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I woke up on Saturday and decided to watch something from HBO. Not HBO, just something from HBO on the DVR (yes, I know, DVR's are so 90's). Football is probably the only thing I watch live anymore. Actually, if it's not the Pats, then even football is more often than not on the DVR. There's nothing like skipping by all those stupid commercials and half-time shows so you can squeeze in five football games in one day. Sorry, I've wandered off-topic. 

Let me just say this one more thing about DVR's: mine is the best. It has 1.5 TB of space. That's about forty days of high-def programming. Forty days (i.e. 1000 hours). BMH will carefully explain why my DVR is the biggest pain-in-the-ass DVR ever created, but I enjoy being able to record nine programs at the same time.

Having all this space and capability has turned television into a chore. I could sit and watch for about five days and not catch up. Actually, it would take closer to seven days to catch up because more things would record while I watched. It's rare for me to actually settle down and clear out some of the backlog, but that's what I decided to do on Saturday morning.

When I turned on the TV and started up "Real Time" with Bill Mahr, I saw an amazing thing: a commercial for HBOGo. Have you heard of this? It's the best invention ever — you can get all the great HBO programming delivered right to your computer, iPad, or phone. This is just what I need! Sure, I don't have enough time to watch all the programs I deemed important enough to record; now I can get instant access to HBO in the car, or while sitting on the toilet. I had to ask myself, which of the following is most important:

Clean drinking water for all the children in the world? NOPE.

Taking an active role in the community to help shape public opinion which turns into legislation over the way I live my life? NOPE.

Spending more quality time with the people I love? NOPE.

Global access to mediocre subscription-based programming which I could enjoy more conveniently through Netflix if I just waited a few more months? YES!

Having set my priorities, I decided "I must have it NOW." I loaded the app on my phone and fired it up. It wanted a user name and password, of course, so they could verify that I'm an actual subscriber. Seems reasonable, I'll just dig out my Comcast user name and ... wait a second — do I have a Comcast user name? Why would I have a Comcast user name? I don't use their email or anything on their (challenged, extra chromosome) site. I guess I'll just use this "forgot my user name" link.

Oh wait, it's not Comcast anymore it's "XFinity." Cable companies go through these rebranding efforts every few hours so that creditors and customers can't track them down. It's all part of a successful business model — 1) charge insane amounts of money, and 2) make sure nobody can get you on the phone. I stalled out at that point, puzzling over the new company name. Are they trying to conjure images of "infinity," or perhaps "affinity?" Are they trying to be boundless, or are they describing an attraction to something? Perhaps they're suggesting they have an attraction to things which are "out of bounds," like a lust for conifers. Maybe, I thought, the "X" stands for "Christ" like in Xmas. "ChristFinity" doesn't make much sense either. 

It turns out that "forgot my user name" is code for "connect me via chat with a non-native English speaker." This evolved into a marvelous twenty-minute session of me trying to guess what information they might have logged against my account. I began this relationship with Comcast about a decade ago, back when they were Susquehanna Communications (their slogan was "If you can spell our name, we'll change it!"). Home address is not unique in their system apparently – giving them that information led nowhere. I rattled off every phone number I've had in the past twenty years, but they didn't have any of those logged. You should know, I've had a confrontational relationship with the cable company for a long time. I once threatened to close my account if any of their service people even set foot on my property. When I set up the account I probably gave them 867-5309 as my number (ask for Jenny).

After about twenty minutes, the kind random-character-generator on the other end of the chat announced that it had located my account. All they needed was my full social security number to verify my identity.

"Huh?" I typed.

"1 ju$t n33d your full 9 d1gits s0ci4l s3cu1ty numm3r to cont1nu3 sir," it replied.

"No," I typed.

It told me that it couldn't reset my password without that verification.

"No," I typed.

With the second refusal, it told me my user name and asked me to use the web site to reset my password. I happily closed the window, one step closer to HBO on my Phone (WOW!).photo

Turns out, the bot was wrong. The website told me that I wasn't allowed to reset my password and I would have to engage in a second chat session to have them reset it for me. The second robot didn't ask me for anything more than my user name. Weird.

Once I had armed myself with the correct user name and password, I confidently logged into HBOGo. I'm not sure why I ever believed it would work. I found myself both surprised and disappointed. I verified that I could log into Comcast with my new credentials, so they should have been correc.t

The next morning, I placed a call to 1-800-XFINITY. They have an awesome touch-tone menu system. After each menu prompt, they ask you to type in your full 10-digit phone number. It's a lot like one of those old cop shows, where they're desperately trying to keep the perp on the line for more than thirty seconds so they can trace the call. All the Comcast people (sorry, Xfinity people) huddle around the console, egging on the phone-answerer-guy – "Make him type in his phone number again, we just need him to stay on another fifteen seconds!"

Just when I was about to give up, a woman came on the line.

"Thank you for holding, my name is Memory, can I have your 10-digit phone number please?" she asked. I'm not sure she spells it "Memory," maybe it's "Maim'oree" or something, but it sounded like "Memory" to me.

I explained my HBOGo problem. When you're forced to say it out loud, it seems like a really dumb request – "I just want to be able to see the HBOs on my phone instead of my television."

"Uh-huh," she said.

She put me on hold for a long, long time. Turns out, they'd never heard of HBOGo until that very moment. From what information they could cobble together on short notice, HBOGo was rolled out to a small number of subscribers back in March. In May, the system went "live." As far as they knew, it wasn't working with Xfinity yet. She did give me another phone number to try, but I found out later that the number was dead. She did offer one suggestion: "Did you try typing your user name in all lower case?"

"No," I said.

She never actually asked me to try my user name in all lower case. She probably realized the absurdity of that suggestion even as she spoke. Just for the record, I did try it. Of course it didn't work. At some point, if the system had said "wrong user name," or "your password doesn't match your user name," then my credentials could have been the issue. But, if you look at the screen cap you'll see that HBO didn't question me, just my subscription. I guess she thought the intersweb hates caps.

We had a brief conversation about why I called them. I felt it necessary to point out that her number (not the broken one) was given to me by the website.

We parted as friends. Memory told me that, "If you ever have a problem, night or day, we're here for you, ready to help." That's an interesting line to close your script with. They might want to consider adding a little decision bubble before they deliver that line. If you didn't manage to help someone, it's a little rude to suggest they call back night or day for help.

decision_tree

That's as far as I've gotten. As I said, the Xfinity people don't know a thing, and the alternate number they gave me didn't even connect. HBO doesn't publish a phone number of any sort. Given the amount of money I've sent them (indirectly) over the years, it's a little strange that I have no relationship with HBO. 

The whole experience was pretty damn strange. I can't imagine how HBO decided to announce their fancy new system.

"Does it work?" asked the executive.

"Not for Comcast," replied the project manager.

"Are they big?"

"Biggest in the country. Hell, they own NBC," replied the project manager.

"Ship it!"