Thursday, October 16, 2014

Standalone HBO streaming is a good thing

HBO announced yesterday that their streaming service, HBOGo, would be available as an a la carte service for anyone who wants to pony up the subscription fee (estimated to be around $20/month) could do so without having any cable television subscription. That is the first step in cable television channels giving viewers the power to choose the most important channels and paying for only what they want to watch.

The bad part is that most of the people who would want to subscribe to a standalone HBOGo service would still need to be strapped to a cable television company to receive streaming content because cable internet is the norm for a large percentage of internet customers.

In the end the cable companies still get your money and you are still dependent on them because people have few, if any, options. The only other viable option is to sever all ties to cable companies. I did this just over a year ago and went with DSL (just a fast and actually cheaper) but opted to subscribe to DISH TV service because my cable company (Mediacom) moved to metered internet service and my Netflix habits would have burned through that data cap in no time at all.

And it's those very data caps / metered internet access that cable companies will impose on their customers to keep them from cutting the cord to television service completely. This borderline monopoly is the kind of practice that keeps the cable companies insanely profitable and keeps customers tied to their television service.

The only hope is municipal fiber internet service or for a company like Google to become ultra aggressive in their deployment of fiber internet service. True competition is the only thing which will force cable television companies to be competitive -- both in price and speed -- with their internet service.

Monday, October 06, 2014

I watched Mulaney last night

I went out of my way to set my DVR to record the newest FOX sitcom, "Mulaney" last night and  I still am unsure what to think of the new multi-camera series starring comedian and former Saturday Night Live writer John Mulaney.

The series got off to an admittedly rough start. I may have cracked a smile or two early on but the series premiere was well over half finished before I laughed for the first time. Given John Mulaney's history -- hell, he wrote and created the hysterical SNL character "Stefon" -- I still have hopes that this show finds its footings and starts to become a consistent performer and generator of laughs.

In terms of what "Mulaney" is all about, the series is drawing a lot of comparisons to "Seinfeld". Both comedies star a stand-up comedian who appears to have absolutely no acting chops. Both show feature roughly the same number of supporting cast members including a man who could be compared to "Seinfeld" arch nemesis Newman, an Elane character portrayed by former SNL player Nasim Pedrad and John Mulaney's best friend who is also a comedian and appears to be the George Costanza of the cast.

The biggest problem with John Mulaney is that his acting is stiff. No, scratch that, his acting is as stiff as setting concrete. His on-camera presence is lifeless while what I have seen of his stand-up performances, while still somewhat stiff, has sings of life. Somewhere, buried deep beneath the fact that "Mulaney" appears to be about, wait for it, NOTHING again like its on-paper cousin "Seinfeld", there is a decent sitcom hiding.

After reading numerous reviews about "Mulaney" from those privy to seeing screeners of future episodes, the FOX sitcom does manage to find the funny and shore up its shaky footings by, at the latest, the sixth episode. With this being a desperate network and that the executives had enough faith before this series even aired a single episode to hand it a whopping sixteen episode commitment means that  the suits at FOX will either ride out the 16 ordered episodes and see how things pan out or unceremoniously ax this show over the extended Christmas break. All signs, though, point to "Mulaney" airing its 16 episodes in their entirety and maybe more if ratings and reviews improve.

I, for one, want this show to succeed even though it has the often maligned laugh track and is a blatant "Seinfeld" rip-off. Be sure to get in on the ground floor of "Mulaney" and watch as it improves. It airs Sunday evenings at 8:30 PM C/T on FOX.

Monday, September 22, 2014

How bad is Minnesota Renaissance Festival parking?

The Minnesota Renaissance Festival is an annual sign that summer is drawing to a close and autumn is here. The celebration of wine, humor and food, though, has seen better days. With the main parking lot (the King's lot) utterly decimated by a frac sand mining operation, the traffic situation seems to have his a bit of a breaking point this year. It was painfully obvious on Saturday, September 20th as the day was perfect. Attendance was estimated by many as being in excess of 30,000 and it all began with people waiting upwards of two hours to park. The day was bookended by severe storms and a torrential downpour. That, along with the record attendance and poor planning by parking lot attendees created somewhat of a public relations shitstorm for the Minnesota Renaissance Festival.

Even though I was not in attendance at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival this past weekend, I was lucky enough to see the traffic nightmare firsthand. Passing by the grounds form the south after the rain had passed, traffic was virtually stopped from a mile south of the King's parking lot entrance/exit to Interstate 494 on 169 north. Take into account that there were still thousands of cars in the overflow parking lot adjacent to U.S. highway 169 and I can only imagine the hell that was happening further away from the highway.

But why use your imagination when you can check out the litany of not-so-glowing Facebook reviews that center around the parking and traffic nightmares at the 2014 Minnesota Renaissance Festival.

Keith Mattke
6 hours at the fest. 4 hours of misery trying to get out of the parking lot. Never returning to go through that bullshit again.

Lisa Jo Lampi
Waiting in a THREE MILE line to park for the last hour!! Come on you guys. You CAN do better than this!
Roger Thibodo
Had a great day until we left spent 2 1/2 hours trying to get out HIRE SOME TRAFFIC CONTROL
Krissy Karsseboom Odendahl
Parking sucks! I would not come if I had known it would take me all day just to get in!
 
Tom LeTourneauAbsolutely horrible parking!!! Over 3.5 hours trying to get out of the parking lot.
 
Joe Klanderspend 6 hours at the festival and almost 4 hours in the parking lot. People had to use the bathroom but the port-o potties were overflowing. No order was taken at all to get people out of there. I love the fest, but I'm not going to idle for hours to get out. I'm glad I didn't bring my kids yesterday and I had enough gas to get out of that place. I was very soured by the experience.
 
Stefanie Oberts BergI have been here for many years and always enjoyed it...until tonight. We have been sitting in the parking lot trying to get out of here for about 4 hours now. NO ONE directing traffic, no explanation. This is beyond ridiculous!! I don't think I will be back. This is beyond horrible. The staff and Scott County have done a horrible job. Sorry, but I think you have lost my future business...
 
Shannon Ivory LawsonSo the day was great with the kids- loved all of it until we got to the car at 5:37 and got out of the lot at 8:52!! Three hours in the car driving about 1 mile really dampened the day. We will not go back until the drilling is over or the festival moves. What scares me is if there was a real emergency- no one could get in or out from what I could tell. I hope everyone gets home safely. 
 
************
 
The fact is that the Minnesota Renaissance Festival sits on leased land which the lease ends in 2016. That gives the festival two more years until the land on which the festival grounds sit are likely mined and turned into a deep pit. The Minnesota Renaissance Festival's owners, Mid-America Festivals, do own land north and west of the current grounds which would make for a viable relocation should that be necessary if they lose their current location due to continued frac sand mining. The sticking point in my eyes, though, continues to be parking situation and even if the festival grounds do relocate, the parking will continue to become more of a hassle.
 
The logical suggestion is to either accept the fact that parking will continue to get worse and that the customer base will begin to erode or move the whole experience somewhere else.
 
 
 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Choosing to do the humane thing

Death sucks. Declining health sucks. Difficult choices suck. All of this comes from a guy who is admittedly emotionally detached. That's another story for another day. Saturday morning, though, we had to make a difficult choice regarding the younger of our two pet cats.

Clocking in at a mere nine years old, Buffy was a distant but fluffy member of our household. She stayed out of the way since her earliest days. We wouldn't have even had her if it weren't for the fact that we took in a stray cat who turned out to be an expecting cat mother. We gave away the three other kittens to loving homes and opted to keep the remaining kitten around so its mom wouldn't be lonely.

The two were great friends for the most part. They could be seen bathing each other or sleeping in a pile together somewhere in an unoccupied corner of the house. Buffy was never much for human interaction though, outside of the occasional vigorous petting session on her head. Anywhere else and she's nip at whomever was performing the unwelcome petting.

We knew that her health was on the decline as she had been battling something for the majority of the summer months. We opted to give her a bath on Friday evening and noticed that most of the lush fur from her belly was gone and that she was bleeding. It was obvious that Buffy wasn't well and that she was in somewhat visible pain.

Saturday morning was decision time. Do we let her continue to live with declining health or do we call the vet? After crying for a while - thankfully our five year-old daughter was outside with friends - we grabbed the pet carrier and I took her to the vet.

I returned home with an empty pet carrier and a bit of a lump in my stomach. Like any human/pet relationship, we definitely had our differences but I never thought that, nine years ago, I'd miss this large, fluffy, ball of orange fur. Owning a pet is easy, choosing to do the right thing when they are in pain and suffering is a tough decision. I had never had to make the decision to part with a pet before and I know that this is only the beginning in a life filled with difficult, gut-wrenching decisions. She is in a better place now with no more pain and suffering. That sounds cliched but it's the truth. She will be missed.

The Vikings are clueless

The NFL has a problem. They seem to be completely unable to have consistency in how they punish players who commit crimes while employed by the league. After the entire Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal just over a week ago, the NFL had to think that the worst was behind them but then came the story, bubbling under the surface for months, that Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings running  back) had beaten his four year-old son in the Houston area.

We know that the Minnesota Vikings knew about this months before it became public on Friday. We know that the Vikings have disciplined offenders in the past and have done so rather swiftly by cutting them from the team without batting an eye. But this is Adrian Peterson. He is arguably the face of the Minnesota Vikings and is one of the biggest stars in the entire NFL.

There in lies their conundrum. How does the NFL and the Minnesota Vikings discipline one of their greatest stars and best players? Obviously, the Minnesota Vikings waffle on their stance and take a wait-and-see approach rather than doing the right thing in making a quick decision as they have done in the past and sever ties before the shit hits the fan.

But the Minnesota Vikings did let the shit hit the fan with the child abuse allegations surrounding Adrian Peterson. They deactivated Peterson for the team's week two game versus the New England Patriots but reactivated him for the week three game against the New Orleans Saints. But in the wee hours of this morning, the Minnesota Vikings placed Adrian Peterson on some bullshit exempt list where he exists without being activated or deactivated.

Adrian Peterson is truly a player in limbo when, if the Minnesota Vikings followed the precedent they had set with prior cases of abuse or law breaking, he would have had his contract terminated and been shown the door. Instead, the Minnesota Vikings come off looking like they are not just willing to but totally fine with looking the other way when a millionaire who plays a child's game beats one of his many children for something extremely trivial because "that's how he was raised".

The NFL comes into the third week of the 2014 season with a black eye. They are a league with a very clear discipline problem and a very pervasive history of sweeping misbehavior under the rug and looking the other way when their stars commit crimes. They are willing to defend their superstars when the commit crimes which would land average citizens in jail for at least a brief stint. The NFL, like the NBA, is full of spoiled man-children whose inappropriate behavior is overlooked in favor of sponsorship deals and television ratings.

The fans, the sponsors and the owners are all to blame just as much as the players.

It's time for the NFL to lay down the law and have some consistent guidelines for punishment - especially when it comes to spousal and child abuse.