Posted on May 7th, 2020
YOU YIELD TO TRAFFIC IN THE CIRCLE. It's that simple. That's the only rule. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand it. If there's a car already in the traffic circle, you wait until it's passed before entering. And yet...
25% of the time... at least 25% of the time... I run into somebody who doesn't yield.
Like yesterday when I was driving home. And of course the guy is pissed at me even though he was 100% in the wrong for cutting in front of me instead of yielding like he should have. And I honestly don't get the mentality. I'm supposed to just slam on the brakes in the middle of the traffic circle and back up traffic to let people in? That's the complete opposite of how it's supposed to work.
I continue to wade my way through the massive list of movies and shows I've flagged to watch so I can see if there's anything good on TV. My latest obsession is Plan Coeur (aka The Hook Up Plan) on Netflix. It's a French romcom that has its fill of stupid moments, but is otherwise fantastic. The characters are all beautifully realized and you want to care about them even when they aren't at their best.
Because it's French, I have to watch with English subtitles, which adds another level of amusement to the show...
Most of the time, the show is smartly written and has clever one-off lines throughout to bring the funny...
And, of course, it's French, so the romantic moments are flawlessly orchestrated...
What really took me by surprise is the music, which is haunting and beautiful. It's practically another character in the series and makes even mundane moments something to be savored...
I was compelled to track down the composer, which is Frédéric Magnon, and became an instant fan. When Elsa shows her sister her new apartment, I had to rewind the scene and play it over and over because it's just that good...
The entire soundtrack is fantastic and worth hunting down (Amazon Prime Unlimited has it).
So... if you're looking for a show to binge while you're stuck at home, I highly recommend giving The Hook Up Plan a try. Both series of the show are available on Netflix...
As much as I loved the show and want to see a third series, I almost think I'd rather they left things where they were at in the finale. It was the perfect way to end things even though you'll definitely be wanting to know what happens next.
Which is what makes great television, isn't it?
Posted on May 3rd, 2020
I'm bored out of my mind without being able to hang out with my friends, but excitement awaits me... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Nadiya! One of my favorite Great British Bakeoff contestants, Nadiya Hussain, has a new Netflix series out... Nadiya's Time to Eat. Not all of it is vegetarian, but I've gotten some good ideas from her show. Including this gem...
Sounds amazing, right? And how charming is she with her lovely British accent? Nadiya's got some cool ideas for quick and easy meals that makes her show a great thing to watch. Just keep in mind that the British terms for certain foods can be different ("caster sugar" there is "fine baker's sugar" here), and sometimes products (such as Double Cream, which is 48% milkfat, for example) may not even exist where you live (the thickest I can get is Whipping Cream, which is only 36% milkfat. Also? Nadiya provides all oven temperatures in Celsius, so you'll need to convert to Fahrenheit.
• Facebook "Standards!" It's gotten to the point where I can't understand the point of Facebook any more. They are so wildly inconsistent with the posts they ban that you can't really know what is acceptable or not. Take for instance this tweet I reposted that is clearly a joke on all the "5G causes the Coronavirus" conspiracy theorists...
Meanwhile, some of the anti-vaxers and homeopaths and flat earthers and other morons are posting shit that is ACTUALLY MISINFORMATION THAT CAN CAUSE HARM and have free reign? Dafuq? I have posts taken down more and more lately, and in no case did I agree with the decision or even see why they took it down in the first place. Facebook has no concept of context or humor and are acting like total dipshits with this ban-hammer crap.
• Love Is Love! One of the members of my "Bible Study for Non-Christians" group brought up the movie Road to Edmond, which they decided to watch because it sharply divided Christians who saw it. None of the rest of us had heard of it, but it was free to watch on Amazon Prime Streaming, so we all agreed to take a look so we could have a discussion about it. I honestly don't know what my takeaway is. I almost stopped watching 20 minutes in because one of the characters was driving me crazy and the non-budget and amateurish acting was almost too much to take. But I stuck with it because I didn't want to be left out of the conversation with my group. Turns out that everything was building to something, not everything is what it seems, and it's actually a fairly remarkable film. I definitely understand why some people are completely incensed with it... heaven only knows there's enough to provoke that reaction. But I also understand why some people have fallen in love with it too. As I said, I honestly don't know how I feel about it... maybe I'll have more perspective once I've discussed it. All I definitely know is that I love the closing credits song as much as I could possibly love any song... it's Love is Love by Trey Pearson.
Trey Pearson has a lot of great songs, this one is called Silver Horizon and is every bit as good...
And if not for Road to Edmond, I likely never would have found it.
• Download! Boo! BOOOOOOOO! AMAZON'S GREAT NEW SHOW, UPLOAD, ENDS ON A HUGE CLIFFHANGER! And what are the odds that they won't renew it? Fuck all the television studios who refuse to show a complete story in a season. All this does is fuck over fans of the show when they cancel it.
BOOOOOO! And what's so frustrating is that they didn't need the cliffhanger. It's just lazy writing, and NO show should end a season on a cliffhanger unless they have the next season already started. So rage-inducing. If Amazon cancels Upload I'll be more furious than usual when this happens.
• After! Somebody edited together the underlaying narrative of grief that runs through one of my favorite shows so far this year... and it's almost unbearable to watch. What makes After Life so amazing is how it tempers the grief with humor. Without the humor though? It's a serious exploration of the human condition. Spoilers, obviously...
Ricky Gervais really knocked it out of the park with this show. He's already said that he's been so touched by the outpouring of love for the show that he's working on a third season. And, oh well yeah, HE DOESN'T END HIS SERIES ON A FUCKING CLIFFHANGER BECAUSE HE KNOWS THERE'S NO GUARANTEE THAT THERE WILL BE A NEXT SEASON! He's talented enough to come up with a way to start a new season without cliffhangers.
• Suess Raps! These videos of a guy rapping Dr. Suess over Dr. Dre beats is total genius...
I hesitate to guess how many times he had to practice these before getting this good.
• Better! TIME IS JUST A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT TO KEEP YOU FROM DOING WHAT YOU WANT TO DO WHEN YOU WANT TO DO IT! WELL SCREW THAT! I AM IN CONTROL OF MY OWN DESTINY! SO... MORNING DRINKING at 9:00AM IN MY UNDERWEAR WITH CHEETOS AND TELEVISION, BABY! — MY DAY IS BETTER THAN YOUR DAY!
So how was your day?
And that's that for bullets on this fine Sunday in quarantine.
Posted on April 30th, 2020
Life doesn't hold enough pleasant surprises. All too often the surprises we get are crap. Especially lately. Take, for example, the Coronavirus. Could there have been a worse surprise for 2020? Though, given how health experts have been warning that a pandemic was nigh, I suppose the real nasty surprise was how ill-prepared that world governments have been for it actually happening.
What's nice is how people are stepping up to drop some nice surprises in our laps to make our quarantine-filled days a bit sweeter. My favorite is the bands who are either streaming old concerts for free or live-streaming new performances. Tomorrow one of my favorite contemporary bands, The 1975, is having a listening party... then on Saturday Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark is unleashing their 2019 Hammersmith Apollo show with new footage.
A lot of other bands are doing something... so check in with your favorites on social media to see if they've got something going on.
The problem is that so many of these things are starting to overlap. No sooner did I get The 1975's listening party in my calendar than Erasure announced that they would be having a "Conversation About Nothing in Particular" at the exact same time! Two of my favorite bands competing for my affections! What to do?
I'm going to try doing both.
I used to roll my eyes over movies like Mrs. Doubtfire and 27 Dresses having characters double-booked for two critical events, then letting hijinks ensue to make it somehow "funny." It's just too ridiculous to be taken seriously... even in a comedy. Who does something that idiotic?
Apparently the answer is me. I do something that idiotic.
Wish me luck!
Posted on April 26th, 2020
Yeah, we're all still in isolation quarantine, but there's a bright spot in the darkness... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Cool! I've been to the Space Needle dozens of times over the years. They have cut-away images you can look at, so I already know what's inside and how it works, but this
One of the most famous features of the structure has been the "Sky City Revolving Restaurant" which closed back in 2017 when they rennovated everything. I assumed that it would be open again by now, but I just checked and there's still no revolving restaurant to be found. Instead the space is still "The Loupe" which is a revolving platform with a glass floor. I guess that's more of a draw because more people can enjoy it? The restaurant was always so expensive that I've only ever been there once.
• Stuck! Lately I've had a hard time getting the song Adore You by Harry Styles out of my head. For the past week I've been playing it several times a day...
I wish I knew why certain songs stick with me at certain times. I mean, I liked Adore You when it was released, but now I addicted to it or something. I'm trying to replace it with the latest by Pet Shop Boys, but it isn't working so far...
Amazing how the boys are still able to kill it after all these years. Their music is always good.
• Driven! I bought Western Digital drives for my NAS because my past experience with them has been excellent. Now I find out that the pricey new drives I bought for my NAS may be low-quality pieces of shit that will likely fail sooner than expected because the way I use the data on my NAS is incongruent with the way the drive technology WD employs was designed to be used. I have 8TB drives which WD says are using the correct technology... but the part number has the "EFAX" suffix which designates cheap-ass shit, so who knows?
I am so sick and tired of companies like this not giving a shit about their customers. And yet this is the way businesses are run now. They sneak in low-quality shit, charge the same price as usual-quality shit, and the customer never need know they've been screwed until their data is lost. And at that point it's like "Oh... too bad... so sorry... if you're in warranty, we'll send you a replacement shitty drive... if you're not under warranty, go fuck yourself!" Because in today's disposible society, it's cheaper to replace shit with more shit until the warranty runs out than to actually make good quality shit in the first place.
• Flight Attendants in Quarantine! Ha!
Make no mistake, flight attendants have a really tough job. Trapped on a plane at work with a bunch of people... some of which treat them badly. Hopefully they can laugh along with the rest of us at something like this.
• In Control! Every time I start up Netflix there's a new show being shoved on me called Too Hot To Handle and I IMMEDIATELY start singing "Too hot to handle, too cold to hold, they're called the Ghostbusters and they're in control!" Say what you like about Bobby Brown, but the guy knows how to sing a hook that gets stuck in your head!
No idea what Too Hot To Handle is about. Looks like it's yet another show like Temptation Island where you win by not giving into temptation of all the sexy people prancing around? Whatever. Really not interested enough to investigate.
• Foxy! Aren't foxes the most amazing animals?
I will never admit how many times I've watched this.
• After! I loved the first season of Ricky Gervais's After Life and remember feeling a bit lost when it ended because it was only six episodes. Now, at long last, Netflix has released another six episodes for the second season (NSFW trailer follows)...
Even better than the first season. A shoe-in for my "Best of Television 2020" list. It's all at once hysterically funny and agonizingly sad. Postman Pat is one of my favorite television characters ever. Which is next-level funny if you know that Postman Pat is a British cartoon with an unrelated character with the same name from the 1980's...
Compare this charming cartoon to the character from the show and it's a bit disturbing... but in the best possible way.
And now I guess I'll go back to doing as much nothing as possible before work tomorrow.
Posted on April 10th, 2020
I watch a lot of television. It's nice to have it as background noise while I work. But lately I've been watching a lot more television because it's pretty much all there is to do under quarantine.
Tonight I watched random stand-up comedy specials on Netflix until it was time for RuPaul's Drag Race. This season has a wet blanket thrown on it thanks to one of the contestants, Sherry Pie, being a psychotic asshole... but they seem to be editing her out of the show as best they can, so there's that. Tonight was all the contestants doing their best Madonna impersonation, and many of them were really good.
For whatever reason, the episode made me think back to when Sharon Needles and PhiPhi O'hara did a lipsync battle to It's Raining Men by The Weather Girls. I went to YouTube to see if somebody posted it (of course somebody had) and was surprised to see that Geri Halliwell, formerly of the Spice Girls, did a cover of the song back in 2001...
It always amazes me how I can keep running across music that I never knew existed.
Anyway... here's that lipsync battle I was looking for...
Sharon Needles went on to win the entire season and became one of my favorite queens. Partly because she had big entertainment value... but mostly because she was in a relationship with Alaska Thunderfuck 5000, and who couldn't love that? Sadly, that relationship ended in 2013, but we'll always have the memories.
And now I guess we're back to our regular scheduled programming...
Posted on March 29th, 2020
The news has been anything but cheerful lately, but hang in there... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• U-S-A! U-S-A-! U-S-A-! But before we get started... this video is two minutes long. I encourage you to take a hard look at every second of it. This is what happens when you call the coronavirus a "Democrat hoax" and don't take things seriously early on. And, for us here in the USA, we're not even at peak coronavirus yet because there are still states which are refusing to do anything because "We don't have many cases here." Well, yes, you dumb-fucks, the whole point is to KEEP IT THAT WAY...
Stay healthy everybody. You could end up breaking a hip or having a heart attack or chopping off a finger only to find that you can't be seen at a hospital because it's been overrun with coronavirus patients. You may consider yourself able to survive COVID-19... and that's great. But your actions could infect others who end up taking up hospital space you might need for other emergencies. It's in everybody's self interest to keep hospitals from piling up. Let's all pray it's not too late already.
• Trump Is Risen! Thank heavens that President Trump actually listened to people who know shit and reevaluated his plan to cancel quarantine by Easter. But before that happened, there was this, and if you close your eyes...
God only brought one guy back from the dead on Easter. Trump is here to bring back the whole economy on Easter 2020. Enjoy this clip (possibly, like, the best ever), share and be sure to subscribe to Making Podcasts Great Again (@TrumpPod) - new every week! pic.twitter.com/aUifVWRzfh— J-L Cauvin (@JLCauvin) March 24, 2020
And if you think this parody is an exaggeration, Cheeto Jesus has been Tweeting about how big the ratings are for his Coronavirus Press Briefings, despite the fact that more and more people are dying due to the snowball effect of his initial inaction. Holy shit what a narcissistic asshole. And he just keeps getting so much worse every damn day.
• Warz! If you don't know who Max Brooks is, you really should. His book World War Z is sublime apocalyptic zombie-fiction which reads so realistically because his research into pandemics was brutally extensive. He's so well-studied and important to the field of disaster preparedness that he has lectured at the U.S. Navy War College, for heaven's sake. Which is why his viewpoint on current events is worth noting: 'All Of This Panic Could Have Been Prevented': Author Max Brooks On COVID-19. This is some scary shit, and goes to show just how buffoonish the Trump Administration's handling of a crisis of this magnitude has really screwed us.
• ACCESS! Just in case you aren't watching Star Trek: Picard... and you absolutely should be... here's your chance to do so for free. I did not like Star Trek: Next Generation that much, but am loving Picard. I loved Star Trek: Discovery even more (especially the first season), and this freebie unlocks all of CBS All Access, so you can take a look at that one as well!
• Live! There was a meme running through Facebook where you are asked if you can name a band you've seen live for every letter of the alphabet and one that starts with a number. I did pretty good...
Many of these letters could have had multiple answers. I'm fairly certain I saw at least one band with a name starting with "X"... especially some of those indy bands that were playing during the whole "grunge" movement in Seattle when I was hitting the clubs... I just can't think of any.
• Museum Project! People are getting way creative in finding ways to spend their quarantine time. One of my absolute favorites are those who are recreating famous paintings. Some of them are absolute gold, and there's a terrific Instagram feed where they showcase some of the best ones...
A lot of creative use of toilet paper in that Insty-feed!
And there have also been some professional reimaginings that are absolutely sublime. My favorites by a wide margin are those that popped up by Dutch photographer Jenny Boot. Here is Pearl inspired by Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring (housed at Museum Mauritshuis in The Hague)...
©2019 Jenny Boot Photography
The original Vermeer...
Here is de Kus, inspired by Vermeer's The Kiss (housed at Museum Belvedere in Vienna, which I was lucky enough to see in person)...
©2019 Jenny Boot Photography
The original Klimt...
And here is Davinci's Cat inspired by Lady with an Ermine (housed at Muzeum Czartoryski in Krakow)...
©2019 Jenny Boot Photography
The original Da Vinci...
• Disneyland-ish? It's not just fine art which is being recreated while people are in quarantine... people are recreating Disneyland and Walt Disney World rides at home! Some of them are just beyond cool...
Yo ho yo ho a quarantine’s life for me! My family’s Disneyland Staycation!
— Brooke (@Brookie_disney) March 20, 2020
I guess if you can't visit in person, this is the next best thing? Kudos to those who are using their alone-time to be so creative!
And now we resume our self-imposed exile.
Posted on February 15th, 2020
What in tarnation is happening here? There's no need to check your calendar... because an all new Bullet Sunday on Saturday starts... now...
• Red Sox! And so it begins... the team is converging on Fort Meyers for Spring Training, which begins full-squad workouts on Monday. Well, full-squad except Mookie Betts, who got traded to L.A. for some stupid reason (okay, it was probably to fall under the Competitive Balance Tax threshold for 2020, but still stupid)...
Photo from NBC Sports
I sure hope Boston has a better season this year than last year.
• 1917! If you know me, you know I love maps. This is so frickin' cool.
• You Better Work! As somebody who loves RuPaul, there was no way I was going to miss his new 10-episode series on Netflix...
From the trailer I expected it to be entertaining and funny. I did not expect it to be as deep, smart, and genuinely sweet and touching as it. Bonus: There's a lot of familiar faces popping up throughout, including many, many contestants from Drag Race. What sabotages the show is two things. 1) The kid is irrationally bratty and shitty at random times, screaming her head off for no reason. I have no idea why Ru and Michael Patrick King felt it necessary to go that far. And, 2) It doesn't have an ending and absolutely everything was left in the air with no resolution whatsoever. If Netflix doesn't give it a second season, viewers are screwed. Still, worth tuning in for.
• Miss Jackson! Janet Jackson Herself has announced that her new album and tour, Black Diamond, will be dropping this summer.
• Great Scott! These deep fakes are just getting more and more frightening...
Frightening because they are looking more and more realistic.
• Goo! If you did any kind of graphic design work in the 1990's, odds are you know of Kai Krause. His design tools allowed you to create some truly wondrous stuff... but had the absolute worst possible interfaces to get there. I never understood why they were so utterly wacky and nonsensical. Apparently, it was to spur creativity... to get people to just "play" with things until they were intuitively doing what they wanted to do. It never worked like that for me. I'd much rather have proper menus and tools that made it clear what was happening. Kai's Power Goo, for example, was just a mess. But it was Photoshop "liquify" before there was Photoshop liquify, and you have to respect that...
I owned absolutely everything Kai ever released. Used his tools all the time, even as I hated the way they worked. Even so, I found the story of his interface design an interesting read.
Sunday Saturday Bullets.
Posted on February 3rd, 2020
There’s a difference between "I really connect to your lyrics"... and "I’m going to break in."
I never gave much thought to Taylor Swift. Her music was originally Country, which I don't listen to. Then she dropped into the world of Pop music with 1989 but I wasn't "in that place" at the time, didn't like the single Bad Blood at all, and ignored it. When Reputation was released I didn't much care for the first single, Shake it Off and ignored that album too.
Then I heard the song Mean while shopping in a store somewhere and didn't know who sang it, but Shazamed it even though it was Country because I was hooked by the lyrics...
Someday I'll be living in a big ol' city
And all you're ever gonna be is mean
Someday I'll be big enough so you can't hit me
And all you're ever gonna be is mean
I made a mental note to take another look at Taylor Swift because that one song impressed me so much.
When I finally remembered to pull up her catalog on Amazon Music Unlimited while brushing my teeth one morning, the first song to come up was New Romantics...
Cuz baby I could build a castle
Out of all the bricks they threw at me
And every day is like a battle
But every night with you is like a dream
I remember just standing there, toothbrush in hand, toothpaste dribbling out of my mouth, trying to really listen to the lyrics, which were pretty great. From there I blew through all her music, consistently impressed with her songwriting, even if I didn't always like the song itself. But most of the songs from 1989 and Reputation I did like quite a lot.
Then the singles from Lover started dropping and I was suddenly full-on fan of Taylor Swift... putting Lover in the top spot of my favorite albums of 2019.
And now, just when I didn't think I could love Taylor any more than I already do, a documentary dropped on Netflix called Miss Americana...
I enjoyed it quite a lot. The film is an intimate look into the highs and lows of Taylor's life and gives a glimpse into her songwriting process (which is worthy of a documentary all on its own). There's also a good chunk of time devoted to Swift's decision to unleash her political beliefs, even though she knew full well what the consequences might be for her life and career. The scene where she's about to unleash a political tweet that changes everything was almost a hold-your-breath moment.
It would be really easy to watch her struggles and think "Oh boo hoo! Go cry into your millions of dollars because nobody cares!"
But any such snap judgements are made out of ignarance. Swift built herself a castle out of all the bricks that were thrown at her and earned her millions of dollars with hard work and talent. The fact that she uses her popularity and fame to speak out against bigotry and injustice when her life would be a lot easier if she just sat quiet and smiled is what makes Taylor Swift be Taylor Swift.
Even though she all too often gets burned for it.
And so... Miss Americana is recommended for Taylor Swift lovers and haters alike. If you have Netflix, give it a look.
Posted on January 22nd, 2020
For years now... a decade really... I've been experimenting with setting up a personal NAS (Network Attached Storage) media server that's connected to the internet. There are a lot of reasons I'd like to have such a thing, but the big one is that I want to be able to access my vast photo library from anywhere on earth. If I'm in Germany and want to show a friend a photo of the Hard Rock Cafe Yokohama (something that actually happened) it would be great if I could do that. Sure I have the option of paying for a photo service, but then I have to convert all my images from RAW format and lose the ability to access/edit the original photo remotely if I want to.
So I purchased a 1 Terabyte single-drive, internet-enabled "WD My Book Studio" NAS back in 2010 with that in mind. Everything ended up being a total mess and didn't work at all like I was hoping. It's been sitting in a drawer ever since.
Fast forward to 2019 and I decided to try again. I used money I had saved in 2014 for a trip to Norway's fjords with my mom (that we never got around to taking) and purchased a QNAP TS415+ NAS and two Western Digital 8 Terabyte RED drives to put in it. The drives are mirrored in a RAID configuration so I don't lose any data if one of them dies. Note that there's a television remote. That's because this model has an HDMI port so it can hook up directly to a television...
Today I finally set it all up. It was fairly straightforward, though not the most user-friendly thing to do. It spent hours doing a "RAID resync" (whatever the hell that is), which makes zero sense. The drives were empty and freshly formatted. How can it take over 24 hours to "resync" NOTHING? Note that QNAP doesn't bother with beta testing their apps. If they did, somebody might have noticed that the displayed percentage overwrites the text label, making it tough to read its progress...
Before you can do anything, you have to set up a "Storage Pool" from your drives. I maxed my pool out at 100% of my available drive space, because why only use part of your drives? QNAP is pretty brain-dead when you choose to do this... it will endlessly pester you with alerts because it defaults to a threshold of 80% usage. Insanity. If somebody sets their pool to 100% of drive space, why not ask if you want to disable the threshold alerts? I had to do it manually. Sadly, after setting things up, my 8TB mirrored drive resulted in only 7.1TB of space available. No idea what happened to nearly a FULL TERABYTE of storage (this seems high for overhead), but whatever.
Rather than have to install a third-party app, I decided to give the QNAP "Qmedia" app a try on my AppleTV since it's the "native" application from QNAP. It is complete and total shit. Despite "pretending" to remember where you left off when viewing videos, it doesn't. You can't even fast-forward the video you're watching, which is mind-blowing. I have no fucking idea why they even bothered. Qmedia is useless.
I'd rather not have to switch television video input sources from my AppleTV every time I want to watch something off the NAS, but apparently that's going to be how this goes. So I grabbed the QNAP remote and went for it. First I had to install an app (of course) but no big deal. Then I actually tried to use the thing and it's a total clusterfuck. The "VideoStation" app is just a fucking web browser interface. It's difficult to read because it's not sized for a television. It's impossible to use with the included remote because the remote doesn't do anything. You have to plug in a mouse and keyboard to make it work.
There's an "HD Player" app that looks like it's geared more towards television displays and using the remote control but it's fucking useless too, having many of the same problems as Qmedia. It goes non-responsive constantly, doesn't allow fast-forwarding (pressing the up arrow to skip forward is not the same thing), starts at the beginning of a video even if you tell it to resume from where you stopped, has a shitty interface that makes sorting through a large number of videos a nightmare, has crap video quality that you can't adjust for brightness or anything else, and is an overall steaming pile of fail.
I swear, QNAP is the most ridiculous fucking company. Why bother to make claims of being a multimedia center that can connect directly to your television if it does THIS shitty of a job of it? The whole thing is a fucking joke.
Fortunately there's plenty of options for serving your media from a NAS if it has a computer onboard like the TS451+ does. The "big two" are Kodi and Plex. Kodi is open source and free. Plex is free, but you can support the project by paying to subscribe to "Plex Pass" for additional features (like being able to download media on your phone for local playback instead of streaming it). Most people I know who started on Kodi ended up with Plex, so I just skipped a step and installed Plex Server on my NAS.
For what it is, Plex Server is pretty sweet. It transcodes just about anything you throw at it. Including the RAW Digital Negative photo format from Adobe (DNG) that I use. Which means I don't have to save out JPEGs in order to access my photo library remotely. Nice! I need to work on settings for this, however, because Plex compresses things pretty heavily for transmission. This results in some ugly visual artifacts, banding, and color shifts...
Video works brilliantly from Plex BECAUSE YOU CAN ACTUALLY FUCKING FAST FORWARD THROUGH IT ON APPLE TV! Plex does a really good job of cataloging it as well. Thank heavens, because I'd light my QNAP NAS on fire if I had to suffer through their shitty apps. The only problem I've run across is having the video stop and tell me that my connection isn't fast enough, which is absurd because AppleTV is literally plugged into the same high-speed hub as the NAS! There must be some kind of setting for that I'm missing. Fortunately, it's a rare event.
I don't steal media. All the movies and television shows I have are on DVD/Blu-Ray or purchased on Digital. Well, with two exceptions... Cupid (the Jeremy Piven original) and Oh Grow Up! (one of my favorite shows of all time)... are not available to purchase. Lord only knows I wish they were, because my digitized versions of VHS tapes are really poor quality. I've used Vudu's Disc-To-Digital service to convert the bulk of my DVD/Blu-Ray collection to Digital legally. But not all of my stuff is available for conversion. Now I have the option of ripping them to the NAS and viewing them digitally no matter where I am via Plex Server. Technically, any time you break the protection on a DVD you are breaking the law, but that's a bullshit law. I would happily pay to convert them to digital if the studio who owns them would allow them to be converted. What I'm not going to do is buy the same movie all over again. Fuck that. I already paid for it, I should get to pay a small fee for a new format, not have to buy it all over again. And so... I have a small collection of DVDs ripped to my NAS temporarily until the studio allows them to be converted and I can pay for that. Plex does a great job of streaming from my living room to remote locations in HD. No, the video quality is not as good as what comes off of iTunes... especially if the iTunes version is 4K... but it's plenty good enough for my iPad or iPhone. I'm sure if I didn't have tons of security cameras flooding my bandwidth I could set the quality higher, but it's really not necessary.
Music streaming (local and remote) is handled quite well through Plex, and my SONOS system can address Plex directly. This means I can download all my music from iTunes, put it on the NAS, then drop iTunes Music Match and iTunes itself with no problem.
And so... bravo Plex.
I'm going to try out "Plex Pass" for a month and see if I want to upgrade to the lifetime membership for $120. Something tells me that's a purchase I will end up making. I certainly can't do without Plex if my alternative is the QNAP crap.
UPDATE: Yeah. Easiest decision to make to get the Plex Pass... the apps for streaming are included and you're helping the team behind it to keep developing the app.
So okay... the QNAP multimedia is bullshit. What about the NAS itself? Well, I'd love to report on that, but the minute I login, it either immediately disconnects me...
...or it allows me in but gives me a shitload of error messages. My favorite? Telling me it's running out of memory. If 2GB is not enough memory to do even the most basic tasks, then why ship with just 2GB memory? QNAP has their own version of Microsoft "Clippy" to break the bad news, which is a weird choice...
Even better? If you choose "optimize" he does a happy dance when he recovers 0MB of memory! Once I can log in again, I'll turn off and uninstall absolutely everything except the bare minimum I need (which includes Plex Server, of course), so I'm hoping that will fix these problems.
My NAS can act as a Time Machine backup for my Mac, but I really don't need that any more. All my data is stored in the cloud, so the only thing that would need to be replaced on my MacBook if it were destroyed are the apps, which I can just download from the developer again.
QNAP provides Apple File Services so I can access my NAS over my local network easily. Weirdly enough, you are required to install Windows File Services in order to install Apple File Services, but (luckily) you can kill the Windows File Services after installation to save precious memory and everything seems to work fine.
Speaking of memory... QNAP is happy to sell you more, but they charge outrageous pricing for the stuff. I mean laughably outrageous pricing. Far better to buy it yourself (which I'm guessing I'll have to do sometime soon if killing apps don't work).
Remote management and access to my files is a breeze thanks to QNAP's tools and a service they call CloudLink. The NAS talks with QNAP so even though its IP address may change, you can still reach it with no trouble.
I am still relatively new to the QNAP TS451+ NAS and the Western Digital RED drives, so I can't comment much about them. I can say that Western Digital are the only brand of hard drive that hasn't disappointed me so I'm hoping that trend continues. Also, despite the shitty media center aspects and overly-difficult controls, QNAP is highly respected in the IT industry. I just wouldn't bother paying extra for an HDMI port and remote that you will probably never use because their software is shit. Put that money towards a Plex Pass where it will do some good.
Posted on December 29th, 2019
While I'm sure there's plenty of new music that I didn't find in 2019, I wasn't really looking for it. More and more I find myself retreating to old favorites rather than seeking out new stuff to enjoy. 80's pop, classic old-school rap, and 80's metal were all reminders of easier times, and that was where my refuge lay. So here is what's sure to be a very thin list, but it's what I managed to think of when asking myself what my favorites of 2019 were.
#1 Lover by Taylor Swift
I tend to ignore Taylor Swift, only becoming aware when one of her songs grabs me while listening to internet radio or something. But then Taylor performed the song ME! At the Billboard Music Awards with Brendon Urie, and she instantly became impossible to ignore. Not only was it a great pop song, but the spectacle which accompanied it was fantastic. Then she released You Need to Calm Down, along with a star-studded video that completely delivered as a follow-up. Taylor’s reign over 2019 was sealed. Filled with pop songs that kept me asking Alexa to play the album over and over again, this was my favorite of 2019 and I make no apologies for it.
#2 Work by Holy Ghost!
The self-titled debut album from Holy Ghost! Was almost too good to be true. It came along at the right moment with the right pop sensibilities and struck a chord that has infused the album on my psyche. I thought for sure the second album would be a disaster because isn't that the way it always goes? But it wasn't. I loved it just as much. And here we are with album number three... and it's a darn good effort too. The duo have found their groove and seem to be content to stay there, which is not the bad thing you'd think it should be. Yeah, all three albums could have been released at the same time and don't really show us anything new, but at a time where I was grasping for something older and familiar, Work fit the bill perfectly.
#3 Dedicated by Carly Rae Jepsen
It's premature to say that she peaked with her previous album, E•MO•TION, but Carly Rae Jepsen's latest effort fell slightly short of my lofty expectations (seriously, E•MO•TION is a phenomenal pop album!). Sure, some of the tracks are what I had been missing in my life, but some of them kinda fall kinda flat for me too (I detest Everything He Needs with its repetitive hook and wacky synth bends). If I had to analyze things, I'd say that she's gone with a slightly more mellow/weird vibe on those songs? Even so, I had this album playing an awful lot throughout Summer 2019 and since it has 15(!) tracks, it's still got a heck of a lot of terrific music to offer.
#4 Saves the World by MUNA
I played MUNA's debut album to death. So to say that I was looking forward to their follow-up is an epic understatement. And while I was happy to have more from the band, they took a bit of a departure that kept me from loving the entirety of Saves the World. Maybe it's a touch too introspective and brutal for my tastes? I dunno. Still, the band proves that they're not fading away any time soon. They know how to craft lyrics, marry them to a beat like nobody's business, and keep me coming back. I just wish it was back to this album more than the first, which is still the one I am playing all the time.
#5 Father of the Bride by Vampire Weekend
Many a time I'll find myself thinking "What the heck ever happened to Ezra Koenig?" 2019 finally answered that question after a six year gap from the previous album. It's filled with all the things you could want from Vampire Weekend including that one track that you have to skip every time the album plays (ironically, this time it's the title track and first song). In some respects, this is my favorite of four albums Koenig has blessed us with... though it could be I've just been so starved for them for so long.
#6 Fine Line by Harry Styles
While former One Direction boy-banders Liam Payne and Harry Styles both released an album in 2019, Liam's kind of went off the rails (he needs a stronger producer to figure out where he's going)... whereas Harry's had actual direction that was shaped to fit his talents perfectly. While his is not my favorite type of music, I did greatly appreciate what came out of Fine Line and found myself listening to it more than I ever thought I would. That surprise is why this ranks so high on my list. I just wasn't expecting this... not from Harry Styles (the redundant awfulness of the title track excepted, because holy crap is that bad).
#7 Hurts 2B Human by P!NK
I like P!NK best when she embraces pop music and unleashes the songs that play to that genre. Unfortunately she is "maturing" and these last two albums seem more interested in having something angsty and dramatic to say instead of being the big poppy fun I love her for. This time around we get a lot of duets, which is fine but, unlike her collaborations with Nate Ruess and Lily Allen, her tracks with Wrabel and Khalid bored me (holy crap, the angst!). Precious few tracks stand out from her oeuvre in any meaningful way, but when you're talking about P!NK, that's not a tragedy. She still knows how to craft a really good song.
#8 Inflorescent by Friendly Fires
Ask me to name a song by Friendly Fires, and the only one I can guarantee will enter my head is Skeleton Boy from their debut album. Everything after that is a blur, including this album, and it's perfectly fine. I'm in the mood for their brand of mellow pop sensibility far more often than I feel is healthy.
#9 Thank U, Next by Ariana Grande
Theoretically speaking, I should love Ariana Grande's music a lot more than I do. Alas, while I've liked all her albums just fine, they never quite take me where I need to go to "stick" with me. Thank U, Next does a better job than most, however. Her voice is as good as ever and the lyrics are well-crafted. As if that wasn't enough, her video for the title track is nicely self-aware, parodying Clueless, Bring it On, and Legally Blonde, to flawless effect.
#10 Cause and Effect by Keane
What's funny is that when I happened upon Cause and Effect, my excitement was over the moon at the idea that the BAND Cause and Effect had released new music! I love their stuff, but we haven't heard from them in nearly a decade. But anyway... this was a new album by Keane, which has been a band that I lose enthusiasm for with each passing album. They peaked with songs off of Hopes and Fears and there hasn't been another Somewhere Only We Know or Everybody's Changing since. Not that I want them to keep repeating themselves, but none of their later stuff seems to grab me (and yet I will happily listen to their first effort over and over). This, their fifth studio album, I enjoyed more than the previous two, but it still feels like they are relying on soaring vocals to sell the songs instead of catchy hooks and interesting melodies. I dunno. Maybe in time I'll appreciate Cause and Effect more, but for now it's a happy distraction from time to time instead of the obsession it should be.
FAVORITE VIDEO OF 2019 • Thinkin' Bout You by Ciara
Not only is the song fantastic, Ciara's video for it really makes it memorable for obvious (and not so obvious) reasons.
FAVORITE MISSING IN ACTION OF 2019 • Chasing Stars by Postiljonen
Apparently this song was released in late 2018, but I never heard it until early 2019. I fully expected it would be followed by a new album this year, but it was not to be. I have no idea if this is a leftover song or what, but a new album from one of my favorite bands can't get here soon enough.
FAVORITE ANTICIPATION FOR 2020 • Hotspot by Pet Shop Boys
One of my all-time favorite bands seem to churn out albums every three years like clockwork (give or take). Since Super dropped in 2016, it was only natural to expect that we'd see another hit in 2019. Instead it's coming next month, which is more-or-less on schedule. Problem is... I haven't been able to fully embrace a Pet Shop Boys album since Yes (which is likely my second favorite after Please). It seems like I have been able to take half the songs off of one album (like Elysium) and combine it with half from the follow-up (like Electric) to get a full album's worth of songs I love. Since Super was essentially in the same boat, I'm guessing I'll be loving half of Hotspot as well. Still, even the worst tracks from Neil and Chris are going to be leagues above most songs released in 2020, so I'm understandably excited about it.
Here's hoping I find a renewed passion for new music in 2020.