A scattering of recommendations

I am a huge fan of audiobooks. If iPods and audiobooks were around when I was painting houses professionally, I might not have stopped. Well, I still would have stopped that as soon as possible, but it would have been much more enjoyable.

I highly recommend the following, all of which were in my ears during my recent painting escapade:

Stephen King’s 11/22/63

Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy 

Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files – sadly two of these are not in iTunes, though they are available at audible.

And a treasure I have been saving for, now “out of print” but still it can be found, the only Unabridged Recording of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. *Ultra Nerd tie-in: I am almost certain that this is the same version that Eddie Dean listened to in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower Series.

Huh. These were unavailable, not even through audible, but for resellers for the past few years and even a month or so ago when I purchased them, but now it looks like they are on audible…

In the world of comedy, I learned about Tig Notaro when I went to the “Live” edition of This American Life  this past spring. She is a great comic and her debut album Good One  is Fun-Knee. In the past 4 months or so, some terrible stuff has happened in her life and she lets it all hang out in a recently recorded show – Live. That show will blow you away! And, Tig is one of the few comics I love, like Mike Birbiglia, who uses no profanity in her shows. She remains a little edgier than Birbigs, but still “clean”.

Audible vs iTunes – I prefer to buy stuff through iTunes. I like getting the content, backing it up, and knowing that I can revisit it whenever I want regardless of whatever licensing deals make content come and go from any vendor. This works in iTunes, but not with audible. Also, the sound quality through audible is less than that via iTunes.  That said, audible is a good service and can be a much cheaper way to get content.

On an audio-related front, Headphones!

My grandpa is 90. He served in the Air Force during WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. He has diabetes, a touch of gout, prostate cancer, after-effects of Agent Orange exposure, and did I mention – he is 90! He is doing well, but he doesn’t get around as easily as he used to. He likes to watch TV – Westerns, Action, Bond, anything about how stuff is made, and many more. But, he does not hear so well anymore and when he is watching TV in the basement, it is so loud i can hear it while listening to my in-ear headphones on the third floor – or even outside. Let me clarify – I can’t *just* hear it. It is still so loud, I can’t listen to spoken word items, news podcasts, books, anything like that. His shows overpower my ability to focus on the words literally pouring into my ears.

He won’t wear his hearing aids – that is a non-starter. For years, he would not use headphones either. My brave and loving father stays down there with Pappy and, somehow, works in that cauldron of aural pain. We got my dad a tool that does help – an older version of these Bose Quiet Comfort Active Noise Canceling Headphones.

Vance and Pappy at the Hoover Dam
Vance and Pappy at the Hoover Dam

The past year my dad has been having Pappy wear these in the car and on the train back and forth to the VA near Philly, and Pappy likes them. He bobs and rocks out to Big Band tunes from the War Years and some similar stuff. This planted a seed that has born glorious fruit. I found the perfect solution for us now that Pappy is no longer headphone averse.

These are no longer available from the Sony site, but I found them in stock at the local Circuit City replacement HH Gregg. They are very comfortable, wireless, simple to setup, and have a few truly awesome features. The transmitter that allows these to be wireless acts as a charging base station for the headphones. Pop them in the stand, magnets lock them into place and they recharge.

The headband is two-piece. The inner piece which sits on your head is the On/Off switch. They headphones are Off by default, but they turn On when you put them on your head. They turn themselves Off when you take them off. Genius! The Headphone volume is independent of the TV volume so he can have it LOUD in his ears and the TV can be on mute, or on low so others can stay in the room and watch a show with him.

Our house has gone from a War Zone of Pain to a peaceful Sanctuary!

Hey, that’s it for today, but I have got more lined up for you, including the conclusion of the JMT. I am looking at you Sweet!

JMT Day 11 and 12 – June 11 and 12, 2012 – VVR Part 1 – The Staff!

Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR) – Two Full Zero Days!

VVR on Facebook

7900 (+/- 0) – 0.0 miles

Free Maps Online – Day 11 and 12 – Map 10

Photos Open to the Public on Facebook

Let me just say, I love VVR. We ate a ton of good food. We drank many a fine beer from the incredible selection of fine beer there. And we met so many fantastic folks.

I developed deeper connections with more of the staff than I did with most of the other hikers – probably because the staff is there every day, Jake and I were there for at least part of 4 days, and most hikers were there for a day or a day and a half. These are my VVR peeps! (I don’t think I missed anyone, but if I did – Big Sorry!)

Marie, Olive, Kevin, Jim, Vicky, Gary, Randy, Rene, John, Robert, Mark, Joe, Roy – and the 4 leggers, Feather, Emma, and Stella.

Marie helped us get settled-in, took care of our many requests with a smile, and we had some nice chats about life and school. One of the amazing parts of her brain allows her to remember everyone’s name, trail name, nickname, and who is with who. Marie gave me a little notebook that I used the rest of the trip and to which I have referred often while writing this. I fall at least a little bit in love with almost every waitress. You give me a super cute one named Marie and it is Game Over. From my previous super-cute-waitress-Marie-love-experience, I was already playing some tracks from Harvest Moon in my head when Jake leaned over at breakfast one morning and sang quietly, “I used to order just watch her float across the floor.” Jake and I both had a big Marie Crush, and I would imagine many hikers leave there in a similar state. We could not find Marie to say goodbye to before leaving for the ferry and were sad about that until we saw her come running down to the lake (cue the music!) to give us farewell wishes and hugs!

Olive is a unique and wonderful lady that I enjoyed both sparring and actually talking with. We talked about life, school, travel, books, dogs, people, and many other things. There are tons of fantastic Olive moments and I will put one or two down here to give the flavor. One day, many non-hiking folks showed up around lunch time. There was a table of college-age looking guys near our customary spot at the outdoor bar. Olive came out, looked at us, and said (rather loudly) “I am so tired of pretending to be nice to people!” I think that put those dudes on their best behavior. One of our greatest and most public sparring sessions was at breakfast one morning. The room was not full, but there were at least 6 other folks eating breakfast at the time, and Olive started talking about how gross milk is. We went back and forth a bit, with me taking the side that milk is natural and no weirder than pretty much anything else about eating. Olive maintained that it is different and gross and weird because it is special food made for babies. Out of the blue she changed tactics and asked, “Would you drink a woman’s breast milk? Would you drink Marie’s breast milk?” In a rare fit of self-control, I kept the first two or three things I thought of in my head and only responded with a smile, “You are just sweetening the pot here Olive.” The room responded with joyous and approving laughter. Olive made one final attempt to regain her footing by approaching a distinguished looking hiker and trying to recruit him to her side. Grey Wolf was smiling and shrugged saying, “I agree with everything he just said.” Oh man, we had fun. Good Times. Olive and I have stayed in touch and i look forward to our next chance to visit one another!

Kevin is a wonderful Chef and a great guy. He cooked us many fine meals and seemed to enjoy the challenge/variety of cooking for vegetarians. He busted out his cookbooks and capped our great string of meals with some fantastic fried eggplant! I don’t usually enjoy eggplant, fried or otherwise, but this was super. He and I spent part of several evenings talking about cooking and travel and life. Before we left, Kevin realized that we were going to tell everyone we met how awesome VVR is, how awesome the food is, and that there were quite a few #6 breakfasts in his future. Kevin rode over on the ferry with us on our way out on the last day.

Jim, Vicky, and I talked about VVR, hiking, dogs, the VVR website and marketing, as well as other lighter stuff. They were both gracious and welcoming and maintain such a friendly vibe at their place.

Gary and I talked for a long time every evening sitting around the fire and covered a ton of topics.

Randy and I talked about skateboarding, growing up, mentoring kids, and hiking.

I got to spend less time talking with the others, but enjoyed the time I did share with Robert, Rene, Mark, John, Joe and Roy. I did get to watch John training Mark on the ferry and he seemed like a good and patient teacher. One day I heard Marie saying that she wished there was a way she could open the sliding glass door with her foot as she came outside with many plates of food in her arms. I thought that i was the only on that heard her. But, within an hour, Joe was there with some cut-to-fit angle iron and affixed it to the door and now she can open it with her foot! These are all great folks dedicated to doing a good job and helping each other. It was a joy to witness.

Feather is a lover and will accept love from anyone. I got some nice dog time in with her.

Emma seemed more selective than Feather, unless you wanted to throw her ball. We played ball for about an hour one day.

Stella is more discerning. I got to pet her a few times, but did not make it into her inner circle.

Stay Tuned for VVR Part 2 – The Hikers!

Tech Boy Interrupted

Part of the slack on finishing the conclusion of Tech Talk has involved transitioning my family company to Lion and figuring out how to best use the new features. The process has been simple – but it is a new platform and there are a few bugs. And, as with many tech issues, it is not always immediately clear if the new problem you encounter is just a new problem, or if it is related to the new software. So far for us, it has been about 50/50.

I do love the new capability – and more importantly the concept and goals behind it, but if I were in charge of such things at Apple, I would have done a slower roll-out, or, at least advised consumers to do a phased transition. Having made so many changes at once, when a program does not behave as I expect it it too, I can’t tell if it is iTunes syncing with my iPhone via wi-fi instead of via the cord, or if it is iOS5, or if it is the limitations of the hardware on the 3GS, or if it is something to do with iCloud, or if it is Lion – or…

If you have not made the transitions yet, and you do use a full compliment of Apple gear, I would recommend getting comfy with iOS5 first – continuing to sync over a cord. Then commence syncing over wi-fi for a few weeks. Get a sense of how things work for you and if any problems develop. Then move to Lion, but do not enable iCloud. Test out Lion a few weeks, then turn on the iCloud. You still may not know the culprit if/when troubles occur, but you may have a few things ruled out.

I used to operate in this careful and deliberate manner back in the dark decades of Windows. But I also knew with 100% certainty that I was working with poorly designed software, legacy bugs carried through from at least 3.1 up to the present day, and a company that really has no interest in making good dependable software. This is the first time I have had any issues with Apple products, and these pale in comparison to the issues I faced constantly in Windows. But, this suite of products feels a little rushed and under-tested to me.

In part it may also be that I am a particular kind of anal geek and am used to knowing more about the software, the processes, and having the ability to tailor how they work to meet my needs. I have not found that level of detail about iCloud in particular. How often does it push data? Every 5 minutes, every time I make a change? How do the sync rates of iCloud and over the wi-fi syncing of iPhone compare? Do they conflict? I test some of this sitting at my desk with my iPhone in front of my system and I can’t tell. Sometimes things seem to happen instantly, other times it takes a few minutes, and occasionally no information gets transferred.

So, I am a little in the weeds on the here-and-now of the new tech and I need to get this all sorted a bit better before I can get back to the changing face of media and content delivery “in the future”. But you probably have the gist of that by now anyhow.

Rock. Other general updates and interludes to follow…

Tech Talk 6 – the final pre-amble?

We are just about to begin with the new tech and solutions! (There is one more small piece of back story). Hopefully you will see that all that time we spent in the weeds of minute detail about piracy, devices, and content management pays off here. I think that anyone would be able to hear about the new tech and say “wow, that is cool”. But without a vision of how YOU might be able to use new tech, without knowing how it could help you streamline your set-up, increase your productivity, and solve problems you are having or may soon have, it is all just a bunch of shiny new toys.

For the next few episodes, I am going to be talking a fair amount about the pending release of iOS5, iCloud, and a little bit about the new Mac OS “Lion”. The vast majority of technical and factual data comes from the WWDC 2011 keynote speech.

The final back story. Cloud computing has been around for quite some time. The basic tech behind cloud computing is not terribly complicated and has been in use since at least the beginning of personal and enterprise computing, if not much earlier. Basically, you are accessing your data on a remote server from a different location. That is the core, and should sound familiar to most computer users (and probably not too exciting). What makes modern cloud computing exciting, and iCloud in particular, is the further integration of automated procedures, Push technology, and the ability to access your personal data in the cloud from a wider selection of devices wirelessly.

Apple’s first big attempt at marketing this tech to the individual user was a thing called MobileMe. I was extremely underwhelmed by MobileMe. It was very limited and, with few exceptions, only duplicated capability that many users already had. It would sync your email across multiple computers/devices wirelessly. Most power users had already solved this issue long before by switching from POP email delivery to IMAP. It could wirelessly sync your calendar across multiple devices as well, which many of us still had to do via a USB cord. But, at that time (as with today) you had to plug your iPods and iPhones directly into your computer for updates often enough that needing to sync via a cord was not a huge drawback. It would sync your address book also, but this was just like with the calendar – not too useful for most people since we had to use the cord and link directly to the computer regularly.

It could potentially solve some problems for cross platform users – people who worked on Apple and Microsoft systems. But, none of this really worked. I tried it briefly and found it more hassle than it was worth. My boss (also known as Dad) was a cross platform user at this time and I set him up. But there were endless problems. Every time he would sync (when that worked – about 30% of the time – it would simply hang or crash the device(s)) he would end up with multiple copies of data. Instead of syncing, he would end up with sometimes as many as 6 instances of the same events. The same held true with contacts. Every sync ended up duplicating either new entries or the whole address book. My pop has over 2,000 individual entries in his address book. When those begin to duplicate, things get out of control quickly.

That tech was so bad, it took me more than a week to even figure out how to fully unsubscribe, turn it off and remove it. I would follow the procedures, and the next day, it was BACK! I would finally get it off of the computer, and it would reappear on his iPhone. This was a tech support Gordian Knot. Apple has admitted that MobileMe was less than successful. But they knew that they were onto something and they kept at it.

Enter Lion, iOS5, and iCloud!

Tech Talk 5 – Clever Title!

I was excited when the iPad was released. This seemed like a device that would allow me to go on the road without my laptop, and still have a reasonably sized screen for doing work, reading and writing email, surfing the web, and watching my shows. It would also be a huge advantage in terms of books. I am not just a TV addict. I go on the road with 4-20 paper books also. That is a cumbersome load. (We will pick this thread back up in the books/podcasts edition.)

After the initial wave of ravenous excitement died down, I went into the store to play with them. I do like the Apple stores, but my biggest complaint with them is that you cannot try out the devices in anything remotely like real world circumstances. Very few people spend their time computing standing up at a high bench. Even fewer people use their iPads standing up with the device laid out flat on a high table. But at least you can get your hands on the devices and check them out. I was concerned about not having a keyboard, but found that I could actually type wicked fast on the iPad and was able to use 8-10 fingers to type instead of the 4-6 I use on the traditional keyboard. But I did recognize that it was unlikely I would duplicate those speeds while seated, or in any other position besides standing with the device laid out flat on a table of appropriate height.

I was very disappointed with the hard disk capacity of the first wave of iPads. As much freedom as the device offered, the limitations of how much data it could carry were significant. (Research what that was 30 GB?). Looking into work-arounds, I discovered that there really were not any. There was no way to hook a first Gen iPad into an external storage drive for the purposes of data/content management. You had to either purchase new material on the iPad through the iTunes store (or other online vendor) or move content to and from the device from your computer over the USB connector. If you do maintain your own server, I imagine that you could access that server on the iPad over the web, but the device did not have any kind of file management system that would allow you to move content around that way – you would have to have your iTunes library active on the server and move content via iTunes.

The iPad 2 does have a bigger drive, but still not really big enough (for my needs) to be the only computer I take on the road. They did release an adapter cord, Apple 30 pin connector to female USB receptor, and many of us thought that this would be the ticket. I envisioned getting the iPad2, the usb connector, and a small, rugged, highly portable, 1TB storage drive that takes power from the host device instead of a separate power cord. That would allow me to go on the road with a minimal setup for at least 3 months without needing another storage drive or computer (except for iPad software and security updates, but we will revisit that aspect in just a bit).

1 TB is also imperfect for me, but it beats the heck out of 30 or 120 GB. But, early reports revealed two key problems: the iPad does not have enough power to be able to also supply power to such a device, and the file management system was still non-existent even when using a powered external drive over the USB connector. The connector was released as a means to move pictures from digital cameras to the iPad. In that scenario, you use iPhoto to access the drive. That file system is built into iPhoto – similar to how there is some file management built into iTunes that allows you to move data through the iTunes interface. But something like the “Finder” in Apple or “Windows Explorer” in Microsoft just isn’t there on the iPad.

Tech Talk 4 – Get what you paid for?

The model I briefly outlined in the last episode is kinda how I run my TV life now. The big difference is that I don’t have my archive online. I know I could manage that, but I don’t want to build my own server and develop the security and port protocols and have to maintain a physical, “always-on” server somewhere. There are pre-existing online backup solutions, but media alone, not pics and documents – I am already pushing 2 TBs, and that will only grow. That ain’t cheap for me to pay for online storage.

Instead, I try to imagine how long I will be gone, what I may be in the mood for, what I might want to have as fall back, comfort-food TV/audiobooks/music. If it is a short enough trip, I load 150 Gigs or so onto my laptop from my archive, and manage content to and from the iPhone just off the laptop. On longer trips, I bring a storage drive along. This works, but it is bulky. To travel with this set-up, I have to bring: laptop, laptop charger, powerstrip, backup drive, firewire, backup drive power block, my iPhone, and maybe also my iPod in case there are power issues (or 24 hours of airline travel) and I need another source for media, and a few iPod cords and wall chargers.

As I am carting this load around our globe, I am thinking about Apple. I bought most of this stuff from the iTunes store. Almost all of it is still in the store available for sale. It is sitting there ready to be downloaded and I already paid for it. I have personal experience and have heard other well-documented stories that Apple allows you to re-download up to your entire purchase history once a year. They don’t advertise this. Not every apple tech even knew it was the policy (at least up to 2008 or so). This was limited. If I had a corrupted file and effectively lost one episode of a show I purchased a Season Pass for on iTunes, I had to re-download the whole series. They could not give me a one episode download as that was not on my receipt. Imperfect, but at least they honored my purchase and provided replacement data. (This also had an impact on my desire to create my own portable storage system as a more immediate means of dealing with these issues.)

I appreciated the support from Apple in replacing a few damaged files, but it just got me thinking. Why do I have to store all this crap and carry it around? Why do I have to email you a request and wait for you to analyze the issue before I can get my stuff? I can see my entire purchase history in my iTunes account online. Why can’t I re-download BSG when I want to watch that instead of carrying it around with me on an external drive?

A great example of corporate fighting and odd ownership rights – I have purchased all 7 seasons of Buffy, the one season of Firefly, the Serenity movie, (those three in both dvd and iTunes formats), Dr Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog, and Commentary the Musical from the iTunes store. I am doing a Buffy re-watch right now on my laptop and iPhone and taking notes for some future blogging. But I can’t watch Angel this way. Angel is not in the iTunes store. I did buy all 5 seasons of Angel on DVD, but those are still in India. Angel was available for streaming on Netflix (and hopefully still is), but I suspended my Netflix account a while ago. I will probably re-activate it to do an Angel re-watch next (and re-watch Slings and Arrows while the account is active) or see if anyone will lend me the disks. But I can’t really watch on my iPhone over netflix. It works, but not everywhere I like to sit in this house has a wireless signal. I am lucky enough to still be on an unlimited data plan with AT&T (they quit offering those once they realized that iPhone use exploded) but even that gives you a choppy stream – not really worth watching.

But this all seems to get cumbersome and ludicrous to me. I have access to watch Comcast shows online through their xfinity program. Since we have almost all the paid channels on our account in PA at RAI headquarters, i can follow HBO and Showtime and some other good cable network shows. I have paid for the complete series of several shows on the DVD format. I have paid for many many complete series in the iTunes store. I had Netflix. I check out Hulu. And still I can’t get all the content I want and can’t get it to all the devices I would like to use to watch said content, and I can’t watch what is available from wherever I would like. I can’t even access all the digital material I have already paid for and downloaded without access to my storage drives.

Isn’t there a better way? Isn’t that way already here? As it turns out, the answers are, “Yes” and “Sort of”.

But, there are a few more pieces of the puzzle before we get to the new solutions.

Tech Talk 3 – Where’s the bytes?

I started to see what I believe will be the shape of future media delivery. I don’t know if we will ever get rid of the traditional TV telecast. Enough people will probably still want to watch the local/global news and sports in the traditional manner, some folks wanna watch Law and Order, commercials and all, and zone out, and we may not need to get rid of one method of consuming these media items in order to expand and create new methods. I believe that “in the future”, every aired episode (we will get to “new” content later) of every show, every movie, every song, etc, will all be available to everyone one earth on any device they want, at any time. (I don’t add “who can access the internet” because making that happen is another piece of the puzzle – not forcing people to use it, but making sure that there is a relatively simple and inexpensive way they could if they wanted.) Of course, for some kind of fee depending on the system. More on the shape of this aspect a bit later.

I don’t know exactly what form this will take, and who we would pay or subscribe with, but it seems really silly that we can’t say, “Honey, tonight what do you say we watch Andromeda? I really liked that show but I missed a bunch in the middle and I missed the conclusion too. I always wanted to go back and watch it from the start.” Then march over to the TV or computer, scroll to Andromeda, select season 1 ep 1, have already paid your subscription fee, or authorize payment for download, then begin watching. (Or Dallas if you are dying to know why anyone cares who shot JR. Insert your own inner passion.) We are closer to this now, but still a ways off.

I picked this example because minus the “Honey” part, this is a ripped from the details of my life account. I want to watch Andromeda. I liked the show. Not all the eps were super, and they had more one-off or ‘throw away’ eps than I care for. But I liked the large strokes of the show. The concept was great, and there were several engaging long term story arcs. But I never got to see it all.

Now you can’t pay to download it from anywhere legally. They aren’t making any more of the DVDs. You can’t even get the disks from netflix. They aren’t on Hulu. They aren’t in the Comcast OnDemand back catalog. They aren’t on Sci-Fi. You can find dvds for sale online, but new/good condition complete series sets are pretty pricey. Piecing the series together from several different vendors, one season, or partial season, at a time turns out to cost about the same.

This may be good for a few weird collectors (weirder than me anyway ;)), but I can’t understand why the people involved in making the show would not be interested in continuing to generate residual income from their work. I don’t want to pay some guy named Fortinbras on ebay 800 bucks to (hopefully) receive a bunch of dvds that I don’t really want anyway and then be limited to watching on my laptop, or spending a week with handbrake converting the dvds into iPhone compatible mp4s (that look too low res when I do watch on the laptop). But I would happily pay the going rate at the iTunes store, 25-45 bucks a season depending on release date and quality. They give me two versions if HD is available and my computer sorts out which is the best version for which device. I don’t have to rip two different copies from the dvd in handbrake to have max res on two different devices, give them distinctive names like btvs.313.pod.mp4 and btvs.313.lap.mp4.

On demand creation of physical products from digital media is extremely simple and cost effective. I won’t let this crawl too far here, but it is a great time to mention books. There will be a separate but related story on books, bookstores, ebooks, podcasts, podiobooks, podcast novelists, and the crossover success stories of a few folks who turned their free podio books into actual print book deals. On demand printing has been available in the book industry for years now. It is not the cheapest option, or the most profitable for an author, but it is possible and one way to generate income off of your work. We will discuss some of the better options that have been developed for book publishing when we get to the podio/audio/ebook story. But for TV and movies, Print On Demand is a fine business model for anyone seeking dvds of old shows. There is not much in the way of stock you need to keep around. Blank cases, disks, label making equipment, a printer and paper for the booklets – everything else is just digital info. There is even less stock needed and probably more profit potential in running On Demand paid downloads.

I know that the tech is there. The tech has been there. This kind of tech has only gotten better and easier over the years. The things I discovered about pirate groups and how they run demonstrate that it can not only be be easily done, it is being done right now and has been for years. The way things are, avid, dedicated, willing to pay, potential consumers get what they want whenever they want it, and because it is illegal and free, no one gets paid, and occasionally, someone goes to jail or pays a fine. The way things could be, anyone could get whatever they wanted to watch or hear, legally, from any country whenever they wanted, and pay for it, and the creators and the industry continue to make residual money, no one goes to jail, and everyone can find out who shot JR. (It was Alex!) (I just made that up. I hope there isn’t an ‘Alex’ on Dallas, and I really hope Alex did not shoot JR. I don’t truck with spoilers.)

Tech Talk 2 – There Be Dragons!

Things like the iTunes store and many other online purveyors of downloadable media are not authorized for use in India (as of late 2008 – could have changed by now). In my research, I discovered that the key issue was copyright protection. I cannot stress to you how much of a dumb and self-defeating policy this was/is. This is true beyond India. I would imagine that it is true in any area labeled as a “developing country” (or other euphemism for “not as advanced as we in the mighty first world countries”), but I can only speak on personal experience for India and the Mid East. Eastern Europe was like this in the early 90s, but I don’t have any more recent experience there. The illegal copies of software, music, TV, and movies are already there. You can get this stuff just about anywhere, decent to excellent quality, for very little money. Having a policy that prevents lawful access to content does not prevent or deter piracy nor does it curb interest and demand for content. It has the opposite effect. I wanted to continue lawfully purchasing shows, but that was no longer an option. I did investigate cable and satellite options, but was unsuccessful in finding any solution that would allow me to see all the shows I wanted to see.

Apple came up with rentals from the iTunes store and I thought that this might fix my problem. Nope. India not authorized for rentals. I did make more progress with this approach. I was allowed to actually pay $.99 to rent The Simpsons movie (they would not even take my money when I tired to purchase TV shows). But I was never able to actually download and view the content. They did credit my account, though I could not use that credit until I got back to the US years later.

Having exhausted a pursuit of legal means, I was curious and decided to see if it was possible to find alternative solutions. Not surprisingly, I found a multitude. Some of the tech podcasts I listen to had referenced groups that do this and I checked out a few of the well known pirate sites to see what was there and how they worked. After some review and exploration, I was truly surprised that these pirate sites had ever become popular. Maybe they were of better quality before they got famous, but things were not pretty when I went there. Most had loads of attempted pop-ups, many pop-ups that found a way to circumvent my pop-up blocking software, and other malware-like activity. I had zero faith that these were good places for anyone to try and download anything. I talked with a few local Indian guys who did download from these sites and they said that it took forever (probably just the S L O W internet experience in India – which has more to do with inconsistent power than the speed you get from your ISP) and the content was usually corrupted and frequently laced with viruses and other malware. (Normally I would include several links and leave a verifiable trail for you guys. But the point of this was not for me to become a pirate nor is it for me to teach you to become one. Read on.)

After a bit of surfing and a few tests, I found a few great sites of people largely like myself. This was not a group of hardened criminals and hackers. No one had a political agenda about free markets or anarchist tendencies. No one was trying to make a statement about the global marketplace, or the evils of capitalism. These were people who really really love TV. No one made any money. No one sold anything. There was nothing to buy. There were a few fantastic forums, very well organized and moderated, that were basically a collection of links to download high quality content from other sites. Every link was checked and re-checked to ensure that there was no phishing or malware of any kind. Everyone cared about quality and would post notes about each download – “great quality”, “actually episode 5 not 4”, or “audio out of sync – try the next link”. A few guys started converting material into HD quality files in less than half the standard HD file size. And they had everything. If they did not have it and you wanted it. You put in a request and in under one week, someone would have found you some good links.

If you wanted to follow the newest, hottest shows, that was tricky. I watched and saw that ‘the powers that be’ actively sought out fresh links for new-on-air content and killed them. But if you wanted to watch older shows, no one seemed to care. You had no trouble finding all the eps of older shows, cancelled shows, and shows already on DVD.

I learned quite a bit about how this works, but I am still doing some research on a few parts of the legal side of this puzzle. While I want to share everything with you because that is my nature, and I believe the details do give more meat to some other aspects of this story as well as providing useful data about the connection (or disconnect) between the law and piracy in the real world, I am hesitant to put out my research in a way that could be read as a “how-to” guide. I do not support or advocate piracy.

I think that specific examples of piracy in today’s world establish that a) the law is broken, b) the technology to not only improve and expand access to content is completely ready (and has been for years) but also, c) this technology can right now, today, short circuit a giant amount of global content piracy while making more money (at little to no cost) for the folks who made the content. Eternal Residual Income. That is one Golden Goose and these guys are not taking advantage of it.

Tech Talk

Note: I did start this in September. Some things have already come to pass, but I am not going to re-edit this to change all the tenses and deal with time shift. The info is still good despite any potential time-based grammar difficulties…

I want to talk about some of the new technology Apple has recently released, the new releases in the pipe for this Fall, how those will help solve many of my recurring problems (and probably some of yours too), and how this adds one more layer to the  (largely untapped) capability modern technology has made possible, and a few ways we could use this technology.

To be able to really describe what is coming and how it will help, first, I will tell you about how I use media and how that has changed over just the past 5 years. Along the way, we will talk about international copyright law and piracy, and a few other things. It is about twice the length of the recent doggy tales serial and I plan to use a similar format. Probably 10 episodes, covering around two pages each, but with more text and less pics in each post. And we will close with the new Apple tech, what it can do, what it might also do, and what it could do. Also, a few thoughts on additional ways to expand the use of this technology to allow greater access, flexibility, portability, and back-up solutions to everyone.

We will come back to this point, but let us take a moment to clarify two terms that we use somewhat interchangeably in common speech, but that do have distinct meanings in this context: Storage and Backup. To keep it simple and easy to visualize, we will use traditional bound paper books as an example. The bookcase in your home is a place for storing your books. You can access any book on the case any time you are co-located with the bookcase. If you have two copies of the same book and both copies are on the bookcase, you do not really have a backup copy, you have two stored copies. To get from storage to backup, you need to have the second copy of the book stored at a different physical location, as distant from the original storage site as possible. Now that you have two copies stored in different locations, you have achieved Backup.

Let us begin.

The two constants in my shifting media equation are both hard disk space. The space on my iPhone (29.3 GB), and the space on my laptop (320 GB – which has to hold all the software, all the core documents I may need from 7 different businesses, lots of past project details, several website backups, tons of photos, and my changing media).

As a quick example of how this works in practice, I have been mostly on the road since   mid April. I brought my 2 TB firewire 800 external storage drive along. This has been awesome to have as I have purchased at least 6 audiobooks, a few movies, and several TV episodes (Friday Night Lights Season 5 for example) in that time. Having the storage  drive along has allowed me access to my media archive, given me the ability to store newly purchased content, and the freedom to delete new content from my laptop and iPhone to free up hard disk space for different material without losing a local copy I can access at will. Since it is my media archive, I can load any of my shows, movies, books, podcasts, and so forth, back onto my laptop and then the iPhone, also at will.

The thing is that I love TV, but I don’t watch TV like a lot of people do. I hate commercials with a passion. I don’t do laugh tracks. I am not into the procedurals. I don’t want the dialog dumbed down to reach a wider audience (see above: “I am not into procedurals”). I don’t want a story-of-the week kinda show. The only exception I can think of is Star Trek The Next Generation, and even with this show, my favorites are the 4 or 5 part story arcs.  I want a good, long plot. I like characters, but you can’t win me on characters alone. A good story makes up for many other deficiencies. Friday Night Lights is a great example of this aspect. I love that show, but I do not like very many of the characters. On the other hand, characters alone can’t pull me in, you gotta have something for them to do. Ideally, I want you to have already built a world and then invite me in to play. I want a 5-7 season show with a continuous narrative. While I do critique poorly done finales, I am not so fussed about how a show ends, as long as it was a good ride.

I made a transition around 2006 to life without an actual TV. Several things happened at one time and this morphed my TV experience. I was living with friends in Northern Virginia (NOVA), working in their small business run basically from home. I got an 80 GB iPod classic (the biggest one they had at they time), and I discovered that one could purchase TV shows from the iTunes store and watch them on a computer or iPod. These have no commercials. If you buy a whole season or a whole series, you don’t have to wait a week in between eps and a summer or more between seasons.

If I have an hour or two in my day to watch some TV, I don’t want to have to scroll through what is on at that time and hope I find something passable. I want to spend that time watching a show I like and am to some extent invested in. I want to follow that arc out to the end. Tevo, DVRs, and OnDemand helped, but I don’t really have a home (or TV) to set that stuff up. Netflix can be great, but it has its own very broad though still limited collection, and it is dependent upon a decent internet connection maintained for the duration of your viewing experience and may or may not really work in every other country. With the iPod and my iTunes store TV show downloads, my TV was now portable and largely internet free. In line at the DMV for two hours? Watch a few eps of the West Wing and learn something about how the different branches of our government actually work on the day-to-day and maybe even get a little inspired about politics again, or at least balance out your rage with the inefficiency of your local government experience. I felt like this was technology made just for me!

I was heavily into three new shows at that time (2006 in NOVA) – Lost, BSG, and Friday Night Lights. I did not have a very good place to watch actual TV at home, and whenever possible, I prefer to be outside. I watched BSG on Fridays at some dude’s house. And I watched Lost and Friday Night Lights the day (or sometimes a few days) after they aired when the new eps were released in the iTunes store. The laptop I had at that time had terrible battery performance, and I was not smart enough to know that one could simply replace the poorly performing battery with a new one. (Though I had a Dell and this was around the time of the exploding replacement batteries.) I watched a lot of TV sitting outside in the evenings with that iPod in my hand, eyes glued to the action on the beautiful 1 ½” x 2” screen.

This is a different story that we won’t really get into here, but not long after, I decided to move to India and start a few companies with my friend Ram. For two years in India, I continued watching TV on my laptop and my iPod. I was able to do more laptop than iPod viewing while in India, but access to content was a problem. I did bring a lot with me. I had: the Gilmore Girls DVDs through season 5, My So Called Life, all of Buffy, Angel, and Firefly on DVD, the first few seasons of Lost on DVD/iTunes, a few seasons of BSG on DVD/iTunes, a few seasons of Friday Night Lights on iTunes, 10-15 movies on DVD – I had stock. But access to new content and new eps of currently running shows was a problem. We shall make a quick detour to talk about the global media industry (music, TV, movies). This is actually relevant to several aspects of the larger discussion and to my particular issues with new advances in tech.

Silence Like A Knife

Howdy. Time for some general housekeeping and updates.

Lucas and I are back in PA. He is doing very well, maybe even better than he was a month ago. He is drinking a little less water, and has not been getting me up in the middle of the night more than twice a week. Instead of every two hours, he seems to only need to go out every three hours or so now.

My dad and I finally decided to throw in the towel on my Saturn, and I am now rockin’ out in what one of my friends calls “the nerd car”. Yep. I am stylin’ in a 2008 Prius and lovin’ it. I have cleaned and emptied the Saturn, taken some nice photos, and will be throwin’ that up onto the list of Craig hopefully tonight. It still has a few issues (throttle body and wiring harness) but it runs, the body/frame/interior are in super shape. It has a rebuilt tranny still under warranty, and a new engine still under warranty.

I had a lot of things on my mind and weighing on my being for my last few weeks in NOVA. Under the strain, I went the less productive route of worry and wallow instead of ACTION. Some of that was out of my control, but I did let some things slide. I have gotten out from under most of that weight. I am at least down to mostly only having to deal with my issues and not the issues of others.

I did a ton of writing during that time, but it is not stuff that I can share. I tell you only to say that while I have been silent, I have still been writing. I have not yet finished the conclusion of the tech piece, but I will begin releasing it anyway. The software has been released. Many of you probably already have it and are playing with it. But the set-up, and some of the forecasts on potential future issues may still be interesting to some of you.

The last day I felt able to do personal writing before being overwhelmed by outside forces, instead of writing the tech post conclusion, I started a piece on Epistemology. I love this topic. I have been fascinated by it long before I even knew what it was called, and every bit of study I have done relates in some way back to this topic.

My short-term blog goal is to finish the tech blog conclusion first, and then keep working  on the Epistemology blog as the pre-written tech material posts over the next few days. I cannot project a schedule for you on that as it is a huge topic. My final paper on this back in 1998 was 16 pages, and I barely scratched the surface. I have yet to get my arms around how to bite off small chunks for you here. But it will be good exercise.

Some of the current “other factors” – Vance is back in the hospital, my grandpa is here with us, and my mom is headed out of town. Vance came back from his 45th high school reunion with a severely swollen thumb and pain creeping down his wrist and arm. He was admitted to the hospital Tuesday morning. Nothing showed up on the x-ray or the MRI. After 13 hours or so on an IV, the swelling is reduced and the pain is receding. Nothing indicates a need for surgical intervention, but he will stay in the hospital for at least one more day, maybe more, on the IV until it seems safe to switch him back to antibiotic pills and outpatient care.

Not to make it all about me, but this does put a lot on my plate. Diabetic Pappy needs meds morning and night, blood sugar checks twice a day, shots three times a day, and a meal or snack every 2-3 waking hours. Ol’ Lucas has to walk at least every three waking hours. I need to visit with my pop in the hospital to chat and and bring him stuff. Then there is the acquisition and preparation of food, the cleansing of garments and linens, and everything else. I do not say this to complain. I am happy to help and glad that I happened to be here when such a need arose. But, it does limit my time for the writing.

Oh – and I need to throw my request out to the world for more work.

I have a wide range of experience and a broad skill set, am free to travel again in a few days, and would be happy to come house/pet sit for you while you travel for the holidays – or fix/clean your house for you while you are gone – or just about anything else. Let me know!

I do have some new-ish plans for full-time employment, but i am going to spend the holiday season preparing for that, seeing what happens with Lucas, and hopefully making some pocket money with other temp gigs.

Oh – one Halloween note. Halloween has not been very important to me since i was a lad, but it does mark one milestone for me. I can’t remember exactly when i became a vegetarian, but i know it was in the Fall of 1993. I remember eating meat that summer, living in a school bus with my bud in the mountains outside Lewiston, PA. I remember still eating meat for a while after that summer and cooking bacon for my girlfriend that i mostly lived with back in Richmond. But i know i stopped before we broke up, and she dumped me and threw me out on Halloween 1993. So, Happy 18 meat-free years to me!

Thanksgiving 2008 - Prescott Valley, AZ
Thanksgiving 2008 - Prescott Valley, AZ

Hope you all are well!