Thursday, December 31, 2009
My wife and I only watch movies through Netflix, so this list won't represent any new releases.
Our favorite movies that we watched in 2009 (although not necessarily made in 2009):
Amelie (French): A young girl finds a boy's box of toys in an old apartment and tries to return it. This movie is the sweetest, most touching comedy I've ever seen.
The Darwin Awards (American): Winona Ryder and Joseph Fiennes in a funny movie about people who are culling themselves from the herd, so to speak. This is a must-see.
Danny Deckchair (Australian): A loser ties a bunch of helium balloons to his deckchair and floats away, establishing a new life for himself in a new town. Laugh-out-loud funny.
Children of Heaven (Iranian): a brother and sister in a poor family share a pair of tennis shoes. The interaction between these two kids is amazing.
Iron Man (American): big budget action flick with Robert Downey Jr. Flawless action, special effects, Downey's acting is superb as always.
The Wrestler (American): Indie-style film with Mickey Rourke. Past-his-prime fourth-tier wrestler tries to make a living getting punched and drop-kicked.
Mongol (Mongolian-ish): About Genghis Khan's early life. A movie made by a Russian director about a Mongolian emperor featuring a Japanese lead actor and Chinese extras. Epic story, great acting, authentic feel.
Tsotsi (South African): A gangster shoots a woman and steals her car only to find a newborn baby in the back seat. The acting is outstanding, the climax in the last 10 minutes is heart-rending.
The Dark Knight (American): Batman movie. Heath Ledger rocks (rocked).
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (American): Kristen Bell and Jason Segel is a rom-com that is mostly ad-lib dialogue. The stuff that comes out of these actors' mouths is so funny...
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
My friend on LinkedIn just asked me why I was so excited about Google's Android smart phone operating system coming to Verizon Wireless soon.
I wonder if he's sorry he asked? Here's what I said:
I wonder if he's sorry he asked? Here's what I said:
Android is an open source smart phone operating system from Google. A bunch of phone manufacturers are using it for their upcoming phones, including Motorola, Samsung, LG, HTC --- you name it.
Android is a game changer for these reasons. a) It will be a common operating system on multiple handsets. b) It has an application store where third parties can sell (or give away) applications. c) It is open source so it doesn't add to the cost of the phone and also as handset makers innovate with the platform, their contributions go back into the stack for everyone else's usage. d) It is tightly integrated with Google's applications (search, maps, documents, Gmail - which are all my preferred apps).
This may sound similar to Apple iPhone, and it is. The differences are 1) It exists on many handsets from many manufacturers. 2) Innovation is coming from every handset maker to every handset maker. 3) The Android app store is loosely controlled, whereas Apple's app store is tightly controlled. 4) It's available on multiple carriers (Sprint, T-Mobile, soon Verizon) not just one. 5) The open source nature of Android will help it adapt quickly to problems (viruses, malware, security holes) and opportunities (new hardware, new types of networks, new apps, corporate uses, etc.).
I can't help seeing the Apple Macintosh vs IBM PC war replaying itself. Apple has the innovative but closed platform, then another competitor comes along that is more open (the IBM PC was open to multiple vendor hardware components, sound cards, memory boards, even full clones from Compaq/Dell, etc.). The more-open competitor trounces the closed competitor.
You can see I'm excited about it. I don't know if you wanted to hear all this.
Hope this helps.
Sunday, August 09, 2009
We've all seen them. People who are constantly driving while talking (or texting) on their cell phones. This shit has got to stop.
Talking on the cell phone while driving is equivalent to driving over the legal alcohol limit, while texting and driving increases your chances of an accident by twenty-three fold.
I have an idea. Maybe we can start a trend. Whenever I see a person talking on their cell phone, I'm going to beep my horn as follows:
That is four short beeps, then a second, then two shorts, and one long. It is Morse Code for H-U --- Hang Up!!
Whaddya think? I think if everybody starts doing this, first of all, it is annoying for the cell phone driver, cuz people are beeping at them. Second, the person on the other end of the line hears it, so they know the person is cell phone driving.
I don't know. Could work.
If you do it, put a comment below to say how it worked.
Friday, May 01, 2009
Summary: When it came time to abandon our much loved satellite TV service (DirecTV) we made the big decision to go completely IPTV – all our television entertainment from Internet sources. It took some research and some fiddling with gadgets and TVs, but it was worth it. Now, almost a year later, we couldn't be happier. We went from paying $110/month with DirecTV down to only $17/month. Read to find out how you can do the same with just a normal broadband Internet connection. FAQ at the end of the article.
We Like TV
We were pretty happy. We had a good TV life. My wife, who is a seamstress, really likes to have the TV on while she does her cutting and sewing. Background noise, but also giving her the ability to look up and see the show whenever she wants.
I like to watch a movie almost every night, plus I love watching Jon Stewart's Daily Show. On the weekends, we usually watch one or two movies on Saturday night and something on Sunday night as well.
So we are not TV-o-phobes. We like our TV.
We have three main places where we watch TV in the house: my wife's cutting room (used to be a dining room), her sewing room (kind of a den) and the loft (living room).
The Trees, The Trees
What happened was our neighbor's trees grew too high and blocked our satellite reception. It also happened last year. At that time, we asked our neighbors if they would mind if we trimmed the tops of their trees, they said it was no problem. But this time, we realized it was going to keep happening every year, and we'd have to ask them to chop the trees down, which they wouldn't agree to. So we needed another solution.
From Satellite to Cable?
Should we go to cable? My wife and I had both used cable services before moving in together, and we hated them. Bad quality reception, bad customer service. No thanks. But what was the alternative?
Finally we decided to make the move to 100% Internet television. But this was going to take some research.
Our questions were:
- Could we get television in all the rooms we needed (cutting room, sewing room, loft)?
- Did the Internet have the particular TV shows that we liked?
- Was the bandwidth of our connection fast enough to provide full screen video?
- Was the equipment to get us set up going to cost too much for the savings per month?
The answers were Yes, Yes, Yes and No.
After looking on the Web for articles (one like this one would have been good!) on people's experiences (not vendor success stories), I decided to get the following equipment:
Eee PC (Linux)
A GigaWare PC-to-TV Converter (Radio Shack)
and a DVD player (no photo)
The Eee PC cost about $400 (then, now it's below $300). The Roku Player was $99. The DVD player was about $50. The GigaWare converter was around $100 once you got all the cables with it. It seems like GigaWare doesn't sell that box anymore, so maybe this would work instead.
$650 Invested in Equipment
Total investment = $650. Equal to about 6 months of DirecTV.
The purpose of the Eee PC is to act as a television for my wife's cutting room. It is super-portable, so she can carry it around if she wants to watch TV elsewhere, like our screened-in porch. She does that a lot after she finishes her work.
The Roku Player we set up in our loft / living room. It connects easily to a television with composite video connectors (there are a bunch of options). We have a 55” rear-projection TV (about 12 years old) and this combination works great.
By the way, we have wireless Internet all through our house. This is a NECESSITY for this plan. Roku depends on it, as does the Eee PC.
The reason for the GigaWare PC-to-TV converter is to be able to connect one of our laptops to a TV. To explain that a little more, we will have to get into the next topic: Content.
Can We Still Get the Movies, TV Series and Specials We Want (Need?)
We knew that we had a diverse set of content that we really wanted to get with our new setup. Here was a sampling of our regular watching (just to get this list took some analysis!):
- Movies, movies, movies – from the latest releases on DVD to foreign films to back catalog
- The Riches
- The Daily Show
- The Colbert Report
- South Park
- The Simpsons
- King of the Hill
- Sledge Hammer
- Married with Children
- Desperate Housewives
- Dancing with the Stars
- Family Guy
- American Dad
Neither of us watch a lick of sports, nor do we pay attention to the local or national newscasts. No soap operas, daytime talk shows or kids' programming (unless you count South Park).
This was our target list. As it turned out, we were able to use Hulu.com to get most of the TV shows (Riches, Daily Show, Colbert, Simpsons, King of the Hill, Nip/Tuck, Married). For others, we were able to use ABC.com (Desperate, Dancing). South Park actually has its own Website, where their content is available a few weeks after it airs on Comedy Central (SouthParkStudios.com). Cost so far? Nothing.
Now for movies. Hulu definitely has some movies, but not much. Especially when we were doing this experiment (early 2008). We needed a bigger variety. So we decided to get started with NetFlix. We knew that NetFlix had a dual service, where you could get DVDs in the mail and also have simultaneous access to another set of movies through an Internet download service. This sounded like the ticket. The price was nice: $17/month for three DVDs at a time. (Now it's gone up a bit - $17/month for only 2 at a time, including access to Blu-Ray).
And NetFlix had another advantage. Now we had access to the HBO and Showtime series we were missing on Hulu and elsewhere. We have always liked watching the pay-TV series throughout the years, like The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Weeds, Huff – you name it. Now, through NetFlix, we had access to these series either through instant download or as a mailed DVD.
Now we had it! For $17/month, we had as much content available to us as before, but most of it was on-demand - even better!! We could pick from a few hundred movies on Hulu.com or over 10,000 on NetFlix download. On mailed DVD, we had over 120,000 to choose from. And for TV series and specials, it was all there.
Frequently Asked Questions
In this section, I'll try to ask some of the questions I've heard from friends as I've described our set-up (my friends are bored hearing about this already).
Q. Isn't the picture jerky on movie downloads?
A. Depends. Hulu had lots of problems with jerky pictures early on, but they seem to have fixed this. All you have to do is bring up the show initially, let it cache for a minute or two, and you can proceed with no jerkiness. NetFlix download through Roku is never, NEVER, I mean NEVER jerky. I don't know how they do it.
Q. How is the picture quality?
A. On Hulu, the picture quality is excellent. They even have some of the shows available in HD. On NetFlix download, the picture is okay to good, depending on the day. No complaints, unless you are a very picky TV watcher.
Q. Do you have to have Windows for this all to work?
A. We do not allow the Windows operating system in our house. Everything runs either Mac OSX or Linux. Hulu runs everywhere, even Linux on the Eee PC. It just requires Flash or an open-source Flash player equivalent. The NetFlix player works on the Roku, but you can also watch any download on your computer. The NetFlix player is very picky. It works on Windows, of course, as well as Mac OSX (Intel only). It does not work on Linux nor on the older Mac PowerPC boxes (we have a Mac Mini like that). Has something to do with DRM (digital rights management).
Q. Why didn't you go with Apple TV or Cinema Now?
A. I've heard the Apple TV is very nice. Easy to use, fast to set up, lots of content choices. The reason we didn't go that route is that my wife is a penny pincher. If we sign up for a monthly “all you can watch” system, she will watch shows freely. But if we had a per-download cost (like on Apple TV or Cinema Now) she would penny pinch and end up postponing watching her TV show for days and days to save money. So, to save us both that headache, we stuck with everything being all-you-can-watch.
Q. Why still use the NetFlix mailed DVDs if you have so much online?
A. I can't give a logical answer to that logical question. The only logical reason could be that there is a much larger library on DVD than from NetFlix download. The real reason is an emotional thing. We like the excitement of getting a DVD in the mail. Even though I know what it's going to be. I can't explain it.
Q. What about other basic cable channels like Discovery, SciFi, Food Network, HGTV, PBS, etc.?
A. At the time last year, most of these networks were not online yet. But now they are. You can find at least some content for all these networks these days. Just check their “full episode” line up to make sure they have your favorites online.
Q. Don't these Websites force you to identify yourself as a cable or satellite subscriber? How can they give this away for free?
A. None of this content is truly free. On Hulu.com, ABC.com and SouthParkStudios.com, all shows are supported by commercials. And you cannot really skip the commercials (without some additional effort and hacking). The good thing, though, is that the commercial breaks are very short. Usually only one 30 second ad per break – that's it. I'm sure that will change. With NetFlix, the downloads are part of your paid service, so no commercials there. As a result, we tend to watch NetFlix downloads a lot more than Hulu (except when it's my wife by herself, then Hulu is usually her choice). We are certainly concerned that the cable companies will see all this revenue escaping from them and put demands on services like Hulu to make sure that every Hulu viewer is also a subscriber of a cable TV service. But so far, that has not happened. (Please, please, don't let it happen!)
Q. What about sports?
A. Sorry, I don't have a clue. Do some research on ESPN, etc. maybe they have some options. I think the NHL has an online viewing package for all the local games.
Q. How long do you have to wait before a show begins on download?
A. On NetFlix, it is usually about one minute. Then it starts, and never skips, jerks or has to reload. Hardly ever. With Hulu, you put it on pause at the beginning, wait for about two minutes to let it load, and away you go.
Q. Does this work on slow DSL connections?
A. Yep. That's what we have. We probably have the slowest broadband you can get. (If you still have dial-up, stop reading now.) However, if you have the slowest cable connection, you might have trouble. I think most cable Internet providers have higher bandwidth choices, so definitely factor that additional cost into your calculations before switching.
Q. Do you watch other content besides the professionally produced TV content?
A. Oh yes. We watch video podcasts and other TV series that are only available on the Web, like the excellent “Something To Be Desired” (now in its sixth season). Most YouTube videos we watch are on our computers, not through the TVs. It's funny to find old, dead networks like The WB on the Web as well. This was their opportunity to recycle all that old content, some of it is pretty good. You can also use directories BlinkX.com to find new independent video.
Q. What do you do about high-definition (HD) content?
A. It costs $3/month extra at NetFlix to get Blu-Ray DVDs, which we gladly pay. We have an HD projector and a Blu-Ray DVD player, so we use these on special occasions (most weekends) to play some big epic movie or whatever. It projects out to about a 6 ft by 5 ft image – really impressive. It's so nice to have a big white wall. NetFlix has HD downloads on some movies (very few) and the Roku can easily connect to our HD projector. Hulu also has HD content, for that we connect our Eee PC or other laptop to the HD projector. I would say we watch less than 10% of our content on HD. Even the HD movies seem to download in a reasonable amount of time and do not have jerkiness thereafter. Amazing - I don't know how that's possible with just a normal DSL connection.
Q. Is the Eee PC powerful enough to watch full-screen video?
A. We've never had a problem. The only problem is with the bandwidth coming in, and that is solved by pausing the show for a minute or two to let the content cache, then it's fine.
Q. What about when you travel?
A. I'm a computer consultant, so I travel a lot. No problem. My NetFlix downloads and Hulu come with me on my laptop. Hotel Internet connections are always too slow, however, so I always use my wireless modem from Verizon Wireless.
Q. How does this work for people outside the U.S.?
A. Not worth a crap. Sorry.
Q. Do you use Boxee, Square Connect or another service as an content directory?
A. We don't. I just set up a Web page for my wife and we left it at that. These services are very intriguing, and once they have Hulu and the NetFlix content all integrated into one service, we will probably switch.
Q. Are you happy with Internet TV?
A. Yes, extremely. It's been almost a year post-satellite and we don't miss it one bit. It is scary to think if our Internet connection would ever go down, we'd have no e-mail, Web surfing or TV. But, luckily, that hasn't happened yet.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
This diagram is from a white paper written on the current financial crisis. The R's mean reinforcing feedback, the B's are balancing feedback, the S's (same) are where more of one thing lead to more of another, and the O's (opposite) are where more of one thing lead to less of another.
The most interesting effects occur when you have a delay in a loop, where you initially don't know if the link does anything or not, you have to wait.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
I visited the S.P.A.C.E. graphic novel and comic book convention in Columbus, Ohio today. What a treat!
One of the most unique finds there was "The Dreamer" series of graphic novels, done by a young woman named Lora Innes. The artwork is exquisite and the story is very fun. Lora remarked that she has accumulated a very well-informed fan base which includes "Thomas Jefferson fan-girls, Alexander Hamilton fan-girls the fights between them!" Lora started out with a short graphic novel including some vague historical references, but the further she got into it, the more she found she had to improve her own knowledge of America's history. Soon, she (and her fans) were delving into the battles, lives and loves of many of the heroes and heroines of 1776 and the surrounding era.
I was truly impressed with Lora's work. You can view her The Dreamer series online here. If you like her work, donate here.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Fox News has been reporting that the Dow Jones Average went down during a speech by the President when the stock average actually went UP. Hey, Fox-holes - it's one thing to show the "other side of the story," but you can't just make stuff up to suit your purposes!
Wake up, Fox! We can tell when you're lying!
All this after showing a six-month old clip of Joe Biden and pretending that it was current (shows at the end of the clip).
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
This is a good movie to see for anyone even slightly open to
alternative medicine / holistic health. It was interesting to hear the
success stories of people who were saved by Gerson Therapy, which I
don't doubt a bit (I know people who have survived cancer using similar
means). However, I wish the film hadn't given the impression that
--everyone-- gets better with Gerson, which of course isn't truth for
It surprises me that some people are still so hostile to the fact that
changes in diet can change a diagnosis like cancer. If you think about
how you got cancer in the first place (just coincidence??? just
genetics??? C'mon...) then it is easier to think about diet as cause,
complication and/or cure. I guess it will just take time for more
people to come around.
The movie was pretty well done. Very heavily biased towards the
positive side of Gerson, very little airing of people dissenting
against it, just a few seconds of those interviews, and unfortunately,
focusing on guys like Stephen Barrett, who have been completely
discredited in the medical field. I wish they would have had some good
back-and-forth discussion on the pros and cons of Gerson without just
throwing up a straw man like Barrett who is so easy to disparage.
Unfortunately, stuff like Gerson Therapy tends to be a very emotional
topic for Western medical specialists, so it must have been hard to
find a person who could talk intelligently and somewhat calmly about
The movie tries to make this a personal journey for this young man, as
he discovers what is going on with Gerson Therapy and food as medicine.
I think the movie was paced nicely and it wasn't too preachy. Overall,
8 stars out of 10
Friday, March 06, 2009
I ordered two shirts from Snorgtees.com a few weeks ago. The shirts arrived but the two shirts for my wife fit much, much smaller than expected, probably 3 sizes too small. Not normal. We decided to return both of them and get our money back.
Oops! No returns from Snorg!! Well, that sucks. So then we decided to just get the men's sizes instead, which we could judge from the shirt I ordered (which did fit). But then we found out that Snorg wants the customer to pay for shipping for returns BOTH WAYS!!
These were some expensive shirts by the time we were done. Nice stuff, the shirts are from American Apparel, but that return/exchanges policy really sucks. Next time we're going to use somebody else (although I still think the Snorg girl above is superhot).
These guys are big advertisers on Digg.com, which is where I saw them. Too bad their policies are too customer-hostile.
Saturday, February 28, 2009
These Linux Eee PCs are so cool. They are getting cheap enough that you could practically have one in every room of your house. If you could, what would you do with them all?
Here's what I'd do (most of these things require you to disable the Eee PC's screensaver, which you can do quite easily):
- Watch TV. The main purpose of our Eee PC right now is to use it as a very portable television. We watch Hulu mostly, as well as South Park when a new episode comes out. We originally bought the Eee PC because we lost our DirecTV (neighbor's trees in the way) and we didn't want to have to run a cable to the far room, so we just set up the Eee PC in that room and streamed content from Hulu. We love it. But you need a set of cheap speakers plugged into the Eee PC to really get sound. Otherwise it works great. My wife isn't a very confident computer user so I built her an easy menu of the sources of entertainment. (Yes, Flash for Hulu and YouTube runs fine on the Eee PC out-of-the-box.) Plus, the Eee PC has a port to connect to a larger monitor or TV (VGA).
- Listen to streaming music. Pandora works on the Eee PC. If you haven't used Pandora, you should really give it a try. It is a free streaming music service where you can construct your own radio station of cool songs. You can pick a number of your favorite artists and then it will play music that is similar to those artists (as well as the artists themselves). It can go for hours with enjoyable tunes, and if you don't like something, you can vote it down and it will jump to the next song.
- Listen to the radio. If you have a favorite radio station locally (or around the world), the Eee PC has a function built-in that will take you straight to the MediaU Website.
- Tape recorder. My wife has a lot of cool ideas throughout the day and she likes to have a tape recorder to record them on the spot before she forgets. The Eee PC has a great microphone and simple sound recorder application built-in that works nicely.
- Play video games. Okay, you're limited to games that work on Linux, but still. The Eee PC has a cute little penguin bodysurfing game that is quite fun.
- Alarm clock. When traveling, you don't have to pack an alarm clock, just use your Eee PC. Here are instructions (look further down on the page after the business about the potato).
- Digital picture frame. This works pretty well. Go into Flickr and use the slideshow feature. If you want just certain files to repeat over and over (like a standalone picture frame) you can use OpenOffice Impress (called Presentations on Eee PC) which works similarly to PowerPoint.
- E-mail station. Like to look at your e-mail while you're eating breakfast? Why lug your laptop from your home office to the dining table? Just use your Eee PC (dining room edition)! Eee PC uses Thunderbird, plus has desktop links to Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo and AOL. Of course, you can get to any POP server through Thunderbird and any Web-based e-mail through the browser (Firefox).
- Listen to podcasts and music. The Eee PC does not have a podcast catcher built-in, but you can download a Linux-compatible application like Songbird (sorry no iTunes on Linux but Songbird is really nice). Installation is a bit tricky, follow the instructions in this thread. Most Eee PCs do not have much storage space, so once you've listened to a podcast, delete it immediately. You won't be able to store your whole music collection on the Eee PC drive either, but you could use a flash drive (Eee PC has a USB port).
- Watch tutorials. There are so many awesome video tutorials on technology tools (like this set on GIMP) but who has time to sit still and watch them? Take your Eee PC with you from room to room and have the tutorials playing while you make dinner or cut your toenails.
- Read your own personalized newspaper (RSS). Google Reader is an incredible time-saving (time-wasting) tool. I've used it to create a personalized newspaper for myself. I don't care about 90% of the stories in my local newspaper, I care about other stuff, like stories about Agile development, business travel, Canadian news, systems thinking, holistic health, open source software, renewable energy, software productivity tools, Web 2.0, etc. So I was able to construct a constant stream of these types of stories using an RSS Reader like Google Reader. The only trouble with doing this on the Eee PC is that the screen is a bit small to see enough of the stories, but you can fix that. Hit F11 on the Eee PC and then click on the border in the middle and you should have lots of reading room.
- Read your recipes. There are so many good recipe sites on the Web, but AllRecipes is my favorite. Use your Eee PC as a recipe station, eliminating the need to print them out.
- Read PDFs easily. The Eee PC cannot be called an e-book reader, but it does a good job of reading PDF files. With my job (computer consulting), I often have to get through a massive PDF file and I don't like sitting in my office reading it on the screen. It is sometimes nicer to use the Eee PC to pull it up and read it anywhere, even in my La-Z-Boy chair in the loft. The Eee PC comes loaded with Adobe Acrobat Reader.
- Mirror. Umm, you can use the built-in Webcam on the Eee PC as a mirror to see if you have something in your teeth. (Gettin' lame, I know.)
- Social network status. If you are totally into a particular social network (Facebook, Twitter, Friendfeed, Ping.fm, etc.) you can keep that page loaded on your Eee PC and see what's going on realtime with your friends.
- Encyclopedia. Nice to have an on-demand encyclopedia in every room, eh? Wikipedia is the obvious choice here.
- IM station. The Eee PC comes with an instant messaging client, but you'd have to have it running only in one room, otherwise you get logged out elsewhere. Still, nice to be able to IM anybody anywhere in your house (maybe??).
- Phone. Skype is loaded on the Eee PC, you can use your Eee PC as a phone, but you will definitely need the speakers (as mentioned previously). Although it has a Webcam, you have to go through some additional steps to get video Skype working. Maybe the newer Eee PC don't require this, I don't know.
- To do list. Nice to have your favorite to do list right in the room with you. My favorite is Remember the Milk, but any Web-based system or Linux-compatible download will work.
- Real-time information feeds. Things like weather or election results can be nice to have on-demand in the room you're in.