Tue, 24 Jan 2006

Another Strike for Comcast

My friend Jason is on a slippery slope. He thinks I'm crazy with my recent polemics against DirecTV. But today he has an uphill battle to fight with me and why I shouldn't run to Comcast.

And trust me, I'm far from kicking a company to the curb because they charge more than a competitor (I gladly buy Macs which, according to some critics, carry a $300 price "premium"), but when a company is providing less than the best products and services, and then they have the gall to increase your monthly subscription price without giving you any benefit, then they're just fleecing their customers.

I am, of course, talking about DirecTV's "Cyan" page.

For the same substandard service, I now get to pay $3 more per month for "Total Choice Plus", and, despite the fact that they've kicked my DVR to the curb as far as future support is concerned, they have the gall to increase DVR service by $1/month.

Can you say "1-800-COMCAST"? I thought you could.


Name/Blog: Jason
URL: http://www.hatetatellya.com
Title: I Might Be Following You...
Comment/Excerpt: Looks like you might not be alone on your Comcast migration. I found out yesterday when my new DirecTV DVR arrived that I won't be able to receive HD channels at my house. A couple of trees are in the way of the HD satellite. Comcast on the otherhand does not have that issue. They can offer my HD & a HD DVR right now. I would have to lease the boxes, but hey, I would get HD. Now I need to figure out how to get out of my commitment with DirecTV so I don't pay any contract termination fees.

Name/Blog:
URL:
Title:
Comment/Excerpt: Or might might be interested in looking at "Why You Too Should Cancel Cable". :-) (Found that as I was browsing today and it seemed to fit here.) http://www.columbia.edu/~ip71/w116/2006/03/why-you-too-should-cancel-cable.html




Mon, 23 Jan 2006

Why You Need To Call Your Senator

No doubt, by now, you've heard of the illegal NSA wiretaps that President Bush broke the law in authorizing without a court order or warrant. Despite the fact that he has the redress of using FISA to get the information he needs, instead he decided that our wonderous intelligence agencies (you know, the ones that bungled preventing 9/11, the same ones that declared that WMD was a "slam dunk" in Iraq, the ones that prevented the attack on the USS Cole, you know, the list goes on) are smart enough and good enough to know when they should and shouldn't be invading your and my privacy.

This should worry the hell out of you.

The reason why is that the Bush administration would have you believe that terrorism is a foreign problem. Bush said "we're defeating the enemy there so we won't have to fight them here" (source whitehouse.gov). The problem is this theory is substantially flawed. Prior to 9/11, there were several significant acts of domestic terrorism, the most obvious of which is the original February 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. That was planned and executed by people already in the United States.

And, take a look at the recent riots in France. The Basque peoples in Spain. The muslim population in London. Muslim fundamentalism (although again, this is NOT the only source of terrorism) is a global phenomenon. Even in the United States, all of the flights of 9/11 were domestic flights. These people already had visas. And we know our borders are permeable. Along the gulf coast, we know thousands of tons of contraband (those keys of cocaine might as well be a kilograms of dirty-bomb uranium-- if we can't stop one, how can we stop the other?) enter the United States every year.

Along our northern borders, "BC Bud" makes its way into the United States and into the lungs of high school kids across the country. And of course, our illegal immigrant problem in Mexico. Doesn't take a genius to figure out that al Qaeda could learn a few words of Spanish and come into the United States in short order and masquerade themselves as landscapers being paid under the table until it comes time to unveil their nefarious plan.

And it's not like domestic terror hasn't happened already. Zachharias Moussaui. Jose Padilla. Richard Reid. Eric Harris. Dylan Klebold. Ted Kaczynski. Do you honestly think, in this climate, if another Timothy McVeigh blew up a Federal building, that our current administration wouldn't make the argument they need to expand wiretaps between US citizens domestically?

The United States is not immune to having local populations who feel disenfranchised and who are subject to extremism. The United States likes to talk about exporting its ideals of freedom and democracy. But a key component which makes that export palatable (even at home) is our economic prosperity. You can't export one without the other. And so long as economic wealth is withheld from the disenfranchised (as it is in certain immigrant populations in France today with all the rioting) terrorism will become an increasingly home-grown scourge.

It won't matter that we've shut down the borders to cocaine or weed or heroin, all of which are imported to meet our demand. There are plenty of meth labs popping up like dandelions, and scores of uneducated disenfranchised people eager to take the road wherever it leads them.

Domestic terrorism is no different. We can shut down all our borders, prevent toxins and poisons from entering our country, but the enemy is already here. The question is whether we're willing to allow the brain trust in the White House (you know, the people who brought us the War in Iraq) to use our civil liberties as their bargaining chips in a gamble to prevent future acts of terrorism.

The problem is domestic terrorists are going to call our bluff, and we'll be left with the tattered remains of our Constitution wondering what's remaining that is worth fighting for? You need to call your Senator before it's too late, and tell them that the Federal government has the redress it needs to spy on people domestically, and that this is one slope that is too slippery to simply leave to "Executive Privilege".





Thu, 19 Jan 2006

I Got Paused

So Christine is watching Oprah, and she fast forwards the TiVo past the commercials. I take the opportunity to tell her about an interesting article I'm reading on my computer.

As I start reading, she hits pause on the TiVo, and even though I'm mid-sentence, she turns to me and says "Pause It".

That's right, folks, my wife tried to pause me like she did the TiVo only moments before.


Name/Blog: DeadlyElf
URL: garbagecollect at_sign msn.com
Title: Coming to a Websters near you
Comment/Excerpt: My six-year-old uses "pause it" as a regular part of her speech



Comcast-bound?

My friend Jason is growing concerned that I might move over to Comcast. So he sent me their recent press release from CES where they announced the following.

DirecTV On-Demand

To get this service, you first need to swap out your current DVR with a new one. Which means shell out cash, or sign a 1 year extension contract. What do you get when you do that? You'll get access to "the top programs of NBC and its cable entertainment networks, USA, SCI FI and Bravo, within hours after they air, commercial free, for just 99 cents. The programs will be available on demand through the new DIRECTV Plus interactive DVR."

Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. So I pay DirecTV to the tune of nearly $80/month, and now I need to make an additional commitment (in hardware or contract form), replace my existing DVR, all for the privilege of paying an incremental $0.99 per program that my TiVo should have recorded in the first place?!? Huh?

I pay you jerks nearly $80/month to get access to your digital signal. Now you're telling me that I need to pay you $0.99 to get a program "on demand" simply because I didn't plan ahead and put it on my "To-Do" list on my TiVo? If I HAD put it on my "To-Do" list it was a paid-member benefit but that goes away the minute the show goes off the air?

Ooooooooookay.... That's going to be a tough sell if only that the whole point of my TiVo is timeshifting. So I doubt I'm going to go out and shell out $300 and a 1 year contract plus $0.99 for each download when I can just find "Upcoming Showings" and be done with it.

DIRECTV Original Entertainment

So they're rolling out one hour of programming each week of effectively a re-hash of MTV's Music News. Whoop-de-doo. Oh, and a few live acts too, which I assume is just a rebranding of their "FREEVIEW" events. John Mayer FREEVIEW. Wheee! Where do I sign up?

Massive Gaming League

Get this: "Using new technology that allows for the placement of cameras within an actual videogame, DIRECTV will produce a videogame tournament and cover it as a sporting event, complete with producer, director and technical crew. Stories of the competitors will be told via interviews and features, complemented with coverage of their exploits in actual competition."

Ever had three people in a room with a 2-player PS2 game? Yeah, the third guy is basically sitting there twiddling his thumbs. The last thing I want to do is watch some boring video game on TV. What am I going to do, root on some complete stranger? "C'mon Darnic the Great, use your Axe of Slaying to defeat the evil Morgazmoid! I want to see you level up!!!!"

DIRECT Date

"DIRECT Date will be the 'American Idol for singles.'" Enough said. Maybe it could be amusing to watch, but what will I have to pay for the privilege? Not exactly groundbreaking programming, because Comcast did it first.

DIRECTV HD Local Channels

Don't even get me started. They're launching 24 more local markets in 2006. No news about whether Seattle is one of them. It certainly isn't already. While they say "Customers who subscribe to a programming package that includes local channels will receive both the standard and HD signals at no extra monthly charge", they also say "To receive local HD channels, DIRECTV now offers ... a satellite dish that has the ability to receive programming from five different orbital locations." Hmm. So it sounds like when they sold me my satellite dish and convinced me I needed a triple-LNB dish to get HD programming, they were wrong. Looks like to pull off getting local HD over satellite, I need to replace my dish with a 5-LNB system. And how many more cables do I need to run into my house for those signals? It's not going to be pretty. Say hello to additional cost or contract extension.

DIRECTV 2GO

This is basically a service to transfer programming from a DIRECTV Plus DVR (I guess the DirecTiVo is worthless now?) to "a wide variety of portable media players". From what I hear, this won't include the iPod. Right. So I'm going to sell my nano and my iPod video and get their lame ass MP3 players instead? Not!

"These new media players further demonstrate DIRECTV's commitment to providing consumers with the content they want, how they want it, and where they want it."

OK, the content I want is what I currently get, in HD, on my DirecTiVo (in SD), and on my Video iPod. I want to pay no more than $5/month for HD programming, including ABC, NBC, CBS, WB, PBS, and ESPN HD, with no additional hardware investment or contractual obligation-- you know, exactly how Comcast customers do. So why am I paying twice as much for a handful of HD channels without the locals?

DIRECTV PLUS HD DVR

"DIRECTV plans to launch the DIRECTV Plus HD DVR at retail mid-2006." Curious. I can get a HD DVR from Comcast tomorrow.

DIRECTV LCD Televisions

Awesome! So when DirecTV continues to demonstrate their continuing committment to giving their customers the best value for their entertainment dollar, you'll be able to use this DirecTV LCD TV when you switch to Dish or Comcast, right? Right? Give me a break.

I left the world of Cable a decade ago, and never looked back. Until now. DirecTV's HD and local strategy have left them in a very disadvantageous position, and they don't seem to be trying to hard to keep their "early adopter" customers. I already pay Comcast monthly for my Cable Internet access, it'd be a simple phone call to get signed up. I'm putting DirecTV on notice. Last time I switched providers, it took them a decade to win me back over.

Shape up, or get prepared to ship out of my living room. Sorry Jason, the writing may just be on the wall.


Name/Blog: Jason
URL: http://www.hatetatellya.com
Title: I Understand...
Comment/Excerpt: It's hard for me to leave DirecTV when they hold the exclusive contract with the NFL for the NFL Sunday Ticket. While you could potentially save some money when bundling Comcast Cable with the high speed internet, but your frustrations will grow when you begin to play with their cable boxes. If you know anyone with the current Motorola DVRs for example, you will see the slow response times. Nothing frosts my cookies more then slow cable boxes. I hate waiting!! Can you get an HD DVR from Comcast now? Yes you can. They lease their equipment to you. You can also get the HD box with Tivo from DirecTV. The new DirecTV DVR Plus HD won't launch until later this year. Those boxes contain the new DirecTV software with no Tivo. I will admit, I have thought about switching to Comcast. When the DirecTV installer was out last week, I found out that I have a limited line-of-sight for the HD Satellite. Therefore, I was only able to get a single LNB dish. It sounds like I might NEVER get HDTV at my house with DirecTV. If that is the case, I have no choice but to switch to Comcast. Just the thought of loosing my NFL Sunday Ticket makes me depressed. Think about all the NFL games I could have watched in HDTV. The thought of NFL games in HD is just naughty...




Wed, 18 Jan 2006

Two Things.

  1. Work out at lunchtime.
  2. Walk.
If you tend to be a "night person", if the first thing on your mind when you wake up is going to work, and the first thing on your mind when you're done working is going home, this might just be your answer.

Does this sound like you? Then read on because I think I have a breakthrough.

Step 1: Work out at lunchtime.

Let's face it, working out is the hardest thing for you to do. It's not hard for you to wake up and go to work in the morning. And it's not hard at the end of the day to go straight home, and you most likely already justify taking an hour in the middle of the day for lunch.

But if you should find that the gym membership card is just making your wallet fatter without making you any thinner, consider this advice:

Make the most difficult thing for you to do the easiest you can make it. You know you're not getting up early to work out, and you're not going to do it in the evening. Not to be Mr. Obvious, but the only time left is lunchtime. This presents a problem, which I will be quick to solve, but let's point out why lunchtime makes sense again:

  1. If you're a night owl, getting up early regularly is difficult.
  2. If you sleep in on weekends, it's odd to wake up early during the week and sleep in on weekends.
  3. If you're gainfully employed still, it's because you rarely if ever come to work late, and working out at lunch doesn't have a big impact on that.
  4. Working out outdoors, particularly in the northwest during wintertime, is a burden, because it's dark when you wake up, and it's dark when you get home from work.
  5. Working out in a gym doesn't give you fresh air, nor a break from work if you do it before or after work.
The problem, of course, is what to do about lunch, which I'll get to right after...

Step 2: Walk.

But why walk? Why not run? I hear you. I've always considered walking "wimpy" when running burns so many more calories, and gets more done in less time.

Some coworkers have invited me to go running with them at lunchtime. But I haven't gone, for a few reasons. First, even moderate jogging is enough to get me sweating profusely, regardless of the shape I'm in. Second, you need to warm up and stretch really well. Third, I should probably stretch and cooldown afterward. Fourth, I need a change of clothes, which also means lots more laundry. Fifth I need to shower, and sixth, I'll be redfaced the rest of the afternoon. The point is, if you can't convince yourself it's a good idea, you're not going to do it, and that's quite a stack of obstacles.

Plus, weight loss should not be a race. Permanent weight loss is typically achieved when it's lost 1-2 lbs. a week.

The point is, make your workout as easy to do as possible, such that it's an easy habit to introduce into four out of five workdays. I can literally take 45 minutes to go for a walk, and not a single minute more for any pre-activity, post-activity, no extra laundry, just 45 minutes of basic exercise. All it takes are good (and waterproof) walking shoes (on nice days, you can walk in your work shoes, assuming they are moderately comfortable), a rainproof jacket, and a mini telescoping umbrella. You get the benefit of fresh air, a break in the middle of what could be a stressful day, and no time-consuming trip to the gym.

You can go with a co-worker, or if you go solo, 45 minutes a day of free time means (assuming safe walking conditions with no trip hazards) justification for buying a video iPod. (You didn't see that coming?)

What About Lunch?

I'm glad you asked. OK, you didn't, but it's obviously something I need to address because I took 45 minutes of your lunch hour away, didn't I? You have several options, but here's three ways you could go:

  1. Zone it.
  2. Shake it.
  3. Plan it and make it yourself.
Perhaps the best way to go is a combination of the above, in succession.

The first item is the "Zone Diet". You can find out more about it at Zone Seattle. The real key to this program is that they deliver your food to your door. It is pricey. To the tune of $40/day pricey, but it enables you to work out at lunch instead of worrying what you're going to eat. It teaches you portion control, which is a huge problem when you go out to lunch five days a week. It teaches you to graze. So I think it makes a lot of sense to start with the Zone Diet for at least a week, perhaps as many as 3-4, just to get you on the right track and reinforce positive eating habits.

The second way is to use protein powder shakes like Balance products. Since the Zone Diet focuses on a 40/30/30% balance of protein, fat and carbs (as measured by caloric intake-- protein and fat are relatively calorie dense, so this diet has an emphasis on fruits and vegetables), it's an obvious choice (balance.com). Augment that with either fresh fruit or vegetables, or even a Balance bar for a snack, and now you only need to worry about breakfast and dinner.

Finally, once you start getting sick of the cost of the Zone program, get sick of the shakes, you can start pre-preparing your meals on weekends for the upcoming week, and bring your lunch, but worry about that once you've established a workout routine, established good eating habits, and have begun to see the results of your actions.





Fri, 13 Jan 2006

Zero Tolerance Policy

Michael Kanellos is an editor at CNet. He had this to say in his recent article:
MK: One thing Apple Computer didn't address with the conversion to Intel processors is the price. Apple's products still carry a sizable premium, at least according to an early comparison with Gateway machines.
Let's ignore the fact that Apple has never been about "lowest price". What I take issue with is a) that Apple's products supposedly carry some sort of "premium", and b) that any comparison to Gateway machines is presumably some sort of fair comparison.

So just how much is this alleged premium?
MK: Historically, Apple has generally maintained a $300 price premium.
$300 huh? If he's right, scientifically speaking, one should be able to reproduce his results. Problem is, I had a hell of a time doing so. Here's the closest configuration I could find:

Company Apple Gateway
Model MacBook Pro M465-Eb
CPU CoreDuo 1.67Ghz, 667Mhz FSB 2MB Cache
Memory 1GB 667 DDR2 - 2x512 SO-DIMMs
Hard Drive 100GB Serial ATA @ 5400 rpm
Optical Drive SuperDrive
OS MacOS X Windows XP
Antivirus Software None (not necessary) Gateway Security Suite
Video ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 - 128MB ATI Mobility Radeon X1400 SE 128MB
Screen 15.4" TFT (1440 by 900) 15.4" TFT (1400 by 1050)
Battery Lithium-polymer battery Lithium-ion battery
Bluetooth Included +Module
WebCam Included +~$50
Shipping Free $49
Total Price $1,999 $1,913

The total difference, then, is $86. That's right, eighty six dollars.

Now let's see. The Mac is 9% lighter, 33% thinner, has a faster video card, better battery techology, doesn't use any cheap plastics and employs innovative new technologies. The configurations are simple and the site is thus simple to use. You can't say any of that for the Gateway.

So is Apple's customer base unwilling to pay that $86 "premium"? Should Apple cast off its bourgouise profits and shave off that $86 to tack on a few Gateway customers here and there? Is this what Steve Jobs should tell Apple's Board of Directors?

Let's face it. If Apple's strategy wasn't working for its customer base, you'd think it'd be reflected in its stock price. (Incidentally, AAPL is at a record high)

Michael, you're a technology writer for a company who, without the Internet high tech industry, would have no reason to exist. You would think that would justify splurging the $86 to buy quality where it counts. In fact, if you only use your computer for one hour each day for one year, the amortized cost of $86 for that period is twenty three cents a day. That's less than a postage stamp. You could find that much in between the cushions of most sofas in most living rooms in most industrialized countries in the world!

Now maybe you might counter that the difference isn't something you object to-- you're basically doing a service to your readers, perhaps. Well let's see who exactly your audience is, then, shall we? According to your own advertising marketing material, the average age of your readers is 37 years old, 88% college educated, with a median household income in excess of $80K, with 84% broadband access. To top it off, your audience is expected to spend, on average $3,500 on personal technology and consumer electronics in the next 12 months. And yet, you see fit to bemoan a price difference of $86 to this audience? Shame on you, Michael Kanellos.

If you (or any of your readers) can't afford that (or can't acknowledge that Apple's target market can), it's time for all of you to find a job in another industry or go read "i-love-needlepoint.com", because the last thing you should be doing is spending any time writing (or reading) any articles that quabble over a $86 price "premium" for a purchase of nearly two thousand dollars.





Sat, 07 Jan 2006

My Idea, In Practice

This morning I was pleasantly surprised to hear that one of dozens of product ideas I've had, has taken shape in the form of Yamaha's Intellibeam technology.

My idea was simple, and occurred to me after cobbling together my first true home theater system. I wanted to get the most for my money, and to do so required getting the Video Essentials DVD. This DVD allows you to determine the proper placement and levels for your audio speakers (as well as a blue piece of film and test signals to properly calibrate your video).

In fact, if you have invested in any home theater products at the midrange or above, you too could benefit from a proper calibration-- otherwise, your system is probably performing like a system that is worth half the price. But I digress.

While calibrating the audio, I was annoyed that the calibration software (the DVD) and the hardware (the audio coming from the speakers) and the test equipment (my Radio Shack sound pressure level meter) were not particularly integrated.

It occurred to me that the source system, by means of employing a microphone at the appropriate seating location, could sample the output audio waveforms and see how they differed from the input audio waveforms. If a certain speaker, because it was unfortuitously placed partially behind a piece of furniture, was attenuated, the speaker could detect that state, and increase the sound output levels from that speaker to compensate. Furthermore, the source could send the signal at various frequencies and parametrically equalize (EQ) the source signal to ensure the output signal matches, as much as possible, what the recording artist intended.

The consumer benefit of this technology is pretty obvious-- as home theater reaches the point of maturity on the consumer adoption curve, the profile of the average consumer of the technology is likely to have less control over the room in which the theater system is being installed. For example, someone renting an apartment may have difficulty installing proper sound insulation or putting in carpeting or the ability to enclose the listening room on four sides to ensure proper acoustics. This system would be able to dynamically determine the acoustic properties of the listening position and adjust the speaker system to produce the best possible experience.

This technology would also potentially provide a competitive advantage in the showroom as well. Having been in many less-than-ideal showrooms (so have you if you've ever been to a Best Buy, Circuit City, Frys, Good Guys, etc. -- they all have their tens of thousands of dollars of equipment improperly installed and calibrated), a product that could simply be calibrated by putting speakers in just about any configuration and having them dynamically reconfigure themselves to provide an optimal experience would embarrass technically superior systems that are simply out of whack.

The problem with me having the idea is that I didn't have any way to take advantage of it. As an independent inventor of this technology, it's not particularly feasible to produce this product as an "add-on" to a standard sound-pressure-level device, because you need to detect the original source signal and measure the difference through the analog channel.

For me to launch this idea meant licensing the idea to companies like Sony or Pioneer or JVC so they could integrate it into their home theater receivers. And for me to "possess" the idea meant patenting it and in the process of doing so, publicize it. And to actually demonstrate possession of a patent, you have to show an active interest in not only having the idea, but commercializing the idea, which would have meant effectively hacking apart an off-the-shelf Sony receiver, putting together my own DSP/DAC/ADC ASIC to integrate into it, to show the idea in action.

Realizing the amount of trouble it would take, and properly occupied by family and career, I chose to instead wait to see how long it would take the industry to capitalize on this (in my opinion) obvious idea, and ship a product to market. Looks like the winner of the "putting theory into practice" award is Yamaha!





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