Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hulu ads double in 2011

In my last post I finally shared some Ad data around Hulu and shared my belief that despite Ads Hulu Plus was still a great deal.

All of my data was from early in 2011 so I decided to start the data collection again after that post and it looks like Hulu has doubled the amount of Ad time in shows since then.  Here's the data

Feb 2011
Dec 2011
% View Time
% Content Time
Ad Len
Break Len
Ads per Break

I still think Hulu in general is a good deal, and if anything I see this is it becoming a more viable platform as it's obvious there's more interest from Advertisers.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Pay for Commercials! Say what?

One of the biggest complaints I hear about Hulu Plus is that there are still commercials despite paying for it.  I'm not sure why people think it should be commercial free when Cable costs money and still has commercials; however, being a data oriented kinda guy I wanted to try and compare the impact of commercials in these two mediums and perhaps try to determine if the benefit was really worth it.

To do this I basically kept a spreadsheet for each show I watched, tracked how long each show and commercial break was then did the numbers.

The results are basically that on Hulu you spend 5.6% of your viewing time watching commercials.  Compare that to cable tv where you spend 28% of your time watching commercials and to me at the least Hulu offers a large value at only $9/mo compared to cable's $60+/mo.  Now consider you get all that for free really, and that the $9/mo for Plus is for additional benefits, like "streaming" to non computer devices, HD and back episodes for a lot of shows.

An argument for cable is that with a DVR you can skip all the commercials, reducing them to a few seconds.  Towards this I'd say that cable would prefer you didn't and would likely stop you if they could, where Hulu's default offering is pretty good.  Also the commercials do pay for the content your viewing on cable so it's arguable if you're doing your show any good by skipping commercials, but that's a discussion for another time.

Perhaps the only other stat that comes out of this data is that he average commercial length on Hulu is 24s, not too bad really.

(Note: This data is from earlier in 2011, I just didn't get around to writing about it.  I also wasn't incredibly stringent on the exact number of seconds in each break since they are off a little from each other, and you can argue whether those couple second PSA's are ads, but for comparison purposes I think the error amounts aren't significant.)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Writing on the Wall

This is draft 1 of a story I wrote a long time ago.  I wanted to actually write more of late so might as well start sharing at the beginning.  It's rough for sure, but I like it.


Line up, then across, now down. A squiggly bowl to cover it, and finally a line across the bottom to connect it all. Stepping back, he eyed the tiny beginning to his mural. It was perfect, the beginning, exactly how the cave entrance looked. It was precise, it was gone.

The world plunged into darkness. Humid and heavy, the hand placed over his face pulled back and down he went.

"Unh," the interloper grunted.
"Unh, indeed," he thought.

From the ground he was helpless as his older, hairier brother looked closely, dimly at his art. He sniffed it, he tasted it, he smeared it with his sweaty palm, and let out a delighted sigh. Elated with himself he began jumping, arms flailing widely, grunts coming at will. A few more of these and he left the way he came. He was gone, gone like his picture, with his picture.

Leaning back he surveyed the damage. Black was smeared on the wall, a nasty rendition of his work. Sighing, his only thought was that it was good he had not started with the colors.


Dejectedly he went through the stone doorway his brother left through. In the next room the sun shone in more directly illuminating every crack and crevasse. The room was empty save his hard headed brother who was currently rubbing his blackened hand on anything he could. He left a trail all over the room which apparently has started with his own ass where the darkest of the splotches were. A small grunt escaped his throat and led into a snicker; just a light one though as the tide of fortune could change at any time again.

"Not as good as his brother," he thought to himself. If being good meant being like that then he'd just have to continue to disappoint his parents. It was true he wasn't nearly as big as his brother, and even then his arms were still too short to drag on the ground as he walked. Along with just the slightest smattering of hair on his body was a sight that he was a late bloomer, if he had bloomed at all.

Fortune had again changed, and his brother's behavior was not going to snap him out of it. It was time to make an escape. His brother had found a patch of sand along the wall. Discovering that it removed the black best he was busy rubbing his hand roughly along the ground. This would be a good enough distraction.

Outside it was a hot glaring day. The kind that would tan hides quickly, both the animal ones laid out on rocks and those of the ones tending them. Wiping fresh beads of sweat from his eyes he walked out a little and turned to survey the front of the family cave. He'd done a pretty good job this morning, at least as good as he could do without making anyone too suspicious. He knew he'd never be able to do his best work at home and he'd learn to accept it. His master piece was hidden away where it'd have to stay for a long time. Someday he hoped he would be able to show everyone else and have them appreciate it, especially his family. For now he would have work in secret, occasionally leaving decoys for grog so he wouldn't become suspicious and go looking to make trouble.

A trail of sweat poured down his brow and the saltiness strung as it diffused into his eye. "Right, it's hot," he thought again. He really wanted to go to his secret hide away and finish the campfire scene he has started the day before, but he knew heat meant that the berries on the outcropping would be dried up a little making them perfect for his needs. He was almost out of red coloring and today was looking to be a prime time to replenish it.

The first time he tried to use the berries they were nice and fat. Bitter on the tongue at first, then followed with juicy sweetness. The juice inevitably ended upon his hands and as he attempted to lick it off all he had managed was to turn more of himself red. It would last for days, marking him more similar to his brother than he preferred. However this was all assuaged as the thought dawned on him that he could somehow use this to give more reality to his otherwise black and rock colored drawings. His first batch was simply horrible. The ripe plump berries that worked so well in his mouth were the worst to use. The new found paint did nothing but run down the wall and pool on the ground. Much like bison dung to hunting, the berry juice was toxic to his art. It ruined the piece he had labored on. It ruined the wall, and if you were not careful a splattered bowl of it ruined you for a week.

For an entire day he went around squishing berries and rubbing their insides on rocks. The perfect berry was one he could squeeze to about half of it's otherwise plump size before it split open and oozed out its red insides. It was liquid enough to actually impart its color on a rock but it would not run beyond where it was placed.

The next trick was to find a good source of these berries. It was out the hottest of days that he could explore without fear that grog would suddenly appear and pummel him. Worse yet, if grog were to find him somewhere that he was especially enjoying, then he would never be able to return. grog would remember and come back if he were ever looking for a toy to beat on. After much meandering through the day he suddenly realized his path would take him to the rocky out cropping them women used to dry hides out on.

The out cropping had very little of anything on it when it was first found. The small bits of vegetation were worthless to any but the animals, so the ancestors took the rocks which were useless to any but them. Due to this, the smallest rock to be found was unliftable. They had taken any rock that they were able to carry down to the pebbles which could be used as smoothing stones. The majority of the heavier stones they had tried to carry back to the village had ultimately been dropped over the edge in hopes of breaking them up. This also ended up being the source of all the animal pelts they had come upon one random day later. A whole extended family of deer were taken out while they were sleeping at the base of the cliff.

The outcrop was a weird site. Years of weathering had been removed by the cavemen in the name of survival. All that was left was the largest of rocks all perched out on the largest rock of them all. As he reached the top he saw none of the women, but there were hides laid out in various stages of dehydration. The women had either recently left or were soon to return. He had little to fear from the women other than some secluded humiliation. They liked to touch him and cradle him as if he were somehow still a baby hanging from their back hair. He knew it was because he was the only one his age who would not yell deep grunts and hit the women. He felt sorry for them, their children growing up, becoming brutes. He would only tolerate it so much though and did his best to not be present in front of his peers in these situations. For now though, that was the the least of his fears, anyone who saw him up here was someone who might give him away.

He did his best to cross the open expanse and get to the berries that grew on the edge quickly. With a sigh he flung himself from the bushes and lopped across the expanse. His arms were a bit stubby so he was constantly keeping himself from falling head first into the ground. He caught himself with his knuckles, then flung his legs forward to start the next round of falling. Lucky for him, his knuckles were as hard as any others, so the whole jerky act caused no pain.

As he arrived at the edge he conducted a quick survey to make sure he was still alone. Seeing no adversary he went to his task behind a medium sized boulder. Normally he would have brought one of the bowls made from palm fronds and dried clay to carry the berries back in. Today he would have to make due with what he could carry. As he picked with his right hand, and held with his left hand cupped, the berries began to mash into each other. By the time there were too many to hold onto individually, it was no longer necessary to contain them but instead he only needed to hold on to the gooey mass that had formed. He looked down into his hand, focused on one berry in the middle, traced along its edge overlapping. His mind and eyes could not hold on and both snapped out of focus. The red overtook his vision, dark and light spots floated around in front of him. Thoughts of the fear the berries used to give the tribe surfaced followed by Mungog the elder following the birds, eating what they ate, and living despite the evil colors.

He was standing up straight, mesmerized by what he held when the women came around the corner. It was time to check on the hides and turn any that needed it so that they would not harden in the shape of the rocks. The women had not seen him, but that did not matter. At the first sound of them he dived straight down catching some of the bushes branches and drawing blood from his forehead. Had they seen him? It didn't seem like it. No one came to investigate. Their grunts were the grunts of ones set to a boring task on a horrid day, not the grunts of one exploring, one hunting a quarry. Finally pulling himself off the ground into a squatting crouch behind his boulder he crafter a plan to survey the situation.

Enacting his plan, he began by turning towards the rock that was hiding him and rested all his weight on his right foot. He extended his left foot to just the left edge of the rock and his head to the right. It was time. In one deft move he stretched out. Left foot straight out, toes wiggling so they could be seen and distract anyone who might be there. His head poking out to spy upon any his toes had tricked. He stood there for a good minute, toes wiggling, until he saw the back of a head. At this he snapped his body in so he was covered by the rock. A quick twist to the left and he took off with a low stature so as to keep hidden.

Back along behind the rocks he lopped along, this time more haggard by his left hand that he held guarded close to himself. At each boulder he performed a similar stealthy look out for any sudden on lookers. This time though the hastiness of the situation only allowed for him to quickly wiggle the fingers of his right hand out one side and then quickly poke his head out the other. At each boulder he performed this dance and at each boulder he was equally alone. Near the end, his confidence overcame him and he rushed tripping over his own feet. He fell out from between the two boulders. His arms stretched out in front of him on the ground, his chin hurt, his eyes followed the glob sailing through the air away from him. His eyes grew bigger in shock. He now cared as little about the women as they did of him. He jumped to his feet and ran after the glob. It landed on the rock, slowly sliding down the curved edge into oblivion. Loosing all fear he scooped it up from the edge quick and ran straight from the outcropping.

The glob of berries was oozing between his fingers. The heat from his hand had loosened up its structure and made its aroma finally noticeable. His mouth began to water, and he was forced to think of this canvas left empty but his stomach full.

He did his best to control the situation with just the one hand but ultimately he needed the other. Interlacing his fingers he brought the berries back into harmony. He stared at the lengths of the fingers on his right hand, they were stained red along with all the hair which would certainly spread the dye despite his best efforts. He hated to not have a respectable hand to conduct himself with. The left was a necessary sacrifice, the right was just tragic.

The sudden coolness of the path under his fee distracted him from the disappointment. He must have been more annoyed than usual by the mess, he thought. He was much closer to the cave than he realized.

He first discovered the cave during a game of run away from grog. It was unusual for these games to last longer than a couple feet before grog caught him and began the pummeling. This time there was an extra amount of terror. He had started the game by bumping into grog, which made grog drop his dinner into the campfire. Dinner was grog's favorite thing. It was terror that let him elude grog's initial lunge, and it was terror that took him in the direction of his eventual refuge. He had never made it this far away from grog, and had never had to make a plan for evasion. Hiding seemed the better route. grog would certainly catch him if he tried to out run him, so he chose the crowdedness of the dark overhanging trees over the cleared path that would eventually lead to the outcropping and further away. He quickly began to regret his decision. Burrs that normally mode you only wince, dug in even further as his feet pounded on them. Dead branches that would otherwise simply crack under foot, now broke into spears from the force of his feet and shot pangs up his legs. His arms could not avoid the dense trees and created new debris that was quickly picked up by his hairy body. He was well under the thicker branches which would surely cause more pain if they did not simply known him over. This would have made the whole endeavor bitterly disappointing when grog found his unconscious body. Nothing makes a better punching bag than dead weight..

It was after several minutes of these encounters with the forests past and present that he finally came to the end of his fearful running. He arrived suddenly at the dark entrance of a cave looking like a ferocious jungle monster. Branches bulked up his body while giving him a dangerous prickly demeanor. Leaves grew all over his body like feathers on a huge bulking bird. Any animal present on his arrival would have frozen in fear at the site of him, not knowing if he had seen him or was simply deciding which part would be tastiest. He however felt miserable.

With his best effort he removed the largest of the branches. These were only barely attached, and attached more to everything else than him specifically. The medium sizes pieces began to take hair with them but their weight was noticeably gone. the smallest pieces were the worst. They had worked themselves firmly under his hair, as if it were the tendrils of a vine holding tight to its prey. These would have to wait.

The weight of his journey had preoccupied him when he had first been stopped from his escape. It was not until he was finally free of his burden that he noticed the hole in the rock. he surveyed to his left then right. Both were blocked by a merging of the forest and the rock wall. Looking back he could see faint hallucination of grog tromping immediately after. With this inspiration he ducked down and entered what he hoped was not the lair of something worse than grog.

His first impression was that is was dark and that perhaps grog was not so horrible of a brother after all. His second impression was that he had probably just broken his nose on the wall he just walked into. This was apparently going to be a very shallow cave. Finally utilizing his hands he followed the wall to the left until it opened into nothingness. The darkness had faded slightly into haloed black like that comes from staring at one point in the dark too intensely. This, however, was every where. He decided following the path of safety was the best route and rounded about to follow the other side of the wall back in the direction he came from.

He turned around and all he could think to do was to let his jaw drop. He had some how managed to come upon a completely untouched cave. From the top of the cave a bolt of sunlight struck the ground with such strength that it resonated to every edge of the room. Throughout the air a light haze danced around in the dust as if children of the beam. He scuffled into the room a few steps while his eyes adjusted. Branches lay scattered around. Leaves were everywhere. Their multitude of colors reflected a halo that made everything less real; he could have been dreaming.

It was rare to find a pristine cave. As it was there was already a pecking order for any cave that became vacated due to death or ostracizing, and here he had a cave at least as large as his families all to himself.

In the debris he noticed a couple of the black rocks he used for his drawings in the beam. He slowly walked over to the pile and as he reached into the beam he could feel the strength of it pressing his arm down. It was not as hot as he expected but some additional force gave credence to its power.

He grabbed the rock and went to the closest section of wall. He raised his hand with every intent of drawing, but nothing was there, his mind was blank. He looked around, a little in every direction; he could feel the light beam on his back. The cave was intimidating him; so he bowed to it. The rock hit the wall and he drew numerous pairs of vertical lines, each with the bottom slightly further apart than the tops, and curved slightly. Along each he made light wisps with a rounded knot here and there. Above the trunks a canopy of small swirls and short sticks appeared. In the middle was an open area where he drew the rounded-edge texture of rock. At the bottom he placed a low dark opening.

He stepped back to observe what he had just done. It was nice, one of his better pieces so far. He stepped back again and to his surprise entered the light beam. It had changed to a soothing warmth and it pressed down on him slightly less. A reassuring hand on his shoulders.

It was in this way that he came to find his sanctuary in the woods. It was here he would spend his days hidden away from grog's hand. It was here that he hones his skill on the rock walls. He would wile away for days, and at the end he would wonder how it was he had not covered every section of wall.

The cave was naturally divided into two sections by the main entry way and by a section that was always covered in a light dew at the back. This part was cooler than the rest, and the light did not quite make it far enough to illuminate it. It was on the left section that he had done his first piece, his devotional to the cave. The mural had slowly spread along the wall accumulating pieces of his life as it grew. The right section contained individual pieces. One was of him, as he saw himself including a girl onlooker. Another was of a herd of buffalo grazing, to which he added himself hunting one day after being beat on by grog. In another he drew some of the children that were usually kind to him. He embellished a little on their nicer features. Below them were the nastier cave children, their ugliness was extra apparent. Amongst these were items of otherwise normality, a deer running through the forest, a tree with fruit ripe for the picking, the sunrising on a hazy morning. In this fashion he brought life to the ancient cave.

One day he had noticed a piece of his original mural that was lacking detail. He searched the debris under the light beam but could not find a dark rock to draw with. Looking up he caught eye of a jagged edge in the dark corner. He retrieved it and went to work filling in the trees. A couple scrapes was all it needed, but something unusual happened. Instead of the dark marks he expected there was green. Looking at the tip of the rock he saw that moss had grown on it, he loved it. He went along his forest following his previous marks and brushed them with mossy greenness. The darkened corner proved to be an endless source of these mossy rocks, and it was quick to replenish the ones he used up. He used the color sparingly to highlight the occasional item. He knew it would be to easy to go over board and quickly ruin his hard work. He moved over the forest scene, surveying and marking the perfect leaves, watching as it bloomed under his hands.

The discovery of the moss's green led him to discover other colors. Brown would come from bark flakes mixed with water and formed into a paste. Yellow and blue he found from the soft petals of flowers. Collecting them was of particular difficulty. During picking they had to be cupped between his hands so they would not blow away, and taken back to the cave in similar fashion. Not something easily done with gangly arms such as his. Orange was found in the clay near the outer edge of the forest. Red was from the berries on the cliff, the berries he was holding a glob of in his hand.

He came to the cave entrance and easily navigated the low entranced followed by the winding darkness. He entered the cave and crossed quickly to the darkened corner where he had made a table by dragging a flat rock into the cave and propping it on top of some branches.

On the rock he had mashes of each color, red being the smallest one. With a plop he fixed the shortage. He did his best to clean his hand on the cold dark moisture of the back wall. It would do. The damp walls were a pleasant feature of the cave. It allowed him to clean up in this fashion when needed as well the moisture kept the paints from drying out. He had gone as far as licking it once when he was particularly thirsty.

With his hand clean enough, he picked up one of the frayed brushed he had made by gnawing the ends of a stick. It usually did not take long until the individual fibers separated into a relatively soft tangle. This one was stained red on the tip and with a light motion he renewed it's color. Going over to his mural he found the top of the outcropping and dotted several berries into existence. He thought it appropriate to give back to what he took from.

He stared through the berries for a second thinking about what he should work on next, when everything went dark. The darkness was hot, and humid, and heavy. It pulled him back and only gave back his sight when he was splayed on his back in the sand. His eyes could see only one thing, a monster before him, grog.

The beast had found him! There was no way, grog was incapable of quiet. Even now he was emitting a low huff and shifting sand underneath him violently as he tried to make sense of the wall. He always stopped at the entrance of of the woods to watch and listen for any one around. grog was obvious from afar; he could always be heard before seen.

He always checked.
He always checked.
... had he forgotten?


He let out a deep grunt with his anger. He was sloppy, he deserved this, he might as well have led grog down here on a nice sunrise jaunt. Damn him! Damn grog!

"Get up," he said to himself.
"Do something," he whispered inside, but he just sat there frozen.

grog also appeared to be at a loss. He was not quite sure what had happened on the wall. He could not figure out how so many little colored marks could get on a wall. He sniffed at it. The greens were earthy, the blues light, almost not there. The browns were bitter. The reds were enticing. He had sniffed out the berry bushes. With a lick the newly placed berries disappeared. A pleasant look on grog's face showed that the berries were good after all. He could only hope they still proved to be poisonous. Having taken out the new berries grog applies his tongue to the wall with more force trying to remove the older hardened ones. He managed to do this poorly, seldom licking the same spot more than once and eventually just pressing his cheek tot he wall and licking sideways. He must have gotten tires. This unfortunately brought his gaze in the direction of the table of paint.

grog made it quickly to the table and he immediately went to the fresh glob of red. Snatching it up he took a quick lick and grunted with glee. Suddenly self conscious grog looked around and remembered his little brother. They locked eyes. He frozen on the floor, grog standing with the mash of berries in his hand. grog's face turned mean and then sinister.

Without turning his head, grog threw the red berries. He followed the mass through the air. Time slowed. He yelled at himself to move, to get up and do something, be he again could not. The berries reached their target and landed on his mural at the entrance of the cave and then smeared into the forest. His heart stopped; he died inside.

grog saw the look on his brother's face and was pleased, but not yet done. grog ran both his hands along the table, each coming from the sides to meet in the middle. An unnatural mix of colors formed in his hands. He brought them back, each with a fistful of paints, and went to the mural. His right hand relandscaped the outcropping with a mudslide of unnaturally colored mud. His brother audibly winced behind him. His left hand brought down a multicolored fire storm on the forest. His brother was now crying.

The monster had no right to do this. It was all gone. There was no way to fix any of it, and even if there was grog knew of the cave now, nothing was safe. He was surprised to find that he was now on his feet, eyes wet and firsts clenched. grog's hands were both on the wall, his fingers making small twitches to spread out the destruction. he ran at grog, his first poised and released into grog's back. His first hit just as his dreams had hit rock bottom, hard and painfully. His hand ached and the only response grog gave was to kick backwards with one foot, laying him out on the ground once again.

He was up on his feet quickly, fists clenched even tighter, his nails digging into the palms of his hands. His anger grew, and then broke. His eyes let loose a torrent of tears and he felt small again. grog won, he owned the cave, the pictures. He did all he could. He turned and ran out of the cave.

grog had momentarily lost himself in he squishy paints his fingers were moving along the wall. He was brought back by the renewed crying and subsequent leaving of his brother. He was not done with his brother yet and left the wall to pursue him. The brother raced through the woods to the main path, and then along it back towards the family cave. grog was always just barely behind his brother. grog could usually easily catch him, but his anger was fuelling him now. He just wanted to be alone, to be away from grog. he ran into the house through the main room where his mom was and into his room. grog was right behind him. In his room he stopped running only to find grog on top of him. He dropped to the ground and grog stooped right over him, that same nasty sneer on his lips. His anger built back up, and with all his might he pushed off the ground and piled into grog's chest. He was on his feet and grog was knocked back a couple feet, a look of surprise on his face. Empowered, he started jumping around with his arms flailing high in the air, deep grunts booming from his chest. He wanted to attack grog while he had the upper hand, but he knew he would never win a fight, so he fought with the only weapon he had.

He grabbed a drawing rock from the ground and began drawing on the wall. grog's surprise changed from surprise that his brother was showing such levels of aggression to surprise that he was trying to get away with a drawing right in front of him. grog thought that it would be better to let him finish so he could destroy a completed piece over a partial one.

He drew grog, but not big strong grog. He drew grog with line thing features. A squarish body with pointy triangular shoulders. His arms and legs were sticks. He drew grog holding a stick and in front he drew a stubby miniature sized buffalo about the same size of grog. He stopped and enjoyed his effigy of a weak thin grog using all of his might to take down a tiny buffalo. "Take that," he thought as he walked away.

grog was on him quickly, but to his great surprise grog was not attacking him. Instead, grog turned him around and pushed him back at the wall. He looked back confused, and grog pointed at the mocking drawing and clapped his hands together. He liked it? Had grog's stupidity make it so he could not realize this was a mockery of him? Were his standards so low that he could only appreciate this rudimentary level of art?

He tested his theory by drawing several brothers of the tiny buffalo. As more appeared, grog began to get more excited at the scene of his heroics. He added a circle for a sun, and v's for the birds and grog ate it all up.


In the days that passed grog, in his own way, commissions several more pictures. They were all of , and in some way depicted him as being better than something else. A couple were of hunting, a few of grog beating his friends at some activity, and one of just grog. Soon grog's friends found out and cajoled grog to make him do pictures of them, and so he did. He was depressed with is fate for a while, but soon found pleasure in being able to openly mock those that had always picked on him, right in their own caves.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Cutting My Cable: pros, cons, economics

Despite being a software programmer I'm not much of an early adopter at home.  I didn't have a remotely smart phone until the second iPhone came out for instance.  However I recently got annoyed enough with Comcast, and cable companies in general really, to actually cut my cable and ditch my DVR and it's going pretty good so I wanted to share how I did it, some pros and cons and the economics if you're considering it.

My Setup

One caveat to this is that I don't get a good digital broadcast signal so I can't really employ an antenna and DVR.  Everything I watch has to come from online.

Basic Setup:
  • Hulu Plus: Has most shows you'd want to watch for $8/mo.

Content Add ons:
  • Amazon Video on Demand ($3/ep HD, $2/ep SD):
    • Has shows Hulu doesn't like Leverage and shows you can't get online for free at all like Mythbusters
    • Has HD versions of shows Hulu or the Internet only has the Standard Definition of.
  • The Internet:

Viewing Add ons:
  • Roku: Small $80 box that lets you stream content from Hulu Plus, Amazon and Netflix on your HD tv.
  • Laptop with HD out and a $8 DVI-to-HDMI cable: Lets you watch non-streamable content on your TV.

So basically Hulu Plus is serving most of the content you'll watch with Amazon as a backup when it doesn't have something.  Also Hulu Plus doesn't have most stuff in HD so if you really want something in HD you can go the Amazon route.

A newer laptop and a Roku box help put everything up on your HD TV.  The Roku is nice but only works for some Hulu content (see Cons section), where the laptop will play everything but ties up the laptop.

The pros, the cons, the money


Let's start with the bad stuff,
  1. You lose convenience:

    By far the biggest downside is that everything isn't in one spot, and you have to see where the best place to get something is, or just remember that a new episode is available.

    Hulu let's you maintain a queue with email alerts, and Amazon let's you buy Season Passes, though you can't start mid season and only buy the remaining episodes.  However there's nothing to keep track of say the Daily Show for you which can only be watched on Comedy Central.

    With the laptop too you now have some cables laying around to deal with.

  2. Hulu Plus is very fragmented:

    The advantages to Hulu Plus are:
          A.  Access to some shows which aren't on regular Hulu
          B.  Access to previous seasons
          C.  Streaming to Roku, Tivo, PS3, and other devices
          D.  HD on more content

    The problem is that you don't necessarily get all of these.  You get at least 1, and sometimes all, but it is seemingly random which show has what and it's inconsistant by station too.

    The only pattern I've noticed is that HD and Streaming go together.  You either get both or neither.

  3. You won't get everything in HD:

    Unless you are willing to buy a lot on Amazon you're going to end up watching a good deal of stuff in Standard Definition.  For me this wasn't a big deal.  I get to pick what's worth the extra money so that's nice too.

  4. You'll still get ads:

    I don't care about this much myself but others do.  There are still going to be ads on Hulu Plus or a shows own website.  Some pluses are that the ads are usually only 30s long and Hulu has a limited Ad Tailor system so hopefully the ads are more relevant, as well you can say if some ads are relevant or not.

    Basically if you don't pay to watch a specific episode like on Amazon, you're going to get some ads.

  5. No Sports:

    I don't watch sports much but my understanding is it's hard to get them online, this seems to be why some people don't cancel.  I do know that Roku will let you stream an account though which should satisfy baseball fans.

Ok now the good stuff.
  1. You have choice over what you pay to watch:

    The big problem with cable that I see is you have no choice in what you pay for.   What is even worse is that not every station gets the same amount from your subscription fee.  For instance, you pay $6/mo to ESPN and Fox Sports and those are the most expensive channels.  As well according to that article 40% of cable fees go to sports.  So if you don't like sports, or even as 40% of your viewing, then you're paying for a lot of what you don't want.

    Hulu Plus is a subscription system but they don't have tiers and they have most all the regular shows, so things are more level at least.

    Even better, if you buy stuff on Amazon then you are directly supporting a show.  I don't know how much ad revenue a cable show gets per viewer, but even if the show gets $1 of the $3 you pay on Amazon that has to be pretty good.

  2. You'll save money:

    See the economics section below.

  3. You aren't supporting the cable system:

    If you're reading this, let alone to this point, then you probably don't like cable system for some reason.  Not supporting something you don't like is great.

  4. You'll probably watch less:

    Part of my choice to switch was a long desire to watch less, and watch better, however this was hard with cable.  Once you turn the TV on it's hard to turn off.   You could almost consider the convenience Con above as a Pro for this reason.  The harder it is to 'just watch TV' the less you're likely to watch and the more discerning you'll probably be.


Ok, now for the money.

My monthly Comcast bill for basic digital cable and internet was something like this


So I saved $61 on cable but paid $15 for Internet because I didn't have a bundle anymore.  Overall I save $46 a month.

When you factor in $8/mo for Hulu Plus that leaves you with $38/mo savings.

However you then have to account for what you'll buy on Amazon.  At $3/ep, $38 buys you almost 13 episodes on Amazon a month, however it's not good to think about this on the month level because the longest shows are only only airing for less than half the year.

$38 * 12 = $456 saved a year

$456 / $3 = 152 episodes on Amazon / 22 episodes a season = 6.9 shows.

So your savings can buy you 7 seasons on amazon and you'll still break even.  It's even better because most shows don't have 22 episode seasons, especially new ones, so you'll either afford more or save more.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Selling Equity Stock vs. Options

I have a very fortunate problem.  For the first time I work for a company that gives me equity stock and options and I had no idea how to manage them.

Just recently I wanted to sell some of it to help buy a house but I ended up making the wrong decision on which was best to sell.   I imagine I'm not the only one in such a situation so I wanted to share something I learned.

The short answer is, Options are more volatile, their value to you will go up or down more than the stock will

I was basically told by a friend to always sell stock first because options only get more valuable ( assuming the stock went up in the several years before your options expired).  This didn't really make sense though, I didn't see how a share of stock was different than an option. If the price goes up $1, I get $1 more regardless of if I sell an actual share of stock or if I exercise the option.    (I'm going to assume anyone reading this is a regular employee and will do a 'sell to cover' exercise so that you just get the money right away ) 

The idea that $1 is $1 in this situation probably seems true because we're focusing more on the past growth of the stock or the current value compared to the future prospects.

So here's the simplest example I had to think of before any of this made sense.

Imagine your stock is trading at $200, and you have options with a strike price of $100 and some stock grant too.

If you need to come up with $200 by selling your equity, you have two options: Sell 1 share of stock or exercise and sell two options.   You either lose 1 share of stock or 2 options.

Now imagine the stock goes up $1.  If you sold the share of stock you just earned $2, if you sold the options you only earned $1.

It works the other way too, if it went down $1 you lost $1 from stock or $2 from option.

So options are simply more volatile, and which you sell depends on where you think your stock's price will be when you want to sell whatever you keep in the future.  If everything is going up and to the right in your view then sell the stock, if you think the economy and your stock is going to go down for several years then get rid of the options first.

Alternatively just hedge your bets

If you have no idea where your company is going you can always hedge and sell some of both so that you're balanced between the two going forward.  In this case you'd sell whatever combination such that you were left with the same number of shares of stock and options.  Your options would be worth less than the stock, but their earning power would be the same.

Or just diversify and sell it all

There's a strategy with equity that you should just sell everything and put it in a different investment because you're too invested in your company.   Your equity, salary, 401k and even your job are all based on your employer's success.  If things start to go bad for them, it's likely all of those thing will suffer.  So pull out as much as you can to diversify.

There are nasty details

you have to deal with regardless of what you sell when.  The main one of these if you have a high salary is the Alternative Minimum Tax which I'll leave you to research.  The other one is the simple tax rate.  If you just want to get cash from your Options you'll end up paying your normal tax rate on them.  However with Stock if you manage to wait a year from when it vests you could pay much less as it'll be considered Long Term Capitol Gains.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Free Ideas: Netflix Instant for Everything

Netflix Instant is awesome but the biggest issue is still that so much content is missing, and even worse, somethings get removed from Instant!  ( I'm looking at you Star Trek remastered first season, grrr )   Instant was a godsend to combat the Renter's Remorse we all felt when we didn't want to watch the movie we had a home, but it's so far from being perfect with the large swath of missing content.

I'm not completely certain why everything isn't on Instant but it would seem that one of the main reasons is to spurn on DVD and Blu-ray sales.   If you can watch something on Instant than why would you ever want to buy it?   Fair e-nough.

The great thing about Instant is that it's instant (duh), well more specifically that you can decide what you want to watch, then watch it right away with no snail mail delay.   Instant gratification, renter's remorse is dead!

So you want it right now, and the copyright owners want you to painfully wait long enough that you eventually get fed up and buy your own shiny disc to love.

I think there's a beneficial compromise - here's my idea.

Create a new category of Instant content, call it Instant-less, and put in there everything not currently in Instant, then just stream it like Instant.   Now everything is streamable to customers, and it's available right after they decide they want to see it.  Yay for NetFlix users!

Ok, to make the copyright owners happy what we do is add a delay before you can do this again, a delay that mimics the physical constraints of returning a disc and waiting for another, the part I can only assume the copyright holders like.  I don't know what this would be, but for me I can turn a disc around in 3 business days in the mail, so let's err on the side of caution and say 5 days, heck make it a week I'd be quite fine with that and so would my two week old copy of Sherlock Holmes.   Yay for Copyright holders!

So, you decide you want to watch something that just came out on dvd, find it on Instant-less and enjoy it.   Then 5 days later, come next weekend, you repeat it all again.   All the while the current Instant content is still there to fill any other watching you want to do.

The Good

So here we have a way for users to have an even better NetFlix service where they no longer have to worry about renting something they don't end up wanting a few days later, and rights holders can still maintain the delayed gratification which they believe helps cause us to want to buy actual discs.

But there's more.   This is even better for rights holders because it gives watchers the ability to impulse watch their content which they couldn't do before because the activation cost of putting something in your queue is a lot higher than simply clicking Play.  If something goes in your queue it can unknowingly and accidentally end up in your mail box, so it has to be good to end up in your queue in the first place.

The Hard Part

Alright, now while that all seems fair there's the whole streaming part.  Netflix doesn't have the rights to stream the content so they'd have to convince the rights holders that this would work and they can manage the delay lock out correctly so as to maintain the bottle neck in users getting content.   It could be tricky, but maybe some studios would go for it, at least for a test.

The Details

There are now three ways to get content.


The first two don't change you still get all the current Instant content you want, but we add Instant-less as an alternative to the Disc option.  So if a user is on a 3 disc plan, they could make that 2 Discs and 1 Instant-less watch

For each Instant-less watch a user gets:

1. They can't watch another Instant-less movie until 5 days have passed.
2. They can choose to rewatch the previous movie at any time in the 5 days but the 5 day period restarts again when they're done.

So if you have 2 Instant-less views you could watch a new movie on Saturday, then on Sunday through Wednesday you could watch episodes of a TV series from a single disc of that series.  Then on Friday ( after your movie view's delay is up ) you could watch something new again at your whim.  And if you also had a disc in your plan your kids could be watching Dora in the van the entire month long.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

House buying! WTF?!

So I recently bought a house and being mostly settled in I wanted to recap the crazy process that is house buying as I discovered.   While I hope this exposes some of the less discussed aspect of home buying for those considering it, it is also a bit of a rant, though hopefully a well constructed one for everyone else.  ( oh and it's a tad not edited too )

I'll also add foremost that a lot of these issues are trying to be fixed by new companies like RedFin.  Being my first home purchase and that I was completely ignorant, I just went the typical route; however, I'd seriously consider RedFin et al. when I buy again.

The Looking

MLS listings are annoying!

So when your realtor sends you listing to look at you get a fairly junky experience, in my experience at least.  MLS is a listing system everyone uses and the format is ok, though the features are 1999.  You're effectively given a single screen search-result list of places.  So for some broad searches you have to scroll through a very long page.   You also can't link to a single listing, and getting additional images beyond the first opens a whole new page.

You never meet or talk directly to the sellers

This kind of really annoyed me.  Everything you do with the seller is telephoned through your realtor, who telephones it through the sellers realtor who then conveys it to the seller.  This makes asking any question an lengthy process with responses nested three deep if not more.

Also, you have no idea what kind of people owned the house before hand.  When you buy a used car you get to see who the people are selling it and through that get some idea of how the treated the car.  But nope, not with a $100,000s purchase.

The Buying

You have no real idea what your closing costs are until you have to pay them

Closing costs are basically all the things you have to pay for on top of the house and it turns out no one really knows what that value is until pretty much when you have to pay for it, and even then it might be a little wrong.

The problem isn't that the exact value is unknown, it's that any estimate you get will be wildly off.  My actual closing costs were just under 2% however my first estimate was something like 5%, and my 'mostly correct' estimate was still several hundred dollars off.

I ended up using all the money I was comfortable spending on the house almost on the nose after closing, but the huge variance that has happening easily could have forced me into spending money I didn't want to or for some people don't even have, and at that point you only have a day or two to come up with it.

Closing Costs make NO SENSE

There are two related problems with Closing Costs which make the above variance in value more understandable.

Closing Costs (CC) are mostly just a necessary annoyance with the process.   There are roughly 8 million entities involved in you buying a house and they want money for different things from different people.  Closing Costs actually serve as a convenience to handle all of that in one place [ a convenience which you also pay money for in your CC too :) ].  This is basically what Escrow does.

The main issue though is Escrow enters the process at pretty much the end, for me it was the week of closing.  So up till then it's all wild guessing because no one else owns this process.   For me my Lender tried to fill this role, but ended up doing a poor job at it.  I assume all lenders more or less step in for this too.   Your lender really wants you to buy a house and they don't want you to realize you don't have enough for CC later so they VASTLY over estimate all the costs.  They pick the high end for every sub fee I'm guessing.  So for me my initial Good Faid Estimate ( GFE ) from my bank was 5% of my house value.  that +3% over what I actually paid, which makes it a completely useless estimate.  If I'd actually used that value I wouldn't have been able to afford closing, or I would have had to only put 10% down which would have required changing my loan terms late in the game when I realize I could actually do 20%.

So your lender is trying to be nice and help you out, but they end up kinda failing.  What facilitates this even more, is that a lot of the costs they're estimating aren't actually paid to them, so their estimating costs for other companies.   It all gets worked out when the big legal guys at Escrow set things in stone, but it really should happen sooner.

So basically it's like you half assing your taxes, thinking you owe $5000 then going to a tax preparer on April 13th to realize it was only $2k.  You're happy, but it hurt getting there.

Another wonderful thing here is that your HUD may include severl $1k fees which are then just paid to you by the seller but they still show up as money you owe.  yay!

The second issue here is then that your HUD ( the official version of your Closing Costs ) is effectively unreadable and what you're paying for makes no sense.   My Closing Agent actually told me he's never seen two HUD formats that look the same.   I'm 100% sure they're so confusing to warrant paying people having jobs who can read the forms.

The wonderful thing on mine was in each sub section on mine was summed up to the first value in the section, and it wasn't named something like "Total".  Instead is was like "blah blah blah fee" with each following item in that section being "blarg blarg blarg fee".  AND, wonder that is wonder, some of those were and some weren't in that first item sum!   Ahh it's great :)

Loan terms are poorly conveyed

You have a few ways to tweak your loan based on your personal preferences and circumstances.  This is great!   But it's kinda hard to really see the dimensions offered or eyeball a change etc.   Often times I see a static listing of rates for a single situation then a run on sentence describing how you can change that rate by putting more down, or simply paying a higher fee up front.   This is something that doing a little studying on what all terms mean will vastly help.   LTV, what a 'point' actually means to your lender, etc etc.

Whose who?

This is probably one of those areas where you should just not try and figure it out.  It turns out the Real estate market is fairly incestuous and has multiple personalities.

When you buy you'll end up having a Title Company and a Title Insurance Company.   In my case they had different names and seemed to serve different purposes, yet as it turned out they were effectively the same company.  I actually got mail from one on letterhead from the other for instance.    Oh and it turns out all the Real Estate companies in the area owned a partial interest in both also.

The missing Nexus

To round out why the Closing Costs make no sense you should understand that there's no single central information Nexus yet there are at lease 10 different entities involved in your home purchase and it's never clear or certain who is or will communicate with who.

A great example of this is my home appraisal.  The appraisal was only just ordered a month before closing and in WA state Lenders can't ask about the appraisal for at least a week.  I was told it could take up to a week to schedule the appraisal, then who knows when it'll be scheduled for, then a report has to be created and then the Lender has to review that report.  It's 4 weeks out till closing and I can see a worst case scenario of my Loan not being official for 3 more weeks.    But oh..., actually the Appraisal already happened and my realtor was just never notified about any of it, and the bank will get the report in a few days.   fun...

Ca Ca Condo!

So as it turns out my place is actually a Condo as far as people who charge you money are concerned.  From what I can tell this basically means: I don't own every single part of the property, and that an HOA controls the rest.   So I'm in what we'd call a TownHome, 3 floors with units on both sides.  So I own the walls in and the HOA owns the roof, lawn etc.

The reason this matters is that your Lender is all about risk as they technically own the property until you pay off the loan.  So they care about your financial risk in paying back the loan and the property risk in your ability to keep up the property.   Ah, but when someone else, the HOA, controls part of that, your loan is riskier.

This meant two very annoying things for me.

1. My loan terms were worse.  I had to pay, as a fee, 0.75% ( 3/4 points ).   I guess it's effectively a one time insurance fee from the Lender's perspective.  I called around too and this is fairly standard.  The really annoying this is, I've never seen this kind of restriction on any rate forms.  So if you're going to buy, let your lender know if it's a Condo early on, or ask about this if you aren't sure what you're buying.  They were nice enough to waive the fee if you put down 40% though....

2. The Lender wants to know a lot about the HOA and community.   This is quite reasonable, but from what I can tell HOA administers are on level with Payroll companies, not as sophisticated as they really should be.  In the end I had to pay some company $120 for a sheet of questions with yes/no answers, and then $30 for them to copy those answers onto a form from my Lender.  Oh and only 1 of 4 faxes they ever sent out made it.

Reserve Report

I won't say too much about this as it's more about the place you're buying, but if you're going for a condo, look into the Reserve Report and how 'healthy' the reserve is.  An unhealthy reserve seems like the best signal that the HOA dues will increase.   I say a tad more about it at the end of this too.

In Conclusion

It occurs to me that I may have been just a tad more hands on than the average home buyer.  I at least skimmed every word of every document, and ended up understanding every cost on my HUD.   I can't say actually reading any of the documents mattered.  You have no real choice if you find something you don't like;  Your options are buy or don't buy.   I guess I at least wanted to have some idea of what things might affect my loan etc, or if something does happen, some quick idea of if it's something covered in those documents.

Understanding my HUD was likely also pointless in that I didn't find any errors, but it did help me realize that a decent bit of what I paid during Closing were things I'd just have to pay soon anyway if they weren't in closing, so they felt less like arbitrary fees and more just pre paying stuff.  Some examples are:  First two months of HOA dues and property taxes and the interest-only part of my loan for the rest of the month which I closed in.

The one thing I'm really glad I did read through though were the HOA docs.  These are likely the things that will have the closest effect on you.  They let you know if your potential neighbors had complaints against them, what repairs had already been done, what construction things had to be fixed after the fact for some reason, how much your future-repairs Reserve is funded and so forth.  If you pay HOA fees you should get a good idea of where it goes, and the current health of the Reserve will give you some idea of if it'll likely go up.