03 February 2009

End of the world quickly approaching, Watch it live here!

Why is it that every news organization in the US seems to thrive on terrible news? As someone who follows a ton of RSS feeds from many legitimate publications, I don't understand the affinity for bad news.

In a time when news organizations are having to re-think their business models, and try to cope with dwindling subscriptions and ad revenue affecting almost every publication in the nation, I wonder why no one has thought that maybe people just don't want to read about how terrible the world and the economy are every day. Some recent headlines "Residents panic as small quake hits New Jersey", "Salmonella recall continues to spread", "Another Weak Month Seen for Car Makers". Oh, and lets not forget the most morale killing headlines of all in this economic environment, "[Company] cuts [Large number] jobs, [ridiculous statistic]", "1 billion jobs to be cut this year, good luck keeping yours". I mean honestly, is it their hope to make you feel like crap on your morning commute?

And then there are the local news stations. They come on with the 15 second "We're going to tell you something that will scare the shit out of you and hope it makes you watch our broadcast tonight" spot during your favorite prime time program. And then they wonder why ratings dipping, and anchors are losing jobs. They have made a career out of convincing you that something awful is going to happen, and the only way to avoid it is to tune in to the nightly news and let them read the answer to you from the teleprompter.

In these times, I think would benefit us all of news organizations would stray away from the age-old doomsday headlines that they have relied on for the past century, and start focusing on reporting about the happenings of our entire world and society. Not just the new hot topic. The notion of news as entertainment has long annoyed me. And perhaps, it is beginning to annoy everyone, which is why the ability to pick and choose what stories you read, anytime, has lead to a rise in the number of people who prefer online news sources.

Its not enough to just think positive. In a country where a cult book like The Secret became so popular, you would think somone else would rant about this earlier. We need to start focusing our society on what we are doing to work through our problems, and also what things are happening other than extinction level event scenarios.

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19 January 2009

Who cares about Cable?

When I decided to move to Manhattan, there was one thing I knew for sure. I did not want a random craigslist roommate. Unfortunately, this meant that my budget was going to get stretched a bit. I was OK with that. Most New Yorkers split their Utilities bill in half, or in thirds, but I pay that myself. Another hidden expense is that you have to fully furnish your apartment yourself. For me this simply meant my place wasn't "done" for about 2 months, but once it was, I was happy. The only thing I made me slightly trepidatious was the thought of living without cable. And with the lowest package at 90 bucks a month, I didn't have much choice. But I have to say, I don't miss it that much.

Here's the first and most important question. What actual programs on Cable do I miss? I honestly can't think of any. In fact, when I was home for Christmas, my mom had AT&T U-Verse installed. And we had hundreds of channels to choose from. But I found myself turning to channels that were either running movies I've already seen, or re-runs of my favorite shows... that I've already seen. 

For most people in my demographic, the primary worry would be sports events (for which I have no taste) but just for arguments sake, lets say I need my sports. Well, most of the big games I get on broadcast television in clear HD. For college sports, if I really needed to, I could go to one of the 500 sports bars in this city with my friends, and kill two birds with one stone. But what about that game I can't watch in this region? Well, its actually quite easy to watch many Pro games online for free, or for a season subscription fee. Many NFL games were broadcast this year. The NHL currently provides a subscription service to watch up to 40 games online per week. The MLB is testing some out of region online broadcasting, with some limited availability for your home team games, but most local teams are blacked out. On ESPN360 you can watch live sports and replays, provided that your ISP is affiliated with the service. And unless you're like my co-pledge educator in college, thats plenty of online sports to get you through the year.

What about all those great TV shows? These days, good TV shows are like movies. Unless you have no life at all, there is no dying need to see a show the night it is broadcast. I've gotten accustomed to getting shows delivered through Netflix. I'm an instant gratification kind of guy anyway, and I prefer to watch seasons straight through as opposed to over months and months. Netflix is already buddy buddy with Showtime and NBC, and shows like The Office, Dexter, Californication, and 30 Rock you can watch streaming online in HD. Showtime even offers some content online days after, or even before it airs. I just viewed the premiere of The United States of Tara online for free yesterday. The only problem you'll run into is watching HBO shows mid-season. And everyone knows there are ways to circumvent that for free, that I don't condone (although its relatively easy). Or, you could just wait 6 months, and get the DVDs on Netflix.

You can find even more TV shows on pretty much any network site. My favorite is ABC, which streams a handful of shows, most importantly Lost, online in HD, anytime. Hulu is a secret that is not so secret anymore. Though I found it out of utility, most people now know that you can hop online and watch recent episodes of dozens of shows, and some full length movies online. Its essentially a cable network online. You watch a few commercials in exchange for viewing free content. Both of these work great with a TV if you have a computer with a DV or RCA out. The Hulu interface is especially impressive.

For movies Netflix is nice, but XBOX Live has become my goto place when I want to watch a movie. One new addition to XBOX is the ability to stream any Netflix feature that is available online, straight to your TV. One thing they haven't publicized (because they are still trying to work the bugs out) is that some shows shot in HD will actually stream in HD over XBOX Live, making it just as easy, if not cooler, than On Demand. In addition, for about 480 Microsoft points (ie $6) you can rent a movie instantly in HD. This is only slightly higher than you'll pay to pay for an On Demand movie through a Cable service. If you can't drop the 6 bones, there are about 1000 movies you can watch in regular quality for just 4 bucks. You can also find a ton of TV shows on XBOX Live, but many of the same shows you can find for free on the network's site or Hulu, like I mentioned above. Although, I do love the National Geographic, and Discovery Channel shows available here.

As if that weren't enough, I got a Blu-Ray player for Christmas, which may or may not be obsolete in 3 years. But while I have it, I can pay an extra 1 dollar a month on my $14 monthly Netflix plan, and get Blu-ray discs in the mail. No need to drop the ridiculous $24.99 per disc at the local Best Buy. So, while if I had 2 roomates, and I was paying the same 15-20 bucks to split the cable. I can pay about the same, not have cable, and still manage to have enough TV Shows, Sports, Movies, and HD content to fill the little time I have in my apartment anyway.

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