A plea to TV programmers

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

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.

Latest Mac OSX Blunder

In the things-which-demonstrate-mac-is-not-strictly-better-than-windows category, I have had the latest of such issues. In this case, I found on two occasions recently that the keyboard and mouse built into my macbook pro suddenly stopped working.

It appeared that the laptop was frozen, though it wasn’t. The power button brought up the shutdown dialog (which of course I couldn’t do anything with since the keyboard and mouse weren’t working). I did find that if I attached a USB keyboard/mouse, they would work. But in this case, even the “Windows” fix didn’t correct the problem. That is, even after rebooting, the keyboard and mouse continued to not work. After an hour or so of looking around for the solution, I discovered I had to reset the PRAM, which is part of the power functionality. Apparently, the laptop was in a quasi-confused state where it was powering most of the laptop, but ignoring the keyboard and mouse.

So I figured that would be it, and I wouldn’t see this again. But within 24 hours, the laptop did the same thing. Thankfully, this time I recognized it quicker, and it only took me 45 minutes to re-find a webpage where I could re-learn how to reset the PRAM. Granted, those 45 minutes were supposed to be minutes I was sleeping, but we won’t split hairs. Thankfully, the 36 hours since it hasn’t happened, but I’m just waiting for it to happen again. Unfortunately, when it does happen, the fix involves rebooting the laptop, thus losing any sessions you are building up.

For reference, to reset the PRAM (at least on the model MBP that I have), do the following: reboot the laptop. While it reboots, hold down the command key, option key, the ‘p’ key, and the ‘r’ key. Continue holding them down until you hear the second booting chime. Release the keys, and at this point the laptop will boot normally.

Sadly, this is only a corrective action, not a preventative one. Who knows how often I will have to do this. Hopefully, it won’t happen to you.

Cabling our house…

So this week I’ve been working on re-cabling our phone jacks to be Ethernet jacks. Since we get our internet through the cable company, use an VoIP phone, and wireless handsets throughout the house, we had no particular use for the phone jacks in the house.

At the same time, I do run many computers throughout the house, and while wireless was an OK option, it really wasn’t reliable enough for running the server from, meaning we had to put the server with the wireless router. This was a bit of a problem, as I’d like the wireless router in the higher floors of the house, and the server in the basement, where it’s noise and heat won’t be an issue. Similarly, I’d like to stream video and audio throughout the house, and wireless really isn’t the best option for this.

Continue reading “Cabling our house…”

Happy New Year! — Leap Second Update

So I realized yesterday that all the news about the New Year’s countdowns should be 3-2-1-1 were just dramatizations of reality. I guess I should have figured that all along, but got caught up in it myself. You see, the leap second was added at 23:59:59 UTC (coordinated universal time), and therefore, in my time zone, had been added to the clock 5 hours prior. There was nothing unusual about our countdown (at least, for the last 10 seconds).

But I have yet to find a reporter who actually reported what happened in Trafalgar square (or other places celebrating New Year’s with the UTC leap second in play). Did they start their countdown a second later? Or did they count some number twice? Or were they early? The public wants to know (or at least I do)!

Leap Seconds

So this year there will be a leap second added just before midnight, the first since 2005. As we all go to celebrate New Year’s, I wonder how this will be treated by the TV networks (I don’t recall how it was handled in 2005). Will we start our countdown one second later than usual, so that the 10 second countdown starts at 11:59:51? Or will we all actually celebrate the New Year one second too early? Perhaps the network will add their leap second early to avoid confusion. Will municipalities running fireworks shows start them on time? Do they launch fireworks at that second, or do they try to time it to explode at that second? Will the general public have any clue that a leap second occurred?


Puzzle Oops!

So we bought a 1000 piece puzzle from WalMart before Christmas for the family to put together, and last night we did so. However, there were a few problems with the puzzle. During the putting together of it, there were these pieces which we just became convinced they couldn’t fit anywhere in the puzzle. Though most of the time, we thought we were just kidding, that it would become clear eventually where they fit.

When we had put in “all” the pieces, there were three extras. There really were pieces which didn’t go in the puzzle. On further inspection, these pieces turned out to be duplicates of 3 other pieces in the puzzle. They really didn’t fit! And moreover, we had paired one of them with another and therefore couldn’t figure out where in the puzzle the two pieces went.

While it’s annoying to have been frustrated about these extra pieces, the more frustrating thing is that we were one piece short. While I cannot be 100% certain that we didn’t just lose the piece, I have to believe that since we have extra pieces, those are missing from someone else’s copy of the puzzle.

So how does this happen? Perhaps they lay them flat, and cut many together, then whisk them off. Then in this case, two pieces may be stuck together, and the whisking process just screwed up?

So if you bought an I Spy puzzle from WalMart, check and make sure it has all the right pieces. And if you have extra ones, let me know. Maybe we’ll start a puzzle-piece exchange to fix it up.

On the other end — the question becomes, how can you do quality assurance on jigsaw puzzles? How do you avoid this kind of production problem? Maybe I’ll do some research into the mass production of jigsaw puzzles to figure out how this happens and how to prevent it.

Another Macbook Pro Update

Just as a quick update, this afternoon I had another problem which isn’t “supposed to happen” in MacOS. When I arrived home from school, my laptop was burning hot in my bag. When I opened the screen, there was an error message telling me I needed to hard-power cycle my macbook by holding in the power button, because of an error. It was a kernel panic, but the laptop was left in some continuous processing loop, with the fan spinning, but doing no good in my bag, while an unhelpful message was telling me to power cycle it. So much for Mac’s “Just working”. At least with other OSes, I expect such errors, and am very careful about making sure they aren’t happening.

Macbook Pro Update

So I’ve been using the MBP for a while now, and it’s still taking some getting used to. It’s also still just “okay.” I wouldn’t say I’m overwhelmed with how much better it is than Windows.

Moreover, I installed updates today, and upon reboot, found that a new icon was present in the menu bar. And not just that, it gave me a nag message, asking me to sign up for MobileMe.

I have to agree with the vast number of users writing complaints that this new “feature” was unrequested, unauthorized, and undesired. (I won’t link to them here, but just a quick internet search will find them). Tactics like this will probably renew my desire to be using an opensource OS on my laptop, and there is a reasonable chance I won’t stick with Mac when it comes time to get another new laptop.

Granted, I’ve ruled out Windows too, so I’m not sure what will be next. Back to linux, and the headaches of not having powerpoint plus dealing with projectors? Perhaps opensolaris?

As an aside – also after installing the updates, my trackpad stopped working until I powered the machine off and back on — another fix which is supposedly only supposed to happen on Windows.

Macbook Pro

So after 28 years of never using a Mac, I now have one. I got it for work, in my continuing endeavor to try new things on work computers. My desktop will still be a linux PC, but my laptop is now a Macbook Pro. I’ve only had it a few days, so I don’t have a lot of thoughts about it—though I still have an open mind.

– It looks shiny
– With a massive amount of RAM, it runs quite smoothly
– Better integration with X and native X open-source applications than achieved through Windows (and e.g. CygWin)

– Whole new keyboard with different buttons which do different things (will take time to get used to)
– It hides what it’s doing even more than Windows, leaving the user to have no clue what’s happening behind the scenes
– New multi-touch pad is different and doesn’t have a second mouse button
– Did not come pre-installed with any games
– I really miss the home and end keys. What does exist for home and end are, first two-key combos, and second, they are more like a top-and-bottom. I don’t yet know how to go to the beginning and ending of a dialog box I’m typing in.

So anyway, there are things I like and don’t like, but there’s a lot which I won’t know until I get used to it more.