In Which the Virtualization Guy tries to Converge & Rationalize the family TV

Last week Amazon announced a new device called a Kindle Fire TV HDX or whatnot.

Basically, it’s a little black box. With some CPU, RAM & GFX processor. And an HDMI output, remote, and a slick GUI. You plug it into your TV and with your Internet connection, you can stream things to it. It’s received mediocre reviews, and by now we can all understand why. It’s just a warmed-over Roku with some forked Android bits on it & some gaming capability. At $99 it isn’t cheap either. It’s essentially a vector for Prime into your living room, as if you couldn’t get Prime on anything else.

So I’m watching a review about this device last weekend on screen 1 of agnostic_node_1. and on screen 2, I’m writing up my Labworks post about Hyper-V converged switching and, as you would expect, I experienced acute Cognitive Dissonance Kernel Panic in which my brain simultaneously was thinking of of irrational TV systems, switching inputs from HDMI 1 to HDMI 2 manually whillst writing about Hyper-V’s fabulously converged virtual switches in which all inputs are trunked and everything just works.

And that kernel panic reminded me of an Amazon review I wrote about a remote control, Windows Media Center, and my last attempt to rationalize the TV beast in my living room. The piece is full of #TechnologyDespair and is titled “Thanks Saxony, for Ruining My Life.”

It’s a little long but thought you might like.

It’s been one year since my Mother in Law moved into the house to help my wife and I raise our first son while we both continue to work.

Yeah. You see where this is going. New father + recovering wife + beautiful baby boy + mother in law = grade A strife.

It doesn’t help matters much that philosophically my mo-in-law and I couldn’t be more different. She’s easy-going; I’m driven. She thinks nothing of wasting hours on the couch absent-mindedly taking in HGTV (and then using pointers from certain shows to create a nag list for me); I hate the idea that I’m paying for commercials. Computers? For her they are just used to process documents; it seems she can’t conceive of them being used for anything else, whereas I’m a senior IT engineer with a Mary Shelley-esque lab at home, doing all sorts of unholy things with Windows, Linux, Hypervisors and BSD-based storage arrays.

Proudly becoming a “Cable-cutter”

So we were bound naturally to collide. And collide we did when I, after consulting with her and wife, decided to cancel Dish Network. It was a proud day- we joined the ranks of cable cutters! Five years have lead up to this; First Roku, then XBox, then Smart TV, and Chromecast. Devices cycling in and out, none ever perfect, but each moving us an inch or two closer to the promised land of on-demand entertainment on whatever screen I have in front of me. Agnostic TV!

Not mine, but similar. No black boxes in sight, the way it should be.
Not mine, but similar. No black boxes in sight, the way it should be.

And so, as I boxed up the Dish receiver, I stepped back and looked lovingly on what I had accomplished:the SmartScreen snug against the wall, the bottom precisely 34″ high (a Fibonacci compliant height, natch) , with the soundbar snug underneath. No wires in view, anywhere. No black boxes. Just a magical panel on the f*(#$# wall that did what I wanted it to to do, like the one JeanLuc has at his place.



I was full of WIN that day, but what I forgot was that mo-in-law was from the old country and doesn’t speak Englsih very well.

  • What I did:
    • Told Mo-in-law TV cost too much and I was canceling it
    • Mo-in-law nods
  • What I should have done:
    • Drawn one of these:


Instead, she found out I had canceled TV when she pushed the UR Macro button that kicked off this clumsy script:

Dish Receiver PowerON > Pause 2 sec > turn on TV > Pause a tic > Select HDMI Input #1 > Pause > HGTV Channel # > Enter

and HGTV didn’t show up on the screen.

What happened next, to be brief:

  • Mo-in-law finds out HGTV is canceled.
  • Pouts in room for a week.
  • Son-in-law feels bad.
  • Buys her a Kindle Fire HD 9″ refurbed and leverages his Amazon Prime sub by placing a gigantic HGTV icon on the Kindle home screen.
  • Son in law, in grand dramatic display, makes apology to Mo-in-law, explains his reasoning, and then presents the kindle, telling her she can now watch HGTV wherever she is, and, what’s really great, there’s no damned commercials to interrupt House Hunters Int’l

Mo-in-law, stewing, rejects Kindle says it’s not the same and I’m trying to buy her forgiveness. Son in law thinks, “Duh,” and is angry now; as he wasted money on a Kindle that could have gone to a Nexus. Son in law takes kindle back, puts android on it, and secretly resents it and the whole damned enterprise that brought it into his view. Feels sorry for himself and thinks the Kindle is cursed.

Black Box & CableCARD Odyssey

A few months go by. Mo-in-law warms to using SamsungSmartTV to watch HGTV. Just because you’re from the old country doesn’t mean you’re immune from binge marathon viewing; soon mo-in-law is racing through six or seven episodes of some awful XFactorIdolTalentJamShow every day. Son in law feels vindicated, uses mo-in-law’s burgeoning streaming habits to justify upgrade to premium tier CableCo speeds. Peace at last?


Crushingly no.

Even though she can now see what she wants, on-demand, and on any screen in front of her just like God intended, mo-in-law complains to wife that she feels “we are not normal family” because we have no TV service. She feels we’re missing out on wonderful programming like Discovery Channel that we could show our son in a few years. She hates the idea of using a keyboard to control TV (uhh I’ll take that one.this was the result of an two week experimental diversion into Android Smart Sticks). She moans and cries about tv for weeks on end -sometimes even while streaming Hulu!- until one day, wife’s resolve is broken and she orders husband to break his sacred oath never to pay for television again.

The 7th Circle of TV Hell

1114131235bDefeated, angry, resentful, and feeling betrayed, son-in-law decides to put it behind him. Goes to CableCo website to add TV service to account. Looks at channel packages and thinks, That’s not So Bad. Then gets to rage-inducing CableCo Page where they actually expect you to rent for $30/month a hideous used Black Box and put it under your pristine, perfectly-leveled & placed Smart Screen and string wires to it.

Now boiling inside, son-in-law decides there and then that he will not rent a Black Box for $30/month, or $20, or even $10 or $5, not now, not tomorrow, not ever! He ponders his options and gets busy; OTA not an option as the domicile is in the UHF/VHF sticks. TIVO? That’s a black box you have to buy and then RENT the information for.

And so like many of his peers, after eliminating one awful choice after another, he finally descends into the 7th Circle of TV Hell and orders a Silicon Dust device, clicks add on his CableCo Shopping Cart and procures a CableCARD, the Dongle of Dongles, the Head Dongle in Charge.

Becoming the Master of Dongles

Thus began a new Odyssey, a voyage where the only guides you can find are ephemeral and ghost-like, repeating tales of woe, desperation, and sadness on every online forum there ever was. CableCARD is evil. It doesn’t work. CableCo 1 and CableCo 2 are clueless. It’s literally maddening, they cry, woe unto you if you try!

And look, there, on the shore, beautiful CableCo sirens! They call to me, online, in person, and on the phone, repeatedly keying in an order for Black Box when I know I clearly said CableCARD, but they are so sweet, and really, a single Black Box isn’t that bad is it? They caress the Black Box in stores, my eyes follow their fingers as they describe how it’s been shrunk down over the years, how it’s volume is now only 65% vacant, and really now, you don’t want CableCARD. Black Box is so easy. Just take this friendly Black Box home, plug it in, and you’re done. Mother in law happy (yes I shared mo-in-law saga with the sirens). Single remote control? No problem they said, smart remote included!

You’re killing me Cisco. Really?

But I resisted until the last. I resisted successfully! Cable CARD. Check. Silicon Dust. Check. Tuning Adapter Device I’d Never Heard Of. Check. Open box Dell PC from Best Buy with sufficient power? Check. Old copy of Windows 7 with Media Center? Check. Terrible afternoon running cables? TV Signal over Ethernet? Check. CableCO guy scheduled to come by the next day, work out the bugs, and get TV on my PC ASAP?

Drop the Mic! Jeff exits stage left. I got TV back and it was on my terms and I solved it!

Devil is in the Details – the Remote

So the day before CableCO guy comes on site, I jump on Amazon. One last tiny detail to attend to before my plans are complete, before I can satisfy mo-in-law yet keep my pride and strategery intact. A small detail, but an important one: remote control.

Both mo-in-law and wife said CableCARD solution was predicated on them not having to control TV via wireless keyboard/mouse combo device. They actually wanted an old-fashioned remote control; indeed, they longed for it; they want to just “flip” through channels with no goal and no purpose, no destination. They probably even wanted to hear an audible click noise.

I don’t understand this myself, but I promised to meet that need.

$8 and built for Windows Media Center? Awesome. Has up/down channel buttons? Win!
$8 and built for Windows Media Center? Awesome. Has up/down channel buttons? Win!

And that brought me to this page just three or four days ago. I needed a Clicker to work the fancy program on my PC that fooled the wife & mo-in-law into thinking this was a real TV system. Sanoxy/saxony/whateveryoucallit fit the bill: cheap, had pause/rewindd/play, volume, and best of all, real up/down channel buttons. And of course, an awesome looking USB IR blaster.

Quick, check the reviews..this is too good to be true. 4.5 stars?!?! Holy crap, I can’t go wrong. Amazon take my credit card now! OneClick and give me magic remote by tomorrow!

And so it all came to pass that I got the remote, CableCo guy fixed bugs in CableCARD, Media Center actually worked, and then, the finale.

“We are now normal family” – mo-in-law

I sat my moinlaw down in front of powered-on TV and handed her the magic remote and with a smile said, “Here is the TV remote control. You can watch whatever you like” and she said, “Thank you. We are now normal family,” and I replied with a sardonic smile and then she said, “It no cost much yes?” and I got confused and walked away.

Now a day later at work, I’m enjoying this happy ending, all thanks to the Sanoxy/saxony remote and my last second purchase on Ama…….oh crap……wife calling hold on.

Wife: How do you turn the TV on with this remote?
Me: uhhhhh. press the power button
Wife: Doesn’t do anything
Me: Are you sure you’re pressing it hard enough?
Wife: Yes I see the stupid red robot light shooting at me
Me: That’s the IR receiver hun. Ok. Do you see the Samsung TV light flash?
Wife: No. Not at all.
Me: <*panick* OMG I forgot to program Sanoxy to turn on Samsung.>
Ok listen, go ahead and pull old remote out and use that.
Wife: Can’t find it (she’s enjoying this)
Me: Ok. Unplug TV and PC. Plug back in. As PC powers up should trigger HDMI signal to Samsung
Wife: *banging and smashing as chords get moved*
Wife: Ok. It’s not turning on though.
Me: Ok. #$(#$. Umm, hold on a second
Me: <Ok, Google: magic packets for Samsung Smart TV>
Google: WTF?!?
<Ok, Google: Wake on LAN Samsung Smart TV>
Google: I would have shown you those results when you Googled Magic Packets
Me: Damnit!
Wife: It’s not going to work is it.
Me: No. Unless you can find the old remote, you can’t turn the TV on.
Wife: But you just got this remote and it’s not working. You should return it.
Me: *facepalm*
Wife: Whatever. Ok we’ll just play cards or something.
Me: *deep, abiding shame*

four hours later, after dinner & baby in bed:

Wife: My mom is really insulted. She thinks you showed her the TV then made it so she couldn’t actually turn it on.
Me: Whaaaaat?!?!
Wife: Yeah. You told her the TV was ready and she thinks you are just trying to trick her. She’s very upset.

And so here I am, a few hours after that last scene, a few minutes after running to Target to get a cheap RCA universal remote, and a few seconds after reading about the Sanoxy VRC-1100 and how it, while resembling a TV Remote Control, is actually a USB HID device that emulates a standard PC keyboard, and how, despite it’s marvelous sophistication, it’s smooth mouse pad, it’s precise albeit tiny and poorly laid out buttons, and it’s wicked awesome robot killer IR blaster thingy, can’t turn on my damned Samsung TV and now my mo-in-law hates me again.

Two remotes now. One RCA to turn on TV, one Sanoxy to control Media Center Edition. One failed husband/father/son-in-law/engineer

Author: Jeff Wilson

20 yr Enterprise IT Pro | Master of Public Admin | BA in History | GSEC #42816 | Blogging on technology & trust topics at our workplaces, at our homes, and the spaces in between.

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