This is what Shawn Morton would look like if he had been made of LEGO sMoRTy71.com -- the personal website of Shawn Morton
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Impressions: XBOX 360 & MCE 2005
It has been about a month since I set up Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 and connected it to my XBOX 360, so I thought I would share my first impressions:

1. Video streaming to the XBOX 360 is awesome! I built a few HTPCs in the past few years and the XBOX 360-as-media-center-extender idea is brilliant. Unlike the HTPCs I built, this one worked without any tinkering with drivers or video card settings.

I have ripped about a dozen DVDs (the ones that I tend to watch a lot) to the Media Center box (look for a post about how to do this later this week). It is great to able to pull those up either in the bedroom on the Media Center box or in the Manroom on the 360.

BTW, I am using a wired network to connect my 360 to the media center, so I can't comment on the 360's ability to stream over Wifi. Check out HD Beat's first impressions of using wireless to stream HD.

2. Picture quality is pretty good. A lot of people are complaining that the video quality when watching DVDs on the 360 isn't the greatest (which is true); however, it is definitely good enough when you weigh in the convenience of being able to stream directly to the 360 (rather than loading DVDs).

3. Music playback stinks. The interface to find and playback music is pretty lame. Basically, you stroll through an alphabetical list of artists. If you have hundreds of artists, it can take quite a while to find something like Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

I would love to see them work out some of the UI stuff around music playback; however , I don't use the 360 for much music playback, so it's not that big of a deal for me.

4. My Harmony 880 remote, after downloading the proper IR codes, is able to control both my XBOX 360 and my Media Center. This has allowed me to add them to "activities" in the remote that I can launch with 1 button. Very cool.

Overall, I am very pleased with how well the 360 and MCE box play together. Next up, I plan to get an HDTV tuner card for the Media Center box and create an HD DVR. If I can pull off a multi-room HDTV DVR with this setup, I will be very happy. Stay tuned.
Monday, January 30, 2006
Bands not in the Hair Nation
I've been listening to Hair Nation (Sirius 23) religiously since joining Sirius before Christmas. For the most part, I love the channel. It allows me to remember music that I loved when I not only had hair, but lots (and lots) of it.

The biggest complaint that I have is that their definition of "Hair Nation" seems a bit loose. Pretty much any band that played hard rock / heavy metal in the 80's is fair game. IMHO, hair metal is a very specific subgenre and should be a bit more exclusive.

Hair metal includes:
- Poison
- Bon Jovi
- Cinderella
- Skid Row
- Def Leppard
- Ratt
- Motley Crue
- Dokken
- Winger
- White Lion
- Britny Fox
- L.A. Guns
- Faster Pussycat
- Guns N Roses
- Bulletboys
- Bang Tango
- Roxx Gang

Hair metal does NOT include:
- AC/DC
- Scorpions (not even that annoying ballad where they whistle)
- Tesla
- Ozzy Osbourne (only the "Ultimate Sin" album comes close)
- Dio
- Van Halen (with Sammy Hagar)
- Black Sabbath
- Rainbow
- Saxon
- Stryper

Unfortunately, some of the bands in the NOT list, especially AC/DC, Van Halen and Scorpions, are in heavy rotation on Hair Nation. I guess I'll have to suffer through the "Winds of Change" and "Signs" in order to get "Girlschool" and "Wait."
Saturday, January 28, 2006
Watched "Bubble" last night
Yesterday was a pretty significant day in terms of film distribution. HDNet Films released Stephen Soderbergh's "Bubble" in theaters, on TV (in high definition) and on DVD (both the theater and TV releases were yesterday; the DVD releases on Tuesday).

I, for one, am all for closing the release windows and giving consumers the choice as to where and when they view films. I would much rather enjoy a high-definition version of a new release in the Manroom than in the local multiplex.

OK, enough about the release, what about the movie? It was really, really good. The concept is to take a location (in this case, a small town on the Ohio/West Virginia border), find a story that is authentic to that location (in this case, working a tedious, repetitive job in a doll factory) and then cast local people to star in the film (i.e. no professional actors at all).

While that sounds cool in theory, I was sort of expecting the worst, especially with the non-professional actor part. Fortunately, I was totally wrong. The "actors" are perfect at conveying the stillness and tedium of their lives (maybe it helped that I grew up in West Virginia and knew people like this). And the story takes a turn near the end that suddenly creates a nice little murder mystery.

Fans of other mainstream Soderbergh films (Ocean's 11, Erin Brokovich) should probably avoid this one. However, if you like interesting, experimental filmmaking, then check out "Bubble."

Soderbergh is under contract to do 5 more of these experimental films. Hopefully, HDNet Films can recruit other filmmakers to do the same.
Friday, January 27, 2006
Engadget reports on my Netflix post
Wow, this thing just won't die. I make a simple, anecdotal observation about *my* experience with Netflix and now everyone wants to comment on it. The NF fanboys think I'm an asshole for not just taking what NF wants to send me (instead of getting the movies I want). Many of the others just think I'm stupid for thinking that this would work 'cause they have tried it and it didn't. Oh well. It *did* work for me and, honestly, I don't care if it works for anyone else.

So don't blame me. I wasn't the one who put it on Digg or Engadget.
Thursday, January 26, 2006
Followup to Netflix trick
OK, the exposure on Digg has resulted in a bunch of comments (both on Digg and on my blog). So I thought I would address some of them.

1. Yes, this isn't really a scientifically-proven trick. It is anecdotal. Thought that was obvious, but got some snarky comments anyway.

2. I don't have movies in my queue that I don't want to watch. It is just that I don't want to watch the ones they send right now. The fact that something is lower in my queue implies that my desire to watch that movie is lower than the one at #1.

3. You don't have to try this! Several people complained that they have too many movies in their queue to try this. Well, this isn't mandatory, so your queue should be just fine.

4. One guy complained that I was letting the cat out of the bag and that he had been doing this for a while. Sorry.

One of the more useful comments actually suggested a little freeware app called FlixQueue that allows you to manage and backup your Queue. FlixQueue would make it very easy to maintain a large queue and still use my "method."

And finally, I think this trick (whether it works for everyone of not) shows that Netflix is definitely "reserving" a portion of their inventory for new customers (or at least for customers who aren't me). Otherwise, they wouldn't be able to go from "Very Long Wait" to "Now" in a matter of minutes.

A few months ago, we did a little experiment at the office. Several of us have Netflix and each of us were at various stages in our membership (1 guy had a trial, the rest of us were members from 3 months to over 1 year). I tried to add a movie to my queue and got "Very long wait." The others in our test group did the same and the results varied from "Long Wait," "Short Wait" to "Now." Guess who got the "Now?" The new guy, of course.

I guess I would rather see NF come clean about their efforts to place limitations on their unlimited service and make them part of the membership agreement. Why not say, "You get X movies per month for $X.?"

Based on the comments I've seen lately, NF has gone from one of those companies you tell your friends about to one of those companies you don't really like, but you stick with 'cause there aren't any better options.

UPDATE: 10:24 AM -- I am getting slammed a bit over on HackingNetflix for my original post. Here is their post. Here is my response:

"Hey, I'm the guy who posted this "trick" on my blog. I didn't expect it to get picked up on Digg and get all of this attention/scrutiny.

It is purely anecdotal; however, it has worked both times I tried it. Take that for what it is worth.

I was simply getting tired of being sent the 4th or 5th movie in my Queue when I really wanted the 1st, 2nd or 3rd movie in my Queue.

The reason I was willing to take my Queue down to almost nothing is because I was on the verge of cancelling because of:

1. Shipping tomorrow messages (instead of fast turnaround I had in the past)
2. Long waits for every new movie I wanted
3. Delays in checking my movies back in -- it takes 3 days to get a movie to show up as returned when in the past it was 1 day

I don't advocate that everyone try this. It was just something that I observed when I was on the verge of quitting.

I think what this "trick" (even if it only works a couple of times) shows is that NF is reserving part of its inventory for new customers (or customers who aren't me). Otherwise, they couldn't go from "Very long wait" to "Now" in a matter of minutes. And I think that sucks.

So, I didn't mean to upset any of the NF fanboys with my post. Blame the guy who put it on Digg :)

BTW, someone on Digg suggested using a little freeware app called FlixQueue to backup your Queue before trying this."
Made the Digg front page
My Netflix post from yesterday got posted to Digg (with a much better title than what I used) and it ended up on the front page for a while (it is currently over 700 Diggs). I didn't actually see it; however, my friend Scott was kind enough to point it out. I wondered why I was getting sooo many blog comments on that post.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Tip for beating Netflix throttle
I think I may have figured a way to beat Netflix's throttling (or smoothing as they supposedly call it) system.

I was getting tired of the longer and longer waits for new releases (which resulted in me getting a bunch of older movies that were farther down in my queue that I didn't really care to watch).

I decided that, if I only had new releases which had "Long wait" or "Very long wait" in my queue, Netflix would have to send me something. Otherwise, I would be paying for something that they couldn't deliver on (i.e. I pay for 3 discs at a time, but you can only give me 1 disc right now).

It may be luck at this point; however, the system appears to be working. Earlier this week, NF showed that they had received one of my movies back, so I quickly put "40 Year Old Virgin" in my queue (which also had a couple of other movies that were listed as available now). The status of "Virgin" was initially listed as "Very long wait."

As a test, I took out all of the other movies in my queue. Within about an hour, the status of "Virgin" switched from "Very long wait" to "Shipping." I got it the next day.

I've only tried this twice; but, both times, it has moved movies out of "Very long/long wait" status as soon as one of my outstanding discs is returned to NF.

UPDATE: Here is a followup on how well this trick has worked over time. It's crazy that I am currently the #1 Google result for "Netflix+throttle" because of this post.
Full Auto demo available today
The demo for the Full Auto, the upcoming driving/shooting game for the XBOX 360, is supposed to be available for download in the XBOX Live Marketplace today (although it isn't there yet).

This is the first 360 title that I am actually excited about. It reminds me a little bit of Burnout, but with missles!

Hopefully, the demo will live up to the hype. Otherwise, I will (STILL!) have no reason to buy a 360 game until Burnout Revenge comes out in March.
TV has gotten good again!
For a few months, my poor TiVo sat idle as crappy shows seemed to dominate network lineups. Well now, there are almost too many shows for me to keep up with.

My current favorite is Rollergirls, the new A&E documentary about TXRD (Texas Roller Derby). It's the perfect mix of documentary and sports. Oh, did I mention the outfits and the fist fights?

I'm also hooked on Project Runway, 24, Real World/Road Rules Challenge (yes, that is completely pathetic to admit), Meet the Barkers and LOST.
Monday, January 23, 2006
Just haven't felt like blogging
While I do appreciate the irony of blogging about my lack of desire to blog, I thought I should mention it to the 2 or 3 of you who actually visit regularly.

Not sure what happened; however, lately, I have just not had the desire to blog. Got lots of things going on that are blog-worthy (like installing MCE 2005 and connecting it to my XBOX 360), but I just haven't felt like sharing.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
DirecTV to support media PCs
According to this post on Engadget, DirecTV is working with Microsoft to allow media PCs to receive DirecTV content. If this pans out, it would be huge for anyone who wants a media PC but doesn't want to deal with the hassle of controlling an external satellite box. I imagine that the upcoming support for CableCard technology in PCs is a driving force behind this decision.

Also mentioned is the ability to view DirecTV content through the XBOX 360. No details on how they plan to pull that off, but I am still eager to give it a try.
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Lost a fraternity brother in Iraq
Just got an e-mail that one of my fraternity brothers, Chris Petty, was killed in Iraq on Monday. Here is the story as it appeared in the Huntington Herald-Dispatch:

"In the early hours of Monday, U.S. Army Capt. Christopher Petty became one of the 2,209 casualties of Iraqi Freedom since March 19, 2003.

Petty is married to the former Debbie Hunt, daughter of Dr. John Hunt of Huntington and the late Ann Hunt.

He is a 1996 Marshall University graduate, with a degree in criminal justice, and was a member of Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. Petty and his wife married in June 1999 at Trinity Episcopal Church in Huntington.

Along with four others, Petty, 33, died when a roadside bomb detonated near the Humvee they were driving during a convoy from Baghdad to Najaf to see the progress being made on rehabilitating schools.

Others killed in the bombing were Maj. William F. Hecker III, 37, of St. Louis; Sgt. 1st Class Stephen J. White, 39, of Talladega, Ala.; Sgt. Johnny J. Peralex Jr., 25, of Kingsville, Texas; and Pvt. Robbie M. Mariano, 21, of Stockton, Calif.

This was Petty's second tour of duty in Iraq with his unit, and he was in command of a section of the 3-16 FA Battalion.

Hunt said his son-in-law didn't have to go back, but felt a responsibility to his unit and its members.

In a message today to his friends and family, Paul Petty said his son was "in harm's way out of dedication to his comrades and soldiers. There was no question in his mind that he had to go back with his soldiers for the second deployment. He would never expect them to do anything he wouldn't do himself."

Paul Petty also wrote his son went "despite his frustrations with the Army and a full awareness of what was right and wrong about Iraq."

Hunt said his son-in-law had a ready smile and willingness to help. Petty became a father for the second time last October and was able to see the child they named Owen before returning to Iraq. The couple has another child, Oliver, born in 2002. The four Pettys were pictured on this year's family Christmas card with Petty holding newborn Owen.

Once Petty's body is returned to the United States, plans are being made for burial in Arlington National Cemetery, which had been his request.
"

Chris was a great guy. We both lived in the fraternity house at the same time and shared a lot of fun times together. In particular, I remember a July 4th celebration where Chris bought a ton of fireworks that ultimately set a neighboring apartment building's dumpster on fire. Petty jumped into the dumpster to extinguish the flames and emerged covered in soot. As he got back to launching more fireworks, the dumpster burst into flames again. I can't remember how we eventually got it put out; however, I'll never forget how much fun Chris was having the entire time.

I hadn't spoken to Chris since I graduated, so I didn't know that he had joined the Army. Though with both of his parents in the government, it isn't a surprise to hear that he would choose to serve his country.

My thoughts go out to Deb, who he met while we were in college, and their 2 young children.

UPDATE: The original story from the Herald-Dispatch contains the following photo of Chris with his family.

Monday, January 9, 2006
Howard's back in Louisville
First morning on Sirius

For the first time since April 2004, I am able to listen to Howard Stern here in Louisville. Clear Channel had yanked him after his last FCC violation, so I had stopped listening to radio altogether.

As far as the new Sirius show, so far, so good. A few f-bombs here and there; but, other than that, they're sticking with the format that got them there.
Thursday, January 5, 2006
Good news in Gate's keynote
Bill Gates' CES keynote contained some really exciting (at least for me) news.

First, he announced that MSFT would offer an external HD-DVD drive for the XBOX 360. The lack of support for next-gen DVD formats was a major point of criticism for the 360 at launch (even though I suspect that installing HD-DVD drives in all 360s at launch would have bumped the cost of the console up). It's good to see that the option will be there for those that want it.

Second, "Gates announced a new partnership with DirecTV that will allow subscribers of the satellite television service to move shows from their set-top boxes onto Windows PCs, the Xbox 360 and mobile devices that are part of Microsoft's "Plays For Sure" program."

Read more in this News.com article or download Gate's keynote from MajorNelson.com
Wednesday, January 4, 2006
DirecTV to support portable video
Although this idea was announced prior to CES, DirecTV has officially announced plans to let users connect their portable video players to their DirecTV DVRs. No word yet on exactly which portable video players will be supported. There is also no word as to which DVR models are supported.

I recently upgraded to 2 of the DirecTV R10s (the last DirecTV DVR to use the TiVo software). I will be disappointed if they require the R15 (which uses DirecTV's own DVR app) to take advantage of portability.
A lyric I had forgotten
Over the Holiday break, I had my Sirius radio on just about every waking hour. I seemed to mostly toggle between Hair Nation (the 80's hair metal channel) and First Wave (early alternative).

While listening to First Wave, I heard what could be one of the greatest cheesy pickup lines ever. It is from Duran Duran's "Save a Prayer."

"Some people call it a one-night stand, but we can call it paradise"

Brilliant! Simon LeBon delivers it with so much sincerity that I almost felt bad chuckling over it. No wonder the women (er, girls) loved them in the 80's.

About Shawn Morton

Married father of 6; VP of Social Media at JPMorgan Chase; gluten-free; gadget enthusiast; hair metal aficionado; #Movember man View more on LinkedIn.