Saturday, December 29, 2007

Saturday Night special

As some people know, I grew up very close to Canada, and we often listened to Canadian radio stations like CKY and CJOB. They played a lot of different music than I heard on American radio, and so I'm digging up some YouTube videos of my favorites tonight. Here's one, and here's another. But this one takes the cake!

I know how to read, too

In the interest of showing you, my loyal readers, that I do more than just sit around all day watching TV, I decided to blog about a book I'm sitting around all day reading. So here goes.

Years ago I passed through a phase where I was very interested in codes. I read several books on the subject, including a 1164-page tome by David Kahn called The Codebreakers, which took me the better part of two summers to get through.* But codes haven't been on my radar screen for oh, about 7 years now. And then a month or so ago I was reading a list of great science fiction books by Nancy Pearl (who may well be the world's first librarian celebrity, as opposed to celebrity librarian), and Cryptonomicon was at the top of the list. And I, ersatz Latin scholar that I am, thought, "Oh, gross, that's that book about dead people," but it turns out I was thinking of the Necronomicon, and Cryptonomicon is actually about codes. The book is even longer than the Kahn book, so who knows when I'll finish it, but I'm having a heckuva good time so far.

The reason I'm bringing this up in the first place is that I can quote a passage to you that I adore and identify with. (Those who know me will know that I always love a novel infinitely more if I can identify with at least one of the characters in it.) So anyway, here are the thoughts of Randy Waterhouse, a computer geek of a character, on exercise and fitness.

"He is in the habit of doing a lot of vigorous walking. By the standards of the body nazis who infest California and Seattle, this is only a marginal improvement over (say) sitting in front of a television chain-smoking unfiltered cigarettes and eating suet from a tub. But he has stuck to his walking doggedly while his friends have taken up fitness fads and dropped them." (78) And later, "RESPECT THE PEDESTRIAN, the signs say, but the drivers, the physical environment, local land use customs, and the very layout of the place conspire to treat the pedestrian with the contempt he so richly deserves. Randy would get more respect if he went to work on a pogo stick with a propeller beanie on his head. Every morning the bellhops ask him if he wants a taxi, and practically lose consciousness when he says no." (89)

Yes! Yes! Yes! This is my experience exactly! My hat is off to you, Neal Stephenson!

*I feel that it was reading this book, more than all my years of formal education, that finally got it through my skull how writing could be scholarly and well-researched while still remaining accessible and interesting to the reader. I realized this in library school when I wrote a paper on the history of the Copyright Clearance Center, a potential snoozefest of a topic if there ever was one, and my instructor gave me an A and wrote in the margin, "A real page turner!" All this is my long way of saying that it was well worth the two years it took me to read the thing.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Watching TV online, Part IX

Have all of the below choices left you confuzzled? Do you just want to know what site to go to watch that one special show that you're desperate to see online? Have I got a site for you! (This is the last one I plan on highlighting, unless something new comes out and grabs me in the near future.) It's called Tape It on the Internet, and known affectionately to some as TIOTI. This site has no video at all; it's just a catalog of where to find different shows online.

I've found this site to be quite useful, but there are two caveats. The first is that it makes little effort to differentiate between legal and illegal methods of watching. For those of you who are pirates, I guess this is great news! For the rest of us, it means that you have to think a little bit about where the show is coming from. If it's one of the sites I've mentioned or something else that sounds legit, it's fine. But if it's a site you've never heard of or one that has a long string of letters and numbers for an address, beware! The second is that it tends to be wrong a lot of the time about where to find episodes of new series, since they never go back and remove links after the shows expire. But these quibbles aside, this site is a real timesaver, and I recommend it highly.

Watching TV Online, Part VIII

So yesterday while looking at the list of sites that have Hulu videos, I realized that MSN TV was one of them. I'd never really thought about the fact that this site has videos of full episodes, but it does. Besides the Hulu videos, they have a smattering of new shows from other networks. You can look at the whole list here. They obviously have no advantage over AOL in terms of content, but they do have one feature that I absolutely adore: they tell you exactly how long it will be before each video expires! This is a great feature that I think could really help me prioritize which things to watch when. For instance, I'd like to watch The Bob Newhart Show, and it helpfully tells me it will be available for 101 more days, so I know that I've got roughly until the end of March to get around to it. I'd also like to catch up with Chuck, and it tells me the episodes are available for 28 more days, so obviously I need to get around to that soon. And I've always wanted to go back and see Simon and Simon, of which it says the episodes never expire, so there's no rush on that one at all.

I haven't tried actually watching a video on this site yet, so I have no idea what their player is like. But I can tell you that I'll definitely be consulting this site, if only to find out how long I have to watch certain videos someplace else!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Watching TV Online, Part VII

I'm almost done with these, I swear! Today I'm going to talk about Hulu, another service I haven't actually tried. I was going to lump it in with the video players I talked about last time, but then I realized that wouldn't be technically correct because Hulu doesn't require you to download anything, as far as I can ascertain. (It's still in private beta mode right now, so I'm not able to try it out.)

Hulu is a video site sponsored by NBC and Fox. It provides one place to get videos from both of those networks at the same time, as well as all the cable channels owned by the same parent companies. (USA, Sci-Fi, Bravo, E!, FX, Oxygen, Sundance, and Fuel are a few of the channels they list, but I've read there are a total of 15 in all.) The last 5 episodes of new shows are available, and they also have selected episodes of classic TV shows from those channels as well. In a move I don't quite understand, Hulu also sends their videos to other sites, including the AOL video site I talked about previously. So even though the Hulu site is still in beta and you can't get in, you can watch all their videos here as well. Seriously, I think I'm going to take a good long look at that list when I get home tonight!

We now pause for a brief poetic interlude

"In this strange labyrinth how shall I turn?
Ways are on all sides, while the way I miss:
If to the right hand, there in love I burn;
Let me go forward, therein danger is.

If to the left, suspicion hinders bliss;
Let me turn back, shame cries I ought return,
Nor faint, though crosses with my fortune kiss;
Stand still is harder, although sure to mourn.

Thus let me take the right, or left hand way,
Go forward, or stand still, or back retire;
I must these doubts endure without allay
Or help, but travail find for my best hire.

Yet that which most my troubled sense doth move,
Is to leave all, and take the thread of Love."

Just so nobody thinks I'm taking credit for this, the above sonnet was written by Lady Mary Wroth, an English Renaissance poet.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Watching TV Online, Part VI

Today I'm going to talk about some ways I haven't actually tried for myself. There are a whole host of new sites out there that take video already online and offer it up with a standardized searching interface and a nifty player with cool features. Since these sites all require tremendous downloads before you get started, I haven't actually gotten started with any of them. But I will list them here in case you're interested.

Joost- This is the oldest of these sites and seems to be well regarded by people who use it. At first you needed an invitation to get in, but now it's open to everybody. There is a good review of it here.

Veoh- This site has had some problems because they decided to just scoop video from the networks' websites without bothering to ask permission. On the other hand, they have a lot of content posted by individuals, ala YouTube. There is a review of it here.

Miro- This is a new site that has gotten some buzz. A nice review of it is here.

If any of my readers try any of these services, please let me know what you think of them!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Watching TV Online, Part V

Today I'm going to talk about Netflix Instant Watching. This service is sort of free and sort of not. If you're a Netflix subscriber, you've got access to it, but if you're not, there's no way you can get in. (Unless a friend who belongs to Netflix is kind enough to invite you over to their house to take a peek at it.)

This service basically allows you to watch some of the movies and TV shows that Netflix rents without actually having to get the DVD's in the mail. They have to contract with the individual studios to make this possible, so the movies available tend to be from small independent companies or from other countries. The TV shows tend to be old series that have been out on DVD for a while, like Magnum, P.I., or else cult favorites that didn't have enough of a market to justify continuing making the DVD's. Sliders is one of these shows. The DVD's sold so poorly that they didn't bother to release seasons 4 and 5. But yet there are some fans out there who would give their eyeteeth to be able to watch these seasons. Netflix, recognizing that many people wouldn't bother to start watching the series on DVD if they knew they could never finish, has made seasons 4 and 5 (along with the first 3 seasons at all) available through Instant Watching. So now everyone is happy, and they don't have to take up a lot of warehouse space with discs that probably few people would actually request.

NBC has made things even a little more interesting this fall. They have allowed Netflix to put up new episodes from this season of Heroes as soon as they air, instead of waiting for the whole season to come out on DVD at some point. Of course, you could watch these episodes online at NBC anyway, but the advantage is that on Netflix Instant Watching they never go away, whereas they disappear from the NBC site after 4 weeks. I also think they are probably commercial-free on the Netflix site, although I've never tried watching one to find out.

Like I said, all the content on Netflix Instant Watching is "free," with two caveats. One, of course you really are paying for it with your Netflix subscription fees, and two, you get capped at a certain number of hours of watching each month, equal to the number of dollars you pay for your membership. (For instance, my plan costs $14 a month, so I get 14 hours of free video every month.) In reality, I've never hit my cap, and I don't think most people do, so this is something of an invisible barrier.

The consensus right now seems to be that at some point Netflix will start selling plans that only allow access to instant watching, but because their offerings there are quite thin right now, I don't see that happening in the near future. However, if you already have Netflix and haven't explored this part of their site, I'd urge you to do so. You never know what interesting things you might find!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Watching TV online, Part IV

Today I'm going to talk about In2TV, the video section of AOL Television. I use the TV listings on that site because they're the only ones that accurately display the wierd cable line-up we have in my apartment building, and one day I happened to stumble upon the In2TV section of the site while browsing around. I was blown away. They have current episodes of selected TV shows from all the major networks. Not anything that you couldn't find on the network's own video sites, but sometimes it's nice to have a good backup. (For instance, when I was experiencing the full screen problem on the CBS site that I mentioned earlier, I found I could watch those episodes in full screen on the In2TV site without any problem.)

Where In2TV really shines, however, is its classic TV content. They have full episodes of many classic TV shows, free of charge. There are only a few random episodes of most of the shows; I figure it's supposed to give you enough of a taste so you can decide whether or not to buy the DVD's. This is a great way to revisit shows you might be nostalgic for like Eight is Enough and Scarecrow and Mrs. King. (And if you have kids, you can show them what you used to watch when you were their age!) However, there are complete runs of certain shows. I stumbled across Lois and Clark and Gilligan's Island, and there might be very well be others if you dig for them. Another great feature is the special categories they've made, like "First Episodes" and "Christmas Specials."

A criticism of the site is that it's very hard to navigate. The menus on the side keep changing from page to page, and it's hard to get a comprehensive view of everything that's available on the site. Being a librarian, I guess I'd like something like a catalog where you can just see all of the titles and subject headings easily.

If you don't mind digging, though, In2TV is a great site and one I recommend to everyone looking for something new to watch.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Watching TV Online, Part III

Today I'm going to talk about YouTube. Most of us think of it as a place to watch clips of old TV shows (or clips of new TV shows that quickly get taken down), but did you know that some TV networks have started to put up legitimate clips? There are several channels of YouTube controlled by the networks. Ones that I've found are CBS, PBS, and the BBC. I especially love the BBC channel, because they've put up clips of many classic BBC shows from the past as well as the present. So if, for instance, you were talking to a friend who's been living under a rock and has never heard of Butterflies, you could show them this. Of course, this isn't going to help you if you're looking for full episodes, but sometimes just a little taste is enough, and in that case, YouTube might be perfect for you.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Watching TV Online, Part II

Some people seem to think it's a status symbol to pay more for things than they have to. Or at least that's the idea I come away with when thinking about the services that will let you watch TV online for a fee. Still, these services are out there and must serve a real purpose for some people, so I'm going to talk about them a little bit today.

Amazon Unbox has TV shows available for download for $1.99 an episode. They have shows from CBS, NBC, Fox and the CW (but not from ABC) and a host of cable channels. They also have lots of old TV shows that have been released on DVD. These are also available for $1.99 for an individual episode, but some also have special deals if you buy a whole season at once. For instance, you can get the first season of The Mary Tyler Moore show (24 episodes) for $35.99, which is a substantial savings over the per-episode price. However, Amazon sells the first season on DVD for $21.99, so I don't understand why you'd pay a $14 premium to not get a permanent copy of this for your archives.

iTunes also has TV shows at $1.99 an episode. They have shows from ABC, CBS, Fox and the CW (but not NBC) and some cable channels, and some old shows as well. Unless you have the iTunes software installed on your computer, you can't do much more than browse a list of titles available, but if you do have the software, there's a very logical browsing interface.

I'm told by those in the know that the reason to get your video from one of these paid services is so you get better quality video, have a "permanent" copy that you can watch whenever you want to, and can watch on other devices besides the computer (TV, cell phone, PDA, etc.) Neither of those seem like compelling reasons to me, but obviously many people feel differently. So if this makes sense for you, go for it, but I'm going to pass on this method of watching TV online.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Watching TV online, Part I

Michael, my special friend, loves Ghost Whisperer. Michael, being a starving graduate student, doesn't subscribe to cable TV, and because we live in the middle of nowhere, this means he gets no TV at all, not even the one station that actually broadcasts from our city! Because I am a librarian who exhibits my love for people by finding information for them, I decided to track down a place where he can watch Ghost Whisperer online. I have been totally defeated and had to admit that there's no place where you can legally watch that show online, but I looked at so many online TV sites in the meantime that I decided to post that information on my blog to help others. I've been trying to put it up as one monster post for the last month, but it always seemed too daunting, so I've finally decided to break the information down into categories and post it gradually over the next few days. So today we get the easy part that I can do from home without benefit of my notes: watching TV on the network sites.

ABC has what I think is the classiest player. It always seems to work perfectly without choppiness, and it delivers the video in flawless fullscreen mode if your internet connection can handle that. There is one 30-second commercial break at every point where there were commercials in the original show. They have one sponsor for each show and show different ads for that sponsor during each break. Some of the ads are interactive, and some of them are actually quite fun! What I love is that it asks you to click to continue and go back to the show after the ad, which might sound annoying but actually means that you can get up and do something during the commercial without fear of missing the beginning of the show. The only drawback that I found to the ABC player has been recently solved. It used to be you'd have to go into the player and load this massive graphic menu of all the episodes of every show before you could watch any of them. That took forever even on our superfast connection at the library. Now you first choose the show you want, and then choose from a list of available episodes, and then the player launches with just that episode. It works much, much better! Last year ABC had every episode of all the new shows available all year, but now they've gone to what seems to be the standard model this year: only the last 4 episodes are available online, which still means you've got a month to catch up.

The NBC player has a combination of clips, episode synopsis, and full episodes, and it's sometimes hard to separate them out. Once you find the full episodes of the show you want, you get a choice of the episodes available (again, the standard last 4) and the many many small chunks of that episode. The chunking feature is something I don't like. Even though, if you start at the first chunk, the rest of them start playing automatically when they need to, the process doesn't go smoothly. Because of my superfast university connection, I would like to default to fullscreen (which actually isn't very big on this player anyway), but I can't. After every chunk it goes back to the teeny tiny window, and often it won't even let me revert to the fullscreen mode when I try. The NBC player is also a little strange because they play the same ad at you after every chunk, so by the time you're done watching an hour-long show, you've seen the same ad about 8 times and want to shoot yourself!

I don't use the CBS player a lot, but from what I've seen it's adequate. They separate out full episodes easily enough, although they only have a handful of their shows available to watch online. (Hence why we're having trouble figuring out where to watch Ghost Whisperer.) It looks like they only have two or 3 episodes of most of the shows available, as well. A good thing is that they don't have many ad breaks at all. A bad thing is that they don't use regular TV ads, but instead annoying internet ads that you've probably seen 5 million times already. I've had problems getting the fullscreen option to work at all.

The CW player has a nice interface on the main page. You can easily choose to watch full episodes by show (they seem to have the standard last 4 available). One problem is that the "fullscreen" mode is very tiny, and it reverts back to the "normal" view at random intervals.

Fox has the newest player of the networks, since they were so late getting into the game. Because of this, it has the fanciest interface. They don't seem to have a standard number of episodes available for each show. One annoyance is that the most recent episode of each show starts playing immediately after you click on the show's name, which is bothersome if you weren't ready for that episode yet. (If you look way down at the bottom of the screen, there's a little arrow that you can click on to see the rest of the episodes available for that show.) I was amazed that they put the Simpsons on here for free; that's the only show I watch on Fox anymore, so that's the only one I've actually tried watching.

Well, there you have it. In future days I'll be posting about other (legal) kinds of sites where you can watch full episodes of TV shows both old and new.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Did ya miss me?

I'm finally home, much later than anticipated. And so, I ask you, my dear faithful readers, did you miss me? (If your answer is no, kindly keep it to yourself, but if the answer is yes, feel free to elaborate in the comment section below.)