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What Happened at Apple? Where did the Quality Control go?

One thing I have never minded was paying more for my Apple gear. Why? Because at the end of the day, I got a lot done with it and it nearly always did it with ease and a level of being trouble-free that our PCs rarely matched.

But something's changed over the years and when my 15" MacBook Pro with its gorgeous Retina screen died an ugly death, I bought a MacBook Air because we were moving and cash was tight because of it. Bad decision. This thing has been a pain in the arse since I first got it, with its trackpad not working much of the time. Thank goodness for those up and down arrow keys or I'd really be hosed right about now.

This is proving to be my first real throwaway Mac since Apple first introduced the graphite G4s back around the turn of the millennium and the first shipments had bad logic boards. We were in those first shipments to early adopters and it took nearly half a year for Apple to take responsibility and replace the machines.

I won't bother Apple with this one. But it has left such a bad taste in my mouth that I seriously doubt that I will buy another Apple laptop.

I have been using Android phones for years now, jumping to the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 from my old iPhone 4 -- having been on the iPhone since v1.0. Now, I've had a Note 4 and from there moved on to the LG V10 phone. I loved my iPads and my Mini-iPad but today I use an LG VK410 Tablet with more features than I could find on an iPad and for a lot less money.

I have loved the Apple OS for decades and still do. But I am not an Apple fanboy who thinks that Apple alone is doing great stuff.

With Apple gear, Android gear, Windows gear, and an entire network based in Linux, you learn that no one system is perfect and that each flavor has its own strengths and advantages.

Apple really surprised me when they announced their new laptops and there was not a touchscreen to be found among any of their models. Apple alone seems to have no shipping touchscreen. That baffles me because Apple's rollout of the iPhone was all about touchscreen and tactile controls. Ditto for the iPad. They even admitted this kind of thinking in the iPod Touch -- remember that one? But Apple, whose vision changed smartphones forever, seems oblivious to the very advantages that they helped introduce. Go figure...

So, when this MacBook Air finally dies an ugly death -- which I expect will be sooner than later because it really is poorly made/assembled -- I will likely be adding yet another part of my toolkit that has been Apple for decades but no longer is.

That will leave Apple on my desktop but not anywhere else. That is a strange thought because I have been on Apple gear since I bought my first Apple computer, an Apple ][e, back in the early 1980s.

Things change and not always for the better. This struggling MacBook Air is evidence of that fact.


Posted by: Ronald Lindeboom on Jan 12, 2017 at 9:21:56 am Apple, MacBook Air, Android, Windows, Linux

My excuses for not buying a drone are disappearing. Here's why...



I have to be honest, I'm a guy who loves the idea of drone technology but, like many, I have been reluctant to buy a drone because I've watched one after another of my friends crash their drones into trees, buildings, rocks and just about anything else that happened to be around. Crashing a drone has never bothered me when I was testing my flying skills on those cheap toy drones that you can pick up for $25 to $50. But crashing a pro-level drone that costs $1,000 or more? -- well, let's just say that I have not wanted to test my skill level with a price tag like that. So I've continued to see my friends fly their drones and sometimes lament their skills when they are not enough to avoid the trees, buildings, rocks -- and even people -- that sometimes get in the way. Throw in the drones I've watched flown into lakes and seas and my sense of economy winces at the thought of throwing away money like that.

Enter the Yuneec Typhoon H: Drones Smart Enough To Avoid Obstacles
CES 2017 showed off many incredible devices and technologies. One of the ones that I found very compelling was the Yuneec Typhoon H, a drone that uses the latest Intel Smart technology to internally map and track its 3D surroundings and avoid obstacles. How cool is that? I doubt that it is going to save you from a powerful gust of wind that throws your drone into an obstacle that is simply too close to avoid, but short of that I think my reasons for delaying my own entry into the world of drone cinematography are disappearing.

Intel's RealSenseā„¢ Technology is quite remarkable and is sure to silence some of us who have chosen to wait in our timidity, as we watch our friends wonder how to pull their drone down from a tall tree or rock ledge that only birds should visit.

Check out this video from Yuneec and Intel and see what you think...


Typhoon H PRO with Intel RealSense Technology from YUNEEC on Vimeo.




CES 2017 was quite an event this year and the Yuneec Typhoon H is one of the tools that I took notice of that have elevated drones to a level that the excuses for not using one, are quickly disappearing.

What are your thoughts? I'd love to hear them.


Posted by: Ronald Lindeboom on Jan 8, 2017 at 1:43:21 pmComments (5) Drones, Yuneec, Cinematography

One of the baddest shows in the history of television...



When the History Channel announced a few years back that they were going into original dramatic series television with VIKINGS, I was already sold as the time and history of the vikings is one that has always fascinated me. Some of my friends know I joke about one day suing the descendants of the vikings for reparations for raiding my progenitor's villages in the Friesland -- now a part of The Netherlands -- what with all their raiding, raping, and rifling through the goods of my forebears. It had to be terrifying and maybe for the first time ever, that kind of viking terror has come to episodic television.

One of the things that Tim Wilson and I sometimes talk about is the incredible number of original series that now make up the world of television. There are currently over 400 first-run scripted series spanning the major networks, the major cable channels, and even smaller services that are getting into the game.

Recently, I discovered "Beowulf" on The Esquire Channel -- one I'd call a "micro-channel" -- another series that hails from Scandinavian bards. It is nowhere near as good as Vikings but hey, Beowulf is a great story and you may want to search that one out, as well.

But if you love great storytelling and have been fascinated by vikings, you won't find anything better than this History Channel series.

Oh, and if you're a descendant of the vikings, you owe me money -- write me and I'll send you my address.


Posted by: Ronald Lindeboom on Dec 20, 2016 at 10:57:56 am Vikings, History Channel, Episodic Television



My wife and I signed up for the free 30 day trial subscription to Acorn TV but couldn't make it a few days before turning off our account and being done with it. We even uninstalled the app from our system.

Why?

While we like to explore television from other countries of the world, we like to see a great picture when we do. We understand that some old shows are in SD and have yet to be up-resolutioned into HD. But when a show is only a year or two old and originated in HD, yet is so full of compression artifacts, pixelisation and stuttering, we quickly look elsewhere for our entertainment.

I tested our Internet connection when it was happening and it fluctuated between 25mbps on the worst days, to over 65mbps on the best days. Either speed is more than enough to handle HD.

We watched Acorn TV's HD-originated series "New Worlds" and found that it was highly compressed, so much so that the artifacting and pixelisation of the picture was egregious during simple dissolve edits, and truly terrible when scenes involved rain, light effects, gradients, or other scenes that are tough on poorly encoded feeds. Banding in the gradients and having whole areas of the image "freeze" across frames due to image dithering, are all hallmarks of poor encoding.

You may have better luck. We'll wait until they hire a real compressionist, it's clear that they have someone who does not really understand the process. There is a real craft to great compression and it takes time to learn. Clearly Acorn TV has yet to understand that lesson.

Posted by: Ronald Lindeboom on Apr 4, 2016 at 3:47:00 pm cablecutting




As I've mentioned before, my wife and I really like learning how other cultures look at the world and learning a bit of their history, as well. One of the easy ways we've found is to explore their television programming.

For a few years now, one of the cultures we have been spending some time in, is that of Korea. We tend to like watching the Korean historical dramas, not the more recent stuff, which we find pretty banal and trivial. But there are some wonderful episodic series that explore dramatized people and events in Korean history. Sure, some add characters that are fictional to spice the dramatic flair of the story, making it more adventurous for today's audiences. But often, they play things very close to events as they happened.

One of our favorite distributors featuring Korean programming is DramaFever. While some might point to other areas of their catalog, we find their strong suit to be in the historical dramas. We have been watching them for years now and enjoy them for the very reason that they are unlike American television, in a very refreshing way. 

DramaFever has a website, as well as apps for your smartphone, tablet or computer, and boxes like ROKU, Apple TV4, Amazon Fire TV, XBox or Playstation.

We just finished a 24-part series, "The Princess's Man," which both of us really liked. Very well done and which we started watching after discovering it on HULU -- who has an entire DramaFever section -- but the show was pulled from Hulu's current line-up before we could watch all the episodes, and so we went to Dramafever and searched on the title.

We were able to watch the last five episodes using the app on our STB using the free DramaFever app. While "The Princess's Man" did not show up in the list offered, when we searched the title, all 24 hour long episodes were there.

We also tried to use our web browser and cast it onto the screen using Chromecast, but they had blocked that. It does allow the top-tier subscribers to cast their content onto their flatscreens from other devices, but we weren't ready to pay for a year's subscription to do that.

Posted by: Ronald Lindeboom on Apr 1, 2016 at 1:23:00 pm cablecutting




CUTTING THE CABLE: Covers ROKU, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast & Others is now available at Amazon.com.

While the obvious mission of the book is to teach readers how to save money on their cable TV bill, the book also gives readers an immersive journey into the rapidly changing world of television entertainment and gives readers an insider's view into all that is happening, and why.

I hope that you will find the book useful, learning to save money and also greatly expand your entertainment universe.

PLEASE NOTE: The book is complete and is already in the Amazon system but will be delivered to those who pre-order on April 11th. Why the wait? When Kathlyn and I launched Creative COW back in 2001, it went live on April 11, 2001. April 11, 2016 marks the 15th anniversary and it just seemed right to honor that momentous day, 15 years ago.

Posted by: Ronald Lindeboom on Apr 1, 2016 at 10:53:00 am cablecutting




One of the surest ways to save on the high cost of cable if you are an Apple TV 4 user, is to get a good digital over-the-air antenna to pull in your local channels. (We use a $50 MOHU Leaf indoor digital antenna. We're in a very mountainous area and so we use the amplified model.) We don't have a big outdoor antenna and we use a simple indoor antenna that gets us over 20 local channels, even in our heavy wooded mountainous surroundings.

We get all of the major networks and independents, other than CBS. But CBS is not worth staying on cable for and many of its best programs can be found at the CBS website, or at services like Netflix, Amazon, and others. CBS Sports has a free app for Apple TV 4 and they were even showing Super Bowl 50, live on their website and app, absolutely free.

DO NOT get one of the cheap $10 or $20 antennas, as most of them cannot scan in the sub-channel or side-carrier frequencies. Many channels today broadcast in the sub-channel frequencies and cheap antennas often miss the sub-channel stations. For example, in my market area, a free sci-fi service, COMET, broadcasts on WTTO which has a feed on 21.3. Some digital antennas will only scan channel 21, for example, and would miss COMET at 21.3. (To learn if COMET is available in your area, please visit http://comettv.com/ and toward the bottom of the page, you can enter your zip code.)

Now that you have taken care of the local independent channels and networks, the Apple TV 4 can fill in some of the holes left from cutting the cable.

Build a battery of great free apps on your Apple TV 4 and duplicate those apps on your iPhone and iPad. Make sure to grab Tubi TV, Crackle, popcornflix, OVguide, Pluto, PBS, Smithsonian Channel, and others that look interesting.

On your computer, build a web folder in which you put shortcuts to your favorite network sites because many are now making their content available on their websites. Mirror those shows onto your television screen using Apple AirPlay. You can also add that folder to your iPhone and iPad and watch web-based content there, as well as mirror it to your television using AirPlay.

A $20 a month Sling TV package will take care of many of the most desired cable channels like AMC, ESPN, HGTV, History, A&E, etc. Visit www.sling.com for details of their channels and packages. There are no contracts and you can test the system before joining.

If you must have HBO, you can add it for $5 a month at Sling TV, rather than pay double or more as you would with most everyone else.

Put the $100 a month or more that you will save into other things you'd much rather be doing than giving it to the cable company.

Happy saving!

Posted by: Ronald Lindeboom on Mar 14, 2016 at 1:31:00 am cablecutting



Whenever new things come along, they nearly always attack the low-end of the market first. Why? It's the least defended market segment and the one that well entrenched companies will sacrifice while they focus
their attention on their most profitable customers. That is good business.

The problem comes in when aggressive new companies learn to expand their now successful appeal to their initial low-end market, expanding that market by manageable and systematic bite-sized chunks that chew off just a bit more of the market with each new foray up the market strata. The day eventually comes when these new companies supplant their predecessors, who were once the giants -- giants who fatefully hid behind the "higher end wall" of their own profitability until the wall that was their comfort, one day became their prison.

A good example of this is seen in television itself. When cable first came along it was tiny, mostly unwelcome and the vast majority of customers saw no reason to pay for something that had been free for decades. It took many years, but one day the broadcasters themselves were being bought by the very companies who had only decades before, been mere distributors of their programming.

Broadcasters and film studios and others, have watched cable companies become some of the richest companies in the world, as they distributed and marketed the very programming created by the studios and broadcasters. As is often the case, the middleman made most of the money.

I am sure that had to be the burr under their saddle, especially when the day came that Comcast announced it was buying NBC/Universal. That had to be a wake-up call to the industry. They
couldn't do much about it because the studios and broadcasters had lost the direct contact with their customer. Few were using antennas and most customers were now fed by cable.

That has changed and now the internet and very sophisticated compression/decompression algorithms (codecs) give studios and broadcasters a chance to learn from the cable companies and reach out directly again to their customers.

Today, some studios and broadcasters are taking the fight direct to customer and are willing to give their content free to the customer, settling for the direct commercial revenues earned by advertisers wanting to watch their programming.

You see this on two fronts:

First, major film studios like Sony Pictures and Paramount Pictures are leading the chargefrom the major studios. Paramount has partnered with an investment group to put 20,000 titles from the Paramount library into free on-demand viewing under the name of Tubi TV. Sony Pictures is putting many of its productions into free on-demand viewing under the banner of Crackle.

Why hide? The answer is simple: they do not want to devalue their trademarks by mentally associating their brand names with free content, but they do want to take steps to build their owndirect customer base -- one in which not only do they earn ad revenues but also over time build an outreach to
market to the very customers who enjoy their content. It's a win-win for both the studios and the customer.



Some free channels you'll find on Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV 4, etc.


The hiding and free content isn't just limited to film studios. First in for major broadcasters is Disney/ABC who hides behind the name Free Form, where Disney/ABC gives away many of their shows to an on-demand audience. They are joined by another early adopter, Warner Bros. Television, whose programs are now trickling out for free under the CW Seed moniker.

Joining these early adopter networks are "aggregators" like Pluto TV, a service whose efforts catalog many web-based video services and serve them within a single interface.  One of Hollywood's film distributors is behind OVguide, a service that includes free movies, episodic television, documentaries and other programming.




As these bite-sized chunks are bitten off and more and more of the audience watches free movies and television shows on-demand on their phones, tablets, computers, and on systems like Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV and others -- they chew off more and more of the market, until one day like the cable companies themselves, they will transform the very market itself.

Cable cutting is helping drive this phenomenon but to be truthful, it is a minor player compared to the Gen Xers and Millennials who prefer all their content to be on-demand and at their beck and call.

Today, I noticed that YouTubeRed was advertising the first-run new release of a major film that will be premiered on YouTube, not on the big screen nor on any of the major networks. But seeing that YouTube already has more viewers than any network I can name, the move is less a surprise than it is an "about time" recognition of what is already far
too obvious in the market.

It's a brave new world for studios and broadcasters and in it, content is king. The traditional means of
distribution will give way to a more direct-contact model. Paramount, Sony, Disney/ABC, and Warner Bros seem to already be recognizing that change. Many more will follow, they will have to or they will find the biting chewing away their part of a onetime major part of the market.

This is a fundamental and far reaching change. It puts the customer in amarket in which middlemen will find it harder and harder to justify their high cost of entry to get the same programming that the customer can get for free with a bit of effort.

How much will convenience prove to be worth is the question that customers will have to learn to ask themselves.

Posted by: Ronald Lindeboom on Mar 13, 2016 at 3:03:00 pm cablecutting



We have just purchased and installed the new Apple TV 4 and have begun getting to know it. It's clear that this is a new environment and so there are not as many apps as there are for Roku or Amazon Fire TV. While you may read claims that say that Apple TV 4 has over 2600 apps, Kathlyn and I have been digging through the App Store and not even a search turns up far too many of our favorites.

But if you have a big investment in Apple products and you use the Apple iTunes Store for much of your media purchasing or renting, do not let the shortage of apps dissuade you from going with an Apple TV 4. The number of apps is sure to change quickly as Apple TV 4 is only a few months old now and already it has some of the great free cable cutter channels like Tubi TV (Paramount Pictures), Crackle (Sony Pictures), popcornflix, NFB One, Pluto, PBS, Smithsonian Channel, Free Form (Disney/ABC) and a number of others. The offerings will grow fast, you can bet safe money on that.

So far, we have been able to build a free TV package on our Rokuthat includes 113 apps that we actually use. On the Apple TV 4 we have been able so far to find 29 apps. Again, expect this to change rapidly, as Apple TV 4 is a completely new Apple TV system that is unlike any of the company's Apple TV models that have come before. Apple has never supported open apps before and while I do believe they are
overstating their case when they discuss the number of plug-ins available, there is a comforting elegance to its apps that longtime Apple users will appreciate.

As I suspected, the apps in the Apple TV 4 Store are very well done and they all work using the same kind of restrictive Apple developer uniformity that makes for much less confusing performance than some of the apps we have found and use on the Roku and Fire TV devices.

Posted by: Ronald Lindeboom on Mar 13, 2016 at 12:40:00 pm cablecutting, appletv4


One thing that people spend a lot of money on, which in many cases is not a good use of money -- because they are paying for duplicated features they likely get from other options -- is buying Smart TVs.

Smart functions built into the TV are very expensive and add hundreds of dollars to the cost. You often do not need them because you get the same functions in Blu-ray players, Rokus, Apple TVs, Amazon Fire TV and many devices.

Major brands like Sony, Samsung, Toshiba, and others, make big mark-ups on their smart TVs. More economy brands like Visio and others, will add around a hundred dollars or so to the price tag. 

We bought a 50 inch basic flatscreen TV made and branded by TCL. TCL is one of China's largest companies and they build sets for many other companies who then market them under their own name. It was a non-smart TV and was nothing more than a 50 inch monitor with so many I/O ports that it was amazing: three HDMI ports, TV/Cable/Antenna, Component, AV, USB, and even a serial port if you wanted to hook up an old computer to the TV. It cost us about $325 on the Amazon Deal of the Day. (I signed up and watch for deals like this.)

TCL makes a Smart TV that is just a built-in Roku and nothing else and it is a great buy if you are sure Roku is the way you want to go.

I just ran over to Amazon just now and I found this Sceptre non-smart TV that sells for far less than a same sized Smart TV. If you plan on getting or already use smart devices, why pay for them twice?

Posted by: Ronald Lindeboom on Mar 13, 2016 at 12:04:00 pm cablecutting, smarttv, roku, TCL

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