Tag Archives: technology

Review: FunkyFlick.com, A New Way To Find Movie Recommendations

Coyau / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Coyau / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Funkyflick Company. All opinions are 100% mine.

In between blogging about Netflix, Hulu Plus and Aereo, one thing I don’t talk much about is how I actually find new movies to watch.

I keep lists from what people recommend to me, but just as often I’ll browse categories (like my documentary spree on Hulu the other day) and add things to my queue just because they look interesting. I’ve watched movies for work and research purposes (my binge of Shark Week programming earlier this year), for entertainment (I, like many of you, still catch myself humming Let It Go from Disney’s Frozen).

The flaw in this plan is, of course, that as a viewer, you’re often limited to whatever films, TV shows or books are available on the platform you’re searching – for example, if I open up my library app, I can search for books available through 3M but not what the NYC Library has available for Kindle. (I can get a fuller catalog search by going back to the actual NYPL site, but who wants to navigate that on their phone?)

The other day, at loose ends for something to watch, I checked out FunkyFlick.com, which claims to be able to find recommendations for movies, books and more based on what you already like. Okay, I thought, I’ll give this a go.

One of my favorite movies is (wait for it) Dogville by Lars von Trier, and while I completely acknowledge that von Trier has some major issues when it comes to dealing with women, his films really are a singular experience, often evoking particular emotional states and visceral moods. It’s hard to find other filmmakers whose work has the same effect on me as a viewer; I decided that looking up von Trier’s Dogville was a good way of testing just how robust it is.

The first handful of films that FunkyFlick.com recommended were actually other early works from von Trier, along with some more recent films and other pieces from the Dogme group. Then it got interesting. A couple of Westerns – High Plains Drifter, High Noon, Bad Day at Black Rock – popped up, along with the vampire horror flick 30 Days of Night.  Dear Wendy, a 2004 co-production between a bunch of European countries with von Trier as the writer (but it’s a comedy?) and a really neat-looking piece called Element of Crime about a British detective in Cairo all caught my eye. One horror film, Population 436, (about a census taker sent to a small town) looks like it might be a little scarier than I could handle, but I might give it a shot if it comes up.

I like that each of the films features a short trailer and a summary of the film, and while it might take some searching to find some of the more esoteric titles, at least now I have a way of finding actual recommendations – not just the cheesy “based on what you’ve watched, you might like” ideas that I’m usually handed by online recommendation systems.

All in all, FunkyFlick.com is an interesting site, and I would recommend anybody take a wee noodle around on it when they have a few extra minutes. You’ll definitely increase your to-watch list by (at least) a few titles.

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Samsung Chromebook Update

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It’s been a few weeks since I brought my Chromebook home from the store, and I’m not gonna lie – I am completely and utterly in love with this little machine. It’s light to carry, easy to use, offers comprehensive access to what I need my computer for, and (with about an hour of preparation when I first bought it) puts all my work at my fingertips. I’ve encountered one or two hiccups since booting the Chromebook up for the first time, but have found all of them supremely navigable.

This comes with a couple of caveats: I don’t play computer games, I have above-average knowledge (if we’re talking the average of the general population here) of how a computer works, I haven’t yet used the Chromebook for screenwriting, and I’ve maintained a primary desktop that runs on Windows 7, which I use when I need to save large files or print a document.

With those disclaimers out of the way, here are some of my favorite things about my Samsung Chromebook:

The Keyboard
99.9% of what I use my Chromebook for is typing. Whether I’m tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, novelling, emailing or a dozen other -ings, words are at the center of most of my computer usage. The Chromebook’s keyboard is close enough to full-size to be comfortable and easy to type on, unlike the Asus EEE netbook I bought (and ultimately discarded) four or five years ago. The keys are low to the surface of the laptop’s lower casing, and give a satisfyingly mechanical click when struck. I can’t stand silent keyboards. They make me feel like I’m fooling myself. One reason I picked the Samsung over the other models of Chromebook available at the Best Buy I visited was the tactile experience of testing its keyboard and mousepad before purchase. Given the importance of the tactile experience in my writing process, I think I made the right choice.

Living In The Cloud
Dropbox has become a more important part of my storage life for the last few years. I haven’t yet found a satisfactory way of mirroring files from Dropbox to Google Docs, and since Google Docs can’t open direct from Dropbox, I’ve had to use a roundabout process of downloading, converting and opening files to get my documents across, but I’ve now started saving my work directly to my Google Drive. Almost every service with a web interface is accessible from Chrome, so I’ve been able to keep watching my shows on Hulu Plus and listening to music on Spotify. I’m also (as I’ll discuss next) really growing to enjoy — not just tolerate — the experience of using Google’s productivity suite.

The Software Experience
My biggest point of hesitation when it came to moving away from the Windows OS was my reliance on Microsoft products. All my writing (with the exception of screenplays) has been done in Microsoft Word since around 1993, and being able to access those files is critical. I knew that moving to Google Docs was going to be a transition, but I didn’t give a lot of thought to the casual use of image editors. And even though my phone is an Android, the idea of my choice of OS having a substantial impact on my organization and planning hadn’t really occurred to me.

Where its office suite is concerned, the Chrome OS is a winner. Google Docs (the company’s replacement for Microsoft Word) and Sheets (for Excel) make it possible to import Microsoft files (though you have to be sure to use the “import” command rather than just “open,” or you won’t wind up with an editable file. On top of this, Google offers Forms, which may be the easiest way to set up a survey and collect simple data that I’ve ever used (and I’ve used Access, Surveymonkey, LJ Polls and more). On top of this, Google has added offline mode for everything from gmail to Docs, which means I can keep up with my work even when I’m not online.

Managing Appointments
At the moment, thanks to a plethora of doctors’ appointments, my calendar isn’t as uncomplicated as you might think. Since getting my Chromebook, I’ve noticed a jump in the up-to-date nature of my calendar. Suddenly, putting new items on my agenda has become a seamless process, since I no longer have to navigate the default options put into place for me by Microsoft. Any time I get the option to “add to Google Calendar,” I click it, and presto – my calendar is updated the way it always should have been, but wasn’t, when using my Google Calendar from a Windows machine. It also carries over to my phone’s Google calendar – again, this should have been happening before, but there was some kind of hiccup taking place when I tried to do this from Windows, and I never took the time to fix it.

Photo Editing
Thanks to an article I read early in my research process, I had learned about Pixlr, touted as an online alternative to Photoshop. When I got caught needing to make a picture for my first blog post about Chromebook, I tried it out – and I am happy to say, it works exactly like a replacement for Photoshop – right down to the functions of different tools and where they’re placed. It may not be a twin to the most recent version of that software, but it’s certainly showing the level of functionality I need.

Battery Life
The Samsung Chromebook advertises as having a battery that holds a charge for over six hours. I haven’t timed it yet, but so far I haven’t been dissatisfied with the amount of continuous use I’m getting out of the machine. I can sit down and work and not worry too much about having to plug in again – plus, when that time comes, it only takes a couple hours before I’m back at 100% charge.

The Downsides

  • I don’t play video games, and that’s just as well, because the only ones I could play on the Chromebook would be browser-based games. The downside here is that I really want to play Actual Sunlight and I just haven’t had a chance to play it on the Windows computer I’m using as my base.
  • I can’t watch Netflix from the Samsung Chromebook. This is something to do with site compatibility and what the Chromebook won’t run (I want to say Java?).
  • Skype doesn’t work on the Chromebook (I hate skyping, so I don’t actually consider this a downside, but if there were a situation where I needed to discuss something face-to-face with a family member, friend or client who was geographically distant, it would be Google Hangouts or bust.
  • The keyboard is not a traditional QWERTY setup. There’s no “home” or “end,” no “page up” or “page down.” That row of familiar F-keys along the top of the keyboard has been replaced by a series of icons, the meaning of which isn’t always immediately clear. Right-click is non-existent. Caps Lock has been replaced with a “universal search” key that acts much as the start-menu search in Windows. That said, there are easily-searchable lists of keystroke commands. You can summon the right-click command menu by following instructions on trackpad use. There are alternatives, you just have to be ready to investigate them.
  • Inexplicable technical quirks. The first two times I turned on the Chromebook, my mouse pointer disappeared after a few minutes. Both times, it re-appeared once the computer was restarted. I suspect that I inadvertently triggered some kind of keypad command, but haven’t followed up to see what it was. More worrying was the sudden drop-out of any ability on the part of the computer to connect with my home WiFi network. My Android was still connecting just fine, but despite numerous refreshes and restarts, I couldn’t get the computer to connect to the home network (which it could still see). I went to a friend’s house intent on performing a complicate reboot — and if that didn’t work, mentally preparing to send the whole thing in to Samsung for a replacement under warranty — but when I got to my friend’s the computer connected to her home WiFi network without a hitch. Once I got back to my own place, it was as if the problem had never been there in the first place. These technical glitches are worrying, mostly because figuring them out wasn’t possible and now the problems have passed, and if I’d been under a deadline they would have been extremely distressing – particularly the one about the WiFi not working, since the Chromebook is designed to function at full capacity only when connected to a network.

Overall? I’d still recommend the Chromebook over a Windows laptop for anybody who doesn’t need to game or program with their system. The price is right, the capabilities seem more than adequate, and the experience of use has been more or less friction-free so far.

 

Why I Gave Up On @Aereo

imagesOld-TVI’m a big proponent of trying new technologies, particularly where television is concerned. I have a Hulu Plus account, a sub-account on Netflix, and the minute I found out about Aereo, I signed up for a subscription. But I don’t have it any more, because it was unreliable and when I tried to approach Aereo about getting some kind of consideration for that fact, I was completely dissatisfied with their response.

Aereo, for those who don’t know, is a product that allows you to get an aerial television signal through your computer. And DVR the broadcast shows that you want to save and watch for later. Sounds awesome, right? And it was, for the first month or two, but then shows I tried to watch live started hanging up/lagging. Dramatically. So did the shows I had DVR’d. Speed tests on my Time Warner cable line actually revealed that the speeds were perfectly in line with my internet subscription (shocker!) and should have been enough to support the highest quality video, let alone the lowest-bandwidth video quality, which by that point was all I was using (in an attempt to avoid lags). (Note: no idea if this is still the case, thanks to the courts gutting Net Neutrality and the FCC recently indicating that pay-for-play is going to be the wave of the internet’s future.)

So I went to the company and asked what was going on. Could they fix it? Since we rapidly determined they couldn’t, were they willing to refund the rest of my subscription month? I certainly wasn’t happy to pay for a service that didn’t work, even if it did let me watch SCANDAL in real time with the rest of Twitter.

But no. They weren’t willing to refund the month that it hadn’t been working. They weren’t even willing to refund the remainder of the billing month pro-rata. They offered a $2 credit, which for the several hours I had spent trying to fix the problem was laughable, particularly given that I had to reiterate my problem with every email and correct multiple incorrect assumptions on the part of their “service” staff. In fact, although they had been billing me steadily, they said that my account had expired (which they later retracted).

To add insult to injury, even though Aereo uses broadcast signals to obtain your content, it limits your ability to access that content outside of your home area. In other words, if I DVR something in New York City, I can’t play it when I travel to another part of the state, let alone another part of the country, even though if I had a TV I’d be able to access these nationally-broadcast programs no matter where I went. At the time of my subscription, this wasn’t made clear before subscribing, though they may have changed this in the months since I left the service.

As much as I approve of alternatives to expensive cable contracts, I don’t approve of companies who take consumer’s money without delivering as promised. I was willing to support Aereo as an emerging technology, early on, because (at least until the FCC kills net neutrality even deader than it appears to be at the moment) we need alternatives to costly cable packages that deliver a minimum of engaging programs.

But if your product doesn’t work as advertised, and you’re dismissing customer concerns and unwilling to negotiate equitable payback for under-performance (or lack of performance), I’m going to stop supporting it. Fast. And let my friends know not to bother, too.

So while Aereo is currently garnering headlines (not to mention Supreme Court cases) and becoming something more people consider purchasing, it’s not a service I can recommend. Having spoken to a couple people about their plans to subscribe, I realized that not everyone is aware of the abysmal customer “service” they offer, and wanted to put this out there for public consumption: unless (and until) their customer service and quality of service improve, I really don’t think this company is the one to follow where this innovation is concerned.

 

Other links of interest:

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/04/24/the-cloud-industry-needs-aereo-to-win-but-consumers-need-something-better/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

 

Edit: This morning (4/25/14) I woke up to an email from Chris McKay, Director of Customer Care & Billing for Aereo, Inc. Chris has offered to refund the full month’s fee for my final month of Aereo service, which I’ve accepted, so now it is just a matter of waiting for the refund to hit my account. I appreciate his reaching out and being interested in resolving the situation.

Saturday So Far – Geek Girl Con

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Race in Costuming and Performance Panel

After waking up later than intended, my friend and I made it to the con around 10am. We had just enough time to dash around looking at art before our first panels – mine was RACE IN COSTUMING AND PERFORMANCE, with panelists The Shanghai Pearl and Chaka Cumberbatch. I was particularly interested in some of what was talked about in regards to cultural appropriation and “homage”, and power structures. It reminded me a lot of the Penny Arcade controversy and general discussions of sexism in geekdom.

So, some fantastic discussion there, which I’m sure we’ll talk more about on the Black Girl Nerds podcast tomorrow.

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Then I headed on to Best of Both Worlds: Careers where STEM meets the Humanities, where I heard some really great advice on getting into a career where an interest in science can merge with communications and social media.

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Now I’m on a break that’s involved checking out the art and vendors, as well as the companies recruiting for geeky careers, and I’m strategizing my panels for the afternoon.

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More coming up as the day goes on, including audio recordings of both the panels I attended this morning. Check ya later!

HE GOT MY EYEBALLS! Effective Targeted Marketing Online

This morning, I re-downloaded RedditIsFun for my latest replacement phone.

After installing and activating it, a message popped up: the developer, “just one guy,” had built in a pop-up that offered the user a choice of whether to allow a single ad per post at the top of each screen. In the pop-up, the user is also informed that the ad option can be toggled on and off at any point in time.

This came hot on the heels of a conversation about how Twitter has started pushing ads from streams its users don’t follow into their twitter streams. On Twitter, my response is to block the twitter account of the corporation that’s paid Twitter to impinge on my eyespace.

With RedditIsFun, I clicked “okay.”

I don’t normally subject myself to ads, because the average American already sees thousands per day – and living in Manhattan, I’d guess my daily average is compensating for the other tail on the bell curve – but here, I agreed. If the ads are obnoxious, I’ll turn them off. If not – if the developer of RedditIsFun is selling his adspace smartly – then I’ve now agreed to see what he’s schilling as a way to help subsidize my use of his program.

So rather than being met with annoyance, his advertisers might actually find themselves making sales to an interested member of their target market.

Smart sale of adspace means I don’t want:

– Ads that demean women.

– Ads that condescend to their viewers.

– The same ad over and over again. (Yes, Hulu, I’m talking to you.)

I do want:

– Ads for products and services that actually interest me

When an advertiser hits the sweet spot and finds their targeted marketing, their ad dollars can be incredibly productive. Last week, I attended the Barefoot Wine Beach Rescue at Rockaway Beach off the back of my Klout score; I connected with like-minded individuals, did some good for the environment, drank free (and tasty) Barefoot Cuvee, and both tweeted and blogged about the event. Win-win-win-win-win. So I’ll buy into a targeted ad scheme that results in advertisers subsidizing an app that gives access to one of the most useful websites currently out there.

So there you go, indie developer. You got my eyeballs. What are you going to do with them?

 

In Protest of SOPA and PIPA

The anti-SOPA and anti-PIPA blackout protests have come to a close as of 8pm EST.
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Technology Review: Vizualize.Me Graphic Resume Builder

I got an invitation to join vizualize.me for a beta test earlier tonight. The service lets users create a resume formatted as an infographic; I loaded up my information and started playing with the templates. Half an hour later, I have a fairly cool looking resume – except for a few things, which (if addressed – this is only the beta version of the site) could make this far more powerful.

Note, the blacked-out bits are not part of the design scheme offered by the site. I put those in by hand, just for you.
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