House stuff

Time Warner turned up yesterday and hooked up the Internet. We now have a nice, reliable high-speed connection again. There seems to be nobody in WiFi range who has a wireless access point; either that or they’re not broadcasting SSIDs. Reception is fabulous throughout the house. The modem and router are in the office, and I have the music server up and running again.

It turned out that Time Warner have some kind of lock on their back-end systems to restrict the allowed set of MAC addresses for cable modems. If your modem isn’t on their approved list and in the MAC range their system knows about, you can’t use it. So, I now have a surplus US Robotics USR6000 cable modem. eBay time…

On the plus side, the Cable Guy tells me that RoadRunner in Austin includes the cable modem in the cost of the service, unlike Comcast who charged an extra monthly rental fee for a modem. We’ll see.

For once I don’t feel too bad about the $40 hook-up fee, as the cable guy had to string coax from pole to pole using a long metal hook and a tall ladder. He says the signal quality is great, and the download speeds certainly seem spiffy–at least 50% better than Comcast for about the same price.

Unfortunately, Time Warner aren’t so reasonable when it comes to TV. To get the essentials–Cartoon Network, Comedy Central and BBC America plus scrolling program guide–we’d have to pay $68.21 a month, plus another $10 for a DVR. Or, $64 a month and put up with decompress/compress artifacts from using the old ReplayTV.

So, we’d already decided DirecTV with TiVo was the way forward. $41.99 plus $4.99 for TiVo, but it records the MPEG stream direct from the satellite to the hard drive so there’s no quality loss, and you can record two shows at once while you watch a third show recorded earlier. Plus, all the channels are digital quality, unlike with cable.

DirecTV presents its own problems, however. To get the full channel lineup for Austin you need two pieces of coax going from the dish to the receiver, and for the TiVo option you need a phone line too.

The phone line thing wasn’t such a problem. I needed a real phone line for the home office anyway, and SBC may be Satan, but they’re cheaper than Verizon. The TiVo could call out on the office line overnight and that would be fine.

So, SBC came out. They also played the game of running wires from pole to pole. Their technician got the phone connection as far as the outside of the house, but then he hit a snag. However he wired things up outside, no phone service inside; and when he put a signal generator into one of the sockets inside, he got signal on all four wires. I’ve wired phone connections, and I know that that ain’t right–the phone signal should end up across exactly 2 wires.

I tracked down the electricians who wired the house. They came out to investigate, and discovered that whichever of their colleagues had done the job had completely botched it. No two sockets downstairs were wired up the same way. In the end, they opened up and rewired every socket. On the plus side, I found out that although the sockets are CAT-3, the wire in the walls is at least CAT-5e. So theoretically at least, I could switch the wall plates to Ethernet one day and switch the entire telephone network to VOIP.

But not today. TiVo needs a real phone line for its modem, and I want to see how reliable the Internet service is before trusting it for my phone calls.

Since the electricians were at the house anyway, I paid them to run a second coax from the living room to the nest of cables on the side of the house, plus another CAT5e phone connection for good measure. To do this they had to drill down from inside the house, because they couldn’t find exactly the right point to drill up from underneath, and obviously nobody wanted to risk drilling up through the beautiful wood floor.

So right now there’s a missing faceplate and some damage to the drywall, but I can patch that up and put in a 4-hole plate, install an RJ-11 and two coax sockets plus a blanking plate, and I’ll have a nice clean DirecTV hookup point exactly where I need it. The DirecTV installer can stick the dish on the roof, run the wires down the side of the house, and hook it all up from outside without having to drill holes in anything or run unsightly cables inside the house. Free installation sounds great, but I’ve seen what happens when free installation involves routing a cable from your living room to the outside world, and it isn’t pretty.

Could I have routed the extra coax myself? Probably, but what I really paid for was not having to spend an hour of my time doing it, and not having to crawl under the house, where there could be poisonous spiders, 6″ centipedes, snakes, or scorpions.