Friday, February 28, 2014

One-Upmanship And The Splits

In case you've missed it, there's been a bit of a battle between old 80's action heroes, and it's getting quite epic.  It started with this:


Quite unbelievably, this is not a trick of cinematography - van Damme actually did this!  It was a commercial for the precision steering of these trucks, but that was certainly overshadowed by the otherworldly coolness of the old martial arts star.  The only thing more improbable than van Damme actually pulling this off is the fact that he did it in one take.

Not to be outdone, Chuck Norris came up with his own version that has just a wee bit more special effects but no less coolness:



Just as a good 80s action flick involves see-sawing action, van Damme came up with a round two, and took it to a whole different level.  Literally:


I didn't really catch the company being advertised here.  Let's be honest, it doesn't really matter because that's no longer the point.

You're up, Chuck.  Let's see what you've got...

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Netflix Suckage Explained

Been frustrated with Netflix lately?  Me, too.  Streaming has been low-quality and rebuffering often over the past couple of weeks.  Here's why:

Netflix users across the country have been enduring extremely slow streaming rates and poor video quality lately. But nailing down the culprit is harder than you might think.

The growing feud between Netflix and Internet Service Providers has gotten pretty hot recently. While reading the headlines of the latest collision between Netflix and major ISPs, specifically the recently reported slowing of Netflix streams over Verizon’s Fios Internet service, its hard not to imagine “Showdown” by ELO playing somewhere in the background.

Netflix’s monthly ISP Speed Index report showed that streams from several service providers, including Verizon’s Fios and DSL internet service, slowed down in January. The report fed directly into fears that have been simmering since Verizon won a court case last month centered around Net neutrality, which stifled the FCC’s ability to regulate ISPs under current rules.

The verdict out of DC sent the Internet abuzz with fears of a new era of draconian rule by ISPs. The already powerful conglomerates ostensibly gained the freedom to charge more money to some companies for use of their Internet pipelines than others, setting up a pay-to-play scenario. First on the list, many worried, would be Netflix, a company which at last tally accounted for up to 31.6 percent of North American Internet traffic in peak hours.

Fuel was added to the flames when a recent Blog post by David Raphael of iScan Online posted a screenshot of a chat with a Verizon representative, who admitted that Verizon was limiting the bandwidth of cloud providers to intentionally “throttle” speeds from streaming services, including Netflix. Verizon representatives have vehemently denied any so-called “throttling,” blaming the speed loss instead on individual servers, and the routing of traffic.

However, even if Verizon’s claims are true and no throttling is taking place, Netflix has run into a basic logistics problem. By many accounts, the company has simply tapped out the speed of the existing video delivery infrastructure. To solve the issue, Netflix has been trying to get ISPs on-board with its Open Connect program, which is essentially an open gateway that pumps Netflix streams straight to ISPs, with no twists or turns along the way.

But the big boys like Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and AT&T all want compensation from Netflix to switch to the Open Connect system. As the Wall Street Journal reports,  executives from many major providers also maintian Netflix is to blame for the streaming  issues that are popping up across the country, claiming the company is sending its streams inefficiently.

While the two sides fight it out like school children on the playground, a bigger issue is at play. Net neutrality and general network configuration issues have the potential to do more than just slow down your favorite Breaking Bad episode. Apart from concern for the future of streaming video, many fear the loosening of FCC regulations could also set a troubling precedence for the entire structure of the Internet going forward, in which big money is required set up shop. And without a level playing field, smaller companies may not be able to compete with larger, long-established corporations who took advantage of the old rules.

The FCC is already working on a new method to regulate ISPs, detailed in Digital Trends’ recent report on the subject.  But as for now, there are plenty of balls in the air, with the future of video streaming, and the basic structure of the Internet itself at stake.

That was last week.  Yesterday we saw this follow-up:

And so it begins. Right on the heels of a highly publicized deal in which Netflix agreed to pay Comcast an undisclosed fee for a more direct link to its Internet pipelines, Verizon and AT&T representatives have claimed that similar deals between their services and Netflix are also in the works.

The news doesn’t come as a huge surprise, and is a sign of the crossroads that Netflix and the major Internet Service Providers are sitting at. 

While many immediately cried foul at the precedence the seemingly unholy deal struck between Comcast and Netflix could create, this tumultuous new landscape of pay-to-play between Big Red and the major ISPs has reportedly been in the works for some time. In fact, in a recent interview on CNBC, Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam claims Verizon and Netflix have been in negotiations over the issue for a year.

The situation really began with a very simple problem: Netflix became too damned popular. As Netflix streams started eating up more and more bandwidth, taking up as much as 31.6 percent of all North American internet traffic at peak hours at last count, the company realized it was going to have to find a more efficient way to pump its content into our TVs, computers and mobile devices.

The solution Netflix came up with is called Open Connect which, at its core, is a way to store its most popular content on in-house servers closer to ISP delivery channels, allowing that content a much more direct pathway to the homes of all those millions of viewers. As Reuters reported, ISPs like Google Fiber, Cox and Cablevision all got on board with Open Connect, and have seen little to none of the Netflix speed issues that have plagued much of the Nation as of late.

However, some of the biggest providers like Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, and Time Warner, refused to play ball with the Open Connect system. That is likely one of the major reasons unhappy customers everywhere saw Netflix streaming speeds take a nose dive recently.

Of course, another reason could be the DC court ruling for Verizon in January, in which the FCC’s ability to enforce Net neutrality in its current form was struck down.  The verdict opened the possibility for ISPs to essentially sell their fastest service to the highest bidder, creating fears that fair play online could be seriously threatened. Those fears weren’t helped by the latest Netflix ISP Speed Index Report that came out in the same month as the verdict, showing grinding streaming speeds from many of the same companies who fought against Open Connect.

Since then, accusations that Verizon and others are intentionally ‘throttling’ Netflix streaming speeds to extort money from the company like a mafioso thug have run rampant. A prime example came from a blog post by David Rapheal, showing a screen shot of a chat in which a Verizon employee admitted the company has been intentionally slowing Netflix streams as of late. For its part, Verizon completely denies any throttling of Netflix, or any other streaming service.

Either way, it seems money, not time, heals all wounds. The ISPs seem to have gotten what they wanted. And on the other side of the equation, Netflix is apparently brokering deals with the Open Connect holdouts it can live with. Still, since we don’t know how much Netflix is paying for its shortcuts on the information superhighway, a lot of questions remain.

One you might be asking right now is whether or not these ISP payment plans will be passed on to you, the consumer. And if not now, who knows whether the agreed upon fees will go up in the future and cut into Netflix’s bottom line. But perhaps the bigger question is: What does this mean to everyone else in business online? Sure, the biggest streaming site in the world can afford the toll, but what about new start-ups looking for their share of the streaming market place?

For now, we just don’t know the answer to these questions. What we do know is, ostensibly, the way business is conducted between ISPs and video streaming services just took a huge left turn. All we can do now is wait and see where this new road leads.

Like most things, I suspect this will be a double-edged sword.  On the upside, those companies (like Netflix) that are able to pay for direct connections to the vehicles for their services will provide a great product and continue to grow and do great things.  On the other hand, if having deep pockets is a requirement to play the game, that's going to limit competition, which ultimately hurts consumers due to lack of choice and lack of price competition.  Don't kid yourself - the new costs will inevitably be passed on to paying subscribers, so the prospect of paying twice for content is only a short trip down this road.  Like the article said, we'll just have to wait and see how this plays out to know for sure.

In the meantime, at least this explains why your Netflix has sucked lately.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Wolves Are Awesome

My favorite animal has always been the wolf.  I'm not entirely certain why.  Maybe it was because I really liked White Fang way back in the day, or had a black wolf t-shirt when I was a little kid.  Maybe because if they were on Facebook their typical personality profile would sound like a pretty cool person:

stealthy, powerful, intelligent, and highly communicative
- they never attack without necessity, but when they do they are VERY effective
- they travel in family groups based on a mated pair of leaders

Who knows?  Regardless, I've always liked them.  I came across this fascinating video a while back about how nature appears to like them, too.  Check it out:


Incredible!

Now we can add world-savers to that already awesome Facebook profile.


Friday, February 14, 2014

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Star Wars + NFL = Awesomeness

This is a very cool synthesis of two of my favorite things:
The NFL season ended last night not with a bang, but a whimper, as the Toydaria Wattos steamrolled Peyton Manning's Hoth Tauntauns on their way to victory. Or, at least, that's how it would have gone in the imagination of John Raya, a designer who lovingly reimagined every NFL team's logo and helmet on his way to re-branding them all for the Star Wars universe.
The project maintains each team's color scheme and basic visual identity: the Denver Broncos, for example, became the Tauntaun Hoths by keeping the left side of the team's horse-logo head, while replacing the face with that of the frigid beasts of the Star Wars ice planet, while the Wattos take the visual tone of the Seahawks' totem bird and replace it with The Phantom Menace's greedy shopowner.
Some of the helmet redesigns required little change: The Minnesota Vikings became the Shili Togrutas--named for a blink-and-you'll-miss-'em species that appeared in Attack of the Clones--merely by adding some shading to the horns. Others, like the Ryloth Interceptors, barely resemble the Atlanta Falcons on which they're based. In either case, though, poring over the images should help pass the time for the specific type of nerd whose Venn-diagram of interests includes both professional football and Star Wars until the start of next year's NFL season, which'll in turn bring us five months closer to Star Wars: Episode VII.

This is definitely one of those things I wish I'd thought of!  Hit the link above to see every helmet.  My favorites are the Falcons, Colts, and Cardinals, with an honorable mention to the Titans and Cowboys:



Unfortunately, I think the Chiefs got a rather lame adaptation:



*sigh*

The designer must be a Raiders fan.  But at least we're better off than the Redskins...

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Uh...Oops!

It would be hard to find any worse reading of the Super Bowl than my blog post from Sunday afternoon!  Oh well.  :)

I'm glad the Broncos lost, but disappointed for Manning. It wasn't remotely close to an even (or exciting) game; in fact, it was over 12 seconds into the second half, and pretty much everyone knew it.  Boo.  Manning somehow managed to set a record for the most completions in a Super Bowl, but you'd never know it by the scoreboard, another missed prediction on my part.  The Seahawks' defense was all over him all night, and he didn't have the time to really let his receivers do what they needed to do.  Even when he did deliver the ball, the Legion of Boom crushed them promptly.  Wilson was able to engineer some good drives and get the lead early (this was pretty much the only thing I got right), and it was all downhill from there.  It was clear that Seattle executed far, far better all night long.

I know Smith had a good game and made some key plays, but I think the MVP should have gone to Russell Wilson.  His stats compared favorably to previous MVP quarterbacks, he was cool under pressure, and he led the Seahawks to the victory.  Game manager nothing, he owned that game.  It's a shame his performance wasn't rewarded as it should have been.

I thought the commercials were pretty lame for the most part. Very few generated actual laughs, and none were particularly memorable.  If there was any overriding feeling for the night, it was tugging at heart strings - Budweiser, Chevrolet, and at least a couple others had some pretty good "awww..." moments, but that was about it.

On balance, it was a pretty disappointing event, and not a great way to end the football season.

*sigh*

Sunday, February 2, 2014

It's A Football Kinda Day...

Since you're undoubtedly in a football mood, here's a quick suggestion to check out a fun football app called "Vs. Football."  It's available for both iOS and Android, and it's free to play.  Feel free to send me an invitation once you download it - I'll take on any challengers!  :)

The company who made it, Engage Mobile, has put together some printable games you can use as you watch the Super Bowl today - check them out here.


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I always feel bittersweet about Super Bowl Sunday.  It's exciting, of course, and the pinnacle of the football season, but it also means we enter into what I consider the "long darkness" of the spring and summer in terms of sports.  *sigh*  Oh well, it happens every year; we'll survive again.

Anyway, here are my thoughts on the game in no particular order.  I can't stand the Broncos.  Truly, I can't.  They bug me.  I've always thought of them as a bunch of whiney divas, and that hasn't changed.  I always root for them to lose.  On the other hand, I really like Peyton Manning.  I think he's truly a role model in so many ways, and if he doesn't exemplify the quest for excellence in himself and those around him, no one does.  I really hope he wins, as I feel that his play this year has been outstanding and the only way to really cap it off is with a Super Bowl ring.  In terms of team vs. team, I like the Seahawks better.  In terms of character and personality, I like Manning (though from what I hear, Russell Wilson is another genuinely good role model and filled with integrity himself).  All things being equal, I have a slight leaning toward Denver, though I won't be terribly disappointed with a Seahawks win, either.  Regardless, I am definitely hoping for an exciting game and a last-minute come-from-behind epic win.

What will actually happen?  No clue.  It seems safe to say that Manning will be Manning, and the Broncos will score some points.  But, the Seahawks' defense is really, really good, and will cause anyone problems, so I don't see a runaway Broncos victory in the cards.  The Seahawks' D has done a great job of getting turnovers in the playoffs, so I think they will keep things within reach until the end.  It only takes one big play for an offense to score, but a defense has to be on point each and every down, so this would seem to favor the Broncos, but only slightly.  To me, it seems that the bigger question is that of how the Broncos' defense and the Seahawks' offense fare.  If Wilson can engineer some solid drives and bust a few big plays, they should be in good shape.  In particular, if they can manage to get ahead early it will allow the defense to take some risks they might not normally take and possibly make some big plays to ratchet up the pressure.  On the other hand, if the Broncos' defense can stifle Wilson & Co. and let Manning take a comfortable lead, things could go badly for the Seahawks.

As always, it really comes down to who executes the best.  Both teams are excellent, and both have earned their way into the Super Bowl.  Ultimately, those who play the best when the pressure is highest are the ones who can be called "great," and I think that Manning's experience, poise, and already demonstrated greatness will be the advantage that wins the day.