Chip's Technical Blog

Tech commentary of thoughts, challenges, how-to's, and the mundane.

Archive for March, 2009

A plea to TV programmers

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

My wife and I have recently been discussing the idea of canceling our cable TV. There are a variety of reasons for doing so, which include these circumstances:

  • Cable TV is trying to push digital cable by removing channels from analog cable.
  • We see no present value in the additional costs of digital cable. In fact, we see no value in getting bigger, sharper, TVs, as we feel the picture is just fine, and sufficiently large to see from our sofas a mere 8 feet away. So it’s not about quality. And it’s not about quantity either — the additional cable channels using a digital box are largely in three categories: replicas of channels available in analog cable, additional-fee channels, and music-channels. Of these three, the only ones we ever use are the music channels.
  • We feel that a large portion of content created today is not worth watching. Our viewing preferences have actually narrowed somewhat — there are only two channels we watch with any regularity outside the broadcast channels. Yet, our flat fee paid to cable companies does not adequately reward content providers for making the content that we do like.
  • More content is available online, or through direct-to-mailbox DVDs from Netflix or Blockbuster. Thus, if we don’t mind waiting a bit for content to become available in either online or DVD format, there’s no need for live broadcast anyway. Even better — when paid for by users, this content is generally commercial-interruption free and better quality than we get through the cable company anyway. I distinguish between commercial-interruption free and commercial free because as we know, the new wave is in product placement on shows. But at least it doesn’t contain those hideously large and non-silent network overlays from channels.

There are others talking this way as well. See this post over at Freedom-to-Tinker for a good read as well. And today, I read that cable companies want to offer exclusive channel content online to subscribers [story]. So this is my plea to programmers. Forget TV stations and network affiliations. Instead, sell your shows direct to viewers. Do it without ads (though I imagine you’ll still have product placement/endorsements), or at least have a two-tiered system where users can pay more for an ad-free program. Then, you will get a better picture of your viewers, and can probably do a better job of marketing to them. Online word-of-mouth can help your show catch on and grab followers. If you are worried about steady-income, offer us high-priced single-show samples, and more reasonable season buy-ins. I would much prefer this — so I can get just the 10-ish shows I actually watch rather than the vast array of TV programming I don’t care about.

Pros on the Macbook Pro

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

So I’ve spent enough time giving you my downs on the MBP, that I kinda feel in fairness I should talk about things that I like about it. So here’s a partial list:

  • UNIX Programming Environment. Since it runs on top of FreeBSD, a lot of the software I am used to working with in Linux either “just works” or is easy to port to the Mac. This includes my own research project Mace, and MythTV. This software has been easy to port to OSX, but either doesn’t work on Windows, or works after a fairly complicated set of steps.
  • Better support for X11. Okay, technically this is related to the first item, but is work mentioning separately. To get X11 support on Windows, you either have to install an expensive third-party tool, or CygWin. CygWin is great (and I don’t think I could manage to use Windows without it), but its quite sluggish and X apps don’t quite integrate into the environment as well as you might like. The integration is still less than perfect, but much better on OSX, and I don’t feel the severe performance penalty.
  • Marking up PDFs. I always used to complain about this — my adviser would send me marked-up PDF files, which I find annoying to work with. Plus, using Acrobat Reader, you can’t make any markings yourself, so its hard to make it a two-way street. Further, there isn’t (that I know of) any free software which does markups of PDF files on Windows. However, I discovered that the built-in “Preview” app on OSX supports marking up the PDF files. So when someone sends you a PDF and you need to mark it up, it is convenient.
  • Time Machine. I suspect something similar exists on Windows, but I haven’t poked around enough to find the one which suits my needs. But Time Machine on the Mac is very convenient, and I feel confident that not only are my files backed up, but various versions of them, in case I discover I overwrote something important. Further, Time Machine was convenient and easy to find, setup, and use.

So it’s not all bad. It’s just not as good as it had been advertised to be.

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