Obscurity Knocks

Earnest, empathetic, industrious, unpretentious, gay Virgo in Milwaukee with a great life, amazing friends, and a wonderful family.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Netlifx streaming: not all it's cracked up to be

An open letter to Netflix CEO Mr. Reed Hastings and Time Warner CEO Mr. Jeffrey L. Bewkes:

Mr. Reed Hastings, CEO, Netflix
Mr. Jeffrey L. Bewkes, CEO, Time Warner

Dear Mr. Hastings and Mr. Bewkes:

I am a Netflix subscriber and I also have Time Warner's Road Runner high speed Internet service. Recently Netflix announced a price increase. I was on the three DVDs at a time plan from Netflix. Since that plan is increasing from $16.99 to $19.99 per month, I switched to the two DVDs at a time plan which recently increased from $13.99 to $14.99 per month. I understand that Mr. Hastings and Netflix want to move their customers from DVDs to Internet streaming. Doing so allows Netflix to reduce what it pays in mailing costs to the US Postal Service. I understand and appreciate that someday Netflix will likely be all streaming and no DVDs. Although Netflix has a long way to go before accomplishing this goal since less than one-third of my Netflix queue is available on streaming, hence my decision to be on the two DVDs at a time plan.

Since I want to move forward with technology, this weekend I bought a Sony Blu-Ray player (BDPS570) with Wi-Fi. The sales associate at Best Buy explained that this Blu-Ray player would allow me to watch streaming Netflix on my Sony Bravia TV in HD. Great, I thought.

I got everything hooked up without any trouble. I was excited to watch my first Netflix streaming movie. I selected "The Rape of Europa," a documentary about how the Nazis looted and destroyed a significant amount of the world's art in the 1930s and 1940s. The movie started playing on my TV, and I was thrilled with the sharp and bright HD picture. The sound was good, as well. But then the difficulties began. The documentary is 1 hour and 56 minutes in length. It stopped playing approximately 50 times to buffer. Instead of taking 1 hour and 56 minutes to watch, it took me 2 hours and 21 minutes, meaning that the many, many stops for buffering totalled a mind-numbing 25 minutes. Mr. Hastings, if this is streaming Netflix, I'm not interested. Give me the DVD where I don't have to be constantly wondering when the movie is going to stop for buffering. I'll go insane if this is how I have to watch movies.

I wondered if my Road Runner high speed Internet connection was inadequate for Netflix streaming. I tested the speed twice using speedtest.net, and my results were 22.83 Mbps and 25.85 Mbps, which the site said was average. Perhaps my difficulty is with Time Warner's Road Runner; I don't know. If it is, then I'd respectfully request that Time Warner and Mr. Bewkes provide me with improved Road Runner service. I live in the City of Milwaukee. I acknowledge that I don't live in Palo Alto, but Milwaukee is a fairly major city and should have truly high speed Internet service. By way of comparison, my work computer tested at 92 Mbps, but that's a very good service.

However, I think that the problem lies with Netflix. I found this article entitled "How Netflix is Failing You," indicating that I'm hardly the only person experiencing this problem with buffering. My question for Netflix is this: Why are you trying to move your customers to Internet streaming when your Internet streaming service is so inadequate? Shouldn't you have the proper infrastructure in place before you increase your prices to move people to streaming? Isn't there a way that when I select a movie, all the buffering could take place before the movie starts playing, so that once the movie starts playing it won't stop?

Until Netflix can get its act together, I don't plan on using the streaming service since it's so maddeningly frustrating with the constant buffering.

I'd welcome hearing from Mr. Hastings and Mr. Bewkes and/or their associates.

Steve F.

Jake Gyllenhaal

I haven't seen "Love and Other Drugs" yet, but I'm definitely a fan of Jake Gyllenhaal.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Other Side of Ethel Mertz

Lesley also sent me "The Other Side of Ethel Mertz: The Life Story of Vivian Vance" for my birthday. I'm a huge Ethel Mertz fan. When I watch "I Love Lucy," I always envision myself as most similar to the Ethel Mertz character. I'm probably not clever enough to come up with schemes on my own, but I can likely be talked into becoming a part of someone else's scheme. While there's no question that Lucille Ball was a true comedic genius, I'd argue that Vivian Vance was, as well. Playing second banana isn't as easy as it might seem, and Vivian Vance set the gold standard for playing second banana. Without Ethel Mertz, there could have never been a Rhoda Morganstern, let alone just about any supporting actress in a comedy.

The book describes Vivian Vance's childhood, particularly her religiously devout mother who believed that performing on the stage was sinful. Vivian left home as a teenager, got married, and decided to pursue a career on the stage. She ended up married four times, the fourth time to a gay man named John Dodd, who stayed with her until her death from cancer. Vivan made her way to New York, where after modeling and singing in nightclubs, she got a break and became a Broadway actress, usually in supporting comedic roles.

Desi Arnaz discovered Vivian Vance when she was performing at the La Jolla Playhouse, and offered her the part that would define her career and her life, Ethel Mertz. Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance had a complicated relationship, but the book makes clear that they had a mutual respect for each other and a deep friendship in spite of their frequent arguments. Both came to depend on the other, and neither one had much success after "I Love Lucy" without the other. Vivan eventually learned to stand up to Lucy and not let Lucy push her around. And Lucy went from being skeptical of Vivan to depending on her professionally.

Vivian's relationship with William Frawley, who played Fred Mertz, is well-documented. To say that there was mutual disrespect between them would be putting it mildly. Vivian never accepted the fact that her television husband was 22 years her senior, and could have been her father. When she learned at a restaurant that Frawley had died, Vance became elated and bought champagne for the whole restaurant.

Vance also battled depression throughout her life, suffering a number of nervous breakdowns. She was usually in the best mental health when working and especially so during the run of "I Love Lucy."

The book demonstrates that Vivian Vance was a complex personality and a talented actress. 8 of 10.

Love, Lucy

Lesley sent me "Love, Lucy," Lucille Ball's autobiography that she wrote in the 1960s but wasn't published until after her death in 1989. As someone who has seen every episode of the legendary "I Love Lucy" television series, I found this an interesting book detailing Lucy's rise to stardom. She really paid her dues in a large number of B movies in the 1930s and 1940s before her true star turn with "I Love Lucy." It's evident that Lucy was dedicated to her career and wasn't afraid of hard work. She was willing to put in the hours needed in rehearsal to deliver a top-notch performance. I wish that the book spent more time detailing "I Love Lucy" and less on her rise to stardom, but it was a good read nonetheless. She's upfront about her marital problems with Desi Arnaz. They clearly loved each other, but eventually realized that they were better off not married. There's no question that she was a television pioneer and a comedic legend. 7 of 10.

Gunn's Golden Rules

My birthday was in mid-September. My favorite gift this year was a package that arrived at my office from my friend Lauren which contained an autographed copy of Tim Gunn's book, "Gunn's Golden Rules: Life's Little Lessons For Making It Work." You can see what Tim wrote in the photo above. Needless to say, I was thrilled with this gift.

Tim's book is not a major literary accomplishment, but it's not mean to be. Instead, it's a fun and quick read that's full of interesting stories and fun advice. Tim has a great way of pointing out the absurd behavior of certain celebrities by just writing about the facts and allowing the reader to draw his or her own opinion on the matter. He does that effectively with Anna Wintour and Isaac Mizrahi. There's also a hilarious story about how Tim might have seen J. Edgar Hoover dressed up as Vivian Vance in his childhood. I especially enjoyed his make it work recounting of his involvement with the White House Christmas tree during the Carter administration.

Tim isn't afraid to tell it like it is, yet he remains respectful. A great read for any "Project Runway" fan. Thanks so much, Lauren! 9 of 10.