Mass Transit in Kansas City

June 6, 2008

I would love to be able to get from my home in the Northland to my job in Johnson County. I’d much rather have someone else drive and I’d be happy to read, listen to podcasts or watch videos. I’d love it, love it, love it.

The problem is that it’s just not possible. I checked out the Metro site this morning and had it find me the “shortest” route from Barry at North Oak to Metcalf at 105th. The result?

Your trip will take approximately 2h29 min. You have 2 transfer(s) and the total walking duration is +/- 19 min.

2.5 hours to get to work. That would require me to be at the bus stop at 5:30am to get to work by 8. And then – assuming I managed to catch a bus around 5pm, which may or may not be possible – I could be at home by 7:30.

My morning commute takes around 40 minutes during rush hour. For the sake of traveling on public transit I think I’d be willing to double that, so that would be an hour and 20 minutes. But two and a half hours? I just can’t quite do that.


DirecTV DVR Resolution

May 13, 2008

I just realized that I had never posted the final resolution to the DirecTV saga, a dramatic presentation in 3 parts.

Part One: Calling DirecTV numerous times and finally getting them to agree to send a technician to replace the unit, who showed up almost an hour late and without a replacement unit. So he said he would come back the next day, which would then be…

Part Two: A little over an hour after he had said he would arrive, someone from the technician’s scheduling company called to say that no, he couldn’t be there that afternoon and that he could maybe come out the next day. So then we had…

Part Three: In which my wife watched the DirecTV service technician pull up into our driveway and spend the next 30 minutes smoking cigarettes and drinking soda until she finally went outside to see what was going on, at which point the technician said, “oh, I didn’t think you were home.” An astute observation made without the need to actually ring the doorbell or call our home phone – who knew our technician was a precognitive mentalist?

At the resolution of Part Three we did actually replace our old DVR with a new one which seems to be functioning OK. To recap, my old HD20 was periodically freezing, not powering on at all and sometimes just showing a white screen (with audio) when playing HD content either off of the air or recorded on the DVR.

At this point I shall post my in-depth analysis of moving from my old, standard-definition TiVo powered DirecTV DVR to the new HD DVR.

Crap.

The TiVo unit was so much more user-friendly that it’s hard to describe the difference. Like a lot of well designed products, TiVo just worked. The HD20 DVR that we now have is more like taking my recording future into my own hands when creating a season pass…will it really record what I want? What if it changes times? What if it runs over a few minutes, like Lost seems to do all the time? What happens if a new episode shows up in the guide as a repeat, or vice versa? And where, oh where, are my suggestions?

I feel very, very lucky if I actually get the things recorded from DirecTV that I actually expect to see. Maybe I’m just being too critical, but it’s really made me rethink staying with DirecTV beyond the length of my new service contract. In retrospect I should have not stayed with them at all – to go to HD I probably should have gotten some CableCARDs from Time Warner and then installed a HD TiVo, but such is life.


A Rough Night – Part Deux

May 2, 2008

This afternoon the Kansas City Star reported that the National Weather Service says that one or more EF2-3 tornadoes touched down in the wee hours today in the Kansas City Northland. This begs a few observations:

1. I was quite wide awake at the time that these tornadoes touched down, and I’d probably attest to the fact that yes, they sounded like tornadoes. But…

2. We were told repeatedly through the evening that while “round two” of the storms coming overnight would potentially be severe, they WOULD NOT be tornadic. And…

3. There was no tornado watch OR warning for my immediate area during the time that the tornadoes touched down.

So let’s think about this.

A. Squall line storms can and do produce tornadoes, just less predictably than super-cells – and they are much harder to detect on radar. I would expect that the NWS would need a trained spotter confirmation to render a tornado warning during that type of storm, rather than the warnings they base on “hook echoes” seen during super-cell events.

B. If it is know that these type of storms can produce tornadoes, why wasn’t there a tornado watch for the remainder of the early morning hours, instead of ending at 1am as we were told during the 10pm news? Instead, why did we go to bed expecting the worst to be possibly high straight-line winds (which can of course be quite destructive) and potentially damaging hail?

The true irony of the past 24 hours is that the local TV affiliates preempted hours of programming (collectively) during prime time to follow tornadoes that largely didn’t cause any damage, but managed to give little to no indication to viewers that the real danger was coming in the overnight hours – probably because they themselves didn’t expect it.


You Have Failed Me For The Last Time, DirecTV

April 29, 2008

After waiting until around 6:45 tonight, we finally got a call from the local contract dispatcher for whatever company is supposed to be here installing my replacement DVR, complaining that they “don’t have the equipment,” that “their tech had too many other appointments” and that they’d like to be here first thing in the morning. We said, “no.” Hopefully they’ll come tomorrow afternoon instead, so this makes this THREE DAYS IN A ROW that one or both of us will be coming home early from work to meet:

– A technician who is apparently working for a company that can’t manage its work orders
– Somebody from a company that doesn’t carry HD DVR equipment that is ironically in stock and highly available at the Best Buy not 5 minutes from my home

This is un-freaking-acceptable. I shall be having words with DirecTV when I finally get my DVR.


Fixing my DirecTV HD DVR – The Saga Begins

April 29, 2008

About 2 weeks ago we started having problems with our 2 month-old DirecTV HD DVR. I came home one afternoon to find the DVR frozen while apparently recording – the still image of some ugly woman was displayed on my screen, taunting me. That time all I had to do was press the little RESET button hidden under the front panel of the DVR and things seemed to be OK. The manual for the DVR indicated that this was what to do in those circumstances, so I didn’t think TOO much about it, but my spidey sense was tingling. Any piece of hardware that hangs up makes my skin crawl.

A few days later the unit did the same thing, but was frozen while in standby mode – there was no image on the screen but the DVR had been recording something while in standby, probably Letterman. This time the reset did nothing – I had to unplug the unit to get it to reset. My spidey senses were blazing, so I called a somewhat helpful person at DirecTV and explained my problem. They had me go ahead and do another reset, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but NO HD signal! I could watch both recorded and live “standard” definition content, but when I tried to watch live OR recorded HD content all I got was a white screen from the DVR, and the DVR never actually changed resolution on the signal (my TV displays the resolution when changing). This was not happy. The customer service rep had me do ANOTHER reset, and this time the HD content – both live and pre-recorded – was visible. This time I was nervous and said I’d really like to have someone look at the unit. She talked me into waiting to see if the problem happened again. I was a FOOL to listen to her.

A few days later, the same problem – frozen solid. This was last Thursday around 6:45 PM. I didn’t wait to call DirecTV – I went forward with an unplugging and TWO resets, then called DirecTV with my beef. This time the service rep told me to unplug the receiver, then unplug the satellite inputs from the DVR, then re-plug the satellite inputs, then re-plug the power supply. WHAT? I openly laughed at the guy – if the unit has no power at all, how will unplugging the coax cables from the satellite make any difference? He mumbled something and told me to call back if it didn’t work.

The unit failed again in less than 90 minutes – dangerously close to LOST time! This time I wasn’t taking no for an answer, and explained the problems to the DirecTV person while telling her that we needed a new unit. These constant resets weren’t solving anything. She agreed and scheduled a service tech to come out between 4pm and 8pm on Monday (yesterday), and promised they’d bring a new DVR. On Saturday their automated service called to confirm the time for the repair, which we said was fine. Jen and I both left work a little early so we could be home with TJ by 4pm.

8pm came and went and no service tech arrived. I called DirecTV, fuming, asking where their tech was. They said they tried to call the dispatch company but their office was closed – so DirecTV apparently has no way to communicate with their techs in the field when they are on service calls. They said I could either reschedule the call or wait until I was no longer able to and then call back and reschedule. I said I’d wait until 9 – and JUST before 9, the tech showed up.

The tech walked down to the DVR and pressed the power button – after I told him it wouldn’t work – and saw that it wouldn’t turn on. Then he looked to see that the unit was plugged in. Then he looked at me and said, “you need a new DVR.” I said, “yes, that’s why I asked that they send one with you.” Then he said, “I don’t have any on my truck.”

NICE. The guy showed up late without the item I had specially asked for and had been promised we could be bringing. I kind of wondered – why show up at all?

So he said he could come back today between 5 and 6pm, bringing a new DVR. So I’m about to leave work early – again – to pick up TJ and meet him at the house. Hopefully this will all fix the DVR issue, but I’m planning on calling 1-800-DIRECTV back once all this is done and demanding a pretty hefty credit. I’ve had no HD or DVR for over a week, have taken off of work early TWICE to meet a tech that didn’t even come with the equipment requested the first time, and am just about mad enough to seriously consider switching over to Time/Warner CableCARDs with TiVO Series 3.


Mac Gaming == Fail

April 13, 2008

Since buying my iMac last fall, I made a valiant effort to try to use it – in OSX – as a gaming machine. I’ve been playing Age of Empires III on the Mac for the last several months now, and the experience was less than optimal. The problem was that I didn’t really know what I was missing until this morning.

I visited Age of Empires Heaven and noticed that they had posted a screencast of a particular strategy, and with nothing better to do I thought I would watch and learn. While I learned a good deal about the strategy at play, I learned a lot more about how much better the AOE3 experience is on a PC than on a Mac. It was markedly better – so much so that I went out today and picked up the full AOE3 suite for Windows, and installed in in my Boot Camp Vista partition.

The game experience for AOE3 in Vista – still on my Mac, but in Boot Camp – is SO MUCH BETTER that it is hard to describe. Game slowdowns? None. Graphics corruption? Nada. Tinny sound? Yes, but I think that’s a Vista/Boot Camp problem and not really the fault of AOE3.

The lesson I’ve learned from this experience is that OSX is just not a gaming platform. I don’t think that this is the fault of OSX so much but rather is the fault of the people that take these games and “convert” them to Mac OS. From what I’ve read in online game forums the products just aren’t that good, and I’m here to say that I’ve played both on the same machine – in different OSes – and Windows wins.


SharePOINT!!!!!!

April 8, 2008

Oh, how I hate you, Sharepoint. So, so much.

I’ve had nothing but problems with Sharepoint since the 2003 version. And I can’t say that it’s all Sharepoint’s fault. I probably just don’t know what I’m doing wrong, and it seems like we’ve had the three stooges of the Sharepoint contracting community in here to do things.

Our Sharepoint 2003 implementation was actually pretty stable, but for some dumb reason it used our domain account for the SQL Server Agent in some critical areas. It managed to plug along without any real problems, but we never really used it for more than a document repository.

Then along comes MOSS. We decided to upgrade in conjunction with our switch to Microsoft CRM 3 last summer. BIG MISTAKE. Not because of MOSS per-se, but because we couldn’t find anyone competent here locally to help us. One guy essentially disappeared in the middle of the project, and the next one decided to do a reinstall using his own domain account instead of any of the service accounts created for him. In addition, they both managed to completely under-spec the installation, leaving us with a solution that was hobbled due to a bad service account reference AND could hardly crawl its own content.

I found another Sharepoint resource and recommended it to our company as someone who could help reimplement our MOSS farm “for realz,” but the cost ended up being too high for our budget. It was too bad, because I’m certain those folks would have kicked butts and taken names. Luckily we did get some very good training in the process of trying to “smarten ourselves up” about Sharepoint, and we found a local person (a former employee) who was able to do what we needed.

So we have rebuilt our MOSS farm into a 3-server structure – one for front end, one front end for crawling and indexing and a back-end for the database. We have around 120gb of content in MOSS so far and it’ll just keep growing. Hopefully this reimplementation will work out, but as of right now I’m trying to determine if our interfacing systems – including the aforementioned CRM – can cope with the new MOSS structure. Right now CRM seems to be barfing in our custom callout that seemed to work in Staging, so I’m not certain what the problem is. Hopefully the developer will be able to get that fixed so that QA can finish and we can all go to bed…but that may be wishful thinking.

The problem is that I think MOSS is a really cool technology, and if leveraged properly it could really improve our ability to collaborate and interact. I just hope that our most recent iteration will work out – maybe the third time will be the charm.