Monday, November 30, 2015
Streaming subscriptions and pay-as-you-go season passes have, in my estimation, rendered DVDs and Blu-Ray discs obsolete. All you need is a decent TV that can connect a Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, or Amazon Fire TV -- well, at least two of the above, in order to maximize the amount of viewing options available. I wrote about that earlier this year. Maybe some of that information is still relevant.
I just remembered that a computer, smartphone, or tablet can also stream these services. Silly me.
The purpose of this blog post is to compare three subscription streaming services: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and HBO Now. All three services feature content without commercial interruption, unlike Hulu+ or various TV network apps.
Which service provides more bang for your buck? (Spoiler: Amazon.) Which services have the content that you want? (Spoiler: You decide.) Let's find out!
"Netflix and chill" has become shorthand slang for either subtle flirtation (at best) or blatant sexual harassment (at worst). Anyway, for $7.99 a month or $94.88 a year, here's what you'll get from Netflix:
- A lot of older movies of varying quality;
- Some newer movies that you might have the time to watch;
- A lot of older TV show that are complete, like Friends;
- A lot of newer TV shows that are one season behind; and
- Netflix-produced shows and films that you can binge-watch (e.g., grittier Disney-Marvel superheroes, Master of None, Orange Is the New Black, House of Cards, etc.).
That's it. You should definitely join for the binge-watching experience of non-network TV shows. It's also an inexpensive gateway to hardcore Tumblr fandoms; you get to catch up on all the Supernatural, Doctor Who, and Sherlock episodes, before purchasing new episodes on iTunes, Google Play, or Amazon Instant Video. SuperWhoLock, for the win!
Netflix is also perfect if you find an old movie on TV, but you don't want to endure commercial breaks and censorship. Over the Thanksgiving extended weekend, the CW broadcast Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Netflix currently also has that movie available. If you wanted to watch that particular movie at the time, would you endure commercial TV, or would you go to Netflix?
If anything, a Netflix subscription is great to have, in case you want to -- wait for it -- chill.
My best guess is that most people do not get a $99 per year Amazon Prime membership for the streaming video service. They get the membership for the shipping benefits -- free two-day shipping, free same-day ship for orders over $35, etc. All the downloadable and streaming media are icing on the cake of free shipping.
Let's break down what $99 gets you, without the shipping benefits:
- Lots of music to stream, not new releases usually, but if you have Alexa, you can get "her" to play almost whatever for you, whenever you want;
- If you have a Kindle, you can choose one of four (or six) newly-published books to download for free, which is probably about a $72 per year value;
- If you have a Kindle, you can borrow one book every calendar month, which might probably save you anywhere between $24 and $120 over the course of a year, assuming that you actually read these books;
- Lots of older movies, which might or might not overlap with Netflix;
- Some newer movies that even Netflix does not have, such as the third Hunger Games movie, which I recently watched;
- Some older TV shows that are complete;
- Some TV shows that are one season behind; and
- Amazon-produced TV shows and films that you can binge watch.
I haven't checked out any Amazon-produced shows yet. The alternate-history Nazi one looks like a thrilling watch, but I am most excited for the new show presented by the former Top Gear hosts.
If you shop online, consume a lot of streaming media, and read e-books, then an Amazon Prime membership is a no-brainer. In fact, if I had to choose between Netflix and Amazon Prime, I'd probably pick Amazon. I would suspend and un-suspend my Netflix subscription in order to binge-watch any new Disney-Marvel shows.
Speaking of suspending and un-suspending subscription memberships ...
The only reason I purchased an Apple TV earlier this year was to try the then-brand new HBO Now streaming service, which was exclusive to Apple TV and Apple iOS devices for the first few months or so. Currently, lots of streaming devices can get HBO Now.
I got the first month free, and I kept it going for as long as Season 5 of Game of Thrones, before putting my subscription on hold. HBO Now costs around $15 per month, so I think I only spent $30 or $45 this year. Next year, during Game of Thrones' sixth season, I can expect to pay $45 or $60 for HBO Now, hopefully. Anyway, however long you wish to subscribe to HBO Now, seasonally or annually, you can expect the following:
- Virtually every completed and current show produced by HBO;
- A fair amount of older movies -- a smaller selection compared to the above two services;
- Many newer movies, before they are available to Netflix or Amazon Prime;
- Documentaries produced by HBO;
- A lot of HBO boxing, with pay-per-view bouts available one week after the event; and
- Quasi-pornography produced by HBO, if that is your thing.
In the three or four months I had HBO Now, I watched as many movies and boxing as I could. I watched a couple of documentaries as well, such as the Kurt Cobain one and the Scientology one. I watched Game of Thrones, of course, and I caught a couple of episodes of John Oliver's show. There's a lot of brilliant content on HBO Now, but I don't know if I would want to subscribe to this service all year long, since it is twice the price as Netflix, for a relatively smaller streaming library. In fact, I think giving myself a time-limit on HBO gave me the incentive to watch as much as possible during my seasonal subscription.
I can't wait for 2016's HBO Now subscription, so I can see their updated selection of movies and sporting events -- and yes, Game of Thrones.
For an estimated $21 per month -- between around $239 to $254 per year -- who needs cable TV, anyway?
My little blogging marathon has been completed -- six entries before the end of November! Cheers!
Sunday, November 29, 2015
Let's back up a bit.
There's a relatively old joke that makes the observation that every new AC/DC album was basically the same as previous albums. Once upon a time, I thought it was a bad thing. It's not. An easily-identifiable signature sound is a hallmark of badassery.
Modern-day country music is basically pop songwriting with twangy vocals and miscellaneous fiddles. Once upon a time, I thought it was a bad thing. It's not. Genre conventions are an interesting study in cultural traditions.
I've encountered my share of genre snobs, who denigrate one form of music while elevating the one they happen to like the most. Once upon a time, I thought it was a bad thing. Well ... it still is a bad thing to be a genre snob. Even though you might not end up playing a specific style of music ever, it is important to keep an open ear and an open mind when it comes to music. Don't knock it until you understand it.
Four-chord rock music really caters to two specific musicians: The vocalist and the guitarist(s). It does few favors to bassists and drummers, unless the music gets more complex. Drummers must be slightly masochistic because they basically lug around about five drums, about five cymbals, hardware, a throne, and sticks wherever they go. They set up the drum kit, play for a bit, take down the drum kit, then transport everything again and again.
I've neglected to define my idea of "four-chord" rock. It's basically sloppy, garage-style, punk-ish rock 'n roll. Guitars are distorted, and vocals are competent enough to stay in key and cut through the band. The meter of a song will either be four-four time or six-eight (three-four) time. Songwriting follows the popular music structure of verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus, and the like. It's as basic as it gets, with some potential for epicness.
Bass players in this now-defined four-chord rock genre have the disadvantage whenever they play with heavy guitars or vocalists with lower vocal ranges. Whenever two instruments occupy the same frequencies, the sound gets -- for lack of a better word -- muddy. A heavily-distorted guitar, as opposed to a fuzzy guitar or an overdriven guitar, will encroach on bass guitar territory. A baritone vocalist might not even cut through the band. The overall muddiness of the sound might render fancy walking basslines inaudible. The four-chord structure of songs will just render the bassist to play the root note of each chord as simply as possible.
Perhaps the concept of the bass player is better in jazz, funk, or progressive rock music. With a pickup called A Little Thunder, the rhythm guitarist can also be the bass player. After all, the rhythm guitarist is usually responsible for much of the tone decisions that muddy up a band's sound.
Hopefully more and more four-chord rock bands will embrace the idea of the rhythm guitarist/ALT bassist. (The electronic pad touring drummer is an unlikely pipe dream.) There are bass players who have learned the low-note craft, but they are not given the opportunity to be Flea or Geddy Lee while thumping low end in a four-chord rock band. Let them find other bands and genres that allow such an opportunity. There are guitarists who, by necessity due to genre conventions, play bass but can't hear themselves because the muddy mess of a four-chord rock band. Let them play both with A Little Thunder, and everyone can learn why heavy bands might sound muddy.
Here's the basic recipe for my four-chord rock, one-man live band. The guitar is slightly distorted with an emulator pedal that tries to sound like a Vox AC30, but not too heavy, as to muddy up the bass. The tone of the ALT bass -- same guitar -- is tweaked with a bass overdrive pedal. Basslines, played either on the Low E or A strings of the same guitar, are kept quite simple. I'm either going to play with the kick drum, straight eighth notes, or do a simple groove, whenever possible.
"Four minutes? That's ages. [...] Bring me #knitting!" I wish most smartphones had subwoofers. #doctorwho #cosplaycover #pinkfloyd #anotherbrickinthewallA video posted by Ryan DeRamos (@ryan_deramos) on
My drum machine is programmed with a bunch of generic patterns, as well as song-specific ones. The generic patterns are usually 4/4 backbeats, 4/4 snare on 3, and 6/8 beats with the snare on 4. I can start and stop a pattern with a foot pedal, and I can tell the pattern to go into a fill and another pattern with that same pedal. I can adjust the beats per minute to however fast or slow I want. The big downside to using a drum machine is that I'm missing cymbal hits and other fancy techniques that only a human drummer can provide. Since I'm using a drum machine, perhaps I should think like an EDM DJ and try to make the patterns dance-friendly.
This is what happens when one plays a guitar riff and a bass line simultaneously on the same instrument. #alittlethunder #silversunpickups #lazyeye #cover #legoA video posted by Ryan DeRamos (@ryan_deramos) on
I try to sing head voice almost exclusively, so that the vocals can cut through the band. My natural chest voice doesn't cut through the instruments without mixing help. Perhaps a sound engineer could EQ my chest voice to cut through the band, but my goal is for a simple, one-man band setup! I usually get my vocal harmonizer to go a 3rd above the melody, to thicken and sweeten the sound. The Boss VE-2 is smart enough most of the time to figure out what key I'm singing in, referencing the chords I play on the guitar.
A video posted by Ryan DeRamos (@ryan_deramos) on
I'm also trying to incorporate more Ebow into my music, but it's kind of unwieldy to hold the Ebow while plucking a decent bassline and singing. I'm currently working on a solution!
A video posted by Ryan DeRamos (@ryan_deramos) on
With an electric guitar, simple basslines, a drum machine, and harmonized vocals -- I'm basically playing the one-man version of an '80s new wave band or something!
At least this isn't the "Internet guitarist crotch shot." #alittlethunder #ebow #u2 #withorwithoutyou #coverA video posted by Ryan DeRamos (@ryan_deramos) on
There's always room for an extra musician to play a sweet guitar solo, though.
From the makers of the one-man band, here is a -- wait for it -- two-man band. #cover #smashingpumpkins #mayonaise #lego #sigfigA video posted by Ryan DeRamos (@ryan_deramos) on
I usually record all my performances, good and bad, with a Zoom H1 audio recorder. While I've figured out my signature sound for now, there's still room for adjustments.
That's blog post five out of six for the end of November! The marathon writing session is almost over! Cheers!
I recently finished watching the first season Aziz Ansari's Master of None on Netflix. It is an endearing show that deals with sort of serious topics in a non-cynical, humorous way. It tries to make the audience want to be kinder to one another, and perhaps it will have success in that manner. I personally enjoyed all 10 episodes of the show.
There's little chance that this sort of sitcom-dramedy could survive on network or commercial-filled cable TV. Dev Shah's (Aziz Ansari's character) anti-Seinfeld band of non-stereotypical friends wouldn't survive in a TV environment that thrives on conventional tropes. TV producers rely on stereotypes for content, as well as target audiences that -- consciously or subconsciously -- accept and expect stereotypes. TV producers want target audiences to feel entitled to this sort of status quo.
Master of None is basically a 30-something sitcom, and a typical 30-something-related sitcom on network TV has commercials, like any other TV show. Those commercials want to sell stuff, like cell phone data plans, lawn mowers, and eye makeup, to the target audience. If the ratings are low for a show, then the commercials won't have an audience, stuff isn't sold, and the show gets cancelled. To minimize the risk of wasted airtime on a probably-soon-to-be-cancelled show, producers have to rely on audience-friendly, stereotypical, genre-adhering tropes -- in content and in casting. In other words, a network TV show probably won't have two South Asian-descent guys with North American accents interacting with one another anytime soon, let alone three or more -- unless stereotypes are involved.
TV producers tend to be apprehensive whether that scenario can sell the latest mid-priced Toyota to audiences.
Netflix, on the other hand, already has $7.99 per month from a lot of people, so they could produce whatever they want, on top of the streaming movies from years ago. This model will probably hold, as long as they have enough subscribers already in the system. If there is a crisis in that subscriber model, then Netflix will probably reduce its original content and rely on stereotypical tropes like network TV. That would be an awful fate.
I also binge-watched the first season of the Marvel superhero show Jessica Jones. It is a dark, heavy show, in the same vein as Daredevil, which is also on Netflix. Unlike Disney-Marvel's movies, this Disney-Marvel Netflix show has the time to develop characters, especially villains. I had no regrets watching all 13 episodes.
It's a bit strange that Disney-Marvel's first female leads were on network TV (Agent Peggy Carter) and Netflix (Jessica Jones), but Black Widow is still a supporting character or part of an ensemble in the movies. Like TV's reliance on commercials, the movies need their target audiences to purchase movie tickets, and in the case of family-friendly franchises, toys and related merchandise.
I suspect that movie producers and other executives, especially those who deal with big budgets, tend to not take risks. They rely on safe routes in order to get money from target audiences. The sad thing in all of this is that target audiences tend to accept the artificial world and limitations created by producers, who just want their money.
Netflix already has subscribers' money. Amazon has an advantage over Netflix, in which Amazon Prime's main purpose is for free shipping. All the subscription-based music, movies, and shows are just icing on the cake. Amazon, like Netflix, is mostly free to produce whatever it wants -- trope-reliant or not. Amazon is already selling stuff to people; it really doesn't need shows to do the advertising.
Then we have cable TV. Premium cable, like HBO, doesn't rely on advertisers, so it can produce whatever it wants. Regular cable is kind of weird because it has subscribers and relies on advertising. Cable is kind of a crap shoot: For every rare Breaking Bad, there's a bunch of crap that ultimately just wants to sell stuff to people via commercials.
As far as YouTube goes, there is a wealth of good content, mediocre content, and a variety of popular content of varying quality. It seems apparent that YouTube stars who try to crossover to traditional media are somewhat molded to fit into something more conventional -- but you be the judge of that.
Here's to not believing what producers have to say about you!
Four down, two more to go in this end of November blogging marathon. Cheers!
I've come to realize that Gaffigan's archetypal idea of Mexican food can be adapted to become a formula for many kinds of delicious food: Some form of carbohydrate, cheese, meat, sauce, and sometimes vegetable.
Let's repeat that again: Carb. Cheese. Meat. Sauce. Sometimes vegetable.
The cold-cut sandwich in the photograph above contains most of the elements: Bread for carb, American cheese for cheese, pastrami for meat, sandwich spread (mayonaise with pickle relish) for sauce, and those bits of pickle in the sandwich spread might pass as the vegetable. Okay, maybe there's no vegetable here; that's why the formula says sometimes vegetable.
Related to the introductory paragraph are nachos. Tortilla chips are the carb. Nacho cheese is the cheese. Taco meat is the meat. Salsa, guacamole, and sour cream are basically the sauce. Salsa is also the vegetable.
How about a cheeseburger? Buns are the carb. The slice of cheese is the cheese. The hamburger patty is the meat. Ketchup, mustard, special sauce, and whatever else are the sauce. Tomato, lettuce, onions, and whatever else are the vegetables.
Did someone say chili cheese fries? I did. Carb? Fries. Cheese? Melted, shredded cheese. Meat? Probably bits of ground beef in the chili. Sauce? Chili. Sometimes vegetable? Beans, I suppose ...
Pizza might be the exception that proves the rule, or however the saying goes. Carb? Crust. Cheese? Yes, please. Meat? Sometimes. Sauce? Of course. Sometimes vegetable? Depends on your mood.
According to legend, alchemists sought a magical item called the Philosopher's Stone. The item could transform lead into gold, risking economic inflation. The item could create an elixir of immortality, risking eternal boredom. The third formula of the Stone would have to be, of course, carb-cheese-meat-sauce-sometimes-vegetable. The formula is definitely the inverse of the immortality elixir, but it does tend to make life deliciously ... golden.
Three down, three to go for November. Cheers!
My Instagram account, currently, has transformed into the adventures of a LEGO minifigure that vaguely resembles yours truly -- my "sigfig." It's become less of a communication with people that I know (that's for Facebook, apparently) and more of a communication with total strangers.
Let me back up this train of thought concerning Instagram accounts. When opening an Instagram account, one of the first things a person does is to identify his or her target audience, whether consciously or subconsciously. If one's target audience consists of friends, then the likely content of the Instagram would most likely be selfies, food photographs, pictures of pets, pictures of ever-growing children, throwbacks to inside jokes, and other heart-warming activities that only a loved one can truly appreciate.
If one's target audience consists of strangers, then the likely content of the Instagram will sort of cater to -- and be a part of a conversation with -- a larger community centered around a niche topic. One of the most effective ways to tap into a niche community is by using all 30 hashtags per post. For example, my sigfig's adventures usually have hashtags relating to LEGO photography, toy photography, and whatever else is relevant to the photo at hand. For example, I sometimes pose my sigfig with real food, while carrying miniature plastic food -- #foodception.
If you tag your photos effectively, and do nothing else, I have a hypothesis that each Instagram post will get various interactions (mostly likes and some comments) that are at least 10% of your total followers -- and mostly from strangers who are browsing hashtags. In other words, if you have 100 followers, a decently-tagged photo will get at least 10 'likes'. If you have 1000 followers, then a hashtagged post will get at least 100 'likes'. I have about 260 Instagram followers right now, plus or minus at any given moment, so my "goal" for each new post is about 26 interactions ('likes' and/or comments).
Any more than 10%, then the posted photo either was undeniably brilliant, or you did something extra (more on that later). Any less than 10%, then either the hashtags used weren't the best choice, you might have "phoned in" a photo, or the post wasn't accessible to anyone at all.
Keep in mind, my hypothesis -- theory, perhaps -- is only relevant for Instagram (or Twitter, etc.) accounts with strangers as the target audience. If friends are the target audience, then the interaction might be closer to 100% for many people. Or it might be closer to 0%, if you are an enigmatic personality, even to your friends. (Take heart: Be yourself, no matter what!)
Also keep in mind that my 10% estimate breaks down as someone gets "Instagram famous" or is a famous person on Instagram. If a "star" has one million followers, it is unlikely that every post will get a minimum of 100,000 interactions -- or maybe it happens. I'd rather follow a semi-obscure figure who has been involved in notable things than a super-famous person; a semi-obscure person will actually interact with his/her fans!
To get more than 10% interactions, without resorting to spammy apps, you'll have to explore relevant hashtags -- mostly related to your most recent post -- and 'like' what you like. Or just like everything you see. Some percentage of the people for whom you 'liked' will also 'like' one or more of your posts in return. You can even explore other hashtags, or hashtags related to the hashtags you've used (but have no more room in a given post) -- and 'like' away. A certain post might end up with 20% or 30% interactions, and you might receive some new followers along the way. (Of course, there's a sort of gamey method, in which someone follows a bunch of strangers, gets some followers in return, then unfollows everyone, in order to seem "Instagram famous." That's almost as bad as the spammers.)
Scoring 'likes' and followers is sort of arbitrary, and gaining such "points" is mostly pointless. However, it is kind of cool to feel like each and every post has communicated with someone else -- friend or stranger. Hopefully, it's a positive communication that leaves as parties a bit happier and a bit hungrier for more.
Yes, fishing for 'likes' is also kind of sad -- but let's ignore that angle for a bit, indefinitely. Social media is #fun!
And somewhat #sad.
Two down, four to go for November: Cheers!
Saturday, November 28, 2015
It's nearly the end of November, and I haven't blogged once here. In previous months, I usually blogged on or around days that ended with either 5 or 0 -- the 5th, 10th, 15th, 20th, 25th, and 30th. I suppose I have six posts to write before the end of the month.
Let's start right now.
When we left off with our LEGO Game of Thrones series, we were halfway through the second season of the show. The sixth episode is "The Old Gods and the New." In this re-creation in LEGO, we find Arya Stark as Tywin Lannister's peasant cupbearer. Petyr Baelish arrives to visit/conspire with Tywin, and Arya's cover is almost blown ...
... because both Tywin and Petyr probably know she's Arya all along.
The seventh episode is "A Man Without Honor." We continue Arya's adventures in Harrenhal, as Tywin's cupbearer. Here, Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane visits Tywin. The Mountain is portrayed by a Duplo figurine.
I just need to cobble together a Sandor "The Hound" Clegane minifigure, so we can have a LEGO Clegane Bowl. GET HYPE!
The eighth episode is "The Prince of Winterfell." In this scene, Bran Stark, Rickon Stark, Hodor, and Osha are hiding from Theon Greyjoy. Rickon and Hodor are taking a nap, while Bran is awake, overhearing an offscreen conversation between the wildling Osha and Maester Luwin.
Hodor's body is from the Hagrid minifigure, so he's smaller than the Mountain.
The ninth episode is the season climax, "Blackwater," featuring the Battle of Blackwater Bay. I originally wanted to depict the scene where Tywin Lannister, Loras Tyrell, and various soldiers enter the Iron Throneroom, saving Cersei Lannister from killing Tommen and herself. I didn't have the time to cobble together Tywin's troops, so instead I took a photo of my Bronn minifigure, shooting a flaming arrow, which would soon ignite the explosive, offscreen, wildfire ship.
I'm quite pleased with the simple photo concept.
The final episode is "Valar Morghulis." In this scene, Daenerys Targaryen is trapped in the House of the Undying, looking for her dragons. Because of the Warlocks' magic, Dany somehow stumbles onto an illusion/alternate reality of her deceased husband Drogo and stillborn son Rhaego -- both alive!
This was just an excuse to reuse my Khal Drogo minifigure. He's made from a LEGO Friends braided hair, a Scorpion soldier's head, a boxer's torso with brown hands, and Tonto's pants. I initially planned to depict the final scene of the season, with Samwell Tarley being ignored by a White Walker and his army of the undead.
As far new LEGO scenes, I'm only two episodes into the third season. When I've photographed five, I'll be sure to post a relatively brief rundown here.
Okay -- one blog post down, five to go for November! Cheers!