Saturday, October 15, 2011

SMS via WiFi for Travel

I am currently traveling in Europe.  No phone sucks (I’m on Verizon, which is CDMA, so I can’t use Europe’s cell towers).  At least I can connect every once in a while, when I stumble onto a WiFi hotspot and at my hotel.

Without going crazy, I spent a little time researching how to SMS over WiFi.  What I REALLY want is for my Android device to utilize WiFi for SMS so my texting threads (and contacts) still work, but that doesn’t seem to be an option (though there may be some promise when using Google Voice if you’re willing to integrate your “real” phone number with your Google Voice number).

The best (at least easiest and most apparent) solution I found was an app in the Market called textPlus.  I set up an account that allows me to text over WiFi; they actually assign you a phone number and associate it with your account.  Thus people can text you at this physical number, and you receive it through the app.  I do have to import individual contacts into the app (hopefully this information isn’t being harvested by the app), and when I text people, they need to respond to this new number (all they need to do is respond in their texting app).

On the Google Voice front, below is a video showing how to use your Google Voice number to go back and forth with SMS and e-mail.  This means you have to use your Google voice number for texting (not your phone’s actual number) and it doesn’t really get the messaging to streamline in your Android text threading.  This may change if you integrate your actual phone number with Google Voice and then use your Google Voice number as your main device number, but I’m not willing to let big brother get that kind of a hold on my communication structure just yet.

Google Voice SMS to e-mail conversion

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Ongoing Saga of Netflix

The hilarious letter received today…

Dear Daniel,

It is clear that for many of our members two websites would make things more difficult, so we are going to keep Netflix as one place to go for streaming and DVDs.

This means no change: one website, one account, one password…in other words, no Qwikster.

While the July price change was necessary, we are now done with price changes.

We're constantly improving our streaming selection. We've recently added hundreds of movies from Paramount, Sony, Universal, Fox, Warner Bros., Lionsgate, MGM and Miramax. Plus, in the last couple of weeks alone, we've added over 3,500 TV episodes from ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, USA, E!, Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, ABC Family, Discovery Channel, TLC, SyFy, A&E, History, and PBS.

We value you as a member, and we are committed to making Netflix the best place to get your movies & TV shows.

The Netflix Team

The whole “we’re constantly improving our streaming selection” made me laugh, considering my queue just went from around 250 shows to less than 150 (those 100 shows were removed from the Netflix catalog).

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Browsing Amazon Prime Instant Video Titles is a Horrible, Horrible Experience

Part of the ongoing “Can I end my cable subscription yet?” conversation is which online streaming providers are a necessary and/or viable part of your media delivery arsenal.  Amazon is making a rather weak bid by simply providing content as part of their $79 a year shipping subscription program.  Kind of like a growth on an otherwise great countenance, some people will view it as a beauty mark; others will view it as a mole.  And I guess you can’t really bitch about something that’s free… but I’m going to.

1109935-broken_compass_superSo my question is this: why is no one discussing how incredibly awful Amazon Prime Instant Video’s browsing/navigation experience is?  I Googled the topic and found nothing but general comparisons of Netflix and Amazon (mostly regarding number of titles) with no mention whatsoever of the INCREDIBLY ABYSMAL title browsing experience put forth on the Amazon site.  The only way to browse APIV titles online is via the regular Amazon shopping interface.  This means you can only see 12 titles at a time.  How long would it take a person to view “more than 10,000” titles if you can only browse 12 at a time?!

Not only that, but the Amazon Prime sign up page states that there are over 10,000 instant videos available, yet under “video definition” filter on the left-hand side of the page only 126 HD titles and 668 SD titles are shown.  It’s been a while since I’ve really had to do much math, but I’m fairly certain that 126 plus 668 does not equal over 10,000 (and only 126 HD titles is pretty laughable).

You also can’t add titles to a queue (thus, when you want to watch, you have to search for a title specifically).  You can create a special “wish list” for saving only Amazon Prime Instant Videos, but a wish list is an even more painful navigation experience.

Under the “unlimited instant video” drop down at the top of the Amazon page is a link called “your video library.” However, “your video library” only stores purchased video, thus you can’t add Amazon Prime Instant Video titles to “your video library.”

There is also no integration with Windows Media Center (there is integration with WMC for “your video library,” but as previously mentioned, you can’t ad APIV titles to your video library, only paid titles).

How does Amazon expect to compete with the other streaming providers if they won’t address navigating content?!  I guess on price alone.  So for now, Amazon Prime Instant Video is kind of like that off-brand mp3 player from 2003 collecting dust in your closet:  yeah, you have it, and technically it plays music, but it’s so painful to actually use that you never will.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Windows Media Center PC (Breaking the Shackles of Cable)

After years of thinking and talking about, I've finally got a Media PC (also called HTPC or Home Theater PC) up and running.  I had been waiting for this and that, but as with all things technology, you have to just jump in the pool at some point.  I went the less-cred/much easier route of building around Windows Media Center instead of building an XBMC box.  Yeah, you can customize the hell out of XBMC, but I know I'm going to be using a Win 7 PC, and I'd like my girlfriend and guests to easily be able to use the system, so WMC it is.

  • MOBO with many internal SATA ports (at least 6), Gigabit ethernet, and many external USB/eSata ports, and I decided on a motherboard with on-board HDMI video instead of an additional video card (one less component to buy and manage)
  • 128GB SSD for system drive
  • multiple 2GB hard drives for file storage (in RAID or just as is)
  • Hauppauge 1250 tuner card with remote (yes it works to control Windows Media Center)
  • As many silent fans as your case will accommodate (I've got six fans in mine, and it's still pretty quiet)
  • BluRay/DVD/CD burner
  • Windows 7 Professional (thus Windows Media Center)
  • AVG antivirus
  • MalwareBytes (anti Malware)
  • Launchy (I don't like shortcut icons cluttering my desktop)
  • iTunes
  • Airport Utility (for streaming audio to a Mac Airport via iTunes or Airfoil)
  • Hulu Desktop (I’ve actually stopped using this, because I like watching Hulu with AdBlock in Firefox)
  • Hulu Desktop Windows Media Center plug-in (again, no longer using because I don’t use Hulu Desktop anymore)
  • Amazon Unbox (for playing Amazon Instant rentals and purchases in WMC -doesn't work for instant streaming; to my knowledge, nothing does)
  • DVD Decrypter I’ve switched to HD Decrypter; it breaks a lot more encryption (for ripping purchased DVD's to my hard drive)
  • AdBlock Video (doesn't work for Hulu Desktop, but it's great for eliminating commercials when viewing browser-based Hulu, NBC, CBS, etc. via Firefox)
  • uTorrent
  • TED (Torrent Episode Downloader)
Why your Hauppauge remote isn't working: chances are the infrared cable's not plugged in all the way. The cable likely has an eight of an inch more to go before it will work.  You'll hear it "click" when it's actually in all the way; it may feel a little like you're forcing it (because you are), but this is the trick!