Amazon streaming device Fire TV and what you need to know

If you watch routine cable television, then you’ve seen the Gary Busey ad. “Hello pants.” That’s Gary talking to his pants. But, then he starts talking to his remote, and with the voice search finds all of his famous roles in the pantheon of his movie history (e.g. Point Break, Big Wednesday to name a few).

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This is the new Amazon streaming device: Fire TV.

What you need to know about the Amazon streaming device

Well, it costs $99. That’s a good start. And it’s very similar to a Roku 3 or Apple TV device (not the Chromecast which is a dongle, and only $35). The set-top box connects to your TV, uses your home Wi-Fi and is similar in appearance to a Roku 3, or Apple TV, but is thinner and larger. It also includes a Bluetooth remote, with voice search, like in the Gary Busey advertisement.

The Fire TV addresses three concerns from the streaming video device community: speed, search and accessibility. The Fire TV is “very” fast, with a quad-core processor inside and lots of RAM (1.7 GHZ Quad-Core Processor, 2 GB RAM, 8 GB storage). The interface works very quickly, with little lag time.

And, the Fire TV has plenty of apps such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Instant (although it is missing HBO GO for now, but that should change very soon). If you’re familiar with the Kindle Fire TV tablet, it shares a similar interface, plus the Fire TV loads content much faster than Apple TV and Roku 3 (a big difference which makes the Fire TV the fastest streaming device available).

But, the big difference? Games. You can buy another controller and play online games from the Amazon library. Load times can be long, but the platform is robust enough that games should get better over time. Here’s what’s missing. No shopping!

The verdict on the Amazon Fire TV

The Amazon Fire TV is a first edition video media streamer and probably the best streaming device for the price. It is best when paired with Amazon’s own content and services. If you love Netflix and Hulu, there’s not much difference between the Apple TV or Roku 3, but if you love Amazon Instant video, this is the player for you. This is not the game changer, cord-cutter device it could’ve been. This is a faster streaming player with games (hint: try a $35 Chromecast and wait for the new improved Apple TV). Happy streaming!

Another Three Netflix Movies That Will Change Your Life

Here are more Netflix movies that have the ability to change your life or at least make a great night of streaming. Happy streaming!

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Blackfish

At some point in your early life, you have that life changing moment where you either see a larger-than-life mammal at a zoo, aquarium or SeaWorld (or maybe more impressively in the wild) and realize how small you really are; a moment of respect—hopefully—between progeny and beast, and an admiration of nature that will continue to grow and flourish.

Blackfish is about Tilikum, an aggressive male killer whale (albeit understandably aggressive),  and the multiple incidents, including three deaths that prompted the ongoing court case between SeaWorld and OSHA. You have to give director Gabriela Cowperthwaite a lot of props for making an incredibly convincing, moving (and quite disturbing) professional-looking movie about something nobody really had any clue about. Like “whistleblowers,” the movie follows trainers describing themselves, the deceased trainers, and Tilikum. However you feel about SeaWorld, after watching ex-SeaWorld employee, after employee, after employee—and again, and again—come out against their old job, you start to question SeaWorld immediately. Why would so many ex-trainers come out against SeaWorld? The film might be enlightening for some, or just maybe “preaching to the choir.” But, we really don’t hear much from SeaWorld. Could they be “that” clueless, or even cruel? Really? Well, maybe after reading this it is quite clear that they are. This film will make you very uneasy, but it will change your life—as it changed SeaWorld’s. It is a perfect combination of solid filmmaking and subject matter, whatever your opinions. What is crystal-clear though, is that the “make-whales-do-tricks” industry, like most industries where big money is involved, such as big tobacco or American football, the bottom line is all that matters. Everything else, including humanity, takes a back-seat.

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The Act of Killing

The Act of Killing is about Anwar Congo (the nicest killer you might ever meet) and his buddies who dance through musical numbers, act tough in film noir gangster scenes and then play cowboys, and yes, drag-queens (whoa!). When the government of Indonesia was overthrown by the military in 1965, Anwar and his friends, who were real gangsters who ran movie theaters, were promoted to death squad leaders. One million alleged communists and ethnic Chinese were massacred. After the death squads, came an ultra right-wing paramilitary group who, still today, boast about corruption, election rigging, extortion, rape and murder. Since all of Anwar’s buddies are film aficionados, they leap at the opportunity to play all of their favorite characters in the movies, and this is where director Joshua Oppenheimer exposes a regime that has never faced accountability for any of its crimes (you literally wonder when they will finally get it, and go after the film crew, and it makes for an uneasy tension throughout the documentary). As light and bizarre as this films starts out, it gets dark as more crimes are exposed, with Anwar eventually having a mental breakdown because of it. Joshua Oppenheimer has made one of the most important, unique meditations on violence, and the men behind the executioner’s mask, you will ever see. In fact, this could be the best film of 2013, it is that incredibly unique. This is super gutsy documentary filmmaking.

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Taxi Driver

If you haven’t seen Taxi Driver, well, now is your opportunity. Wait a minute, you’ve never seen Taxi Driver? It’s almost better that you don’t know much, just dive right in, and get ready for a New York City that is long gone. This is the New York City of pimps, pushers, hookers, drug dealers, X-rated porn theaters, rapists, racists and overall sleaze. This is 70s New York City. Look at the poster, above; an iconic moment in pop culture. And that’s the hero! Travis Bickle, an ex-Marine and Vietnam vet, who drives a taxi in the Big Apple. “You talkin to me, “ is the quote, you’ve never heard in context. Robert De Niro has a mohawk for crying-out-loud, how could you not be the least bit interested?

Taxi Driver is one of the greatest movies ever made. Like The Godfather and The Deer Hunter, this is one of Hollywood’s crowning achievements. It’s their gutsiest movie they were ever involved in. Find a night to watch this, with your friends and family (parents put the kids to bed) and get ready for a movie that will change you forever. Oh yeah, Martin Scorsese directed it, you know the guy who made Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street. Taxi Driver is his masterpiece (although arguments could be made that Raging Bull is better, Taxi Driver is why Quentin Tarantino makes movies, a fact).

Five Ways to Save on Your Internet Bill

In case you didn’t already know, the Internet is an amazing money-saving tool. Who among us has not used a quick Google search to compare prices or make sure that we can’t find a better deal elsewhere before we make a purchase?

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Thus, it is only fitting that we use these same principles before overpaying on our Internet bill. How can you save on this common and, in most cases, very necessary expense? Here are five simple ways.

1. Lower Your Internet Speed.

If you have no need for downloading large video files and are a casual user who only uses the Internet for e-mail, browsing, or paying bills, perhaps you can opt for a basic broadband service. If you are not sure how fast your Internet is, you can run a free Internet speed test.

2. Purchase Your Own Equipment Instead of Renting It From the Provider.

You can save a significant amount of money on your Internet bill each month by simply opting to buy your own router or modem instead of paying a monthly fee to rent one from your service provider. Most providers charge anywhere from $5 to $10 per month, which can add up over time. Unless you are planning to move and switch providers anytime soon, buying your own equipment will eventually pay for itself. Check with your provider and see if they will allow you to use your own.

3. Do It Yourself; Avoid Installation Fees.

You don’t have to be a computer whiz to set up your own equipment. Most modems and routers come with very clear and simple instructions (with pictures!). If you are still wary, ask a knowledgeable friend or neighbor. Taking care of the installation yourself will not only save you money, but it will enable you to familiarize yourself with the equipment so that if any technical issues arise, you might be able to take care of them yourself.

4. Bundle It With Other Services You Already Use.

Although you want to be careful about paying for a bundle of services you don’t use in the first place, if you are already purchasing television, mobile phone, and/or security services, you might be able to get a package deal with one company for a cheaper price than what you are paying separately. Check with your providers and see if there is a way to bundle your services for a better price.

5. Call and Negotiate a Better Deal.

And finally, there is no harm in calling and asking for a lower price. Don’t be afraid to remind them of your years with them and your faithful payments. The customer is always right, so many will work with you if it means keeping you as a loyal customer. You might be surprised at what a simple, “What can you do for me?” might get you.

Photo credit: Flickr/401(K) 2013

FCC Invests in the Future of Internet in Schools

Ninety-nine percent. That’s the percentage of US students the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wants to provide with high-speed Internet in schools in the next five years. To achieve the goal, the agency is making a $2 billion “down payment” over the next two years. But is that enough?

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Evolving E-Rate

According to a press release from the FCC, the $2 billion investment for Internet in schools should give 20 million students true high-speed access. In addition, the FCC will also be working to update the existing E-Rate program, which began in 1996 and provides $2.4 billion annually to keep libraries and schools online. Thanks to E-Rate, schools across America now have access to basic Internet, but many are hampered by slow connections or poor infrastructure. Revamping E-Rate should help bring these institutions up to 21st-century connectivity levels, while streamlining the application and approval process for schools should help them lower overall Internet costs. The FCC also has plans to increase oversight and transparency to ensure every dollar earmarked for a school actually arrives there. There’s no word on exactly how fast connections will be once the $2 billion is spent, but this doubling of existing broadband support should ideally bring many schools up to par with basic home networks.

Private Assistance

Some private companies are also helping students connect. As reported recently by CNET, Internet provider Comcast has announced an indefinite extension to its “Internet Essentials” program, which offers subsidized broadband access for low-income families. In addition, the company is handing out grants to 20 communities that have made efforts to “close the digital divide” or improve existing services. These grants will go toward creating Internet Essential Learning Zones, which connect nonprofit organizations, libraries, and community computer centers. The program is already available in 39 states and more than 4,000 school districts. In addition, Comcast has plans to roll out Internet Essentials in service areas now covered by Time Warner Cable, provided federal regulators approve its buyout of the company.

Closing the “digital divide” was something first proposed by the FCC in their National Broadband Plan and aims to bring high-speed access to all Americans. The plan was published in 2010; at that time, 93 million users were without broadband access. The FCC’s new $2 billion Internet in schools investment helps reduce that number and, along with support from providers like Comcast, puts the federal agency within reach of its five-year, 99 percent objective.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Sprint LTE Adds 4G to 70 New Cities — Is That Enough?

Sprint LTE users stand to benefit from the carrier adding 70 new cities to its 4G network, but the company is still trying to catch up to Verizon Wireless and AT&T when it comes to high-speed mobile Internet coverage. In fact, Sprint comes in fourth place when comparing network speeds between the four leading US carriers. Company chairman Masayoshi Son vows to successfully compete with the two dominant mobile service providers, which should ultimately benefit Sprint users through a better network infrastructure and faster speeds.

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Sprint Hoping to Buy T-Mobile to Compete With Verizon and AT&T

In the mobile Internet business, economies of scale reign supreme, so Son feels his best chance at competing with Verizon Wireless and AT&T is by acquiring leading American mobile telephone company T-Mobile. Son performed a similar feat in his native Japan when his company SoftBank purchased the Japanese mobile giant Vodafone Japan.

Sure, adding 70 new cities to the Sprint LTE network helps things somewhat, but Son feels the merged company would have the scale necessary to significantly improve Sprint’s network. In an interview with Re/code, Son expressed his feelings that the US Internet speeds are terrible in general — not just on mobile networks — and his potentially merged company can improve things.

Buttering Up US Federal Regulators

Sprint and T-Mobile haven’t agreed to merge in the first place, but Son is on a mission in the US to apparently convince regulators in the Obama administration that a potential merger between the two companies would be good for the American Internet industry. Recent news from Deutsche Telekom, the owner of T-Mobile, appears to hint that Son’s push for the merger hasn’t been totally successful in convincing regulators and that any merger is off for the time being.

That leaves Sprint users hoping the company continues to make incremental improvements to their 4G LTE network. These additional speed improvements should allow more customers to enjoy the benefits of a 4G wireless network.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Internet Connectivity Reaches Developing Nations

The struggle for providing Internet connectivity to the developing world is making some headway, thanks to the efforts of some of technology’s biggest names. Google has earned accolades for its Project Link initiative, while Internet.org — a consortium of tech giants including Facebook, Ericsson, Samsung, and Qualcomm, among others — are working toward bringing the Internet to the two-thirds of the world that doesn’t have it. The general hope is that with high-speed Internet access comes better educational resources and eventually an improved economic situation.

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Let’s take a closer look at these largely philanthropic projects and their hopes to spread the Internet in the world’s developing regions.

Google’s Project Link

Project Link is more or less Google Fiber for developing nations. The company chose Kampala, Uganda, as the first site to get Project Link. Kampala suffers from a sub-broadband level of Internet access, which limits the economic prospects and quality of life of the surrounding region.

Google started laying fiber-optic cable in Kampala in November 2013. The hope is to wholesale the created bandwidth to locally based Internet service providers. In fact, Uganda is also home to a few mobile telecommunications companies, one of which offers 4G LTE speeds up to 100 Mbps.

Loon Puts the Internet in a Balloon

Google’s other worldwide Internet initiative is Loon, which uses a series of balloons to provide Internet service without the extra challenge of laying cable at the surface. Considering the logistics of managing thousands of balloons located all over the world, Loon is considered to be more of an experiment for Google. Still, if the company is any slower in rolling out Fiber in the United States, Loon may end up being an option for Internet users located in rural regions.

The Internet.org Consortium

Internet.org, while sharing many of the same hopes as Project Link, is still in a mostly ephemeral state. Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg envisions Internet.org as essentially a software-based “911 service” for the Internet that combines social networking and messaging along with other features — all at no cost to the user. It remains to be seen when the project will take off, as compared to Google already being in the stage of actually building the fiber network in Uganda.

Ultimately, providing Internet connectivity to developing nations will take a consistent effort from both technology companies and local governments. Facebook and Google combining their efforts in this area is a concept that actually could make a difference.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Will EU Rules on Slow Internet Speed Come to America?

The European Union recently adopted new regulations for their Connected Continent program. These regulations are not just to help those who have a slow Internet speed; they are a set of rules to manage the Internet, the consumer, and the ISPs. Several of the issues these regulations address are still undetermined in the United States, such as net neutrality, but the EU has come out strong with an all-encompassing agenda to have the Internet where they want it by 2016.

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The EU has decided to give more control to the ISPs in much of the day-to-day business dealings. While they’re trying not to have the government step on the ISPs’ toes, they have also allocated a national team to overlook the operations of ISPs to make sure they are following the rules.

Slow Internet Speed

The European Union is trying to upgrade and regulate perceived Internet speeds versus actual Internet speeds. Consumers will receive a contract from their ISP stating the actual Internet speed they can expect at normal hours and at peak hours, not just an ideal maximum speed. There will also be more information made available to the consumer about restricted applications. Some providers do not allow Skype to be used across their networks, for example, and this will have to be specified to users during sign-up.

One problem with this is, in many cases, that slower Internet speeds result from issues within the home rather than with the ISP. Wireless connections, the placement of the router, and multiple device connections can all show a slow Internet speed when a speed test is performed.

Will America Follow?

It is fairly easy to say that the United States is not going to come out and change all the rules already in place, but there may be changes. The New York Times has recently reported that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will continue to fight for net neutrality, and Internet privacy is sure to remain an important issue.

Times are starting to change in the Internet world. More competition is starting to develop across the globe, and this competition will drive prices down. There is a technological race among all the well-developed countries, and the prize is the Internet. But will regulations and privacy laws keep up the rapid pace of change?

Photo credit: Stock.xchng

Fixed Data Plan? Here’s How to Budget Your Data Consumption!

Bandwidth caps can be a real drag. The large wireless providers — most notably Verizon Wireless and AT&T — did away with unlimited mobile data two to three years ago. Satellite Internet services always put their customers on a fixed data plan, and the same is rumored to be coming from Comcast and Time Warner.

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Given a bandwidth-constrained Internet account, here are five ways to budget your data consumption:

Watch Videos With Lower Resolution

If you only have a 2 GB monthly data allowance, it’s probably not a good idea to stream videos at HD quality. Consider using your YouTube or Netflix option to use the SD video only. The extra bandwidth you’ll save might mean the difference in not getting an overuse penalty from your provider.

Update Mobile Apps With Your Home Internet Account

While wireless syncing is convenient, it uses up your mobile data if you aren’t on your home WiFi. Make sure you only update apps when accessing your home Internet account.

Listen to Your CDs or Music Downloads

Music streaming services like Spotify take up a lot of mobile bandwidth. If you have a CD collection or a robust supply of downloaded music, listen to those instead of Internet radio. Music artists also make a lot more money from CD sales and downloads compared to streaming royalties.

Limit Your Mobile Web Browsing

Try to keep your mobile Web browsing to a minimum when on a 3G or 4G network. Web pages laden with videos that autoplay can really use up your bandwidth quickly. Only surf when on your home network.

Watch Your Data Usage!

Take advantage of any data usage utilities offered by your mobile provider. It is important to track your data usage on a daily basis, especially when you are getting close to the end of your billing period. Paying close attention to usage patterns will give you other ideas on how to best conserve your monthly data allowance.

The fixed data plan is going to be the standard for the near future, so following these five simple steps helps ensure you won’t get sticker shock when you check your monthly bill. Remember to pay close attention to your mobile data usage!

eContracting From Home? You’ll Need Fast Internet Access

Working from home is one of the great benefits of living in an Internet-connected society. But if you plan on eContracting from a home office — no matter the type of work you do — robust bandwidth is a must! Everything from uploading a rich media file to taking part in an online video conference requires a speedy connection.

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A Detailed Look at an Internet-Ready Home Office

Make sure your desktop or laptop computer is a recent model with enough RAM and CPU power to run the latest versions of the office software and other programs you’ll need for work. If you are programming from home, some extra RAM — up to 8GB — is a plus, especially when trying to run a feature-laden IDE like Microsoft’s Visual Studio or Eclipse. A large monitor, even if you use a laptop, helps in managing the ill effects of eye strain.

A newer wireless router is also definitely a plus, giving you the most flexibility in the location of your home office. On a nice day, you may even be able to work outside with a strong enough wireless signal. If the router is located in your home office, consider the added security and signal strength of a directly wired Ethernet connection.

How Fast Should Your Internet Speed Be?

An Internet connection of at least 5 Mbps is a requirement when eContracting from home. If more than one person shares the same bandwidth, 10–20 Mbps makes more sense, especially if there will be a lot of video conferencing. Be sure to check your Internet speed regularly, and if you notice any slow periods talk to your ISP about getting a refund!

Working from home beats a daily commute, especially during winter, but a slow Internet connection is sometimes as bad as an icy highway. Before setting up your home office, make sure your computer, router, and Internet service provider are all up to snuff!

Three New APIs Worth Checking Out

If a company makes software, chances are they use proprietary application programming interfaces (APIs). The rise of mobile apps and open-source development, however, has led many major players to release their APIs for comment or full use. Here are three of the most interesting new APIs on the market.

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1. Office 365

Microsoft has now made a preview of its Office 365 APIs available to developers, meaning that apps can be designed to integrate with popular 365 services such as access to e-mail, calendars, files, and contact information. To use the APIs, developers must follow the steps listed on Microsoft’s official blog post and also register their app with the Windows Azure Active Directory. Because this is a preview API, devs won’t be able to alter any commands or change the code structure, but Microsoft says the final version of the API will be based in part on developer feedback. Still, the reach of Office 365 is substantial, meaning this is a must-have if you’re looking to integrate any Microsoft productivity services.

2. OneNote Cloud API

OneNote has earned a devoted following of note-takers and is now free on almost any platform: While it started on Windows Phone, it’s also available on Windows desktops, Mac computers, iDevices, Androids, and via Web browsers. Microsoft has decided to roll out new APIs for OneNote, allowing developers to link their apps to OneNote in creative and unique ways. Among the API highlights are a dedicated e-mail address for sending notes to a OneNote notebook, easy document scanning, and Livescribe support, which lets you write notes with pen and paper and then send them to OneNote on any device. In addition, Microsoft is launching a browser extension that will let users save Web pages in OneNote.

3. Vimeo Unified API

Video service Vimeo released its first API in 2007 and went on to develop two versions: Simple and Advanced. Simple was true to its name — easy to use but without the ability to make authenticated calls. Advanced came with a host of features but was complicated for even seasoned developers to use. Now, Vimeo is launching its new unified API, which features OAuth 2 support and allows developers to provide client site uploads directly to Vimeo, in addition to a simple HTML form uploader. The new API is in open beta and is largely based around representational state transfer (REST) best practices, helping to keep it simple and straightforward.

Looking for new APIs for a new app or to improve the reach of an existing product? Office 365, OneNote, and Vimeo all offer substantial benefits.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons