Thu, 25 Aug 2005

Car Quandry

As many readers know, I'm a huge VW/Audi nut. My trusty Passat's lease is coming due in March, and I'm starting to weigh my options. What might my next car be (if not the Passat)? It's a pretty decent car. It has SUV utility with a huge cargo area, it gets just under 30mpg, and has V6 AWD power.

But there are political and environmental considerations that make me question if 30mpg is really good enough. Yet, there are no vehicles from Audi that provide better than 30/30 mpg of fuel economy. The closest is the Audi A3, and it's borderline at 25/31 mpg. As for VW, they only get into the 30+ range with the variety of diesels they offer in the Golf, Beetle, and Jetta lines. Without a hybrid strategy in the US market, and a meager offering of options, the German automakers are ceding the US fuel economy vehicle market to makes like Honda and Toyota.

Yet fuel economy is only one facet of the ideal vehicle I look at. One feature I tend to appreciate a lot is the sure-footed traction provided by full time all wheel drive. Combine a diesel with AWD, and you end up with exactly zero vehicles available in North America for the brands (and prices) I typically would be inclined to buy.

Audi? No luck with Audi bringing the A4 3.0 TDI Quattro to the US (even so, MSRP is north of $50K).

VW? Sadly, no Golf GT TDI 4Motion or Passat 3.2 V6 4MOTION DSG for the US.

BMW? No announcements to bring the 530xd (pictured) or any other diesel to the US.

Mercedes? Well, they ship the E320 CDI, but alas, no 4MATIC AWD and it, like it's 530xd competitor, retails in the $50K range. (At least it gets 27/37mpg and does 0-60 in 6.6 seconds!)

To be fair, Honda and Toyota don't offer AWD systems on their hybrids, and this isn't altogether surprising considering the extra battery and transmission weight that such a vehicle would have to contend with. In fact, it can be safely assumed that few, if any, cars in North America perform better than 30mpg and offer AWD for this reason.

So perhaps AWD, at least in this generation of vehicles, is incongruous with fuel economy. Yet even when I lower the bar on fuel economy, I still don't end up with affordable AWD makes from the German automakers. The least expensive options are the Audi A4 2.0T Quattro, BMW 325xi, and Mercedes C280 4MATIC, and all tip the scales > the $30K mark.

Dropping below the $30K mark leaves only the Jetta, Golf, Beetle, and A3, none of which are currently offered in an AWD configuration. At this point, it starts to come down to the utility of the vehicles, since they all share the same basic family of platform and engine technologies.

My test drive of the A3 Sportback left me impressed with DSG, and it's very reminiscent of driving a Corrado. On the down side, the gas mileage isn't stellar, and the price can push just below $30K comfortably equipped. On the plus side, with the A3 you also get the utility of having a hatchback.

The Golf offers hatchback utility, but no DSG. Meanwhile the New New Jetta isn't offered in a wagon configuration, which means to get a DSG means no hatch. And the Beetle only offers the meager selection of TDI.

So, unless VW will ship the Jetta wagon with DSG, TDI, and (keep your fingers crossed) 4Motion, it seems I'm going to have to make some sort of compromise because I'm not going to see a sporty, economical, inexpensive, German, AWD vehicle shipping in the US by March 2006.

And, faced with that reality, perhaps I ought to cast a wider net, and take a closer look at the likes of the Prius, Civic, Accord (hybrids, naturally), and the Smart fortwo (assuming it gets released in North America beyond Canada). If I'm not particularly impressed, I might just keep the Passat-- after all, the only things missing in the Passat equation are the lack of super fuel economy and less than exhilirating performance-- both of which seem like minor inconveniences considering the alternatives have their own drawbacks.

Name/Blog: Rus
Title: You Can Stop Hugging That Tree Now
Comment/Excerpt: If you're next car isn't the 414-hp Audi RS 4, then I'm not sure I'll be able to respect you any longer. cheers.

Name/Blog: Ricardo
URL: ricardo_khan at_sign
Title: Answer
Comment/Excerpt: Audi TT. Gotta love it.

Name/Blog: Khan
Title: No TT for me.
Comment/Excerpt: The TT fails just about all of the litmus tests I mentioned. First, it's got relatively lousy fuel economy. Second, it costs more than $30K in the least expensive configuration, and with Quattro or DSG, it's well above $37-40K. Third, it has even less utility (as measured by cargo space) than even an A4 sedan. So unless Audi has plans to ship a TT with a 2.0TDI Quattro, and keep the price under $30K, I guess I'll be waiting for a Golf or Jetta wagon with TDI+4Motion+DSG.

Name/Blog: Adam Monsen
URL: adamm at_sign
Title: TDI and loving it
Comment/Excerpt: I recently got a 2002 Jetta TDI Wagon and am extremely pleased. Although I painfully miss AWD/4WD, running on biodiesel is pretty cool.

Sat, 20 Aug 2005

Everything Is Going Swimmingly

It's been quite a journey to get to this point. I've spared you, gentle reader, from the gory details, as I think I doubted that this day would ever come, but my swimming pool is finally operational.

The journey started over a year ago, when we discovered that the previous owner had not winterized the pool. This, at a minimum would have required "shocking" the pool with chlorine, and vacuuming out the pipes or treating them with non-corrosive alcohol to prevent freezing. Result: A murky yucky pool with all sorts of critters, algae and other "gunk" growing in it, with no ability to operate the filter or pump since the PVC pipes were totally broken.

The pool was so utterly disgusting, the only reasonable approach was to purge the pool of the gunk, which I accomplished with a standard garden water feature pump (~$20 at your local hardware store) and wet/dry vac (~$125 at your local hardware store). So after vacuuming out and cleaning the pool, it was time to fix the PVC pipes (~$10 for replacement PVC pipes and PVC glue). I also used this opportunity to buy a Dremel (~$70 at the local hardware store) to cut and shape the pieces to my needs.

With all the pipes re-fit, it was time to test my plumbing work, so I started to run some water through the skimmer into the pump, through the filter and into the heater. Alas, it turns out, the pipes were not the only thing that had cracked! Apparently, there pump filter housing had also cracked right down the middle, in the most invisible spot, so now, it was time to start calling around to the various Jacuzzi supply stores to try and identify the perfect part for my particular pump, which, of course, ended its production run four years ago. Amazingly, the proper housing was located and shipped on the first try (~$50 for a pump filter housing, lid and o-ring).

With all the pipes and equipment working, we began to refill the pool. Within 24 hours, we were unpleasantly surprised to find out that the liner had a leak. So we fix the leak (vinyl patch kit ~$12 at your local pool supply store), but the water level continues to go down. We find and patch another leak, and the water continues to go down. We did that a couple times until a larger order magnitude problem arose.

Little did we know that once a vinyl above-ground pool is filled, it should always stay full of at least one foot of water, otherwise the vinyl liner will slip! And slip it did, and start to sag, and despite all our attempts to put together our humpty dumpty of a pool, all we ended up doing was tearing the liner to shreds. Had the cleanup of the pool, repair of the pipes, waiting for the pool filter housing not taken several weeks, we could have had a chance of keeping our existing liner. So that's how 2004 ended for our pool. We ended up draining it all the way, expecting to start anew next year, with a replacement liner and skimmer, and we'd be on our way!

When 2005 came around, we started looking for contractors to fix the liner. Western Washington, compared to say, Los Angeles, isn't exactly the pool capitol of the world. So in this area there is (count 'em) exactly one contractor who installs and repairs above-ground pools. And after taking a few minutes to examine our pool, he was convinced it needed to be ripped out. The liner was destroyed, and finding a replacement liner for our off-brand pool walls and towers wouldn't be easy, which, as he pointed out, the previous owner had addressed by badly cobbling together an incompatible skimmer with the liner with big ole beads of silicone all around the edge of the skimmer. The conclusion was that this pool had had a storied past before we came along, and it was about time to do it right.

In any case, it was time for the pool to come down, and we were faced with either ripping everything out, and planting some grass seed, or replacing the pool. Having bought the house with the expectation that we'd be swimming in our back yard, we were inclined to get the pool working again, particularly with what appeared to be a fully functional pump, filter, and gas heater awaiting a brand new pool.

Pardon the pun, but we took the plunge. Within three weeks of ordering the replacement pool, we chose to have a deep end excavated (queue up the contractor with the backhoe, which barely fit through the fence gate), the fill dirt hauled away (queue the second contractor with a tractor, and two guys with wheelbarrows), all the dirt cleaned up (and this was the excuse for the ~$100 1800 PSI Karcher pressure washer I picked up at the local hardware store), and the pool filled to the brim.

So today, we finished work on cleaning up the patio, and getting the gas pool heater furnace pilot light lit, and the chemical balance set. With a minor modification to the ladder (the old pool wall was 4" shorter), the only thing remaining to call the job "done" will be to affix the ladder semi-permanently to the pool wall (gotta leave something to do tomorrow), but an unstable ladder certainly wasn't going to stop me from taking a plunge into the 70 degree water today, what with the highs in the 80s today.

And, as the picture demonstrates, we finally got everything all working. I'm 99.9% happy with it, the remaining .1% consisting of landscaping around the edges, affixing the ladder, and tightening up a few hoses and gaskets to stem all the drip-drip-drip leaks around the various fittings. And while I initially questioned the idea of excavating a deep end (Christine was dead set on it), in the end I've got to admit she was totally right. If the whole pool was as deep as the shallow end, it wouldn't nearly feel like the pool it feels like now.

So who's interested in taking a dip? Drop me an email and I'll include you on the evite that's most likely going to be scheduled for next weekend! It's going to be a a lot of fun!

(P.S. Rus, happy belated birthday, even though you're just going to tease me about the fact that your daily swims don't require the use of a dremel, PVC pipes, pressure washer, wheelbarrows, or chlorine to accomplish. Yeah, yeah.)

Name/Blog: Rus
Title: It's All Good
Comment/Excerpt: It would be hard to swim a mile in your pool, but then... Pine Lake isn't heated. The water looks great, congratulations on your project's success!

Name/Blog: Christine
URL: chris at_sign
Title: D-I-R-T-Y lessons
Comment/Excerpt: What we learned about D-I-R-T: DIRT no one wants it, even if it's free unless you hand deliver it to a prospective back yard with your own ride and labor. Hauling off DIRT... hauling companies don't haul DIRT, they will haul anything you want but DIRT. One small 7-ft deep end causes a lot of DIRT...enough to fill half your patio with DIRT about 7-ft high 18-ft across and totally freak out your wife with the initial plan to "honey grab a shovel and lets move the DIRT into the front driveway" for pickup. But all ends well, becoming DIRT smart by hiring a landscape company to come remove the DIRT from the patio with 2 guys, 1 tracker, a 2 ton truck, 2 shovels, and 2 wheel barrows, on the weekend in 80 degree weather. (it took them 6 straight hours) But having this deep end definitely gives it that "not a wading pool" but a "cannon ball" deep pool feel.

Name/Blog: Barbara
URL: riney at_sign
Title: Splish Splash
Comment/Excerpt: It sure was a kick looking at your blog, photos of you and Christine, etc. The link to your happy, happy, wet face was cute! See you both soon. -- Barbara

Name/Blog: Morgan
URL: vegas4me1230 at_sign
Title: since when does a blog response get a title?
Comment/Excerpt: very nice khan. i'll have to come up and visit to go swimming sometime! you guys aren't that far away! and, oh yeah, I CAN DRIVE. its my birthday today, you know. and i passed my drive test.

Name/Blog: Jason
Title: Naughty
Comment/Excerpt: Pools like nice. I heard that you all quite an interesting time getting this pool installed. Too bad I only know hot tubs. Looks like we need to expand the 'Spa Doctor'.

Thu, 11 Aug 2005

XMLHttpRequest and Web Advertising

My friend Tim referred to a link at Marketing Vox which in turn refers to an article at TechWeb which has an ominous section called "The End of PageViews"... The jist of it is that AJAX will force "publishers, advertisers, Web analytics companies, and everyone else affected [...] to figure out another way"

That's a bit melodramatic, and I'll explain why.

First of all, just because you're using XMLHttpRequest (sorry, I just can't make myself use "AJAX" without thinking of some cleaning product) doesn't mean that you don't know what people clicked on. If you've ever turned on Live HTTP Headers or sniffed an Ethernet packet or two, you can clearly see the request that the browser is making back to the server for the additional content.

Conclusion: You still have your click-path data, it's just that now, the GETs from the clients are for XML docs, and your responses are text/xml rather than text/html. One (admittedly non-existent) problem addressed.

Secondly, to anyone who has actually programmed XMLHttpRequest, you are swimming in JavaScript code. This means that when you actually get the updated content from the server, it gives you the opportunity to call any old JavaScript function on the page-- including, critically, the option to "rotate" your ads... which, may I suggest, you simply use XMLHttpRequest to refresh?

Conclusion: Yes, XMLHttpRequest threatens to eliminate advertising inventory... unless you actually update the ad content using XMLHttpRequest itself! Brilliant? Or painfully obvious? You tell me.

Clicking a link results in not only updated content, but new ads as well-- and advertisers and publishers both have a common context in which to treat these XMLHttpRequest-delivered ads as new page views, new impressions just as they were before XMLHttpRequest robbed you of your "standard" pageviews... And, ironically, the heroic XMLHttpRequest comes to the rescue of the dastardly XMLHttpRequest.

So our clickstream and impression traffic remains viable, trackable, and bankable. But it gets better yet...

So far the scenario I've described is what I call "parity" revenue-- that is, by using XMLHttpRequest to switch out the ads whenever you switch out the content using XMLHttpRequest, you've reconciled the standard and begrudgingly accepted model of online advertising with the new model of updating dynamic content on the page.

But I think there is room for greater-than-parity revenue opportunities here, and the easiest way to point this out is to use the analogy of the rotating advertisements they have at sporting venues, or the lenticular style billboards, where, after a few seconds, the advertisement rotates... There's already a real-world analogue, which means that advertisers would "get it". And publishers with sticky content can show more than one ad per ad position per page.

I imagine the conversation between an Account Manager and an Advertiser would go something like this:
Advertiser: I'm looking to spend $500,000 on a 468x60 banner placement
Publisher: OK, I've got a $2 CPM placement available, which will give you 250 million impressions
Advertiser: Wow, I was hoping to get at least 300 million impressions
Publisher: Well, this is just a branding campaign right? I've got $1.50 CPM placements, but you'll be in rotation with another advertiser. Half the time, your ad won't appear, but you'll actually get 333 million impressions instead of 250!

Do the math... You can sell one advertiser one position at $500,000, or two advertisers in rotation on that same ad position for $666,666. That's a 33% increase in revenue. Not bad for a little JavaScript! Either way, far from the sky (literally) falling, publishers could be looking at parity or better revenue thanks to XMLHttpRequest.

Name/Blog: Tim
Title: Good points...
Comment/Excerpt: I think the original complaint was that, since you're not reloading the entire page, you'd miss out on seeing any more than the single advertisement that was loaded with the page. The thing that would probably make this easiest for the programmer is to have some sort of framework for doing the XMLHttpRequests that takes care of doing whatever is intended PLUS rotating the ad(s) on the page. On second thought, if you sold "partial" exposure ads, you probably would want to have those be timed rotations, or at least minimum-time rotations. For example, if my application includes a lot of click behavior, the ads on my page(s) would not be viewed very much, since they would always be rotating. If I include either a "60 seconds per ad" or "at least 30 seconds per ad" clause in my code, every single click won't make the ad reload.

Fri, 05 Aug 2005

It worked!

I'm now on TiVo OS 6.2-01-2-121.

Name/Blog: Pete
URL: pete-khan at_sign
Title: Series 1 or Series 2?
Comment/Excerpt: This is something that's been driving me crazy for a while. From what you've written and unless I've missed something, you've got a series 1 DirecTivo, right? I've got a series 2 dtivo and your directions didn't work at all and wouldn't work without me changing some things. *sigh* I think the biggest problem with VOIP and the series 2 dtivos is that you can't tell the dtivo's modem to slow down like you can the series 1 dtivos. I've also read that a usb modem might solve this problem.

Name/Blog: brian
URL: brian.morris at_sign
Title: Worked for me!
Comment/Excerpt: I've got one of the non wireless linksys with a DirecTivo (HDVR2)

Name/Blog: Tony
URL: butitta at_sign
Title: No Luck
Comment/Excerpt: I've tried all the suggestion on this page and still no success. I get stuck on the dialing step and get an error saying "Faled. Couldn't connect".

Name/Blog: Travis Gilbert
URL: travispgilbert at_sign
Title: Directv TIVO set-up
Comment/Excerpt: Thanks for the good gouge on setting up the Directv tivo over vonage. I was about to gouge my eyes out. I specifically ordered Vonage to use it with tivo, not realizing that it wouldn't work. I took a several tries with your information, but for some reason when I removed the *70 from the line-up it started working! I hadn't dialed in for 300 something days and the TIVO was getting slow. Do you know if this will also work for the HDTV Direct TIVO? I'm having one installed this weekend. Thanks again!!

Vonage + DirecTiVo = Headache

I'm reminded of a game I used to play as a young boy on long transatlantic flights. Having played Microprose's "F-15 Strike Eagle" on my Apple IIc, I was under the impression that I knew the basics of flying a jet, and would often imagine that the little lever that allows the tray table to be in the stowed position, was actually the flight controls of the 747 in which I was flying. I would "fly" the 747 by tweaking this little lever around as the plane banked this way and that, engaged in a childish fantasy that the flight controls had been routed from the cockpit to the tray latch in seat 19E.

This boyhood game has more to do with VOIP technology than you might think. Let's start with how VOIP works, in a nutshell. When you pick up your home phone, the dial tone you hear is coming from your Vonage box on your home network. When you dial the number you want to call, the number is encoded and sent over the Internet to the Vonage Internet network, where they determine what locale you're trying to call. With knowledge about what locale you're trying to reach, your Vonage device is connected to a Vonage-operated device in that locale, which has been provided with the number you originally dialed. This remote Vonage-operated device is connected to the standard "PSTN" (Public Switched Telephone Network), and completes the phone call, in that local area, as a local (i.e. effectively "free") call.

From then on, all the noises picked up by your phone are converted from analog sound waves into digital voice data which is encoded by your Vonage box on your home network, and sent over the Internet as 1's and 0's to that remote box in the locale you called, which ultimately decodes those 1's and 0's back into an analog sound wave sent over the last few miles of the PSTN network to your intended destination.

Compare this to one of the technologies of yesteryear, analog modem communications. By contrast, the modem is taking almost exactly the opposite approach. A modem is a way of using a standard POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) line to do digital communication. Your computer, for example, speaks 1's and 0's internally. But when it connects via a "dialup" call, it "modulates" the digital signal into an audio signal, which can then be transmitted over a phone line to another modem which will "demodulate" that audio data into 1's and 0's that it can itself understand natively.

It starts to get interesting when you combine these technologies. Not out of choice, mind you. People who buy Vonage service are looking to kick their crufty old RBOC (Regional Bell Operating Company, i.e. Qwest in my case) to the curb. And the geeky early adopters who'd sign up for Vonage are probably just that teensy bit more likely to also be somewhat ahead of the adoption curve on technologies like Satellite TV and TiVo too. Enter DirecTiVo, which, at least until recently, only shipped with the ability to get certain updates from the TiVo "mothership" over its built-in analog modem.

Perhaps you see where I'm going with this. If not, let me break it down thusly: A Linux-based TiVo box, which encodes its 1's and 0's as a modulated analog signal for delivery via a telephone line, dials a number in an area code over a simulated phone line which in reality is being proxied through an Internet gateway, which means it gets re-encoded into 1's and 0's again, gets delivered across the Internet as tiny little TCP/IP packets, gets re-assembled on the other end as a stream of digital bits, undergoes a digital to analog conversion into voice data, and is finally picked up by a modem on the other side, and undergoes a final analog to digital demodulation to complete the circuit.

And if that didn't make a whole lot of sense, it's nearly akin to making an European train with a 1m running gear operate on an American guage track 3ft. across using nothing but baling wire and popsicle sticks to build a mechanical coupling between the two. And if that didn't make sense, suffice it to say that "Vonage is from Mars, and DirecTiVo is from Venus".

Clear as mud so far? Great.

Well, after hours of troubleshooting (read: twiddling the tray table dial) I seemed to find a way to make it work (read: I am under the illusion that I'm actually flying the 747 from seat 19E).

First, however, I should tell you a little about my setup.
  • DirecTiVo: RCA DVR39
  • Linksys WRT54GP2; Firmware Version 1.28.00; Voice Version 3.1.3(LI) [find your version at http://192.168.your.iphere/Voice_Info.htm]
The key to making it all work is to fool your TiVo into dialing into a Manhattan phone number. I'm not sure why this is key. I'm guessing that Vonage's Internet network is low-latency and high quality of service between most points in the United States and New York, and so too, most likely, are most of our broadband connections. Couple that with high quality phone lines between the Vonage networks and the telephone company's central office in South Manhattan, and we've effectively got a few of the flight controls such that they'll be responsive to the tray dial in seat 19E. Since not all of us originally put the 212 area code into our TiVo's, we need to trick the TiVo box into using this number.

Another key is to make a "high quality" phone call by using the *99 prefix which I'm guessing tells your Vonage device "I'm going to make a data call, so don't use lossy compression like you would on a standard voice call".

You also want to tell your TiVo box to use "low band" communication with its modem, with a prefix like #096 (9600 bps), #019 (19,200 bps), #034 (34,800bps). The idea here is that in the encoding/decoding, the less modulation you do per second, the less likely one of the fragile links in this outrageous chain of technology is to break.

And finally, since you've slowed the data rate for communications waaaaaaaaaaaay down, your data calls are going to take much longer, which means you should also inform your Vonage device to turn off call waiting (code: *70), which would really be a bummer since an incoming call would impose an audible beep into your data call and cause the whole thing to fall apart somewhat unspectacularly.

This results in the following settings:
Dial Prefix: 12122773895
Call Waiting Prefix: *99,,*70,,#019,,
Phone Available: Off
Dial Tone Detect: Off
Now, I'm pretty sure the FAA would never allow any 747 to take off with it's flight controls, hydraulic lines and electrical systems wired into seat 19E. But so long as the pilots are known to be dead in the cockpit, everyone else on the flight is in mortified terror, and you're the only one who has the gumption to take any action, perhaps a little seatback rudder and stick action won't crash and burn every time your 747 comes in for a landing. In other words, your mileage may vary, but I've managed to make a few successful calls with this setup which enabled me to at least complete a test call whereas before I couldn't connect at all.

I'm still running TiVo version 3.1.1e01-2-121 as of this post -- stay tuned to see if I can stay connected long enough to complete a firmware upgrade with these settings.

Name/Blog: miah
Title: uhm, why?
Comment/Excerpt: Hi, You obviously have a decent internet connection since you have Vonage, so why not just spend $30 on a usb ethernet for your tivo and make it connect via tcp/ip? It's much more reliable and fast. -miah

Name/Blog: Khan
Title: Response: uhm, why?
Comment/Excerpt: A couple reasons... Getting Ethernet into my living room is nontrivial, and as far as going with the USB/802.11 route, that was what I was going to do if I couldn't get this to work. Also playing into my reluctance was the prospect that I might have to hack my TiVo to get it working. At that point, I'd probably dump the TiVo in favor of MythTV.

Name/Blog: Mike
Title: Possible wrong code in Call Waiting Prefix?
Comment/Excerpt: You are using *99, in your call waiting prefix, however that is a code that is specific to the Cisco ATA-186 adapter and you said you have a Linksys WRT54GP2, which I believe is based on the Sipura adapters. if so, then I think you will find that the correct codes to use are *027110, or *027111, to force the use of the G711u or G711a codec, respectively. I don't think that *99, is recognized by Sipura adapters, but I may be wrong. I will say that anyone who has a Sipura SPA-2000 and that uses VoicePulse rather than Vonage will almost certainly need to use either *027110, or *027111,

Name/Blog: Mike
Title: USB Ethernet with DirecTV
Comment/Excerpt: > Hi, You obviously have a decent internet connection since you have Vonage, so why not just spend $30 on a usb ethernet for your tivo and make it connect via tcp/ip? It's much more reliable and fast. Unfortunately this isn't supported with a DirecTivo without hacking it. There is a serial cable you can make or buy for the Tivo that allows a PPP serial connection to a PC to do Tivo updates over the internet. This works for me, but only for the Tivo software and not the DirecTV billing calls.

Name/Blog: POMP
Title: My TiVo / Vonage Saga
Comment/Excerpt: Here is my TiVo / Vonage Saga for anyone that's interested in trying a different method. It involves an external modem, a Stereo to Serial Cable, and a DB9 to DB25 Port Adapter. It has worked flawlessly for me for over a year.

Name/Blog: Jason
Comment/Excerpt: You might want to consider doing a firmware upgrade on the Linksys router. They are now up to version 4 or something with the firmware. It was rumored that a user could plug a USB wireless ethernet adapter into the Tivo box and obtain updates. Possible? Yes, if you have a Tivo Series II box. DirecTV uses it's own flavor of Tivo boxes so it isn't an option for us. The new Tivo's available from DirecTV (80 hours of recording) might be the Series II hardware and configuration. Mine is going to be installed tomorrow, so I will let you know. Now I need to be a smart ass. Never depend on one type of technology. VoIP just isn't there yet. Sure Comcast offers enough bandwith in theory to support the load, but since the upload speeds are controlled, Vonage can have reduced voice quality. Let's say the broadband connection goes down? We all hate it, but it does happen. Now you are SOL with your phone. Stick to a simple POTS line for making your calls. If you want to make long distance calls or something, maybe consider Skype or something.

Name/Blog: Khan
Title: Re: Jason
Comment/Excerpt: I checked Linksys before I began tinkering with my setup on Saturday. I have the latest firmware of their Vonage+802.11b device, at least that's what their website says. Also, yes, you can use the USB ports if you're willing to hack your TiVo. If I was in a hacking mood, I'd set up a MythTV. When it comes to consumer electronics, I'm pretty hands-off. :) As far as never depending on one type of technology, "Right you are, Ken". I have the Vonage account plus a cell phone, so all my calling needs are well met (except for this specific instance where I need a landline, and even then, I can technically do without it if I'm willing to put up with the TiVo nag screens)... If I lose broadband, I can connect to my cell phone via bluetooth to download email, or login from work, or go to Starbucks+TMobile... Plus, Vonage rocks. :-)

Name/Blog: Brian Beatty
Title: Yea!! IT Works
Comment/Excerpt: After 75 Days. Its finally connected. Tivo Version 6.2-01-2-151

Name/Blog: Aaron
Title: What's the trick?
Comment/Excerpt: You mention that you have to trick your TiVo into dialing the NY # yet I failed to locate where you explain this "trick" in your documentation. For my system to access a 212 #, it has to make a call to download all of the available dial-in #s. What's the deal?

Name/Blog: Khan Klatt
Title: What's the Trick?
Comment/Excerpt: In response to Aaron's comment, the "trick" is to put the 212 number in the dialing prefix!? Dial Prefix: 12122773895 So regardless of what number your TiVo thinks it is dialing, since the dial prefix is a 1-212 number, your TiVo will dial that first, and THEN your local number, but by then, Vonage is already connecting you to Manhattan. You can tell this by eavesdropping on your actual phone call-- that is, if you're any good at all at aurally deciphering DTMF sounds. :)

Name/Blog: Ricardo
URL: ricardo_khan at_sign
Title: yep. it works.
Comment/Excerpt: Yep. All the bubble gum, bailing wire and string works. Key is to call New York. Go figure. All the other call prefix numbers are nice, but unnecessary (at least here). Nice description of living on the edge of technology. Now if I could only explain to my wife why she has to boot all these gizmos in a particular order when one of them decides it's got a headache. Ricardo

Name/Blog: Greg
Title: Thanks for your help
Comment/Excerpt: Everything worked but the #019. None of the # configurations worked. It would always give me a fast busy when trying them. The good news is that it worked without it. I thought about getting the upgrade kit to internet enable my TiVo but it would void the warranty. Thanks for your help!

Name/Blog: RonCo
Title: Duh...
Comment/Excerpt: i have a very funny counterexample. I had been trying unsuccessfully to get my DirecTivo Series 2 to connect via either my DSL line (with a filter in-line) or my Vonage adapter. After reading all of the suggestions and messing with all of the codes and prefixes to no avail, I decided to go back to basics. First, I plugged the DirecTivo back into the DSL filter, then into the DSL line. I set all of the Tivo dialing options to None/Off. Lo and behold, it worked immediately and downloaded a new set of dial-in numbers. I picked one close to me. However, when I tried to test the settings, I couldn't get it to connect. I then got curious. I decided to try the same approach with my Vonage conection. I plugged the Tivo directly into the Vonage box, and left all of the dialing settings set to None/Off. Wouldn't you know, it connected immediately and did a short update session successfully. Unbelievable, but I'm very pleased. My config for the record: Linksys RTP300 Vonage adapter Hughed HDVR2 DirecTV receiver Software version 6.2-01-2-151

Name/Blog: robbie
URL: iwishihadacaddie at_sign
Comment/Excerpt: I work at directv and have been trying for 277 days to make a call. Theres no way with vonage and tivo to work succesfuly. No tricks or trades will work the way you need it to.

Name/Blog: Khan
Title: Re: Robbie
Comment/Excerpt: Well, perhaps you don't have the same software/hardware I do, but if you do, what I mentioned did, and as you can see for several others, *has* worked. It's a pain in the ass to get it to work, but you can if you twiddle the right options the right way.

Tue, 02 Aug 2005

Shuttle Madness

According to the New York Times it looks like NASA is finally coming to its senses, and will be going back to the tried and tested "expendable launch vehicles" (aka rockets) of yesteryear.

On the whole, I'm as much a fan of the Space Shuttle as any other technology geek, but I do not think the shuttle will be seen as anything but a frivolous bureaucratic boondoggle in the objective gaze of history, and rather be seen as advancing the US space program, more accurately did much damage to it.

It's particularly interesting to read what the naysayers had to say back in 1980 about the Shuttle program, and how hauntingly correct they were. As in this April Washington Monthly article entitled (somewhat sadly, considering his recent passing) "Beam Me Out Of This Death Trap, Scotty". If you've got the time, it's a fascinating article to read. In case you were hoping I would provide a synopsis, read on.

The first point of the article is that the original justification for the shuttle was cost savings, which turned out to be a myth. (Remind anyone of WMDs?) Anyhow, here's a funny excerpt, implicating what I presume to now be Wolfram Research in the boondoggle:
Back in 1972, when shuttle designs were still on the table, a consulting company called Mathematica did some cost-benefit studies for the project. Mathematica estimated that, under certain conditions, an individual shuttle flight would have a direct cost (fuel, command salaries, sweeping the pad) of $22.4 million. In 1975, NASA froze that number. It started selling contracts for shuttle launches at $22.4 million per, for the first three years of flight--a guaranteed price with no escalator for inflation.
Yet the calculations were made under the assumption of each vehicle would make 50 flights a year, with a 10 year lifespan for the shuttle vehicles. While the shuttles' lifespans exceeded expectations (Columbia was lost in 2003, twentysome years after its maiden voyage) there have been barely over a hundred launches of all five orbiters! In other words, rather than costing 3 times less, it cost closer to orders of magnitude more! As the article fails to predict "pessimistically" enough...
...suppose the shuttles fly only the pessimistic 200 flights. The investment cost leaps to $65 million per flight. Suddenly the total cost of a shuttle flight becomes $105 million--almost twice the cost of three of those wasteful Delta rockets.
Furthermore, Mathematica apparently argued that the cost savings the shuttle would offer is the ability to repair broken satellites or return them to earth. While there were several Hubble repair missions, most satellites were launched into orbits the shuttle couldn't reach, and even if it could, most satellites (particularly of the communications variety) aren't generally worth salvaging.

And if it weren't enough that the shuttle program failed in its primary mission to provide an economy "shuttle" to space, it also fell short of its ability to deliver on its promised 65K lbs. of payload due to design compensations, such as insulating the solid rocket booster to prevent ice from forming and demolishing the orbiter upon liftoff....
The entire vehicle, loaded, weighs 4.5 million pounds. Say you add one percent (for insulation). Doesn't sound like much. One percent comes to 45,000 pounds. That's almost all of the payload.
Even at the time they recognized that getting a 65K payload for (what turned out to be) $1B per flight wasn't as cost effective as the 29K payloads the Titan rockets could do for $50M, without losing over a dozen astronauts and civilians in the process. Sadly, they also predicted the issues with the tiles on the Columbia:
Some suspect the tile mounting is the least of Columbia's difficulties. "I don't think anybody appreciates the depths of the problems," Kapryan says. The tiles are the most important system NASA has ever designed as "safe life." That means there is no back-up for them. If they fail, the shuttle burns on reentry. If enough fall off, the shuttle may become unstable during landing, and thus un-pilotable. The worry runs deep enough that NASA investigated installing a crane assembly in Columbia so the crew could inspect and repair damaged tiles in space. (Verdict: Can't be done. You can hardly do it on the ground.)
(emphasis mine) Hopefully the astronauts can successfully complete the repairs to Discovery before it lands, as I sincerely hope we've come a long way since 1980 when this article was written. If not, all this talk about spacewalks to repair tiles was just grand spectacle to make us feel more comfortable of throwing the astronauts into a highly risky situation!

Still, that's not to say the entire shuttle program should or needs to be cancelled. Robert Zubrin, of the Mars Society, posits that exploration of Mars is the next most logical yet ambitious step in the exploration of space that humanity should undertake. As a reserved critic of the shuttle program, Zubrin's Mars Society posits that the Columbia disaster could result in the cancellation of the shuttle program, but that NASA is taking action:
NASA has [started] the Orbital Space Plane (OSP) program, which will move the human taxi-to-orbit function from the Shuttle to a small capsule or mini-orbiter that can be launched on top of an Atlas or Delta. This however poses the decisive question of what happens to the Shuttle physical, technical, and human infrastructure... Such a Shuttle-derived Saturn-V class booster would provide NASA with the primary tool it needs to launch human missions of exploration throughout the inner solar system.
So, use the shuttle launch facilities, technology, expertise, contractors, and knowledge to launch classic rockets into space, and phase out the remaining orbiters of the shuttle fleet, which is what the NYT article seems to suggest is what will happen. For those who are curious about the current status of the fleet, in order of their creation:
  • Enterprise (nee Constitution were it not for the Star Trek geeks) Used for testing gliding and landing operations after taking off of a 747 in the 1970s, this now sits in the Smithsonian Institution. Never performed a vertical liftoff or went into orbit.
  • Columbia Maiden flight, 4/12/1981; Destroyed upon re-entry on 2/1/2003. Originally commissioned on 7/26/1972 as the first orbiter.
  • Challenger Maiden flight, 4/4/1983; Destroyed upon liftoff on 1/28/1986. Originally commissioned on 7/26/1972 as a test vehicle (like Enterprise) and served as such until 1/1/1979 when it began conversion into the second orbiter.
  • Discovery Maiden flight, 8/30/1984; Currently in space. Originally commissioned on 1/29/1979 as the third orbiter.
  • Atlantis Maiden flight, 10/3/1985; In operation. Originally commissioned on 1/29/1979 as the fourth orbiter.
  • Endeavor Maiden flight, 5/7/1992; In operation. Originally commissioned on 7/31/1987 to replace Challenger.
Keep your fingers crossed for the Discovery crew.

Name/Blog: Khan
Title: Clarification on "over a dozen"...
Comment/Excerpt: Seven astronauts (Francis Scobee, Christa McAuliffe, Michael J. Smith, Ellison S. Onizuka, Judith A. Resnik, Ronald E. McNair and Gregory B. Jarvis.) were lost on Challenger in 1986, and seven more (Rick Husband, Kalpana Chawla, William McCool, David Brown, Laurel Clark, Michael Anderson and Ilan Ramon) on Columbia in 2003.

Khan Klatt

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