media comments edit

I have Netflix and it’s pretty awesome, but sometimes there are just problems getting the streaming to work well.

Before I get your hopes up, I don’t have an answer for this. It’s more a description of the problem and some of the things I’ve tried.

I have, attached to our main TV:

  • A Playstation 3.
  • An Xbox 360.
  • A Windows 7 Media Center PC.

All of these have been rigged up to Netflix streaming. Upstairs I have an Xbox 360, a Windows 7 Media Center PC, and a Wii. (I’ll be blogging the different streaming solutions compared/contrasted when I get my Wii disc.)

All of these things are attached via wireless network to Verizon FiOS (15 MBps).

**The problem is that I can’t consistently get a good stream - HD or not

  • and I can’t figure out why.**

About 75% of the time, I select a movie or show to watch and it works great. 25% of the time, possibly more, I get a connection speed of only one or two bars. Sometimes the stream starts out smooth and in HD, then a few minutes in “my network connection degraded” and I get stuck with unwatchable quality. I’m sure I’m getting affected by the weird random congestion thing that seems to be pretty well known, but it’s very frustrating.

Usually I can fix it by quitting the bad stream and restarting. It’s like I can get a “different connection” to the stream that’s more stable.

I have verified that it’s not local network congestion because the problems happen when nothing else on the network is doing anything - no one is logged into any of the other devices, no network updates are running… the only thing going on is us trying to watch a show.

I do admit to having some occasional trouble with the Verizon FiOS router that Verizon provided - they sometimes do updates at night without my permission and the only way to get things working nicely again is to reset the entire router to defaults. I do that about once a month when I start seeing things degrade unilaterally or if Netflix refuses to give me a good stream.

Last night I had the issue and did the full router reset and it didn’t help a thing. It still took about 10 tries, remote-control-throwing irritation, and a frustrated wife to get a watchable stream for a 45-minute-long show. By the time I got it working (about half an hour of messing around) I didn’t even really enjoy the show.

It has to be the random congestion thing because other sites work just fine. I can stream an HD YouTube video without that issue, then switch over to Netflix and BAM! there’s suddenly connection issues. If it was my network, or if it was an ISP problem, you’d think it wouldn’t be just singling out Netflix, right?

NetflixHelps (on Twitter) is usually nice and responsive, but always seems to say “Sorry, no issue on our end.” Be that as it may, it appears I’m not the only person with these issues or they wouldn’t have made a note of it on the official blog. Here’s hoping this stuff gets ironed out soon. Of course, that blog entry’s from almost a year ago now, so hopes aren’t high.

I think the real problem is that there are too many things that could be going wrong and there’s no way to diagnose the bottleneck.

  • Is the local network too congested?
  • Is the connection to the local network too slow? (Maybe due to wireless interference?)
  • Is there an issue with the ISP?
  • Is there congestion on the Netflix servers?
  • Is it a device-specific issue (Xbox, PS3, etc.)?
  • Do they just hate me?

A real win, truly, would be if Netflix could put out a diagnostic tool that would let an advanced user run it and see what’s going on. I think that’s really the only way we’ll be able to tell if the problem is on “my end” or “their end.”

UPDATE 1: I’ve read a few articles that recommend switching to OpenDNS. I might try that on my Xbox 360 and see if it helps.

UPDATE 2: It looks like on PS3 you can hit the “Select” button on the remote and see bandwidth info on your stream. Maybe good for a diagnostic tool.

UPDATE 3: I tried using OpenDNS on my Xbox 360 and it didn’t improve any of my streaming issues; however, I have a new hypothesis about what’s up with my Xbox streaming.

personal comments edit

To date my favorite desktop client for Twitter has been Twhirl because it’s so simple. Since Seesmic took it over it seems to have been abandoned, though, so I have been trying out new clients to see if I can find something with new features like support for the new, weird ReTweet feature.

I haven’t found anything I like yet.

First, let me tell you how I use Twitter. It seems that I must use it differently than everyone else or something because my needs seem to be different. Again, this is how I use it; your needs/uses/opinions may differ:

  • Twitter is a passive data stream. If I miss a tweet or 20, I don’t care. Maybe I’ll go back and look, maybe I won’t.
  • Twitter is not my business. I’m not a consultant. I don’t have a bunch of searches for keywords I’m monitoring. I’m not looking for mentions of a bunch of hashtags. I don’t have a community I’m managing. I don’t follow 30,000 people.
  • Twitter is simple. It’s a river. People drop stuff in the river. I pick stuff up. Sometimes I drop stuff in the river. If I like what you drop in the river, I follow you. If I stop liking what you drop in the river, I stop following you.
  • Twitter can be a conversation… sort of. It’s nice to be able to ask a question and get an answer, or to answer someone else’s question. That said, it’s not the place to have a bunch of back-and-forth discussions. It’s not a threaded newsgroup. It’s not a blog with a comment feature where you can discuss at length longer diatribes on points of view. Services like TwitLonger sort of break that and, to be frank, annoy me. If it takes more than 140 chars to say what you need to say, Twitter’s not the forum.

So, knowing that, you can correctly determine that I am not a Twitter power-user. I don’t need a giant overkill app to manage every aspect of my social networking and watch searches and crap. I just don’t need all that. Twitter, to me, is simple, and that’s what I want out of a client: simple.

So, knowing that, here’s what I want out of a Twitter app:

  • One column to rule them all. I want one column that has my timeline, my mentions, and my direct messages all integrated. I may want to click something to filter and only show mentions or DMs, but generally, one column is perfect. It doesn’t take much real estate on my screen and isn’t overwhelming or distracting.
  • Unobtrusive. I don’t need to be notified when new tweets come in. It’s not email. I don’t care.
  • Ability to not overtake my OCD. If there’s a “new tweets get marked as unread” and you have to somehow mark them read, it’s going to kill me. Like a ringing phone, my OCD will take over and I’ll have to answer. Like I said, it’s not email - I don’t need to know there are unread items. It’s okay if that feature exists as long as I can turn it off.
  • No browser. I don’t want to run a whole browser instance just for Twitter. I want it in a small, standalone app that I can dock to the side of the monitor and forget about it. I don’t want to have to switch to a different tab to get to it, I don’t want to have the browser chrome surrounding it, etc. (I’ll make an exception for something like an out-of-browser Silverlight app where, yeah, there’s sort of technically a browser running, but you know what I mean. Firefox is a memory hog. I don’t need that to get tweets.)
  • OAuth support. I don’t want to hand you my credentials. Twitter’s got OAuth now, use it.
  • Integration with services I use. I like and YFrog. I want to be able to continue using them in an integrated fashion. Oh, and I’d like them to actually be used as me, not as an anonymous user or as the application. Barring native integration, have a plugin interface so I can write my own integration.
  • Reliable. I don’t want it crashing, eating RAM like popcorn, or having weird UI glitches in the middle of average use.
  • Clean. Sort of along the lines of “One column to rule them all” and “Unobtrusive,” I don’t want the UI cluttered up with bells and whistles and lights and buttons. Simple, clean, easy.

It sounds like the web experience is enough for me, doesn’t it? And you’re pretty much right. I don’t need much more than what the web experience offers, except it requires a browser running all the time, which isn’t what I want. So… “web experience out of browser” is probably the easiest way to explain what I’m looking for.

Now, Twhirl doesn’t satisfy all of these, but it’s the closest I’ve come. I’ve tried TweetDeck (overwhelming!), several Seesmic products (either overkill or requires a browser), witty (glitchy, unintuitive UI), and a couple I don’t even remember now… but none of them are just plain, simple, concise Twitter.

General Ramblings comments edit

I, like most of you, get a lot of email. We live in an email-centric culture. I don’t mind it so much. It just seems like some folks still “don’t get it.” I’ve got some email pet peeves, I’m sure you do, too. Here are some of mine:

Subject-Line-Only Email with Long Subject

If you have a quick thing to tell people, it’s convenient to just stick the message in the subject line.

Out to lunch, back in 15 <EOM>

One less thing to open, right? That’s helpful… except when your subject line isn’t really quick.

I’m going to be late to work because I had a flat tire while I was taking my daughter to school so I’m going to the tire place to get it fixed. In by 9:30 <EOM>

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Nice shootin’, Tex. That’s not a subject-line-only email. That’s a full, put-the-message-in-the-message-body email. I have to actually scroll the subject line in the tiny Outlook subject line area to see all of that. Not helpful.

Forward Upon Forward Upon Forward

Getting jokes in the mail is de rigueur for email. It’d be nice to just get the joke, though, and not see the 350-forward-long chain of headers tracing the joke back to 1997 when it first started. It’s also nice to see the joke just one time in the email, not 17 copies of the joke as people got tired of scrolling through the headers to get there so they copied the whole thing up to the top. Again.

Here are some helpful steps for forwarding a joke:

Stop for a minute. Decide if it’s really actually funny enough to bother forwarding in the first place.

You didn’t actually stop to think, you just clicked the button. Really, this time, stop for a second. If you didn’t laugh out loud - actually laugh out loud, not just “LOL” - it’s not good enough, so don’t forward it.

After hitting the forward button, wait before hitting “Send.” You’re not done.

Delete all of the stupid headers that show up above the joke. That includes:

  • The “Forwarded Message” garbage with all of the email addresses of past recipients.
  • The “Hey, I saw this and thought it was great!” commentary inserted by previous recipients.
  • All of the email signatures including the ones saying something about how this is a confidential email and you shouldn’t be forwarding it.
  • Anything below the joke that isn’t the joke or may be duplicate copies of the joke.

Once the only thing remaining in that email is the joke, and only one copy of the joke, fine, go ahead and send it.

Giant Video File Attachments

I’m not sure about the rest of you, but even if it’s the funniest thing in the world, when someone sends me a 10MB video file through email it goes straight to the trash. I’m really not interested in downloading it, saving it somewhere, firing up a media player to watch three minutes of a kid hitting his dad in the nuts with a wiffle ball bat.

We have YouTube nowadays to host these things. Do a search for whatever it is you’re going to forward. It’s probably on there. If it’s not already on YouTube, get a free account on YouTube and post the video. Send me a link to the video, not the whole video file.

Broken Embedded Images

If you’re forwarding an email with a ton of embedded images, make sure they’re going to come through. This is sort of a tricky thing because some mail programs don’t keep them from forward to forward, in which case the recipient gets an email that has a bunch of text that’s supposed to be interspersed with humorous images but really just reads like a monkey with ADHD.

Check out these hilarious animals!

<broken image>

Mom loves to hold her babies!

<broken image>

Riding a bike!

<broken image>

Oh, no, watch out for that banana!

<broken image>

Maybe try forwarding it to yourself - really - before sending it to everyone in your address book. A dry run doesn’t cost you anything.

Check Your Facts

There are a lot of rumors out there that sound funny or cool and they compel you, almost like “the power of Christ compels you,” to click that forward button.


Take a quick visit to Snopes, where they can dispel almost any internet rumor and include proof about whether it’s true or not.

Do not assume that other people will check your facts for you. They, your friends and other address book contacts, are assuming that you actually know what you’re talking about. You’re a smart person, why would you steer them wrong?

They’re going to visit some dinner party at the governor’s house and bring this thing up about how the pope was abducted by aliens or whatever, and the people there who could make or break their career are going to look at them like they’re complete morons because those people at the dinner party check their facts.

I’m Sure There’s More…

… but I’ll leave it at that for now. I mean, I could also go off on a diatribe about poor grammar and spelling making emails nearly unreadable, but that’s more a general written communication issue than email-specific.

What are your email pet peeves?

media, windows comments edit

Back in June 2009 I picked up a copy of PerfectDisk for Windows Home Server as a solution for defragmenting the system. At the time I hadn’t expanded things too far storage-wise, but since then I’ve increased my storage capacity to nearly 8TB.

Between June and December 2009, I noticed I would get reasonably frequent (roughly weekly) health warnings on my system drive. Running a “repair” on the drive would return things to normal. I prepared myself for it to fail, researching how to recover, replace the system disk, etc. In the meantime, I decided to stop running PerfectDisk on it since the system drive never really got any more fragmented than it already was. Why strain a failing drive, right?

Stopping PerfectDisk on my system drive stopped the health warnings from showing up. It’s been several months (maybe four) since I stopped running PD on that drive and I’ve not seen a single health warning. Failing drive… or PerfectDisk? Before you answer, let me finish the story.

Toward the latter half of the year, a couple of months into my PerfectDisk usage, I noticed that things would lock up on the system occasionally such that you couldn’t access the Windows Home Server console, you couldn’t connect to the Remote Desktop, and you couldn’t access any file shares. You had to power down hard and reboot to get things responding again. Looking in the event logs, I saw what looked like hardware issues:

Source: disk Error: The device, \Device\Harddisk5, is not ready for access yet.

Source: mv61xx Error: The device, \Device\Scsi\mv61xx1, did not respond within the timeout period.

Sounds hardware-ish to me, and that worries me. It always seemed to happen when I was running a scheduled task that backed up some data to another computer on my network (so there was a lot of disk I/O) and the PerfectDisk full defrag was running at the same time. On a hunch, on December 27, 2009, I stopped PerfectDisk from running on my system by disabling all of the jobs.

Windows Home Server started running without a single disk or mv61xx error. As part of my recent storage upgrade issue (where I got an incompatible drive) I ended up running extended diagnostics (both “chkdsk /x /r” and Western Digital disk diagnostics) on all of the drives in the system with no errors detected. Again, no errors - all the way through to yesterday, over a month later.

Yesterday I re-enabled PerfectDisk and set it to run a full defrag. Around 30 minutes into the full defrag, I decided to sync my iPod and all of my music is on the Windows Home Server.


Looking in the error log - same errors as before from “disk” and “mv61xx.”

Since I was able to run a bunch of diagnostics on the disks with no issues, I have a rough time thinking it’s a hardware problem. I might buy that there’s a driver issue and PerfectDisk brings it out by doing so much disk I/O so fast or something, but I don’t have any evidence to back it up. I did notice that when I see these errors, they seem to be related to the disks in my eSATA port multiplier, so maybe something is going on there. Again, I can cruise along for months with no issues, streaming videos, streaming music, sharing files, etc., until I run PerfectDisk, so I have a rough time thinking there’s no connection at all.

I’m currently working through this with PerfectDisk support, but so far they are calling “hardware issue” claiming they “use the Microsoft-provided defrag APIs.” I’m curious if the defrag APIs don’t quite work the same for Windows Home Server and/or if they don’t work nicely with my eSATA setup.

I’ll update this post if I find out anything new. Until then, I’ve got PerfectDisk disabled and I’m thinking, worst-case-scenario, I’m out the $40 I paid for the license.

UPDATE 6/16/2010: It appears that the WD Green drives I was using were not performing well. Removing them from the system allowed PerfectDisk to function properly.