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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Cutting The Cord: 2017 Post-Disaster Edition

"So Hector, when I get my power back what am I going to do for TV?"

I've gotten this question more than I care to admit.  Considering the recent devastation of Hurricane's Irma and Maria, out one Cable TV/Phone Company fared about as well as our electrical grid.  Electricity is on track to be back for everyone by Christmas but Viya (that's the phone/cable company) has a much longer road to go in restoring services.  Fortunately, they do have a 4G LTE network for wireless phone and Internet...but I'll get back to that.  In this entry I'm going to go over what your options are now for entertainment in the wake of no Cable TV.

1. Live Theater

Bet you didn't expect me to go low-tech on my first option.  Yes folks, there is live theater available so check it out while they've still got performances going.  I'm not sure where you can go in St. John or St. Croix (if you know, leave a comment) but Pistarckle Theater survived the storm and they've got a showtime this weekend.

2.  Broadcast Antennae

Slowly building up to the higher tech.  Have you tried just regular broadcast TV?  I know I haven't but it's worth a shot.  Chances are you're only going to get a few stations in Puerto Rico (consider yourself lucky if you can somehow get English closed captioning).  WTJX was our local public broadcasting station but I don't think they're up and running just yet.

3. Satellite TV

Dish and DirectTV are both available here and if you already had either chances are you'll be ready to go when your power comes back (provided you stowed your dish somewhere safe for the storms).  I hear you can get a digital DirectTV plan at the local AT&T store.  Again, if you have details let me know in the comments.

4.  Streaming Services

Ahh, now for the fun stuff.  If you've got a decent wireless plan (wireless is all we've got now) you can sign up with one of a multitude of streaming services.  Heck, you can get all of them if you like. The big guns are Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime.  I'd recommend Hulu if you're into current TV.  Hulu's also good if you want to bundle in HBO and Showtime (of course this option was available well after I signed up for HBONow). Netflix gets them eventually so you Netflix is more for binging.  There's also free streaming services and network TV services.  Some (like CBS) are paid, some get new episodes the week after they air but give you access to all the previous episodes, etc.  You'll have to poke around a bit to find what you like.

Here's the kicker though: You're going to need either a Smart TV or a streaming devices to get to this stuff.  Playstion 3/4 and XBox users have access to most of this stuff but if you needs smaller (more inexpensive) devices you'll want to go with Roku, AppleTV, Amazon Firestick, or Chromecast.  Be careful with AppleTV and Amazon.  AppleTV is a direct competitor of Amazon so you can't play Amazon Prime on it.  And of course you can't rent AppleTV movies on any other device.  Don't want the hassle?  Well if your laptop has an HDMI port you can just plug that into the TV and use these services from a browser or app.  Take a look at this link for a roundup of streaming devices.

5. Cable Replacement Services

This is uncharted territory for me but there are some services that act just like regular Cable TV except it streams over the Internet. I've never tried them as they cost a bit more and the entire reason I have the streaming services is so I can watch when I want to.  However, this may just be the CableTV replacement you've been looking for.  Some examples are SlingTV, DIRECTV NOW (again, check with the local AT&T office for bundles),  YouTube TV, PlayStation Vue (I'm not sure this works here), and even Hulu (live TV is one of the available add-ons).

You can find a number of reviews for these services online, but check this one.  I used this heavily in writing this.

UPDATE 11/24/17
I attempted to upgrade to Hulu Live and found out it's not supported in the Virgin Islands. :(

Monday, November 13, 2017

Moving Forward in the VI

Hey Internets!  It's been a while, huh?  Well for the most part I just really haven't had much to say and the rest we've been recovering from being hit by 2 Category 5 hurricanes...like within 2 weeks of each other.  First Irma and then Maria. Imagine a petulant child spying an anthill and then just stomping the ever lovin' crap out of it.  That's pretty much what nature did with us. Wanna see a few pics?  I took these a few days (maybe a week) after Irma.  This was just a stroll through my neighborhood.



Yep, collapsed canopies, buildings torn in twain, massive trees toppled: this is just a taste of the destruction.  I'd post more but we're not doing so great Internet-wise.  This is actually where this post is going.

Our lives here in the USVI have changed for quite a while.  The question we need to ask ourselves is are we going to be working towards what we used to have or are we going to work for something better.  While we figure out where we plan to go we're all kinda getting used to the new normal.

Currently (This pun is intentional) St. Thomas is projected to be 90% powered by December.  I'd say right now that number is about 58% but that's just me guessing.  Restoration of power though opens to door all the creature comforts we used to have but now have to do without.  We were very fortunate some business were back on their feet within a couple weeks, but there are quite a few who need more time to get back on their feet and even those who have decided getting back in the race isn't worth it.

The most significant impact these storms had on us was destabilizing our communications systems.  Take as an example the local phone and cable company.  So many downed lines means rebuilding those connections starting with the landline phones.  It seems at the moment we're going with the tried and true lines on the poles (BTW many thanks to our linemen and the visiting linemen.  If not for them we've probably be about only half as restored as we are now).  In response to the lack of landlines, our local phone company has gone hard on wireless communications.  This response also includes Internet service.  Before the storm their service came through the same lines as phone and Cable TV.  With the estimation that Cable TV won't be back until late next year you can guess what that means for their other services.  I have a couple predictions for the future here.  Movie theaters would be a great boon here...except for the fact that the only theater on St. Thomas was damaged and is in need of major renovation.  I was even inspired to attempt to open my own small movie theater to fill the void.  It's not something I've quite let go yet; still rattling around the old brain cage.  I do expect that Internet service (and I mean QUALITY Internet service) will become the hottest thing to acquire.  Why?  Netflix.  Hulu.  Amazon. Heck, even Crackle.  People who can't go the satellite dish way or can't make it economically feasible will look to streaming services to fill the entertainment void as well as keep them in the loop on their favorite TV shows.  Streaming rental services will boom too.  It's sort of what PPV is for Cable.

The most significant impact these storms have had on the territory is the hit we're taking to tourism which is our #1 economy.  Many of the huge chain resorts have been forced to close for renovation.  Even the Marriott Frenchman's Reef, a mainstay on St. Thomas for many years and survivor of previous hurricanes that ravaged the territory, succumbed.  They're looking at over $400 million to repair and a downtime of a year and a half.  That means a lot of job losses around the territory.  We can get the cruise industry traffic back up as quickly as we can restore power but hotels were a major source of revenue.

The reality of our situation is although help is on the way, we still need time to prop back up the infrastructure.  Now more than ever we're going to need to get creative on revenue generators and job creators.  In a time when we need to hear these ideas all I've been hearing is more of the same.  Getting us back to where we were isn't going to be enough.  We're going to have to try something new.

As for me, I was very fortunate.  I escaped both storms without major loss, I have power and something that passes for Internet service, I'm still employed and now I have karaoke.  Like everyone else, I keep looking for ways to contribute and make things just a little better for everyone.

If you're reading this and want to know how YOU can help with the recovery, just let me know.  I can put you in touch with people running distribution centers or I can simply distribute myself.  There's also a number of very popular Facebook groups that will put you in direct contact with people living in and recovering the territory.  Leave me a comment and I'll point you in the right direction.

Monday, July 31, 2017

DCUO: The Game Has Changed

If you've ever checked out my blog, you'll know that the one game I've been loyal to and have played for years is DC Universe Online.  I've been a player for 4 of the game's 5 year existence and I still have fun playing it.  I've played through tons of changes, added content, various leagues, etc.  Well this month, to quote the Joker, DCUO decided to "shake things up a little".

Introducing the stats revamp and let me tell you, it have changed the way people play this game SIGNIFICANTLY.  Check this out:


Now I've only had a chance to play with my main toon (as I usually do) and I've gone through the whole new stat redistribution so I'm going to try to take this piece by piece.

New Player Stats

The biggie here is the removal of the Combat Rating Differential.  How the game used to work is that your gear (and subsequently the CR you obtain by getting better gear) greatly affected how powerful your character was.  Gear is still important now, but with the CR Differential removed it's not as important as it used to be.  You need the higher CR to access the newer chapters of the game, but while you might qualify to enter content based on your CR you may find you might not quite be ready to actually play it.  More on that later.

New Skill Tree

THIS is where it gets really interesting.  In the previous iteration of the game your skill tree was tied directly to the weapons tree.  You used to put skill points into weapons just to unlock power buffs. Well that's gone now.  The weapons tree and the skills tree is now separate.  So that means you don't have to invest skill points into weapons you have no intention of using (you will have to though if you're focused on collecting styles for different weapons).  The skill tree now gives you a bit of focus and it's now a bit simpler.  It pretty much guides you to invest in skill trees based on your role.  It's simplified mostly for healers, controllers and tanks.  With DPS though it takes a bit of thought.  You have the options of focusing on your weapon, your superpowers or forming a balance between them. My healer has a DPS build and I chose a weapon focus (because controllers are really struggling now with their new role).  What I've found is while my DPS was pretty weak with the specs I had before the revamp, my new guy is kinda badass.  Of course, this all means that skill points are where it's at right now and the best players will be the ones with the most skill points.  Skill points were important before but now they're pretty much EVERYTHING.  I think the game has moved toward making sure people really go after those feats.  One of the first things I did when I saw my skill points needed to be reassigned was go after two race feats that I haven't attempted in years.  I actually got them!  LOL!

New Power Tree

More big changes here.  Playing the game from level 1 to level 30 no longer earns you power points which were necessary to assign powers for your character.  That's been replaces with a power tree that unlocks based on game progression.  Iconic powers used to cost one of those precious power points but now they're all in the skill tree.  Daybreak has been doing a lot of tweaking with the 1-30 mechanics before the revamp because they were trying to give new players a more rewarding intro to the game.  Hopefully this does it.  I'm kinda bummed that the weapon mastery got nerfed a bit though.

New NPC Stats

Another biggie.  It pretty much means that NPC progression is on par with your own.  As a direct result, NPCs from earlier content are no longer wimps to higher level character.  I get the feeling that the game devs looked at how the population of high level characters affected gameplay for lower level characters and decided that they really needed to limit the number of people getting "carried". I know up until now a lot lower level players have gotten undeserved feats as a result of this.  That said, here is where the recommended CR might not mean you're at the right level to complete the content.  If you were a player relying mostly on gear to get ahead you're going to have to go back to basics because as I said before, skill points are now everything.  This became obvious when I queued up for a raid I could easily do alone in 3 minutes before the revamp and it took the group a half hour (and that was with me doing more than 3 times the damage of the next best DPS in the raid).

Ability Balance & New Foundation

I wanna chalk this one up to minor issues and fixes.  Simply changing the powers to better mesh with the new revamp.

So are you playing?  What do YOU think of the stats revamp?  Let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Fallen: Shows I Liked That Didn't Make The Cut

Heeeeey, it's my birthday!  So I thought I'd be a super buzzkill to myself and go over the shows I'm really sad to see go this year.  Sadly every season not every show makes it and I'm the poor dumb schlub that manages to fall in love with at least a few of them.  So here we go:

1. Son of Zorn (FOX)

I had the highest of hopes for this show.  It started slow, but how can you NOT get into a hybrid animated/live action show?  It was like a fantasy Roger Rabbit!  News that this was cancelled hit me hard because I thought for sure this show was going to make it.  Looking at the ratings though, I can see why it got dropped.  It opened strong but dipped to less than half of the viewership of the premiere episode before finally bottoming out.

2.  APB (FOX)

Another show I thought was going to make it. Imagine if instead of building the Iron Man suit, Tony Stark poured all that funding into the police force.  THIS was that show...and I was loving it. Unfortunately it followed the same trend as Zorn.  It did better in the ratings but staying consistent of half of its premiere viewership apparently wasn't enough to save this show.

3.  Imaginary Mary (ABC)

Yes, I can feel your judgey eyes on my blog all now.  Look when I saw this pop up in my Hulu notifications I thought it was going to suck for sure.  But hey, I thought why not give it a shot.  I ended up liking it.  Unfortunately it wasn't for the cute animated character or even the main character. Where this show shined was with the kids and how they related to their dad's new relationship.  That was where the real fun was.

4. Time After Time (ABC)
It's never fun when a show you like gets pulled early.  This show was yanked from under me after just 5 episodes.  There's 3 episodes in the can that will probably never see the light of day.  I was surprised to see how low the ratings was for this show.  It didn't even crack the level of the shows I've already mentioned.

5.  Powerless (NBC)
Dear sweet baby Zeus who art in Olypmus, WHY did we let NBC get its grubby mitts on another DC TV show?!  WHY!?!?!  Thanks to NBC our beloved Constantine is floating in the wind and our only hope for him is hopefully another guest spot on one of the CW shows next season.  But Powerless was a superhero show that didn't really focus too much on superheroes and maybe that was the problem.  Name dropping works pretty well on the Netflix hero shows but a hero is still the focus of the show.

So, just to break this down this show follows the mishaps of a Wayne Security R&D with their new director in the fictional Charm City. What threw me was that I kept tabs on the buzz around this show and the concept had changed dramatically.  Originally the show was about insurance adjusters who priced out damages cause by hero/villain activity.  I liked the original concept better.  To date, there are three unaired episodes.  Guess I should be glad it had a longer shelf life than Time After Time.

6. No Tomorrow (CW)
This was my token romantic comedy show this season and in typical fashion, canceled.  The story follows a woman looking for adventure and finds it in a free-spirit.  The only problem: The free-spirit is only a free-spirit because he believes that's a planet killing asteroid is on course to hit the Earth and he's making the best of the time he has left.  I liked the dynamic of the show where Evie (main character) kinda discovers herself, learns to go after what she wants and accepts Xavier (other main character) even though he believes they only have a limited time to live. The supporting characters actually have pretty good stories too.  The ratings were catastrophically low so I guess I can't be too surprised.

7. Man Seeking Woman (FX)
Sooo I don't have access to FX shows until after they hit Hulu.  I've watched and enjoyed the first two seasons of this show and while looking forward to watching the third, I didn't know this was canceled.  I can't really have an opinion based on this current season but sad to see it go.

Honorable Mention:  Bones
Bones concluded this season after 12 seasons and honestly, they could have stopped at 10.  Yep, this on isn't on the list because it was a welcome exit.  Oh I still watched every episode.  The problem was a villain named Pelant.  He was a REALLY good villain. So good in fact that the show felt wanting with a Big Bad.  After Pelant (not gonna spoil it), I feel the series was going downhill.  Oh and the exit of Sweets (movie project) and the intro of Aubrey (never liked him, never will) was kind of a big blow to the fans.  I think it was after this point that the supporting characters started to be more interesting than the main ones and that's always a recipe for cancellation.

Any of your shows kick the bucket this season?  Lemme know.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Traffic In St. Thomas

What you're looking at right here is just one of the many impossible traffic problems you're going to run into at some point if you live on St. Thomas.  This particular clusterfuck was cause by a pretty bad accident on the Waterfront stretch (apparently a car FLIPPED OVER).  I'm not even sure how people pull off these amazing feats of carelessness with such tiny roads, limited speeds and more potholes than you can play Whack-A-Mole with.

Somebody posted today just how terrible the situation is especially in the Waterfront vicinity.  We just finished Carnival so there were times where it was downright painful.  Now I'm not going to address Carnival traffic.  That's a special animal that the VI Carnival Committee has never seen fit to address (seriously guys, park and ride shuttling using open parking areas could have dropped that traffic to a third of what it was).  Let's take a look at the everyday problems that contribute to our bad traffic situation.

The Problems


1.  Lack of a Reliable Public Transit System

This problem starts way back when a private bus company named Mannassah was the lone mass transit system around.  Yes, PRIVATE.  People will tell you it's a good thing when private entities compete with governmental functions.  Normally that's true.  The problem here is THERE WAS NO GOVERNMENTAL FUNCTION related to public transit.  At some point Mannassah folded and VITRAN came into being.  Unfortunately everyone was too used to the inconsistent and often non-functioning bus system and decided it would be best to invest in personal transportation.  People did so in droves (pun intended).  A few years ago public transit was re-branded and overhauled but the problem remains and is actually getting worse.

2.  Too Many Bottlenecks

I can sum this up in two words: right turns.  Going East to West from the spot in the pic above, there are 4 places you can make a right turn.  Only 1 has its own "waiting lane".  The other 3 require oncoming traffic to stop and allow you to make that turn.  While 2 of those lights have right turn lights they're pretty much useless.  You still have to stop traffic in your lane and you have to hope there's space to turn in the oncoming lane.

3.  Governmental Scheduling

Public schools open at 7:30am and let out at 2:30pm.  Government offices are open from 8am to 5pm. Know this: There will be traffic from 7:30am to 9:00am and from 2:00pm to around 7pm.  Around the midpoint of those times are the worst.  This is assuming that there are no accidents, emergencies or breakdowns that limit mobility.  Alternate routes are few and far between.  By the time you're stuck in traffic it's too late to escape.

4.  Taxis and Tourism

Most cruise ship stays match the government schedule with some deviation of 30 minutes to an hour. And when cruise ships are here taxis are in full swing.  The operations at the docks are pretty smooth (I'm exaggerating since the traffic is kinda kept localized there).  It's when they hit the open roads that things start slowing down.  They tend to stop in irregular places so their riders can take pictures or crowd the attractions creating more bottlenecks.  They're biggest sin though is cruising Main Street and Waterfront looking for tourists to take back to the ship.  Taxis have tons of designated parking spaces they never seem to use because they're always trolling.

The Solutions?


1.  Step Up Public Transit

So we got a few new buses.  It's not enough.  Dollar safaris still need to operate to fill the gap and your chances of catching one of them are much greater than catching an actual bus.  I spent a week relying on public transportation when my car was in for repairs and I can tell you that catching a bus was near impossible.  They rarely show up and when they do they aren't going where you need to go (not that we'd ever know since there's no published bus route or schedule) or they pass you straight (I think there's like some kind of special dance you have to do to make them stop ;) ).

2.  Traffic Enforcement

Things that happen here on a regular basis: People run red lights...a lot, people don't stop at STOP signs, there's no order at all at 4 way intersections, Left Lane MUST Turn Left is taken as a suggestion, people turn left on red even if there's no sign allowing for left turns on red.  It's CHAOS. The cops pretty much don't care unless there's an accident.  I think if the police made an effort to patrol some of the spots that really hold up traffic it would go a long way to fixing the problem.

3.  Flex Time For Government Workers

So the VI Government has an Employee Handbook that hasn't been updated since 1994 and for the most part contains suggestions.  Here's what it says about work hours:
The standard workweek is five days. The standard workday is 8 hours. The standard work hours are from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with one (1) hour for lunch, usually from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 P.M. Employees who are entitled to a break each morning and afternoon under law will be advised at what time the breaks are scheduled. 
Riveting.  Notice the only thing that's actually a legal mandate is the morning and afternoon breaks. For over 20 years now, these hours were pretty much set in stone.  I've seen versions of flex time come and go but there always comes a point where a manager or a director or a commissioner decides to end the policy for various reasons.  Sometimes it's actual abuse and others it's just plain old good old fashioned spite.

My point here is that the times that traffic is at its worst is between 7:30am and 8:30am  and subsequently between 5pm and 6pm.  But what if the option to not travel at those times was available.  I'd imagine some people would definitely want to take advantage just to avoid the traffic.

4.  Invest In Fixing Known Bottlenecks

You can't take care of the moving bottlenecks as much (maybe with traffic enforcement), but there are several places around the island that are known to cause a slowdown in traffic.  Sometimes they're as simple as the timing on a traffic light and other times it's right turn that simply cannot be made smoothly.  It would help if the Department of Public Works had a direct line of communication with the drivers to identify problem areas.  Maybe a town hall or a suggestion box.

Got any ideas of your own?  Let me know what you think in the comments.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Overpowered

My star player is overpowered.
As far as gear goes, he has close to the best.
As far as stats go, he's got plenty of skill points.
Gold in the bank?  It's plenty.
He could splurge it all on a super rare item, but he saves it for a rainy day.

My star player is overpowered.
Open world?  Sure, but there's nothing left there for me.
Take me on a duo and you'll get that timed feat.
On an alert I'll save the team time and time again.
And though I seem awkward in a raid, I get the job done.

My star player is overpowered.
There were times he could advance in leaps and bounds.
Now he advances in inches and feet.
He looks to the game developers and ask if there's anything more.
They say sure, but you need people as overpowered as you to play it.

My star player is overpowered.  And he is bored as fuck.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Free Software (and Where To Find Them)

I'm actually surprised I've never addressed this in my blog.  Today I'm going to show you the world of free software.  If it's one thing you learn running IT without a budget it's that sometimes you gotta work extra hard with the tools that are available even though the money grubbers in Accounting won't drop a little spare change for nicer (and usually easier to use) software.  Let's get started on the list.


1.  Don't have Microsoft Office?  Try OpenOffice!

Microsoft Office is a lot cheaper these days than it used to be, but the full suite can still cost you up to $200.  Microsoft Office is the gold standard when it comes to office productivity but you'll probably never need all the bells and whistles that come with it.  Enter OpenOffice.  It does pretty much everything that MS Office does and costs you nothing.

OpenOffice isn't the only free alternative.  If you're feeling inclined, check out LibreOffice.  Also free; also does everything that MS Office does.

Oh, I should mention that both suites have downloads available for MacOS and Linux as well.

2.  Computer didn't come with DVD software?  Get VLC Media Player!

This one is a biggie because Microsoft killed native DVD playing in their Media Player in Windows 10.  Who needs it?!  VLC plays everything, runs on all platforms and is completely free!

3.  Need Photoshop? Try GIMP!

No, not that guy in black leather from Pulp Fiction.  GIMP is a free Image Manipulator.  It takes some getting used to.  It's not as simple to use as Photoshop but it can be just as powerful, especially with all the open source scripts and plugins available.

If you want something a bit lighter, try Paint.NET.  Unfortunately unlike GIMP, it's only available for Windows.

4.  No Adobe Acrobat?  Give pdf995 a shot!

Full disclaimer: There's really no more powerful PDF suite than Acrobat.  Seriously, Adobe INVENTED the portable document format.  You can get pretty close with Pdf995.  It's actually a suite of 3 separate programs but the bulk of the work is done in PdfEdit995. The one drawback: no in-file text editing.  That's a money feature.

5.  Not feeling Internet Explorer or the new Edge Browser?  You've got options!

There's a ton of them available and a quick search for "free web browser" will present them but I'm going to focus on just two here. Each browser boasts its own set of pluses as opposed to the native browser.

Mozilla Firefox is up first.  It's barebones with lots of plugin capability.  Second would be Google Chrome.  It's lightweight and features tight integration with online Google apps.  Try 'em both and see which one you like.

6.  Don't want to shell out for McAffee or Norton?  You've got options there too!

Yep, there are a bunch of choices here too.  More than I'd care to go over all at once.  You can get a pretty good list of them here.

7.  Have you seen how much QuickBooks costs?  Try PostBooks.

I'm wading in some uncharted territory here.  Accounting is not in my wheelhouse at all.  I do, however, know that QuickBooks does NOT come cheap.  Try this free alternative for your books.

8.  No WinZip or WinRAR?  Use 7zip!

It's not surprising that the you don't really need to have compression programs installed, but it's nice to have options.  Plus you never know when you're going to run across that one program that uses a compression algorithm you've never seen before (there was a time I didn't know what the .rar extension meant).

9. Project to small to warrant buying a full fledged audio editor?  Check out Audacity!

Whether it's editing out blips in mp3 files or recording audio directly from the sound card, Audacity gets it done.  I've used this for a variety of audio projects and it sure beats paying $500+ for major sound editors.  Ever wondered what the reverse audio in certain songs say?  There's even a preset to reverse audio.

Hope you enjoyed my list.  What free and open source programs do you prefer?  I'm sure I missed a ton on my list.  Tell me what you think in the comments.