Why I’m Buying An Xbox One

Before I begin, let me say that this post (like this entire blog) is my perspective only. I know other people have differing opinions about things and I respect that. I just wanted to get that out of the way before discussing.

This week, I pre-ordered an Xbox One. For some reason, I feel like I have left myself vulnerable to attack by saying that because so far Microsoft seems to have done a pretty good job at making sure everybody hated this system. In fact, it sort of feels like I have to defend myself against the Playstation fanboys like I had to do with the original Xbox.

So I guess I will do just that. Give the reasons why I am buying the Xbox One and give my thoughts on the reasons why people would not like the Xbox.

Xbox History
I have owned Xbox’s ever since it’s release in 2001. I remember going to the 24 hour Wal-Mart with my father for the midnight release.

I did not get the Xbox 360 on launch day for financial reasons. However, I did end up buying it within 3 months of its launch.

I just love these consoles.

Halo
Favorite modern game franchise. Enough said.

My Friends are all Playstation Fans
Please note, that I said fans. Not fanboys (big difference). It can be pretty much guaranteed that my friends will all buy the Playstation 4, so I will be able to get any exposure to PS4 games that I want from them.

Media Capabilities
This is what really put me over the edge for the Xbox. I love the concept of brining voice activated functionality to my TV. In fact, this is the only real reason I am excited to have a Kinect forced upon me.

Microsoft has always wanted the actual purpose of the Xbox line of consoles to be the Trojan horse to ruling the living room and the Xbox One really doubles down on that. They did an entire press conference to discuss its media capabilities. This really promises to be the future of how we consume media.

Always On
Okay this is where we start to get in to the topics that some people may have differing opinions on. Remember, this is my perspective.

I love that this thing is connected to the Internet all the time and always on. I love that this allows me to never have to wait to do anything because of a system update. I love that my video game collection can follow me around to other consoles.

Most of all, I love that I won’t have to ever go to a store to buy a game again. I don’t want to deal with manuals, discs, or cases ever again. I have done that all my life and do you know what that has gotten me? The need to store those things.

Finally if we are being honest with ourselves, we already have a ton of devices around us that require an always on Internet connection to work to their fullest potential. All of my computers, my smartphone, and even my BluRay player need an Internet connection.

It’s just how modern devices work.

I know Microsoft back pedaled on this somewhat, and I think that this will help people that are in the extenuating circumstances and I do think that it is a good thing. I was just not one of the people that carried a pitchfork over this.

Game Rentals and Used Games
Microsoft changed their mind on this, but I want to comment on it anyways. I don’t rent games. When I buy games, I buy them new. These are just things I don’t do.

I also do not sell my games back to GameStop or other companies. The amount of money they have offered me in the past, I found to be insulting quite frankly.

Price
Good things cost good money. Microsoft’s requirement that Kinect be bundled will probably go down as a controversial decision in video gaming history as it added an extra $100 to the price. Only time will tell if this will actually matter.

How I’m Handling the Google Reader Shutdown

On March 13, 2013, Google announced that they would be shutting down Google Reader on July 1st. When I first got the news, I was shocked. In fact, I thought my boss was playing a trick on me. You see, I am something of an information junkie. On an average day I go through 250 to 400 posts. In fact, to get to Google Reader all I had to do was type the letter “G” in to my address bar and hit enter.

The next day, I began my search for my replacement service. Because I would no longer have a multinational corporation covering the cost of my news reading addiction, I was prepared to have to spend some money for a replacement.

The first solution I tried was Feedly. My feeds imported without any issues and it seemed to be a pretty okay option. After a few days, it felt like something was missing. I was not getting through my news stories as well as I was on Google. I needed something that was designed more for the power user.

It was at this point that I tried NewsBlur. Well, actually, I had to wait a few days before trying it as he had to temporarily shut off new accounts due to the number of Google Reader refugees signing up for free accounts. Anyways, I decided to start with a Premium Account since the entire website is managed by a single person. My first impressions of NewsBlur was that it looked a little rough around the edges, but I was able to move through my news stories at the same speed as Google Reader. It appeared that I found my power user reader application.

This did not mean that things were perfect. I found that my news stories were not being marked read. Also, the Android app was less than awesome. These problems were annoying, but I was trying to be understanding with the developer. I was glad that my understanding was not taken for granted. These problems were slowly, but surely were fixed. Now I have very few problems.

One nice feature of NewsBlur is that not just a website, but also a backend service with an API. This allows me to use different applications if I want to. I tend to just use the official website and mobile application, but it is nice to have options. Today I decided to use download and use ReadKit on my Mac.

Since the announcement, it seems that just about every company is trying to create a service to accept all the displaced Google Reader users. It seems that the use of RSS is not as dead as Google believes. In fact, I believe Google could have just started charging for Reader and most of us would have happily given then $25 a year. With what they did, it really appears that Google is leaving money on the table.

What solution are you using for a Google Reader replacement?

My Take on Windows 8

Not since Windows Vista has a version of Windows been this hated. This means that out of the last three releases of Windows, two of them have been fairly universally hated by their customers. I have been using Windows 8 since it’s release and I am ready to share my thoughts on it.

Before I begin, let me just say that Microsoft had to do something drastic to Windows. Since we are in this “Post PC” era, Microsoft could not just release another version of the same operating system. Had they done that, they would have written off Microsoft as out of touch and that they could no longer innovate.

The bottom line here is that Microsoft was far too ambitious what they wanted to accomplish with Windows 8. Windows 8 is not all bad, just flawed in some situations. Microsoft’s goal was to create a common interface for every device out there. This includes smartphones, web servers, and even the XBox. Microsoft has decided to call this design paradigm Modern UI (it was formally called Metro, but shortly before launch, they changed the name due to a possible trademark dispute).

Modern UI’s biggest sin is that it does not function perfectly on any device that does not have a touchscreen. At first glance, Modern UI looks like a tablet operating system. Because it operates as a touch first interface, using a mouse and keyboard does not feel natural. In Modern UI, you scroll left and right quite a bit and this is very difficult using a mouse. It is a different story if you have a touchpad that supports multi-touch as you can scroll sideways without much effort, but that is about as good as you can get without a touchscreen.

With all the shortcomings of Modern UI, you can be thankful that Microsoft left the classic Desktop interface largely intact, with the exception of the Start Button and Start Menu. Explorer windows have been given a face lift with giving them the same tabbed interface that first appeared in Office 2007.

Multiple monitors are a bit wonky in Windows 8. With multiple monitors, one screen is dedicated to Modern UI and the Start Screen and the rest are Desktop only. The monitor that is used for Modern UI and the Start Screen appears to be a bit random and it switches from time to time so that is a bit confusing at times. Also, Modern UI currently runs on one and only one monitor so there is very little as far as multitasking in Modern UI. It is for these reasons that Windows 8 feels like a very 1.0 product.

Depending on how you used the Start Menu in previous versions of Windows will dictate how you feel about the Start Screen. The Start Screen can basically be descried as your most commonly used applications presented to you full screen in that tablet interface. You can add, remove and arrange these “shortcuts” in different columns. If the program is a Modern UI application, you can resize the icon to take up twice as much space so it can take up an entire row of the column it’s in. You cannot do this with a Desktop application for an unknown reason (this seems like a small problem, but it drives me absolute insane).

If you were the kind of user that clicked “All Programs” in the Start Menu then you will feel lost in the Start Screen as it is not obvious how to get to all your applications. Then once you are viewing all your applications, they are feel like they are placed on the screen very haphazardly.

Now if you are the type of user who used the search box to type the first few letters of the program you want to open, you will feel right at home as you can do pretty much the exact same thing. Again, this workflow is not obvious at all as there is no text box or hint that you can just start typing. However, once you know that you can do this, it feels as natural as your use of the Start Menu in previous versions of Windows.

I know that most of this post has been spent discussing the shortcomings of Windows 8. This is because what is good about Windows 8 is what bits Microsoft left alone (the Desktop interface).

Would I recommend that you upgrade to Windows 8? It depends. If you have a touchscreen monitor, then it is a no-brainer. However, if you have a regular desktop or laptop then I guess it depends if you are an adventurous type. Microsoft has made it clear that Modern UI is here to stay so you can either learn to live with it, or deny it as long as possible.

I know that Microsoft is going to release Windows 8.1 soon, but I wanted to get these thoughts released before so I can do a separate post on how it improves the Modern UI experience.

Hello World

As a programmer, I have decided that it is always a good idea to start off a blog with the good ol’ fashioned “Hello World” type of post.

As most of you know, I am not the best blogger in the world. In fact, I have been sucking at it for quite some time now. I am constantly starting over, hoping that I will actually put content up. This time I am hopeful that it will be different.

What is different this time around you ask? Well, I have given up on WordPress as my primary blog. Instead going with a program called Jekyll. What is awesome about Jekyll is that I can create my entire website in a way that better matches my workflow as a programmer. Hopefully this means more posts written.

The Need to Plan Part 2 – What Service Do You Need

Now that you know what shows you want to watch, now it is time to figure out how you are going to watch them. From the spreadsheet you filled out from the previous post, you know what services you have to subscribe to.
Here is a quick rundown of some of the better services out there:

Netflix ($7.99 / month) – Netflix has become the gold standard for how to do streaming video. They have a massive library of content available to stream and the price is low. A lot of people complain that they cannot find what they want to watch on Nexflix streaming. These people tend to expect that they have every movie available. While they do have a lot of movies available, the movie studios have been apprehensive to allow their full catalog to be streamed. TV shows is really where the service shines. The TV shows tend to come out the same time as their DVD counterparts so you’ll have to understand that if this is going to be your sole source of TV shows, you will are going to have to wait. Another noteworthy thing about Netflix is that there are no advertisements in their videos.

Hulu / Hulu Plus (Free and $7.99 / month respectively) – Hulu was the brain child of the major networks getting together to combat other streaming services. The biggest advantage of Hulu is that most content is available the day after it’s original air date. The differences between Hulu and Hulu Plus are pretty vast. Hulu is available in the web browser only and usually only has a few of the latest episodes available. This means that you cannot watch Hulu content on your tablet, smart phone, or game console without subscribing to Hulu Plus. Hulu Plus also makes most shows back catalog available for watching which makes it a nice alternative to Netflix if you only are watching network television.
Amazon Instant Video (Pay Per Episode) – Amazon’s Instant Video service is a great way to fill the gaps that is left between Netflix and Hulu Plus. You can buy each episode of a TV series for between $2 and $3. You can download and stream the video from a number of devices and your PC so it is also flexible.

Amazon Prime ($75 / year) – Amazon Prime gives you a lot for $75 a year. Not only do you get free 2 day shipping, access to the Amazon Lending Library, but you also get access to their video streaming service. Their video streaming service works a lot like Netflix. Their catalog is not as large as Netflix, but it is growing constantly. Probably not worth subscribing on it’s own, but if you order from Amazon a lot, the 2 day shipping is great.

I have found that between all these services, I am able to watch pretty much whatever I want. The next thing to plan is what hardware you are going to need to be able to watch this content.

The Need to Plan Part 1 – What Do You Want To Watch

If you are anything like me, you watch TV. A lot of TV. More than you care to admit to sometimes.

Because of all the shows that I watch, you tend to think “I can’t cut the cord! I’ll have nothing to watch!”. Well unless you are watching network that don’t know that the future is coming, you should be able to find most of your shows one way or another. This however does not mean that all your programs will jump up and say ”I’m here! Come and watch me!”. You’ll have to look around a little.
This is where it helps to have a spreadsheet. I put mine up in the cloud so that you can see exactly what I did. You can view it here. This spreadsheet is a little dated now, but you will get the idea. I took all the TV shows that my wife and I watch and I listed them out. I then looked around at 5 different internet services to see if they were available on there. The Yes/No column has a little bit of code behind it to show what was and was not available. This will let you know if you are even close to being able to cut the cord (legally).

This begs the question “Why not just bittorrent everything?”. Well first of all, it is illegal. These shows cost money to produce and they make money from the revenue from advertising to you while you watch the show or through licensing deals with services like Netflix or Hulu or when you purchase the show. Paying for the content you consume is important. If nobody makes money on TV shows, there will be no more TV shows (you can decide if that is a good or bad thing).

Okay, now that you know what you want to watch and where this content is available, we can figure out how you are going to watch your content. We’ll cover that in the new post.

Why Am I Cutting The Cord

I find that I ask myself this question quite often. Why should I cut the cord?

This transition is turning out to be a lot of work on my part. In the end I will probably confuse my wife as I will have to teach her to watch TV again now that the convenient grid is gone. A lot of time has been invested in making plans and trying to find the perfect combination of software that will work. Why would I put myself through this? My primary motivating factor here is money. Watching my TV bill go up over the years has been tough. I don’t want to imply that I cannot afford TV. Rather that I do not see the money I spend on TV as being a good value.

The money I am currently spending on TV does not go toward the content that I want to watch. You may not know this, but roughly half of the money you pay toward your cable or satellite company goes towards sports programming (source). Half? I am not what you would call a sports fan. In fact, I watch exactly one sports event a year (Super Bowl). This really plays into how I do not perceive cable as a good value. If $600 of the $1200 I spend a year on TV goes toward something I don’t watch, then why should I pay for it? I don’t even want to think about how much of the remaining $600 goes to other channels that I could care less about.

The other motivating factor I have is flexibility. In 2013, does it not feel a little archaic that can only watch a show on it’s specified day and time? If I miss it, I will get exactly one chance to watch it, if I can remember to watch it in the summer? DVR’s solved this to a certain extent, but it is still not quite where it needs to be. I should be able to watch the show, at the time and place of my choosing after it has been released.

The final reason is that I really needed a hobby 🙂 and this is the future of entertainment. Eventually your internet service will just be a dumb pipe for all your video needs.

A New Website

It took me years and years of waiting, but JoshPennington.com finally became available for purchase and I quickly picked it up. This will now be my new home on the internet. JPennington.net served me well for a lot of years, but I think having my full name will be more beneficial to me in the long run.

It is my plan to discuss any topic I want to whether it be about technology, entertainment or something I find cool. I’ll try to keep things pretty well categorized so that you can pick and choose what kind of content you want to see from me.

Creating a Magento Script that Disables Coupons

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had to quickly find a way to disable a large number of coupons in Magento.

Generally I would say that it would be faster to do this by hand in the admin panel, but I had to disable 62 of them (and I was not sure that the solution would work so I did not want to put all that time into it only to not have it work). Continue reading Creating a Magento Script that Disables Coupons

One Way To Fix Add to Cart Being Slow In Magento

Please Note: This post is more of an anecdotal post as opposed to a tutorial. There are no code samples and the actual code that I discuss may not be 100% accurate as I am typing this at the end of a 12 hour work day. I wanted to get this story out so if there are people out there with a similar problem, they can solve it quickly. Continue reading One Way To Fix Add to Cart Being Slow In Magento