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How Netflix Made Watching TV Like Reading a Novel

Thursday, April 10th, 2014 - by Allen Mitchum

netflix_television

Comparing watching television to reading a book sounds ridiculous. Especially to those of us raised in a world where TV watchers are derided as couch potatoes and reading is deemed an enlightened activity. So I’m prepared for bibliophiles and even casual readers will take issue with the title of this post. But technology advancements and the improved sophistication and structure in television programming has turned watching TV into an experience very similar to reading a novel.

As an avid reader and author, it took me a while to fully appreciate this new phenomenon, though I’ve fully embraced it now as a regular video content consumer (see, Justified and Breaking Bad). In other words, I have, finally given into binge watching – the practice of consuming numerous episodes of a TV show in a short period of time. An activity that was once ridiculed, binge watching is now a social norm.

There are four primary factors for the rapid change in the consumption and format of TV programming that led to it resembling a live action novel. Each occurred independently, but combined, created the conditions necessary to set in motion the evolution:

(1) high speed internet made the distribution of large video files relatively easy;

(2) services like Netflix secured licensing deals for TV programs and then efficiently and conveniently allowed users to access the content on their schedule, for their chosen duration and at their preferred location;

(3) an increase in the sophistication of TV programs, which has created a “golden age of television” that is supplanting film as the preferred visual entertainment for adults; and

(4) TV shows transitioning to a chapter format more similar to a novel where individual shows need to be watched in order

These factors have combined to make watching TV an experience increasingly similar to reading a novel. TV viewers no longer need to wait weeks or months to watch the next installment of their favorite program. They can continue onto the next episode (i.e. a chapter) at their leisure and convenience. “Binge reading” is a luxury that readers have enjoyed for centuries. Technology now enables TV viewers to do the same.

Taking this transition to the next level was the switch to a chapter format for TV programming, which is almost the norm in today’s most acclaimed dramas and even some comedies. Consider the contrast with Law & Order, or one of my favorite shows, Magnum PI. Those types of shows were designed for episodes to be watched in isolation and out of order without affecting the viewers experience. Each installment is effectively a short story. That’s not the case with much of today’s programming, which are structured like novels, with each episode in a season equivalent to an individual chapter. You can’t watch Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones out of order. Even the Sopranos would be difficult as each season has a running theme that infiltrates each episode. Just as picking up a copy of The Firm and reading random chapters wouldn’t make sense, the same applies to shows like Breaking Bad.

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16 Protest Photos: A World in Chaos

Thursday, February 20th, 2014 - by Becky Graebner

Kiev in in flames and Caracas is rioting.

Here are some pictures from protests happening around the world via Instagram.

Change is in the air.

KIEV

#euromaidan #kiev #ukraine

#euromaidan #kiev

#euromaidan #kiev #ukraine

#euromaidan

#wakeupamerica #kiev #euromaidan

My American Instagram followers can suck it if they don't like what they see #euromaidan #kiev #ukraine

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7 Must-Follow Animal Accounts on Instagram

Saturday, February 15th, 2014 - by Becky Graebner

Having a bad day?  Need something to make you smile or chuckle?  Love animals?

Instagram has become my new source for “cuteness.”  Here are some of the cutest “must-follow” animals on Instagram.   Check them out and enjoy!

1. Biddy the Hedgehog

Instagram Account Name: biddythehedgehog

Watch Biddy explore the world, take a bubble bath, or run his hilarious little hedgehog butt through leaves and grass. I really want a hedgehog now…

I was looking exceptionally cute so I asked for a closeup of me on the pumpkin! #biddythehedgehog #cutehog

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Netflix’s House of Cards, Season 1: Becky Graebner’s Guide

Thursday, February 13th, 2014 - by Becky Graebner

Editor’s Note: Spend your Valentine’s Day with Frank Underwood! Catch up on Netflix’s House of Cards with this collection of articles Washington D.C.-based Becky Graebner wrote analyzing the first season, concluding with her predictions of the highly-anticipated season 2 that becomes available on February 14.

Here’s a table of contents for the nine articles Becky wrote last summer and her season 2 preview from January; jump to the ones that interest you or just dive in from the beginning in this 9000-word collection:

Part 1:  3 Washington D.C. Stereotypes House of Cards Hits Too Close for Comfort

Part 2:  The House of Cards Vision of Infidelity: More Fact than Fiction

Part 3:  Seduce Your Way to the Top? Meet the Anne Boleyns of Washington, D.C.

Part 4:  Why We Love to Hate Politicians

Part 5: Can Evil Sometimes Be Good?

Part 6: A Cast of Master Obfuscators

Part 7:  4 Reasons Why Netflix’s House of Cards Is Such a Hit

Part 8: Real Life Lessons We Learned From Watching Fictional House of Cards

Part 9: Forecast for House of Cards Season 2: Stormy with a Chance of Homicide

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Forecast for House of Cards Season 2: Stormy with a Chance of Homicide

Saturday, January 25th, 2014 - by Becky Graebner

Remember House of Cards? Well, lucky fans, season 2 will premiere on Netflix on Valentine’s Day 2014. I know, such a sweet holiday for such a sweet show! *Snort*

You may recall that I closed my series on season 1 with a few predictions for season 2. (Click here to read the original article.) After watching the trailer for the upcoming season, I  decided that I needed to make a few more. Like season 1, season 2 is going to be brutal and people are likely to get whacked by the Underwood Power machine. I decided to take a leaf out of Beatrix Kiddo’s book and write my own “Death List Five” for season 2.  My “Death List” is composed of the characters that, in my opinion, are most likely to end up dead by the final episode.  I am open to suggestions.

Becky’s Death List Five:

1. AN ANNOYING OBSTACLE: Mr. Raymond Tusk

After watching the trailer, it looks like this man is going to find himself in Frank’s cross-hairs.  Nobody comes between Frank and power.

Being BFFs with the President might make him seem untouchable, but nobody says “no” to Doug Stamper… there might be an unfortunate chain-saw accident on Tusk’s property.  You just never know…

2. KARMA SUCKS: Zoe Barnes

One of my fellow, HoC watchers submitted Zoe as a possible dead body for season 2.  They argued that “there was no way she could walk away from Frank (alive) after being in so deep.”

I could be persuaded to agree.

3. NICE BUT NOT A PIVOTAL CHARACTER: Lucas Goodwin

Lucas is a likable character, but with Janine as Zoe’s other sounding board and accomplice in “Operation Sink Underwood,” it wouldn’t be too upsetting to the plot if Lucas kicked the bucket. We all know the writers like to keep things interesting…

Would Zoe even bat an eyelash? Meh, maybe.

4. DANGEROUS WITH A PEN: Janine Skorsky

I think Janine is fairly likely to die because she is a) a nosy, outspoken journalist, b) already on Stamper’s radar, and c) underestimates the bad guys she is trying to expose.

Stamper and Underwood wouldn’t allow her to live long enough to write a juicy, tell-all story…

5.  LOOSE ENDS GET SNIPPED: Rachel Posner

Of all the characters, I think Rachel is the most likely to end up dead.  The trailer shows Rachel brandishing a butcher knife in front of Stamper (or, at least, it looks like Rachel). This might be a sneak peek of Rachel’s demise. Rachel is what Stamper calls “a loose end”–and we all know Stamper’s track record when it comes to cleaning up loose ends…

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5 Dogs on Youtube Who Really Need to Get it Together

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014 - by PJ Lifestyle Cute Animal Videos

As introduced and curated today by PJ Lifestyle contributor Becky Graebner:

1. Poncho the Dachshund who decided to go into the “family business” and become a hot dog

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Hackers Take Down Major Gaming Servers As They Hunt Down Pro-Gamer

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013 - by Paula Bolyard
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[LANGUAGE WARNING]

James Varga, a 25-year-old professional gamer who goes by the screenname of PhantomLOrd, had quite an interesting day on Monday. What started out as a normal day (normal for a pro-gamer) would take a sudden turn into a dramatic cat-and-mouse game with the Derp hacker group and end with police and pizza delivery men swarming his L.A. area home.

James “PhantomL0rd” Varga gets paid to play video games — and apparently he’s quite good at them, including League of Legends, one of the most popular games on the internet. He often plays on Twitch.tv, a streaming service that allows gamers to share their experience live with others. According to Varga, he was achieving an unusually high score in League of Legends (LoL) on Monday when the server went down. He switched to another game with the same result. And then another. Eventually he figured out that the Derp hacking group was following him from game to game and not only knocking him off the sites, but also shutting down the games for all other players worldwide.

David Birti, a computer science student a Cedarville University, explained what happened:

Derp is a hacking collective that started out taking down small private game servers, but has recently moved on to much bigger targets. Starting on Monday, they claim to have taken down League of Legends and EVE Online (the two most-played games in the world), along with EA.com, Club Penguin, KCNA (a North Korean news agency), World of Tanks, Guild Wars 2, a private high school’s website, Runescape, and a Westboro Baptist Church site; all of this was done “for the lulz” (just for fun).

They accomplished this using a distributed denial of service attack (DDOS), which can take down servers for short periods of time by flooding them with nonsense traffic. This is usually accomplished with a botnet, which is a group of normal computers that are under the attacker’s control (usually via a virus). Since there are so many computers contributing to the flood, blocking all of them is infeasible. The larger a target is, the larger a botnet needs to be to take it down. And judging from the high-profile targets they’ve taken out, their botnet is undoubtedly very large.

Throughout the DDOS attacks Varga made several attempts to contact Derp representatives through online chat rooms. At one point Varga said, “The whole server is depending on us winning this game.” Reddit documented the entire drama, including screenshots of the chats. At one point Varga’s personal information was posted on the gaming sites — called DOXing — and pizzas started to arrive at his house.

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Meme of the Day

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013 - by Stephen Green

****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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How to Kill Internet Piracy

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013 - by Stephen Green

TUBEFLIX

Maybe the Germans have a word for something which amazes you without shocking you.

The end of the report also stuck out:

Meanwhile, file sharing continued emaciating on many fixed-access networks as streaming video options like Netflix, YouTube, and others proliferate.

File sharing now accounts for less than 10 percent of total daily traffic in North America, down from the more than 60 percent it netted in Sandvine’s first Global Internet Phenomena Report released more than 10 years ago.

Five years ago, it accounted for more than 31 percent.

So it turns out, if you make movies and TV shows readily and easily available at a decent price, people don’t pirate them nearly so much.

Go figure.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Why You Should Give Yourself A Cable-Free Life For Christmas: Go Roku

Sunday, October 27th, 2013 - by Rhonda Robinson

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For most of our adult lives, television at the Robinson household consisted of a large antenna in the attic. We jokingly called it “farm vision.” Then we did what all old people do when their children are grown–we moved into town. I really enjoyed the luxury of cable–that is for about two years. Then I started to feel a bit cheated.

This past year forced us to reevaluate almost every aspect of our lives: our health, our lifestyle and our spending habits. When assessing the cost of cable, and the value it brings–cutting it was a no-brainer.

However, my husband and I both have favorite programs we enjoy. I’m not going to lie, as an information-junkie, my withdrawals from news and commentary hit fairly hard.

We’ve had AppleTV, and enjoyed streaming Netflix and routinely mirrored videos or live streaming church services or breaking news. But it really doesn’t offer a whole lot more than what’s on your computer or iPad.

Enter Roku.

Pronounced Row-Koo. If you’re considering Apple TV as an alternative to cable or DVD rentals checkout Roku first.

Roku is a little black device about the size of the palm of your hand and it streams Internet “channels” to your television. Roku comes loaded with access to over 1000 channels.

It’s a mixed bag of hundreds of free content and paid subscriptions. The best part about it, is you can add the channels you want and you’re not forced to weed through hundreds of channels to get to the couple you prefer. You can get Netflix, Hulu Plus, VUDU, Amazon Instant Video, PBS, The Blaze and Fox News. There are no fees connected with the device itself after the initial purchase. You will have to have wi-fi of course, as it is a streaming device.

Roku currently offers four different devices starting at $49.99. You can add a few bells and whistles at a time.

Currently, we have a yearly subscription to Amazon Prime, and are in the process of comparing Redbox (which offers four DVDs and unlimited streaming for $8.00 monthly) and Netflix. The subscriptions or combination you choose all depend on your viewing habits.

We have enjoyed the ability to watch entire seasons of television shows, watching episodes back to back without commercial interruption. Who cares if they are last year’s season–I’m no longer subjected to ED commercials or dating sites no matter how late we stay up.

You now have several options.

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Will Netflix Beat HBO?

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013 - by Stephen Green

FLIX

That’s from Derek Thompson who asks, “How long can Netflix’s amazing run last?

But I think that’s the wrong question.

The right question might be, Why is HBO’s subscriber base nearly static?

HBO has seen Netflix grow and grow, yet have clung to their same old model. There was some brief excitement here at Casa Verde when they announced HBO Go, but the excitement quickly subsided when we found out it’s a “halfway pregnant” effort. Even at that HBO Go is available only to existing cable subscribers. Their growth model is… well, it’s there on the chart.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Beating Present Shock: 5 Secrets To Survive 21st Century Technology Overdose (Part II)

Friday, October 4th, 2013 - by Chris Yogerst

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Click here for the first two tips in Part I of this 2-part review.

3. Overwinding

This chapter in Rushkoff’s book is perfectly subtitled “the short forever.” In the previous section I gave my own personal example of trying to get everything accomplished in an unrealistically short amount of time. When we try to accomplish such impossible tasks we fall victim to another form of Present Shock.

This weight on every action – this highly leveraged sense of the moment – hints at another form of present shock that is operating in more ways and places than we may suspect. We’ll call this temporal compression overwinding – the effort to squish really big timescales into much smaller or nonexistent ones.

We’ve seen this regularly, and most of us suffer or have suffered from overwinding. A great example is how cleaning out your inbox can give you a “clean feeling.” However, how important is this really? Is it worth the time spent? And what are we actually cleaning? Most working professionals get enough legitimate email and junk messages to spend all day, every day dealing only with email. The problem is that email is a communication tool and most of us have jobs that require actions outside of the email loop. To fight overwinding, spend a minimal amount of time in your inbox. Reply to what needs attention, ignore the rest and get on with your day.

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Beating Present Shock: 5 Secrets To Survive 21st Century Technology Overdose (Part I)

Friday, September 27th, 2013 - by Chris Yogerst

PresentShockcover

Do you understand how media works? If not, it might control you. Media theorist Douglas Rushkoff’s last book, Program or Be Programmed, took on this question about media and our comprehension of it. Without a working knowledge of how information systems work, Rushkoff argues, we run the risk of being easily duped. This is a common problem and one that is easily battled with a drive towards media literacy, something I teach my students about in undergraduate mass communication courses. The battle does not end here, however, because even if we have a strong grasp of media systems we are not immune to yet another pitfall.

Present Shock.

Just about everyone has come across it, even if you don’t quite know what it is. That feeling you get when you sense there is never enough time and obligations are coming at you from every direction… that’s a piece of it. The good thing is we can fight back and Rushkoff has the tools we need to take control of our lives. In his latest book, Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now, Rushkoff addresses the problem with our “always-on” digital universe. Without a doubt, technology can lead to intellectual and psychological illness, usually in terms of addiction that can ultimately become destructive to every aspect of our life.

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It’s Not Porn, It’s HBO!

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

daddysmoney

HBO CEO Richard Plepler is thoroughly amused at the fact that his network’s original programming can be so easily misconstrued as pornography.

No, the laughs didn’t come at a Porn Addicts Anonymous meeting. Rather, it was a blip on the Internet’s radar along with the short that garnered the remark and a few million hits to boot. (It’s so NSFW I’ve elected not to embed the actual video — you can find it here.)

According to Plepler, the video showing a series of actors detailing the parts they landed to family and friends who immediately (and ashamedly) assume they’ve been cast in porn films (until the actors explain, “No, it’s HBO!” to unfolding declarations of “I’m so proud of you!”) is good PR:

The HBO CEO said these sort of videos and spoofs prove that the network and their shows have become part of the “global conversation.” Instead of taking offense to the clip, Plepler seems to think the spoof is a great deal of fun.

“If you’re on ‘Saturday Night Live’ or parodied on Facebook you know you’re part of the cultural landscape. The guys who did this did great work. I laughed. I take it in the same manner in which it was intended, with a lot of humor,” the CEO explained.

Some might call Plepler’s reaction refreshingly open, in which case he’d share a title with one of HBO’s newest additions to the “global conversation” about mainstreamed porn. Described as ”multicharacter exploration of the complex, ever evolving landscape of sexuality, monogamy and intimacy in relationships,” Open is slated to premiere in 2014. No news yet on any planned SNL spoofs that will garner hits on Facebook.

The real story in the porn spoof is that Plepler’s comments barely made press. Why? Since its launch in 1975, HBO has generated original programming “featuring high amounts of profanity, violence and nudity” to draw an audience of premium payers. The kids of those original payers are now parents happily buying Victoria’s Secret undies for their tweens because, let’s face it, “no one wants to be the girl with the ugly underwear.”

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5 Smart Comedies You Haven’t Seen on Netflix

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013 - by Kyle Smith

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Feel like kicking back with a laffer tonight? Thanks to Netflix streaming, there is a bewildering array of mediocrity available at your fingertips, and you’ve already seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Back to School and 48 Hrs. But in the rubbish pile there are lots of hidden gems. Here are a few of my favorite on-demand Netflix comedies. Just don’t let your thumb slip and exactly dial up Kathy Griffin: Tired Hooker.

1) Bernie (2012)

Tamping down his usual crazy-man instincts, Jack Black is brilliant as the title figure, a strangely polite, perfectionist funeral-home director who becomes a civic treasure in his small Texas town. Black gets across the sense of another personality hidden below the surface as Bernie becomes an almost slavish associate of a wealthy but exasperatingly demanding widow (Shirley MacLaine, who is perfectly obnoxious). Eventually he can’t stand her demands any more, and murders her. What happens next, as retold by an incredulous D.A. (Matthew McConaughey, also very funny) on Bernie’s trail, is even more bizarre. Full of fond Texas touches, this true story has to be seen to be believed.

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Media Piracy Cannot Be Rationalized

Saturday, August 17th, 2013 - by Walter Hudson
Is pirating a pirate movie really pirating?

Is pirating a pirate movie really pirating?

Every kid wants to be a pirate at some point. While sailing tall ships around the Caribbean on a quest for buried treasure remains an elusive fantasy, modern pirates take a less romantic form.

Based on reaction to a recent piece by PJ Media’s Susan L.M. Goldberg, it seems many of you – our dear readers — sail the digital seas looting movies, television, and music. To many, the suggestion by Goldberg that such activity might have economic consequences proved deeply offensive. One of the top-rated comments reads:

Quoting the RIAA [Record Industry Association of America] about piracy is like quoting the Mexican Cartel on the dangers of drug legalization. The dubious study RIAA cites assumes that all piracy are lost sales, for which there is simply no evidence.

And there is a lot to the concept that pirated copies lead to sales of legitimate copies and related merchandize. Certainly, there are studies that show that free downloads and DRM free products lead to more sales such as this one.

But mostly I don’t think you understand fully understand the tradeoffs, excessive zeal to stop piracy can annoy one’s legitimate customers.

Considering such arguments reminded me of a guy I know who spent years amassing piles of pirated DVDs by making copies of discs rented from Netflix. We’ll call him “Guy” for the sake of discussion. He obtained the requisite software with ease, available free on the internet, and set off to build a library of titles he wanted to watch but didn’t want to pay for.

Guy knew that what he was doing was illegal, briefly deterred as he was by those menacing FBI warnings displayed before each feature presentation. He felt pangs of conscience, but consoled himself with a number of convenient rationalizations.

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Game of Downloads: HBO’s Bad Spin on Media Piracy

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Brace Yourself

According to Time Warner CEO Alan Bewkes,

…if you go to people who are watching it without [subscriptions], it’s a tremendous word-of-mouth thing. …We’ve been dealing with this for 20, 30 years—people sharing  [subscriptions], running wires down the backs of apartment buildings. Our experience is that it leads to more paying  [subscriptions]. I think you’re right that Game of Thrones is the most pirated show in the world. That’s better than an Emmy.

Bewkes’s comment took the media world by surprise. A corporate CEO actually cheering on illegal downloading? Where’s Napster when you need it?

Bewkes isn’t the only exec praising media piracy:

In April, HBO programming chief Michael Lombardo said that “piracy” should be taken as a compliment. “I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but it is a compliment of sorts. The demand is there. And it certainly didn’t negatively impact the DVD sales. [Piracy is] something that comes along with having a wildly successful show on a subscription network.”

A compliment? Possibly. But piracy isn’t exactly the economic boon these execs would lead you to believe. According to the Record Industry Association of America:

One credible analysis by the Institute for Policy Innovation concludes that global music piracy causes $12.5 billion of economic losses every year, 71,060 U.S. jobs lost, a loss of $2.7 billion in workers’ earnings, and a loss of $422 million in tax revenues, $291 million in personal income tax and $131 million in lost corporate income and production taxes.

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Pioneer Elite SC-75 Home Theater Receiver Review

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013 - by Ed Driscoll

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I distinctly remember two mile markers on the road to my obsession with home theater. The first was a 1987 article in Billboard magazine exploring the continuing popularity, against all odds, of the 12-inch laser disc format with movie collectors. The article mentioned an obscure California firm called “The Criterion Collection” that was selling Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey in something called a “letterboxed” format, which would allow seeing the entire frame of those magnificently photographed widescreen movies on a home television set, instead of the “panned and scanned” version, which cut off the sides of the frame. It also mentioned the superiority of the laser disc format compared to fuzzy VHS tapes, and that laser disc allowed for such ancillary items as directors’ commentaries on auxiliary audio channels, behind the scenes still photos, trailers, deleted scenes, and other fun pieces of memorabilia.

This sounded pretty darn awesome. Shortly thereafter, I purchased my first laser disc player, the predecessor to the DVD, which wouldn’t arrive in stores for another decade. At its best, the picture and sound quality of laser discs blew VHS away, and I was quickly hooked. Particularly when I stumbled over a nearby video store that rented laser discs.

The second mile maker arrived two years later. That’s when I walked out of the B. Dalton Bookstore in New Jersey’s Burlington Mall holding a copy of the second issue of Audio/Video Interiors, the magazine that put the words “home theater” on the map. It was essentially Architectural Digest meets Stereo Review, with photo layout after photo layout filled with sophisticated audio and video components beautifully photographed in stunning home settings, including some of the first dedicated home theaters that were designed to look like the classic movie palaces of the 1930s, such as Theo Kalomirakis’ Roxy Theater, a knockout design built in the basement of his Brooklyn Brownstone. (Kalomirakis would go on to make a living as a home theater designer, producing works for extremely well-heeled clients that make his initial Roxy look positively modest by comparison.)

I gravitated more to the media rooms the magazine featured than the dedicated home theaters. Media rooms were rooms designed for a variety of media consumption — music, TV, movies, concert videos, with the electronics tastefully combined into some of sort attractive cabinetry or hidden into the wall. Maybe because my father had a custom built-in unit installed in his basement in 1969 to house his stereo equipment and a small portion of his enormous (3000+) collection of jazz and big band records. Adding video and surround sound to that concept seemed like a natural to me.

I’ve kept most of the issues from Audio/Video Interiors’ initial run; I was immensely proud to have written a few articles for the magazine in the late 1990s. In retrospect, it’s fun to look back at the first issues of AVI, and realize how much technology has progressed since then. HD video replaced “Never Twice the Same Color” low-def analog TV. VHS is all but extinct. Dolby Pro-Logic, the first consumer surround sound format has been upgraded to first Dolby 5.1 and now Dolby 7.1 and beyond. CDs have been rendered increasingly anathema, particularly for casual listening, by MP3s. The laser disc was replaced 15 years ago by the DVD, which has now been supplanted by Blu-Ray, and increasingly, by streaming high-definition movies, such as those offered by Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.

Welcome to 2013

Apologies for burying the lede, but this brings us to one of Pioneer’s newest A/V receivers, the Pioneer Elite SC-75. The first Pioneer receiver I owned was the classic Pioneer VSX-D1S of 1990, one of the first receivers designed with what we now call home theater in mind, with as much emphasis on controlling video components as the CD player, the tape deck and the record player. Since then, Pioneer has been upgrading the electronics of their units to keep pace with changing world of home theater technology. I purchased the SC-75 to replace my Pioneer Elite VSX-72TXV, which was built in 2006. With six years passed, and the proliferation of streaming video set-top boxes such as the Roku (which we reviewed last year), the addition of LAN and wireless networking technology to many Blu-Ray players, the popularization of Androids and iPods/iPads as music and video devices, and the standardization of the HDMI format to connect video components, the SC-75 is a very different beast compared to the previous generation of Pioneer Elite receivers.

The differences aren’t immediately apparent at first glance; the only thing that initially sets the unit apart from its predecessors is its brushed metal finish, instead of the smooth piano black styling of older Pioneer Elite models (Pioneer has apparently also permanently retired the beautiful rosewood-veneered side panels of the first generation of Elite models, which is a pity; on the other hand, perhaps they simply don’t want to be raided by the lumber fascists, ala Gibson.)

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The Facebook Enigma: When Social-Networking Sites Infiltrate Our Real Lives

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

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As a Millennial, I’ve gotten used to relationships starting via Facebook. Dating wasn’t “official” until my Facebook status said “in a relationship.”  As far as friends went, after meeting one time, it was socially acceptable to find that guy from the bar and friend him on Facebook—then wait a few hours before messaging him…hoping he’d ask to hang out again.  In the beginning it was cool: friend everyone you know–and their grandma.

However, hundreds of Facebook friends and seven years later, I’m tired of my Facebook and its power over me.  I feel this odd sense of confusion if I don’t check it for a few hours and I was starting to feel burned out and annoyed by the constant, idiotic updates from some of my “friends.”

The BFF-obsessed girl who is in love with the Caps Lock Key:

Ohmigod. Tonight I had the BEST night EVER with my BESTIE, (insert annoying name). OMG I LOVE you GURLL. BEST FRIENDS FOREVERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR :) :) <3

Gag me.

The kid who is really hoping to sound cool:

I am SO HIGH right now.

Really? I hope the police see this.

The person who needs some serious attention, ice cream, and a Sex and the City marathon:

Thank goodness you are out of my life. I am SO much better without you. Now I know who my real friends are and I don’t need you. I will never let you back into my life.  I am so much stronger now.  I’m in a good place. 

Please grow up. Then, call a shrink.

See what I mean?

Some people “delete” their Facebook as a sign of mental strength—only to reappear a few weeks later with 100 status updates about their awesome willpower.  Forget you.  I wanted a long-term solution.  So, after years and years of accumulating friends, nourishing Facebook friendships, and pruning some of those annoying (above) stragglers from my friends list, I decided to do a Facebook purge.

Honestly, when I told some of my real-life (not just digital) friends that I was going to go through my page and systematically delete people, they were aghast.  HOW could you do that?  That’s sad! Why?

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4 Reasons Why Netflix’s House of Cards Is Such a Hit

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

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Check out the previous installments in Becky Graebner’s dissection of House of Cards. Spoiler Warning!

May 8: 3 Washington D.C. Stereotypes House of Cards Hits Too Close for Comfort

May 15: The House of Cards Vision of Infidelity: More Fact than Fiction

May 22: Seduce Your Way to the Top? Meet The Anne Boleyns of Washington, D.C.

May 29: Why We Love to Hate Politicians

June 5: Can ‘Evil’ Sometimes Be Good?

June 12: House of Cards, Part 6: A Cast of Master Obfuscators

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House of Cards was a slam dunk for Netflix.  The name is practically an entertainment buzzword.  The show is so widely known that a spoof was made, “House of Nerds,” for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.  The video featured Washington, D.C., superstars like John McCain, Jay Carney, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, all fighting with Frank Underwood to get the best seat at the dinner.  The dinner crowd loved it — and so did the House of Cards fans.

Obviously, this show carries some sort of magic in its pocket—it wins over audiences left and right.  Heck, half of Capitol Hill, which the show portrays in a not-so-flattering light, knew enough about it to laugh at the spoof at their “Nerd Prom.”  So what is it about this dark horse of a show that has made it so great?

Pure genius on many levels.

1. Characters that are too good at “being bad”

Southern gentleman Frank Underwood is the first piece of genius in this show. I’ve pointed out in previous posts that no matter what Frank does, you still fall for his South Carolinian charm and charisma. He’s smooth-talking and has a soft side.  He has the audience eating out of his hand and then, WHAM, he’s slapped with the title of “murderer.” Oh well, you still love him and you still want him to succeed. You just cannot hate Frank — his quips, smartass dialogue, and honest facial expressions make the audience laugh even in the darkest moments.  Frank is the perfect bad guy who continuously baits the audience only to have them coming back for more.

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China: Snowden Case Like Shawshank Redemption

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013 - by Bridget Johnson
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China publicly congratulated “bright idealistic” NSA leaker Edward Snowden for exposing “the bleakest moment yet in the history of the Internet,” and said in the Xinhua editorial that he’s welcome in People’s Republic.

China doesn’t mention that it holds 69 bloggers behind bars, according to the latest Reporters Without Borders statistics.

“The case indicates that through outsourcing and contracting, Big Brother is breaching the fundamental rights of citizens by getting unfettered access to their most personal communications,” says Xinhua.

“As the case unfolds, there are many things to worry about. How do we make sense of the fact that the market and the state colluded in the abuse of private information via what represents the backbone of many modern day infrastructures? How do we rationalize the character of Snowden and his fellow whistleblowers? How do we understand the one-sided cyber attack accusations the U.S. has poured upon China in the past few months? To what degree have foreign users of these Internet services fallen victim to this project?”

The official government mouthpiece called the case “a rare chance to reexamine the integrity of American politicians and the management of American-dominant Internet companies, and it appears that while many of these individuals verbally attack other nations and people in the name of freedom and democracy, they ignore America’s worsening internal situation.”

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House of Cards, Part 6: A Cast of Master Obfuscators

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

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Check out the previous installments in Becky Graebner’s dissection of House of Cards. Spoiler Warning!

May 8: 3 Washington D.C. Stereotypes House of Cards Hits Too Close for Comfort

May 15: The House of Cards Vision of Infidelity: More Fact than Fiction

May 22: Seduce Your Way to the Top? Meet The Anne Boleyns of Washington, D.C.

May 29: Why We Love to Hate Politicians

June 5: Can ‘Evil’ Sometimes Be Good?

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The art of reading body language is extremely helpful in Washington, D.C.  Those who wheel and deal for a living must possess this ability—otherwise, they will be unable to decide who is lying, who is telling the truth, and will not be able to gain leverage over competitors.  In House of Cards, Frank Underwood is amazingly good at reading his opponent.  He knows when someone is lying to him and when to push peoples’ buttons just a little bit harder in order to get what he wants.  He is a master at reading people.

Although I am not as good as Frank, I like to consider myself pretty good at reading those around me.  However, no matter how hard I try, I don’t stand a chance against the characters in House of Cards.  As soon as I think I’ve figured out a character, they change their mask and I have to start my analysis all over again.  In one episode, Character X might show their soft side, but two episodes later, the same character might take part in a murder?!  Eventually, I realized I cannot read the characters at all—or predict what they know or what they will do.

The show producers and writers obfuscate the true intentions of several individuals, which allows for great plot twists…and leaves the audience in doubt as to who they can trust.  It’s hard to piece together the truth or predict the future when the audience is not sure who is truthful and who is a deceiver. Below are a few questions that season one leaves unanswered. What is certain is that House of Cards teaches the audience a valuable lesson about Washington, D.C.: trust no one.

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Mean-Girls Conservatism: How Bitchy, Brainless Blowhards Are Wrecking the Right

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013 - by Kathy Shaidle

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We all know how frustrating it is:

Lefties on cable news or on the web (or around the boardroom or dinner table) screaming their faux outrage in fits of what Thomas Sowell calls “moral posturing”:

“Rush Limbaugh called Barack Obama a ‘magic negro!’”
“Jerry Falwell condemned a Teletubby for being gay!!”
“Ann Coulter refused to fly on a plane with a black pilot!!!”

And it’s exhausting, too, having to point out one more time that:

 * Rush Limbaugh was commenting on a black journalist’s description of Obama as a “magic negro” — an established literary trope in liberal academia.

* A writer for Jerry Falwell’s newsletter was simply quoting mainstream media stories about gays who’d already embraced that purple, purse-carrying Teletubby as a “gay icon.”

* That Ann Coulter anecdote was a completely made-up article on a satirical website.

Know what’s even more annoying, at least to me?

When conservatives indulge in the same variety of too-good-to-check rumor mongering and mass pass-it-on hysterics every time a liberal celebrity says — or worse, supposedly says — something dumb.

Let’s call it “Mean-Girls Conservatism.”

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Google is Not Invincible

Friday, June 7th, 2013 - by Stephen Green

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Over at FT, John Gapper is just being silly:

Who will stop Google?

My answer is: nobody, or not easily. Indeed, the best comparison for Google seems to me not Microsoft in the 1980s but General Electric in the late 19th century – the age of electrification. Like GE, Google is a multifaceted industrial enterprise riding a wave of technology with an uncanny ability not only to invent far-reaching products but also to produce them commercially.

Um… no.

Google still earns the vast bulk of its revenues by selling search-targeted ads. NTTAWWT, either — Google is the best at what it does.

But what are these other commercial products? Android? Google makes more money from searches on iOS than it does on Android. And after sinking $12 billion into Motorola trying to defend Android, it’s probably a net money-loser.

So what about Moto, aren’t they selling great Android phones for Google? Not really. Moto is an also-ran, and Samsung commands damn near every penny of profit in the market for Android-powered phones. Horace Dediu even did a study a while back that, thanks to Amazon and the weirdness of the cheap Chinese domestic market, Google’s ownership of Android is only about 60% of sales.

Google’s Nexus-branded tablets? Google won’t reveal its sales figures, so who knows. But Google not revealing its sales figures is hardly an encouraging sign.

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