Tag Archives: Cable

My DVR is full and I don’t care

My DVR has been about 96% full all summer. I recorded the last two weeks of Letterman shows, and the first week of Colberts (plus the Tim Cook interview), and set them to never auto-delete. Verizon, bless its heart, sends me an email with my monthly statement that says “We know you’re suffering and we wanted to reach out our helping hand, in the form of a DVR upgrade.”

The thing is that I haven’t really noticed a problem. Just a few years ago, zero free space would have required immediate attention (like that spot on the housing of my toaster oven that gets a little meltier every time I use it; thanks for reminding me, I’ll put that on the list as well). Having to do without it has illustrated that I don’t really need it any more.

The difference at this point in 2015 is that the final few holdout shows that I watch have become available on-demand…and I can watch everything on the screen of my choice. I’m watching last night’s “Project Runway” (the kid’s edition) (look, any version of PR hosted by Tim Gunn is worth watching) (seriously) on the good TV in the living room, via the Lifetime app. PBS has upgraded its streaming app. I still watch “Antiques Roadshow” on Monday nights because that’s my habit, but I’m not even aware when anything else airs. “South Park,” “The Simpsons,” and “Bob’s Burgers” have been on Hulu forever.

CBS (“Late Show,” “Big Bang Theory,” “The Amazing Race,” “Mom”) was the only real problem. Full episodes were available if you visited CBS.com from a browser, which wasn’t great for casual sofa viewing. Then CBS All Access appeared. Should I spend six bucks a month for it? Maybe, given that it’ll serve about thirty hours of monthly programming that I look forward to every week. Even if I cheapskate out on that, the CBS channel on Roku offers those shows for free…and without commercials, even.

It’s a little miraculous. I spent a week in LA recently. Ten years ago, I would have spent my last night at home playing a six-dimensional game of “Sophie’s Choice,” deciding which shows I’d forego recording to ensure that there’d be space for others. Then I set up a Slingbox, and could watch this stuff from my hotel room.

This year, though, the thought of missing out on TV didn’t even enter my mind. I was looking forward to the final episode of the terrific “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having” on PBS, set to air on the Monday night of my trip. Yup, I watched it via streaming on Tuesday. And if I’d missed it, PBS would have been happy to spool it for me after I got home.

So what keeps me subscribing to cable? Nostalgia?

I used to say “Well, ‘Turner Classic Movies’.” But I can get that from a Sling.com subscription.

Even my desire for cable programming is hanging by a thread. If I went cold turkey — no TCM, no Lifetime, no Food Network — I’d miss seeing some of my favorite shows, for sure, but the original programming on Netflix et al is outstanding. To say nothing of how much I look forward to new YouTube videos posted by Tested or Ben Heck

Sometimes, when we decide to make even a minor lifestyle adjustment, we try to engineer a “nothing but upside” solution. That can prevent us from considering options that are overall positive, but require a cut or two. I changed my cable lineup a few years ago and was miffed when I discovered that the new, less-expensive package did not include BBC America, despite what the customer service rep assured me. But by the time I got around to getting it straightened out, I’d gotten over not seeing Graham Norton or Top Gear.

(I like “Doctor Who.” I’ve only been an intermittent viewer, though. I generally just buy the Christmas episodes.)

I think I’ll be keeping my basic subscription, if only to retain access to streaming apps (which require verification of a cable package). But I’m going to take a good look at my cable package again. And, as profoundly weird as this might seem…I might return all of my cable boxes.

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.”