Star Wars Without Politics Wouldn’t Be Star Wars

Please note that the Empire is a white supremacist (human) organization. Opposed by a multicultural group led by brave women.

Disappointed that these two tweets by Star Wars: Rogue One writers were removed (but not terribly surprised, especially if the deletions were decreed by the Powers Above):

On November 11, 2016, Rogue One writer Chris Weitz tweeted: “Please note that the Empire is a white supremacist (human) organization.” He later deleted that tweet after receiving lots of complaints from other Twitter users, many of whom asked him to stop “injecting politics” into Star Wars. Weitz clarified in one response tweet, “My apologies. You have a right to enjoy it as you wish; and I don’t wish to harm my colleagues’ work either.”

Weitz’ colleague, Gary Whitta, had already written his own response to the tweet comparing the Star Wars Empire to white supremacy, which said: “Opposed by a multicultural group led by brave women.” Whitta’s tweet has also since been deleted.

I have just as much sympathy (to wit: absolutely none) with people whining about “injecting politics” into Star Wars as those who did the same with Star Trek (most recently, regarding Bryan Fuller’s preparation for Star Trek: Discovery). Politics are integral to these stories. Even if you try to ignore the parallels between the Empire and the Nazi regime (which were explicit and intentional in both the original films and in The Force Awakens, so attempting to ignore that is rather ridiculous), the Star Wars prequels open with the Trade Federation controlling a blockade around a planet at the bidding of Chancellor Palpatine…but, no, sorry, that has nothing to do with politics. How silly of me.

All these people really mean is that they don’t want their politics to be called out as the bad guys…but, c’mon, if the shoe fits….

So Rogue One has already been passing the Furiosa Test (Do people on the internet get mad about it being feminist?), and now Trump supporters might be staying away as well (though, really, the two groups do seem to have a lot of overlap)? I don’t see much of a downside to that. I’d certainly be quite happy going to a movie knowing that there’s a smaller-than-normal chance of being surrounded by those types of people, and given the juggernaut that Star Wars is, I just don’t see a major impact on their bottom line from this. Win-win for everyone!

Except the Empire, perhaps.

A Real First-Class News Experience

Now, I’m not a die-hard ‘information wants to be free’ crusader, and I really don’t have a problem with paying a reasonable fee for media that I’m interested in. However, I do want to be able to _use_ the information that I pay for, and a specialized system is _not_ something I’m willing to pay for. Give me text on a webpage, RSS feeds for my newsreader…information I can _use_, not something that locks it away.

From Business Class: Freemium for News?:

I had a perspective changing talk on the subject of pay walls with the chief executive of a big publishing company…. He asked me what I think about pay walls. I told him what I always say: The main currency of news sites is attention and not dollars and that I believe that it is his job, as a publisher, to turn that attention into money to keep the attention machine running. He nodded and made the following, astonishing statement:

I can’t see pay walls working out either. But we need to do something before we lose all of our current subscribers. Sure. It’s a tough business environment, but… But the flight industry is a tough environment too, and they found ways. So tell me: Why do people fly Business Class? In the end, an airplane brings me to the same place regardless of whether I fly Economy or Business Class and the massive price-increase I pay doesn’t compare the difference in value.

People pay for Business Class because they don’t want to be tortured in Economy. They get faster lanes at the terror check. They get an extra glass of champagne. The stewards are more attentive. They get off the plane more quickly. They get the feeling of a higher social status.

He asked whether I knew of a way to apply this logic to online news. What would a Business Class news site look like?

Good stuff here. Since moving to Ellensburg, I’ve been frustrated with my lack of online access to local news. The one local paper is the Ellensburg Daily Record, which only posts a (very) limited number of stories on its website. If you want access to the full paper without subscribing to the dead-tree edition, they offer $5/month access to the full edition. However, from what I can tell, it’s presented in a specialized, locked-down format similar to a fancy .pdf file, through the Active Paper Daily service.

Now, I’m not a die-hard “information wants to be free” crusader, and I really don’t have a problem with paying a reasonable fee for media that I’m interested in. However, I do want to be able to use the information that I pay for, and a specialized browser system like Active Paper, which presents an “exact replica of [the] print edition”, which forces me to “browse through the pages just as if [I] had the newspaper in [my] hands”, is not something I’m willing to pay for. Give me text on a webpage, RSS feeds for my newsreader…information I can use, not something that locks it away.

If the Daily Record (along with many other news sites) were to move to the “Business Class” idea as proposed in the linked article, I’d find a subscription fee for access to a better-presented, ad-free (or ad-light) version of the site entirely reasonable. Let them slap as many ads as they want on the free version of the site, break their stories into as many pages as they want to increase click counts and ad impressions for the free readers, but give me the ability to subscribe to a premium version without all the crap. That’s a model for news sites I’d love to see gain traction.

Unpopular Questions

So, folks, which is it? Do we decry the censorship of ideas that are unpopular, or do we celebrate the censorship of ideas that are unpopular?

Okay, folks. Some of you aren’t going to like this at all. However, I think these are questions worth asking.

Every year, I see a strong majority of my friends and acquaintances promoting Banned Book Week, “an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment…[that] highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship [and founded on] the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular.”

Last April, the internet and many people I know were thrown into a tizzy because of apparent censorship of LGBT-themed books, prompting the creation of the #amazonfail hashtag.

So, now we have the latest uproar over a book with unpopular ideas that is under attack — only this time, the popular call is for boycotting Amazon until the book is removed. And, apparently all the uproar was successful, because it seems the book is no longer available.

So, folks, which is it? Do we decry the censorship of ideas that are unpopular, or do we celebrate the censorship of ideas that are unpopular?

Yes, the content of the book in question is disturbing and advocates unethical, immoral, and illegal behavior. Depending on who you talk to and what area of the country or world you live in, most if not all of the LGBT section of any modern bookstore, including Amazon, can be described in exactly the same way.

Either censorship is horrible and should be battled in whatever form it appears, or it is acceptable and necessary and you just better not be writing anything that people in power disapprove of. But it doesn’t work both ways. At least, not justifiably.

From » Banned? Wait, what?! Stop Motion Verbosity:

Good thing Nabokov wasn’t “investigated” because of Lolita. Of course, Lolita was also banned for a while. But hey! Who cares, right? Wait, maybe it isn’t books that are clearly fiction, it’s manuals and guidebooks.

Good thing the Anarchist Cookbook is banned. Oh, wait, hold on. Right! It isn’t. Because free speech isn’t just protected when you agree with it. Because the alternative is madness.

[…]

You don’t get to call for a boycott to delist a book when you feel like it, without being willing to sit while someone boycotts for a book you like, the next day.

This is why we don’t ban books, remember? Because it’s dangerous and fucked up and wrong. Even when the book is horrible and morally objectionable. Even then.

That’s the price we pay for free speech. And if you aren’t willing to pay it, then you better duck, because that has consequences you may not enjoy for very long at all. About the time someone disagrees with you and you can’t do anything about it, I’d think.

(Via MissAmberClark)

And this next bit is from a 2008 post in Neil Gaiman’s Journal, which addresses a different specific controversy, but the same questions: Why defend freedom of icky speech?:

Freedom to write, freedom to read, freedom to own material that you believe is worth defending means you’re going to have to stand up for stuff you don’t believe is worth defending, even stuff you find actively distasteful, because laws are big blunt instruments that do not differentiate between what you like and what you don’t, because prosecutors are humans and bear grudges and fight for re-election, because one person’s obscenity is another person’s art.

Because if you don’t stand up for the stuff you don’t like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you’ve already lost.

[T]hat’s what makes the kind of work you don’t like, or don’t read, or work that you do not feel has artistic worth or redeeming features worth defending. It’s because the same laws cover the stuff you like and the stuff you find icky, wherever your icky line happens to be: the law is a big blunt instrument that makes no fine distinctions, and because you only realise how wonderful absolute freedom of speech is the day you lose it.

(Via bicyclefish)

George Takei Says You’re A Douchebag

Hello, I’m George Takei. You are…a douchebag. That’s right! A douchebag. You are always going to be a total douchebag. I can only suspect that you have some…shall I say…’issues’ to work out?

Just a bit of silliness here. A little selective editing of premium pieces of this YouTube video gives us this particularly choice piece of audio. Feel free to download and use as your favorite ringtone. ;)

Long Version (201KB .mp3): “Hello, I’m George Takei. You are…a douchebag. That’s right! A douchebag. You are always going to be a total douchebag. I can only suspect that you have some…shall I say…’issues’ to work out?”

Medium Version (106KB .mp3): “You are…a douchebag. That’s right! A douchebag. You are always going to be a total douchebag.”

Short Version (29KB .mp3): “You are…a douchebag.”

I couldn’t resist.

21st Century Television (Part Two)

As promised, here’s a bit more information on the geeky details of how I’ve set up our cable-free TV system.

As promised, here’s a bit more information on the geeky details of how I’ve set up our cable-free TV system.

First off, credit where credit is due: I got a lot of pointers in setting all of this up from this post at Nyquil.org, along with a couple of follow-up email messages with Jer. Thanks!

  1. Set up a GigaNews Usenet account. While Usenet, in the pre-web days, was one of the premier methods of communicating across the ‘net and thus included free with most Internet packages, those days are long gone. Now, Usenet is the best and fastest way to grab those TV episodes we’re looking for, but it costs a few dollars a month to get access (far less than your average cable bill, however). There are other Usenet providers available, but Giganews was recommended to me, is working fine for me, and is reasonably priced, so I’m passing on the recommendation to you.

  2. Set up a (free) NZBs(dot)ORG account. .nzb files are the Usenet equivalent of Bittorrent’s .torrent files: pointers to all the various pieces of each media file. NZBs(dot)ORG lists NZBs in a number of categories; the TV > XVID category is non-HD if you still have an old non-HDTV; people with HDTVs may want to use the x264 category for 720p/1080p content.

  3. Install SABnzbd+. This is a free, open-source program that handles all the pain-in-the butt steps of using .nzb files. Without SABnzbd+…well, I’ll let Jer explain:

    …you…find yourself manually extracting RAR files, applying PAR2 files to regenerate missing chunks, and then disposing of all the compressed/encoded files after extracting your media file. Not to mention seeking out and downloading every episode of everything you want to download. It’s not for the faint of heart.

    With SABnzbd+, you simply toss it the .nzb file, and it takes care of all of that for you. Even better, it supports a “drop folder” system, so you can simply put a downloaded .nzb file into a folder, and moments later it automagically gets slurped into SABnzbd+ and the files start downloading. Even better than that, though, is its support for RSS feeds…and since NZBs(dot)ORG lets you save RSS feeds of particular searches, it’s relatively trivial to automate the downloading process.

    For my setup, I created an “nzb” folder inside my usual “Downloads” folder. Inside that, I have three folders: “new” (my SABnzbd+ drop folder, for adding manually downloaded .nzb files), “incomplete” (where SABnzbd+ stores the in-progress downloads), and “complete” (where SABnzbd+ stores the finished downloads after post-processing). I also have an alias to the media folder that the Roksbox software accesses; this is for my own convenience and not necessary in all setups.

    SABnzbd+ folder structure

  4. Set up and save searches on NZBs(dot)ORG for the shows you want to track. (NOTE: NZBs(dot)ORG has redesigned since this post was written, so these instructions aren’t quite correct anymore. They should be close enough to point you in the right direction, though.) Click on the “My Searches” link towards the top right of the NZBs(dot)ORG page, then click on “[Add]” next to “Saved Searches” towards the left of the “Add Search” page. Because NZBs(dot)ORG doesn’t allow for a preview of a search, I’ve found it easiest to keep the NZBs(dot)ORG front page open in a separate tab so that I can do a test search for my primary search terms, then look for which terms I want to exclude.

    For example, we want to watch CSI, but aren’t interested in the New York or Miami spinoffs. So, my saved search uses the search term “csi” in the “TV-XviD” category, but filters out anything with “dvdrip” (as I’m not interested in older episodes ripped from DVDs), “ny,” “york,” “miami,” or “geographic” (apparently there’s a National Geographic show that uses the initials CSI in its title).

    Safari002.png

    Eventually, you’ll build up a list of shows that will automatically populate whenever a new show that matches any of your saved searches appears on Usenet. Here’s a look at how my searches are set up — no snarks on our taste in TV, please, we’re quite aware of our guilty pleasures. ;)

    Safari003.png

    Now, see that little “RSS” link after each search? Those are going to come in very handy, as we flip back over to SABnzbd+….

  5. Add your saved searches to SABnzbd+. Under the “Config” link in the left hand sidebar of SABnzbd+, click on “RSS”. Copy the RSS feed link for one of your NZBs(dot)ORG saved searches, paste it into the “RSS Configuration” > “New Feed URL” field in SABnzbd+, name the feed something other than “Feed1”, and hit the “Add” button. That’s it!

    (While SABnzbd+ does offer various filtering options for RSS feeds, because you’re taking care of the filtering ahead of time in your NZBs(dot)ORG searches, you shouldn’t need to worry about these fields. If you’re using a different .nzb search site that doesn’t allow customization of RSS feeds, you should be able to use these filters to remove items you’re not interested in.)

    Safari004.png

    The first time SABnzbd+ scans the RSS feed, it will not download anything — this is intentional, as you probably don’t want to suddenly be downloading all of the items listed in the RSS feed. If there are any recent episodes that you’d like to download, you can click on the “Preview” button next to your newly-entered feed to choose which items you’d like to download.

    Go through and add the rest of the RSS feeds for your saved searches, and you’re all set. From here on out, as long as SABnzbd+ is running, it will keep an eye on your saved searches. Whenever a new episode that matches one of your searches appears, SABnzbd+ will see it in the RSS feed, grab the .nzb file, download everything it needs, assemble and decompress it, and store the finished download in the “completed” folder.

Now, if all you’re interested in is getting ahold of TV episodes and having them on your computer to watch, you’re set! I copy the downloaded files to a network drive and use the Plex software to pipe the shows over to the Roku player attached to our TV. Good to go!


NOTE: The following information is the original ending to this post, but is deprecated, as the situation is now simpler. However, I’m keeping it here for the sake of completeness.

However, in our case, I also need to convert the downloaded video from .avi to H.264-encoded .mov or .mp4 files, as that’s the only format that the Roku player will accept, and then move the files into their proper place within my computer’s webserver for Roksbox to access. While I haven’t been able to automate all of this, I have managed to use Automator, AppleScript, and the HandBrake video conversion software’s command line interface to automate the .avi to .mp4 conversion.

Now, I’m no Automator or AppleScript guru — this is actually one of my first experiments with either technology — so this may not be the best or most efficient way to handle this particular option. I’m certainly open to suggestions for improvement! However, it’s working for me…so far.

If you’d like, you can download my Automator action (121k .zip file). To install it, decompress the .zip file and add it to your ~LibraryWorkflowsApplicationsFolder Actions folder. Create a folder named “TV” inside the ~Downloadsnzbcomplete folder (it will be added automatically by SABnzb+ the first time it downloads a TV episode, but it needs to exist for this to work). Additionally, the HandBrake CLI must be installed in your main Applications directory.

To activate the HandBrake action, right-click on the “TV” folder and choose “Folder Actions Setup…” from the pop-up menu. In the Folder Actions Setup dialog, choose “Handbrake.workflow” and click the “Attach” button. Once that’s done, whenever SABnzbd+ finishes post-processing a download and moves the folder containing all of the files to the “TV” folder, this Automator workflow will automatically be triggered. Here’s what it does:

  1. Get Folder Contents and repeat for each subfolder found. This scans the TV folder and the folder that’s just been added to it to find all the contents.

  2. Filter Finder Items for files with the .avi extension that are larger than 20 MB (this avoids running into a conflict with the small quality sample .avi files that are sometimes included).

  3. Run AppleScript

    on run {input, parameters}
      set input to POSIX path of input
      set ConvertMovieCmd to "nice /Applications/HandBrakeCLI -i " & input & " -o " & input & ".mp4 --preset="Normal" ;"
      do shell script ConvertMovieCmd
      return input & ".mp4"
    end run
    

    This simple AppleScript: grabs the file passed to it by step two; converts the file path to use POSIX slashes rather than HFS+ colons as delimiters; creates a terminal command for the HandBrake CLI using the .avi file as input, the “Normal” preset, and simply appending .mp4 to the existing file name on output; and passes the newly created file to the next step in the action.

  4. Move Finder Items moves the new .mp4 file to the “complete” folder, one level up from the “TV” folder.

  5. Show Growl Notification pops up a sticky Growl alert to let me know that a new episode has finished transcoding. Obviously, this step will only work if you have Growl installed.

Eventually, I’d like to figure out how to get the action to move the folder containing the just-processed .avi file to the trash, but I haven’t quite figured out how to do that without possibly also moving any other folders at the same level to the trash (which might interfere with other downloads not yet transcoded), so for now, I’m sticking with manually cleaning up the extra files after the transcoding is finished.

From there, all that really needs to be done is moving the file from the “completed” folder to its proper place in the Roksbox file structure, and it’s ready to watch on our TV. I do a few other steps manually to “pretty up” the experience — adding “poster art” and XML-based episode descriptions for the Roksbox interface — but those are entirely optional, and many people won’t see the need to bother with those steps.

And that’s it! 80% of the process is now completely automated, and that last 20% that I do manually is entirely optional and basically just feeds my anal-retentive need to present things as slickly as possible whenever I can.

Hopefully all this has been interesting and informative to at least a few people out there. Questions, comments, ideas for improvement? Let me know!

21st Century Television (Part One)

Cable and broadcast TV are no more for us. Instead, we have our personal DVD library, DVDs we order from Netflix, the entire Netflix on-demand library, and, for the current-run TV shows we want to keep up with, I simply download them and toss them into the Roksbox library for us to watch commerical-free at our leisure.

A few days ago, I was finally able to follow through on something that Prairie and I had been discussing of and on for a few weeks — I called Comcast and disconnected our cable account. As we live in the Kent valley and are too blocked by mountains to get effective digital broadcast reception, this effectively bans broadcast television.

We’ve been working our way towards this for some time now, for two major reasons: one, sitting around and watching too much TV just isn’t healthy, and two, though there are a few shows that we enjoy watching, the commercials were just driving us up the wall. We had started by developing a number of “rules” — all in place before disconnecting the cable, but still in place — governing our TV consumption:

  1. No reruns. Not even if we haven’t seen that particular episode before. If it’s not a first-broadcast show, we’re not watching it. It’ll be out on DVD or made available for online streaming eventually, and we’ll watch it then, at our convenience, without commercials.

  2. The TV does not get turned on before 7:30 or 8 p.m. On any given “normal” night (that is, those that don’t have me at school until late in the evening) we tend to eat dinner at right around 6 p.m. In the “old days,” it wasn’t uncommon for us to grab our food, plop down in front of the TV, and zone out until 10 or 11 when we went to bed. Now, we’re eating at the table, finishing dinner, doing the dishes, and spending an hour or so playing games (our current obsessions are Set and Monopoly Deal) before the TV even gets turned on.

  3. The TV does not get turned on unless we exercise. We have a non-motorized treadmill and a reclining stationary exercise bike in the living room, and we have to put in at least half an hour each on either the treadmill or the bike if we want to watch TV.

  4. We watch only what we’re actually interested in. No more just turning the TV on just to see what’s on, or to flip channels, or for background noise (admittedly, not something we were in the habit of anyway), or anything similar. Unless we know we want to see something, we’re not bothering.

All of this was a great start, but over the course of the summer, one more piece of the puzzle fell into place when I added a Roku player to our entertainment system. I rambled on about our love affair with this little box a few months ago, but here’s the Reader’s Digest Condensed Cliff’s Notes Executive Summary: inexpensive, dead-simple, on-demand access to Netflix, Amazon Video on Demand, and a whole lot more.

Thanks to the Roku and Netflix’s library of streaming titles (plus the DVDs we get through the mail), there was never a question of whether there was something we were interested in watching — just a question of what we felt like that night. After a few weeks, it became clear that the only reason we were holding on to our cable subscription was because there were still shows that we wanted to keep up with. We toyed with the idea of ditching cable, as we knew that more and more TV was being offered online either through legal channels such as Hulu and Amazon VoD or through the quasi-legal Bittorrent network, but watching shows on my computer in my office just wasn’t as comfortable or convenient as sitting in the living room in front of the TV.

A few weeks ago, however, I discovered Roksbox, an add-on channel for the Roku that allows me to stream media from my computer to the Roku in the living room. Bingo! That was the last piece we needed.

So, cable and broadcast TV are no more for us. Instead, we have our personal DVD library, DVDs we order from Netflix, the entire Netflix on-demand library, and, for the current-run TV shows we want to keep up with, I simply download them and toss them into the Roksbox library for us to watch commerical-free at our leisure.

It’s a great setup. We’re spending less time watching TV, and when we do watch something, it’s hassle-free, commerical-free, and at our convenience. As far as we’re concerned, this is definitely the way to go.

So that’s the general, non-techie overview. In part two of this, I’ll get into the geeky fiddly bits of how I’ve automated the process of finding, downloading, and prepping the TV shows we pay attention to.

I love my Roku

Readers Digest condensed Cliff’s Notes executive summary version: Do you have a Netflix account and a reasonable (1.5 MB/s or better) broadband connection? Then you should have a Roku player. That’s it.

Readers Digest condensed Cliff’s Notes executive summary version: Do you have a Netflix account and a reasonable (1.5 MB/s or better) broadband connection? Then you should have a Roku player. That’s it.

So a couple months ago, I had a birthday, and with that birthday came some a little bit of spending money (courtesy of Prairie’s mom) that I wasn’t sure what to do with. As I’m in school, not making money, and existing solely on financial aid and Prairie’s good graces, I’ve gotten very used to spending money only on what’s necessary, and not on toys or frivolities. Because of this, I didn’t have much of a “wish list,” and the things I’m generally likely to spend money on — used books and vinyl — I currently have stacks of, waiting for me to find time to either read or import into the computer, so adding to the stacks (as enjoyable as that is) didn’t seem like the best way to go.

I let the money sit for a while as I played with various ideas, and eventually decided to go for something I’d been eyeballing for a while, but which had always fallen into the realm of “neat toy that could be fun, but isn’t really necessary right now”: a Roku digital video player.

Roughly two months in, I can easily say that this was one of the best impulse buys I’ve made in a long, long time.

First off, the basics, in case you haven’t heard of the Roku before. Originally developed at and for Netflix, and later spun off into its own company and opened to more content providers, the Roku is a tiny little set-top box that plugs into your TV, giving you access to the Netflix library of streaming “Watch Instantly” titles. Prairie and I had just recently started discovering the joys of Netflix’s streaming library (with the addition of my new iMac, as before that, none of our computers were new enough to support Netflix’s streaming service), but camping out in my office to watch shows on my computer wasn’t nearly as comfortable as our living room, so the Roku sounded like a nice addition to the house.

Setup is dead simple. The box is small, and if you have a WiFi network at home, requires the bare minimum of cables: power, and the connection to the television (if you don’t have WiFi, you’ll need to run an ethernet cable to the box). It has the three primary video connection methods (composite video, for old-school TVs like ours; component video, for higher-quality video on TVs that support progressive scan input; and HDMI for High Definition TVs) and both standard stereo and optical audio output.

Getting started took just a couple minutes: I plugged it in, told it which WiFi network to use and put in the password, and after a brief moment to let the box download and install new firmware and reboot, it was up and running. I popped into the Netflix channel, chose something in my Instant Watch queue, and was watching a show no more (and probably much less than) ten minutes after opening the box. Impressive!

The Netflix interface is slick and simple, and — thanks to a recent software update that actually came out just before I got the Roku — allows for searching and browsing the Netflix streaming library, and shows off all the recommendations of things that Netflix thinks we’ll enjoy watching.

There’s a lot more than just Netflix available, though. Roku’s channel store has an ever-growing library of options, with lots of internet-based shows and podcasts, sports channels, Pandora radio, and — our personal favorite after Netflix — Amazon Video on Demand. Last weekend after seeing Inception, Prairie and I were still in the movie mood, decided to see what new releases Amazon had available, and ended up renting, watching, and thoroughly enjoying Whip It!.

Our feelings at this point: Blockbuster is doomed. Outside of needing something rare enough that it’s not available to stream from Amazon or Netflix and soon enough that we can’t put in our physical Netflix queue, we have absolutely no reason to physically rent a video anymore. Movie theaters aren’t in much better shape, either — the entire experience of watching something at home is so much nicer, more comfortable, more convenient, and cheaper than going to the movies that we’ll be doing that far less than we already do (and we haven’t been going terribly often as it is).

The video quality of the Roku is great, as well. Admittedly, ours is helped somewhat by my television (geekery: though it’s an older, standard-ratio TV, this model Sony Wega offers an “anamorphic compression” mode that squeezes the picture down to a 16:9 ratio from the standard 4:3 ratio, increasing the resolution as it does so; this allows me to tell the Roku that it’s connected to a widescreen TV, at which point it outputs an anamorphic signal that results in a higher resolution and better quality image than if it were outputting the standard 4:3 640×480 TV signal), but the image quality easily matches (or at least comes very, very close to) what we see out of our DVD player. One of the very few disappointments I’ve had with the Roku (and a very minor one at that) is that while my TV can accept component video, the Roku apparently will only output component video as progressive scan output, which my TV doesn’t support, so I’ve had to resort to the lowest-quality composite video connection. Still, the quality we get is good enough that I can’t really complain — and when we finally get around to upgrading to an HDMI-capable HDTV, the quality will only get better!

There are a few relatively minor caveats to the Roku. Most importantly, you do need a reasonable (1.5 MB/s) broadband connection, and for HD video (not an issue for me at the moment), it requires at least a 5 MB/s connection (which, even if I had the hardware to display HD video, isn’t available from Qwest at my address yet). A WiFi network, while not necessary, as the box does have ethernet input, is highly recommended, as it keeps you from having to string more cabling around your house. And, of course, with any online-based service, there is the potential for network or server issues to occasionally get in the way, though we’ve had very few times where this was an issue (and when it was, Roku and Netflix were both good about communicating with their customers, and we even got a bit of a refund from Netflix to make up for the service interruption).

In short, we love this box. We’ve been using it nightly, bouncing among a number of shows that catch our eye (recently: Bones, Futurama, Law and Order, Red Dwarf, and 30 Rock), and saving movies for when we have the time and interest to invest in a movie. This has increased our usage of the streaming service to the point where we’re considering dropping our Netflix subscription from our current 3-at-a-time down to the basic 1-at-a-time service, as Netflix (so far, and I hope this continues) is kind enough to offer their streaming service without limitation at all subscription levels. Good deal!

Once again: if you have Netflix and broadband, you really should have a Roku.

DVDs vs. Piracy

I want to make it clear that I don’t condone piracy (of the digital or high-seas version, outside of the silly over-romanticized modern view of historical pirates). However, there’s a very real truth in this graphic.

I want to make it clear that I don’t condone piracy (of the digital or high-seas version, outside of the silly over-romanticized modern view of historical pirates). However, there’s a very real truth in this graphic (found via BoingBoing):

The P-I is dead. Long live the P-I!

The writing’s been on the wall for some time now, but it’s just been made official: tomorrow’s print run of the Seattle P-I will be its last.

The writing’s been on the wall for some time now, but it’s just been made official: tomorrow’s print run of the Seattle P-I will be its last. I’m going to want to pick up a copy somewhere.

For me, first notification of the official announcement came via @moniguzman on Twitter: “Publisher Roger Oglesby just announced in the P-I newsroom: Tomorrow will be our last print edition, but seattlepi.com will live on.”

A “breaking news” banner went up on the P-I’s website about the same time, but now there’s an official story.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer will roll off the presses for the last time Tuesday, ending a 146-year run.

The Hearst Corp. announced Monday that it would stop publishing the newspaper, Seattle’s oldest business, and cease delivery to more than 117,600 weekday readers.

The company, however, said it will maintain seattlepi.com, making it the nation’s largest daily newspaper to shift to an entirely digital news product.

“Tonight we’ll be putting the paper to bed for the last time,” Editor and Publisher Roger Oglesby told a silent newsroom Monday morning. “But the bloodline will live on.”

In a news release, Hearst CEO Frank Bennack Jr. said, “Our goal now is to turn seattlepi.com into the leading news and information portal in the region.”

I’m sad to see the P-I go — of the two local papers, I always liked the feel of the P-I better than the Seattle Times. It’s a little hard for me to quantify just why (though I’m sure those who follow the media more closely than I would be able to make some educated guesses), they just more often seemed to be my paper of choice.

Best wishes to all at the P-I who are being affected by this, and best of luck to the P-I’s online-only incarnation.

Link Journalism

Even though I’m ‘just’ a consumer, not a journalist in any sense, and not involved with or affiliated with any of these organizations, I’m fascinated by the effects of the evolving connections that technology is making possible between the media and the public, and within and among the various media organizations themselves.

Something that’s been fascinating me over the past few weeks during all the weather weirdness has been how incredibly valuable [Twitter][1] has been in keeping track of everything that’s happening. The [#seatst][2] (Seattle Twitter! Storm! Team!) and [#pdxtst][3] (Portland Twitter! Storm! Team!) tags were the single best sources for moment-by-moment information during the snowstorms, [#waflood][4] is still running strong for tracking flood info, and last night I was reading about an [#earthquake][4.1] in California just minutes after it happened. I’ve been enjoying Twitter for day-to-day trivialities and quick bursts of drivel that wouldn’t be worth making a full formal post for, but it’s Twitter’s growing usefulness as a crowdsourced quick-response news channel is mindblowing.

[1]: http://twitter.com/ “Twitter”
[2]: http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23seatst “Twitter search: #seatst”
[3]: http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23pdxtst “Twitter search: #pdxtst”
[4]: http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23waflood “Twitter search: #waflood”
[4.1]: http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23earthquake “Twitter search: #earthquake”

Of course, I’m _far_ from the only person noticing this trend, and there’s a neat article at [Publishing 2.0][5] (which I found via a [#waflood][4] tagged tweet from [Evan Calkins][6] this morning) looking into [the creation, evolution, and use of the #waflood tag][7] over the past few days.

[5]: http://publishing2.com/ “Publishing 2.0: The (r)Evolution of Media”
[6]: http://twitter.com/evancalkins/statuses/1107075874 “@evancalkins: Nice little article…”
[7]: http://publishing2.com/2009/01/09/networked-link-journalism-a-revolution-quietly-begins-in-washington-state/ “Publishing 2.0: Networked link journalism: A revolution quietly begins in Washington state”

> The discussion about journalism’s future so often focuses on Big Changes — Kill the print edition! Flips for everyone! Reinvent business models NOW! — that it’s easy to forget how simple innovation can be.
>
> Sometimes all you need is a few Tweets, a bunch of links, and some like-minded pioneers.
>
> That’s how a quiet revolution began in Washington state Wednesday. Four journalists spontaneously launched one of the first experiments in collaborative (or networked) link journalism to cover a major local story.
>
> But it gets better. Those four journalists weren’t in the same newsroom. In fact, they all work for different media companies. And here’s the best part: Some of them have never even met in person.

It’s a great look at how the collaboration allowed the journalists and their respective news organizations to stay on top of the stories, and put together stories and information pages that were far more comprehensive than if they’d each stuck to their own individual “old media style” resources.

> The Washington link projects should serve as models for the entire news industry. They show that collaborative linking draws readers, is easy, and costs nothing more than time (and not even much of that).
>
> Seth said the December snowstorm link roundup was on the homepage for three or four days — but it was **the site’s most-trafficked story for the entire month**.
>
> […]
>
> This is the power of collaborative news networks. By forming a network, newsrooms can discover not just a greater volume of news, but a greater volume of **relevant, high-quality news** than one person, one newsroom, or one wire service could alone.
>
> Compare the Washington group’s [great waflood link roundup][q1] to a Google News [search for “Washington flood”][q2] — I know which one I’d rather have as a resource if I lived in that area.

[q1]: http://www.publish2.com/topics/waflood/ “Publish2: Newswire: waflood”
[q2]: http://news.google.com/news?hl=en&ned=&q=washington+flood&btnG=Search+News “Google News: washington flood”

Neat stuff. Even though I’m “just” a consumer, not a journalist in any sense, and not involved with or affiliated with any of these organizations, I’m fascinated by the effects of the evolving connections that technology is making possible between the media and the public, and within and among the various media organizations themselves.