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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Yes. I'm sure. It's your cable box. (Cable TV rant 2)

Posted on April 21, 2010 at 8:00 PM

The 100th episode of Friends had a great interchange between Joey and a doctor. The doctor is reading an X-ray and diagnoses Joey as having kidney stones. Of course, Joey has none of it. The dialog went something like this:

“Mr. Tribiani. I’m afraid you’ve got kidney stones.”

“Uhhh…. Well, what else could it be?”

“It’s kidney stones.”


“Kidney stooones.”


With just a slight change, this could be an exact conversation that we have over and over with people who are in total denial about their cable boxes.

“That TV you sold me is broken.”

“Hmmm. What’s it doing?”


“Nothing? Like it won’t turn on or anything?”

“No. It turns on. But I'm not getting any picture. It’s broken.”

“OK. I think it’s probably the cable box.”

“No. Couldn’t be. Because (insert multiple reasons: picture is freezing up, channels won’t change, Guide won’t come up, sound isd ropping out, etc.)”

“Yeah. Pretty sure it’s the cable box.”

“Probably the remote control, right?”


Now, I’ve ranted about cable boxes before. (My own personal DVR trials and a customer just unwilling to cooperate.) What I *still* don’t understand is why people are just so DAMN pig-headedly loyal to this stupid box. Look: I know you didn’t invent the thing. I’m not saying it’s your fault. It’s your cable box, man! Accept it and get over it! And I’m not exaggerating when I say that 80% of the time, it is indeed the cable box (or the cable company buggering with the box in the background) that is to blame.


Recently, Time Warner in our area sent out two massive firmware/software updates/integration ass punches. First, they TOTALLY redid their GUI into something called Navigator. Now I’m not sure what the upside to Navigator was supposed to be, in fact whatever the question was, the answer is just an emphatic, “NO!” The huge, throbbing downside was that EVERY box plugged into Time Warner’s Matrix reset itself to factory default. Now, like every integration company, we are forced to work with cable boxes and to integrate them into our systems inthe most reliable manner possible. Except working with the cable box is kind of like being teamed with Britney Spears at the “Miss Classy Lady” contest. You’ve stuck with doing iit, but you know that winning just isn’t in the cards. Instead of incorporating some discrete on and off commands like, well pretty much EVERY other modern A/V component, the cable box has created a mongoloid work-around by allowing you to select an option to turn the box on with one of the number keys. (So you press 1 - delay 1 second - clear to power it on; then 1 - delay 1 second - Power to turn it off.) There is also a power outlet on the back that can be set to turn off when the box is off and on when the box is on. Granted, neither of these solutions is elegant like, say whacking of an arm with a lightsaber.  But when combined witha smart remote control and some power sensing, we can reliably tell whether the box is on or off and then control it accordingly. Kind of like sawing an arm off with an old, rusty key. Except when Time Warner decides to remotely reset everything. Meaning that cable boxes don’t turn ON when a number is pressed, the outlet is ALWAYS on so automation system can’t tell that it is actually  on or not, and then the box turns ON when they try and turn the system off. This generally produces the call I mentioned at the outset. The solution? Trying to describe the many, and I do mean MANY button pushes required to put the cable house back in order, or a truck roll.  


The second little update they just finished gracing us with was to RADICALLY renumber the entire channel line-up. As I sit here, I honestly can’t even tell you where ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox are on my cable box. Somewhere near channel 1100 or 1200.  My channels now go up to OVER 1500, meaning that I have to type in 4 numbers to select a channel. And, like many companies, we usually program our remotes with friendly little channel icons that you touch to go to your favorite channel. Look, several of my customers can barely handle the challenge of "Press the 'watch TV' button to, uhh, watch TV. No, not that one. That says 'System off.' OK. No, NO! That's the 'watch a movie' button. Yep. Now you've got it." So, expecting them to allocate any of their brain's Pentium 1 processing power to remember where FOX News is just hurtful. Of course, the “Ahhh! Dadgummit, Time Warner, you got me again!” takeaway here is that all of the remotes that we programmed to go to favorite channels no longer work. In fact, in our HIGHLY Republican state, the one delicious bit of irony is that that the old HD tier is now the new Hispanic tier! Ole! So going to ABC-HD will bring up some TeleMundo channel! Gracias, Time Warner! Muchas gracias!

Categories: April 2010, TV, Rants

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Reply Keely
2:44 PM on April 30, 2010 
I'm betting that people WANT it to be your problem because they will actually get reliable customer service out of you. You know how hard it is to get cable companies to commit to fixing ANYTHING. They will deny the problem, make you jump through hoops, stick your adopted kid on a plane back to its motherland, reenact scenes from the Sound of Music and take a cut in pay to sit at your house while they wreck lives one "service" call at a time.
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