Wake to Scorsese

Promo photo from "The Apartment" with Shirley McLane and Jack Lemmon.

It disappoints me that the computers that are embedded in common household devices keep getting more and more powerful and yet it’s rare when a new toaster oven does something that surprises and delights you.

Okay, bad example. But you know what I mean. There was a happy accident this morning: I happened to wake up about five minutes before “The Apartment” started on cable. It got me thinking about my cable box. These days a cable box is a real computer with a real OS and a real developers’ kit, with a full network connection and everything.

And yet what does it really do, beyond changing channels and displaying an onscreen programming guide? I’d pay ten bucks for an app that let me tell the box “If there’s a Billy Wilder/Jack Lemmon movie starting up between 7 and 10 AM, then turn on the TV, tune it to that channel, display the title of the movie on the screen, and play an alarm clock sound ten minutes before the movie begins.”

Actually, I’d even pay five bucks per month for it as a service. There’s be a whole list of things Worth Waking Me Up For; I’d keep adding stuff to it as I go. Over the years I’ve tried and failed to find a surefire alarm clock. I even wrote an app that wouldn’t turn off the alarm until I keyed in the square root of the number on the screen, to short circuit the “reach over and slap the ‘snooze’ button” gambit but I got around it via the simple expediency of sleeping through the noise.

But would I go back to sleep knowing that I was going to miss “Goodfellas”? The “Two Cathedrals” episode of “West Wing” or a “Reno, 911” marathon? No, no.

Let’s see. We need to refine this a little so that the cable box doesn’t wake me up unless it’s nearly time for me to wake up anyway. I bet the computer could get a good idea of my waking and sleeping hours from the remote activity; during late hours of the day, it can reasonably guess that if the cable box is asleep, then so am I.

So: the “wake me for a good show” window opens six hours after there’s no activity on the cable box. And the window closes at 11, when I’m out of bed anyway.

(Probably out of bed.)

I suspect that this feature would be a big hit with freelancers who make their own daily schedules and college students who never had any intention of attending their 8:30 AM English Lit classes in the first place.

The important thing with ideas like this one is to know when to stop developing it. If the cable box is keeping an eye on my sleep rhythms, all kinds of things are possible…including “Mom” modes in which you try to watch something at 2 AM on a Tuesday and it throws up a curt notice reading “On a school night?

If the thing you’re trying to watch is on Cinemax, it adds the line “…and you should really find yourself a girlfriend.”

17 thoughts on “Wake to Scorsese

  1. Dominic T

    What I really want is a device embedded in my (landline / mobile ) phone that only makes the ringing noises if I’m likely to want to answer the phone.

    Possibly this means Heinlein’s “Give $(large sum of money) as a deposit. If I think you were justified in interrupting me, I’ll give you your money back. Otherwise I’ll spend it on intoxicating liquor and computer toys,” (paraphrased heavily from items in Stranger in a Strange Land)

  2. brian

    Honestly, I prefer a TV that plays that movie on demand rather than it demand that I come watch.

  3. JImi Lee

    You are the man,so don’t take this the wrong way,but I’m starting to see why you’re single. The toaster that does more,that’s the invention I want to see,like a toaster/sandwich maker,or a setting for bagel that already has bagels in it and you just push the button and the bagel is inserted and toasted.

  4. Mark Hernandez

    Andy, have you not heard of a DVR or TiVo? We have our TiVo use one of it’s patented features (“WishList” keyword search/autorecord) where we set it to watch for and record any Mae West movie that comes along (which is very rare). It works perfectly. One day in, say, December you sit down and surprise, there’s a Mae West movie waiting for you to watch that came on in the middle of the night on a channel that doesn’t publish its schedule. Some of her movies are not on DVD. And there’s never any fear that you will miss it because of ANY life-scheduling conflict. Furthermore, being able to skip through commercials helps retain the movie’s emotional continuity. That’s a very powerful thing!

    TiVo has been capturing and time-shifting shows and movies for over a decade. Ummm, have you been asleep this whole time? he he

    ;-) Mark

  5. Keith

    While a TiVo is a fine thing indeed, there’s something wonderful about coming across a great movie and sitting down to watch it. I’ve watched many movies like that while pre-recorded movies languish on my DVR, unwatched.

    And really, do you honestly think Mr. Ihnatko hasn’t experienced the overwhelming joy of a TiVo? The man is constantly bathing in gadgets.

  6. JohnO

    A single appliance won’t be the best solution here. Instead, a common communications protocol, and the tools to use them will be the solution. Think SNMP and network/system management tools. If certain requirements are met, the DVR sends a trap message which the alarm clock receives and acts on. The same trap message is also received and acted on by the toaster oven.

  7. Ihnatko Post author

    Ach, some of you aren’t getting it.

    I am aware of this thing you call a “DVR.” And the miracles of delayed-viewing and automated “wish list” recording are well-known to me. My Mom and Dad sent me to TV Camp last summer.

    What I’m talking about, only semi-jokingly, is an alarm clock. I think it’d be neat if my cable box could sense that there was an AWESOME movie coming up that I’d definitely want to wake up for, and that it was airing somewhere within that zone of time in which I’d like to awaken. I might slap the snooze bar for BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP! but if my alarm clock told me I was just five minutes away from the start of “Unforgiven,” I’d be shaved, dressed, and on the sofa reading email before the title credits started.

    And there’s something to be said for “discovery” as opposed to “subscription.” I didn’t know that “The Apartment” was airing this morning. It was a fab way to start my day. But if I’d seen it in the program guide a few days ago and set up a recording, it might have sat on my DVR for a few days and then been deleted to make room for this week’s ninth repeat of “Project Runway.”

    Honestly! Some of you people are as bad as those PR reps who tantalize me with offers to set up an interview with someone “who can explain the significance of Apple’s revolutionary iPad mobile computer” to me.

  8. John Michl

    There’s got to be an app for that. Kind of a Netflix meets TiVo type of thing. A few years ago, we had a series 2 near the tail end of an extended warranty from Best Buy. The box had life-time service prepaid service. It needed repair and BB elected to replace it with the Series 3 HD model. TiVo actually transferred the service to the new box. For a few minutes I considered selling it on eBay (they were going for $750 with lifetime service at the time) and switching to cable DVRs. I returned the Cable DVR one week into the four week free trial. Once you go TiVo it is almost impossible to switch. Now we have five TiVos in the house (though three of them are older series 2 models.) But I digress.

    Both TiVo and Netflix publish APIs so smart folks can write apps for them. I have several on my iPod Touch. I also have a remote control app that communicates with the TiVo via wi-fi and can change channels and such. So…I just need someone to write an app that will look at my Netflix recommendations, scan the program guide to find something on my recommendation list, send the signal to change the channel and record, then sound the alarm to wake me up. I think it is doable.

    but a Netflix does an awesome job picking out movies for me based on my ratings. TiVo does

  9. DomBass

    I agree Andy. But I think you should check out EyeTV. I have a Mini that watches the schedule and records anything I’d like. Works using a user specified rule system like Mail.app’s rules, or Hazel’s.

  10. DomBass

    I only mention it because I use an applescript to wake me with a random recording! The other day it chose Firefly and I was up in a nanosecond! Ha ha, I’m a nerd!

  11. Isaac Church

    Just another reason I’m hoping to God that Apple will release a revampled AppleTV that’s based on the iOS, will allow developers to make apps for it, and is powerful enough to play 1080p video with surround sound.

  12. Andy

    Had stopped frequenting your part of the web as I was getting a bit bored reading about Apple updates and pixel pushing, then you come out with this piece of genius scribble and I feel guilty for relinquishing my regular spot in Ihnatko’s bar.

    I love it! Have a cheque for 100k to form the company and come back to me when we’re billionaires.

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