500GB and Still Cranking — Jen Needs an Internet PVR Now!

Yep, I have 500+ GB of entertainment and pictures scattered across 3 computers on 5 hard drives.    Last weekend I spent ~6-hour shuffling files and burning files off onto DVDs to make room for more stuff.  It’s insanity managing this stuff manually and my husband can’t really navigate the network to find stuff because the non-sense file structure I made up is all in my head.  Sigh … try searching through 500+GB of stuff to find the one file you want!!!  Oh and then cleaning up the temp file mess created after I’ve moved Gigs of data from one location to another.  There’s got to be a better way and if anyone knows a way that’s doesn’t require any special technical knowledge, please tell me.

So here’s how my entertainment life goes.  I have two ways of getting entertainment from the Internet.  I either do a direct file download or I use a bittorrent program.  Each method downloads to different hard drives.  The bittorrent program downloads to a “working” directory and then automatically moves the files to an “inbox” directory when the downloads are completed.  From there it’s up to me to move the files into the appropriate directories with the rest of the episodes of that particular show or manga.  I used to keep things separated by whether it was a current series or a series which we had captured and watched all the episodes, but given that we have run out of HD space several times, which initiates the purchase of either another hard drive or a furious reschuffling of files onto hard drives with extra space accompanied by burning off onto DVD, things sorta got outta hand.  There are files everywhere with episodes of a series sometimes fragmented across two or more hard drives :(.   All hell breaks loose at home when we have a hard drive failure, as you can imagine. (Oh!  lesson learned:  never place an external hard drive on a sub woofer.  When you think about it, it seems obvious — big magnetic field —  but when you have limited shelf space a subwoofer seems like a good shelf — Doh!)  We have 3 computers that handle this horrible system.  One laptop (HP 6000 series) we use to do the downloading (it has 2 external hard drives attached), one  that is connected to the TV so we can watch the content (HP 7000 series Pavillion Media laptop), and another that has a high capacity hard drive to store more stuff (a Jen-built gaming rig for her lucky husband).  All are connected by wires running through the walls of house because a wireless network could not support the bandwidth we use. 

Sigh … so what would make my life easy?  Well, I’ve had my eye on one of those Media Servers, but it looks like I still have a little bit of wait and I don’t want to upgrade to Vista yet.  Plus, I don’t know whether it will make my life any easier.  If there’s someone out there who knows more about the Media Server, hear my call and set me straight on its capabilities and how I might integrate this into my computer mess.

The thing that would help me the most is a better way to manage my downloads as they come in.  As of now I am using the lousy filter that comes with the bittorrent software I use.  The filter is a simple name filter so it downloads everything with a certain string pattern from the RSS feeds I get regardless of its source, file format, the series episode number, or language.  Consequently, I end up either downloading or having my download cue littered with many versions of the same series that I have to go through and sort out manually.  After it’s downloaded it would be nice if it automatically went into a folder with the other episodes of the shows.  Then I would love to have an interface for when I actually want to view the content that would show me what new episodes have been downloaded that I haven’t watched yet, and from that interface I can view the content rather than having to root around on  the network to find my content.  I guess that sounds like a PVR, but for the internet and that’s what I want.

Oh, and another thing.  With respect to the Media Center storage capacity — whatever is thought of as reasonable, double it.  In the past few months, more of the shows I have downloaded are huge HD files at upto 1280 x 720 (widescreen) resolution (I’m sure 1920 by 1080 is coming soon) with 5.1 sound.  These files are roughly 2x the size of files I was downloading a year ago.  They are also using encoding that require more processing power so RAM has now become very important when playing these big files.  Take note :).

Entertainment vs Selling Ads — Short run vs Long Running Series

As you all well know, I’ve given up on watching American TV shows in favor of programming I download from the Internet that is mostly from Asia.  A big difference that I’ve noticed is that many of the shows from Asia are scoped to last a finite number of episodes, vs. an American TV show, where the ending is dictated by advertiser support.   I enjoy the scoped shows better because it feels like the show has the intent to tell a story with a defined beginning, middle, climax, and conclusion.  I feel that in the US, shows are more about coming up with a compelling premise to draw an audience and thus advertisers too, and, then the story has to keep cranking until the advertisers pull the plug.  This leads to great first and second seasons for many TV shows, and then a decline as the writers struggle to come up with fresh new scenarios.  It all feels very contrived to me and it makes me wonder whether a pitch for a TV show starts:

“I’ve got a great idea!  Let’s make a TV show that appeals to single males 18 – 34 with and average income of $30K/yr.  These guys are into video games, adventure trips, and hot babes.  So all we have to do is string together a show that has action and violence, exotic locations, and a hot babe.  It will be like “Tomb Raider”!  Oh, but we shouldn’t leave out the women, so the babe will need to have some girl friends and a love interest”  and voila we get something like “Alias.”

Granted, “Alias” was a good show the first 2 seasons, but then it got very repetitive as it lingered on.  And then there are the clones that spring up in the aftermath of a successful show — think about “Survivor” and all of its past clones and the new clone coming up on the Discovery channel.  It seems from season to season everything is the same and that the networks are grasping to make old formulas work again — how many times have you heard of the prospect of a “Friends” reunion.

The same thing happens too outside of the US.  There are many anime series that keep going well passed their freshness dates like “Inuyasha”, “Bleach”, “Naruto” and “Konjiki no Gash Bell” (“Zatch Bell” in the US) to name a few of the current worst offenders.  All of these series employ multiple story resets to keep them going (oh, spoiler:  yes, Inuyasha eventually kills Naraku and then series ends after 168 episodes, but the manga still goes on …  Sesshoumaru Forever!!!  Wooo!!!!).  These shows, too, seem to be driven to sell kids toys and advertising in Japan.  Often, I feel the most connection with shows that have a defined story arc and visible character development.  Within the confines of a 12 or 13 episode series, the commitment for the network is less, so it seems that the makers of these shows are able to take more risks and makes some shows that may not appeal to everyone.  It really feels like storytelling and entertainment for the sake of entertainment without necessarily having demographics and advertisers in mind.  I wonder if this could happen in the US with short run series.  I wonder if a story was hit, would it be forced into sequels like movies.

I think though, the real thought for me is about advertising and its direction now that the intention of everything is to get you to buy something.  I heard lots of about “advertainment” and it is cool with me because I will ignore those things that seem contrived and watch those things that are entertaining.  In the end, though, there has to be some artistic integrity to keep people from straying away.  I also believe this is true as advertising enters video games.  At the heart, the advertisers and the video game makers have to keep in mind that people play the games to be entertained and not to be sold to.  I can guarentee that gamers will not play a game in which the advertisements detract from or hinder game play.

Advertising to Kids within Virtual Worlds

More from CNET on kids and the internet.  This time the focus is on advertising to kids within virtual worlds.  Here’s a link.

To be honest I don’t know what to think of this.  Kids really don’t have much real spending power, but they do have a lot of influence on the spending of their parents.  Advertising creeps in from everywhere, so I ask whether limiting advertising in a kid specific virtual world is going to make much of a difference.  I think this is a case, too, where parents can make a difference by making their children aware of advertising and to teach them to think critically about the advertising they experience.

Singapore Vacation

My husband and I are back from 9 days in Singapore. We went for vacation and a good friend’s wedding. The wedding was wonderful! We watched the solemnization ceremony, which was nearly identical to the civil wedding ceremony my husband and I had, and we went to the dinner. The dinner was sumptuous with a little bit of theater. Our good friend put on a great party and my husband and I were honored to be invited :).

Singapore, as usual, is nice. Our vacation started off a little bumpy, though. Upon arrival to our hotel, we found out that our room wasn’t ready, so we went to the hotel’s restaurant for some lunch. We were pretty ragged looking from the plane ride and looked quite out of place. To make a long story short, one of the ladies at the table sitting next to us purse went missing and she blamed my husband and me. We went through a couple of rounds of questioning with the hotel security staff and the police before being left alone. We were quite displeased. I personally was very scared because breaking the laws in Singapore carry heavy penalties and I didn’t know what our rights would be if we had been formally accused. After that it was pleasant warm days of walking around, eating, and shopping.

We visited the Singapore History Museum and the Asian Civilization Museum. Both museums were quite large and we could not finish them in the time we had. I really recommend visiting the History Museum coupled with a visit to military fort on Sentosa island to get a good feel for the history of Singapore. It’s an interesting history and I think through experiencing these sites, I understand better why Singapore is what it is. It’s a careful balance between many cultures that could be easily warring with each other. The element of geography also plays a great importance to Singapore then and now as a trade port and at the center of mix of countries in political turmoil. These aspects of Singapore I found very interesting :).

The last full day of our stay we visited the Juroung Bird Park. The Bird Park is a compact bird zoo and it takes about 3 – 4 hours to see everything along with a few shows. The selection of birds is good and the park is good condition (the flamingo habitat was being renovated while we were there). There’s not much in the way of food though. We were most impressed with the falconalry exhibit. There were 20 or so birds of prey on display in open falconalry cages. I’m always amazed to see how big the American Bald eagle is. We took the MRT out to the bird park and along our 1+ hour journey we got a good look at alot of Singapore and there are an unbelieveable amount of people living on that small island. Most of them are densily packed into high rise structures that rise out the land much like tract housing at home — but much taller. It’s overwhelming to think about. This too was quite interesting. We wondered what all the people do.

To summarize, it was a good trip with good food and some fine siteseeing. Despite this being our 4th visit we still haven’t seen all there is to see in Singapore and since the city-nation is always in flux, I imagine we will not run out of things to see there in the future.