THE HUMP

Chris Williams: ‘The T shape is the correct one for the straps of bullet proof vests. Vests cover both front and back but there is a buckle arrangement in one style at that position. Security arrangements for the prez are never released so it can’t be admitted to. But if you’d like a more technical tidbit, the mechanism for getting information into his ear would have to be a bone conduction microphone – given that a hearing aid would be visible. If using a bone conduction microphone, you don’t need a long wire running over a shoulder. Also, you have to pick a frequency for transmission. With a roomful of electronic cameras and an audience probably doing their own recording on little gizmos they bought from Radio Shack – you have no idea if that frequency will be clear. It would be silly to rely on ‘a wire’ to feed cheatsheet data to the president when you can’t take a good RF survey of the room a priori. Hell, the airlines make you turn off your sound deadening earphones on approach to landing and the airplane’s nav system is using ground nav aids with lots of transmitting power from the ground. They still aren’t sure the frequency will be clear. I’d be nuts to rely on an RF link in a non surveyed room.

‘Besides which, Jesus, Andy, you have got to get off the left wing paranoid extremism insanity. The technology on this stuff is way beyond I-pod. If I wanted to feed cheatsheet facts to the president why in the name of God would I strap a refrigerator to his back? This stuff is tiny nowadays. You can do this kind of thing with plenty of power for bone conduction in something the size of stick of chewing gum.’

☞ So when the White House said it was bad tailoring, they just were fibbing? OK, but that still leaves some questions. First, this was a very secure room – I was there – and if he needed a vest for this appearance, one might imagine he wears it most or all public places he goes. If so, wouldn’t a load of people already have noticed it on past occasions? Second, let’s assume it was a bulletproof vest – how does that explain his testy ‘let me finish’ when no one was interrupting him? Could he not have had something ‘the size of a stick of chewing gum’ in addition to a bulletproof vest? And isn’t it fair to imagine that the team who would have been involved with this could either have chosen some unusual frequency . . . or simply counted on the fact that we would all turn off our cell phones during the debate? I sure turned off mine. And then there is the question of his odd pauses during the debate. And the specific contract provision negotiated by the Bush team (ignored by Fox) that there be no camera shots from the rear. If that were routine – because in public he wears the vest so they always require that – wouldn’t the networks have declared it routine rather than let us believe it was unusual? I’m obviously not saying I’m certain what happened. But ‘bad tailoring,’ or even the bullet-proof vest (or the imagined medical device some of you e-mailed me about), still leave me with questions. Is it really fair to characterize them as insane?

THE JUMP

I’m not sure TiVo is a buy here at $3.70, although its stock is certainly out of favor, which never hurts. And I’m well aware that your local cable company may be offering something quite similar soon, if it doesn’t already – and cheaper.

But I would be lost without my six TiVos (hey, I drive a seven-year-old car and buy my clothes by mail – give me a break), and thus I offer you, belatedly, David Pogue’s column from a couple of weeks ago in the CIRCUITS section of the New York Times. Note the hidden feature he has uncovered: you can jump ahead in 30-second increments.

For TiVo, It’s Not Over Yet
By David Pogue

I’m furious at all the media vultures who are circling TiVo, maker of the life-changing, time-shifting TV box, and declaring its long-term prospects hopeless. The Times reported last week that co-founder Mike Ramsay declined a deal to bundle TiVo technology into cable boxes from Comcast (for well under a dollar a box) – media analysts implied that that was a fatal move – and stepped down as CEO.

Unfortunately, media reports about a company’s struggles can have a way of becoming self-fulfilling.

Here’s a list of some of the brilliant features that make a TiVo a TiVo, the features that make it stand head and shoulders over the copycat digital video recorders (DVR’s) provided by, for example, cable companies. (And if you’re unfamiliar with this entire category of TV equipment, here’s a refresher.)

I consider this an important list for two reasons. First, it will give non-TiVoholics a taste of the refinement and elegance that they’re missing. Second, I don’t think that TiVo’s doom is sealed by any stretch of the imagination. But if its future is threatened, heaven forbid, this list may clue in TiVo’s successors concerning what made it great. (ReplayTV, which I also love quite a bit, probably comes the closest to matching TiVo’s ingenuity. Note, though, that a lot of its best features, like automatic commercial skipping and Internet show swapping, have been taken out of the current model, thanks to lawsuits. And on a related point, I do realize that many rival boxes have some of these features. But none that I know of offers all of these them – and especially not in such an easy-to-use, brilliantly designed software package.)

  • Retroactive recording. You come home, flip on the TV, and discover that you’re 35 minutes into what looks like a great show. If you have TiVo, you can either rewind into the past (to view what you missed while the TV was off) or even record it, thanks to the TiVo buffer that always stores the most recent 45 minutes of the current channel.
  • Wish list. On a TiVo, you can type something — an actor, movie title, anything — that you’re interested in, even if it’s not anywhere in the TV guide. If and when it’s ever broadcast, on any channel at any time, the TiVo will record it for you. (At our house, we do this all the time. For example, we’ll hear about a great movie that’s in theaters now, and plug it into the Wish List so we’ll get it as soon as it’s shown on TV, some time next year.)
  • Built-in reaction time. When you’re fast-forwarding through a show (or, more often, through commercial blocks), you’re watching the video flickering by. And then you see the part you want to watch — and hit Play. Now, on a less intelligent machine, you’d be too late. You’d have missed the first 20 seconds of what you wanted, because the fast-forwarding had already blown past it.
  • But not on a TiVo. It compensates for your reaction time. When you hit Play, it doesn’t begin playing from that point; it begins playing a few seconds before that, with uncanny “it knew what I wanted” accuracy.
  • 30-second skip. It’s not a documented trick, but it’s nonetheless a juicy and delicious one. Press the following buttons on the remote while a show is playing back: Select, Play, Select, 3, 0, Select. Now your Advance button is a 30-second skip button. Press the same sequence again to turn off this feature. (You have to re-do this after a power failure.) It’s a much quicker, more precise way to skip ads.
  • Season pass. On many DVR’s, you can ask to have a certain show recorded every week automatically — “Desperate Housewives” or whatever. But on a TiVo, you get some important options with that. For example, you can tell the TiVo to record only first-run episodes and not repeats. And you can give it a maximum number to store, so you don’t return from a two-week trip to find 579 new and syndicated reruns of “E.R.” clogging your hard drive.
  • TiVoToGo. A software upgrade, which is arriving silently over the phone lines this month and next, lets you copy shows onto a Windows laptop from across your home network for watching on the plane, train or automobile.
  • Folder groupings. Your list of recorded shows can be sorted by name, recording date or expiration date — and can arrange themselves into “folders” of shows (for example, all your “West Wing” episodes) to save list clutter.
  • Smart offers. If you bail out of watching a recorded show within a few minutes of the end, TiVo asks if you want to delete the recording to free up hard drive space. That’s smart; it’s assuming that since you’re near the end, you’ve probably watched all you intend to watch. (If you cancel playback in the middle or beginning, though, TiVo doesn’t bother you with that offer; it assumes you’re not finished with the show yet.)
  • Retroactive TV guide. The Guide button on the remote brings up a scrolling TV guide. What’s really cool is that, for a given channel, you can scroll both forward into the future (to see what will be in HBO in, say, two weeks) and into the past (to see what was on earlier this day or week). Both are very handy in certain circumstances.
  • Recording log. TiVo can show you what you’ve recorded — and, when something you requested did not get recorded (it happens), it can show you exactly why. It will tell you that your hard drive was full, for example, or that somebody in your house scheduled a conflicting show and gave it higher priority.

There are probably a hundred other graceful little touches; I hope that TiVo fans will post some of their favorites on the Pogue feedback board. (And if there is, indeed, a cable-company box that offers all of these features, let me know that, too!)

But the point should be clear: when every tiniest aspect of a machine is this deeply, thoroughly considered and intelligently designed, the result is a product that inspires fierce loyalty and makes you only too happy to join the cult.

Visit David Pogue on the Web at DavidPogue.com.

 

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