Friday, December 30, 2005

SIRIUS Satellite radio status: ACTIVATED

The search
It took a bit of hunting to find both a receiver and corresponding home kit. Online, Crutchfield had the tuner but was out of stock of the home kit. Circuit City had both the tuner and home kit available for in-store pickup, but not at the same stores. The tuner was only available at a Circuit City store over 50 miles away. Best Buy was a similar story with an online in-store inventory check. It appeared, though, that in-store, Best Buy had the tuner and Circuit City had the home kit at stores in close proximity to each other and not too far from me, so I set off.

First stop was Best Buy and sure enough, they had the tuner but not the home kit. I bought something else at Best Buy (to be written about in a later post) and decided to wait on the tuner to see if Circuit City might have both items in-store. Walking to Circuit City I came across Magnolia Audio Video, which is a somewhat high-end audio / video store. I went in and they had both items.

The setup
Setup of the tuner and home kit was straightforward, but antenna placement can be a problem. The home antenna is about the size of a pager and must be near a window with an unobstructed view of the northern sky. Depending on where you are in the U.S. your direction may vary. The antenna is all-weather so it can be mounted outside, but routing a cable through a window and attaching it to the structure of my apartment just aren't worth the extra hassle. I've found a decent spot inside that has a fairly consistent signal, but it does occasionally fade out.

The tuner also has a built-in FM transmitter that broadcasts the signal to any radio within about 15 feet. I placed the tuner right in the middle of my place so the signal reaches my bedroom and kitchen radios.

Upon initial power-up the tuner updates all of the channels and tunes to an introductory sample program that prompts you to activate your account. This can be done online or by phone. Naturally, I chose online. Easy to do, just enter the tuner's serial number, your user and credit card info (you set up an account), choose the subscription plan you want and that's pretty much it. Once you submit this info the tuner is "activated." I received a message on the tuner confirming activation within about 10 seconds of submitting my info online.

Activation issues
There were two:
  1. $15 activation fee - this wasn't obvious to me until my credit card had been charged and the transaction was broken down into its elements. It's possible that in my zeal to activate I overlooked the fact that there was a fee, but I don't remember seeing it. Going back to and looking at the terms and conditions the activation fee is right there. It's also in the FAQs. Always a good idea to RTFM, kids. Despite my zeal, I still feel that the activation process via the web did not make the fee or the agreement to the terms and conditions abundantly clear.
  2. Prorated balance due - This is kind of silly and likely the result of an unrefined billing system. After I paid everything for activation there remained a balance due of $0.84. I activated on 12/30, so I'm assuming this balance due is for the last two days of December that were not included in the quarterly billing I paid. An email has been sent to Sirius about this as the phone support was not immediately available due to high holiday call volume.
What I have
Tuner: Sirius Starmate Replay ($129.99, but $79.99 after the $50 rebate.). Pretty cool. It can be used both at home (with separate kit) and in a vehicle. It also has a DVR-type function that allows it to record up to 44 minutes of content that you can pause, rewind or fast-forward. Up to 30 presets are available, and you can have the tuner notify you when a particular sports team or song is playing. This tuner includes a car kit which I have yet to install. It also has a small full-function infra-red remote control. The remote is so small it needs a flat lithium-type battery. Battery life is unknown, but one is included in the package.

Home kit: The home kit ($39.99) is pretty self-explanatory.

Subscription: I currently pay $38.85 quarterly. Numerous choices are available. Pay-as-you-go is $12.95 per month. Prepaying larger intervals allows discounts, starting with an annual prepay giving you 12 months of service for the price of 11.

$129.99 - tuner, $79.99 after rebate*
$39.99 - home kit
$15.00 - activation fee
$184.98 - total one-time, $134.98 after tuner rebate

$12.95 per month subscription fee

*To qualify for the rebate the tuner must be purchased and activated between 10/30/05 and 12/31/05.

Still being evaluated at this point. My indoor signal is spotty, so I still have to experiment with antenna placement. Howard Stern's Howard 100 News is entertaining, but it is repeated throughout the broadcast day, so right now there's not much reason to keep it on channel 100.

The music variety is pretty awesome but I haven't had a lot of time to listen to things yet. All major genres are represented along with a lot of other more unique offerings. Also available is news (NPR, BBC, etc.), sports (ESPN, NFL Radio, etc.), weather and traffic. Traffic is only available for limited major metro areas and unfortunately Sacramento is not included.

Occasionally I'll hear words that would normally be "bleeped" on regular terrestrial radio. It's odd, but not distracting.

Overall things appear good, but I'm not yet overwhelmed by the awesomeness of satellite radio. Once I install the unit in my vehicle and have some time to really give it a fair listen I think that'll change. I've had XM Radio in a rental car before and it was great to have clear reception in areas where terrestrial radio broadcasts were nonexistent.

Related post: SIRIUS impressions

Update, 1/6: On my second activation issue, the $0.84 balance remaining after activation and full payment, I finally received an email response to my support request submitted online 12/29/05. Today is 1/6/06, so turnaround time is not the best over at SIRIUS support. I know it's the holidays and all, and there was a rush of new subscribers in anticipation of Howard Stern, but let's get those wheels turning, people. The meat of the reply is as follows:
Thank you for becoming a SIRIUS customer and welcome. Our records show that you activated a new SIRIUS subscription during the period of December 29-31, 2005. Since the first full billing period for your new subscription plan began on January 1, 2006, your account will be charged for the extra days of service you received in December, 2005.

As a result, on your first bank or credit card statement only, you will see two separate charges. One charge is for your regular SIRIUS Service, which began on January 1, 2006. The second charge is a one-time charge for the number of days in December your account was active.
Seems like it should be pretty easy to add on the prorated amount for the few extra days and just charge me once, but what do I know?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

one BILLION dollars...

Good lord -- advertising, instant messaging and video, oh, my. Am I the only one who did not know that AOL is not a publicly held company?

The advertising to be made available to AOL includes even Google's AdSense program! What has the Internet (with a capital "I") come to? Google is the antithesis of AOL -- minimal ads (check their respective homepages, and -- good lord, it takes AOL at least 7 - 10 seconds to load all of that flash!

AOL will also apparently have access "that will enable AOL to directly sell search ads on AOL-owned properties," according to ZDNet (yes, I monitor via RSS).

And what about this quote:
Also under the deal, Google will "make sure AOL Webmasters architect their content" so it gets maximum exposure to Google's Web crawlers, but will not exchange any proprietary information to do that.
WTF, mate? Will AOL content have priority over real web content? Yes, I said "real web," as hopefully Internet (with a capital "I") users know that AOL is not the real Internet.

The only positive I can see coming out of this is that AOL users will have a taste of what the actual Internet, or Intertron as I've become accustomed to calling it, can provide to them as opposed to AOL's sanitized and isolated proprietary content.

god save us all. The masses are upon us.

UPDATE, 12/21: Well of course Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) is publicly traded. AOL is a wholly owned subsidiary of Time Warner, according to the company's recent press release about this new strategic alliance. So while AOL used to be traded on the NYSE under the AOL ticker symbol it has since been acquired by Time Warner, so AOL as an entity is no longer traded as a separate individual company. I just thought it was weird that one company would be able to just invest $1 billion dollars in a publicly traded company (if that's what it is) without any securities or regulatory oversight.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Rumsfeld recalls ghost of McNamara's lessons of Vietnam

I've had this post idea since I saw Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld interviewed on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on December 8. It's been stewing awhile, and I rented Fog of War so I could recall an exact quote.

A disturbing parallel occurred to me after seeing Rumsfeld's NewsHour interview. Tell me if you don't see the lesson we haven't seemed to have learned from Vietnam.

Robert S. McNamara

Mr. McNamara was the Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War, first under Kennedy and then under Johnson after Kennedy's assassination. By most counts, the war in Vietnam was a failure for the United States as 3.5 million Vietnamese were killed, over 58,000 U.S. soldiers were killed, and South Vietnam still fell to North Vietnam. At the time the U.S. administration subscribed to the "domino theory" that South Vietnam had to be propped up against the North lest the South's fall lead to the fall of a series of countries throughout Asia, spreading communism to Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.

McNamara has written a number of books about his time as Secretary and what he, in retrospect, has learned about the decisions made about the U.S. engagement in Vietnam. One of the major causes of the U.S.'s disastrous experience in Vietnam, according to McNamara in his book, In Retrospect, is that we [the U.S. Government] misjudged the geopolitical intentions of our adversaries and we exaggerated the dangers to the United States of their actions. In its most basic form, we did not know our enemy. According to McNamara in Fog of War, we viewed Vietnam as an element of the Cold War and not what they saw it as, a civil war.

A quote from McNamara in an interview at Berkeley in 1996:
Now to illustrate the degree to which we didn't understand the situation in Vietnam at the time, today I believe that Ho Chi Minh was more of a nationalist, more of a Tito, than a servant or a follower of Khruschev. But at that time, we looked upon him as a vassal of the Soviets.
The beginning of the Berkeley interview is here.

[UPDATE, 2/16/2007] -- Upon revisiting this post, the quote below about history wouldn't have made sense coming from Tran Van Lam as he was Minister of Foreign Affairs for The Republic of Vietnam, which the U.S. supported during The Vietnam War. Even though I can't confirm the author of that quote definitively, it most likely was Vo Nguyen Giap, who according to his Wikipedia entry was, in addition to a General in the Vietnam People's Army, the Minister of National Defense of what we in the U.S. called North Vietnam. During discussion of the history quote, Fog of War shows a terrific photo of these two in the heat of discussion, presumably during the below-mentioned 1995 visit, that I have been unable to locate online. [/UPDATE]

The striking quote from Fog of War that I wrote down comes from McNamara's 1995 visit to Vietnam and his meeting with his Vietnamese counterpart during the war, former foreign minister (as he referred to him) of Vietnam Tran Van Lam. I have been unable to confirm this man's name as it was unclear in the film's audio and I believe McNamara's wikipedia entry identifies the wrong person, a former Vietnamese general named Vo Nguyen Giap. McNamara clearly says in Fog of War that it was the former foreign minister who told him the following after McNamara asserted that he thought we could have avoided U.S. escalation while also preventing the spread of communism:
You are totally wrong. We were fighting for our independence. You were fighting to enslave us ... Mr. McNamara, you must never have read a history book. If you'd had, you'd know we weren't pawns of the Chinese or the Russians. Mr. McNamara, didn't you know that? Don't you understand that we have been fighting the Chinese for a thousand years? We were fighting for our independence and we would fight to the last man and we were determined to do so. And no amount of bombing, no amount of U.S. pressure would ever have stopped us.
Donald Rumsfeld

When I heard the following quote from Secretary Rumsfeld I had to wonder whether the U.S. is willing to face what it learned at so great a cost during the Vietnam War:
... you think about what they are losing. The terrorists, the opponents, this is an enormous thing for them. If they fail to stop a democratic government, Iraqis with their own constitution, their own election, their own officials, a sovereign nation, if they don't stop that, they've lost something enormous ... they have a lot at stake. And I expect them to be putting a lot of cards on the table.
Now admittedly, the insurgents, terrorists and other opposition forces in Iraq are not nearly as organized as the North Vietnamese were, but what strikes me is the similar "all or nothing" incentive those groups have to what the North Vietnamese had. If those forces are going to lose "something enormous," shouldn't we approach the situation differently? Shouldn't we not underestimate the level of resistance to the U.S. face of democracy in Iraq? What else do we know or not know about the motivations of the opposition forces there and in surrounding countries? What is amazing is that Rumsfeld recognizes the potential loss the opposition forces face and he doesn't seem overly concerned. We're just going to continue on with our plans no matter what.

That's quite a lot I've poured out of my brain, so if you've stuck with me I applaud you. If you're so inclined please leave me a comment and let me know if I'm out of my mind or if I've put together a coherent statement and observation.

Further reading:
McNamara's June 1996 interview with CNN.
Wikipedia's list of people related to the Vietnam War.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Coverage of Howard Stern's final terrestrial broadcast

Yahoo will be providing full coverage of Stern's final terrestrial broadcast tomorrow, December 16. Live video coverage of the entire event will be available. Stern, members of his show, and numerous fans will be outside of his building, speeches will be made and ultimately Stern will put his remaining studio and show gear on a cart which he will then pull through the streets to his new employer's building, Sirius Satellite Radio. After the march to Sirius some listeners and fans will have the opportunity to join Stern for a concert performance by Sheryl Crow.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

New gametype: FPCBS

That's First-Person Cardboard Box Sorter. Finally, the videogame industry has listened and responded to its critics with the introduction of Stacker, the seminal title in a groundbreaking new genre in gaming. Comparisons to Tetris are unfounded, industry monitors say, because Stacker is significantly more nonviolent, more nonimmersive and has even less of a storyline.

Says Doug Benzies, Stacker's chief developer:
"We're confident that the new 'reluctantly interactive' content engine we designed will prevent any excitement or emotional involvement, inappropriate or otherwise, on the part of the player."
Revelation of the demo at the Tokyo Game Show this year made no mention of online play, but seeing as how that may encourage interaction and possibly creativity, it seems an unlikely feature to be added before release, or really at any time.

All is not rosy, however, as some parents are already salivating at the possibility of lawsuits related to Stacker's release. From the article above:
...several parents of teenagers who work in warehouses and box factories are already threatening Take-Two with civil lawsuits, claiming that Stacker may adversely affect children of low-income workers. "My kid certainly doesn't want to stack cases of instant coffee in a hot warehouse all day, like his old man did," said Loretto, PA father Reginald Hauser. "Now they're saying there's a video game that might glamorize the activity. Those video-game honchos are up to the same old tricks."
It is unknown at this time what the ESRB content rating will be for Stacker, though many have speculated that it won't really matter. No word as of time of publication of any reaction by attorney Jack Thompson to the news of this release. Speculation is that this won't really matter either.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Cable TV providers, make your choice: "a la carte" or censorship

In what is in this author's view a sensible move, today the president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association announced (also, NY Times, watch the ad first) that at least six cable companies will begin offering a "family package" of cable channels to subscribers.

With noise from lawmakers about imposing federal "decency" standards on cable television, cable providers had to do something and this is a start in the right direction. The cable providers don't want an "a la carte" system because they claim they will lose money.


I can see their point only in a situation where someone wants only 2 or 3 channels at $5 per month and still wants free installation, a cable box and DVR. Other than that, cable providers must start catering to their audiences. There are enough interest groups and corresponding channels out there that even if the channels are split up and subscribed to by those who are interested, respectively, the money will still make it to the cable providers.

Plus, a pure "a la carte" system is not necessarily the only solution. One is to offer many "variety packs" like one for families, one for sports nuts, nature nuts, government nuts, news nuts, music nuts, comedy nuts, etc. And I mean "nuts" in the most positive sense, of course.

Another is to offer a tiered option where subscribers can choose up to 15 channels at the first tier, 30 at the second tier, and so on. Any channels they want up to the maximum for that tier. Or the "family pack" plus however many are left in the selected tier. Premium movie channels would still be an extra charge on top of any regular basic channels, the same as it is now.

If the choice is between changing your business model and submitting to federal government oversight, to this author the choice is clear: the old ways be damned, change the system and let come what may! At least you will have some degree of control over the form of the change.

By the way, attention all parents, you still have to pay attention and monitor what your children watch no matter what the government or your cable provider does. Not only does doing so allow you to control what your children see at home, it shows your children that you take an interest in them, that you care. Do not leave the caring of your children up to bureaucrats and corporate executives, things will turn out badly.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Howard Stern 60 Minutes outtakes

More video not shown on 60 Minutes is available on the CBS website. The outtakes are:

1. Clips from Ed Bradley's interview;
2. Clips of Howard and his girlfriend Beth Ostrosky;
3. Clips of Ed Bradley's tour of the Howard 100 newsroom.

Also on the list are the entire broadcast interview, some additional info from Ed Bradley about the interview and Howard's appearance on David Letterman.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Dave Chappelle Season 3 in 2006!

I just saw a promo on Comedy Central that made the above announcement.

Comedy Central's web site confirms this and says it will show a sneak preview of Season 3 material during this Sunday's (December 11) "COMEDY CENTRAL's Last Laugh '05" program scheduled to broadcast at 9p. As always, check your local listings.

Finally, more Chappelle!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Howard Stern on 60 Minutes tonight

Be sure to watch Ed Bradley interview Howard Stern tonight on 60 Minutes. Many non-listeners of Stern's show have an immediate bias against Stern because they read or hear about sensationalized accounts of "raunchy," "outrageous" antics and bathroom humor. Witness what Ed Bradley said in an interview on The Early Show, excerpted on CBS's 60 Minutes site:
I've never been really a Howard Stern fan and I expected the worst. I expected a guy who was just about high school era locker room humor…. And I found a guy who was very smart, who knows absolutely what he's doing, who knows how to push the envelope and get what he wants. And he's just extraordinarily good at what he does. And he has a soft side that I didn't expect.
I can't deny that some topics talked about on his show and some things that are done on the show are gross, outrageous and often in bad taste, but I can say that everything is done because Stern thinks it's funny and hopes his audience does too. Stern and his on-air crew do and say what they think is funny and don't apologize for it. You either like it or you don't.

Tune in or change frequencies accordingly.

There's also much more to his show than what is reported by the major media. Stern often has live musical performances in-studio that are unbelievably great and one-time performances: James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Willie Nelson and Alanis Morissette are just a few names of people who haven't been scared off by Stern's reputation.

He also provides another perspective to much of mainstream media's reporting of political discourse and shines a spotlight on the shallow ridiculousness of the fascination with celebrity tabloid jounalism. He's no Jim Lehrer or David Brancaccio, but he does his part.

There are only two weeks of his terrestrial radio show left, so if you haven't already, I'd recommend giving it a listen. You have until December 16 before you'll have to wait for his first show on Sirius satellite radio in January 2006.

60 Minutes is usually broadcast locally on CBS at 7p on Sundays, but check your local listings to be sure.