How to control your Apple TV with a TiVo remote

It all started with the story of a swiss company making a better Apple TV remote, and what a bummer when I learned you couldn’t get one in the US. A few weeks later I tweeted about a new set-top box being developed by TiVo, and how much I wanted one just to use that great peanut remote again, and how much I hated the Apple TV default remote when someone said you can just pair and program a TiVo remote to an Apple TV and get the best of both worlds. So that’s what I did.

Buy a TiVo remote

You don’t have to get the Lux top-of-the-line TiVo remote (any TiVo remote should work) since only about 8 buttons will work with your Apple TV, but I liked the default backlighting and size and picked one up on Amazon for $49.

Once the remote arrived I set it up a few times in different configurations until I arrived at a point that worked best for me. The following are steps to copy my best setup.

First, program the TiVo remote to control your TV’s basic controls

Before you do anything, get the power, volume and other basic TV functions working with the remote and your TV. Since there’s no TiVo screens to go through you’ll have to put it into a learning mode and cycle through codes built-in to the remote. The full instructions are here, but you hold down the TiVo button and the TV power button until the remote light goes solid, then enter 0999 to begin the remote code testing, with an option to cycle it until it successfully turns your TV off.

For my LG TV, the first test worked, and I saved it to the remote. Now, the TiVo remote could control my TV’s basic functions.

Next, go through Learn Remote settings on your Apple TV

Go to Remotes and Devices in your Apple TV settings, then select the Learn Remote option in the next menu.

You’ll go through a series of screens to set up basic navigation. I used the TiVo button as the Apple TV Menu button, and then the top directional menu to move in four directions with the middle OK button as the Select.

Go through the second set of options to map your play, pause, forward/back, skip ahead/skip behind, next track/last track. I mapped all those to the lower part of the remote, with the slow-mo TiVo button as stop, the arrow button with the vertical line as the skip ahead, the back 5 sec button for the skip back, and I used the thumbs up/down buttons for the next/last tracks.

Use your new TiVo remote

In just a couple minutes I had a familiar remote back in my hand, hit the TiVo button at the top and started moving through my Apple TV. It was fantastic immediately because like any well-designed remote, I was back to familiar controls to play and pause video and it was easy enough to move around the Apple TV UI in it.

Given the TiVo’s longer layout, you basically move around at the top of the remote (turn the TV on, adjust volume, move through menus) and then the middle of the remote to control playback. It is kind of a bummer you can only use about 10 buttons out of maybe 50-60 on the remote, but once you get used to jumping to the TiVo button to wake your Apple TV or back out of menus, it starts to feel natural.

These are the only buttons I ended up using to control both my TV and my Apple TV

The one feature of the old Apple TV remote that frustrated me constantly was the “skip ahead a few seconds” feature, which required a tap just on the edge of the glass surface of the default remote. For some reason (my fat fingers?) apps like YouTube would regularly register it as a pause and sometimes it would skip ahead to the next video. Other apps would behave differently and the tap area of the glass surface felt bigger or smaller to register a skip ahead.

With the TiVo remote, I have a dedicated button that always jumps ahead a few seconds in any app, every single time, and never pauses. It’s great.

There are a few things you’ll miss from using any non-Apple remote with your Apple TV:

  1. There’s no “Screen” button mapped. If you got used to double-clicking it to “kill” Apple TV apps like a phone, or your programmed it to jump to the home screen, or you long-pressed to get the time (until last week I had no idea Apple TV had a clock anywhere in it) or swap users, you’ll be out of luck since Apple doesn’t map this button for any other remote. I could live without it, though I did miss it slightly.
  2. There’s no glass surface to swipe across quickly for scanning through a long video. This wasn’t much of a deal-breaker for me since the fast forward and rewind buttons in the middle of the TiVo remote can move you through a video fairly quickly when you tap them a few times. I’ve gotten used to the lack of a glass swipe area really quickly.
  3. Voice control is gone, which is a bummer since the TiVo remote has a voice control button, but you won’t get to use Siri for things like filling in a search box like the Apple TV can.

Keep in mind, even that Salt remote designed with Apple’s cooperation lacks these same three extra buttons. These may be deal-breakers for you, but I can get by without them.

It took some poking around to figure out how to display how much time was left in a video playing without the glass surface, and that’s hitting the Select button (that I mapped to OK on the TiVo remote at the top center). If you point up for channel info or to turn subtitles on or off, the top banner wouldn’t disappear until I hit the Menu button (my TiVo button at the very top). I do wish the “Screen” button was mapped or that I could use voice control to trigger Siri, but otherwise it’s functional.

After a week into using this, I really like it. I can use the remote without having to look at it, it fits well in my hand, and I no longer get frustrated by a bad fast forward press or an accidental pause.

It just works.

Re-keying every lock in your house all by yourself

A few months ago, I moved into a new house on a couple acres with a few outbuildings. I don’t know why the person who built the place did this, but they put both a deadbolt and a locking door handle on every building door (sheds, barn, coop), including multiple outside doors on the main house. The locks were from all kinds of different brands and there was a separate key for each lock.

I don’t know what’s weirder, the fact that someone put a deadbolt and a locking door handle on a chicken coop, or that we had a new pile of 12 different keys with at least one lock we couldn’t even find a working key for. Ideally, my dream was one key for the whole property, so that every lock on every door was keyed off a single key in my pocket (I hate carrying keys and change, one key is enough).

I researched getting a locksmith to come out, but it would run hundreds of dollars in their time plus you can only re-key locks to a key made by the same manufacturer, and by my count we had at least four different brands of locks spread among all the doors. I could save money by bringing the locks to a locksmith’s store, replacing off brands with a single brand and re-installing myself, and there are esoteric expensive kits on Amazon for locksmith-style rekeying, but each brand requires it’s own $80 box of materials plus many hours of practice to master.

While researching the options, I kept coming across the Kwikset line’s “Smart Key” feature that offered simple re-key abilities built-in for homeowners. About 2/3 of my locks were by Kwikset, and the main front door lock was Kwikset, so I decided to see if I could do this myself.

First, here’s a great demo at 1m 25s into this video of how easy it is to rekey your locks with the feature. It literally takes just a few seconds to do it:

Going into this, I’d never replaced a full doornob and deadbolt before so I watched a few videos about it. Here’s a basic one featuring a child replacing a lock that I followed to the letter. If a child can do it, surely I could too:

My first door took me about a half hour to replace but my second took maybe five minutes and my third and fourth doors took just a couple minutes. I can swap door hardware in my sleep now.

Bonus: If you have doors that don’t quite shut right, or locks that don’t quite align, or an IoT door lock that doesn’t run reliably, you can make a few very easy small tweaks to get your doors working better. I used the lessons in the following video and adjusted a couple door strike plates and hinge screws so they all close and lock buttery smooth now.

To convert all my doors to Smart Key, I bought 3 sets of these ~$36 combo kits, plus a couple designy deadbolts for doors where it matched some nicer hardware (like my front door). In all, I had to spend about $170 total to replace every lock on my property with a Smart Key variety.

After I swapped in each new door handle and lock, I took each new key, turned them 90º, then used the special tool to insert my existing front door key, and in a matter of minutes, I rekeyed every door in every building all to the same key. The best part was my original key wasn’t even a Smart Key, but the existing Kwikset key that came with the house.

I know there’s a security weakness in having multiple buildings all use the same key, but I can change every door on the property to a new key in a matter of minutes, plus the Smart Key tech claims to be more secure than a typical lock tumbler, and resistant to basic lock picking techniques.

I went into this knowing even with security drawbacks, the convenience of getting everything down to one key on my keychain instead of a pile of unlabeled keys was a big win, and I’d always have the option to update my entire property’s locks in a few minutes.

There aren’t a lot of products that live up to their claims. “Liquid Plumber” drain cleaner that has saved me from calling a plumber on multiple occasions, and totally lives up to its name. Kwikset’s Smart Key is just that like that: you actually can rekey your own locks and you may never need to pay a locksmith again once you’ve installed them.

✅ finished my LED strips for lighting stairs

I’ve got a long walkway with five stairs going down it leading to my door and everything is a dull grey Trex-style decking that makes it hard to discern where the steps end, especially at night. I could have put a line of black grip tape on the end of each of the steps but I thought it’d look kinda ugly. Instead I wanted to tuck some LED light strips below the edges to put down a pool of light for a more subtle effect.

Here’s the finished product from above a set of 2 long stairs and then 3 long stairs

It came out pretty well, exactly what I was looking for. You can’t see the lights from about ten feet away but as you get closer to them, the effect is more pronounced and gives you a hint of where to step down (before all the edges were lost in a sea of gray).

About the only problem is from below, they kinda look Las Vegas-y (especially when it rains and the deck gets wet from rain blowing sideways in a storm like we have now). I have some extra LED channel covers, I might take a scotch brite pad to them to rough them up and try to make them a bit more opaque so that the “dot effect” is diminished and they look more like soft bars of light. If all else fails I might try some diffusion films.

Here’s everything I learned by doing this myself

A workbench at a comfortable height makes repetitive projects night and day easier and faster
My back was fucked up from doing the first step a couple nights ago, bent over on the ground while I was on my knees trying to cut materials and drill things and get it right and it took me about 3 hours to finish just the first step and I had four more to go.

The next night, I brought them all into the barn where there’s a gigantic workbench at standing-desk height, and I also went out and bought and installed a bench vise on it. Using the bench it only took me 45min to cut four LED channels, drill all the pilot holes, screw in 20 LED channel mounts, and cut the clear covers for them.

Everything at a proper height and having a workspace to batch operations made it super easy and my back isn’t killing me now that I’m done.

Doing this over multiple days was a godsend
I’ve been thinking about this project for three months, and seriously working on it for a couple weeks, making small pilot test strips and buying supplies to make slow and steady progress on it. Even doing the installation over a few days helped because every night I would wake up with a solution to a problem that stymied me the day before. It kept happening throughout this project where I’d hit a wall and hang it up for the night and wake up with a better working solution. It’s really amazing what a good night’s sleep will do for your problem solving.

Simpler is always easier
I had grand plans to do a bunch of custom soldering and programming and such to get cheap generic waterproof LED lights to work but in the end I went with off-the-shelf Philips Hue LED strips with long extension cords because they were A) super bright at 1600 lumens per strip and B) super easy to wire up and use the Hue app to program them to come on every night at sunset and go off around bedtime.

There’s a tool for everything
Any time I wondered “how am I going to get this screw into a spot around that corner where I can’t fit my drill?” I’d wander into my local Lowes and talk to the people in the hardware section and find out oh wow, they have a tool for exactly what I need.

Parts list

Brian Hull's Disney impressions

I stumbled upon a bunch of videos of a guy named Brian Hull doing incredible voice impressions of disney characters at disney parks. Watch a few:

Aside from the bang-on impressions, the bit I love most in these videos is when the person playing a character at the park—let’s be honest, probably an aspiring actor in their early 20s—reacts to the situation and what’s happening. You can tell Brian just made their day and for a moment they forgot about their long shift sweating inside a suit.