Posts tagged ‘DVD’

Passwords

I am registered at a LOT of sites - blogs, hosting accounts, stores, message boards, etc.  A few years ago I started using the Lastpass Chrome add-in to track and remember all these passwords.

One problem though: like most people I was using the same few passwords over and over.  I had fixed, mostly, the most egregious mistakes, such as using the same password for low-trust sites like bulletin boards as for critical sites like banks.  But Lastpass showed me was that I still had a lot of password duplication.

The Adobe security breach finally got me off my butt.  My user name and password were among those that Adobe lost (which was particularly irritating because Adobe was one of those software companies that demanded a registration even when one should not have been necessary).  There was nothing at Adobe of mine they could screw up -- the registration was obviously to try to sell me more stuff but I never bought anything.  But there were possibly other sites using the same password they could screw up.

So I began a mission to change my passwords to 12-digit randomly generated strings of letters and numbers.  Having Fastpass helped a ton, as I would never have remembered all the sites with which I had registrations.  There were hundreds.

This was a real slog, a task so boring it was equaled only by the month when I ripped all my CD's to my hard drive and surpassed only by the 3 months when I ripped all my DVD's to hard drives.  The problem was that every web site was essentially a little portal-like adventure puzzle, trying to figure out where the hell the options for password change could be found.  I challenge those of you who have registered at WhiteHouse.gov to sign a survey to find the place to change your password.  At JetBlue, there is no such option in the user accounts -- you have to log off and click "forgot my password" at the logon screen and then click on the option to reset the password, but the reset email never shows up.  At two or three sites I had to email the site web manager to send me a link to the password change page.

Anyway, it's finally done now.  There are a couple of sites I use from my iPad for which I had to create unique memorable passwords because iOS does not have very good support mechanisms for such services as Lastpass, though as Chrome for iOS gets better, I expect that to make the problem easier to manage.  I had forgotten how many of these passwords (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc.) were plugged into things like my Roku.  It was irritating with the crappy remote to enter these random strings of characters as new passwords.

Of course security of the Lastpass account becomes a problem.  I guess I have to trust them.  My password for them is unique and never has been used anywhere else and contains no real English words.  I use 2-step verification at all times to log into it, so hopefully I am moderately well-protected.

Best Buy Says It's Not Afraid of "Showrooming". Really?

Best Buy says it is not afraid of showrooming, the practice of testing products at a physical retailer and then buying it online.  Best Buy says it is confident it can convert visitors into buyers, even if their intent was to buy online.

Well, that is a brave front.  And I wish them luck -- I certainly like having bricks and mortar retailers around when I need something fast and can't wait for the UPS truck.  But it probably was no accident that the article was illustrated with this picture:

MK-CH537_SHOWRO_G_20131103185606

 

What don't you see there?  CD's, DVD's, speakers, DVD players, computer games and most of the other stuff that used to make up a lot of Best Buy's floor space.  Because they have already been demolished by online retailers in those categories.   The picture above is of appliances, one of the few high dollar categories that has not migrated to the web.   Go to Best Buy and you will see appliances, health equipment, and TV's, all categories where bricks and mortar stores have some advantages over online.

This makes perfect sense, but don't tell me Best Buy is ready to take on the online retailers.  They are bobbing and weaving, ducking this competition wherever they can.

Postscript:  Best Buy is hoping that having "trained" sales people to help customers will garner business.  There are two problems with this.  One, the training of their sales staff has always been spotty, and likely will not get better as their financials go south.  And two, I find that Amazon.com reviews are far more helpful, and often more knowledgeable, than most in-store sales staff.   But on the positive side, who doesn't enjoy getting hassled for an extended warranty at checkout?

The Map Every Intelligence Analyst Should Have on His Wall, For Humility

I have been playing around with this DVD, which is a collection of high resolution situation maps from the European theater of war after D-Day in WWII.  The maps are really interesting, though the interface is awful.  Like something from the AOL era.  I would play with this much more but it is just too kludgy.

This is probably my favorite map (click to enlarge)

click to enlarge

 

Of course, on the very next day, the last great German attack on the Western Front came right out of that empty red circle.

click to enlarge

In the software, one can zoom very deep into these maps, deeper than these images allow.  So it's a shame that the interface is so bad.

PS - The Bulge is deservedly a part of American military mythology but we should remember that in many ways it was a small battle compared to any number in the East.  This is one of those facts that always perplexes this libertarian, because there is no way the Western Democracies could have ever defeated Germany IMO.  Only Stalin's willingness to soak up astounding losses really defeated Germany.  German army casualties on the Eastern Front were nearly three times their combined casualties in Africa, Italy, France, and Benelux.

The flip side of this is that no one else other than the US could have defeated the Japanese, though again the Soviets would have given them real troubles in Manchuria.  That war was more about projecting power across great distances than pure numbers.  We did bravely soak up absurd casualties in short bursts.  But again, the Russians were soaking up Bettio-level casualties every few hours, and sustained it day in and day out for years.

Two DVD Reviews of Poorly Rated Movies That Had Some Redeeming Characteristics

I had pretty good experiences this week with not one but two movies rated 6 and under (which is pretty low) on IMDB

Atlas Shrugged, Part II:  A mixed bag, but generally better than the first.  The first episode had incredibly lush, beautiful settings, particularly for a low budget indie movie.  But the acting was stilted and sub-par.  Or perhaps the directing was sub par, with poor timing in the editing and dialog.  Whatever.  It was not always easy to watch.

The second movie is not as visually interesting, but it tossed out most of the actors from the first movie (a nearly unprecedented step for a sequel) and started over.  As a result, the actors were much better.  Though I perhaps could wish Dagny was younger and a bit hotter, she and the actor who played Rearden really did a much better job (though there is very little romantic spark between them).  And, as a first in any Ayn Rand movie I have ever seen, there were actually protagonists I might hang out with in a bar.

The one failure of both movies is that, perhaps in my own unique interpretation of Atlas Shrugged, I have always viewed the world at large, and its pain and downfall, as the real protagonist of the book.  We won't get into the well-discussed flatness of Rand's characters, but what she does really well -- in fact the whole point of the book to me -- is tracing socialism to its logical ends.  For me, the climactic moment of the book is Jeff Allen's story of the fate of 20th Century Motors.  Little of this world-wilting-under-creeping-socialism really comes out well in the movie -- its more about Hank and Dagny being harassed personally.  Also, the movie makes the mistake of trying to touch many bases in the book but ends up giving them short shrift - e.g. Jeff Allen's story, D'Anconia's great money speech, Reardon's trial, etc.

I would rate this as worth seeing for the Ayn Rand fan - it falls short but certainly does not induce any cringes  (if only one could say that about the Star Wars prequels).

Lockout:  This is a remake of "Escape from New York", with a space prison substituting for Manhattan and the President's daughter standing in for the President.  The movie lacks the basic awesomeness of converting Manhattan to a prison.  In fact, only one thing in the whole movie works, and that is the protagonist played by Guy Pierce (who also starred in two of my favorite movies, LA Confidential and Memento).

The movie is a total loss when he is not on screen.  The basic plot is stupid, the supporting characters are predictable and irritating, the physics are absurd, and the special effects are weak.  The movie is full of action movie cliche's -- the hero throwing out humorous quips (ala Die Hard or any Governator movie), the unlikely buddy angle, the reluctant romantic plot.  But Pierce is very funny, and is thoroughly entertaining when onscreen.  I think he does the best  job at playing the wisecracking, cynical hero that I have seen in years.

Best Buy: We Focus on Items People Don't Buy from Walmart or Amazon

Well, that is not exactly what they said, but this confirms some earlier casual observations of their stores I have written lately:

Shoppers typically associate Best Buy with TVs and computers, but the retailer plans to dedicate more floor space to appliances in the coming months as the housing market continues to improve.

Here is my translation:  Half of our floor space has gone digital (DVD, CD, games) and the other half has items where Amazon and Walmart are killing us.  But we are locked into long-term leases we can't break for a bunch of freaking large stores so we need to put something out there.  So we will try appliances.  Next up, mattresses?

Portents of Doom at Local Barnes & Noble Store

I visited B&N the other day -- tellingly not to buy anything but as a way to kill time while my daughter was shopping.    What I saw gave me a serious case of deja vu -- where the book store used to be all, you know, books, there were now large sections dedicated to toys and games and collectibles and other such stuff.

This totally reminded me of the last days at CompUSA, when floor space originally all dedicated to computers and software was being used for DVD players and appliances and all kinds of odd stuff.  I see the same thing now at Best Buy, with workout equipment and other oddball products.  I told my son on a visit a year ago to Best Buy to expect to see the a larger appliance selection next time we visit.  He asked why, and I said "because Wal-Mart does not generally sell them, and not a lot of people buy their large appliances at Amazon."  Sure enough, you see more appliances nowadays.

I don't think that converting your over-sized book store into an under-sized department store is going to work.  It is hard to shift a retail chain's positioning, though it is possible (anyone remember when the Gap was just a Levis store?)  But things like leases and locations are really sticky, making it hard to change fast if your new concept needs more or less space or different locations.

Cost vs. Value-Based Pricing

Cost-based pricing would say that digital media streamed to the home should always be less expensive than the same media delivered on physical disks in boxes delivered by UPS.

Value-based pricing says that someone with a Roku who wants to see a show right now, not two days from now, and doesn't have a DVD player and doesn't want to hassle with putting disks in and out to get through a whole season of a TV show might pay more for the digital delivery.

Sometimes cost-based pricing rules.  Sometimes value-based pricing dominates.  Sometimes pricing is weird due to temporary scarcity or gluts.  Sometimes pricing is inexplicable.  Which is this (click to enlarge):

Entire Season on physical DVD's with free Amazon Prime delivery:  $13.99

Entire Season streamed digitally:  $22.99

Since I like to buy the disks and then rip them to my video server at home running XBMC, I was happy to get the disks inexpensively.

Using XBMC For A Home Movie System

Because this is a topic that will only be interesting to some, and because it has gotten so long that it fills most of the home page, I am putting the article on how I ripped my home movies and created a video streaming system around XBMC below the fold.  For those who are not sure if they want to bother clicking through, here are some teaser photos of the media center I ended up with:

By the way, I know that in 10 5 years, this will all likely be superseded by streaming accounts.  For the time being, I have fun with this.

Continue reading ‘Using XBMC For A Home Movie System’ »

Raise the Payroll Tax

Yesterday, Congress agreed to extend the payroll tax reductions for another period of time.  I have been thinking about this for a while, and I am slowly coming to the conclusion these taxes should be raised.  I am still thinking this through so I welcome feedback.

I don't think I have to convince regular readers of this site that I am against government-run and mandated-for-all retirement funds (income via Social Security, medical via Medicare).  But if we are going to have such programs, and maintain the pretense that they are insurance programs and not welfare/transfer programs, then the "premiums" we are forced to pay should reflect true costs.

I don't think Medicare premiums are covering anywhere near the actuarial-expected costs of one's future medical care.  And while Social Security rates may be set correctly if trust funds were truly held securely, the fact of the matter is that past Social Security premiums that were paid to support future benefits have all been spent by a corrupt Congress.  Rates are going to have to be raised to replace this theft.

I don't like raising taxes.  I wish these two programs would go away or else be restructured drastically.  If they exist, though, there is nothing more dangerous than an incorrect price.  Prices help consumers make price-value tradeoffs -- the Keanu Reeves lifetime DVD collection may be a deal at $6.99 but not at $99.99.  So charging the wrong prices for these programs not only royally screws up the government's finances, but it also misleads Americans about the value of these programs in comparison to what they pay for them.

Weird Coincidences

I spent four days last week trying to get my online backup file restored for Quickbooks, our accounting software.

One morning, we woke up and found our entire QB file corrupted.  I would insert cautions to QB users about such occurrences, but I think everyone already knows the problem.  Such a warning would be like reminding a New York resident about street crime.  We QB users always feel like we are walking on eggshells with QB, ready at any moment for everything to go haywire.  We live with it, because the program is useful and ubiquitous.

So I perform a backup every day, but recently started using the QB online backup facility.  This automatically backs up the file every day.  I still make a local backup from time to time, but I have gotten lazy.  When things went south the other day, my online backup was 10 days old, an eternity in our business.  I sent QB our file to try to execute a repair, but in the mean time I went to the restore command to restore the most recent online backup before the corruption.

Fail.  Fail.  Fail.  Fail.  After four tries, each 3 hours each, I got the idea maybe it was not going to work.  So I called QB and got their Phillipines tech support desk.  They walked me through some steps.  Fail. Fail. Fail.

Through all this time, we were entirely shut down accounting-wise.  Finally, in exasperation, I asked them to just post my backup file on an FTP server somewhere.  After all, we could both see the file exists, and it was just the QB proprietary file transfer protocol that was failing to restore it.  Well, three countries and four departments later, no one could post the file on an FTP server.  Or to my Amazon S3 account.  Or to a password-protected web page.

For God sakes, this is a software company?  Finally, they agreed to have someone at the third party contractor who runs the servers try to put the file on a DVD and mail it to me, LOL.

It was almost exactly at this point that I opened this XKCD comic:

I tell you, sometimes that site is totally dialed into my brain.  (by the way, as I blog, a signed version of this comic on the wall behind my monitor).

PS- eventually the Quickbooks people rebuilt my corrupted file before I could ever get the backup in my hands.  Object lesson here - don't ever give up on the original file, the Intuit guys have twice in my life fixed a file that seemed corrupted beyond all hope of recovery.

Consumer Surplus

From an email from Amazon.com:

Greetings from Amazon.com.

You saved $7.00 with Amazon.com's Pre-order Price Guarantee!

The price of the item(s) decreased after you ordered them, and we gave you the lowest price.

The following title(s) decreased in price:

Inception (Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)
Price on order date: $24.99
Price charged at shipping: $17.99
Lowest price before release date: $17.99
Quantity: 1
Total Savings: $7.00

I was willing to pay the $24.99 but I will certainly take the extra $7.

Trading Cribs

Brian Caplan compares his life with that of the richest of the Gilded Age:

I just returned from the Biltmore, America's largest home.  Built by George Vanderbilt between 1889 and 1895, the Biltmore is a symbol of how good the rich had it during the Gilded Age.  I'm sure that most of the other visitors would answer "very good indeed."

But how many would actually want to trade places with George?  Despite his massive library, organ, and so on, I submit that any modern with a laptop and an internet connection has a vastly better book and music collection than he did.  For all his riches, he didn't have air conditioning; he had to suffer through the North Carolina summers just like the poorest of us.  Vanderbilt did travel the world, but without the airplane, he had to do so at a snail's pace.

Perhaps most shockingly, he suffered "sudden death from complications following an appendectomy" at the age of 51.  (Here's the original NYT obituary).  Whatever your precise story about the cause of rising lifespans, it's safe to say that George's Bane wouldn't be fatal today.

I made this observation several years ago, though, though I went west coast railroad entrepreneur rather than east coast.  I showed pictures of a San Francisco mansion and a middle class home of a friend of mine in Seattle.

One house has hot and cold running water, central air conditioning, electricity and flush toilets.  The other does not.  One owner has a a computer, a high speed connection to the Internet, a DVD player with a movie collection, and several television sets.  The other has none of these things.  One owner has a refrigerator, a vacuum cleaner, a toaster oven, an iPod, an alarm clock that plays music in the morning, a coffee maker, and a decent car.  The other has none of these.  One owner has ice cubes for his lemonade, while the other has to drink his warm in the summer time.  One owner can pick up the telephone and do business with anyone in the world, while the other had to travel by train and ship for days (or weeks) to conduct business in real time.

I think most of you have guessed by now that the homeowner with all the wonderful products of wealth, from cars to stereo systems, lives on the right (the former home of a friend of mine in the Seattle area).  The home on the left was owned by Mark Hopkins, railroad millionaire and one of the most powerful men of his age in California.  Hopkins had a mansion with zillions of rooms and servants to cook and clean for him, but he never saw a movie, never listened to music except when it was live, never crossed the country in less than a week.  And while he could afford numerous servants around the house, Hopkins (like his business associates) tended to work 6 and 7 day weeks of 70 hours or more, in part due to the total lack of business productivity tools (telephone, computer, air travel, etc.) we take for granted.  Hopkins likely never read after dark by any light other than a flame.

If Mark Hopkins or any of his family contracted cancer, TB, polio, heart disease, or even appendicitis, they would probably die.  All the rage today is to moan about people's access to health care, but Hopkins had less access to health care than the poorest resident of East St. Louis.  Hopkins died at 64, an old man in an era where the average life span was in the early forties.  He saw at least one of his children die young, as most others of his age did.  In fact, Stanford University owes its founding to the early death (at 15) of the son of Leland Stanford, Hopkin's business partner and neighbor.  The richest men of his age had more than a ten times greater chance of seeing at least one of their kids die young than the poorest person in the US does today.

Hopkin's mansion pictured above was eventually consumed in the fires of 1906, in large part because San Francisco's infrastructure and emergency services were more backwards than those of many third world nations today.

Here is a man, Mark Hopkins, who was one of the richest and most envied men of his day.  He owned a mansion that would dwarf many hotels I have stayed in.  He had servants at his beck and call.  And I would not even consider trading lives or houses with him.  What we sometimes forget is that we are all infinitely more wealthy than even the richest of the "robber barons" of the 19th century.  We have longer lives, more leisure time, and more stuff to do in that time.   Not only is the sum of wealth not static, but it is expanding so fast that we can't even measure it.  Charts like those here measure the explosion of income, but still fall short in measuring things like leisure, life expectancy, and the explosion of possibilities we are all able to comprehend and grasp.

How Can A Prius Possibly Compete With This?

via How to Be a Retronaut

"American company Fiberglass Freaks is producing officially licensed, road-legal 1966 Batmobiles. And yes, the flamethrower works.Each car costs $149,999 (£95,000), takes six months to build and features an array of working gadgets, including a red flashing beacon, a radar screen called "˜Detect-a-scope', a retractable, gold-coloured "˜Batbeam' and a dashboard DVD player.

More pictures at the source.

I Have Ripped All My DVD's to a Video Server

The first thing I do when I buy a DVD is rip it to my video server.  I have a 10TB RAID and I don't even try to compress the disks, just copy them over in video_ts format using DVDfab6.    I run SageTV on the server with the absolutely essential SageMC mod.  I then can watch the video at every TV that has a Sage HD200 box.  The whole system works for Bluray as well.

I built the system to try to duplicate a $60,000+ Kaleidoscape system for less than $2000, and the functionality, with some tweaking, comes pretty dang close.  The real work was the drudgery for ripping hundreds of DVD's, but I had already performed this death march with a much larger CD collection so I knew what I was getting into.   SageTV, by the way, is very rewarding if you want to get your hands dirty messing around in the innards but it is not for those who want plug and play.

Anyway, one of the reasons I did all this, beyond the coolness factor, was this.  I can rip just the main movie out of the DVD, leaving behind menus, trailers, FBI warmings, special features, etc.

Catastrophe Denied: The Science of the Skeptic's Position

Once upon a time, Al Gore had a PowerPoint deck. Several years ago, I came to the conclusion that Gore's presentation was deeply flawed, so I made my own PowerPoint deck in response, and have been updating it ever since. Here is the most recent version (UPDATE: Links Fixed)

Powerpoint presentation with notes pages (.ppt)

Adobe Acrobat .pdf file

Then, Al Gore made a movie from his PowerPoint deck. He won an Oscar and a Nobel prize for his movie. Those are a bit out of my reach, so I will have to settle for actually being right. My previous movie showed my PowerPoint deck presented to a live audience, and can still be found online here. I felt the sound quality could be improved and the narration could be tighter, so I went into the "studio" to create a tighter version. The product of this is what I believe to be my best effort yet at explaining, in a comprehensive but simple manner, the science of the skeptic's position to laymen.

I have become a big fan of Vimeo because I don't have to break videos up into 10-minute chunks as on YouTube. The Vimeo version is here and is embedded below:

Other Viewing Options

When I get the time to break this into 9(!) parts, I will post a link here to YouTube.

You can download the 212MB .wmv file here (link on the lower right). Alternatively, it can also be found here. The .wmv is also available via BitTorrent: You can find its page at Pirate Bay or the torrent directly here.

Download the .iso file (DVD disk image) to make you own playable DVD here (beware: 1.6GB). A free tool to burn the DVD from the image is ImgBurn

The .iso file is also available via BitTorrent: you can find its page at Pirate Bay with the torrent here.

Finally, you can buy the DVD at cost, here, for $7.50 plus shipping.

Things That Are Ticking Me Off Today

Overscan.  Yes, I just lost a day of my time to overscan.  Traditional TV sets do not show the entire image they receive from broadcast or DVDs.  They cut off 8-15% of the image around the edges.  This is to make sure there is not black or other border around the image, much like one does in a printing process.  This is fine for an Avatar DVD where one might lose a few leaves in the jungle at the edge, but when I am projecting charts in one of my climate videos, it tends to cut off axes  (when one is working with only 480 vertical pixels (traditional DVD resolutions) it is hard to get detailed charts to project well anyway, but losing resolution to overscan is a further pain.  Making the situation more complicated, DVD's played on a computer or on some (but not all) modern flat screens do have have overscan.

Anyway, I am mostly done, and will post my latest effort here soon.

You Better Shop Around

This is from Tori Barnett on John Stossel's blog (Stossel being yet another member of the powerful Princeton Tower Club libertarian blogging set):

As we approach ABC's Wednesday White House Health Care town meeting, I'm thinking more about how health insurance"”private or government run"”destroys the individual's incentive to shop around. People spending their own money and dealing directly with doctors is the only thing that honors individuals' different preferences and controls costs.  How can we hold costs down at all if the market isn't allowed to work?

But few people are talking about that.

The pundits write about the popularity of Medicare.  Of course it's popular.  People love getting free stuff.  But Medicare is on an unsustainable path. It is more than 30 trillion dollars in the red!

As I wrote previously:

Take purchasing a car.  When I need a new car, who determines what car I end up with?   Why, I do.  And who pays for the car and shops around for a price that makes sense in the context of the perceived value of the car?  Why, I do again.  The person who uses the car, the person who chooses the type and quality of the car, and the person who pays for the car are all the same person.

This clever procurement model of integrating the payer, the shopper, and the user all into a single individual is one we use for, well, just about every product and service we buy.  Milk, Internet service, DVD's, house painting, airline tickets "” all the same model.

OK, lets consider a model that does not work this way.  Let's say someone just rear-ended your car and, miracle of miracles, they actually have a good, solid insurance policy that owes you for your car repairs.  In this case, you will be consuming the repair services, and have the incentive to find the absolute best, cost-no-object body shop you can find to do the best, most fabulous job fixing your car, because someone else (ie the insurance company) is paying.  The insurance company has a different incentive.  They want to get off with as small a loss as possible, to protect their profitability as well as keeping prices low for future policy-holders.  They are going to want you car fixed cheap, particularly since you are probably not even their customer.  They are going to try to deliver the minimum.

No surprisingly, people tend to get ticked off in these situations, as they grind against the opposing incentives of the insurance company.  It's one reason that the insurance field is highly regulated (because nowadays people complain to their Congressman whenever they get irritated).  It's also a measure of how ineffective regulation is in really managing this friction, since despite zillions of government rules people still get pissed off.  The reason is that there is simply no good solution.   Both parties want a solution at the extreme end of a cost-value scale, neither have much of an incentive to compromise, and neither will be happy with a solution in the middle of these extreme incentives, and no amount of government fiddling with the tradeoff point is going to change this.

OK, but in this example, at the end of the day, it is just a car, and probably this is a once-in-a-lifetime event.  What if we replace "car" with "baby daughter" or "grandmother" or "your life?"  Now, as Bill Murray says, the kidding around is pretty much over.  It is a recipe for an incendiary disaster.  Which is exactly what we have in health care.

If we take these three roles - user, service quality specifyer, and payer/price shopper - there are very few places in medicine today where these three roles are united.  Further, despite the fact that the vast majority of the problems in US health care are demonstrably from this role separation, none of the plans currently being considered by Obama or Congress unify these three parties.

With my high deductible medical policy, I am actually one of the few middle/upper class folks who actually shops for health care.  And I can tell I am in the minority by the reaction I get from doctors and medical services companies, that look at me like I am from Mars when I ask for detailed pricing, or when I order less than the full and complete battery of potential tests and services based on my own judgment and price/value trade offs.  Folks in the medical profession are used to people saying "whatever, the insurance company is paying for it."

The post went on to show data for medical care expenses NOT generally covered by insurance, so that they are paid out of pocket.  Not surprisingly, these expenses are the only part of health care seeing actual real price drops:

medical-2

A Gross Over-generalization Related to Gender

I try very hard not to fall into the trap of making generalizations related to ethnic or racial groups.  However, I must make a gender-related exception.  There seems to be something about how the average woman's brain is wired that the concept of source switching on a TV set is virtually impossible to comprehend.  I have just had yet another hopeless tech support conversation with a female friend/family member that got "stuck" with cable or DVD material on the TV screen when they wanted to view the other.  Adding to the fun, the female in question was attempting to use a universal remote control which also required mode-shifting to make sure one had the remote set to control the correct component  (another concept apparently particularly difficult for the fairer sex).  Making the tech support challenge harder in this case, the manufacturer of this TV apparently chose not to use the fairly ubiquitous "TV/Video" label for the source-switching functionality, obviating my usual strategy of yelling "TV/video button" over and over into the phone until I get a response.  Fortunately, my second guess of "input" seemed to match a label on the remote.

Yes, I know, all you women will now be rushing from Lawrence Summers' house to mine to set up protests.  I still think that with women dominating on things like relationship management and hygiene standards, and men leading mainly on understanding television source switching and programming remote controls, that women are probably still ahead on points.

Some Blu-Ray Advice

I am a bleeding edge guy when it comes to home theater, so I have had a Blu-Ray high-def disk player for over a year.  I am currently looking for a second player to replace the first, and I thought I might share a couple of thoughts.

The press has declared the high-def DVD format war over, with Toshiba pulling the plug on the HD-DVD format.  This makes it much easier to figure out what software to buy (though it is still really expensive -- some Blu-Ray disks are going for $40!)

However, the hardware issue is still a minefield.  This is related to how the Blu-ray standard is being run, which presents problems and opportunities.  Unlike your CD or DVD player, the Blu-ray standard continues to evolve.  A lot.  It is much more like a computer standard, and I suspect in fact that the computer guys (or at least the game console guys) are running the show here.  This means that new features continue to evolve and be added.  And these are not just add-on features, like additional hardware inputs, but software features that create compatibility issues between versions.   As a result, there are already at least 3 generations of players out there.  The original profile 1.0, and then profile 1.1, and now profile 2.0.  And even within these profiles, individual players may vary in their conformance to them.   Sometimes you can do a firmware upgrade to a newer spec, and sometimes you can't, but such upgrades are not a piece of cake, and involve burning a DVD from the Internet and running certain codes from the Blu-ray remote to make the firmware upload.

The net result is that the features on a certain disk may not work on your player, or the disk may not work in your player at all (Newer movies like Pirates of the Carib. III have multimedia title pages that won't load on my player, and when the title page won't load, there was no way to play the movie.)  My advice is if you have waited this long, hold out until this summer for the newer profile 2.0 machines.  Also, you should confirm the player supports HDMI 1.3, so it can take advantage of the wider color gamut of newer TV's.  Players of this spec will start showing up in the next months -- the Sony BDP-S350 will likely be a good choice available this summer.

By the way, good luck finding anything on the box or in a Best Buy store that says what profile the player conforms to.  Hardware makers have created a really compatibility mess with Blu-ray (its seems to be a very poorly run standard) but they want to hide this fact from consumers because the are only just now recovering from the format war with HD-DVD and don't want consumers to have another reason to wait to purchase.  So there is not way they are going to put the profile number on the box, I guess, so you need to do your research.

As a final thought, and maybe I am just old and out of step here, but I really find the insistence on multimedia content and bitchin-cool menu screens on Blu-ray disks to be tiresome.  I just want to watch the movie in beautiful high-resolution, and having my software not work right because the menu doesn't work is just stupid.  Further, the addition of all these features has caused most blu-ray players to have a boot up cycle longer than Windows.  It can take 45 seconds for a blu-ray player to boot up, and a similar amount of time to get the software to start playing.  Add in the time to plow through stupid menu screens, and it can take several minutes to get a movie started.

Tonight I watched Cloverfield on blu-ray and it was awesome.  I was surprised the reviews on Amazon were so bad for Cloverfield, because I really liked it.  Yea, its different, but unlike movies like Bourne Ultimatum, there is actually a explanable reason for the jerky (and sometimes nauseating, I will admit) camera work. I did not pay much attention to it when it came out in theaters -- is this one of those geek litmus-test videos that only a few of us hard-core nerds like (a la Serenity?)

Some Blu-Ray Advice

I am a bleeding edge guy when it comes to home theater, so I have had a Blu-Ray high-def disk player for over a year.  I am currently looking for a second player to replace the first, and I thought I might share a couple of thoughts.

The press has declared the high-def DVD format war over, with Toshiba pulling the plug on the HD-DVD format.  This makes it much easier to figure out what software to buy (though it is still really expensive -- some Blu-Ray disks are going for $40!)

However, the hardware issue is still a minefield.  This is related to how the Blu-ray standard is being run, which presents problems and opportunities.  Unlike your CD or DVD player, the Blu-ray standard continues to evolve.  A lot.  It is much more like a computer standard, and I suspect in fact that the computer guys (or at least the game console guys) are running the show here.  This means that new features continue to evolve and be added.  And these are not just add-on features, like additional hardware inputs, but software features that create compatibility issues between versions.   As a result, there are already at least 3 generations of players out there.  The original profile 1.0, and then profile 1.1, and now profile 2.0.  And even within these profiles, individual players may vary in their conformance to them.   Sometimes you can do a firmware upgrade to a newer spec, and sometimes you can't, but such upgrades are not a piece of cake, and involve burning a DVD from the Internet and running certain codes from the Blu-ray remote to make the firmware upload.

The net result is that the features on a certain disk may not work on your player, or the disk may not work in your player at all (Newer movies like Pirates of the Carib. III have multimedia title pages that won't load on my player, and when the title page won't load, there was no way to play the movie.)  My advice is if you have waited this long, hold out until this summer for the newer profile 2.0 machines.  Also, you should confirm the player supports HDMI 1.3, so it can take advantage of the wider color gamut of newer TV's.  Players of this spec will start showing up in the next months -- the Sony BDP-S350 will likely be a good choice available this summer.

By the way, good luck finding anything on the box or in a Best Buy store that says what profile the player conforms to.  Hardware makers have created a really compatibility mess with Blu-ray (its seems to be a very poorly run standard) but they want to hide this fact from consumers because the are only just now recovering from the format war with HD-DVD and don't want consumers to have another reason to wait to purchase.  So there is not way they are going to put the profile number on the box, I guess, so you need to do your research.

As a final thought, and maybe I am just old and out of step here, but I really find the insistence on multimedia content and bitchin-cool menu screens on Blu-ray disks to be tiresome.  I just want to watch the movie in beautiful high-resolution, and having my software not work right because the menu doesn't work is just stupid.  Further, the addition of all these features has caused most blu-ray players to have a boot up cycle longer than Windows.  It can take 45 seconds for a blu-ray player to boot up, and a similar amount of time to get the software to start playing.  Add in the time to plow through stupid menu screens, and it can take several minutes to get a movie started.

Tonight I watched Cloverfield on blu-ray and it was awesome.  I was surprised the reviews on Amazon were so bad for Cloverfield, because I really liked it.  Yea, its different, but unlike movies like Bourne Ultimatum, there is actually a explanable reason for the jerky (and sometimes nauseating, I will admit) camera work. I did not pay much attention to it when it came out in theaters -- is this one of those geek litmus-test videos that only a few of us hard-core nerds like (a la Serenity?)

Some Blu-Ray Advice

I am a bleeding edge guy when it comes to home theater, so I have had a Blu-Ray high-def disk player for over a year.  I am currently looking for a second player to replace the first, and I thought I might share a couple of thoughts.

The press has declared the high-def DVD format war over, with Toshiba pulling the plug on the HD-DVD format.  This makes it much easier to figure out what software to buy (though it is still really expensive -- some Blu-Ray disks are going for $40!)

However, the hardware issue is still a minefield.  This is related to how the Blu-ray standard is being run, which presents problems and opportunities.  Unlike your CD or DVD player, the Blu-ray standard continues to evolve.  A lot.  It is much more like a computer standard, and I suspect in fact that the computer guys (or at least the game console guys) are running the show here.  This means that new features continue to evolve and be added.  And these are not just add-on features, like additional hardware inputs, but software features that create compatibility issues between versions.   As a result, there are already at least 3 generations of players out there.  The original profile 1.0, and then profile 1.1, and now profile 2.0.  And even within these profiles, individual players may vary in their conformance to them.   Sometimes you can do a firmware upgrade to a newer spec, and sometimes you can't, but such upgrades are not a piece of cake, and involve burning a DVD from the Internet and running certain codes from the Blu-ray remote to make the firmware upload.

The net result is that the features on a certain disk may not work on your player, or the disk may not work in your player at all (Newer movies like Pirates of the Carib. III have multimedia title pages that won't load on my player, and when the title page won't load, there was no way to play the movie.)  My advice is if you have waited this long, hold out until this summer for the newer profile 2.0 machines.  Also, you should confirm the player supports HDMI 1.3, so it can take advantage of the wider color gamut of newer TV's.  Players of this spec will start showing up in the next months -- the Sony BDP-S350 will likely be a good choice available this summer.

By the way, good luck finding anything on the box or in a Best Buy store that says what profile the player conforms to.  Hardware makers have created a really compatibility mess with Blu-ray (its seems to be a very poorly run standard) but they want to hide this fact from consumers because the are only just now recovering from the format war with HD-DVD and don't want consumers to have another reason to wait to purchase.  So there is not way they are going to put the profile number on the box, I guess, so you need to do your research.

As a final thought, and maybe I am just old and out of step here, but I really find the insistence on multimedia content and bitchin-cool menu screens on Blu-ray disks to be tiresome.  I just want to watch the movie in beautiful high-resolution, and having my software not work right because the menu doesn't work is just stupid.  Further, the addition of all these features has caused most blu-ray players to have a boot up cycle longer than Windows.  It can take 45 seconds for a blu-ray player to boot up, and a similar amount of time to get the software to start playing.  Add in the time to plow through stupid menu screens, and it can take several minutes to get a movie started.

Tonight I watched Cloverfield on blu-ray and it was awesome.  I was surprised the reviews on Amazon were so bad for Cloverfield, because I really liked it.  Yea, its different, but unlike movies like Bourne Ultimatum, there is actually a explanable reason for the jerky (and sometimes nauseating, I will admit) camera work. I did not pay much attention to it when it came out in theaters -- is this one of those geek litmus-test videos that only a few of us hard-core nerds like (a la Serenity?)

The Format Wars May Be Over

It looks like Blu-Ray will soon defeat HD-DVD

Fans of Toshiba's HD DVD format have been kicked while they're down, this time by Wal-Mart's decision to ditch the format,
and sell Blu-ray players and media exclusively. Effective June, the
move is the result of customer feedback, and an attempt to "simplify"
patron's decisions. This news closely follows Best Buy's decision to
also give the format the boot. Speculation has already surfaced that
suggests Toshiba will abandon their own format "in the coming weeks"...

So file all that HD-DVD software next to your Betamax tapes.  I actually preferred the HD-DVD format, but thought from the beginning that Blu-Ray's position in home gaming machines, which immediately gave them a huge installed based before any of us started buying High Def. movie players for our home theaters, might give it a lead that could not be overcome. 

Most consumers have just wanted the format wars to be over so they could pick the right player and software (I partially avoided this problem by buying a combo player).  This is an interesting consumer-friendly role for Wal-Mart that I have never seen discussed, that of standards-setter.

So here is a message to Blu-Ray:  Now that you are on the verge of victory, you need to clean up your own house.  The creeping standards problem you have had, which has caused early players to be unable to play newer disks, has got to end.  In particular, it is irritating not to be able to play a newer disk because the fancy multimedia menu won't work.  When when you learn that we aren't interested in all that crap and just want the movie to start?  Just because the technology says you can do that stuff does not mean that you should.

Update: Reuters with the same news, and a rumor that Toshiba has already shut down production line.

The Wire

I really like the HBO series "the Wire" about the Baltimore police force and the pursuit of various drug gangs, which I have been catching up on via DVD.  While season 2 and 3 were not quite as good as 1, they still are quite good.

In many respects, this is a very libertarian series in outlook.  A central part of the show is that government officials nearly universally do wrong and wasteful things.  However, only a few of them are overtly corrupt.  The vast majority are regular folks responding rationally to the types of incentives government employees are given and which result in really bad outcomes.

In fact, I may just be screwed up from too many years in a past life working on corporate performance metrics, but at some level the show is all about incentives.  Even within the drug gangs, there is an interesting interplay between Avon and Stringer due mainly to the fact that though they face roughly the same circumstances and inputs, one has a goal of making money while the other has a goal of reputation and street cred.  I can see now why the Freakonomics blog discusses the show so often.

Oh, and the season 3 experiment with effective drug legalization is also interesting.

Highly recommended.

A Few Observations About Apple

  1. I really like my new iPod touch as a movie player for trips.  With an add-on double-A battery for extra life, it beats the hell out of portable DVD players.  It is a decent Internet surfer over WiFi though I am still looking for something a bit larger.
  2. Anyone who fetishizes Apple's design capability has never tried to sync two iPods from one computer.  It can be done, with a klugey shift-click open to iTunes that brings up a "pick library" menu, but it really blows.  Also, they obviously have not had to endure QuickTime popups 415 times a day that say "Some of your Quick Time software is out of date.  You can fix this problem by updating the the latest version."  When one clicks "Do it now," one invariably gets the error message that the servers are busy (if the system does not crash entirely.
  3. The new iPod classics still suck.  I tried them again at Best Buy.  The menu is laggy as hell and very hard to make selections or browse.  It is no accident that new-in-box generation 5.5 iPods are selling for more on eBay than new generation 6 iPods with the same or more memory.

Let's Get These Guys to Run Health Care

From the New York Post via Carpe Diem and TJIC:

For
seven hours a day, five days a week, hundreds of Department of
Education employees - who've been accused of wrongdoing ranging from
buying a plant for a school against the principal's wishes to
inappropriately touching a student - do absolutely no work.

The
Post has learned that the number of salaried teachers sitting idly
waiting for their cases to be heard has exploded to 757 this year -
more than twice the number just two years ago - at a cost of about $40
million a year, based on the median teacher salary.

The city pays millions more for substitute teachers and employees to replace them and to lease rubber-room space.

Meanwhile,
the 757 - paid from $42,500 to $93,400 a year - bring in lounge chairs
to recline, talk on their cellphones and watch movies on portable DVD
players, according to interviews with more than 50 employees.