Thursday, January 24, 2008

A black-edged border

I just got the call this morning that my father died during the night. We've been expecting it for the last 10 days or so, so in some sense it's a relief. He'd had cancer for several years. But now that it's actually happened, there are all kinds of people to notify and last minute details to do.

At any rate, besides asking you to sympathize with me, this post is letting you know that I'll be out of computerized territory until February 2nd. So find some other way to amuse yourselves until then, ok?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A palpable hit

I scored a hit with my workshop today. I had 10 people show up, and only one of them was someone known to me! As much as I want to be belle of the ball, I hope some of our other workshops do as well. After all, that would reflect well on me too, since I did all the PR!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Color me teaching

Maybe blogging really is a way to unleash your creativity. A few weeks ago I proposed to my boss that I take my series of posts on how to watch TV online and turn it into a library workshop, and she said, "Go ahead." So the class will be in the library at noon this Wednesday. I'm nervous and excited. Part of me hopes we fill the room and the other part hopes no one comes. I guess we'll just have to see, won't we?

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

A Modest (Request for) Proposal(s)

As I mentioned before, I am filled with renewed optimism for this new year, and even though my singleness has been recently affirmed, I'm taking this grapefruit juice and making Squirt! A lot of people would talk vaguely about putting themselves out there in the dating world, whatever that is supposed to mean, but I'm a university administrator and I know I can surely do better. And so I have decided to put out an RFP, or Request for Proposals. Now, I don't actually want anybody to propose marriage (although I have to admit that would be an ego-booster at the moment), but rather I have the following proposition, issued in all seriousness.

If you're a person who knows me in real life, and have ever thought about asking me out but figured I wouldn't be interested or I must surely already have a boyfriend, this is your golden opportunity. All reasonable offers will be considered! However, I know that all real-life RFP's have a deadline to encourage timely participation, so I am creating a cut-off. This offer is available for a reasonable time only and ends at the end of spring quarter this year (fittlingly enough, Friday, June 13th.) However, the management reserves the right to issue another RFP at that time if she so chooses.

Let the games begin!


A million years ago* when I was a student at Iowa State, I had an epiphany while walking across campus. I was worried about asking someone a question that I really didn't think I wanted the answer to, when suddenly I lifted up my eyes to the top of the library in front of me.** Mind you, I'd been on campus over a year at that point and walked along that very sidewalk almost every day, but I'd never looked up that high before. This picture on Flickr shows you what I saw. Right along the top of that whole side of the the building, it says, "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." And I realized that maybe it would be better to know the truth than to keep living a lie. Which is to say that I'm not as broken up about recent events as I had expected to be. More on that later.

*actually about ten, which seems just as long to me

** "I will lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help." (Psalm 121:1)

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A second look at In2TV

So while I was on my online TV watching bender yesterday afternoon, I decided to try watching a show at In2TV just to see what it was like. I picked an episode of the Jetsons. Unfortunately, I had some disappointments along the way. For one thing, I happened to pick an episode I'd already seen 15 million times, the one where Rosey comes to live with the family, but that's nobody's fault but my own. More germane to this review is the fact that I had a lot of problems while watching it. First of all, In2TV allows you to watch in full screen, but I think it may be more trouble that it's worth. When you hit the button, instead of just making the screen bigger in the window you're already in, it pops up another window with the program in full screen. And then it starts the video over at the beginning again. Once in that window, there are no controls of any kind. The only way to make it stop playing or change any settings is to close the new window entirely. And guess what? Once you do that, the video in the small window starts playing again at the point where you were when you hit the button in the first place. Can we talk about buggy and cumbersome?

Also, the quality in full screen isn't very good. Most sites give you a higher resolution and faster bitrate when you go to fullscreen, but it looks to me like In2TV just makes the picture bigger. It was watchable if I backed my chair up all the way across the room, but if I got any closer to the TV, the pixels were clearly noticeable. At least there didn't seem to be any compression fuzziness like you often get with YouTube. The pixels were nice and sharp and where they should be; they were just big!

I also experienced a bug that I've read about from other reviewers but never had run into before. Periodically the show pauses for an ad (dumping you back into the default screen size in the process), and it seems to go to some centralized ad pool to find an ad to show you. (It gives you some kind of message like "Searching for an advertisement" to let you know what's going on.) This always takes a few annoying seconds to get through, but at one ad break it couldn't find an ad, and it got caught into a loop of searching and searching and searching. I've heard that some people get stuck there forever and never get to see the end of the show, but fortunately, after about 3 tries it decided it couldn't find an ad and dumped me back into the show again.

I'm really kind of upset by all these problems, because as I mentioned before, In2TV has every episode of Lois and Clark, and I was seriously considering watching it at some point. Now I'm wondering if I could hold out for a whole episode, let alone the whole series.

I got in to Hulu!

After I wrote my post on Hulu a few weeks ago, I decided to submit my name to be one of their beta testers. It's very easy to do; just go to the front page of their website and put your email address in the box. I'd heard there was a long, long wait to get selected, so I was very surprised to be selected so quickly. I used my work email address, hoping they would think I was some important university professor and give me a leg up, so maybe that helped.

At any rate, yesterday afternoon I went to the Hulu homepage and was able to log in for the first time. I discovered that the interface is very intuitive. You can look at the list of shows by channel, in alphabetical order, or by order of popularity. I first looked at the list of participating channels, since I'd never been able to find out exactly which ones were included, and I copied it down for you. Here it is: Bravo, E!, Fox, Fox Movie Channel (with original programming about movies, not the movies themselves), Fuel, FX, IGN, myNetworkTV, National Geographic, NBC, Oxygen, SciFi, Style, Sundance (the same deal as Fox Movie Channel), and USA. That makes 15, just like the original press releases said. However, there are only one or two shows available for some of the cable channels. I wonder if this will change eventually or if this is all they plan to offer. In addition, there are old shows from other networks that were produced by 20th Century Fox and MGM. And there is a rotating selection of movies from 20th Century Fox and Universal. (Right now they are Bulworth, Master and Commander, Sideways, Weekend at Bernie's, The Blues Brothers, Conan the Barbarian, The Jerk, and October Sky.)

Once you select a show, you're taken to a page for that show that shows available episodes, as well as providing a synopsis and cast listing. Right now only the first season of everything is available, but it looks like there will eventually be buttons at the top of the episode listing that let you switch to another season quickly. You can also subscribe to a show if you want to be notified every time new episodes are uploaded.

I decided, for the good of the team, to watch an episode of the Bob Newhart Show and see what it was like. I was very impressed with the player. It has a variety of controls, more than the typical web player. I'll admit I didn't look at all of them carefully, but I did notice one for brightness, which I've never seen anywhere before. There was also a button to watch something in full screen, and guess what, readers? It actually worked! Usually when watching something in full screen, it pops you back to the tiny view at each ad, and then you have to click on the full screen button again when the show comes back, and sometimes that doesn't even work for some reason. With the Hulu player, I actually got to sit back and watch the whole episode, even the ads, in full screen, without having to touch another button. This is wonderful.

Another great thing is the number of ads. There were 4 15-second ads (all of them the same one, actually), during the show. The first came after the opening credits. The second was around the 15 minute mark, and seemed to be right where an ad break was in the original show. The third was after the main story was over but before the "stinger," and the fourth was between the stinger and the closing credits. (That seemed a little odd, since the stinger was only about 30 seconds long, so it meant that two of the four ads came less than a minute apart!) All in all, though, having to watch a total of one minute of ads (and seamlessly,without the usual hassle of button pushing) seems like a very small price to pay for the privilege of watching this show.

For the purposes of experimentation, I decided to watch the next episodes of the show at MSN TV and AOL TV, so I could see if the Hulu player really is an advantage. The answer is "Yes, so much so that I couldn't actually bear to watch the show on either of those sites." It turns out that when you watch Hulu videos on other sites, you can't change the size of the screen. The MSN default screen is so tiny that I felt I was watching something in RealVideo circa 1998! The AOL screen was bigger, about the size of a standard YouTube window, so I guess I could have handled it if I had no choice, but knowing I could watch the same episode at Hulu in full screen made me click "stop" after about 30 seconds! Just to experiment, I tried watching other non-Hulu programming on each of the sites, and the full screen button was there and was working. I'm not sure if this is a bug or an intentional feature, but it's very annoying either way. Still, I guess Hulu has to find some way to drive users to their site.

At some point (maybe this weekend), I'll have to watch some longer programming on Hulu and see if that experience is as good. At this point, however, I'm going to have to say that I love Hulu and all that it offers me!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year!

I don't have much to say, except that I just woke up (Imagine that!), and I hope that 2008 is the best year yet!