Entries Tagged as 'Entertainment'

#MeToo

I’ll open by underscoring this is my personal opinion.

I’ve read and watched a number of individuals come forward about being sexually harassed in the past — and I think that’s a great travesty that people would take advantage of another based on their position, social status, wealth, or power — but let’s wake up here… that is how the world has operated (and we’ve all turned blind eyes for years, decades, millenniums), so let’s ratchet down the (false) indignation and work for a newer world order where harassment is a thing of the past.

I see this as an issue were we need not only looks at who did what — but when it was done.

Yes, the standards 10, 20, 30, 40, 50… years ago were very different than it is today.  And the way things were done might be appalling by today’s standards, but none the less that’s how they were done and we all knew it (don’t even try to pretend you thought all those stories of the “casting couch” and “sexitaries” was just locker-room banter… you knew it was true, and simply chose to do nothing about it).

Here on MLK day I’ve decided to share my thoughts — though let’s not pretend like MLK was a saint… he too was a sinner. He too (seemingly) had issues with equal rights for all (you didn’t hear him mention women, you didn’t hear him mention races other than white and black, you didn’t hear him mention gays).  The one thing Dr King did do: he opened up dialog which started to move this country forward from a long period of stagnation.

My feeling is actions which happened many years ago need to be looked at in the light of the prevailing time… those people need to be admonished at minimum, but if they didn’t cross what was the norm at the time that needs to be the end of it.  We just need to make sure that we update our image of the past and those personalities to include that they failed to treat everyone with the respect they deserved, and failed to take a stand to end harassment.

However, when similar things are happening now, or within the past several years — that’s different.  Clearly these events are transgressions that go far beyond the accepted norms.  Not only do we need to admonish these individuals, but we need to take action to insure that they and the industries they are in change.  That change needs to occur sooner, not later.

Should they be fired — yes — if they don’t have the courage and integrity to resign.

But should individuals who committed transgressions many, many years back when times were different be fired — that’s a little more complex; we need to look at the individual now, appraise what changes have been made to their life, and if they are still that same person.  If they are — then they’re out; however, if they’ve made change… we can give them a little time under the microscope before we make our final decision.

I’m all for zero tolerance, but zero tolerance never seems to be that (just check when the local school’s sports hero crosses the zero tolerance line, there always seems to be tolerance for at least a second chance — so something else we need to be honest with ourselves about — rarely do we really have zero tolerance, it’s just a catch phrase).

Personally I abhor harassment of any kind, I abhor those who feel they are better than others and can get away with it, I abhor those who help hide it and punish the victims… but this is a problem where we have to start to resolve today, and not get carried away with witch-hunt after witch-hunt of “dark” figures from out past.

The Worst Company in America

I’ve long held that one of the best measures of how bad a company is is how much they advertise, particularly direct mail advertising, and how they build their mailing lists.

Clearly we have a winner by this metric…  DirectTV of El Segundo, CA.

Three to four times per week I get a direct mailing from them, and once per week I get an insert in a advertiser newspaper.

Additionally I’ve filed for countless prohibitory orders through the United States Post Office (and I still get as many or more mailings from them).

Obviously there service is so pathetic that they desperately need new customers to replace the ones who bail as soon as their misleading contracts are up.

Today I called Direct TV and attempted to have my address removed from their database — they seemed to have a problem understanding that because they had taken my name and address from the telephone company listings and it was under “Solicitation Prohibited” that they didn’t need my real name to locate the record, and why they needed any name was beyond me (no it wasn’t, they were attempting to collect more demographic information to target even more advertising — they have no intent of removing my address from their database, if they had they would have done it when the United States Postal Service sent them the first prohibitory order over a year ago).

I don’t understand why anyone subscribes to satellite TV services… but then again I don’t understand why couch potatoes sit around watching mindless television programs when they could be doing something constructive with their lives.

Again — those who support unethical companies like DirectTV are part of the problem… and you should be ashamed for enabling them to operate.

Help me help DirectTV go out of business — boycott them and every other company that thinks they can continue to barrage you with direct mailings after you’ve filed with the USPS or requested removal of your address.

Originally posted 2011-01-21 02:00:39.

Google TV

Let me preface this post with the fact that I have not seen a Google TV device; I’ve only read about them and watched several video posts, so I’m not speaking from personal experience.

Google TV promises to be a “next generation” experience in media delivery to the home; and since based on Android and will leverage off of the Android Market Place it will have great potential to do virtually anything and everything.

Potential — that’s a good word for it; because it’s not quite here yet, and it’s very expensive to get in on the ground floor.

Consider that the price tag for a Google TV device is $299.00 (Logitech Revue)  when compared to the Western Digital Live TV Plus at $99.00.

Admittedly, they are radically different devices; but at the moment the WD TV probably provides most of the features you’re looking for today in home entertainment… and I’m sure one could argue that the Logitech Revue will grow and evolve with Google TV.  To that I’d say — are you crazy?  This is a hi-tech toy, you’ll be able to buy a device that does twice as much at half the price in a year… there is no “future” for consumer devices like this — you buy for today, and unfortunately end up discarding it tomorrow.

The really sad thing about Google TV is there’s really no technical reason that they don’t have a $99.00 device, or at least a $149.00 device on the market today… in my view this is a market that you don’t want to charge too much early on, you want to stimulate early adoption to make sure that you’re in total control of what might be an emerging market nitch today, but will eventually be the future of entertainment.

Personally I’ll hold off on Google TV for the time being… I’ll let the service mature, and the devices become affordable – for the moment I’m happy with the capabilities of my WD Live TV Plus and just keep an old laptop near my viewing area for the things it can’t do.

And, who knows, you might start seeing your cable and satellite providers offering Google TV enabled set top boxes in the very near future.

Google TV on Wikipedia

Google TV on Google

Google TV

Originally posted 2010-11-05 02:00:44.

NoFlix

Perhaps NetFlix should consider changing their name to NoFlix.

I can’t get over companies that charge for services, fail to deliver the services they promise, and then tell you that they’re not going to refund you a penny.

Yep — that appears to be NetFlix’s policy. I’m waiting on confirmation from Reed Hastings NetFlix CEO (I’ll follow up with anything I receive, if I receive anything) — but that’s what I was told by Sean Callaghan today after I called because NetFlix was down (unable to stream to any of my multitude of NetFlix enabled devices — or any of my friends either) for quite some time.

I was told it was due to a “service outage” beyond NetFlix’s control.

But let me provide a few more highlights of my call. When the agent I spoke with proved to be unable (or unwilling) to resolve any issue I was having — I requested a supervisor. Originally I was told that he was a supervisor and he did not have any manager there. That was then modified to be that he would not escalate the call (suggesting there were actually at least one manager there), and when that change was questioned he again modified the statement along the lines of there was no reason to escalate the call because he had answered my questions. Of course, he was apparently to say anything he wanted since he also told me that NetFlix does not record customer service calls when I ask him. That one statement really does say it all… I don’t think there’s much I can add.

Also, I pointed out — this evening was the only time this month I had cared to watch a movie (I think I had demonstrated NetFlix streaming on my Droid for maybe 3 minutes total — but I don’t really consider that using the service)… and I had no NetFlix DVD in the house, so I expected to be able to sit back and enjoy a movie via the “unlimited” streaming service I paid for each and every month from NetFlix (even though I rarely use it).

Well… not only do I have to say I find NetFlix’s service questionable, but when you consider how difficult they make it to contact them on an issue (NetFlix enabled devices aren’t even an option to report an issue to them) — how long they expect you to stay on hold, and how completely inept their customer service staff impressed me as being — I see no reason why I’d want to send them any of my money, much less putting up with them almost doubling the cost of what I have in a month (which I might add will be four times what I paid when I first signed up for NetFlix, not all that long ago).

I would say that the only thing the agent on the phone was able to do competently was cancel my account; but even that he proved to be inept at — and failed to tell me before doing so that NetFlix wasn’t going to refund anything for unused service.

It’s a joke — and the customer service agent couldn’t reference me to anything that provided information support his claim that NetFlix wasn’t going to refund any of my service fees (even though over one third of my bill cycle remains).

Then I tried to access both there “Terms of Use” and their “Privacy Policy” through both links in the emails they send and the footer on their web site as was presented with “The page isn’t redirecting properly” — I guess yet another “service outage” that was beyond their control.

I’ve closed the virtual card number I used to pay for NetFlix services; and I’ve filed a charge back dispute with Citibank… if they decide not to reverse the charges to my account; well, then I guess I can eliminate a credit card from my wallet as well.

Personally I’m tired of companies promising to provide services, then continually increasing the charges, decreasing the services, and feeling like they have no responsibility to actually fulfill their commitments to customers.

I can say this categorically — I will never use NetFlix again. Amazon provides similar services at better prices, and I have great faith that Amazon will work very hard to meet the expectations they set for their customers… and if they fail, I’m betting you won’t even have to ask for a refund, they’ll be one step ahead of you.

Most every one I know is canceling their NetFlix service before the rate increase in September, and that was my intent anyway — but as of today, I live in a NetFlix free zone, and encourage everyone to ban those red envelops from their mailbox and streaming services from their devices and computers — support a company that deserves your business and watch yet another failure shrivel away and die.

Originally posted 2011-07-22 02:00:36.

Google Music (Beta)

Google launched Google Music Beta a little over a month ago, and I’ve been using it since shortly after that.

Currently it’s free; allows you to upload up to 20,000 songs, and will play back that music through any browser, or through Android’s Music App (you will need the updated version that’s icon looks like a headset).

The Music Manager can be installed on a number of operating system, and can upload directories of music, or upload music from an iTune or Windows Media library… you do need to be patient, even on the fastest setting the manager will take quite some time to upload a large music library (I have 17,998 sound; origially I uploaded about 14,500 songs and it took almost 10 days).

The manager will detect changes to the files and automatically sync with the music cloud storage — and you can edit meta tags via the web interface as well.

The biggest downside of Google’s Music Beta is that there isn’t really any way to download the music from the cloud — say you had a local disk crash and wanted to get the music back in a library format (it does allow you to cache content locally for off-line playback).  Obviously the files are downloaded to your computer, but it’d take quite a bit of work to reorganize them (I’ll actually experiment with the cache to see if you could use something like MediaMonkey to reorganize the cache into a library — I don’t know if the ID3 tags are pulled down with the music stream or not).

While it’s free, it’s a great value — and it works very well; I’ve had no problem streaming music on 3G (you’ll want an unlimited data plan for sure)… the only potential issue you might have is that if your home internet provider caps your transfers per month (or charges for overages) you may want to upload parts of your library over several months (my library is 128GB — so almost the entire amount AT&T allows on DSL service and half what AT&T allows on U-Verse service once they start metering ).

Provided you’re not an iPhone user — I recommend you take a look at it; now if Google starts charging, you may want to consider using the Amazon service.  It’s $20 per year for unlimited music and 20GB of anything you want; or $5GB (total) if free.  The downside of the Amazon plan is that the MPAA and RIA are allowed to scan your files (there’s no privacy), and the price may change.  I can’t really speak much about the Amazon service since I’ve only played with the free storage (which isn’t anywhere near enough to store even a meaningful fraction of my library).  If you’re an iPhone user, you’ll want to look at the Apple music cloud service.

For the time being, the Google service is the best deal in town… you can check it out via:

Google Music Beta

Originally posted 2011-10-15 02:00:09.

Google Music – Beta

Google has launched their cloud based streaming music service as a beta; you can request an invitation (using a Gmail account) via the link below.

What does it get you?

Well, up to 20,000 songs in your cloud storage; play back support on most Android devices; play back support from a browser; and an upload program that will sync your library to the cloud.

Not bad for free.

Apple provides a similar service for $25 per year; there’s no limit to the amount of music you can store.  The main differences being that there’s no Android support (basically devices iTunes supports is supported), and Apple actually finger prints the files and serves their iTune version of the music rather than your copy (likely at a higher bit rate — they, of course, don’t incur the storage overhead).

Amazon provides a similar service for $20 per year (you also get some storage for other files); and there’s no limit to the amount of music you can store, but you might find their uploader is a little less friendly to use (OK — to be fair it’s been updated since I tested it — so maybe not).

You can play with the free 5GB version of the Amazon service and decide if you like it, and it’s worth the $20 (I was hoping they’d just bundle it into Prime — but if they’re serious about Hulu they really need to start Al-a-cart charges for services, or Prime is going to have to go up).

Anyway, if you have an Android device, I highly recommend you go ahead and request an invite to the Google Music Beta — you can try the Amazon out as well… if you have an iOS device, you’re probably stuck with the Apple solution (but you’re an Apple customer, so you’re used to having to shell out money for everything).

Also, the Amazon tablets will reportedly ship with a free Prime subscription, possibly a free year of cloud storage might be thrown in as well (that’s speculation on my part).

http://music.google.com/about/

Originally posted 2011-09-10 02:00:28.

Chase Freedom Rewards Bonus

From July 1, 2008 until September 30, 2008 Chase is offering 5% cash back on eligible travel and entertainment purchases.

So beyond the 3% cash back on certain categories they always offer; and 1% on all other purchases you can now get 5% cash back for a limited time on airline, hotels, rental cars, and fine dining when you spend more than $300 per month (that should be easy to do with any of those in the mix, particularly if it’s business expenses).

You do need to opt into this program, and if you haven’t gotten a letter from Chase inviting you, I’d say just go ahead and call 800-603-2265.

If you don’t have a Chase Freedom MasterCard or VISA, then maybe you should consider taking advantage of their services and rewards.

NOTES:

  • If you want cash back, you maximize your reward by waiting until you have $200 because you get a check for $250! Other than that some of their travel and give cards are pretty good deals if they would save you money that you would have spent otherwise.
  • Discover is apparently running a promotion as well. I’m not a Discover card holder so I don’t know the specifics of it.
  • My picks for cards are: Citi Rewards Dividend (Citibank); Chase Freedom Rewards (Chase); and Citi Cash Returns (Citibank). There are also a few other cards that give good rewards provided you do a great deal of business with particular vendors.
  • I would stay away from Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Capital One — their cards generally don’t pay bonuses or use some lame bonus programs.  And while you might want a credit card from your credit union, it’s unlikely they will have a decent reward program.
  • Beyond rewards, many credit cards also provide rental car insurance, warranty extensions, lost/damage protection on items you buy, etc.  It’s always advisable to read the benefits that come with your credit card; many financial institutions off great benefits just because very few people ever bother to read the literature that comes with their cards and take advantage of the programs, so it really just makes them look good in all the comparisons and doesn’t end up costing them much at all.

As always, remember you can use credit cards to your advantage as long as you use them wisely.

Originally posted 2008-07-18 21:14:23.

Video Encoding

A little over a year ago one of my friends with a Mac wanted to get into re-encoding video; I knew about the tools to do it on a PC, but none of the tools really had a OS-X port at that time, so I set out on a quest to find tools that could enable a person who didn’t know much about video encoding to accomplish it.

One of the first tools I stumbled on was HandBrake; it was an Open Source project leveraging off of a number of other Open Source products intended on creating a cross platform suite of tools for video encoding that was reasonably straight forward to use and produced reasonable good results.

Well, the version I tested was a near total failure… but the project showed promise and I keep tabs on it for quite some time.

Over the past year it’s steadily improved.  In fact, I’m probably being a little hard on it, since right after I played with an early version a much improved version was available that did work, and did allow my friend to accomplish what he wanted.

Last month HandBrake released a new version — a much improved version.

With Windows, OS-X, and Linux versions you can try out HandBrake for yourself and see the results.

I did two separate tests (and for some reason I always use the same two DVD titles — Saving Private Ryan, and Lord of the Rings — the reason is that both movies have a wide range of  video type from near still images to sweeping panoramic views to everything in motion (blowing up)…

I had two separate machines (a Q9300 and a Q9400 both with 8GB of DDR2) doing the encodes, and did both normal and high profiles; one test was H.264 into a MPEG4 container with AAC created from the AC3 5.1 track; the other was H.264 into a MKV container with AAC created from the AC3 5.1 track in addition to AC3 5.1 pass-through and Dolby Surround pass-through with [soft] subtitles.

For the high profiles: Lord of the Rings took a little over three hours; Saving Private Ryan took just under two and a half hours — so don’t get in a hurry, in fact, run it over night and don’t bother the computer(s).

The high profile achieved about a 2:1 reduction in size; the normal profile achieved about a 4:1 reduction in size.  The high profile’s video was stunning, the normal profile’s video was acceptable.  The AAC audio was acceptable; the AC3 5.1 was identical to the source, and in perfect sync.

There are a number of advantages to keeping your video in a MPEG4 or MKV container verses a DVD image… it’s much easier to catalog and play, and of course it’s smaller (well, you could keep the MPEG2-TS in a MKV and it would be identically sized, but I see little reason for that).

The downside of RIPping your DVDs is that you lose the navigation stream and the extra material.  Do you care???

HandBrake will read source material in just about any format imaginable (and in almost any container as well)… you can take a look at it’s capabilities and features online.

I’ve got some VCR capture streams in DV video that I’m encoding now — trying a few of the more advanced settings in HandBrake to see how it works (well, that’s not really testing HandBrake, that’s testing the H.264 encoder).  My expectation is that once I get the settings right, it will do a fine job; but with video captures you should never expect the first try to be the best (well, I’m never that lucky).

While HandBrake is very easy to use, your ability to get really good results from it is going to partially depend on how willing you are to learn a little about video re-encoding (which will require a little reading and a little experimentation).   But that said, NO product is going to magically just do the right thing in every case…

Overall I would say that HandBrake is one of the best video encoders you’re going to find, and you cannot beat the price — FREE!

Here’s some additional notes.

For Windows 7 you will want to download the DivX trial and just install the MKV splitter (nothing else is needed) so that Windows 7 can play media in a MKV container using it’s native CODECs.

With Windows Media Play 12 and Media Center I haven’t figured out how to switch audio streams; so make sure you encode with the audio stream you want as a default as the first stream.  With Media Player Classic and Media Player Classic Home Cinema it’s easy to select the audio stream.  Also, Windows Media Player will not render AC3 pass-through streams, it will just pass them through the SPDIF/Toslink to your receiver — so you won’t get any sound if you’re trying to play it on your PC.

Don’t delete any of your source material until you are certain that you are happy with the results; and you might want to backup your source material and keep it for six months or so just to be sure (yeah — I know it’s big; but a DVD will fit on a DVD).

Handbrake

Originally posted 2009-12-17 01:00:07.

IPTV

IPTV has come a long way since the early 90’s and for most of the nation we’re on the edge of an era where digital entertainment in the home will be carried throughout our home (and enter our home) over a conventional data network.

At the moment, most media player devices are vendor specific in what they will do (ie, the U-Verse set-top box is an IPTV device, but is very limited in what it provides beyond allowing a consumer access to the U-Verse servers) — though there are some general purpose devices.

Sure, you can attach a Media PC or Home Entertainment PC, a XBox 360, a PS3, or a Wii to your entertainment system and use it as a somewhat general purpose media player — but it’s not really designed to provide a good user experience for media (they’re intended for general computing or gaming) – or you can purchase one of a growing number of media devices that are being offered that are targeted specifically to provide for a reasonably good consumer experience.

There are also a number of BluRay players that have media player capabilities — but since I consider BluRay a dying media format (and have since the day the format wars were decided) — I see no reason to invest in a player that’s likely to go the way of the 8-track; nor do I see a reason to pay for over priced discs (particularly when I already own a license for the material in another format, and no longer subscribe to making the MPAA richer when they offer me nothing).

There are also a number of display panels that have media player capabilities — but you’re going to find that the display panels that use the best display technology don’t contain the wizzy features to allow for streaming media. So my advice, is buy a solid panel and just realize that you’re going to have an external box (I don’t know of anyone who’s built a cable-card type module for IPTV at the consumer level let).

That leaves us with just the stand along devices — and if you decide that NetFlix is an absolute requirement you come down to three devices currently: Roku Streaming Player; Seagate FreeAgent Theater+ HD Media Player; and Western Digital TV Live Plus HD Media Player.

For my money the Roku is a joke — and I’m just going to pass right over it since I’ve already given it more attention than it deserves.

Both the Seagate and the Western Digital devices look like they have potential (note, only the WDBABX0000NBK is worth considering, the other models are in the same bucket as the Roku)/

The WD TV Live Plus; however, specifically supports the “play to” feature of Windows Media Player — which means you should be able to play any content on the device that you can play on a Windows 7 machine… which opens you up to a much larger potential source for entertainment.

Let me be clear at this point that I haven’t tried any of these devices for myself — I’m just in the phase of trying to figure out which would be worth my time to look at… once I have a device (and hopefully I’ll be happy with the first I get) I’ll write up a detailed post on the feature set — if you’re in a hurry, just read over the capabilities of each of the possibilities and decide what features you have to have to eliminate the number of possibilities down; and before you do that, if you haven’t looked at the value of the NetFlix streaming feature — acquaint yourself with that, and you too will likely consider it a “must have”.

Originally posted 2010-08-03 02:00:49.

AT&T U-Verse – Summary

After thinking over AT&T U-Verse service I’m going to have to make the call that it’s something you’ll have to consider long and hard and figure out if the cost makes it something that’s worth it to you.

AT&T is a horrible company to do business with; but then again, so likely is the company your get your video, telephone, and internet services from now — so that might be a wash.

AT&T is a company that doesn’t engender trust is the least — and you’ll have to keep documentation and follow up on them on just about every aspect of your order, your service, your rebates, your rewards, your bills, etc; but then again, that’s probably all true of almost every company you do business with now — so that might be a wash.

The prices are high; so unless the service offerings are a good fit for exactly what you want (and you can take advantage of some of the bundle discounts) you might want to deal with separate companies for each of the services.

The only real positive thing I can say about AT&T U-Verse is that there isn’t a long term contract; in fact there’s not really a contract of any sort (as long as you ignore the fact that you will need to retain the service for some period of time to actually get your rebates and rewards).

One thing I suspect we’ll see as the economy continues to stagnate is that companies will do more to retain existing customers; so you might find that pricing becomes much more flexible (I’ve already been offered a “free” upgrade to U450 service with the top-tier internet for 90-days… of course I’m pretty sure they’re betting on me forgetting to downgrade [I said “no thanks”]).

Originally posted 2010-05-18 02:00:50.