media, gaming, xbox comments edit

Two nights ago I did the full network reset again after having more trouble with Netflix streaming. That’s the second time in a week, and even after I reset it, things didn’t really get better. Then I had an epiphany and tested it out… and I think I’m onto something.

When you get online with the Xbox 360, it’s usually like this:

  1. Turn on Xbox 360.
  2. Sign in with profile.
  3. Dashboard refreshes and you’re logged in.
  4. About 10 seconds later an alert pops up telling you how many friends you have online.

My usual Netflix experience is:

  1. Turn on Xbox 360.
  2. Sign in with profile.
  3. Dashboard refreshes and I’m logged in.
  4. Scroll up to find Netflix app.
  5. Start Netflix app.
  6. While Netflix app is loading, the alert pops up telling me how many friends are online.
  7. Netflix app takes several seconds to load.
  8. Select a show, start playing.
  9. Connection speed determination takes around 15 seconds.
  10. Connection speed is determined to be one bar.
  11. Alert pops up saying there isn’t enough bandwidth to stream.
  12. Exit the show, select the show, repeat from step 8 until I can get a speed that allows for HD streaming.
  13. Show buffers and plays. Occasionally the HD stream won’t hold and will downgrade to one bar, at which point exit the show and repeat from step 8 again.

What’s frustrating about this is that it seemed pretty hit or miss. I could retry upwards of ten times before getting a decent HD stream. Sometimes I can’t get anything over two bars period.

However,I noticed I generally didn’t have this issue if I was playing a game before I tried Netflix. That is:

  1. Turn on Xbox 360.
  2. Sign in with profile.
  3. Dashboard refreshes and I’m logged in.
  4. Start game.
  5. While game is loading, the alert pops up telling me how many friends are online.
  6. Play, then exit game.
  7. Scroll up to find Netflix app.
  8. Start Netflix app.
  9. Netflix app takes several seconds to load.
  10. Select a show, start playing.
  11. Connection speed determination takes around 5 seconds.
  12. Connection speed is determined to be full HD.
  13. Show buffers and plays. Usually no hiccups.

The difference is that I didn’t go straight into the Netflix app. So, after running through my usual frustrating “can’t get a signal” process last night, I thought I’d run a test:

  1. Turn on Xbox 360.
  2. Sign in with profile.
  3. Dashboard refreshes and I’m logged in.
  4. Sit and wait for the alert to pop up telling me how many friends are online.
  5. Scroll up to find Netflix app.
  6. Start Netflix app.
  7. Netflix app takes several seconds to load.
  8. Select a show, start playing. See what happens.

What I was doing was waiting for things to finish “settling down” after logging in. I’m not sure how else to quantify that, just waiting for whatever was going on in the background to figure out how many friends I had online.

You know what? I got an HD stream the first time.

After finishing watching a show in HD, I immediately tried to watch another episode and was greeted with the one-bar stream. Letting the app sit there for a few seconds idle, then selecting the show - HD stream, no problems.

My current hypothesis:

  • There’s something going on in the background when you first sign on to Xbox Live that causes the Netflix app to not get all the bandwidth it should. If you wait for that to finish, Netflix will treat you well.
  • After finishing a show, there’s something going on in the background on the network, possibly some sort of network connection being reset or resources being released. If you give it a few seconds to let that work, Netflix will treat you well.

This very well could totally be coincidence. It also might just be me.

That said, I recall “learning” this a while ago through some trial and error and promptly forgetting about it. It feels really familiar, like I knew it all along. I’ll keep testing and see how it goes; in the event you’re having similar problems, maybe it’s worth giving it a shot. Doesn’t cost you anything but a few seconds.

UPDATE 12/22/2010: This appears to only happen when using a wireless network. I ran ethernet cable to my Xbox a few months later and didn’t have any problems after that.

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?