Watching this week

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Good times for science fiction fans. This week marks the return of the popular series, Eureka, on the newly named SyFy channel. No, not “see-fee”, “Sci Fi”.

This week also marks the debut of the new series, Warehouse 13. If you don’t have the SyFy channel on cable, the pilot for the show can be found at Hulu, at the SyFy show site, and also available, for free, in HD quality, at Amazon Video on Demand, and iTunes.

I watched the show using my Roku box and via Amazon VOD. The digital quality was excellent, the streaming more than sufficient.

Warehouse 13 is about a secret government-run warehouse in the badlands of South Dakota, which contains all manner of supernatural and super science oddities. The main characters are a mysterious woman, known as Mrs. Frederick (played by C. C. H. Pounder), who recruits members for an organization to locate, and bring back, whatever dangerous oddities still exist in the wild. The crew consists of Arthur “Artie” Nielsen (played by Saul Rubinek), the long time team member, who is newly joined by two Secret Service agents: Peter Lattimer (played by Eddie McClintock) and Myka Bering (played by Joanne Kelly). He’s loose, she’s uptight, and yes, this has been done before. However, they pull it off well, especially the Bering character. And Saul Rubinek is excellent in the show, taking his character, Artie, beyond the typical mad genius who is above emotional turmoil. The man gets mad, looses his cool, worries about people, but still manages to come off quirky, and fun.

The pilot has the team hunting the jeweled comb of Lucretia Borgia, allowing for a strong female protagonist, making a nice change from the typical science fiction program, with male or monster baddies.

Will you like Warehouse 13? If you like Steampunk, Eureka at its more serious, X-Files, at its lighter and quirkier moments, you’ll probably like Warehouse 13. At a minimum, you can check out the pilot for free.

Other things to watch this week:

  • Watching “Maxed Out” on Netflix Watch Now. “Maxed Out” is a documentary on the credit card business, and is both fascinating, and more than a little chilling. If you don’t have access to Netflix Watch Now, it’s also available as Amazon VOD, and on iTunes. Recommended.
  • Watching the Doctor Who special show, “The Next Doctor” via iTunes on my AppleTV. This show features the tenth Doctor Who, David Tennant, who will be ending his stint this year. A pity, too, as he was an excellent Doctor. Frankly, I’m not sure about the next, much younger Doctor. It’s an interesting experiment on the part of the series, but could backfire. Regardless, “The Next Doctor” is prime Doctor Who, and any Doctor fan will want to view it. It’s free for you folks in the UK. The rest of us will have to get it through iTunes, or via DVD or TV (BBC America).
  • Watching “The 3D Sun”, on Hulu. This 30 minute documentary put out by NASA covers Stereo, positioning satellites in parallel, equidistant from the earth, in order to provide a 3D look at the Sun’s activity. The show features excellent interviews, a nice overview of how the Sun’s activity impacts on the us, and wonderful visuals. Of course, what we’ve come to expect from NASA. If you can’t access Hulu, you can access the video at the STEREO Mission site. It’s also been released to theaters as 3D, but I hate the stupid glasses. Watch it on your computer instead.

    3d Sun

  • For all you old Star Trek fans, You can access shows at YouTube, as well as the site, in addition to accessing on Watch Now, and on iTunes. In other words, there’s always some Star Trek to watch. It has to be better than watching the latest episode of “You Can Dance!”

Happy viewing.


A new countdown to DTV

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The switch to digital TV within the US will happen in less than three weeks. However, according to the Government run DTV web site, 42% of the TV broadcast market has already made the transition.

If you’re reading this page via the Internet, I’m guessing you’ve already made your DTV switch. However, just in case I’m wrong, or you have family or friends who don’t understand the DTV switch, the FCC has contracted with vendors to provide DTV support centers and events, which can be located in this DTV help center map. There are also DTV converter box coupons still available, though it’s probably too late to get the coupon before the conversion.

As for antennas, based on my own experience, I recommend the Terk HDTVa Indoor Amplified High-Definition Antenna. Once I installed it, I was able to pick up an additional 5 channels, and I’ve had a much more consistent signal from all the channels. It’s one of the larger indoor antennas, but the price is good (I purchased at Amazon, where it’s currently listed for $36.85), as is the performance.


Kindle clipping limits

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I love books on history, and have read several on my Kindle. I hope to someday write book reviews, or perhaps use quotes from the books in my future writings. Kindle facilitated this capability by providing functionality to highlight passages, add book notes, and especially, save a Kindle “page” to a clipping file.

By saving passages from the book to a text file, I can copy and paste quotes, without worry about mistyping the text. In addition, if my Kindle died, though I may not have the books, I’d at least have my notes.

My routine would be to read a book, such as A Dark Valley: A Panorama of the 1930s or Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945, and once finished would copy the clipping file to my computer, delete the one on the Kindle, and start fresh. However, while reading Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World, about a third of a way through, when I went to save a page with a passage of interest to my clipping file, I received an error:

Unable to save clipping. You have
reached the clipping limit for this item.

Clipping limit? This was the first I’d heard of clipping limits.

I deleted the clipping file, but it made no difference. Per suggestions on an Amazon thread, I also deleted a metadata file associated with the book, but again, had no luck.

I tried to find information about the clipping limit in the Kindle TOS or User Guide, but nothing was covered. I also tried to find out if one can “delete” items from the existing clipping file, in order to replace with other clippings at a later time, but once the limit is reached, nothing associated with the book can be added to the clipping file, not even a highlighted sentence.

Not all books have a clipping limit, and the limit is not the same for all books. However, there is no way to find out if a book has a clipping limit, or how big it is, unless using software to ‘crack’ the DRM (Digital Rights Management) for the book.

That I’m peeved is to put it mildly, as that was one of the Kindle features I found most valuable. It was also one of the features I’ve used to sell the reading device to others. And now I’m afraid to make notes or save clippings without wondering if I won’t hit the limit. Contrary to what Amazon or the Publishers must assume, I’m not going to use the “Save as Clipping” feature to copy the entire book—I’d rather get the book from the library and photocopy each page, because it would be easier. And I can’t wait to find out what happens when several college students hit this limit with their fancy, and expensive, new large form Kindle DXes.

More importantly, Amazon does not mention this limitation with the sales material for the device, though the company does tout the “Save as clipping” capability.

Bookmarks and Annotations

By using the QWERTY keyboard, you can add annotations to text, just like you might write in the margins of a book. And because it is digital, you can edit, delete, and export your notes. Using the new 5-way controller, you can highlight and clip key passages and bookmark pages for future use.

Yet there’s nothing about clipping limits: in the documentation, or the web site. This, to me, is a deceptive business practice. Making an assumption that people will somehow “know” about the limits because of copyright laws is especially weak, because the amount you can copy seems to be arbitrary, and we readers have no way of knowing what these limits are.

Even more disappointing, the clipping limit also applies to DRM free books from Amazon, according to a MobileRead forum entry.

update I counted the clippings from “Banana…”, and discovered that the clipping limit for this book has been set to 40. That’s Kindle clippings, not book pages. Following is a typical clipping:

busy, modern family would consist of bananas sliced into corn flakes with milk. It wasn’t just the recipe that broke new ground. It was also the coupons, pioneered by the company, packed inside cereal boxes (redeemable for free bananas that the cereal companies, not the fruit importer, paid for). The company made sure that children knew about bananas, too. It set up an official “education department,” devoted to publishing textbooks and curriculum materials that subtly provided information about the fruit. United Fruit also added a new element to its political strategy. If military action was impractical (U.S. troops might be unavailable or force precluded by situations on the ground), Central America’s geography became an ally. The region’s countries were small and easy to move between. There were plenty of natural ports on both the eastern and western coasts, and bananas could be grown just about anywhere land could be cleared and a railroad could be laid. If a government became particularly balky, the company would simply threaten to go next door. But one thing United Fruit couldn’t control was nature. Not long after bananas added themselves as a third party in cereal and milk, the troubles growers were beginning to have with an aggressive malady became public. One headline in The New York Times read: “Banana Disease Ruins Plantations—No Remedy is Available—Whole Regions Have Been Laid Waste and Improvements Abandoned by

update I’ve tried the Perl tool mobi2mobi on several of the books I have, including those with an expired copyright downloaded from Amazon, one that is copyrighted and with DRM, and one that is copyrighted, without DRM.

The values I’m getting would seem to be percentages, not absolute clipping instances. So a value of 0xa, which is hex for 10, would be 10 percent, not 10 instances. Non-DRM books return a clipping limit of 0x64, which is hex for 100, which would be, if my guess is accurate, 100%. This matches our expectation for a non-DRM enabled book: that we can highlight, or clip pages up to 100% of the content.

That the value is a percentage may have been obvious to some of you, but the idea of that Amazon would enforce such an arbitrary limit, and without notice to the customers, is still new to me.

Note, also, that Amazon is attaching what seems to be a default value of 10% to books that are no longer covered by copyright, but which you can download for free from Amazon. Looks like Amazon is also attaching DRM to these books, too. My suggestion would be to get these books elsewhere, like, and hope they aren’t so limited.


Amazon VOD on Roku, Boxee out

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Roku has announced today that the Amazon Video On Demand software update will be rolling out over the next five days. With this update, people can now access their Amazon VOD videos directly on the Roku box.

I haven’t seen the update on either of my two Roku boxes, but I’m not a favorite of the Roku folks, and don’t expect to be one of the first to get updated. When I do have access, I’ll write up a review.

I had planned on writing a review of Boxee on my AppleTV, but have removed it after the recent AppleTV upgrade. Once Boxee lost access to Hulu, it lost most of its key content, and the value it adds as compared to the hassles of having to install, and maintain, it on the AppleTV, just isn’t that high. Too bad, too, as it’s a nice service. I imagine it was too much competition for the paid content on AppleTV.


DTV cutoff officially delayed

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Congress today voted to make the DTV transition even more confusing by pushing back the date given on every billboard and in every commercial an additional four months. The cut-off date is now June 12th…sort of.

According to a Washington Post story on the delay

The House today has voted to delay the nation’s transition to digital television by four months, less than two weeks before broadcasters were scheduled to turn off traditional analog signals and air only digital programming Feb. 17.

An additional impact of the new legislation is that DTV conversion coupons that expired are now good again, for a limited time.

What all of this means is that the people who ignored all of the warnings and pleas for the last year, can now ignore another four months of the same. This also means that those of us who did what was necessary for the transition have to put up with the constant barrage of noise about the DTV switch for another four months.

What’s worse, though, is that those stations ready to make the switch can switch, which will now result in a patchwork of cut-offs, rather than the one clean cut-off date for everyone.

Acting Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael J. Cops said today that 143 broadcasters have already terminated their analog signals and another 60 stations plan to do so before Feb. 17. Other stations have told the agency they plan to shut off analog signals on the original transition date, but they may choose to remain on the air.

Except that it typically costs a station $10,000 a month to continue with both analog and digital signals at the same time. I think we’ll find more than a few stations making the transition on the earlier, February 17th date.

Additional information at Broadcasting and Cable.