Thursday, December 26, 2013

Pulled the trigger on going back to cable

I've been a tv subscriber again for about two weeks.  It hasn't change my viewing habits much at all.  I refuse to watch live television, unless there is 'news' involved.  Thanks to Comcast On Demand I have been able to catch up with a few shows that I liked but Hulu only carried the most recent five episodes of.  Plus, I can now DVR shows that were only available for $ on Amazon. I am also not allowing myself to spend money on a la cart offerings online any longer.  I also dropped Netflix, since I was only watching one or two things at most per month.  Hulu Plus will probably go as well, though I'm still a bit intrigued by some of their original programming.  Additionally, I like having the clips related to m shows accessible in one place (way better than you tube).  If I want to just watch a particular movie, I am putting it on my wish list.

Ultimately, I am probably shelling out more per month, but it is a predictable amount.  Plus, for the next couple of months I'll have access to HBO and Showtime on demand and broadcast programming.  Hopefully, I can catch up with Game of a Thrones, True Blood, and Dexter before the trial period is up.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Bringing back the TV feed into my life?

I have been "TV free" for a year now.  I was spending about $70/month for a modest package of Comcast's television programming. I found myself watching stuff because it happened to be on.  Or, I would use my DVR to record loads of stuff because it sounded like I might enjoy it.  I was spending more time in front of the television than I really wanted to.  Even when I managed to push myself away from the thing I kept thinking that $70/month was a lot to spend on something that I viewed as a vice that kept me from doing other things.  So, I dropped the TV package. 

I started watching video content on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon.  I tried to watch broadcast TV, but the only major station I could get was ABC, whose programming is well covered by Hulu.  I still watched an hour or two of video content every evening and maybe three hours on each weekend day.  My weekends were quite a bit more 'productive'.  However, I realized that my weekday evenings couldn't be much more productive since my brain was usually fried by the time I got home from work.   The entire arrangement really has been working pretty well.  Every now and then I would lament the lack of a television feed.  I always have to wait a day or more to see the most recent episode of the shows I like,  Plus, there were some CBS shows that were not available, even on a pay-per-episode basis on Amazon.  I don't consider this an actual hardship, just an inconvenience.  Part of me misses the serendipity of discovering new shows or hearing about an upcoming program from a commercial.  The one major thing that I do miss is the ability to easily switch on the news.  Yes, I can get some news through my Roku and over the Internet, but local news is a bit more challenging.  Again, I have an app on my iPad for the biggest NH TV station, but it's not quite the same on some level.

Since moving into my new house and hitting the 1 year anniversary of banishing "the feed" from my TV, I've been reconsidering.  I know what shows I've been willing to pay for "a la carte" on Amazon, and what I've been watching on Hulu and Netflix.  If I resubscribe to "the feed" from some company, I will no longer be purchasing shows via Amazon.  I may give up Hulu as well.  Netflix may get to stay for a while since I have enjoyed some of their original content and I use "" to alert me when Netflix finally picks up some movie that I've been interested in watching.

I shopped around today comparing channel coverage, features (such as HD and DVRs), and overall costs.  It looks like I'm probably going to go with DirecTV.  With the introductory rate, I could be paying about $49/month for all the features I want and more channels than I need (though this is there lowest level offering).  Beginning with the thirteenth month I'll be paying $76/month.  That will put me back up to what I was paying Comcast a year ago.   The entire thing involves a two year commitment.  So, two years back on "the feed".

I actually tried to sign up online today.  Unfortunately, my house was just recently built so they don't think that I exist.   This means that I'll have to call them to execute the transaction.   Another hurdle.  I'm sure I'll do it, but it does make me wonder if the universe is trying to tell me something here.

Google Reader refugees and other ways to aggregate content

Years ago, I used to read a few RSS feeds on a particular topic.  Someone in my field graciously made a web portal that aggregated the cream of them in a web portal.  A friend of mine remember that and asked me the name of the site, since he has been reading our industry's RSS news on Google's imminently-dead RSS reader service.  After I answered his question, I realized that my response might be valuable to others.  While it doesn't go into much detail, it should give you some options if you've been using Google to keep up with RSS feeds.

  1. I don’t remember the exact name of the site that USED TO aggregate some of the more popular RSS feeds.  Even a year before I left the Lab, some of the content on that page was stale and they were missing a lot of really good feeds.  I had pretty much given up on them.
  2. I used to also love  They allowed you to make your own web-portal/dashboard, that could include RSS feeds.  They have since moved to an app-based model.  Not a bad thing.   See this blog post that talks about why what they did was the right thing to do:
  3. Many RSS feeds are dying off, which played into Google’s decision to give up on its reader functionality. 
  4. If you’re still looking for a web-based replacement to Google reader, review this:    However, they don’t mention a pretty popular, cross-platfrom (web/ios/android), alternative:  Feedly.  See
  5. Microsoft Outlook supports RSS feeds, which is only relevant to Windoze users. (Microsoft's streamlined update to does not currently support RSS feeds.  On the other hand, does seem to be a pretty straightforward web-based mail service.  No bells, no whistles, but just simple/solid basic email.  (Let's hope that they can keep it cleaner than either or were when it comes to spam/phishing/malmail and p0wned accounts.)
  6. My ‘reader’ of choice is actually Flipboard (Android/IoS).  It lets you make a magazine out of all sorts of content, including RSS, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Flickr, on and on).  You know it’s good stuff when Facebook is trying to steal their model, see:,2817,2420873,00.asp  (article also makes mention of, and links to an article on, AOL’s beta RSS reader)    

Flipboard needs to figure out a way to take their functionality fully cross-platform, like my favorite PIM (Personal Information Manager):  Evernote (see:   If they don't, Feedly or Facebook are going to overtake them and make them irrelevant (Remember MySpace and Friendster?)

If nothing else, perhaps Flipboard could look into leveraging their current Android development stream as a springboard for working within Chrome.  If Google is not already pushing Chrome development in the direction of "Cross platform virtual mobile desktop", they soon should.  Android is still more popular as a mobile OS than anything Microsoft based, and will only stay that way if they make it so that an app that you use on your mobile device can be used NOT only on a Windoze PC, but also on a Apple-based PC.  That would also be another way for them to outdo Apple, since IoS apps only run on Apple hardware...

Are you listening Apple?  Perhaps it's time for Safari to start acting like a "cross platform virtual mobile desktop".  Feeling that struggle to make "the next big thing"?  It doesn't have to be another piece of revolutionary consumer-based hardware.  You already have a small cadre of Safari users in the Windoze world.  A lot of people love your mobile devices for themselves, but have various personal ($$$) or business reasons for using Windoze.  Not only would you thrill these people and solidify your hold on them by allowing them to run IoS apps in Safari under Windoze, but you'd probably win over some more consumers to your IoS devices if they could use apps in Safari on Windoze that they use on IoS.

With most of our data being stored "in the cloud" apps that run in a "cross platform virtual mobile desktop" may just be the next wave.  Device-independence shouldn't just mean either a cloud-based roaming OS-handcuffed profile or feature-anemic browser-based apps.

Mountain View?  Cupertino?  Are you listening?  We all know that Redmond isn't and probably won't.  After all, they gave up their toe-hold into other OSes long ago when they shrugged off Internet Explorer 5.5 for the Mac.

Am I the only one that sees these opportunities?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Thoughts on book clubs/discussion groups

I recently read a blog post about 'book clubs'.  My first thought when I saw the title of the post was that the author was going to talk about things like the "Book of the Month Club" and such.  However, she meant those groups of people who read the same book and then get together periodically to discuss the book they all read.   The post somewhat maligned the selections of the book clubs she was familiar with.  She didn't directly attack all such groups, but she did seem to feel that she wouldn't be comfortable with joining such a group since it was doubtful that they would be reading selections she would like.  I was compelled to comment, based on my own experiences moderating such a group that meets monthly at my church (though you don't have to attend the church to attend our meetings).

I noted that I moderate a book group and offered my observation that each group is different.  For one, we don't call ourselves a 'club' because we don't want people to feel excluded or that they have to 'join the club' to stop into one of our meetings. 

Secondly, we read all over the map.  We try to make sure that we read some non-fiction, something 'classic', and one speculative fiction (re: science fiction-ish) work every year.  We're very picky with our choices in general.  The selection has to be about a topic worth discussing. Our choices are usually more 'literature' than 'fiction'. Many have usually been on the bestseller listings at some point, so they're not to stuffy or difficult to get through.  Plus, we have a page limitation; we try to keep our choices to under 400 pages so that most people can get through the book within the month between meetings.

We also limit our meetings to a single hour.  The group is primarily for people who want to talk about books, not to socialize.  If attendees want to socialize with each other, they are free to make arrangements to do so outside of our (ahem) 'sacred' hour devoted to books.  We typically discuss the current selection for 30-45 minutes and then spend the last 15 minutes discussing potential future reading choices.  Sometimes the selection wasn't worth discussing for more than 10 or 15 minutes.  Sometimes we find ourselves still discussing it when the hour is up.

I have been with this group for over a decade.  When I moved 25 minutes away from our church, my love of that group was one of the things that helped me decide to stay with that church instead of switching to the church (of the same denomination) that is less than two miles from my house.

Meeting with others to talk about a book is not for everyone.  The author of the blog article that inspired this post equated such discussions with traveling back in time to her high school English class, analytically dissecting boring books that one was forced to read.

I admit to a certain amount of rebellious reticence when reading something that someone else has deemed that I 'have to' or 'really must' read the book.  However, everyone in our book group has a say in what we read.  If you don't want to read something that someone suggests you have the right to say 'no', but you have to offer an alternative that the group might read instead.  We did this after realizing that some people would say 'no' to virtually anything others offered but rarely chimed in with alternatives.  It's tough finding something that most of us might want to read, so we put the rule in place.  (Several of us equate it with a management philosophy that we've encountered in our professional lives:  "Don't come to me with problems.  Come to me with solutions.")

If you've ever thought about joining a book group/club, but you had reservations about how the group might operate or what the group would read.  There is a solution.  Start your own group!  Come up with a few sentences about what the group would be like and the kinds of things that they would read.  Print up a few notices and tack up copies in local bookstores (especially used book stores) and local libraries.  If your town has a local adult education program, you might be able to promote your group through them.  If you belong to a church, they may be willing to let you use a room in their building to meet and would probably love to promote your group in their own newsletters.  If you live in an area with few readers, there are tons of places online to 'discuss' books with others.

Happy reading!