hold music and AppleTV
Tuesday, April 7 2020
Today was sunny and warm, not a great day to spend on hold talking to communications companies. But that's largely what I did.
Starting yesterday, I tried to begin the process of transferring our household landline from Verizon (where comes in the form of an actual pair of thin copper wires, a technology well over 100 years in age) to Spectrum (where the phone line is an application that runs on top of the the internet, reachable with a traditional phone jack in the cable modem box). I soon ran into problems, since our household phone line is in Gretchen's name and the new Spectrum service is in my name, and for the transfer to be easy, the names must be identical (or so I was told). So today I tried to transfer the Spectrum account to Gretchen's name, a process that took numerous calls and lots of time listening to hold music. Had the Spectrum employees known what was required of me, this all might've gone easily. But everyone I talked to had a slightly different idea for how to solve my problem and nobody seemed to be familiar with the fact that Spectrum cable modems produce a phone line (even though this is an advertised feature). After spending lots of hold time waiting to talk to a Spectrum guy who thought all I needed to do was add Gretchen to my Spectrum account, I learned that all he had done was add her first name, even though I'd told him her first and last name. Apparently he was living in some picket-fence version of America where women always take their husbands name, and I when I heard from the next person I talked to that this had happened, I was thrown briefly into a rage and said, "This is 2020, and women don't necessarily take their husbands' names!" But then I immediately calmed myself down (because the person I was now talking to was not the one who had fucked up). This new person seemed to think that the only solution to my bureaucratic problems was to go to a Spectrum office and fill out some forms to make a complete transfer of the account. That seemed absurd, particularly given the state of the world. "We're in a pandemic!" I reminded her. She said she could mail me the necessary forms to fill out (since it's still the 1970s in the relevant office of Spectrum, there were no PDFs I could just print out). But I'd still have to get them notarized. In a pandemic. So then I thought it would be easier to transfer the Verizon phone service to my name, since that would also make the names on the accounts match. A call to Verizon revealed that the landline account had actually been in my name the whole time.
A later to call to Spectrum resulted in my being on hold for a very long time only to learn that "due to high call volume" I was being disconnected. Click!
Eventually I did managed to reach someone with some competence at Spectrum and it turned out that the names didn't have to match after all; all they needed was my Verizon PIN, which Gretchen was able to provide. Gretchen was so impressed by this woman that she went on to transfer her cellular service from Verizon to Spectrum as well, and even let them sell her a new Android-based cellphone. Had I been there, I might've been able to stop her from doing this, but I was not. And Gretchen has a predisposition to discount my expertise in things that salespeople are selling.
While I was dealing with Spectrum and Verizon, I wasn't getting all that much work done. Instead, I kept tinkering with my Weathertron weather station, which has been acceptably stable for quite awhile now. I wanted to make a backup of the microSD card that it boots from so that I would have a good place to start from if I want to build another weather station or the the card gets corrupted. I actually wanted to have a way to plug in a thumb drive to back up the card that way any time I wanted to, but that required removing the Weathertron from its perch and opening it up. Inevitably, something about doing that did something to the rat's nest of wires inside and made it unreliable once more. It had particular problems reading the humidity sensor. I'd get everything working nicely, reinstall it, and then about a minute later it would get stuck in an endless loop trying to read the humidity, and I'd have to take it down and take it apart again. Eventually I got it working reliably again, but this required soldering physical wires onto the DHT22 sensor (whose pins are far too thin) and then actually swapping that DHT22 with a different one. I'd taken 120 milligrams of pseudoephedrine this morning, which made working on the Weathertron feel a little like a "crackhead project."
In addition to the internet we get from Spectrum, we also get all of the television we used to get via satellite through the same cable (running as an internet application). In the mail this afternoon came the AppleTV box that does the work of turning internet communication into television signals. It didn't take long to set up, but it didn't take long to know I would hate it. It came with a sleet little remote whose top part included an unlabled clickable trackpad intended for navigation. My feeling about devices like this is that all their functions should be provided in clickable buttons so one can feel where to go in a dark room. The trackpad was also an infuriating mix of overly sensitive and unresponsive. A small gesture often overshot the desired screen position, while if one clicked on some object for which actions weren't permitted, the remote seemed unresponsive. It would've been much better had it provided some token feedback that a gesture or click had been received even if nothing could be done. I told Gretchen this new system would take some getting used to.
At dinner time, we tried to use the new AppleTv to do one of the few things Gretchen and I like to do at the same time with our teevee: watch Jeopardy!. But just navigating to Jeopardy! was a challenge in the overly-responsive-but-also-slow user interface provided. Once we got to Jeopardy!, episodes were listed in a long weirdly-sorted jumble, with many dated to some time in the future. Nothing much in this list was clickable, and the only thing we could do was get a live broadcast of Jeopardy! to suddenly appear on screen right in the middle of a game we would've rather not had spoiled for us. Obviously this wasn't what we wanted; we wanted to start it from the beginning. I'd just assumed that, it being 2020 and all, the technology would be able to retrieve old episodes from a server somewhere for us to stream at will, thereby avoiding the need for local planning or storage (in the form of DVR). But no, this new service seemed to live in the perpetual now. Having had DVR technology since 2004, the idea of being forced to watch television live didn't just seem like a huge regression into the bad old ways of the past, it also seemed absurd. If forced to choose between watching teevee live and not watching it at all, we'd probably not watch it at all. Maybe there is a solution to this problem in the Spectrum app in our AppleTV, but whatever it is, it wasn't obvious. Compared to the intuitive way the DVR for our now-canceled Dish Nework had worked, this new system is an infuriating slap in the face.
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