Friday, October 23, 2015

Get off my LAN!

You tell 'em, Grandpa!
OK, I'm going into 'crotchety old man gripe mode' for this blog post. To be fair, there are some people who will proclaim that I'm *always* a crotchety old man, so they may not notice much of a change in tone with this post. Nevertheless, I have a bone to pick over the state of modern technology and feel the need to write about it.

Traditionally, I'm an early adopter. Perhaps not "bleeding edge" early...but definitely "cutting edge" early. I'm a gadget fiend and an admitted Apple fan...and while I may give Apple preference in my tech acquisitions, I am by no means a 'tech bigot'. However, over the past couple years (or so), I've noticed that I've become less inclined to hop on the 'latest and greatest' bandwagon.

Case-in-point is the new AppleTV. I love my AppleTV - in fact, I own three of them (one Gen 2 v1 - the first black, puck-ish device, and two Gen 2 v2 devices - the model currently available for $69). I pre-ordered the Gen 2 v1 when it was announced a few years ago, and it was instrumental in helping me 'cut the cord' with Comcast. As more content became available for it, there was less of a need to pay a cable provider for a multitude of channels that I would rarely, if ever, watch. Goodbye, Comcast. The AppleTV (ATV) became the entertainment hub in my house.

I then purchased a second ATV - Gen 2 v2 - for a second TV. Did I upgrade my first ATV when the newer version came out? No...there was no need. Both were able to deliver the content that I needed, with the only real difference being the newer model supported 1080p resolution, whereas the old one did not. I didn't need/want the higher resolution on either TV, so that difference was meaningless. I only retired the Gen 2 v1 when it started exhibiting freezing problems and random resets. So, now I have two active Gen 2 v2 ATVs in my home. And they work just fine.

This will make things worse.
Feed me, Seymour.
However, in a special event Apple held on September 9, 2015, a new ATV - featuring local storage, Siri, a touch-sensitive remote, a beefier processor, and support for apps - was unveiled. Outwardly, it looks much the same as the current model...though a bit taller. Who cares? I don't need apps for my TV, the remote looks like it's something expensive to replace, and I don't want to talk to my TV. When I turn on the idiot box, I want to be entertained - JUST GIVE ME THE SHOWS THAT I WANT TO WATCH. 

The new ATV does nothing to address the convoluted mess that is current state of digital entertainment. In fact, I contend that it will make things worse. I don't want to be nickeled-and-dimed to watch shows and movies - that's why I pay for Netflix and Hulu Plus...and the occasional purchase from iTunes when I don't want to wait for the content to appear on the other two. Heck, even YouTube has quite a bit of compelling content.

However, with the "appification" of content, one can be assured that the proliferation of multiple, exclusive streams from which content will be available will make one's monthly entertainment bill just as expensive - perhaps even more so - than traditional cable TV. To wit, CBS now has an app on the current ATV...but it doesn't do you any good unless you subscribe to their portal. Oh, yay - another monthly bill to allow me to watch content. Thanks, but no thanks, CBS - I'll just wait to watch your stuff if/when it shows up on one of the major streaming services for which I already pay. Or not at all. I really don't care. I don't need a Siri search to tell me that 'The Big Bang Theory' is available to watch on a service to which I don't subscribe. That's not helpful at all.

Thankfully, ABC, NBC, Fox - and many other networks - still make their content available on Hulu Plus the day after airing. I can easily live with that...though it IS irritating that some shows (like NBC's 'The Blacklist') are no longer offered. I fear it's only to get worse.

I don't pirate...but I can understand why some do.
One step forward, a million frickin' steps back.
The whole model for digital content is a broken mess of legalese and red tape. Everybody wants their cut. OK - I get deserve to get paid for your work. Fair enough. However, when those contractual limitations are a hinderance to content consumption, technology ISN'T the problem. There's nothing new that can be invented, programmed, developed, etc., that will fix the craptastic nature of the beast until that mess is fixed.

In today's world, there's no technical reason one would need to subscribe to multiple providers in order to watch a handful of shows. Hell, have we regressed to the "good 'ol days" of C-band satellite dishes with decoders for each of the channels/satellites we want to watch? Doesn't appear like much progress to me. Aggregate providers - like Netflix and Hulu - are where it's at. I don't mind paying a few dollars more per month to those services PROVIDED they have all the content. Conversely, "lone wolves" like CBS won't get a penny from me until they fully integrate with someone like Netflix or Hulu.

That's why I'm in no way excited about the new AppleTV - it does nothing to address the problem plaguing digital content. Nothing. And that's why I won't buy one.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

I'm tired of the fanboys...

I haven't written on any particular topic lately...not for lack of ideas; rather, I've been a bit busy. Life always seems to get in the way of the fun stuff...but so it goes if one is a responsible adult.

If you've been adventurous and read my first post, you know that I've been a fan of spaceflight for as long as I can remember. However, though that fandom has been long-serving, I'm embarrassed to admit that it hasn't always been at the forefront of my thoughts and actions. In fact, I only cursorily followed the Space Shuttle program as it wound to a close. Sure, I knew it was ending, and I was quite irritated about that (still am, to a degree)...but I didn't really know why, and I had no idea what was to come next...and my inner space nerd went into hibernation.

New Space...and the demise of NASA?
Occasionally, 'Space Nerd Curt' would awaken from his apathy-induced stupor when a particularly compelling space-related article would be posted online, or show up in my Twitter feed (you do follow me on Twitter, right? RIGHT?!? If not, go ahead and give me a follow - it won't hurt a bit: @Crow_T_Robot).

Periodically, something would pop up about some company called 'SpaceX'...the brainchild of a tech billionaire...and how they were going to change the face of spaceflight. Me: "Oh, look - some guy with a ton of money (and an ego to match) and time to kill is going to do something that only well-funded nation-states can accomplish. Yeah...right. Not. Gonna. Happen." Nevertheless, curiosity was piqued.

Then I would see a story discussing, with the Shuttle retired, NASA was basically dead. And I believed it. No, I didn't think NASA had closed its doors, but I truly felt it was an agency without a mission...a ship without a rudder...a "shining" example of a nation in decline. Some may argue that's exactly the case.

Re-awakening the Space Nerd
Much like the story of a bear waking from a long winter's slumber, 'Space Nerd Curt' began to stretch and yawn...and was looking for his fill of spaceflight info.

After letting my Twitter account languish over the years, and using my Facebook account for the inane fluff that most of us use it for, I started actively seeking out stories and articles about the current state of spaceflight. To that end, there was no shortage of sites purporting to have all of the space info one may need/want.

NASA was being directed to build a Saturn V-class (or bigger) launch vehicle, while several 'New Space' companies were beginning to make some headway in their respective fields. Was 'space' dead? Sure didn't seem like it. From all appearances, exciting times lay ahead.

Frenemies and the Decline of Space Journalism
Hey, you know what? SpaceX was actually able to put together a pretty decent launcher. Sure...they did it by leaning heavily on NASA's expertise...and didn't have to lay out a ton of their own capital for a ground-up R&D program...but no one can deny that they (eventually) made a good-ish rocket. It's amazing what one can do when they stand on the shoulders of a giant...and while SpaceX no doubt understands where they'd be without NASA's help, don't expect them to like it or often speak about it.

Though the grumblings were there prior to the first successful Falcon 9 flight, there was a growing choir of fanboys singing the praises - both real and fanciful - of SpaceX after that launch in . "NASA is old news!"..."SpaceX is the future of spaceflight - NASA is dead!"..."SpaceX will get people to Mars FIRST!" cetera, et cetera, et cetera. To the SpaceX partisans, it was only a matter of time before the first boots on Mars were delivered by a Falcon rocket.

Me, too,, too.

Additionally, a disturbing trend seemed to be emerging - many people writing space news stories were no longer traditional journalists. They were industry pundits...op/ed writers...famous personalities...and even bloggers. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with those people writing their opinions - hell, I write about this stuff and I don't have 1/10th the inside info that these people have - but I'm just an opinionated bozo writing about something that interests me. However, these people/outlets are being presented as space journalists/journalism. It isn't, and they aren't. Journalists are supposed to write a story - presenting the facts - not take a side. Sadly, that no longer appears to the be case. They'll bash NASA all day long, but treat SpaceX with kid gloves.

This...this is the goal. OK, so it's track from a rover
on Mars, but you get the point.
What gives? Is there a quid pro quo? "Say something nice about us...or derogatory about NASA...and we'll *really* appreciate it." ::wink, wink:: Do I have proof? No, but I'm not a journalist...just a guy throwing out a supposition for consideration. I have no real 'dog' in this fight. If SpaceX succeeds where others have failed (or have yet to succeed), then great! More power to them. If NASA does the same, that's awesome! Blue Origin? Boeing? ULA? Ditto, ditto, ditto. If your goal is to get people off this planet and into space, quit your griping about the other guy. Does that mean you shouldn't care about budgetary issues on one side...or undelivered promises on the other? No...but the partisanship being shown by many space fans would make an SEC football fan feel at home. Sad.

What do you think?