about Apollo 8, the first manned mission to orbit the Moon, in an alternate reality where werewolves are real. Yes, wacky, but that's kind of the point.

Then, last week, I learned that the PBS show American Experience will air the documentary Race to the Moon-- about the Apollo 8 mission-- on October 31st, the day before nanowrimo begins. How perfect is that? It's almost like finding a penny from the year I was born.

To further tantalize you, here's an excerpt from PBS's blurb for the show:
"Apollo 8 [was] arguably America's riskiest and most important space mission," says series executive producer Mark Samels. "We've heard a lot about Apollo 11 and 13, but without the success of Apollo 8, the entire history of the U.S. space program would have been altered."

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Camel is Weeping Because Her Movie Sucks

To be fair, The Story of the Weeping Camel, which I watched last night, does have its moments. Some of the photography is gorgeous; the camels are fascinating animals to watch; and it's cheaper than actually visiting a village in Mongolia's Gobi Desert.

But Jesus H. Christ on a pogo stick, it was mind-numbingly boring to a degree I could not have previously imagined.

I blame those wacky German filmmakers.

I mean, okay, I acknowledge its achievements as "narrative documentary" and "ethnographic filmmaking", but the entire plot can be summed up in less than twenty-five words. Not just the concept-- the actual, complete story.

And the characters are presented so passively that I didn't care about most of them, one way or the other. The exceptions were the brothers, Dude (which I'm sure is pronounced "duh-day" or something, but I kept thinking: Jeff Lebowski?) and Ugna (which is the diminutive form of his full name, but I kept thinking of those pig-faces from Cloud City), who ride out from the village to find musicians to perform a ritual to get the titular mother camel to allow her calf to nurse.

And that's another thing: I can respect ancient cultures and hokey religions and even Gaian mysticism, but I don't enjoy listening to it. I suppose the ritual with the lamas was supposed to be a contrast to the younger brother wanting a television set, but the debate is never developed. In the worst tradition of documentaries, the film doesn't have a point of view. And that's maddening for me, as a storyteller, to sit through.

Clearly, I'm not the right audience for this movie. Many other people loved it-- hell, it was nominated for an Oscar-- but I just couldn't get into it. It's one of those movies where you have to care about the subject matter beforehand. It doesn't suck you in; it doesn't explain why you should care about these people and their situation. It felt like a zoo exhibit, but even at the zoo, you get some kind of placard telling you what you're looking at and why it matters.

Monday, October 17, 2005

He shoulda called it "Sketch Night"

Reported today: Zap2it - TV news - 'West Wing' Creator Sorkin Goes Backstage at NBC! Aaron Sorkin, the author of screwball classics like The American President, The West Wing (before John Wells ruined it), and Sports Night (until ABC cancelled it), has been commissioned by NBC to produce a new TV series for next season.*

This is probably related to the May cancellation of his movie production, The Farnsworth Invention, which was to be a biography of the inventor of the television set. I would have wanted to see that movie, but I'm even happier that we'll be getting over 20 hours of Sorkin's stories and dialogue.

What's the series about? Follow the link above. But honestly, I don't even care. There are very few people working in TV and movies whom I'd call "creators"-- individuals who consistently have unique, compelling visions and the talent to present them well-- but when those people make something, I'm there. Aaron Sorkin is a creator. Joss Whedon, even more so.

Many people seem to pick their entertainment based on the performers involved; e.g., big stars like Tom Cruise can "open" a movie because people want to go see anything in which he appears. I feel that way to some extent-- I'm a sucker for Nicolas Cage-- but I have more affinity for writers and directors and composers.

* Actually just a pilot, but according to the article, "[s]hould NBC decide not to go forward with the series, it would have to pay Warner Bros. a hefty kill fee", which implies they're pretty committed to it. Hooray!

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Swordsman

I think I'm going to have to buy this glarkware t-shirt (which I found via TWOP), just because the description is so brilliant.

My favorite bits are "5:00 PM: Vigorous constitutional" and "7:31 PM: Dammit!"

Trust me, it's funny in context. Just go read the thing. Won't take but a minute. You can thank me later.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Which Serenity character are you?

You scored as River Tam. The Fugitive. You are clever and dangerous, which is a nasty combination. The fact you are crazy too just adds to your charm. They did bad things to you, but you know their secrets. They will regret how they made you.

River Tam


Simon Tam


Zoe Alleyne Washburne


Capt. Mal Reynolds


Hoban 'Wash' Washburne


Kaylee Frye


Shepherd Derrial Book


The Operative


Inara Serra


Jayne Cobb


Which Serenity character are you?
created with

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

NaNoWriMo: third time's the charm

Encouraged by some co-workers, I've signed up for NaNoWriMo 2005, wherein I will attempt to write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November. I failed at this twice before: in 2002, I banged out less than 9,000 words before losing steam, and in 2003, I didn't manage to write one word.

This time, I'm using a premise I scribbled down several years ago and never developed, but every time I read my notes, I get excited. The working title is By the Light of the Moon. It'll be my first attempt at historical fiction, and I expect to get many things wrong. I'm also crossing hard-ish sf with pure fantasy, which will be interesting.

I'd still like to finish the novel I started in 2002 (Star-Cross'd, which I describe as "Romeo and Juliet in space" or "Contact meets The West Wing"), and flesh out the short story "Working Graves", which really cries out to be the first novel in a bestselling series. (Hey, I can dream, can't I?) But NaNoWriMo encourages participants to start new works of fiction-- outlines are okay, but no actual prose until November 1st.

As the FAQ says: "Give yourself the gift of a clean slate, and you'll tap into realms of imagination and intuition that are out-of-reach when working on pre-existing manuscripts."