Few people have heard of it, yet many consider John Blankenbaker's KENBAK-1 to be the first commercial personal computer.

Koss introduced these headphones over 40 years ago, and they remain affordable favorites to this day.

A Nation's TiVos On A Disgraceful Death March


March 29th of 2009 saw the second international Earth Hour. All nations of the world are invited to show solidarity with conservation efforts by turning off unused house lights for an hour. I myself saved a couple of pandas by turning off all of our lights (I'm usually pretty miserly anyway, I don't keep superfluous bulbs burning). Earth Hour is a fine gesture, but we need to be doing a lot more.

A giant stack of unwatched Jerry Springer episodes Over the past six months or so I have found ten TiVo DVRs thrown out in Chicago alleys. I've never had a TiVo before (I couldn't warm up to the notion of paying my VCR to record shows for me), so I took them all home to see why they were dumped. After powering them up, I saw the problem. These TiVos were all branded to work with a specific cable satellite provider. Once the customer changed providers, the TiVo was suddenly rendered useless.

I was alarmed by this because a TiVo is a sophisticated device.  These 10 units I found have plenty of life left in them, yet they were all garbage. These TiVos suffer from being a nigh useless appliances without that specific satellite service and a subscription. I was surprised that I couldn't at least use the TiVo like a programmable VCR.

So these expensive, functional, and technically capable devices are now landfill. I was frankly shocked at the wastefulness of the whole enterprise. My attitude doesn't stem from the renewed focus on environmentalism or the need to be financially responsible more than ever... the pitching of these TiVos is simply abhorrent to me.

I detest when a device is retired prematurely, especially when it's just all about marketing. This isn't good for the consumer nor good for the planet. It's bad enough that this summer will see a profusion of television sets (some estimates are as high as 99 million) in the rubbish bin, but it looks like more and more TiVos will be rendered useless because of limited forethought and selfish design.

In my dream world, the TiVo would have been designed with a “simple” mode that would let you use it as a VCR-style recorder. I realize that TiVo's business model relies on the subscriptions they collect, but I still can't get past how wrong it is to create a device that is crippled purely for marketing reasons. Aim those RF “blaster” thingies at a DTV tuner and you've got a perfect DVR for a second TV in your house. Are these ideas so crazy, TiVo?

Sad TiVo On a sociological note, I was amused at the programming still on these TiVos. It was pretty easy to guess at the the family makeup by the shows recorded on the TiVo's hard drive. Most of the decks were pretty varied, but I did find a couple that were distinctly “his” and “hers” units. I don't like to make broad generalizations like that, but what else can I think when one TiVo had season passes for every morning trash talk show & HGTV, while the other was choked with professional wrestling and Headbanger's Ball (that's still on?!)?

Oh, and in case you're wondering... I did ameliorate the situation at least a little bit. I removed the hard drives from each of the TiVos and am using them in a variety of other devices. Let's just hope that there are some pro-environment hackers that will find a way to squeeze some extra performance out of these abandoned TiVos that will soon be littering the alleys of the rest of the world.

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