Profane Anti-DRM rant about NFL Sunday Ticket

I pay for NFL Sunday Ticket Max, which aside from attending the actual games is, I believe, the most money you can spend to follow a professional sport. I pay for this because I’m a New York football Giants fan, and have been since the early 80’s (Thanks LT! 😉 I’ve been a Sunday Ticket subscriber for 8 or 9 seasons. Of late, my subscription offers a mobile app which used to be free, but now costs more (hence the Max). I use the mobile app a lot because of my kids, dragging my ipad around the house as I play, change diapers, feed, and put them down for naps.

Yesterday the Giants played Denver, and were broadcast on a local affiliate. Still, the game worked on my ipad, and I watched the first half. During halftime, I switched out to check my email, and suddenly the app decided regional restrictions precluded me watching the game on my ipad.

I understand what the regional restrictions mean: the local affiliate is paying for their license to broadcast the game by showing me ads. I also understand me accidentally being able to watch half the game on my ipad anyway was a (very convenient) bug. That’s not the object of my rant. Some combination of the NFL and DirectTV are.

I’m a huge fan. For nine years I’ve given you every penny you’ve asked of me so I can watch my team each week, and I literally have not missed a Giants game in that time, until yesterday. That game was coming into my house via a wire coming from DirecTV which licensed content from the NFL. Stop giving a fucking shit which screen I watch it on. How much money do I have to pay you so I can watch the fucking Giants games? Have you paid attention to what happens to content companies which artificially restrict access to content to protect their antique business models? Fix this shit – if you want to charge me to watch games, give me the fucking games!!! Your contract is up next year. Please NFL, please, please please: just sell me access to the games and cut out these dinosaur middlemen. The tv networks are dying anyway, and I’ll pay you straight cash to just give me the games without suffering the consequences of a bunch of loopholes tied to shitty broadcast contracts which impede my ability to use the service I’m paying for.*

(said rant driven into high blood pressure territory by the fact that despite looking terrible, the Giants were in the game through the first half, but then got a second half spanking. I get that I am probably better off not having seen that, but you should have seen me yesterday, I was about as pissed off as I can get).

*If you can’t do that, then DirecTV: find some way to fix your shit. You know where I live. I have to login to use the mobile apps, and the iPad app has location services turned on so it knows exactly where I am sitting while I am watching these games. Pipe the local affiliate’s ads through your mobile app so I can watch the goddamned games, or I don’t know what, but don’t artificially restrict what screen I can watch a game on when you’re already pushing both the national and affiliate broadcasts right into my house. Let me watch it in the manner I choose. No Max for me next season if this isn’t addressed somehow.

Great William Gibson interview

Portrait of author William Gibson taken on his...

Portrait of author William Gibson taken on his 60th birthday; March 17, 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s available here, via the Paris Review. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, he’s one of the most influential science fiction authors of his era. He coined the word ‘Cyberspace,’ helped popularize steampunk, and had a hand in bringing a particular vision of our near-ish future probably best exemplified in the film Blade Runner (which, he reveals in the interview, emerged independently, in parallel, and with an amazing level of similarity, from his imagination and Ridley Scott‘s –  a fact they discovered years later). He’s also broken into the mainstream with his more recent novels.

I discovered a great parallel in our lives in this interview as well – like me, Gibson abandoned science fiction in his later teens, only to rediscover it some years later. Our reasons were very different. In my case, I began to conceive of myself as a ‘serious thinker,’ and spent a decade or so focused on history and the classics, despite the fact that I often struggled to take much pleasure from reading the classics. The beauty is that it was Gibson who brought me back to sci fi in the mid 90’s, when I somehow stumbled across Neuromancer, (via Wired magazine, at a guess), which blew my mind and sent me off on a multi-year scifi reading binge that included all his published works to that time. I’m still very fond of them, and have reread Neuromancer and the Sprawl trilogy it began multiple times since then.

Anyway, go read the interview, it’s fantastic. Then consider reading some Gibson – he’s everything he reveals in the interview and more. Or, if like me you’ve already read him, you might consider a re-read – I’m headed off to Lake George for vacation this week and tucked Neuromancer into my bag 😉

Vladimir Propp still looms large in my life, sort of

English: Vladimir Propp, Russian philologist

English: Vladimir Propp, Russian philologist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I suppose I’m one of the few people on earth likely to say ‘Vladimir Propp had a profound impact on my  development.’ If I let that drop in conversation the most likely response would be ‘who the heck is Vladimir Propp?’ He was a Russian professor and theorist best known (I think) for authoring ‘The Morphology of the Folktale,’ a work which showed how to reduce folktales down to their base components and proposed amongst other things a way to author folktales algorithmically using those components.

His influence on me had less to do with his literary theories and more to do with how I encountered his work during an English Lit course I took back in the late 80’s. I had what seemed to me at the time to be a unique insight in that course. The course was a pastiche of material all connected in one way or another to computer mediated learning, narrative structures, and the study of literature. It was an experimental course two English faculty were collaborating on, and we students were sort of guinea pigs – they had some broad ideas about what they wanted to cover, and were looking to use us to help them shape subsequent offerings of the course. For the final project, we were broken into working groups and tasked with delivering something in hypertext based on the works of one of a set of authors. It occurred to me that we could use Hypercard to build folktales using Propp’s structures while taking input from the person sitting in front of the computer (ie the name of the hero and so on) to add some unique elements to each generated story. Each team had been assigned a student computer programmer, and I managed to convince my team that the idea had merit, then convinced the programmer he could actually pull it off.

To this day that work remains one of the things I’m most proud of from my college years, even though I found out later that the programmer had cheated and the software didn’t actually work – the story was more or less random and did not fully implement Propp’s structures correctly, though it did so well enough to fool both us and our instructors. The student programmer admitted this to me over beers at a graduation party at the end of that year. The instructors who taught it won a teaching award and took the ideas that came out of that course and turned it into a grant which later led to the release of  ‘The Linear Modeling Kit‘ [<- pdf link] that they used in subsequent courses.

That experience, which took place my Junior year, was a pivotal moment in my life. I had not yet figured out what I would do with my degree when I graduated, and truth be told by that point had started to second-guess my choice of major. I know this sounds hopelessly naive, but across my Sophomore and Junior years I had slowly come to the conclusion that there was no such thing as objective truth, and my passion for textual analysis was waning in the face of the fact that the study of literature was not the path to conclusive meaning I had been grasping after. Feel free to picture me as a possibly drunken young undergrad shaking his fist at a cold uncaring universe if it helps you set the scene 😉

Anyway, until that course I had started thinking History, not English Lit, should have been where I had focused (yep, there’s that naivete again – at that time I thought something along the lines of ‘unlike literature, history is full of unambiguous cold hard facts and data that I can sift through and make categorical statements about’ ;-), but the experience got me really interested in computer mediated textual analysis and authoring, which a few months of study on my own, coupled with influences from my Dad’s career as a journalist, slowly focused into a fascination with hypertext and its possibilities. Mind you, this was years before web browsers existed – almost all of this was notional, with me reading texts and imagining things.

All of this comes to mind because of this piece on boingboing, which covers a piece of software called ‘The Infinite Adventure Machine,’ which, you guessed it, authors folk tales using the basic structures Propp sketched in the Morphology of the Folk tale, while leaving space for the user to influence and be additive to the basic narrative. I hadn’t heard Propp’s name in probably 20 plus years until I saw that, and it brought all of these old memories bubbling back to the surface. Fun how these things work when they come over you, isn’t it. It’s also lovely to see a cherished idea turned into something more functional and aesthetically pleasing.

My meandering point, I suppose, is that I owe the career I have today to that experience at The College of Wooster one semester 20 something years ago, and tangentially to a somewhat obscure Russian theorist, and I loved having that reinforced so randomly and with such an unlikely reference point.

Getting around the no chickens in the house issue

We have a friend who teaches elementary school, and each year she hatches chicks for her students. Last year we took three and raised them in the house until they were old enough to join the rest of the birds in the coop. We still have them, and 2 are reliable layers (the third turned out to be a rooster, alas). By and large this worked out great, except they made an unholy stink and mess in our basement. The stink faded quickly once we got the out, but the mess, a fine film of disgusto chicken dust* on everything, took a lot of work to clean up. This lead to an “over my dead body will we ever have chickens in the house again” proclamation from Susan. This year I wanted free chickens again, so I created this, for about $20:


That’s 3 sheets of $7 foundation insulation foam and about a roll of duct tape. It closes up with insulation across the top as well. The wooden coop sitting inside it:


I already had. It has 1 100 watt light which is on 24×7. There’s another 100 watt fixture out of sight under their roosting area which I flip on if its going to be under 40 degrees at night, which it has been a few times so far. So far the chickens seem to be doing fine and the wife is happy, so I’ll tentatively call this successful. Now to get the new, bigger coop built quick – I have a dozen guinea hens on the way in about a month.

(I should note that we compromised and kept the baby chicks in the house for their first two weeks, because it was especially cold this spring and we worried they wouldn’t survive. They’re almost 4 weeks old now and have been out for over a week, including 2 nights that got under 30 degrees.)

* disgusto chicken dust is made of about 2/3 wood chip dust pulverized by tiny chicken feet and 1/3 powdered chicken poop. It really is vile.

Chicken drama

Around dinnertime yesterday Soolin became very concerned with something going on outside. I opened the back door and discovered the chickens were having a major fracas. That’s not uncommon so I ignored it, but a while later when I went to put dinner on the grill they were still having a major fracas, so I went off to investigate. I discovered one of our two roosters had contrived to get his leg completely tangled in the cord used to raise and lower the ramp that leads into the nesting area of the coop, and he was suspended upside down under the coop, engaged in a battle to the death with the other rooster. He had definitely gotten the worst of it, but both of them were covered in blood. I could not tell if he was going to die, and am still unsure. Our coop is an aframe with a ~2′ tunnel under the apex of the roof. I had to go get a weapon to fend off the other rooster, then crawl into the nasty goop under the coop, grab the suspended rooster so he didn’t claw me, then saw the cord off his leg without injuring him. Much.

I’m still not sure if he will live. He was still alive when I left for work this morning. I took him out of the main coop and stuck him into the little brooder coop I have for when we get chicks. Tonight when I get home from work I need to go out and build something more substantial for him – the thing is too small for him, and I need it for the 4 new chicks we currently have inside.

Meantime I’m sick with the cold the family is fighting. When I came in last night from getting him setup in the brooder coop, I checked on the baby chickens, and one of them hopped out of the box we have them in. I had to chase it around our basement and grab it before Soolin chomped it, which she was definitely interested in doing. I went upstairs and told Susan I’m sending all the chickens off to the nackers 😉

One last detail, a friend who lives down the road from us who also has chickens captured this video last night of a bear going after his birdfeeders. There was something in the air!

Have birthday, get meatcake

That’s right, Meatcake!!!:

Brady and me admiring the meatcake Susan baked me for my 46th birthday.

Brady and me admiring the meatcake Susan baked me for my 46th birthday.

That was made by my lovely wife and was the best birthday present ever. Truth be told I’ve been teasing her about this for years – this year she did it 😉

She also got my recumbent bike fixed, which was equally awesome. I just need to find a kid’s bike seat for it now so I can ride into work with Brady. I’m pretty sure he’ll love it.

My Mother-in-Law also got me some delicious chocolate and, more importantly, ‘Booger Card!’ which has a picture of a little tot picking his nose. It’s Brady’s new favorite thing, and we can’t go a half hour without him asking ‘Where’s the booger card, Dad?’


The death of suckegg 7

Last weekend I finished building a new computer. I was forced into this by the death of Suckegg 7, which had been my main gaming PC for 2.5 years*. I’ll do a brief writeup of the new machine build shortly, but to start, I thought I’d share the befuddling tale of its predecessor’s death.

The first clue I had that something was wrong was about a year ago. Randomly when it booted it would forget what its boot drive was, and I would have to go into the bios and reset it to the correct boot drive. I tried a number of things to fix this (resetting the bios, replacing the bios battery, patching the bios), but nothing worked, and at a certain point it stopped letting me patch the bios alltogether. At this point I concluded I had corrupt bios and started thinking maybe I needed a new machine, or at least a new motherboard, after looking into what it would take to fix corrupt bios and deciding it was a no go. There were two problems with buying a new machine though. First, for about the last 15 years I’ve replaced my machine roughly every two years, but when we knew my son Brady was on the way I spent a bit more than I normally would and figured on the machine lasting me 3+ years. This meant I didn’t want to go and build a new machine, I had sunk money into the one I had and wanted to keep it. Second, they no longer manufacture the motherboard I had, and ‘new’ boards on the aftermarket were $300+ – at least $100 over what I paid, so I didn’t want to pay that much to try and swap out the motherboard in the hopes that would fix it. I actually bought a different model of the motherboard with the same chipset, figuring I could swap everything out and manage to get the right device drivers running on the thing, but chickened out at the amount of work it would take to do it.

Bottom line is I sat on my hands for about a year, dealing with the annoyance of sometimes not booting and having to muck about in the bios to get the machine booted. That was more or less working until December, when the newest and lightest used drive in the system died, causing one of those ‘the system is recovering from a serious error’ blue screens and a dead drive. When that happened I did a chkdsk on all the drives (there were 4 – an SSD boot drive, a 1TB game drive, a 2TB media drive, and a 2TB backup drive), and every one of them had serious problems. At that point I freaked and concluded I needed to write images of every volume as a precaution, despite having recent backups of everything, my theory being I would buy new drives and use those images to get me completely back up and running. I have Acronis, one of the best reviewed backup and disk utility packages on Windows, and thought that this would be easy, but then things got freaky. Imaging my 80GB SSD took 3 days. 3 DAYS!!!. The 1TB drive took over a week. Writing that image back out to a newly purchased drive then took another week. A freaking week!!! I tried all kinds of things to get around this – replacing all the SATA cables, pulling everything but the essentials out of the machine (boot drive, ram, cpu, gpu), booting to cd, to usb drive – nothing worked. Speed was abysmal. Meanwhile, during all this flailing about, the machine stopped booting – it would come up bluescreen of death, and could not even boot to safe mode.

At that point I became so frustrated I stopped touching the thing for a couple of weeks. Eventually I brought it into a local pc repair shop, figuring my time was worth more than the $50 they would charge me to tell me what the hell was wrong with the thing. That was only partly true as it turned out. They came back with a diagnosis of bad sectors on the SSD where a critical windows file was located (which I had already kind of sussed out), and offered to do a data migration for $100-200 depending on how complex that turned out to be. Worst case $200+150 for a new SSD, with me thinking the motherboard was the root of the problem and this money would not fix the issues caused me to bail on the machine. I bought new parts and built a new box. I’ll write that up shortly as per custom, but the spoiler is it was easy this go around, cost me about $850, and I’ll be selling off the remaining working parts from the old machine on ebay to subsidize the purchase shortly. I figure I can get around $300 for those, meaning my out of pocket is not much worse than the repair costs quoted by the repair shop ($350 vs. $550), for a repair I didn’t have confidence in. My one remaining question is, what the hell went wrong with the old one? My best guess is bios corruption introduced data corruption problems on the sata devices, but it’s really just a guess. Anyone else want to weigh in?

*(the name Suckegg 7 derives from when I first moved from Macs to PC’s oh so many years ago. That was in the Windows 95 era, and I joked with friends at the time that Windows sucked eggs in compared to Macs, which I then used as its network name (suckegg). Suckegg 7 isn’t the 7th machine in the sequence, but it was the first running Windows 7, so….)

Beasties in the night

So last night this came a howling onto my land (30 seconds of audio, requires a browser that can playback quicktime):

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I went out with a flashlight and chased it off without ever catching a glimpse of it. Guesses as to what it is? I’d say fox, though the sound seemed ‘larger’ than a little fox ought to be capable of producing.

First poop in the potty

Pretty exciting stuff for a parent – on Superbowl Sunday my son Brady pooped in his potty for the first time, after epic patience from my wife, who sat with him for probably an hour in total Sunday coaxing him. I took him to Atkins Farm for a special cupcake as a reward. He was pretty proud of himself, as were we. Let the record show he was just about exactly 25 months old when he did this.

Did I do that?!?

Check out the shit-eating grin on young mr. destructo here:

who managed to knock over the Christmas tree this morning, less than 24 hours after we finally decorated it. The lesson here is, convert to Judaism before you have a toddler, or keep them chained to a tree or something *

* note that it’s possible I know nothing about parenting 🙂