How I Killed My Answering Machine: Part VII

This is the last of seven parts of the story of how I killed my answering machine. How complicated can it be to replace a simple little device with something a little more geeky? About 17 months, $500 and countless hours – that’s how complicated.

Part VII: The Damage

With everything finally working, it was just a matter of cleaning everything up and putting it away. But first, there was a need for some destruction. There’s no hole for the ethernet cable to get out of the TiVo, so you have to make one. This was fun. I pulled out a power drill, found a nice spot on the back case of the TiVo, and let out many months of frustrations on the box. The cable went through, I connected it to the wireless bridge, put the cover back on, and put it back in the entertainment center. I left the screws off – who knows when I’ll need to go in there again. So far, so good though. From what I hear, the next time TiVo pushes an update I’ll have to pull the drive out and reinstall any software I’ve added such as the telnet and FTP servers.

My router that I no longer needed arrived from Amazon soon after and I sold it to a coworker minus the rebate which I said I would send in. Months later I would get a rejection postcard from Linksys saying that my purchase was out of the specified time period. It wasn’t, but I’m too lazy to fight it, which is exactly what they want I guess. So I lost $10 on that router.

Some nights later I used the telnet and FTP servers I installed earlier to put TiVoWebPlus and TyStudio on my newly-networked TiVo. TiVoWebPlus’s interface is a bit funky, but it’s far easier to browse and search for programs and schedule programs when you have a mouse and a keyboard rather than a remote. I can also theoretically do last-minute scheduling from work if I wanted to.

TyStudio is also quite nice if you want to get a program off your TiVo. I’ve only really wanted to do this once, but it worked. Tranferring a 300MB video file over a 802.11b wireless connection was pretty painful, but eventually finished. The hardest part was converting TyStudio’s MPEG2 stream to something that could be transcoded to something streamable. I forget what software I finally used, but it worked.

So that’s it? I’m done? Not quite. Lingo still had a few issues. For one, my outgoing callerid was still showing my temporary number. Worse, they were going to charge me for having two numbers after a few months. A few emails and calls later, they fixed that.

The more persistent problem was that the time on the incoming caller id was wrong – 4 hours into the future. I live in California, not Nova Scotia. This was particularly annoying because my spinning info globe thing also serves as a clock in my living room, so I’m always seeing the wrong time rotating around. I sent a few emails to Lingo (noting that my account had my time zone set to Pacific) about this and they responded to say it was fixed and that I may have to reset my modem for it to take effect. I did that a few times and it didn’t do anything. I sent another email and didn’t get any response at all. One day I had idea – what if I changed my timezone on the Lingo website to a timezone 4 hours behind Pacific, like Hawaii time? I did that and the callerID was now a couple hours in the past. Good. Then I set it back to Pacific. It worked. I guess that’s the telephony equivalent of “jiggling the handle.” Lingo customer support is pretty useless.

My God, I think that may really be it. I have VOIP. All my cordless phones work. My TiVo can update. Best of all, my answering machine is collecting dust in the attic.

So the final damage tally for this project is:

17 months
 5 modems ($46)
 5 trips to Fry's
 3 operating system installs
 2 wireless routers ($55)
 1 network card ($69)
 1 CallSoftPro license ($50)
 1 serial adapter ($4)
 1 wireless bridge ($35)
 1 cordless phone system ($216.42)
 1 spinning info globe ($50)
 dozens of reboots 
 many stupid hours wasted + several more writing a stupid blog about it

That’s about $550 plus whatever it costs to power a PC “answering machine” for a year.

Of this I still have a license for CallSoft Pro, a serial adapter and a modem with broken caller id to sell. Oh, let me know if you’re interested in using Lingo (despite my issues here). We both get $25 off our bills with a referral code. If I can refer 22 people, I could actually break even on this endeavor. Unlikely.

If there’s a lesson here, it’s don’t try to build your own answering machine. Also, don’t call me – send me email. Given the fiascos of the last year, who knows what state my phone system might be in right now?


  1. Well, I suppose it wouldn’t have addressed the tivo-callerid issue, but I’d have probably just bought Ovolab Phink (, and called it, pun intended, a day. Well, to be totally honest, I’d probably go through a bunch of what you did with the same goals, except with me it’d end up a half-finished project, and I’d have no phone service at all, a permanently disassembed Tivo, and irate wife.

    Too bad I didn’t know you when I left the country… I sold my two tivos, and couldn’t find anyone who knew what a tivonet card was, so I ended up just giving it to one of the guys I sold the tivo to (after having removed it…!) I’m quite certain it got trashed or is collecting dust somewhere. I’d really like a series1 again for the hacking factor, maybe I’ll go ebaying for one soon.

  2. A very interesting blog made me smile and waste half an hour while I was supposed to be searching for a Mac osx answer phone. This because I could’nt find a ” white digital phone/answer machine for less than £30″ Maybe I’ll just spend the extra £10 🙂

  3. Hey.. I have Lingo.. My tivo was working previously. I have series 2 D*, had for awhile, it died this past Monday (RIP) D* sent a refurb to replace and now cant do jack diddily. Wondering what call settings you had success with. I tried for a few hours last night to get this working. Thanks for any help. Maybe its a matter of me not using the right term when Im searching but I would appreciate any info you could pass along.

  4. Hi Jeff,

    Would appreciate any info youd pass along about getting my tivo to make its daily call in on the Lingo voip. I had it working but that tivo died and the refurb thhat D sent me doesnt seem to want to call. I also hooked up the old dead unit, gives insert valid access card error and went to phone settings wrote them down and also attempted a call with it and that now will not call as well. Im getting frustrated once again, thought I had it beat with the old unit as it worked fine. Anyways, nice story and hopefully you can point me in the right direction. Thanks!

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