A day in the life of a cable junkie
All I learned about cable, I learned in my basement
By: Jason Hibbard, AT&T Broadband (Comcast)
Created: January 25, 2001
People ask, “What do you do”? I manage the Conditional Access group. Some of the looks I
get are priceless. If they are
in cable, they smile and walk away, maybe not fully understanding. If they
are from the “outside”, they really look at you funny. Conditional access is the fancy word for addressability. That black box that
controls all the cable converters. The thing that gets sworn at when it’s
down, and forgotten when it’s running. I was one of those guys called an “IC” or Individual Contributor. We had no
set working hours, we just worked constantly. Truly addicted to cable. Not
there for the fame, we were there for the glory of seeing something we
created work. Something no one tried before. Connect this to that and see
what happens. It got to the point where I started bringing bits and pieces
home to connect together and see the outcome. The collection started to
grow. Soon, I had a small headend in my basement, rack and all. Eight
modulators, six scramblers, one Scientific/Atlanta System Manager 20 with
HEC and ISP, a General Instruments ACC-4000, and an ACC-2000. It was
Back then, our company was introducing the SA 8600x. I wanted to learn
all I could about it. Everything. Right down to the F-connector.
The collection continued to grow. The electrical bill was growing too. After
all, keeping a headend powered was the right thing to do, wasn’t it?
Nobody shuts down a headend, before they go to bed! Besides, when I woke up
in the middle of the night, I could run downstairs and try what I just
dreamed of. Pure addiction. It got to the point where my very understanding
wife would open the cellar door and ask if I was coming to bed. “Be right
up!”, I would answer.
Sometime I went up after a few minutes, sometimes a little longer. On
occasion, she would come back to the door and ask if I was still down there.
“Be right up!” (It worked before). “Don’t bother. It’s morning”.
I hate when that happens. But hey, look at all the cool things I was
learning. Exploring new areas. Trying different combinations. Finding new
bugs. This was great! Something
was missing though. A billing link! I got a pair of RF modems, found some
unused spectrum on my node and connected them to our billing mainframe. Now
I had a REAL cable system.
Still something missing.
Customers! Oh kids!
Come down here for a minute.
You! Sit in front of this TV. Put your sister in front of that one. OK! What
channels do you two want to watch?
Nickelodeon? Coming right up! I would provision the services on the
converters. Create virtual text channels with their names on it. Now I had
their interest. Their name on TV. Dad wasn’t too bad after all.
They started learning what keystrokes did what. Eventually I would find the
older one down there doing a soft disconnect on the younger one’s converter.
Putting up rude messages about her sister on the text channel, after all,
they were kids.
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