Friday, 11 March 2011

Bidding farewell to the metal box that’s become a friend

Today we swapped out our ten-and-a-half year old TiVo digital video recorder for a Sky+HD box. The new machine seems to work efficiently,  and we’ve gained a lot of functionality by upgrading. But it still feels as if we’re heartlessly discarding an old friend.

We’d really like to find it the technological equivalent of a grassy field so it could eke out its remaining days in dignified idleness, munching grass and remembering its glorious past. Instead of which, it’ll end up crushed to oblivion at the local dump. 

The BBC was kind enough to buy us the TiVo recorder in 2000, when it was a revolutionary piece of kit: no more frangible video tapes: no more kneeling on the floor praying to the VHS recorder to release the tape firmly wedged in its unattractive gob; no more having to lie stretched out on one’s stomach, trying to remove yards of mangled tape from its guts (eyes bigger’n its stomach, that one!); no more feeling guilty about not being able to figure out how to apply those gnomic numerical codes they used to print alongside certain programmes in TV listings sections. Instead you just strolled through an onscreen supermarket’s worth of programmes, occasionally thinking  “I want that one” and simply pressing a button to order it – why, you only had to press the button twice and faithful, attentive TiVo would record every episode of a series - and the next series, come to that. That was dead cool back in 2000.

Then Sky+ came along – Sky worked with TiVo for a while, learned what they needed to, and built similar functionality into their new set-top boxes. Haemorrhaging cash, TiVo withdrew from the UK market to concentrate on the US, where the company was already a household verb – over there, to TiVo a programme means to record it on a hard disc for later viewing. New programme information was still driblled into the box over a phone line every night, so it would still function – but there were to be no upgrades, no fancy new menu systems: when your TiVo broke down, you were stuffed. So we waited for the box – or the handset – to cough and fall over. 

But they never did!

The only reason we’re throwing  out our old chum is that Virgin Cable has bought the TiVo rights in the UK and they’re cutting off the supply of programme information to old sets, thereby rendering them useless. (My thanks to beardie twat, Richard Branson, for, in effect, sentencing a close personal friend to death.)

But just think – a piece of modern, ground-breaking technology that has lasted for ten years without one single hint of a glitch. It worked straight out of the box in July 2000 – and has never stopped working. I have a suspicion it would have kept on going for another decade. Ridiculous!Haven’t these people heard of inbuilt obsolescence?

I have no idea why certain technological products seem capable of arousing our affection: they become almost human (I forget what the term for this is – maybe one of my readers can help?) Or, to be more accurate, they’ve become useful pets - like working dogs. I felt the same about the enormous walnut Blaupunkt radiogram we had when I was a kid – but haven’t felt the same way about a stereo system or a radio since: they’re just bits of machinery that work or don’t, and I’ve ditched them without a second thought. 

For instance, I loved my first Palm Pilot – but treated its far fancier replacement as a mere tool. Same with mobile phones – I adored the tiny if somewhat chubby clamshell Motorola model I got back in 1997 (I was reminded of it by the microscopic cell-phones sported by the male models in Zoolander). I kept it going for years because I simply couldn’t bear to part with it, and only threw it away when new batteries became impossible to find. I haven’t felt a twinge of affection for any of its numerous replacements.  

In all the above instances,  the machines had that quality I’ve written about before – they did things that seemed like magic at the time.  But cutting-edgeness isn’t necessary for anthropomorphism to kick in (there, I remembered it!). True, I fell in love with my first desk-top computer, an impossibly weedy but technically advanced Sanyo MB555 bought in the early 1980s, but I feel the same about the iMac I’m typing this into – and it wasn’t even top-of-the-range when I bought it: it’s just terribly friendly.

I’ve been bored to tears by people banging on about their iPhones – but I only had to spend thirty seconds experiencing an application which turns the screen into a pool of water with stones at the bottom and then listen to the owner blow into the bottom of his phone to turn it into an ocarina to know why people lose the plot. 

TiVo is in the same category for us – farewell, my faithful friend: we’ve shared many laughs, a few tears and quite a few yawns. And, thznks to you, we did it when we felt like it - not the TV schedulers. 

I wonder if a Viking burial on our stretch of the Thames would be appropriate – I honestly don’t think I can bring myself to abandon our old mucker in a metal graveyard.   


  1. I still feel the same about my Teac Tascam 4 track cassette multi-track recorder, 1983 vintage, the first almost affordable home studio in a box. Pots, pans, faders, knobs to twiddle and so brilliantly designed that you only needed the manual for tips. I now have Apple zillion track hi-tech software on my laptop and can recreate the microphone placings on 40 different guitar rigs but it isn't half as much fun.

    So good luck, Scott, with Sky Plus. Now don't get me started on guitars I have loved....
    Sunday, March 13, 2011 - 06:19 PM

  2. I keep meanign to write about guitars - but will only do so if you promise to respond with your no doubt much lengthier list.

    Speaking of music, whatever happened to John Black?
    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - 04:42 PM

  3. I am happy to join in any guitar-related discussion. I lost touch with John Black about 40 years ago but will always thank him for selling me my first electric guitar, a back-breaking, finger-dislocating old piece which I swapped for an easier to carry Futurama which I still have.
    Thursday, March 17, 2011 - 12:06 PM

  4. Very well, Ex-KCS – I shall do my guitar round-up piece soon, and will look forward to hearing your reminiscences: I’ve only ever owned four, and I’ve still got three of them. I remember trying to form a band with John, but after exactly one session, where we performed my execrable first effort to write a song – “Gospel Train” (D, A, E - repeated about 50 times) we let it slide – wisely, I’m sure. The vocalist’s voice hadn’t broken yet, which made my tale of suffering and redemption sound even less convincing than it already was.
    Friday, March 18, 2011 - 07:21 PM

  5. Public Relations – Richard Branson/Virgin Media-style
    The telly's not working.
    I go to the web,
    and find:


    TV ! Known Problems
    Reported on 24 December 01:43 PM
    Estimated fix time 27 December 04:00 PM


    Advertisers pleased?

  6. Oh no - you'll have to play Charades!

    Get Sky - you know it makes sense.

    1. I think you're right.

      Charades ... and canasta.

      Merry Christmas all round.