Blog Life

Time shifting

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

So we got Tivo’d, and it’s greatly improved the quality of our TV-watching lives.

To be precise, we got the Comcast DVR offering, which shows two things: firstly, like sellotape and hoover (both of which only work in the UK, interestingly) Tivo has become the generic word to describe digital recording from the telly, and secondly, Tivo themselves must be worried, losing customers to the big cable companies who offer a simpler but cheaper service (and rental, not purchase, of the box itself).

With a nine-month old in the house, your limited recreation time cannot be scheduled to coincide with your favourite programmes, especially as herself gets put to bed around 7.30pm. Wrestling with the old VCR wasn’t going to happen, so being able to record shows easily (and set up standing orders for a whole series) makes plenty of sense.

So now we’re watching The Daily Show when we want to, and all of Arsenal’s Premiership games are going to be sitting on the drive waiting.

Initially we had some problems with a bug/feature that set the box to mute when it switched itself (and the TV) on to record something. With the mute button on the remote only working the TV’s mute, I was stumped until the internet helped me.

But better than that, I also got the code to add a 30-second skip to the remote, which means nipping through ad breaks is now silky smooth, and it takes much less time to watch shows because you’re only watching the show. Pausing live TV is also pretty cool, but why watch it live at all, when it’s quicker to watch it later?

The generic term for this phenomenon in broadcasting and tech circles is ‘time-shifting’. Podcasts mean you can listen to NPR’s Morning Edition when you like (or in my case, catch The Archers omnibus at my leisure), and having a hard drive full of TV shows waiting for you begins to shake the old tenets of scheduling.

Prime time doesn’t mean anything any more in our house, as we’ll watch something originally shown at 2am at 9pm (or vice versa). And the network’s reputation isn’t that important either. The DVR will seek out old episodes of House or CSI wherever it can find them, and (appropriately enough for a time-shifting device) we watched the first episodes of the new series of Dr Who over the weekend, even though we hardly ever find ourselves watchind anything else on the Sci-Fi channel.

For an extra ten bucks a month, we’ve got a tool that gives us the power to build our own tv station and even shift time itself. Very cool. Now I’m waiting for the place-shifting add-on that lets me watch shows I’ve recorded on my PDA, or on my computer at work.

Posted by David in • Life

Blog Life

Car lust

Friday, March 10, 2006

not too shabby

You know that old line about how boys never grow up, they just get bigger toys? I’ve a feeling I’m an example of that, despite my best intentions.

For someone who lives in a house with one car and five bikes, I think about cars a lot. If I’m driving (in the deeply unfashionable 1999 Honda CRV that’s our family’s ride), I’ll sometimes watch the cars that pass me and ask myself, ‘would I drive that?’.

Almost always, the answer is no, which is ironic because when I pass another CRV, I say no to that too. Partly, it’s that too many American cars are very ugly, and partly it’s that here in Santa Fe, there’s a preponderence of big SUVs. Which I really hate, for many of the reasons outlined in Keith Bradsher’s excellent book, High and Mighty.

When I’m home and grab a few minutes, I play Gran Tourismo on the Playstation, and think about cars some more.

Normally, this obsession is kept at manageable proportions, but currently we’re thinking about getting another car, so I feel I have permission to do piles of internet research, peer into the windows of parked vehicles and download clandestine episodes of Top Gear via BitTorrent (not that I actually do that last one, of course).

Like a true European, especially one who grew up driving Volkswagens, I’ve my heart set on a GTI (here they drop the Golf epithet for some reason). It’s plenty fast, practical, good-looking, not too big, and has a great ‘manumatic’ gear box wiith paddle shifters that will keep both Buendia and myself happy.

The four-door version is out here in the summer. So far so good. But that doesn’t stop me poring over reviews of the Mazda 3, the Audi A3, the faster Sube Imprezas and a few other cars that I’m pretty sure we won’t buy.

(The one distraction from the GTI is the funky ads for it that have started appearing on TV here. Clearly in the US the car is aimed at people much younger and less well-behaved than myself. )

At this point, I’m clearly not just researching cars because it will help us make a good decision, I’m doing it because I actually enjoy doing it.

I used to be bemused by Buendia’s inability to walk into a store and just buy something. Now I get it. When it comes to cars, the journey is as important as the destination.

(GTI image courtesy of VWVortex)

Posted by David in • Life

Blog Santa Fe and New Mexico

The future comes to New Mexico?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

x-prize image

The NM state legislative session has just concluded and among a busy schedule of issues, one topic stood out – the plans for the world’s first Spaceport, to be built in the middle of nowhere in southern New Mexico.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is keen to move in and start offering space tourism flights, and there are also plans for a crazy-sounding rocket racing series (specifically modelled on the pod racing scene in Star Wars, just a bit higher up).

Currently these are just plans, and the spaceport is a patch of sere land between Truth or Consequences and Las Cruces, but there’s definitely something exciting at the prospect of all this space travel stuff.

We’ve all grown up with sci-fi, and while some of the technology has become real and humdrum – clamshell mobile phones still remind me of Star Trek commicators, though – having a spaceport in your state is still pretty cool.

There’s a 50s retro-future thing going on in much of the design work to accompany the spaceport material (and the X-Prize which has actually already happened), and that’s only fitting (check out out the above image, which is from the X-Prize site).

That imagery captures the optimism and innocence of the first space race, and hints at the maverick spirit of these potential rocket racers and orbital tourists.

If all this happens (and there are doubts over the state’s commitment of hundreds of millions of dollars to help build the infrastructure around the spaceport), as well as the economic benefits and boost to our image, there’ll be something more valuable than that. We’ll be helping to realize the past’s vision of the future. 

Posted by David in • Santa Fe and New Mexico