Saturday, June 02, 2007

The entire 2nd season of The Office available now on Netflix: Watch Now

I'm personally not a big "the office" fan, but I know many of you out there are. So, if you're a netflix subscriber and you want to see the second season of the office, go log in to your netflix account to watch it now.Thanks to for the announcement.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

7 Stories I'm Reading

Happy Friday to Everyone!

1. DVR Viewers Push Ad Ratings Higher - USA Today is reporting on the affects of DVR viewers on the Nielsen ratings. The article says DVR watchers don't skip ads and so there is a 32% increase in ad watchers. I don't know about you, but I'm skipping most ads with a click of my remote using BeyondTV.
2. Blockbuster & Best Buy to Launch Movie Download Services - everyone seems to want to join in the fun.
3. Recorded TV Manager 2 - for you MCE users out there. This app allows you to move, copy, delete, and manage TV recordings with ease all from your remote control.
4.'s HD Streaming not so HD After All - still the best online video to date though...
5. How To Turn your wifi router into a repeater - per Lifehacker & Make. I wrote up a how-to back in January on How to use a second wrt54g router as an access point. I do this with my two routers at home.
6. How to Search Faces with Google Images - Pretty neat feature. This article explains how to search for photos of Paris Hilton as opposed to Paris France (if your so inclined :)
7. Find Local Digital Broadcast Stations - Floppyhead found which is a nice alternative to I no longer have to mess with antenna's though now that I use silicondust's HDHomeRun Dual QAM tuner.

While your here, check out my "beat the netflix throttle" post. It was mentioned on today - pretty exciting for this small-time blogger.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Apple's DRM-Free AAC Files Contain More Than Just Names and Email Addresses

The Electronic Frontier Foundation EFF finds a 360K chunk of mystery data in new iTunes AAC files. I have no problem with watermarks to prevent filesharing as long as the DRM is gone. Still, I'm really curious as to what other information is in that file?

read more | digg story

Beat Netflix Throttle - 7 Steps to Getting the Netflix Movie You Want

Do you use Netflix for movie rentals? Have you experienced a slowdown in delivery of your movies or a slowdown in Netflix receiving your movies all of the sudden? If so this is likely because you have been labeled a "heavy user" and are being throttled by Netflix. I will outline seven things I have used to work around this and ensure I am getting the movies I want (including new releases) as fast as possible.


It is a known fact that throttling happens. To understand what "throttling" means, read this question and answer with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings in an interview with Fortune Magazine:

Question Bill Greenstein, Seattle : I stopped my subscription to your service because of
your well-documented "throttling" of frequent renters. How can you say you are
focused on customer service when you alienate your customers in this way?

Answer by Reed Hastings: When we are short on new releases, which we try not to be, we
believe it's fairest to allocate those new movies to subscribers who have not
rented much recently. This upsets heavy users because they are not in the front
of the line for new releases. We are straightforward about how it works, but not
everyone likes that policy.

In my opinion there are a few things that trigger throttling:Renting more than Netflix's "average" number of movies per account cycle (the start date of your netflix billing cycle). If you are in a five-out plan and rent more than their average, they will begin throttling you. Even if you are on the unlimited one-out plan, if you are watching a movie the day you receive your movie and returning it immediately that day or the next day consistently throughout a month, you will eventually be considered a heavy user.

Over the past few years, I would be considered a pretty "heavy user" - especially in the Summer Months when we watch a bunch of movies. After two or three months of heavy usage, I usually experience a slowdown in delivery (approximately a day longer than normal for either Netflix receiving movies I return and/or a day longer than normal for shipment of movies.) I have learned to deal with these slowdowns using the following methods:

1. Account Rotation - Only stay a member of Netflix under one account for a maximum of three months (if you are renting many movies in a month). Once Netflix begins throttling your movie delivery there are two ways to account rotation.

  • You can "take a break" from Netflix for a month and restart the same account. This would prevent you from losing anything in your queue, but you would of course not get movie deliveries during your one-month "break".

  • Another way is to maintain two netflix accounts. Keep one active until the throttling begins. Once delivery is slowed, wait until the end of your rental period (before Netflix charges for a new month) and cancel the account. Now start up another account with a different credit card (I do this just in case they match up the two accounts) and stay with that account for one month. Your new account is a fresh start so you will be treated as a new customer again. If you switch back again to the original account after a month, you again have a fresh start and throttling won't begin any earlier than one month later. This seems to be the most effective way to beat the Netflix Throttling system. I've used this off and on for over a year with excellent success.
2. Return Watched Movies During the Week Immediately - This is an obvious one, but important. Always return your movies as soon as you have watched them.

3. Move Unreleased Movies to the top of your queue - Several weeks before the release date, Netflix moves unreleased movies from the "Saved" section of your queue to the bottom of your main queue. Immediately move these unreleased movies to the top of your queue. Netflix will continue to deliver the first available movie until the new movie is released.

4. Return your movies on Friday or Saturday - If you have a new release (now at the top of your queue) you want to receive at the earliest possible date, be sure and return movies on Friday or Saturday. Since Netflix mails new releases on the Monday before the Tuesday release date, this will ensure that Netflix will receive you returned movie on Monday and will mail the new release you want that Monday.

5. Return Movies at a post office box that hasn't picked up yet. If your mail pickup is slow, find the latest drop-off postal box to return your Movies. For a great way to find post office boxes near you, use Mailbox Map (similar to Mailbox Locator highlighted at Lifehacker) - This site lets you search by address and then shows a google map with a list of all post office mailboxes near you with the various pickup times. This is nice especially for Saturdays when you might want to return a movie, but the mailman has already picked up at your home mailbox. Using this site, I can find a mailbox that picks up at 3:30pm and another at 5:00 pm on a Saturday.

6. Only use the three-out or less plans. The higher the number of movies you rent, the more likely you will be considered a "heavy user" by Netflix. I always stick with two or three-out plans. After increasing to more than that, I always found that Netflix slowed down delivery within a month because they labled me a "heavy user". UPDATE: Note that several commenters over at have noted that Netflix no longer penalizes you for the over-three-out plans as they used to. Reportedly they allow for more rentals in a month since you will obviously rent more if your on the 8-out plan for example

7. Frequent the excellent weblog HackingNetflix by Mike Kaltschnee. Here you will find a continual wealth of information related to Netflix and other mail-based movie rental sites. Read the posts as well as the comments to keep up on the latest features of Netflix as well as ways to keep up with any changes to Netflix's service.

Even if you aren't a heavy user, you will benefit from the advice above. I love Netflix and of course movies. Following the above steps makes sure I will enjoy netflix no matter how many movies I rent from them in a month.

More Netflix-Related Articles:
Netflix Watch Now Hacked - Rip Movies from Watch Now
Why Netflix has already won the DVD Rental War
Complete list of all Netflix Watch-Now Movies
Renting Movies from a Vending Machine
Netflix Watch-Now Mini-Review
Are You a Couch-Potato Pioneer
Rent Movies from a vending machine - Redbox Review

Check out the rest of my weblog for information on Home Theater PC's, Making a Digital Photo Frame from a Laptop and other Gadget and Media-Centric Information.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

7 Stories I'm Reading

1 - Google Maps Street View & Mapplets - The new "street view" on goolge maps is pretty cool, but its kind of creepy too. Read the Google Blogoscoped detail overview and video or just go to google maps and check out street views yourself.

2 - Google Maps Street View invades privacy, exposes alien life - A funnier take on the new Google Maps feature on the Download Squad

3 - Are Canadian Telcos Exploiting “Do Not Copy” Rules To Sell More DVRs? - A must read for any DVR or HTPC user.

4 - Itunes 7.2 and 7.2 Plus now with less DRM - Great news for music lovers. Warning if any of you were considering uploading those non-drm'd Itunes songs, the files have your Itunes account information embedded inside the file.

5 - Is Microsoft intentionally delaying Vista Media Center Extenders just to sell Xbox 360's? My guess is - YES... In my opinion, the Xbox 360 is just too loud to be a good media extender.

6 - TNT & TBS will stream all of their original summer shows to the web - urner Broadcasting System’s TNT and TBS plan to stream all seven of their combined original summer series on their respective Websites. For the most part, they will be available the morning after they premiere on TV.

7 - A 50 Inch Plasma Rises from a wood floor in this master bedroom - Check out this awesome TV "lift". Very cool.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Most Dangerous Tornado Alleys - Google Maps Mashup

Since I grew up in SW Missouri and live in Kansas City, I am very familiar with Tornadoes and the damage they can do. Someone has made a Google Maps Mashup showing where the strongest and most fatal tornadoes have hit. There are definitely places where Tornadoes have hit several times hence the term Tornado Alley". This map on GeoCommons shows you where those places are.

DVD Backup Plugin

I've posted about this before, but thought it was time to revisit the topic. Hopefully someone will have some ideas for how to add the "feature" I"m looking for - see my "next step" at the bottom of this post.
You want to archive your DVD's to your harddrive right from the convience of your living room HTPC with nothing more involved then putting the DVD in the drive and selecting "backup dvd" from a menu with your remote? There is a way thanks to Peter Long's nice batch script. It calls DVD Decrypter in non-interactive mode using a batch script Peter created. It was made for Beyond Media, but it could easily be used in other HTPC software programs. Steps to use the "plugin"

1. Insert DVD

2. Select Rip DVD from the menu in Beyond Media

3. Wait for it to finish (it works in the background and saves the files to a directory based on the DVD name

4. That's it. You can now use DVD Library to automatically add a poster, description and other information about the DVD.

Here's Peter's writeup on how to get it set up. While you are at Peters site, check out the rest of his website. He has some great information about his setup along with many screenshots.
My next step with this "plugin" is to come up with a way to add to the script so it will call up dvd2one or dvdshrink so it will also automatically compress the dvd files to a smaller size. So far I haven't had luck, but there is a thread on the subject at the snapstream forums here. If you have any ideas on this, let me know in the comments or on the snapstream forums.