The Peanut is Back!

The peanut a.k.a. TiVo remote

March is National Peanut Month and tho we’re big fans of the lowly legume (not to mention Snoopy’s gang!), we’re celebrating an entirely different kind of peanut just now…

Nicknamed “peanut” by its adoring fans, the iconic peanut-shaped TiVo remote control is once again gracing our home. And we couldn’t be happier!

We’ve always insisted that TiVo was light years beyond all other cable company DVRs. No other cable box I’ve seen has a channel guide that’s as comprehensive and up-to-date. The WishList and Season Pass features are revolutionary! And of course, you can remotely schedule recordings online. And we had all of that with our original TiVo nearly 7 years ago!

So when our cable / internet / phone service provider Grande Communications began offering the TiVo Premiere DVR to Midland/Odessa customers a few weeks ago, we immediately jumped on board. I’m happy to say that this new TiVo goes to 11 with super sharp HD, multi-room viewing, even smarter predictive recordings, and boatloads more on-demand content than we could access on our old Motorola DVR. You can even remotely schedule and control your box(es) via smartphone app!

Netflix: A Story of Greed, Apathy & Karma

As longtime Netflix subscribers, we were really miffed to learn earlier this Summer that they’d be dramatically increasing their rates. While we previously paid $9.99 per month for one DVD at a time plus unlimited streaming, the same combination would, effective September 1, 2011, cost $15.98 per month.
greedy businessman
Note that this new pricing included no additional features—in fact, they’ll have less to offer since Starz Entertainment has terminated its deal as a content partner. Netflix claimed the increases were necessary to continue to grow & improve their service. Maybe. After all, the streaming service was initially a freebie but had grown significantly, so the need to shore up the infrastructure could be legit. But the company’s unapologetic, cavalier attitude struck a sour note and many customers were understandably angered, threatening to cancel their subscriptions entirely. Given the company’s withering stock value since—especially plummeting since Sept. 1st—a lot of those rightfully disgruntled customers have followed through with their threats. (In fact, we did too!)

Today, subscribers were treated to a personal message from Reed Hastings, co-founder and CEO of Netflix, with as backhanded an apology as you may have ever heard. He feigned remorse for how they handled the rate hike but still did nothing to earn back customer trust or instill faith in his leadership. He explains that the company is rebranding the DVD mailing portion of their service as “Qwikster” while retaining the “Netflix” brand for streaming only. This divisive maneuver is sure to aggravate customers who’ll have to bounce back & forth between the two sites, never knowing which movies will be available for streaming vs. delivered. Beyond that, this just seems like a feeble effort to distance the now-disgraced Netflix brand name from the price hike debacle. It’s a desperate move by short-sighted, greedy, leaders whose faulty management and slap-in-the-face customer service have just cost them the keys to the kingdom.

Netflix is embedded in TVs, DVD & Blu-ray players, videogame consoles, and well… just about everything but your toaster yet rather than continue to gradually build on the captive audience within that already-installed base, they spurned their loyal fans, got greedy and blew a phenomenal, once-in-a-lifetime market lead. Especially given how flippant the company’s management has been about all of this, it’ll be nothing short of a miracle if they ever fully recover. This is pure, swift consumer karma in action. Make room on the loser’s bench, TiVo & Palm!

Were you a Netflix subscriber before the price increase? Did you stick with ‘em or jump ship?

Be sure to check out Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander put a hilarious spin on this situation:

Sunday Sundries

A few assorted links & tidbits to start off the week:

iTunes nixes network rentals

Sadly, there are some things you just can’t get via Netflix (either streaming or disc) so Dede is relieved that we squeaked in Glee: Season 2 just before the hammer fell. According to the ZDNet article Apple Finally Drops TV Rentals From iTunes, Apple quietly pulled the option to rent television episodes from its iTunes online store in the the past few days.

Kick it up a notch with Kickstarter

Kickstarter is an innovative new website that lets would-be entrepreneurs submit a pitch about a project they need help getting off the ground. Via crowd-sourced fundraising, projects have a set amount needed and defined funding levels—most start at very affordable $5, $15, $25 levels—and in addition to helping get the project going, all “investors” (that’s you and me) get a little something extra as a reward for having some faith in the product and/or its creator. And a project must reach its funding goal before time runs out or no money changes hands, which protects both project creators and investors.

So with Kickstarter you can help breathe life into cool ideas like:

World Gone 2 the Dogs

My brother Rich has jumped into the fray with his own World Gone 2 the Dogs blog. Head over there and join the conversations!

Khan Academy – Free online tutorials!

Speaking of Rich, he sent me a link to Khan Academy several weeks ago and I never took the time to check it out. But then just this weekend I read an article in Wired Magazine by longtime fave writer Clive Thompson called How Khan Academy Is Changing the Rules of Education and it really grabbed me. Khan Academy features a library of over 2400 free videos by Sal Khan covering K-12 math, science, finance, history, and many other topics. Each instructional video presents material in easy-to-handle chunks lasting 7-15 minutes. Students can watch videos at their own pace and can even practice math problems online. Be sure to read Clive’s article for more info!

One of the really interesting by-products of Khan Academy and other online video tutorials is that they are enabling teachers to flip the classroom. That is, some teachers are experimenting with the idea of inverting traditional school model, delivering instruction online outside of class and using interactive classroom time for homework.

Planking?

Have you heard about this? We were completely unaware of the concept of planking until our friend Ryan explained it to us last night. You can read all about it here but basically, planking is to lay down (like a plank) in some unusual setting and take a picture to post on the Planking Facebook page. I looked at a few of the pictures and found them amusing. It seems like harmless fun but some do take it to extremes and put themselves in danger to take the photo. Ryan is into a variant called owling instead of planking because as this poster sums it up, planking is just so two months old!

Update:   According to Rich, we’re still behind the curve—planking & owling are out, Batmanning, is in!

Snoopy vs. Red Baron Redux

Snoopy WWI Flying Ace postage stampIf you know anything at all about me, you know that I love Snoopy.   So you can imagine how jazzed I was to learn about the eye-popping upcoming videogame Snoopy WWI Flying Ace. *

Autumn always rekindles fond memories of the great old Peanuts animated holiday "specials" we always watched as kids.   Snoopy’s heroic World War I fighter waged aerial battle and crossed imaginary wartime France as a downed pilot in Charles Shulz’s "It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" in October 1966.

Smart Bomb Interactive’s new game, scheduled for release in the 1st quarter of 2010 for all major consoles, once again pits Snoopy against Manfred von Richthofen, a.k.a. the Red Baron and the rest of those dastardly wartime Germans.   From the sneak preview trailer, it looks like they’ve certainly met their match!

If you can’t get enough of the Flying Ace, there’s even a Snoopy Flying Ace USB hub for your desktop.   Just plug the hub into your PC’s USB port and watch Snoopy & his faithful Sopwith Camel come alive!

And though you’ve probably seen it countless times, just how well do you know "It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown?"

* Okay, never mind that we don’t even own a game console — I can still get excited about a game, right?   Maybe this will push us over the edge?
 

Command Nonperformance

Michigan J. FrogDede, Ashley & I were griping outside the daycare yesterday that we can never get our kids to repeat in public the latest especially cute or impressive thing they’ve been doing at home. I suspect getting kids to perform on cue is a universal problem that all parents must face. In fact it seems however much you’d like your child to recite or reenact some cool thing, that’s exactly inversely proportional to the likelihood that he or she will actually do so.

I call this the Michigan J. Frog syndrome.

Well after I made that comment, Dede was blown away that I even knew the name of that silly singing frog from the old Saturday morning Looney Tunes cartoons.   Furthermore, she insisted that there’s no way anyone else would ever catch such an obscure reference.   Ah, but I know that if all else fails, there’s at least one guy who would—without hesitation— know precisely what I was talking about.

So this post is for you, Pete C.!

Digitally Dismayed

As I mentioned in my Digital Daze Ahead blog post recently, analog television broadcasts will cease on February 17th, 2009.   And sure enough, it seems that many people are still unsure about whether they’ll need a digital converter box to continue receiving their favorite shows.   The government, cable companies, & many merchants have plenty of helpful advice available on the Web, but much of that info is still biased towards selling new televisions.   And opportunistic retailers are milking the public’s confusion for all it’s worth to rack up massive profits on truckloads of needless new TV sales during the holidays.

Here’s a hilarious video that perfectly captures the confusion surrounding the forthcoming switch to digital television broadcasts.   Like Clems says, it’s funny ’cuz it’s true!

Digital Daze Ahead

The date for the end of civilization as we know it is set.   At the stroke of midnight on February 17, 2009, millions of TVs across America will go blank.   Cars will cease to run.   Cell phones will go dead.   Rampant hordes of people will roam the streets in a zombie-like daze.   We’ll be plunged back into the Dark Ages and the survivors will be forced to scavenge for food like packs of wild beasts.

Okay, okay, that’s mostly not true.   But that date does signal the end of one thing:   Per congressional mandate, over-the-air analog TV broadcasts will cease as of February 17, 2009.

Why The Switch?

The primary reason for the switch to digital television (DTV) broadcasting is to free up portions of the old analog transmission spectrum for public safety & emergency services broadcasters like police & fire departments.   This will also allow the auctioning off of other parts of the analog spectrum to companies like AT&T to increase wireless broadband technology for faster wireless use.   retro television showing a nuclear explosionAdditionally, DTV offers far better picture & sound quality and switching to digital gives broadcasters the ability to deliver enhanced technology services to the public with greater efficiency.

(By the way, on September 8, 2008, the lucky folks in Wilmington, North Carolina will serve as a pilot market for the digital switchover.)

Does This Affect Me?

But what exactly does that mean to you & me?   Honestly, probably not too much.   If you have satellite or cable service, your existing setup should keep on serving you just like always.   And that’s even if you’re still only using analog cable.   However, be mindful that while the switch to digital broadcast won’t affect analog cable subscribers directly, many cable provider companies will probably use this as an opportunity to strongly encourage their analog customers to make the transition to digital service.

Ah, but what if you’re still relying upon the old "rabbit ears" or some other antenna to pluck a free TV signal out of the ether?   Then you definitely will be affected.   But even then, unless you have an incredibly ancient TV with no line-in options, all you should need is a digital converter box.   What’s more, your Uncle Sam will give you a $40 voucher towards the purchase of a digital converter box.   (You can call 888-DTV-2009 or go to www.dtv2009.gov for more details.)   And if you’ve bought a new television since 2004, you’re probably already covered since most newer TVs have a digital converter inside.

Does DTV Equal HDTV?

But wait a minute… Don’t you still need a "High Definition" television (HDTV) to handle the digital signal?   No, not at all.   Your TV does not have to be HD to receive digital broadcasts.   Certainly, there are some HD channels in the digital lineup that will take advantage of a HDTV, but the singular, simple truth is that even if you’re still clinging onto an old-school, tube-based television from two decades back, it should still work fine — you do not need a new TV to receive digital broadcasts.

However, this basic truth isn’t going to stop Circuit City, Best Buy, Wal-Mart and every other retailer from doing everything possible to cash in massively on the public’s misconceptions & fear.

Starting with "Black Friday" sales after Thanksgiving — if not sooner — these opportunistic retailers will profit handsomely off of the perception that most older TVs are going to go dead in February.   And of course, there’ll also be the post-Holiday "we didn’t bleed you dry enough already" sales frenzy in January and continuing right up to D-Day.   So for the next several months, you’re almost certain to see rampant hordes of zombie-like neophytes roaming the aisles of stores with a crazy twitch in one eye and nervous shake that intensifies when a salesperson draws near.

Get Set?

So we’ve established that you don’t need to kick that old TV to the curb for the sake of the February deadline.   Your old TV will most likely keep right on working just fine.   But while your older analog TV can handle a digital signal, either via cable or a converter box (and look better than it did with analog broadcasts) it won’t display high-definition resolutions with a converter box.   So, if you’re itching for a TV that can display "High Definition" (HDTV) — or just want a big, new, widescreen, flat panel plasma or LCD TV with all the trimmings — you’ll need to make the move to a newer TV.

If you’re ready to shop around for a new TV, you’re bound to find some enticing deals in the coming months.   So this might be just the right time to be in the market for a replacement for your old set.   But before you join the ranks of those living dead scrabbling through sales fliers and hopelessly trying to rationalize dropping a grand or more on a new TV so you can get it home in time for the next season of American Idol & NBA playoffs, take a deep breath and spend a little time seriously considering "need" versus "want."   Don’t let the paranoia & hype surrounding the looming digital broadcast switchover deadline pressure you into a costly move if you’re otherwise happy with what you’ve got.
 

Survivor 15: China

Survivor: China logo

Premiering Thursday, September 20th on CBS, Survivor: China will be the 15th season of the reality TV series.   As usual, we’re participating in our Survivor game at work.   This time around I drew Dave and Rob drew Frosti for our survivors.   Since neither of us has ever won, we’re due this time around!

This season will include several historical Chinese locations, including the Shaolin Temple and the Great Wall of China.

Instead of Exile Island featured in previous seasons, the China contestants will have the ability to kidnap a player on the opposing tribe as part of winning a reward challenge;   the kidnapped player remains with that team through the next immunity challenge, and will receive a clue to the location of a hidden immunity idol at that camp.
 

Survivors Ready?

Survivor: Fiji logo

The 14th season of Survivor, Survivor Fiji, starts tomorrow night. As usual we have drawn for our survivors at work and this time I have Stacy Kimball and Rob has Rita Verreos.

They’re a survivor short this season, with only 19 instead of the usual 20 contestants, because the 20th person dropped out a day before filming started. The twist for this season is that one tribe will live in luxury while the other tribe has virtually nothing — the Ravu orange buff tribe are the "Have Nots" and the Moto green buff tribe are the "Haves." Exile island is back again this season with clues to two immunity idols, one hidden at each camp.