AT&T and "Multimedia" messages

[UPDATE 2009-03-23] Apple announced on their iPhone 3.0 preview page (http://www.apple.com/iphone/preview-iphone-os/) that the iPhone 3Gs will be able to send MMS. Thanks!

I am absolutely dumbfounded at how incredibly poorly the iPhone handles picture messages.

You'd think it was common knowledge that in 2009, people with picture phones like to send picture messages. There have been ads forever telling us to snap a picture and SMS (or rather, MMS) it to our friends. Why, then, is it not only impossible to send a picture message from an iPhone, but so incredibly difficult to receive one?!

OK, I don't know why it can't, but I can accept that my iPhone can't send picture messages. It's stupid, but whatever.

I don't know how many of you have received an MMS from someone on an iPhone, but here's how it goes:

  • get a text message ("I sent you a message you can view within the next 7 days") with a URL, a login and a password

  • tap the URL to load it in Safari

  • forget the username (it's something like dc394he0m)

  • go back to the home screen, load the text app, read the username again (because remember, you can't copy or paste on an iPhone either)

  • tap the URL again, curse because the first half of the username you remembered is now gone

  • fill in half the username

  • go back to the text app, look at the username again

  • don't tap the URL but instead go back to the home screen and then into Safari

  • fill in the rest of the username

  • repeat for the password (actually easier to remember like far4back)

  • finally get the picture someone sent you.

Come on, iPhone, AT&T. You can do better than that.


Netflix, Tivo, Troubles and Triumph

When Tivo and Netflix announced their alliance, I rejoiced. It is fantastic to browse through a list of movies, choose one, and have it magically show up on your TV. Well done.


We tried to watch Empire Records, and the sound and video were several seconds apart. Bummer. I tried it on my laptop, and it was just fine, but we wanted to watch it on the TV.

So I called netflix! They have an 800 number on their contact page with 24hour support, and the website lists how long the hold queue is! That's pretty cool. The wait was only a minute, so I called. It was actually less, and the woman who answered the phone asked me the right questions, put me on hold for a moment, and then told me that it was a known problem and the video would be re-encoded. The Tivo gets its videos streamed from a different set of servers from when you watch the movie on your laptop, so it's not uncommon for one to be broken and the other work.

So while it kinda sucks that the video we wanted to watch was not working just right, I'm quite impressed by the availability and quality of 24hour phone support.

So Boo. Yay! Boo. Yay!

Off to watch something else...

Flying the Bay Area

Golden Gate and Marin Headlands, originally uploaded by maplebed.

The weekend before returning to the frozen wasteland that we call Boston (and having to shovel feet of snow), my coworker CG took me for a nice flight around the bay area in his little 4-seater Grumman. Man, what a trip. This picture says more than I ever could.


Why does RCN cable suck so very very much?

Ok, lemme start with the story.

Christy and I return from the Wonderful West to find that our Tivo is unhappy and our cable is broken.

I call RCN (which, incidentally, has this fancy caller-ID routing system such that I can't call their 800 number because it routes me to the California office, which was merged with a different company, so I always call some random branch office and transfer into the main system) and talk with the least helpful customer service rep ever. Talking to her was like pulling teeth. Every little scrap of information I wanted I had to ask the question in like 3 different ways before she would give me any useful information. She suggested no resolutions to my problems, and instead forced me to ask about this thing and that thing and so on until I finally got the info I needed.

It boiled down to this: RCN switched from analog (or analog + digital?) to digital only on Jan 6th. (Did they tell us? No. Our cable just stopped working.) While our Tivo understands analog cable, it needs a cable card to understand digital, so I need to either drive to the local RCN office or schedule an appointment to have them deliver a card and install it.

OK, that's not so bad. I found their local office was in Arlington and they could send out a technician on Tuesday. After thinking about it for a while, I opted for the ($15.99 installation fee + $49.99 visitation fee) technician to come out and install the card (since driving in the icy frozen wasteland that is the East Coast is scary). I called them back and they scheduled an appointment from 11-2 on Tuesday.

Well, Tuesday rolls around and the guy shows up at 1pm (within the window! Hooray!). Whoops! Nobody told him he was installing in a Tivo. He doesn't have a multi-channel cable card, but he does have two single-channel cards, which Tivo claims will work just as well. Except that they don't. One card only sees the even channels and the other card only sees odd channels. Anyway, the cable guy winds up spending nearly 2 hours futzing with it, testing the cables, removing splitters, poking at this and that, until he finally leaves and says "I think everything works. If it doesn't, you should call Tivo first."

I guess it's working... I mean, I think Tivo is successfully recording two shows at once, without the evenness or oddness of the channel making a difference.

There's one thing though. Now it takes a full 3 seconds to change channels. You press the channel change button and it takes just under one second to switch to the next channel. That's normal; there's always a bit of a delay between pressing the button and the TV switching. But then you get a solid gray screen for a full 2 more seconds before the picture shows up. What's up with that?! I heard one coworker today say that with analog cable they send the whole feed and the client box chooses which channel to view, but with digital cable, it only sends the one channel you're watching. When you switch channels, it sends a signal up the wire and the central host send you a different channel. That makes sense to me, but really kinda sucks. It makes channel surfing a PITA.

In addition to the 3 second delay, half the channels in the lineup just give me a solid gray screen. But since I always get a gray screen when changing channels, I wait something like 5 seconds before I realize the picture isn't actually ever going to come and go on to the next channel. This part makes channel surfing a Royal PITA. It's like they don't want me to even bother watching TV anymore.

Anyway, the whole experience has been pretty frustrating and overall reinforces my dislike of cable companies and the whole state of our interactions with large media companies. Why is it that we value a market system in which you will make more money by treating your customers worse? It screams of back room deals and lobbying and regulatory systems that prohibit any disruptive small business from even having a snowball's chance in hell of actually being able to threaten any of the big media conglomerates.

Oh well.

So RCN made a change to decrease the bandwidth they use and increase their ability to transmit more (useful) data over the same cables. What's the net result?
* I wasted time on the phone with their customer support
* Their employee wasted 2 hours working on my equipment
* My service is worse than it was before they started

You could argue "Well, you have an old TV so the fact that the quality of digital actually is better is lost on you." Ok, well, if I had a better TV I would have already been using the digital signal. Since it doesn't matter, I was using the analog signal, which was giving me better service. So the change doesn't matter for some customers, and makes the experience worse for others. To me, that seems like a net negative. Oh yeah, RCN saves some money. Hey, maybe they'll lower their prices since their costs are now decreased! Yeah right, fat chance.

Dear RCN. You wasted my time and made my TV experience worse. I hope you're happy.