Comcast and TiVo woes - another year, another box, more issues

I thought I'd upgrade to a TiVo Bolt from the Premiere XL. Here's what's happened, so far:

  1. Bolt arrived, video borked, requested RMA and replacement
  2. Second Bolt arrived, paired the M-Card, but no Live TV (dreaded v52 error)
    • Called Comcast, they scheduled a visit a couple of days later
  3. Comcast tech arrived, but couldn't see Live TV either; tried a second M-Card, but no joy; suggested I call TiVo
    • Called TiVo, they said the card wasn't paired, needed to see "AUTH"
    • Called Comcast, they said the card reader was not functioning
    • Called TiVo, they said that because the card id and serial number were visible onscreen, that the card reader was ok
    • Called Comcast, they sent a stronger signal; no joy; they sent signals to the headend; no joy; they said they'd send a new M-Card
    • New Comcast bill arrived with a charge for the new/second M-Card
  4. Comcast card arrived; paired the M-Card, but no Live TV (still the dreaded v52 error)
    • Called Comcast; tried all the things; no joy


The cabling is ok, because the Premiere XL works well, so moving the coax directly from the old box to the new should be fine, right?

Research mode

According to the internet, there's either no signal or too much signal. On the assumption that the signal is too strong, I added a couple of splitters. No joy. Actually no difference in S/N ratio. Even with NO CABLE CONNECTED, SNR reads between 9-21db.


I checked the DVR Diagnostics for each and found that:

Premiere XL

  • Signal - 83%
  • Signal lock - Yes
  • Program lock - Yes
  • SNR - 36db
  • QAM - 256


  • Signal ---
  • Signal lock - No
  • Program lock - No
  • SNR - 9-15db
  • QAM - 64 or 256

Is it the TiVo?

UPDATE - Jan 19

Contacted TiVo by phone, another hour gone, was given the advice that unfortunately, Comcast needs to send a better signal, because the Bolt is reporting what the card sees, and it doesn't see an AUTH. this point, I lost my mind...

Calmly, I asked for a supervisor, who, thankfully agreed that this was above and beyond, and that they'd send a new Bolt. 

Now anxiously awaiting the replacement. 

On Comcast and Netgear

Last year, like many of you, I got a message from Comcast to upgrade my cable modem from a DOCSIS 2.0 to a 3.0 model, to support their new infrastructure. I purchased the only cable modem available at my local electronics store, the Netgear CMD31t. 

Ever since then, internet service has been behaving erratically. Either it would slow down to 5Mbps from the expected 20-25Mbps, or it would reset for no reason, and not come back up. Again. And again. To resolve it, I'd have to unplug the cable modem and the wireless router, wait 30+ seconds, then plug them back in, in the right order. Usually, after doing this once or twice, everything worked again.

When nothing worked, I'd call Comcast, and they'd insist that there was no problem with the line, and that there was no need to check the line quality, that the problem was with my equipment. I'd have to schedule an appointment and take the time off from work. The tech would show up and they'd charge me $50. 

The first time, the tech replaced the coax cables in the house, saying that would resolve the issue. The next time, the tech replaced the splitter, saying that the new infrastructure had sensitivity to the older splitters, and that this would solve the problem. The last time, the tech explained that the recent rain was the issue, so he replaced all the connectors on the exterior of the house (Comcast tried to charge me for that one, too - $70).

Since the holidays, I've had to do a full reset to the cable modem every week. Sometimes it wouldn't power up until I called Comcast and got them to send a reset signal from their side. 

I finally contacted Netgear by email, who happily walked through a series of troubleshooting steps, from asking about the serial number and purchase date, to requesting that I try a different power outlet. They concluded that the CMD31t required a firmware update.

Tonite, I called Comcast to request that they do an update. What was I thinking?

After 10 minutes, it was clear that the agent had no understanding of the issue and no ability to help, but was determined not to escalate the call. 

Me: No, I'm not calling about a router. No, my wireless is fine. No, the cable modem is *my* equipment. No, it's working now, but it keeps breaking - can't you see that from my last five calls?

I finally found the right combination (time/re-stating the issue/frustration) to get the tech to agree to escalate the call. After 15 minutes on hold, the tech came back to explain that someone would call me back to schedule an appointment for a service tech to visit the house and resolve the issue. Again, I explained that a firmware upgrade happens system-wide and is initiated from Comcast servers, not an in-house call.

Finally, I insisted, loud and long, that I needed to speak to someone who had a clue about firmware updates. Another 20 minutes and I got a new agent. Who did a check and explained that Netgear was incorrect and that a firmware update wasn't needed/possible/likely, *but* that it was clear that there was a problem on the line, and that the signal quality was the issue. 

OK, so not the answer I expected, but the agent assured me that, clearly, there was a signal problem, and my cable modem wasn't at fault.

New plan: take yet another morning off to await a service call, ever hopeful that this will finally be the last time I need to deal with this awful Comcast service model.

If anyone at Comcast is listening, the reason my Netgear experience was so pleasant was that I could send an email and get a response within a few hours. I didn't have to make a phone call or spend more than an hour with annoying muzak, the agent breathing into the mic, language barriers, translation errors, phone trees to navigate, waiting on hold, harsh squawking during a transfer, repeatedly reciting my name, address and SSN. Simply, Netgear didn't waste my time.

On change and productivity

Change is good. 

I like change. I like to try new things, but when well-intentioned designers change my default home page in my web browser because they think it will be more efficient for me, I'm less enthused. Yes, I'll give the new thing a try, but please give me the option to revert to the old setup. Quoting Jeremy Clarkson, "How hard can it be?"

Want to see what I mean? I used to get this lovely, simple page when I opened a new tab in Google Chrome. It had the apps I like and use most often (Mail, Calendar and Evernote). The placement never changed, and I could pin new pages easily.

When the home page changed late last year and this option disappeared, I was glad to find this workaround, which restored the apps page as my home page.

And I was happy with the fix, until recently, with the latest Google Chrome update, it's gone. In the new design, I have to click the checkerboard icon to get to apps. And somehow, every time I open this apps icon, the apps are in a different place! I work spatially, so when you touch my stuff, I get frustrated. And it doesn't allow me to add apps.

I have no choice but to go back to an old standby: Incredible Startpage extension.

Yes the design is old-timey web stuff, but functionally, it does what I want, and for my productivity and peace of mind, that's what's important.

Catastrophic Wi-Fi iPhone Fail

My trusty iPhone 4S has lost its mind - it's like it's had a lobotomy. 

After months of grumbling about Wi-Fi quality, it finally dawned that the only time there was an issue, it was with the iPhone. Not the computer. Not the iPad. The iPhone. 

The Apple Genius Bar folks say that it's a hardware thing, that for some "unknown reason", a wire is loose. And since the phone is past warranty, but not yet eligible for a (subsidized) upgrade, I'm stuck. With a 4G, non-Wi-Fi phone. 

The little switch isn't even working. 

Mental Fatigue and Attention Restoration

As a contractor, my space is not usually my own. Not that most of my clients don't go out of their way to make me feel welcome in their offices - they do - it's just that I often play musical chairs, bumping from desk to desk as new folks are assigned permanent seats.

Like many technical writers, I'm particular about the ergonomics of my space. I tend to bring my own keyboard and mouse to work, and it can take a bit of adjustment to arrange the display and tweak the chair to give good support.

Reading this FastCo article, I'm reminded of the creative boost I get when I take a visual break; for a few moments, my mind wanders, making random connections to solve the problem in front of me. The best way to do that is to have something interesting/relaxing/nature-filled in front of me.

Most of us don't have the luxury of a window with a view. Adding a bit of greenery on your desk is an easy, effective way to enhance your productivity, raise your spirits and improve focus. Here's to a good new habit for 2014!

In search of Mac apps (from a primarily PC user)

Over the years, most of my employers were PC houses, with creative folks grudgingly allowed their Macs, if and only if they could justify the need. Microsoft Office apps ruled my day, along with all the Adobe tech comm tools, and it all worked - I was content with the familiar, but slightly envious of the bouncy, happy Mac users.

Recently, though, I’m in a house of Mac, and it’s been quite a ride (re-learning keyboard shortcuts makes my fingers feel schizophrenic). Because most of my work is web-based (wikis and help systems), I use Google apps on the rare occasion when email won’t do. Overall, I like OS X much more than Windows (in any flavor).

It’s been easy enough to find text editors to replace Notepad++ (, or TextMate are good), but for quick note-taking, I missed the speed and organization of OneNote. I tried Evernote, because I use it extensively for personal note taking, but somehow, it just didn’t feel right for work stuff. And while Google docs is great, I’m not always connected, so I wanted a local app (Google Drive notwithstanding).

All of which led me to nvALT - a text editor that makes it easy to create and find notes. New to me, this app is a fork of Notational Velocity, a popular Mac app (TechCrunch calls it a cult favorite). I can see why - I'm now a big fan.

nvALT features I can’t live without: 

  • inter-note links (yay - a wiki just for me!)
  • view and search all the notes, a la OneNote - all the notes are visible, open and searchable, all the time
  • write in Markdown, with simultaneous preview (or html)
  • export to PDF
  • tagged notes

Kudos to Lifehacker for another great recommendation!

Shine On

Recently, a couple of friends were showing off their new activity trackers - the Misfit Shine. Those of you who know me know that I'm not into exercising; you'll never see me at the gym, but if I happen to get a bit of a workout doing something I enjoy, so be it. 

That said, I had to have one - I was intrigued by the Shine's sleek, lightweight design and how easily I was lured into paying attention to how much I walk each day. This is not your father's tacky, old plastic pedometer!

Instead, the Shine is a subtle accessory, worn on the wrist or clipped to your clothing, silently tracking your movement until you sync with your iPhone - then the lovely app shows how you're doing, in steps, calories and miles, which display in a daily or weekly point graph. You can set milestones and activity types, and it even tracks sleep/deep sleep periods. 

I like that there's no social aspect to this app, just a clean interface that can evolve over time, to monitor and track healthful metrics. It doesn't hurt that the physical design is so beautiful - a small, lightweight matte aluminum disk with mirrored edges, about the size of a quarter that snaps into a black silicone band. I'm sold - walking for exercise is now fun!

Misfit Shine

Adventures in Translation

A while back, I was given this description as part of a functional spec:

"For the fields which are created automatically when an object is created, the field property will be the property configured in the Field Visibility if the Field Visibility is other than Visible"

It has a kind of poetry to it, don't you think?

After playing with the app, and talking to the engineer who wrote the spec, it turned out that what he meant was: "Inherited field visibility."

(a rock - the most zen thing I had in my garden)

The Zen of Zendesk

Zendesk is cool - just had to say that up front - it's COOL. This customer support platform offers both user help ticketing and a self-service web portal, and it's one of the most powerful and easy-to-configure tools I've used in quite a while.

OK, you say, but why do you care so much? I care, and you should too, because everything is customer support. EVERYTHING. 

After your product or service is launched and out in the world, every(!) user experience, good or bad, is a potential tweet, blog or Facebook post away from millions of sympathetic souls, ready to pile on the cheers or jeers.

I believe that web-based self help is one of the best models for effective customer support. Admittedly, some products will always need phone-based help, but to my mind, we're all too busy to spend time on hold, waiting for an agent to walk through a canned script, only to discover that the agent doesn't have the information and you find yourself on hold again, until someone with the more experience becomes available. Argggh!

And, while traditional forums have their place, fully customer-created help isn't always the most effective solution for every product or service. It can take as much time to moderate helpful user-provided help than it does to build a knowledge base in the first place.

Why Zendesk? Simple: it's easy to use, and out of the box, Zendesk just works. No need for extensive customization or design - in a few minutes, you can set up a free trial account and immediately have a functional help ticketing system that automatically tracks user requests. And, as fast as you can create knowledge base articles, you can publish them.

Or, if your support model is forum-based help, that's built in as well: fourms can be article-based (curated knowledge base), idea-based (new feature requests) or question-based (traditional forum where members offer help and advice).

When you create your site, it's pre-configured so your customers can:

  • create an account (at
  • create and submit help tickets, view ticket status/history
  • search your knowledge base to find help and advice
  • comment on existing articles and engage with other customers to solve issues
  • participate in your newly-created community

If you're ok with simple branding (logo, favicon and color selection), you're good to go. (Additional branding is easy via CSS/JavaScript widgets).

Previously, I used Remedy and Oracle/RightNow to build user help knowledge bases, and it always took weeks (or months) to set up, and required the additional cost of a professional services team to complete the implementation. Yes, these solutions may offer more powerful features, and some organizations may require all the bells and whistles, but for many of us, this "good enough" tool is a great middle ground.

Besides, you gotta love a company that does this: S**t Customer Support Agents Say