Why I Should Dump DirecTV

In the latest episode of HDTV and Home Theater Podcast, Ara and Braden discuss how much money could be saved by dropping satellite or cable TV and using only over the air broadcast and online delivery. I decided to take a look at my family’s situation to see if we could drop our DirecTV subscription.  I did my research with one question in mind: Can I save money and still enjoy the same programs?

The point is to see if I can save money, so I wanted to use what I already had without having to buy any additional hardware. We live in an area where over the air broadcast would require a large and expensive antenna, so over the air broadcasts don’t work for me. I also don’t want to pay for a new Tivo or build a home theater PC to record and playback shows. That leaves me with only using online delivery providers like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, or iTunes. I currently have a Roku but no AppleTV, so iTunes is out of the equation. Netflix doesn’t offer current programming, but we do watch a lot of  shows from their instant catalog. I’ve never looked into Hulu, but I don’t think I need to.

I found that I can get almost all of the shows I watch on Amazon. Here’s the breakdown:

Amazing Race $ 28.99 iTunes price, but probably the same on Amazon
Survivor $ 28.99 iTunes price, but probably the same on Amazon
Alcatraz $ 17.94 Amazon Prime
Justified $ 19.99 Amazon Prime
Glee $ 59.64 Based on per episode price, but season pass is probably less
Modern Family $ 59.64 Based on per episode price, but season pass is probably less
Desparate Housewives $ 59.64 Based on per episode price, but season pass is probably less
Person of Interest $       – Not available
Dexter $       – Not available
Total $  274.83

The only current shows I can’t get are Person of Interest and Dexter. We already don’t get Dexter and wait for Netflix to have it, so nothing really changes there. Person of Interest I enjoy, but since I have more shows to watch than time to watch them I wouldn’t feel bad about waiting until that was available on Netflix or via Amazon (which I assume will happen at some point). All the others add up to a pretty good chunk of cash to lay out at one time, so I would probably not buy them all at once.

I currently pay just under $58 per month for DirectTV, or just under $700 a year. My savings would be substantial, well over $400 a year,  if I only purchased the shows I want instead of paying for a bunch of channels we never watch, but we would be making some sacrifices.

First, I wouldn’t get any live sports – no NFL, no SF Giants, nothing. I’m not a huge sports fan and honestly am disgusted by the egos of most players. If people put as much effort and energy into schools as they do into fantasy leagues, our kids would be doing amazing things. So I wouldn’t miss sports that much.

The other thing we would miss is the award shows. The only one I watch is the Oscars, but others in my house occasionally watch other award shows. I’m not all that impressed with Hollywood these days either. They put out crap and complain that no one goes to movies. I’d rather spend $30 on a season of the Amazing Race than $9 on some recycled story with overblown special effects, so my interest in the Oscars grows weaker every year. Besides, I have a lot of friends who have Oscar parties that I could attend.

So the bottom line is that I would be better off dropping DirectTV and just using Amazon and Netflix to provide my shows. I’ve been wanting à la carte programming for a while, turns out I can have it now and didn’t know it.



Taken with my Holga 120N, Kodak 120 TMAX 400 film, scanned on my HP C3150, film processed and printed by Marin Film Works

I can’t even remember what kind of camera I started taking pictures with, but it was a film camera. My first memories of photography are with a Polaroid and I owned a Kodak disc camera at around the age of 8 or 9. There’s something about the quality of film that digital cameras just can’t replicate. And then there’s the Holga, offering a unique qualities even beyond what traditional film cameras offer.

I got a Holga 120N mostly to experiment and see what I could come up with. I’ve actually had the camera for a long time, but have only developed two rolls of film. Developing costs almost as much as the camera. The first roll was a learning experience and the photos are nothing I care to share with the world. This shot is from the second roll which had a few good shots. I had the film developed last week and found shots from six months ago on the roll. The surprise of remembering what you shot is part of the appeal of film, you forget what shot until it’s developed and are pleasantly surprised when you see the prints.

I plan to get the next roll shot and processed in a much shorter time span, maybe a couple of months. I’m still learning and haven’t perfected the focusing technique (if it even exists). I do like the quality of the lens, I just need to work on the shot selection and composition. Exposure is what is, you don’t get a lot choice. I’ll probably try a couple of flash shots as well just to see what happens.

The prints are much better than the scans, probably because my scanner isn’t that great. I’m not sure paying the extra money for scanning during development is worth since I only had two or three “keepers” in this roll, but I do like the prints. There’s something magical about holding the image in your hand, even if the photo isn’t great.

Yosemite in Winter


There’s something magical about Yosemite in the winter. It’s always awe inspiring, but a fresh dusting of snow adds another level of amazing to the valley. We spent a few days up there between Christmas and New Year’s just to relax and enjoy some time away. As usual, I left longing for more.

Yosemite is a photographers paradise. Everywhere you turn there is something to shoot, and usually a crowd of people taking the same picture. The challenge is avoiding crowds and finding an original shot (if that is even possible). I go into Yosemite knowing the best shots have already been taken and I won’t create a new masterpiece, but I might create my own masterpiece. I go there to take pictures that are mine. Even though a millions of people take the same picture of Half Dome, I still want to take my own. If I’m happy with the shots I take, then it was a good trip. I’ve put all the shots I thought were good enough to share in a set on Flickr.

My favorite places to shoot on this trip were:

  • The meadow along Northside Drive, between Yosemite Village and the Ahwahnee Hotel. It has one of the best views of Half Dome.
  • Tunnel View on Hwy 41, right before the Wawona Tunnel
  • El Capitan meadow
  • Along the Merced River between Swinging Bridge and Sentinel Bridge. (I don’t think you can walk in this area off trail except when there is snow on the ground. Stay on trails and help protect the grasses.)

My favorite places change with the seasons. My next trip later this year will include a hike to the top of Half Dome, so I expect that will be my favorite spot. If you’re planning a trip I highly recommend the Lonely Planet Yosemite National Park guide. It is a invaluable resource.

One bummer about the trip, I realized my Sigma 17-70mm lens is not auto focusing properly, especially for wide shots. It’s not off on every shoot, but enough that I don’t trust it. I’ll probably have it repaired at some point, but for now I’ll switch back to the Canon 17-55mm kit lens or go manual. It sucks to have a lens that’s only 18 months old break. I noticed the shots I took with my Canon 70-300mm were much sharper.

The best camera

The best camera is definitely the one you have with you, especially if you have an iPhone and the Best Camera app by Chase Jarvis. I recently got an iPhone and have been incredibly impressed with the camera, especially touching the screen to choose the focus point. There are plenty of cameras out there with higher resolution and better low light performance, no doubt about that. I won’t be giving up my DSLR anytime soon. But having the power of  the iPhone with dozens (hundreds?) of photo apps and the ability to upload to the web bundled with the camera is pretty amazing and liberating.

I’ve been so fascinated with my iPhone camera that I haven’t been using the DSLR nearly as much as I should. I’ve never had my own point and shot, so this filled a need for me. And the Best Camera app with built-in uploading to the Best Camera site makes sharing easy. You can also  send Twitter and Facebook updates when you upload to let your friends an followers know about your photos. My Best Camera photos are at http://bestc.am/photographers/4453.

The beauty of the Best Camera app is in its simplicity. It’s easy to apply and stack filters to images, then save and upload them. The one tool I would like is a crop tool, but the  Photoshop app has that so I can crop there and process and upload in Best Camera. Best Camera also tends to blow out the highlights, but again Photoshop can help with that. And it’s a cool effect sometimes. The app is well worth the $2.99. If you need convincing, just check out the winners feed of the best shots from Best Camera users.

At this point my iPhone has as much value to me as a photographer as my DSLR. I can’t imagine not having a camera that uploads directly to the web.
After the rain Confernce Call

$1Million doesn’t go far in this economy

One Million Dollars
I have a bunch of old Hi8 and 8mm tapes that I want to transfer to my computer, so I searched Amazon for “Hi8 player” and the results came up with a $1,000,000 VHS-C adapter. And to think I gave one of them away about 10 years ago. I could have retired if I would have just held onto it for a few more years… Oh, well, now I have to keep my day job. I’m pretty sure this is a mistake that will be corrected, so I took a screen shot.

The truly funny thing is that 75% of the people that view this page end up buying the item for $1Million. I wish I could afford a VHS-C adapter. Not that I have a VCR anymore, but wouldn’t it be cool to show your friends at the next kegger. Those poor suckers that opted for the adapters under $20 just don’t understand the true value of this adapter. And there’s only one left, so you’d better buy it right away. Shipping is only $99, so it’s steal.

You might also consider the bundle that comes with a Super High-grade VHS-c Videocassette 4 pack and a Nickel Cadmium Camcorder Battery For Panasonic PV-BP18 for only $1,000,023.60.

Netflix Blu-Ray Price Increase = FAIL

Like every other Netflix subscriber that opted to get Blu-Ray disks, I got the email today from Netflix detailing the price increase. And like every other subscriber I am most unhappy. For me it’s going up from the $1 per month Blu-Ray surcharge to $4 per month. That’s an extra $36 per year.

Netflix’s stated reason: “Blu-ray discs are substantially more expensive than standard definition DVDs” That is BS. I just checked the prices on Quantum of Solace at Amazon. The two-disc collector’s edition on Blu-Ray is $19.99 while the two-disc collector’s edition on DVD is $20.99. The Blu-Ray is actually cheaper! Maybe those are sale prices, but it shows the downward trend in Blu-Ray pricing. Then consider the fact that Netflix is buying in bulk and not paying anything near retail on a per disk basis. I’d like to know how much more Blu-Ray disks actually cost Netflix.

My Netflix account is $16.99 per month, with the new Blu-Ray charge it will be $20.99, about the cost of a Blu-Ray movie. The major difference is that I can go buy the Quantum of Solace Blu-Ray today, but I can’t get it from Netflix for a “very long” time.  Wait times for new release Blu-Ray titles are always “Very Long Wait”. So I get to pay more money for what is already an inferior service offering. Couple that with the fact that I rarely get  Blu-Ray movies from Netflix and this looks likes extortion. In the last year I’ve averaged about one Blu-Ray per month from Netflix, but now I’ll be paying a price that assumes all three of the rentals I have out are Blu-Ray. Even if I paid $1 per Blu-Ray, I’d still be paying less per year than the new price increase.

So what will I do? Vote with my wallet. Like many other Netflix customers, I’m dropping the Blu-Ray option. I’ve been keeping an eye on Twitter today, and from what I see people are pissed and aren’t going to pay the extra money. It’s not a lot of money, but money isn’t the point. It’s the idea that Netflix needs to charge extra for something that really doesn’t cost them that much, and the charge is not equitable based on usage. If every title I wanted to watch was available on Blu-Ray and I didn’t have to wait for them, I’d consider the extra charge. But that is not reality and the bulk of what I watch is not on Blu-Ray.

I’m joining the hordes of other Netflix subscribers and dropping the Blu-Ray option, and I’m reducing my DVD plan from 3 to 2 to save even more money. I think I’ll donate that $40+ year to a charity that could really use the money. Netflix seriously needs to reconsider this massive blunder.

First Zooomr Survey

This week I decided to take Google Forms for a spin to test out a new feature that allows you to feed data from a web form into a spreadsheet. Since Zooomr had a major upgrade on March 3 and because the community there is awesome, I figured a Zooomr survey would be a good topic for my little experiment. If you haven’t taken the survey, please do.

Before I talk about the survey, I want to be clear about a couple of things. First, Zooomr is awesome. I believe it is the future of photo sharing online. Kris is building an incredible site to match the incredible community. Second, this survey was designed more for me to learn about Google forms and spreadsheets, not as a way to promote or vent about Zooomr. Take it with a grain of salt, less than 60 people have responded so far, so the sample size is way too small to hold any statistical significance. I had fun doing the survey and think people had fun taking it. That was the point.

Survey Results

Here’s what I learned about Zooomr users: They’re almost all guys who live all over the world, most like Barack Obama, use Windows, and use a DSLR camera. Ok, a bit of an oversimplification, but still mostly accurate based on the data. For those that want to see the summary data, you can view it at http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=pdevXlWEbsfBu89OaL9_KYQ. This only shows the multiple choice questions, not the text fields. I even threw in a couple of pretty charts for those visual folks. I think a few people reading this like visuals, just a hunch.

I want to focus on the open answer questions. There were only two open answer questions on the survey (aside from DSLR model); here’s my take on the responses. Some commentary on the other questions is at the end.

What’s the coolest thing about Zooomr?
In a word, Community. The community and social aspects Zooomr are definitely what people like about the site. Oddly, no one mentioned quality of photos. I’m ok with that. My answer was community, not photography. My favorite response was “You and everyone else like you.� I think that pretty much sums it up.

A close second is the features Zooomr offers, specifically unlimited uploads and Zipline (which could be considered part of Community). A couple of people mentioned Kris, which is worth noting here because Kris has done an incredible job of building a great social site that also happens to be a great photo sharing site. There may be features we still want, but the main draw to Zooomr is the people and Kris understands that. He’s made it easy for us to be part of a community. So my personal thanks to Kris Tate.

What’s the one thing you want that Zooomr doesn’t have right now?
Even though I said “one thing� most people listed several. The responses to this question didn’t have any surprises because I’ve been using Zooomr for a long time and have closely followed the bugs and feature requests in the groups.

It’s hard to pick one or two things, so here are a few of the more common requests:

  • Make all sizes viewable based on contacts and/or licensing (there were several variations on this, I’m paraphrasing)
  • Bulk editing for things like licensing
  • Improvements to Groups, like photo pools and searching
  • Fix Geotagging

There were people that said they were happy with Zooomr and the recent upgrade. I’d like to say I’m glad to see EXIF data for my photos. The best response was “A direct link into my brain?�

All the other questions

I wasn’t overly surprised by any of the results. For example, the overwhelming majority of Zooomrites use a DSLR camera with a fairly even mix of Canon and Nikon users with some Pentax and Sony users in the mix. Based on the quality of photos I see on Zooomr, I expected that most people use DSLRs. DSLRs have come down in price in recent years, so people can afford them.

In terms of demographics, I was a little surprised that only 4 people who responded are female. I thought there were more women using Zooomr, or maybe it’s just that they didn’t respond. Geographically, users are all over the globe, which I think is great. One of things I’ve always loved about Zooomr is finding shots from parts of the world I’ve never visited.

Oh, people were split on the smiling clouds. Half got rid of them, half said they’re cute. As a side note, Kris put up a lot more themes that did not include clouds after the survey went online. The best part, you can change your theme. If you’re inclined, you can put rainbows and unicorns on your Zooomr page, but I’d caution against it.


Zooomr Rocks.
Seriously, people like Zooomr and the community. If you spend any amount of time there, then you already know that. The really cool thing is that you get a great photo sharing site along with the cool people.

Oh, and the Google tools worked great. I’m not a spreadsheet guru, but I was able to learn what I needed in a couple of hours.

Have Your Cupcake

Have your cupcakeHave your cupcake Hosted on Zooomr

One of my good friends, Laurie Lucov, is pastry chef who specializes in wedding cakes. She’s had cakes featured in bridal magazines and makes really, really good cakes. She made these for my daughter’s 8th birthday. I’ve already posted other pictures from that day, and am still slow at taking new pictures so I figured I’d post this one.

Laurie actually liked it and will be using it as part of her portfolio. Her web site is www.laurielucovweddingcakes.com

Zooomr Still Down

Zooomr Mark III
I’ve been waiting for Zooomr to come back online after their upgrade to Mark III, but as of right now it is still down. It was supposed to be up yesterday, but they must have run into some problems. I have a couple of photos there that I want to post here, but can’t get to them. Maybe later today or tomorrow.

Some of the new features sound really cool, as you can see from the screen shot. One that I’m anxious to try out is searching by color. From the Zooomr blog:

“Zooomr Mark III Boasts an impressive new search system along side our marketplace â€â€� one of the coolest features of marketplace is that we can now search by the overall color of each photograph. This requires intense processing of each photograph, and while we have 5 superfast quad-xeon servers processing multiple batches of photos, it is taking a bit longer than expected.”

Sounds cool, I wonder how it will work. What will a search for teal return? What about searching on hex codes? Anyway, can’t wait for Zooomr to get back up and running.

Rain Out

It has been rainy for the past couple of days, and I don’t really like the idea of getting my camera all wet. I tried to go out yesterday, but it was absolutely pouring. I’ll try again today.  So I’m not doing a photo a day. If the weather continues like this, I’ll post some older images.
I did see an interesting article on Digg about megapixels as a marketing tool. It’s worth the read http://www.thetechlounge.com/article/379/