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: Now, some laying of a foundation here for a conversational edifice covering topics Sumana has hinted at, the actual capstone to be placed in a future entry.

I got a Tivo, and it is a lot of fun. Instead of a taskmaster determining the times I can do exercise without being bored, basic cable is now an obsequious chimpanzee offering me delicacies off a salver. Then I crack my whip and send it scurrying into the underbrush, and fifteen minutes later it comes back with a rabbit between its teeth. I don't know where I got a whip.

When you buy a Tivo, it starts out completely unusable because its commercial-skipping functionality is crippled at the implicit behest of the broadcasting giants. Basically, you can fast-forward so slowly that you effectively see all the commercials without sound, or so quickly that instead of skipping commercials you skip the pesky intervals between commercial breaks. However, there's a secret cheat code, just like in the game "Contra", which lets you reinstate the famous 30-second skip functionality. There are lots of other cheat codes which aren't as useful, but some are cool.

Originally I thought I'd like some way of doing a 10-second skip, because that's the way I would ideally watch TV: is this program more interesting 10 seconds from now? How about now? But after about two days Tivo had enough stuff recorded for me that now I can just pick something I'm pretty sure will be good. If it turns out to be boring I can just delete it and watch something else. I don't have time to watch everything it records, but who cares? I don't want to; I'd turn into a couch legume. Tivo is a prefetching cache, and when the thing being fetched costs a fixed amount, there's no need to complain about a prefetching cache.

A lot of times people will say "I don't watch much TV, except..." then rattle off a list of about five or ten programs, their desire for accuracy trumping their need to seem hip and TV-illiterate. That used to be me, except for me it was just two programs, so I managed to avoid embarrassment. Now it's five or ten. The difference wasn't that I was purer before Tivo, but that I was lazy and couldn't be bothered to stay up 'til midnight to watch Space Ghost. Now it's in my queue and I don't have to

I sort of wanted to be really cool and build my own PVR using off-the-Sourceforge-shelf technology, because then I could then 1) affect a superior attitude to nearly everyone, and 2) implement neat things like my ten-second skip and a smarter preference-guessing system (for some reason it thinks I like 1960s television Westerns, possibly overcompensating for the negative publicity caused by "My TiVo thinks I'm gay"). But it turns out I actually went and bought a Tivo; ostensibly to test the waters but actually because I couldn't justify spending all that time making a hacked-up free software PVR when I might not use a PVR at all.

It turns out I will use a PVR, but with the 30-second skip in place the Tivo is good enough for now. Send me mail when your cool open-source PVR product costs less than $300, or when it costs more than $300 but Tivo does a 30-second-skip-crushing software update, and I'll look at it.

PS: One thing I don't like about Tivo, but which is probably unavoidable due to the underlying technology: you can't record two programs simultaneously, and you can't watch one program while recording another.

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