2012 and still they fail

NOlympicsIt’s 2012 and companies are still failing at The Internet.

The Olympics have begun, and NBC has made available every event online for streaming so you can watch them on your PC or tablet or phone. BUT only if you are already paying for TV. If you are one of those people who decided to cut the cord and go back to getting your broadcast TV by antenna or through websites on the Internet, then you are shit out of luck.

NBC had a real opportunity here. They could have allowed people to purchase an online package to get access to the feeds without needing to have Comcast or Cox or DirecTV or some other service. The pitch could have been, “Get access to all the Olympic events streaming on your PC, tablet and phone for $99!” with a perk of “Or, if you already pay for TV through one of our partners, get it for FREE!” Instead though, we are left with “If you are already paying for TV, get access to the Olympics events on your PC, tablet and phone for FREE!”

I really want to give NBC my money. I’d be willing to set aside a number of activities for a couple of weeks while the world’s best athletes compete for the gold, but I can’t. I cannot give NBC my money. Instead, I have to give Comcast my money, so that Comcast can give NBC a tiny fraction of that.

Well… fuck that! I’m not about to pay Comcast a bunch of money for access to 300+ channels I will never watch just so I can stream Olympic events to my PC, completely not using a TV, a set-top box (that Comcast requires) or even Comcast’s internet (since I’d be watching more stuff at work than at home).

This is crazy ass backward. I know why they do it though. It’s because the subscription cable/satellite business is too much to give up. It’s the same reason you can’t get HBO Go without already being a PayTV subscriber and already having HBO through that. I’d love to give HBO my money, but they won’t take it unless it comes filtered through Comcast and their ridiculous pricing plans that force me to get 300+ channels so I can watch 5.

Oh well, I guess I won’t be watching the Olympics. Maybe they’ll get this sorted out by 2016.


It is the normal temperature of the human body, in Celsius.

It is the number of plays (counting Henry IV as three parts) that William Shakespeare is thought to have written. Unless, of course, you don’t believe he wrote any.

It is the TV channel for which there is no channel because the frequencies are reserved for radio astronomy. Except on cable, because cable isn’t broadcast television.  Oddly enough, thirty-seven is also the number of as-of-yet unidentified radio signals that have been received from outer space.

It is the number of slots on a European roulette wheel, though that number does not appear as it uses 0 through 36. Americans hate things that are odd, and the hard work required to divide a wheel into 37 slices and so add 00 opposite the 0 slot, thus bringing the total to 38.

It is a prime number, the first irregular prime, and the number of dicks that Dante’s girlfriend has sucked.

37 B.C. was also known as the Year of the Consulship of Agrippa and Gallus, while 37 A.D. was the Year of the Consulship of Proculus and Pontius.

Vincent van Gogh died at the age of thirty-seven. As did Michael Hutchence. On the other hand, at the age of 37, Benedict Arnold was signing his Oath of Allegiance at Valley Forge, Bob Hope performed his first USO show, Arthur Miller has his play The Crucible open on Broadway, Alan Shepard was the first American in space, Rupert Murdoch bought News of the World, and Pete Rose had his 3,000th major league baseball hit. I’m sure that lots of other people died or did significant things at 37, but these were what I could quickly find.

Today, I’m 37. What am I going to do?

Death Valley

Years ago (or can it be measured in decades now?) when MTV pretty much stopped airing music videos, I pretty much stopped watching it. Occasionally I might drift back to it for the odd awards show, special event or boredom, but that came to a complete stop when I canceled my cable TV and no longer had easy access to it. Which is why I find it so odd that I’m now watching (by *ahem* other means) a show on MTV.

But how could I not watch Death Valley?

The show is set in a world where zombies, vampires and werewolves (and possibly other things) exist. Shot as a reality show like COPS, the camera crew follows members of the Undead Task Force (UTF) of the Los Angeles Police Department as they deal with the shambling undead, ones that are fresher and run faster, vampires involved in the “blood for sex” trade, werewolves who forget to lock themselves up for the full moon, and more.

Being that it’s on MTV, this show is far better than it has any right to be. While occasionally there is an effects shot that looks off, the majority of them are quite good, probably because CG work is becoming so cheap while quality keeps improving. The acting is also pretty good as well. Anyway, this totally gets a thumbs up from me and I recommend at least checking it out to see if it happens to be your cup of tea.  Check out the trailer below for a start.

Reforming Cable TV

In the wake of many subscription MMOs going to a Free to Play model, it got me to thinking.  Why can’t Cable TV do the same thing?

Instead of charging me $150 a month for 300 channels, most of which I’ll never watch, how about letting me have “free” cable, where I can watch PBS and other local stations in real time with commercials, and have everything, and I mean everything, available on demand as a pay per episode/pay per season service?  The infrastructure is there.  They already do sell programs on demand, they even ofter free on demand for many network and cable shows.  They already provide Internet service and have the bandwidth.  Just expand it.  Sure, some people might just watch the free stuff, just like some gamers only play the free parts of free to play games, but the people who pay and buy the extras will far outweigh them in the long run.

As an added bonus to this sort of design, TV execs can stop trying to guesstimate viewers and DVR watchers and whatnot and actually get hard purchaser numbers.  Even better, shows can stop competing against each other.  Many shows have tried to go up against juggernauts like American Idol or Dancing with the Stars or even some scripted shows, and even if they get a few million viewers, it isn’t enough to keep the show on the air.  Even when there are lower rated shows on the network, because sometimes it isn’t how good your show is but only how well it did versus someone else’s show.  What if, instead of seeing your show get a paltry 2 million viewers while 28 million tune in to some other network, you could see that within a two week period 18 million people watched your show, 16 million of whom, if forced, would choose another show but when given the freedom to watch whenever they want without being forced to choose will happily watch and enjoy your program?  Wouldn’t that be better?

And really, they don’t even need to go so far… I’d gladly watch the commercials during programs or special “sponsored by” spots before an episode if I could just watch all the shows I want when I want to watch them.  I’d settle for having everything, with commercials, available on demand, and having the cable company charge me for the channels I want to select from a la carte.  Rather than $150 a month for 300 channels, 282 of which I will never ever watch, ever; charge me $20 bucks a month and let me pick 20 or so channels I want to have.  Make it a dollar a channel, with discounts the more I select.

Anyway… those of the rambling thoughts that are rumbling around in my brain today.

Hulu Plus

Yesterday, Hulu announced the details of their Hulu Plus plan.  Of course, being the Internet, it was immediately filled with people saying it was too expensive, not enough content, and that the inclusion of ads was a deal breaker.

You know, on the content end, they are probably right, but that it something that will get better over time.  But the price and ads…  Think about your cable service if you have it.  You pay XX for TV and XX for Internet access.  In my case, with Comcast, those prices would be about $50 and $45 respectively (it varies based on the package you get).  Personally, due to issues with Comcast not having a DVR capable of letting me record 6 shows at a time and their OnDemand service not having everything I already pay for for free, I kicked the TV part to the curb and just pay for Internet now.  At the moment, I torrent, but it means I watch shows a day or two late — minimum (someone has to upload it before I can download it).  But if Hulu were to give me access to even half of those shows on a completely OnDemand basis for $10 a month, even with commercials, I’ll take it.

And about those commercials… oddly enough, Ctrl+Alt+Del ran a related comic and rant.  Are commercials really that bad?  Yeah, sometimes they are annoying, but in general they are informative, about products or shows that might interest me, and then, if I want, I can go buy them.  Since switching to torrenting, where they always edit out the commercials, I’ve been missing my advertising.  New shows will pop up out of the woodwork and be a few episodes in before I’ve even heard of them (you know, because I don’t spend my time trolling TV Network and entertainment gossip websites).  I’ll go to the store and see a product on the shelf and say, “Hey! This is great!” and find out that it’s been available for months, only I’d never seen an ad for it so I didn’t know it existed.  And seriously, why is Hulu for $10 with commercials bad but cable TV for $50+ with commercials okay?

Personally, I’m excited.  This sort of OnDemand a la carte TV watching is exactly what I want.  Sure, torrenting is free, but I’d much rather support the shows I watch in some way AND not have to deal with the annoying limitations of cable TV providers.  I just wish the Xbox version wasn’t being delayed to 2011.

Lines in the Sand

Recently, I’ve been thinking about theft and piracy.  Mainly because some people I know have been tossing around invites to various torrent sites, and while I don’t join most of them, I don’t mind scanning the content just to see what’s out there.

For me, there are lines I won’t cross.

Movies: I will not pirate movies.  I’ll go to free screenings, I’ll pay for in the theater, I’ll wait for the DVD or Netflix.  I won’t buy one ticket and then see multiple movies at the theater.  In part, I think this is because I want to work in the industry some day, and I would hope if I was trying to make my living off movies that people wouldn’t be stealing my work.

Books: Nope, don’t steal them, don’t download pirated eBooks.  Again, I think this is because I want to be a published author and I wouldn’t want people stealing my stuff.

Games: Way way back in the day, I admit, I pirated some games.  I was 12, maybe 13.  Ever since I could afford to buy them, I’ve stopped pirating.  Once again, an industry I want to work in.

Music: By and large, I don’t pirate.  I say “by and large” because while the majority of my collection comes from ripping my own CDs (some of which I have since sold at garage sales), I have also ripped CDs from other people, or been given mixes from friends that I’ve ripped.  I will say, however, that the majority of my music theft is limited to CDs that are no longer available.  I’d buy them if I could, but I can’t.  This is changing as music companies are finally embracing digital distribution and it doesn’t cost them much to cart out old catalogs and put them up for sale.

TV: On the other hand, I torrent TV shows like there is no tomorrow.  Mostly though, I do this because of the roadblocks they (the networks and cable companies and everyone else) put in my way from enjoying all the shows I want to see.  All I want is a 100% OnDemand service where the episodes are available “on time”.  No holding shows back for a week to try to get me to watch the broadcast.  You can even leave the commercials in.  (Unlike some people, I don’t mind commercials at all, it’s how I learn about other shows, upcoming movies, products, etc.  I don’t record/torrent TV so I can skip commercials.)  The Upfronts are this week and so later I’ll be doing my usual rundown of the fall season and like every year I will illustrate why I have to record/torrent shows.  Things are getting better with services like Hulu out there, but they still don’t have everything.  And frankly, cable TV charges WAY too much to their hostages, I mean, customers.  I’ll happily stop torrenting when I’m given unlimited undelayed time shifting.

Anyway… just thoughts in my head.  Are there lines you cross?  Do you try to justify it?  How?

Cable TV & Me

If you frequent my blog, you may have read about my war with Comcast.  The end result of everything is that I built my father a PVR using digital tuners, and he’s able to record six programs at a time on the channels broadcast in the clear (essentially 2 thru 78 plus a handful of other random channels, plus the HD versions of all the local channels), while I, not able to afford to replace my PVR, canceled cable TV in favor of various streaming sources.  With Hulu, network websites, Netflix, and the occasional torrent, I can watch pretty much every show I care to watch.  Yeah, it is always a day late, but I was recording and watching most of them a day late anyway.

The main reason behind this decision wasn’t just to save the $60 a month that cable TV cost me, although that is nice, but mostly in that cable TV isn’t serving me properly as a consumer.  To me, the single most important thing is to be able to watch the shows on my schedule.  Since networks insist on putting good shows on opposite each other, and I don’t want to not watch good shows, recording shows has always been something I needed to do.  And while recording shows for later viewing meant I could fast forward through commercials, that was always a side effect and never the point.  Time shifting was the point.  Right now, if for that same $60 a month, Comcast were to offer me the ability to watch any program at any time, even if I was forced to watch the commercials and couldn’t skip them, I’d do it.

On Demand programming is where the future is, and networks need to catch up.  And charging me $3 or $5 per episode in addition to my cable bill just to watch it without commercials isn’t the answer.  Leave the commercials in and let me watch it for free, just like when it is broadcast, but on my own schedule.

I want to watch your shows.  I even want to watch your commercials (they help me discover more shows and sometimes even products to buy).  But I just can’t do it on your schedule.

Either the networks need to jump on On Demand, or the cable companies need to invent the 10 tuner DVR that works with ALL their channels  so people can create their own On Demand.

Admission of Fault

Recently, I’ve gone to “war” with Comcast.  This year marked the final turnover to digital and the end of analog broadcast.  For the past 18 months, I had kept in contact with Comcast about the effect this would have on my analog cable.  See, the basic cable – channels 2 thru 78 – are all I really watch, so that’s all we have, and you don’t need set top boxes for that, which allowed me to build Medusa, my 6-tuner PVR running Snapstream’s software.  I admit I watch a lot of TV, but the main problem is that quite often even if I only watch three or four shows on a single night, they’ll always air at the same time.  Years ago I managed this by having four VCRs, but times have changed and I upgraded.  In any event, Comcast assured me that nothing would change, my analog devices would continue to work just fine.  On many occasions over this time period, I inquired about the future of analog service, and every single time I was assured that Comcast had no plans to end analog service for the cable package of channels 2 thru 78.

So, one day there was a problem with my cable.  It seemed I was only getting channels 2 thru 29 or 30, everything above that was gone.  I called in to Comcast customer service and asked what was going on.  They explained it was an outage, and regular service would return soon.  Seeing as I already had them on the phone, I again inquired about the future of analog services.  I asked if this division of 2 thru 30 and 31 thru 78 was a precursor to them moving 31 thru 78 to digital only.  I was assured that there were no changes planned.  None.  Channels 2 thru 78 would continue to be available for all analog users.

In the meantime, over the past couple of years, I have watched with anticipation the development of digital tuner cards for PCs.  At first the support was iffy, but now pretty much all software supports them, and given a good enough PC they’ll even watch and record HD channels broadcast “in the clear”, like your local network affiliates.  I’ve been budgeting my money in plans to upgrade my PVR so that I could take advantage of digital, but its not exactly cheap to do, and besides, I still had time.

Imagine my surprise when, the day after the outage above and being assured that analog was not going to change, I received a letter in the mail explaining that channels 31 thru 78 were being moved to digital only on August 11th of this year.  That couldn’t be right since just the day before I was told it wouldn’t change, and mailings like this take weeks to plan out.  So I called customer service again, and with letter in hand was told again that there was no planned change for analog service, channels 2 thru 78 would continue to be available.  But a quick search of the Internet found several locations, including Comcast’s own website, telling people about the future and channels being moved off analog.

Now, here we come to the “war”.  See, I’m not actually upset by the digital switch.  I expected it would come eventually, hence why I’ve been planning to upgrade my PC… next year, when my budget can afford it.  And I completely understand and even agree with the need for change: when you move analog to digital it takes far less bandwidth and allows you to have more channels and services.  My problem is that I was lied to.  As far as I can see, one of two things had happened.

  1. Failure of Management: The customer service group was not properly trained or informed about the August 11th channel moves to digital, and therefore the reps I spoke to were telling me what they believed to be true.
  2. Failure of Employee: The customer service reps, not wanting to deal with a possibly irate customer, chose to not inform me of the digital change, on which they had been fully informed and trained.

There is no other possibility.  Either the reps lied to me, or the reps were not properly trained.

I decided, for the first time in my life, to actually write a complaint to the Better Business Bureau.  I wrote in detail about my 18 months of contact and the day of the outage and the mailer I received.  I even wrote that I understood why the change was being made and that Comcast had every right to do so, but that I was lied to through one of the reasons above and I would like something done about it.

Since writing this complaint, the case has gone back and forth between Comcast and myself.  I have been called on several occasions and emailed a number of times.  Every time they contact me, I get a spiel about how there were two digital changes (the government mandated change and the Comcast channel moves) and this lead to confusion (despite my most recent calls being AFTER the government mandated change), and that I can continue getting all my channels by simply getting a set top box, which they will provide, or replace my analog tuners with digital tuners, which I will have to do myself.  Every time, I report the resolution as unsatisfactory because there is only one thing I want: Admission of fault.

I want someone from Comcast to call me and tell me the staff was improperly trained, or tell me that reps have been found lying to customers to avoid confrontation.  I want Comcast to admit that the failure existed on their end, in their processes or with their people, and to apologize for it having happened.  I want someone to say they are sorry and that the customer service department should have informed me of the impending channel moves on all calls made after some date.  This is the one thing I have not heard from Comcast.  And I probably never will.

It is not just them, of course, its systemic.  Companies do everything in their power to never admit fault.  Well, I’m tired of it, and this time, in my only piddling and puny way, I’m fighting back.  this case through the BBB will never be resolved until someone from Comcast admits fault.

As for my personal resolution for Comcast’s change of service, since my budget will not allow for rebuilding my PC (not only do I need new tuners, since the best ones are PCI Express and my PC is old enough to only have PCI, I have to get a new motherboard, processor, memory, video card, etc… the hard drive is IDE, not SATA… in fact the only thing I can keep is the case), and with budget being the main concern in this economy, I’ll be canceling my cable TV service.  Thanks to Hulu and individual network web pages, everything I want to watch is online anyway.  In the end, Comcast’s refusal to admit fault is probably going to wind up saving me over $50 a month.

Woes of a DVR Owner

Not mine… I have no woes. My 6 Tuner Medusa PVR using Snapstream’s BeyondTV works wonderfully. But a guy I know has issues.

Its a problem I see many people with DVRs complain about, that oddly scheduled programs or late changes often get missed because the show listings on the DVR don’t get updated. That’s one thing I love about my Medusa. BeyondTV, however they manage to do it, is always up to date (as long as my internet access hasn’t failed). I’ve never missed a show because it ran a few minutes long, or even when the President decides he wants to assure the nation that he is not an idiot (or confirm to the nation that he is an idiot, you can never be sure which he is going to do).

The only time I’ve ever missed a recording was when the power went out while I was on vacation. Usually, power outages come in twos or threes. Power off, power on for a few seconds, power off… then it either comes back on again or stays out for a while, but its that little flicker that causes the problems. Sometimes its just the once like I describe here, sometimes its two or three flickers before its out for real. I set up my Medusa, all my PCs in fact, not to reboot on power failure because I don’t want them powering on and off repeatedly during the flickers.

Oh, and I missed a show once when a channel broke in with breaking news. Of course, I didn’t see the breaking news until three days after it had happened, so all it did was annoy me.

But back to the DVRs… I don’t think I would put up with that, it being wrong all the time, as it kind of defeats the purpose of it. Is it a failing of the software? of the service provided? Is it the DVR or the cable company? I’m going to have to look into it, because unless they roll out the CableCARD 2.0 standard and start supporting it, I’ll have to get an in-box DVR to be able to record digital cable channels. But there’s no rush, not until they decide to stop providing the analog cable feed.

Sometimes it is Worth the Splurge

The wife and I finished painting the kitchen yesterday, mostly because he had to. The cabinets are next, and they have to be done before Saturday. Why? Because Saturday is when the appliances get delivered.

We bought a fridge a few weeks ago. Found a good deal on one at Fry’s. Yesterday, we went to go check out hhgregg since they had some sort of super summer tent sale going on. Everything was still too expensive. But, Sears had a dishwasher that we liked for a good price so we decided to hit Town Center Mall and go ahead and buy it. While we were there, as usual in any store these days, we walked around looking at the ranges. Mainly, for anything that is stainless steel (the appliance scheme we have chosen) prices start around $500 for crappy basic gas ranges and go up to… well, if you so desire you can spend $8,000 or more on a new range. Anyway, we are looking around and see this really nice range. Basically, its just about everything we want. Gas, range with the flat cooktop, oven that is conventional and convection, etc… but it retails for $1,499, and that’s the price it was the last time we were at Sears. This time though, they have the floor model on sale for $1,099, four hundred dollars off. We talk it over, we discuss the budget and we decide to go ahead and buy it.

Wait, it gets better.

So we get the sales woman, Renee, to ring up our stuff, range and dishwasher. We are chatting with her about the house, it turns out she purchased a fixer-upper house a number of years ago and is still fixing it up. Then she rings up the range and it comes up $587. The wife blurts out, “Do we get it at that price? Like at Kroger?” “This isn’t Kroger,” Renee says. She voids it and scans it again. $587. She selects the item and pulls up the details to make sure it matches. It does. Then she goes to find a manager. When she comes back, Renee smiles and says, “Looks like you get it at that price.” Awesome!

We walked out of Sears with a $1,499 range for $587. That’s just more than 60% off. I still can’t believe it even though I have the receipt right here.

It is kinda funny with this house. We’ve got a major bad news/good news vibe going. My car breaks down, we get the house. I get flat tires, the inspection goes well. I burn the crap out of my foot on my father’s porch (I was barefoot, the sun had been shining on the wood for about 6 hours, I’m an idiot), and we get a new appliance for 60% off. Also this Saturday the cable is getting installed, and I’m trying to cheat… since I’m a new Comcast customer, they want me to pay $99 for internet installation, which I don’t need since I can do it myself, however if I were an existing cable TV customer self installation of internet is free. So, I’m getting cable TV done Saturday, then I’m going to call and add internet to my account with self installation to avoid the $99 charge. If my karmic balance holds, I wonder where the retribution will come…