Why I Can’t Quit My DIRECTV or Why Internet TV Is Useless

I so wanted to quit my DIRECTV.

I wanted to quit not because I disliked the service.  In fact, I love it, and perhaps that’s why I’m finding it so hard to leave.

Here’s what I like:

Channel selection.  It’s great.  At the basic level, I get all the channels that I would ever want to watch including NESN, ESPN, BBC America, The Travel Channel, The Discovery Channel, The Food Network and The Cooking Channel.

Our current favorite shows: Downton Abbey, any of Anthony Bourdain’s shows, my wife watches anything on the Cooking Channel and Food Network.

The picture is clear and sharp.  I had cable previous to my DIRECTV and it was crap.  DIRECTV’s picture is ten times better.

Their customer service is top notch.  No confusing mazes when you call their 800 number, bright, upbeat, and extremely helpful people when you call, the few issues I’ve ever had have been fixed almost immediately.  Their Twitter support is useless, but otherwise it’s overall great customer service.

Their interface.  It’s intuitive, bright and aesthetically pleasing.  I’ve used cable interfaces, and I can’t figure it out.  The channel order doesn’t make any sense and it’s ugly.  Plus I can easily record shows from my iPhone.

So why would I leave?

The one negative?  The price.  It costs me something like $95 a month.

So I bought a Roku hoping to save some cash and jump into the new hot thing.  Perhaps given my love of my current service, it’s not surprising that I’m disappointed with the Roku.

Here was my original idea:

Buy a Roku box – initial investment of $65
Subscribe to: MLB, NFL, & NBA (Sorry NHL) – $125,  $299, for a total of $593
I already have Netflix – $8.99
And I’m an Amazon Prime Member – $45 (student discount don’t ask me why?)

This would save me $300 in the first year and more thereafter especially given the Celtics season and hopes for the future.

Unfortunately, there were a few hitches in this pan.  One is that local teams are blacked out on these season subscription packages.  For MLB it’s 90 minutes after the end of the game.  On nights that Josh Beckett’s pitching, that literally means tomorrow. *Update* This is further proof that the west coast is the best place to live if you’re an east coast sports fan.  Football starts at 10 a.m. and even when Beckett pitches, Sox games wrap up before 9 p.m. Plus, you have a couple of decent teams to root for as you ‘B’ teams in the 49er’s and the Giants.

The other issue is the content.  Both the streaming on Netflix and the content available for free on Amazon Prime is, frankly, 97% crap.  It just stinks.  The same goes for all of the Internet TV channels on Roku.  They are all crap.  I’m all for choice and diversity, but when it’s all crap, then it’s not choice and it’s not diversity.  It’s just crap.

The interface.  While it looks nice, it’s impossible to find anything.  There’s just too much garbage.  I don’t want to have to go to 7 different services to get the content I want.  I want to go to one.  I also don’t want to wade through piles of garbage shows to find something that’s barely worth watching.

The service.  Ten or fifteen minutes into streaming something, the audio gets all screwed up turning Dora into a Syth Lord.  *Update* Upon further reflection, the distortion sounds more like the demon from the Exorcist I’ve googled it, and every message board talks about the lousy customer service Roku has, and I’m still looking for an answer.

So now I’ve got a Roku currently designated to streaming Dora the Explorer.   And that’s about as useful as I find this thing right now.

What to write when you’ve got nothing to say

This blog, like many others I’m sure, tends to go through long periods of neglect followed by a short flurry of activity until neglect creeps in again.

Of course I don’ t do this on purpose. Keeping up content is tough. It’s hard to find the inspiration, time, and a good topic. But often times, it’s because I’ve already written what I’m working through; I’ve just put it down in my head, and not on paper. And there the idea sits, unfinished, in rough-draft, an idea, thought, or something I’m working through. I’ll spend quite a bit of time working on one. I’ll revise, restart, redact, and reword it over and over in my head, just as if I was typing. This is how my brain works. It’s how I wrote my best man speech for my brother’s wedding. I say wrote, although I never put a pen to a piece of paper. I just went through the speech over and over again for three days as if I was writing a paper in my mind.

Writing for me has always been therapeutic—a way to visualize my thoughts and gain a new perspective. I was had a former roommate give my then current roommate that “The only way Drew ca. Communicate is through writing.”.

I fear that by not putting these ideas down on paper, I’m not getting as much benefit from the reflective process as I should. For one, processing information this way requires a lot of bandwidth. It’s like trying to put the waterflow of a firehouse through a drinking straw. The CPU just gets maxed out. It takes an incredible amount of time and concentration to get thoughts out and process them this way.

Writing though, allows ideas to flow more freely and it’s much easier to extract examine ideas. It’s much easier to read, revise and rework a piece on your computer screen than it is in your head. I’m able to complete ideas in a way that I can’t to do by running through these ideas in my head all day long. It also takes way less time as by having pieces of the idea written down, I don’t need to revisit it from the beginning each time. This is, of course, all pretty basic stuff here, but maybe writing it down will make it set in and get me to post here more often.

So there you go. When you don’t have anything to write, write about writing.

Getting away, reflection, and simplifying

When I first started here, I remember someone telling me that it was important to get away.  Actually, I think they were telling me about someone who told them it was important to get away, but I inferred that they agreed with that advice.

In my first year here, I remember the odd feeling of getting in my car and realizing that I had not been in it for over a week.   That little trip to Groton Market was the first time I’d been off campus in 7 days.

Certainly last year, I realized the importance of getting out and getting space.  For nothing else then to change the scenery and fight off cabin fever.  It breaks up the monotony and force you to change your rhythm.  In my case, I often head to my uncle’s and aunt’s the Burlington area.  That 3.5 hour drive also provides me the benefit of reflection.  Even just 24 hours away like this past weekend help me to refocus,

The boy enjoying some cold VT air during our 24 hours away

re-center, re-energize and re-prioritize.

It’s not that I find immediate inspiration on these trips—there is no ‘ah-ha” moment.  Rather it is that I find my mind more open to receiving inspiration.  I allow myself to soak in life.

I know I sound like I’m getting my zen on, and in some ways I am.  A book and a film have me thinking more about what I consume and my footprint that I create.  The Omnivores Dilemma is equal parts blowing my mind and scaring the shit out of me.  Scaring me mostly because there seems to be so little I can do to fight it.  Shopping local for food is easyier in the summer.  The winter months prove a challenge though.  Even then, there’s only so much you can do.

180° South has me thinking about sustainability and nature.  Also irony in that the founders of the two largest outdoor gear/clothing companies which have thrived on American consumerism are featured in it as activists and environmentalists.  I think they are now, and probably were in the past.  It’s just odd to me that their passion for the outdoors and nature lead them to create these companies which I now see on every prep school kid here.  As for myself, I’m no better.  Do I really need the 10 pairs of pants and 20 sweaters in my closet right now?  Probably not. They certainly don’t make me any happier.   If I go in, purge and toss eyverything out, then what?  Will that make a difference?  In the movie, Yvon Chouinard says that the hardest thing to do in life is to simplify.  I would suggest that maintaining that simplicity is just as, and perhaps more, challenging.

I think I will try to pare down my wardrobe.  I’ll also try to resist the urge to buy the next great thing.  When it comes to food, I’ll try to shop more locally.  I’m not planning on quitting my job and jumping on a boat to Patagonia, but at least that’s always an option.  It’s way down on the list, but it’s on the list.

Live Streaming Revisited and Improved

You’ll remember (or perhaps not) that I had some surprising success last year live streaming an event here know as Lessons and Carols.  Last year, it was a simple one camera in the back of the Chapel hooked into my MacBook Pro.  I had a wireless network that I patched into and streamed the event using Ustream.tv.

I was shocked when hundreds tuned in to watch the event live and another 1,600 or so have watched the video.  In the spring I increased the degree of difficulty by adding a second camera, and basically jerry-rigging a way to combine the two streams using two MacBook Pros and Skype.

I didn’t want to go through that again, so I consulted with my now real world (formerly just Twitter) friend Hans Mundahl at New Hampton School.  Here’s the set-up I came up with.  Of course, I did this all the week before the event.  Why do things in August when you can do them under the gun.

Materials:

2 cameras (one decent, one not)

1 Digital Recorder (I use this as an external Mic.  You could just use the camera mic)

2 8-pin to 4-pin FireWire cables

2 8-pin FireWire cables

2 100 ft Cat 5 (ethernet) cables

4 Cat 5 to 8-pin FireWire converter boxes

1 iMac connected to the Intertubes

3 extension cords

3 power strips

The Boxes

These little babies were the key to having two cameras (that and the iMac with two FireWire inputs).  I’m not going to mention that it took me an entire day to figure out why they weren’t working only to realize that the iMac’s software hadn’t been updated since the Bush administration.

Video over cat-5 has a range of 300m (330ft for us Americans).  This allowed me to set up the cameras at opposite side of the Chapel, and run the cables underneath the floor, along the wall, and into the sacristy in the back of the Chapel where I was set up with my iMac.  I simply set the camera up, plugged in the FireWire to the camera and then to the converter box, plugged the cat-5 into the box and turned on the power.  That cat-5 ran into another converter box and from there I ran an 8-pin FireWire from the box directly into the iMac.

Feeding the stream directly into the iMac meant that I didn’t need to deal with a video mixer or any other equipment.  I did end up having to purchase Ustream’s Producer Pro which I think was maybe $100 or $200, but way cheaper and easier than a mixer.  Here’s what my screen looked like:

The one problem I ran into (which resulted in F bombs in the sacristy) was a bandwidth issue.  The system kept freezing and crashing for the first 30 minutes until I turned down the quality of the stream.  It turns out that we don’t have very fast upload speeds here and even though I was hardwired in, I was trying to push water from a fire hose through a soda straw.  Once I turned it down to the lowest setting, everything started working just fine.  We had 300 watch it live, and the recording has been seen over 1,000 times as well.  The video is up on Vimeo.  Pro Tip: With Ustream you can sign up to suppress ads for one month, and then cancel.  If you download your video before you cancel, it doesn’t have ads.  You can then upload it to Vimeo where you will have a video of your event without annoying David Hasselhoff ads.  

The Bill

This year wasn’t cheap.  I probably spent close to $1,500 to get everything set up and we did pay to suppress ads.  $1,000 of that was a one-time cost though, and I should have to spend any more on the tech stuff unless I want to upgrade my cameras (which I do).

Thanks again to @hansmundahl for all of the help!

New Year

I’ve never made a New Year’s resolution.  If you only evaluate your life once a year and set goals for yourself once a year than you have issues.  One of my most recent goal was to lose some weight after the New Year.  Luckily, I caught the flu and lost 5 lbs.  Mission accomplished there.

Looking ahead to the year, I decided to set some goals for myself.  I’m not calling them resolutions because they are not resolutions.  They are goals.

1. Listen to that little voice inside of me more.

2. Drink a little less

3. Stand a little taller

4. Speak more firmly

God, this is sounding like a Tim McGraw song.  This is why I don’t make resolutions.

LovEdu

I was reminded why I work in education the other day.  While up in Burlington, VT getting off campus for the weekend, I ran into some friends at a bar. It was one of those completely random encounters.  I saw them across the room at a huge table, and made my way through the crowd to say, “Hello.”

One of the people at the table was a student when I worked in the SMC admission office.  While a student, she was a summer tour guide, one of my bloggers, and after graduation became a colleague and mentee.  Now she has a kick ass job at a kick ass marketing firm.

We had a great conversation that night talking about blogging, brainstorming blog topics, and high ed marketing.  She told me all about her new company and I joked that she’d have to find me a job someday.

This chance run-in reminded my why it is that I love working in education.  It is because you get to observe young people as they travel down this path of self-discovery.  We’re all to some extent trying to figure it out, but in high school and college, the steps are bigger and the changes more noticeable.  If you’re lucky, hopefully you’ll be able to help that person out along the way.

There is no cooler experience than watching a young person get inspired, find a vocation, and absolutely crush it.

No Place for Copy Cats

This post also appears at www.edsocialmedia.com.  You should check it out.  It’s decent despite the fact that I write for it.

Charlie Croker: You’ve got no imagination. You couldn’t even decide what to do with all that money, so you had to buy what everybody else wanted. 
Steve: Try this on your imagination, okay. That gold is already gone.
From the Italian Job 

I came across an unnamed college Web site the other day that looked oddly similar to the Saint Michael’s College blogger page.   At first I couldn’t believe I was seeing such fragrant laziness.  Below is a side-by-side comparison (I did my best to block out the other institutions name so as to avoid embarrassment).

 

Uncanny huh?

I think this is pretty egregious for three reasons:

1. You have to at least put in some effort.  When I built the SMC bloggers page in 2008, I took a great deal of inspiration from the Butler University blog page.  That page had photos of the bloggers, their names and bios, links to their blogs, and a Twitter feed (that actually didn’t work).  I incorporated each of those into our new page.  At the time my coding skills were relatively limited (still are) so the page came out the way it did.  I’m embarrassed to admit the amount of time I spent building that stupid page.  I know that it took me half a day to figure out how to change the color.   Despite a redesign when @MalloryWood took over in 2010, some of the key design features still hold true.

The point is, you have to own it, in order to make it work.

2. This is cheating.  Literally this is plagiarism.  You’ve taken 90 percent of a Web site, added your name and colors, and published it as your own.  If a student at your institution did the same on a research paper, they would be expelled.   It is the responsibility of the institution live by the same values it expects out of its students.

Now, I’m not suggesting there was malicious intent here.  I’m guessing that this is just ignorance at play.  That being said, you just can’t do this.  It makes your institution look bad.  It makes the institution that you copied look bad.  It makes you look bad.  And lazy.

3.  This damages both brands.  Your applicants overlap.  Small residential, liberal art, college in the north east.  Yup.  That means there will be plenty of cross over between your apps.  It makes the both of you look lame, packaged, and discredits any authenticity you’ve established.  Unfortunately for SMC, this means they need to change their page immediately because this other institution is making SMC look bad through their laziness.

I think SMC has to move here.  It’s already December and high application season.  In order to maintain their brand (which is pretty damn strong) and authenticity (also pretty damn strong) they have to roll out a new design.  Like the quote at the top says, “The gold is already gone.”  SMC has to rebuild it.

So what about that saying I hear over and over again, Copy And Steal Everything?

Clearly this is said tongue in cheek.  There is plenty of room to allow yourself to be inspired by others, but you have to transform that inspiration into a product that truly reflects your institution and brand.  Social media is all about authenticity, and your ripping off a site from another school, you’re not being authentic.

Pay attention. Look at what others are doing, and figure out how you can adapt them into your own channels. While you’re at it, keep an eye out for those who are ripping you off.

Why they’re not going to leave Facebook

I saw this tweet from @markgr and had to write about it.  The reason being, I don’t believe Google +, Diaspora or any other new social media tool has a chance until the come up with something completely different.   I wish it wasn’t true, but all we have to do is look at recent history to see that it probably is.

All of these new ideas are just Facebook repackaged.  Google Wave, Google Buzz, Google +, and Diaspora when distilled down to their basic structure and interface are all Facebook.  There really isn’t anything different.  Unfortunately, the one thing that they don’t have is the crowd.  And they’re not going to get the crowd, until there’s a crowd there.  There won’t be a crowd there until the product is actually new.

I’ve been on all five of the above.  Here’s how my experience has gone:

1. Get hooked on the buzz that this is finally the revolutionary social network that is going to connect me with my friends without being evil.

2. Get the email saying that I’m part of an early beta testing group.

3. Log on, add my information and a photo.

4. Spend sometime skimming around the “news feed” equivalent.  Upload a photo or two.  Invite some friends.

5. Check in daily to see what’s new and who has joined up since he last time I checked an hour ago.

6. See that no one else is using it.  Well, not no one.  Lot’s of people in HighEd are writing about how this will change HighEd marketing because this will finally take down Zuck.

7.  Begin checking less frequently—still finding that no one I went to college, high school, randomly know is one.

8. Give up and update my Facebook status.

And that’s it.  Until something revolutionary happens, Facebook is it folks.   It’s just like changing banks because of some outrageous fee their charging.  Yeah, it sucks to pay the fee, but all my stuff is there.  My paycheck is automatically deposited there.  My bills come in through the online banking feature.  I’ve got everything set up.  It would be a pain to change.  Plus I might miss a bill or two in the switch over.

I don’t care how frustrated people are with Facebook.  The crowd is there.  My crowd is there.  I’m not moving without them.