“Grandpa, tell me again the way video worked in the old days. You know, back when you were a kid!”
The old man chuckled as he rocked the child on his withered knee. “Timmy, we didn’t call it video. It was television or TV.”
The child squirmed angrily. “Tell me, grandpa! Tell me about TV!”
“Alright, young pup. I’ve told this story so many times. I still can’t believe you want to hear it again …”
“I do! I do!” interrupted the child.
“… but here goes. The TV was a box we kept in a special room. Just like we usually keep the refrigerator in the kitchen.”
The kid nodded, indicating he understood the strange concept.
“Television wasn’t something you did at your computer. Or carry around in your pocket.” The old man pointed at the device held in tiny hands on which Timmy’s total attention was affixed.
“Sure, it took a minute for the TV to warm up. But once it did, you could turn a thing called a dial as fast as you wanted. Oh no. There were no remote controls back then. You had to earn it. The point is, if you listen, goddamn it, that the picture would change just as fast as you could turn that dial.”
The old man paused for dramatic effect.
“Back then,” he whispered conspiratorially, “there was not such thing as … loading.” He punctuated the sentence by spitting on the floor.
An angry female shout came from the other room. “Pops!! Cut that out.”
Gramps had to get in the last word. “Pah! That’s before you youngins came along with your so-called digital and ruined it all.”
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They say that the “computer” is passe.
They say that the thing we grew up with, a monitor, keyboard, mouse and CPU is old and busted.
They say it will give way to a next generation of handheld devices.
They can kiss my ass.
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Well, well, well. Netflix has had a busy week. First they announced they are raising their rates by 60%. In my humble opinion, in a single stroke, they went well out of their way to create ill will where previously there had been none.
Smooth move, Ex-lax. You just pissed off a lot of people and made them start thinking about taking their business elsewhere.
I don’t want to bury the lead (like I usually do) so I’ll interject this right now: Netflix has been down all day.
Worse, they advise you to visit a page on their website. When you do, they claim that their systems are completely operational and then tell me to call the company that make my Roku device.
“Don’t call us! Call that other company. You know, the company that makes it possible for us to run our business and deliver our primary product. Yeah, fuck them. We’re clever that way. Our Netflix scientists have discovered that pushing our problems onto innocent third parties seriously saves us a lot of money.”
Come to think of it, the Netflix service on the Roku has been sucking some majorly serious ass for a couple of months now. I’m talking about lots and lots of errors. Lots of little images that don’t load. Entire categories that remain blank and won’t let you select anything. And even when the system is working, the service is sluggish as hell, like when adding or removing a series from our instant queue. The refresh time is unbelievable.
Another problem: The streaming service almost never has the movies that we want.
The most recent example of this was yesterday we saw Jennifer Aniston on the Actor’s Studio. They mentioned a movie called The Good Girl. I’d never seen it. So we flipped on the Netflix, did a search and got nada. Another buttfucking courtesy of the Netflix. I think that is like ten searches in a row where search for streaming content has failed.
So what are the primary problems with Netflix right now:
- Useless “service status” accountability
- Buggy app on the Roku device
- Sluggish performance on the Roku device
- Streaming content library is underwhelming
- Downtime is becoming unacceptable (and they don’t compensate for this AFAIK)
And this is when they choose to raise prices? Wow.
I’ll say this. Until now I’ve been a loyal fan. I would have absorbed a $1/month rate increase without complaint. That would have been a 10 percent jump which is still pretty amazing in this economy and with an unemployment rate of 9.2%. I may not have graduated with a degree in business from Harvard, but something tells me the current economic climate may not be the best when it comes to jacking the rates on an entertainment product that competes for increasingly scarce disposable dollars in a budget that is shrinking or under threat in most households.
So today I explored the other channels on my Roku device. Unlike Netflix they all worked just fine. And I got to watch something extremely interesting and unusual.
By the way, if you want to find the status of the Netflix service, there is a way to do it even though Netflix provides none. Go to a website called “Down Right Now” which uses “crowd-powered service monitoring.” Sadly this a website like this fills an important niche as service providers fall woefully short.
I’m not quite ready to give Netflix my lowest possible rating but they had better watch it, because they are getting very close.
In the mornings, after I also gave up coffee, hot tea moved to the top of the list.
Each of those, iced tea and hot tea, both had something else in common, though. And that was my old nemesis granulated sugar.
When sugar got kicked to the curb, that was a major game changer.
Sure, it’s easy to give up soda when you’re poppin’ two tablespoons of sugar into your iced tea. And a basic cup of hot tea in the mornings made from a generic tea bag isn’t super-critical when you’ve had a lifelong love affair with sugar and rely on it to fight any bitterness in your brewing technique.
Now I almost never drink iced tea, although occasionally with a bit of lemon it can be quite good if I get lucky in a restaurant.
Mornings are rougher. My hot tea without sugar is so bitter that it is often borderline undrinkable. And in the mornings I really crave a hot drink.
That’s when I learned I was doing it all wrong. So says the following video I found on my Roku and the free CHOW channel.
I’m starting to wonder if my Roku is going to spawn a trilogy of posts. Perhaps. Since we’ve owned one for a while now, I wish to offer a mini-review and some additional thoughts regarding our impressions so far. The first post was called Roku – A New Hope. To keep things in order, I guess this post would have to unofficially be called The Roku Strikes Back. It remains unclear at this time if the third and final installment will feature the word “return” or “revenge.” I’m still not quite sure how this story ends.
Meet the Roku. A little device that is one inch tall and less than five inches wide. It sits next to your television and home stereo and streams video and music from an internet connection to your home theater.
The Roku doesn’t have its own internal storage. Its function is to “stream” content from an internet connection. It can make use of your home’s Wi-Fi or can be connected with a standard Ethernet cable.
The Roku is currently offered in three flavors. All can provide video in standard and high definition (up to 720p), the ability to use Wi-Fi and Ethernet, remote control, and support HDMI video output.
The Roku HD is the base model at $59.99.
The Roku XD is $79.99 and adds an “enhanced” remote control, high definition video up to 1080p, and extended range wireless.
The Roku XD|S is $99.99 and adds a USB port, additional video and optical outputs, and “dual-band wireless technology,” whatever that is.
You can view a chart comparing the various models on the official Roku web site.
The three models of Roku listed above can all be purchased directly from the Roku web site.
A version of the Roku can also be purchased in select stores like Best Buy. Be advised, however, that the Roku found at Best Buy is just a little bit different. It is branded as a “NETGEAR Roku XD Player” and costs $99.99. This is the equivalent of the Roku XD player listed above which can be purchased online for only $79.99 and without the crappy NETGEAR branding. My advice: Save yourself the $20 for the same unit by shopping online. Or, if you want to spend $99.99, then you might as well upgrade to the Roku XD|S for the same price. I think it’s a rip off to buy the NETGEAR version in stores. And, in my opinion, NETGEAR is not anything I want near my electronics. I’ve had horrible experiences with their products.
We don’t have an HD television since our Panasonic 42″ plasma died just out of warranty and we were told it would cost $600 to fix. So from the back of the Roku to our television we used a yellow RCA cable for the “composite” connection. This isn’t quite as good as HD but it still provides a signal that looks just as good as standard cable. For the audio a set of red/white RCA cables went to an input on our home stereo receiver.
The thing that worried me the most about buying a Roku was the setup. I’m not very technical. When you power up the Roku the first thing you see is a boot screen, just like your home PC. Then a welcome page which promises that your Roku will be up and running in only three minutes. This turns out to be a little bit of a falsehood since your Roku will perform an update and reboot. After the reboot the welcome screen has changed its mind and now says it will take five minutes. That’s a little more accurate.
After the update, if using Wi-Fi, the Roku displays the wireless connections it has found. I’m still not sure I picked the right one, since there were two listed that had the same name as my Wi-Fi router. I picked the first one listed and it all seems to have worked out.
To use your Roku you’ll have to go to Roku.com and create a free account that is used to connect your Roku to various channels like Pandora, Netflix, Hulu Plus, and others. After you’ve created this account, you enter a code displayed on your TV screen. That’s it. You’re done with setup.
If you want to add additional paid services, you’ll repeat this process with a code that you’ll enter on that service’s web site. If you want Pandora the Roku will give you a code that you enter on the Pandora web site.
We were listening to Pandora in just about five minutes from the initial boot. Netflix was also added right away and worked like a charm.
There are lots of free channels to choose from and we’ve had fun exploring them. No doubt that much of this content is most likely already on the internet and available on your PC, but this was on our TV while sitting on our asses on the sofa. That made it seem like more fun.
On the “My Damn Channel” we found Cookin’ with Coolio, a “ghetto witchdoctor superstar chef.” It was pretty funny but he doesn’t seem to make caprise salad that looks quite the same as my wife makes.
We also found something called The Kevin Pollack Chat Show. There were a bunch of episodes (most almost two hours long) featuring the comic interviewing big name celebrities. The one with Andy Richter starts with Pollack doing a Dr. Seuss poem as Christopher Walken. It was pretty hilarious.
I’ve also found other content like lectures from professors at Harvard and Yale. Those are pretty neat. I’ve been attending Introduction to Ancient Greek History and hope to award myself an unofficial Ph.D. very soon. After that you’ll all be required to call me Doctor Shouts.
Stuff That Is Good
- Easy setup
- Good value
- Pandora has never skipped
- Netflix works great
- Free channels are fun to explore
Stuff That Isn’t So Good
Overall I really like the Roku and think it is a good value. Everything has pros and cons and here’s a few impressions regarding what might not be so good.
- Freezes – If you’ve ever owned or worked with a router, you are likely already aware of this type of thing. We’ve had our Roku about three weeks and it has frozen about five times. That’s an average of more than once a week, and I personally don’t think that’s a very good record. Even worse, one of the most annoying things a piece of electronics can ever do, is that you are forced to get off your lazy ass, walk over to the unit, pull it off the shelf, and physically remove the power cord. There is no button for restart or even an on/off switch – just like most routers I’ve ever seen. I’m glad the Roku programmers have the hubris to think their software is so perfect and too good for such menial things like switches, but the reality is, their shit can crash. It is annoying as a motherfucker. These seem to happen most when exploring free channels, so maybe flaky servers are the problem. Maybe they should have better error handling? I don’t know how the stuff inside a Roku works. I just know I absolutely friggin’ hate having to unplug the power cord to get a frozen device to restart. Period. This is unconscionable and unacceptable.
- Reboots – So there we are, watching an episode of Heroes on Hulu Plus, when the screen freezes for no reason at all. We try the remote control and get no response. We decide to give it a minute and then the screen goes blank and a moment later the Roku boot screen is displayed. Our Roku just rebooted right in the middle of a show. Not quite as annoying as a total freeze, but come on! What the hell? And after the restart the Roku did not remember our position in the show.
- Wi-Fi – For us, the wireless has worked very well with our Roku. I’d rate it far superior to something like Charter Communication’s “On Demand” service which has always been glitchy for us. But it seems like that always isn’t the case. We liked the Roku so much we bought one for our aunt as a Christmas present. She also has Wi-Fi which is provided by her landlord. Her distance to the Wi-Fi is greater than ours. She called last night and the Roku simply can’t handle it. Her computer works with the Wi-Fi internet connection but the Roku won’t even complete the setup process. For us, we’ve also experienced maybe two pauses during streaming, but I’m not sure if I can blame the Roku for those. They might have been caused by garden variety internet lag.
- Best Buy – Again, unless you like paying $20 for nothing, I recommend you don’t buy the unit at Best Buy. Get the equivalent unit online for $20 less. They say a Best Buy customer is born every minute. Don’t be that person.
- Remote Control – The response from the remote doesn’t feel very tactile. There is a bit of lag like it’s thinking about what to do about you just pushed. Not the end of the world but it is a bit annoying and disconcerting.
So, after three weeks of use, I give the Roku 4.5 out of 5 stars*. The only deduction coming from those damn freezes and the lack of button and/or power switch. That’s good enough for us to return our “On Demand” box to Charter. Yeah!
This morning the Roku froze up – again! I wanted to listen to some Pandora while I made breakfast and did the dishes. The unit appeared to be working fine but no music would play. (I could still hear the beeps when using the remote control.) Thinking the problem might be Pandora I tried a different channel. The channel never loaded and I was forced to power off the damn thing with the power cord. Argh!
Perhaps the Roku isn’t quite ready for primetime. Depending on the severity of this sort of problem I think my initial rating was a skosh too high. I’m now giving it 4 out of 5 stars. Still pretty good but not perfect. It basically plays, most of the time, Pandora and Netflix, which is all I really wanted. I’m not so sure if it is reliable enough the rest of the time.
To help get into the spirit of the New Year celebrations, I asked Mrs. Abyss to highlight a few of her favorite blog posts of mine from 2010. You know, one of those ubiquitous “Year in Review” type of deals. This is what she came up with…
Mr. Abyss must really love me. He actually entrusted me to choose my favorite Abyss blog posts of 2010. Me! His harshest critic and fierce foe of his negativity bull crap. The task was actually much harder then I had imagined. I figured there may be one, possibly two posts I would ever consider worthy of additional praise; however I ended up with well over 30 Abyss-mal rantings that made me really laugh. It was tough, but I narrowed it down to 15.
#1. My favorite rantings are about gerbils. I personally think Abyss could start a blog strictly based on gerbil activity and FENS. As angry as I get about my son and his son, Tom’s take on our kids helps me to heal. If you are new to Abyss’s gerbil posts, I urge to search them out. They are funny, informative and terribly accurate. If you have your own gerbil at home and suffer from FENS, you are not alone!
#2. Ah, here is a classic! Abyss is always searching for a way to feel superior to every other human on Earth and his search is over. He did drop his status some by later giving up vegetarianism. Guess he’s not as quite as perfect as he thought?!
Post: Intelligence is a beach
#3. Tom told me to choose my favorite posts from his blog and I certainly picked this one right. His mistake in asking me to do this? He didn’t say the post had to be written by himself. Here’s one of my favs written by me! Why is it my favorite? Because it’s an accurate representation of one of my favorite people in the whole world… Mr. Abyss.
Post: Ode to Mr. Abyss
#4. I’m not much for Tom’s posts about his work woes. I hate whiny, poor me, my life is so pathetic rantings, however, I love this one because I can relate to it. Sadly, I think most of us can. Most bosses are A-1 assholes. Of all the asshole bosses I have ever had, none can compare to the one Tom had up until recently. This guy was not only a horrible excuse for a human, a loathsome liar and master manipulator; he was a also a world class fake Christian to the core.
#5. Simply one of Tom’s best creations!
#6. I was a vegetarian before Tom posted this, however it really helped confirm that I made the right decision. A co-worker of mine refuses to eat anything with a beak. “I only eat beef, chickens and other winged birds that eat off the ground, and it’s totally disgusting.” Guess what honey? Cows go cluck!
#7. This one just made me giggle.
#8. What’s worse then a human dressed as a mattress? A tweaker dressed as the Statue of Liberty holding a sign for a tax business that just fell off his skateboard that rolled into a lane of traffic. Yes, I’ve seen that.
#9. I know, too much gerbil jargon, but this mystery is still unsolved!
#10. I once worked for an orthopedic surgeon. A small bathroom was attached to our break room and it had extremely thin walls. Said surgeon would waltz into the bathroom, do his biz and walk right out. We could hear everything; from the zip of his zipper to a guess of what he had for dinner the previous night. Every single time there was one thing we NEVER heard… the sound of the surgeon washing his hands.
#11. Poop. Need I say anything more?
#12. Pretty sure there’s some law somewhere that says if a marriage is not consummated on the wedding night, the union is null and void. 48 hours of hiccups equals, well, no consummating. Finally a way out!!!!
#13. My all time favorite. If you really want to delve into Abyss’s mind, it’s all spelled out here.
#14. The best day of my life; Tom finally saying, “Fair thee well and fuck off you fucking fuckers.”
#15. Dear Charter, I was going to drop off our cable box today but I forgot that I have to have a valid driver’s license so that you can confirm I am me and that I am there to discuss my own account, you know, the one that I pay you for. Since your pathetic puss bag of an employee talked me into setting up an account with a fake name, I can’t do that now. It’s ok though. I have called your puss bag employee to come pick it up himself. Charter…. fuck you asshole.
Post: Roku – A New Hope
Ever since we added a Roku to our family, life has been pretty good. (But still negative, mind you! Don’t get too carried away!)
But there was still one little fly in the ointment…
The Roku was wired up to display a picture on our TV and the audio through our home stereo. Finally, Pandora through the big speakers and it sounded good.
Our state-of-the-art home theater system features a Sony receiver my wife cleverly picked up at a yard sale for only $5. That has got to be one of the best bargains we’ve ever seen.
But it did not come with a remote control.
So there I was, enjoying my Roku and living the good life with 42 different remote controls – and no way to remotely control the volume on my home theater! It was agonizing torture of the worst possible kind.
See, the Roku* isn’t perfect. One of its problems is that one channel will be quiet as a mouse, so you’ll haul your lard ass out of the comfy chair and adjust the volume way up. Then, when you switch to another channel, suddenly your head is blown off and the wife is yelling at you (even though you can’t hear what she’s saying).
I started to develop channel switching phobia due to this phenomenon. The volume level would sometimes change dramatically even while on the same station. Pandora even has the problem.
Apparently, as a civilization, we have yet to master the technology to make our devices work properly. That isn’t a component of the Information Age. I have dubbed the next age, assumed to be inevitable, as the Volume Equalization Age. Personally I can’t wait.
Anyway, you can easily imagine the living hell on Earth where I found myself stuck. I was literally forced to get out of my chair all the time just to make volume adjustments. Physically touching the home theater system was simply distasteful. The situation was unacceptable. And I was dangerously close to burning an actual calorie or two. Something had to be done.
I began to tell friends and family about my plight. I was hoping against all odds that one of them would put it all together and get me a universal remote that could control the volume level on my home stereo. It could happen, right?
Birthday came and went. No remote. Then Christmas itself came and went. No remote.
It was the most helpless feeling in the world.
And then, the miracle happened…
For some odd reason I actually stopped and looked at the remote controls I already owned, all 42 of them. The one we used to control the TV had lots of buttons. I squinted and tried to read some of the tiny print on buttons that were never used. Lo and behold, guess what? One of them said “Receiver” on it! What the hell?
I looked on the back. It had a web site! I sprinted to the computer. Conversation in the house paused as all watched me with a growing sense of dread. I never move that fast. The computer was already on and actually worked. Two more miracles! This was getting good. I punched in the web site and it actually loaded. Miracle number four!
Long story short, the web site gave me a four-digit code that I punched into my little remote control. I dashed back to the living room and gave it a test. It worked! It worked! It worked!
It was a true Christmas miracle!
It turns out that the answer to remaining the laziest human that ever existing was literally in my hands the entire time. It breaks my heart to think of the two years wasted getting up to adjust the volume when the answer was right there, within my grasp. Pathetic, really.
Now you can add me to the list of the true believers in the miracles of Christmas!
* Roku Glitches We’ve Seen So Far
- Volume levels are not consistent
- Some channels have long loading times
- Just like most routers I’ve ever seen, there is no “on/off” switch
- The unit has crashed twice requiring reboot by reaching behind and unplugging the power cord (again, just like most routers I’ve ever seen)