Saturday, January 30, 2016

There are many ways to learn more about what you can watch - January 29, 2016

I wasn’t thinking about the potential for a blizzard when I wrote last week’s column on Netflix’s more than 70,000 sub genres. As it turned out, the timing was pretty good. The Great Blizzard of 2016 was a good time to snuggle down and binge-watch a series or knock off half a dozen movies.

I’m not one who is content to just watch a movie or TV episode. I want to know more about it as I watch. There are many like me, and app makers have addressed this need with what are known as Second Screen apps.

These are apps for our phone designed to give us more information about the program we are watching and even interact with others watching it at the same time, if it is a broadcast or live program.

If I walk into the room and my wife has a program on I do not recognize, I use the Shazam app. It listens to the audio of a piece of programming and tells me the name of the movie or show, even the specific episode of a TV show.

Then I go to IMDB’s app, or and look up the program. I can look up when the film was made and who the performers are. I often will see an actor in one thing, and know I’ve seen them before. It bugs me to not figure it out, so IMDB saves my sanity.

IMDB also has trivia about the production or the actor, and these are always entertaining. For example, Michael Bay destroyed 535 cars for one of the Transformers movies.

Reading the trivia for the film “Unstoppable,” I found out parts of the train scenes were filmed in the tiny northern Pennsylvania town where I was born. There was even a scene in the restaurant I worked in as a teen near Pittsburgh.

I also learned Carrie Fisher stood on a box for her scenes with Harrison Ford in “Star Wars.” She’s that much shorter than he.

Wikipedia also has articles on most movies and episodes. While it may have a lot of the same information as IMDB, it often has more. For huge, long-running shows like “Doctor Who,” it has probably hundreds of articles on episodes, seasons, characters and actors.

To find something watchable on a broadcast or cable channel is a daunting task from the sheer number of channels. The TV Guide app will show you what is on all your channels. Better yet, you can build a Favorite list so you only see the channels you enjoy. It’ll also show you when your favorite movies or shows are on or what sport events are being televised.

You’ve probably noticed many programs show a hashtag at the beginning of programs. They want to encourage you to interact with other viewers on Twitter by using the hashtag.

With the hundreds of channels now available, we have lost the sense of community TV once had when there were only three channels. Everyone would talk about last night’s “Ed Sullivan Show” around the office water cooler on Monday. Now in a gathering of five TV viewers around a water cooler, they probably watched five different programs, many from non-broadcast sources like Netflix or YouTube.

Twitter and hashtags have brought some of that back, letting viewers discuss a show while it is ongoing. I understand there is an active discussion going on during programs. “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Supernatural” and “The Walking Dead” average hundreds of thousands of tweets during an episode.

You might even interact with the star on Twitter. Much to my amazement, William Shatner retweeted a Tweet I made the other day. I felt oddly honored.

For discussion afterward, most shows have a Facebook page you can Like and participate in discussions. And Reddit has sub-reddits for most popular programs.

And as we come up on the Super Bowl, it looks like again this year you will be able to watch most of the ads from the show online beforehand. As we know from years past, Super Bowl ads are often better than the game and rank as the most surprising, funniest and best produced 30 seconds of television.

To Share this article on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and others, click the appropriate button below.

Links for this week's column are here.

To subscribe to the print edition of Prince William Today, visit their website.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Links for There are many ways to learn more about what you can watch - January 29, 2016

This column will appear online Saturday, January 30th, 2016 at 9 AM EST.

When it is posted, it will be on this website.

It is available before in the January 29th issue of Prince William Today on sale at these retailers beginning this Thursday, January 28th in the afternoon.

Shazam    Android    IOS

IMDB        Android    IOS

Twitter      Android     IOS

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Some tips for finding what you want to watch on Netflix - January 22, 2016

Note:  I wish I could take credit for planning a Netflix column on the perfect weekend for watching Netflix but the appropriateness didn't occur to me until the night before the start of the blizzard.

Hope everyone is warm, secure, not needing to go anywhere, and have power and Internet to watch Netflix.  For the snowbound who are not Netflix subscribers, they do have a 30 day free trial.

Netflix has become a force of nature. It is credited with the downfall of the video store – even mega-giants like Blockbuster, when its primary business was mailing DVDs.

Netflix has more than 70 million users worldwide. This is bound to grow dramatically, as it recently announced 130 new countries will soon have the streaming service.

It’s grown so large that it now makes its own high-quality TV programs, like “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black.”

Its original series are frequently nominated for Emmys. Actress Uzo Aduba won two for best supporting actress for her delightful portrayal of Crazy Eyes in “Orange is the New Black.”

Netflix’ streaming service has changed the way many people watch TV. Who binge watched entire series before Netflix? Now people think nothing of sitting down on Saturday morning and cranking through entire seasons of a TV show in one sitting.

One huge frustration with Netflix is finding something to watch. Netflix does not have a category showing you all the movies. It recommends genres to you and shows you movies in them.

After you have watched a few films, it recommends others based on your viewership.

There’s a search function. So if you know a film you want to watch, you can find it.

Unfortunately, most films that come to mind are ones that were recently in theaters. Films show up on Pay For View on your cable channel or on DVDs at Redbox or Netflix DVD service long before, or even if, they appear on Netflix streaming.

I enjoyed “Galaxy Quest” the other night after reading obituaries for Alan Rickman. If it hadn’t been for the reminder, I might not have thought to re-watch that delightful parody of “Star Trek” and its rabid fandom.

Recently, I learned of an article Alex Madrigal wrote in “The Atlantic” almost two years ago about an interesting thing he noticed about Netflix, and his quest to learn more.

He noticed that if you are logged into Netflix on your PC and chose a genre, let’s say “TV Action and Adventure,” your browser goes to a page whose URL is “” Notice the number at the end. That intrigued Madrigal, so he entered another number and found another genre.

He wrote a script to cycle through all numbers and while many were blank, he discovered Netflix had 76,897 sub-genres.

Do want to see Cerebral Movies based on Books or Critically Acclaimed Mind Bending Movies or Witty Mockumentaries? They're all out there if you know the number for the end of that URL.

In this week’s Link Post at, I have a link to a list I found with these and many more genres. You will easily lose yourself bookmarking movies.

Not every genre has movies in it. Some genres may have films only licensed for other countries, or movies that Netflix no longer has a license to show.

Once Netflix, or any streaming service for that matter, licenses a film, they do not have the right to show it forever.

Movies come and go on Netflix. There is nothing more infuriating than to start watching a series and have it disappear from Netflix before you finish all the episodes.

On the other hand, knowing what is new may lead you to something you want to see. Unfortunately Netflix does not have a category for content about to disappear.

However, there are sites that track this for us. The site “What’s On Netflix” has both Leaving Soon and Coming Soon categories has the best search engine for Netflix and Amazon movies.

Can I Stream It? and such sites let you enter a movie and find out where it will be streaming on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and others. Or it will tell you if you can purchase or rent it on Amazon, iTunes or Google Play. Or, it will tell you if you can stream it on a smartphone app.

I also like the Fan TV app. It does the same as Can I Stream It? but has more information and trailers.

To Share this article on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and others, click the appropriate button below.

Links for this week's column are here.

To subscribe to the print edition of Prince William Today, visit their website.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Links for Some tips for finding what you want to watch on Netflix - January 22, 2016

This column will appear online Saturday, January 23rd, 2016 at 9 AM EST.

When it is posted, it will be on this website.

It is available before in the January 22nd issue of Prince William Today on sale at these retailers beginning this Thursday, January 21st in the afternoon.

Netflix Genres

Netflix Genres Extended

What's On Netflix

What's On Netflix - Coming Soon

What's On Netflix - Leaving Soon

Can I Stream It

The story about the reverse engineering of the Netflix Genres

Added 9:15 AM 1/21:  There is a browser add on for Chrome & Mozilla that gives your Netflix page a Subbrowse menu, accessing the sub genres.  Read this article from for details.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Consumer Electronic Show doesn’t have all the new gadgets, but a lot of them - January 15, 2016

No sooner do the holidays end, then the gadget universe turns to Las Vegas and the annual Consumer Electronics Show.

I’ve written about half a dozen post-CES columns now. At first, I expected everything promised to be released during the year. The last couple years I’ve been positively disheartened, having re-read the previous years’ columns and realizing little shown in Vegas actually made it to Best Buy or Amazon. In this case, what happens in Vegas shouldn’t stay in Vegas.

Hopefully I’ve gotten better at differentiating between the pie-in-the-sky and products that will ship. I’ll know when I re-read this column in a year.

One thing that got my attention this year was retro products. Both Tekniks and Sony showed turntables for playing vinyl records. In a nod to digital, the Sony has a USB port so the records can be converted to digital files. Vinyl is in a comeback, with vinyl record sales on the increase.

Kodak released a Super 8mm film camera, its first in decades. The firm is hopeful film students still want to use traditional film movie cameras. When the film is sent in for developing, it is automatically scanned into a 4K high quality digital file.

Facebook announced it will begin shipping its Oculus Rift Virtual Reality device March 28, and it will cost $599.

This is the first of the VR headsets expected this year. It will require a fairly high-quality gaming PC to support it. All in all, users may have to spend $1,800 or more for an adequate PC and the Oculus Rift.

Virtual reality headsets, even those based on Google’s Cardboard design, can display 360-degree videos and stills. To make those videos and photographs, new 360-degree cameras are coming from GoPro and Nikon. The Nikon model will shoot 4K video. GoPro has indicated they will be releasing its own drone. Perhaps the 360 camera will mount on the drone.

Television had a few new items coming our way. Panasonic will be bringing a 4K DVD player to the U.S. Format standards have been set, so now those with 4K TVs can get content to use all the resolution of their TV.

Also, Netflix announced this week that they are expanding to 130 countries.

Samsung has a refrigerator with a big touchscreen in the door. Using a Wi-Fi-enabled touchscreen, it can order groceries for you from multiple stores. It also has family-oriented apps, like a shared family calendar.

For audio, Onkyo and Braggi announced Bluetooth-enabled earbuds. While Bluetooth in earbuds makes a lot of sense, I’m not sure about the Bluetooth-enabled pregnancy test also shown at CES.

Fisher-Price showed a toy caterpillar that children assemble from individual segments. Each segment makes the caterpillar do something like go forward, turn left, stop, etc. Children are actually learning logic, patterns and rudimentary programming. It is called the Code-a-Pillar and will be out in July for only $50.

Lego upgraded its educational robot that’s sold only to schools, the WeDo 2.0. It comes with all the motors, sensors and apps for tablets to let students build and control intelligent robots. Ever wish you were a kid again?

One announcement was bitter sweet. Lenova, which now owns Motorola, announced the Motorola name will be phased out from products. A remnant of the great American name will remain as products will be branded with the Moto name.

DJI, the maker of the top-end consumer drones, announced it upgraded two drones to 4K video. Parrot, maker of some interesting drones, announced a fixed-wing airplane-like drone. Throw it up in the sky and it automatically flies to altitude. Then you control it, or it can fly a programmed route, return and land automatically -- all while shooting high-quality video.

For the 1 percent out there, there is a 98-inch 8K TV, likely to cost more than $100,000.

CES always has futuristic concepts that likely won’t make the real world, but some do. The most exciting was a transparent TV screen. I was dubious until I saw a video of it. When on, it has a bright, clear, non-transparent image. When off, it showed it was over someone’s display cabinet of nice glassware. I could see it covering a piece of art too, so your TV was essentially invisible when turned off.

Finally a Chinese company showed off an autonomous man-carrying drone. Think of a flying Uber. It couldn't show it flying as it isn’t Federal Aviation Administration-approved yet. I’m dubious-- that one, I think, should stay in Vegas.

Many of the best products are not announced at CES. Google, Apple, Microsoft and phone makers announce at other shows, or their own events throughout the year. The takeaway from this CES is that innovation is still strong, and we are again going to have a fun year.

To Share this article on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and others, click the appropriate button below.

Links for this week's column are here.

To subscribe to the print edition of Prince William Today, visit their website.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Links for Consumer Electronic Show doesn’t have all the new gadgets, but a lot of them - January 15, 2016

This column will appear online Saturday, January 16th, 2016 at 9 AM EST.

When it is posted, it will be on this website.

It is available before in the January 15th issue of Prince William Today on sale at these retailers beginning this Thursday, January 14th in the afternoon.

There was a lot of items mentioned this week and many sources of ,more information about them.  To find it on the web, simply Google "<item name> CES 2016".

For example:    Oculus Rift CES 2016.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Not Many Places in the County to fly Drones - January 8, 2016

Apparently my wife read my column about gifts that geeks would want and I found a drone was under the tree.

It was not really something I would ask for, which I guess makes it the best kind of gift.

I have been intrigued by them, and sold remote-control airplanes and helicopters back in high school at Loreski’s Hobby Shop in the Pittsburgh area. I’ve had buying a remote-flying toy on my bucket list.

These new quadcopters are easier to fly and, when coupled with a camera, would jibe nicely with my photography interests.

And I’m not alone. The Federal Aviation Administration reportedly expected a million drones to be gifts this Christmas.

Yet, it is not easy being a drone owner in Prince William County. I previously wrote about a five-mile no-fly zone around the Manassas Airport.

Fairfax County residents had to worry about a no-fly zone in a 15-mile radius around Reagan Airport. What I didn’t realize is that in September, pretty much unheralded, the FAA increased that radius to 30 miles around Reagan.

That eliminates flying a drone outside in most of Prince William County.

If you go to this week’s link post at, I have maps showing the drone no-fly zone. You have to go south of Quantico and west to Gainesville to legally fly your drone outside.

The new radius received more publicity this week, when WTOP reported that the Academy of Model Aircraft received an email from the FAA asking for its help to stop member clubs from flying in the restricted area. Many of the 30-plus regional clubs affected have sponsored outdoor flying in safe areas.

One media outlet indicates the club has said it is working with the FAA to lift the restriction and hopes to have news by mid-January.

Meanwhile, DJI, maker of far more serious drones than my little 0.22 pound toy, pushed out a software update preventing its aircraft from flying in no-fly zones.

DJI models are more likely to be used outside and they sport high-definition video cameras. They cost at least $700.

Its drones have snazzy features such as automatic landing, auto return to landing point if they lose contact with the pilot and other auto-flying capabilities.

Its software upgrade forbids them to fly in an FAA-designated no-fly zone. This will keep it from flying in this area, in D.C., around airports and also around temporary no-fly zones such as near sports arenas during games and near forest fires.

There is an override so you can disable it for many no-fly zones, but not in the D.C. area. However, the disable action is coordinated through the drone owner’s online account with DJI, making it easy to determine who the owner of a drone flying in a no-fly zone is.

OK, so that’s the bad news.

The drone I received cost about $60, weighs less than a quarter of a pound and can fly for only eight minutes at a time. If it flies out of range, it keeps flying, and does not return like the more expensive models. If it runs out of battery, it crashes. The more expensive ones realize they are about to die and land themselves.

Since it is under half a pound, I don’t have to register it with the FAA.

The more expensive DJI’s have a sort of panic button. If your drone gets out of control, press it, and the drone flies itself back to you and lands. Mine just crashes.

For all those reasons, I don’t see myself wanting to fly my little drone outside much. The gentlest wind would wreak havoc. And it is hard enough to fly smoothly inside.

It does have a tiny camera that records to a memory card, but does not send the image back to the controller like the more expensive models.

And I’m thankful for all that. I will one day crash this so that it requires replacement parts, if it is repairable at all. I might crash the more expensive model too, if I owned it.

The economic damage would be greater of course, and the weight of it could do serious damage to any car it dropped on, or injure or kill a person or someone’s pet.

I am content with my indoor toy.

If you received a drone for Christmas, you’ll need to fly it inside unless you want to take a drive or the FAA relaxes its radius somewhat around Reagan.

To Share this article on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and others, click the appropriate button below.

To subscribe to the print edition of Prince William Today, visit their website.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Links for Not Many Places in the County to fly Drones - January 8, 2016

This column will appear online Saturday, January 9nd, 2016 at 9 AM EST.

When it is posted, it will be on this website.

It is available before in the January 8th issue of Prince William Today on sale at these retailers beginning this Thursday, January 7thst in the afternoon.

News stories about the thirty mile no-fly radius around DCA (Reagan Airport)
from  WTOP  and  Motherboard

Register your drone over 0.55 pounds with the FAA

Map of 30 Mile Radius No-Fly Zone around DCA (Reagan Airport)

Click here to interact with the map (zoom etc.)

After I wrote the column, the FAA released an IOS app, and the beta of an Android app, B4UFly, that tells you if you may fly a drone at your current location.

Information about it, and links to download the app is at the FAA website.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Giving good guys access to encrypted messages may give it to bad guys - January 1, 2016

Following the recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, some politicians are again trumpeting the need to give law enforcement access to all encrypted messages.

The theory is, if we could read the texts and email terrorists send and receive, we would know their plans.

A law would require makers of encryption products to build a backdoor into their software that law enforcement would access.

FBI Director James B. Comey has long advocated law enforcement be given this tool. The New York Times reported recently it appeared Comey had lost an internal struggle within the administration to force Apple, Google and others to decode messages for law enforcement.

It is unclear how, or even if, security software made in other countries could be compelled to provide backdoors to U.S. law enforcement.

The easiest way to understand how this might work is to look at a physical system. The Transportation Safety Administration requires the ability to unlock suitcases for security inspections. There are luggage locks that give you a unique key to your lock, but also allow a TSA master key to open the lock.

This is the best of both worlds, theoretically. Only you and the TSA can open your luggage.

At first glance, giving this same kind of protection to digital suitcases (i.e. messages,) seems like a no brainer; let law enforcement read messages, but keep others out.

There is another side we need to consider.

Security experts tell us that if you open a less-secure backdoor for law enforcement, others might use it too.

We have to look again at the TSA-approved locks to see how this might transpire.

A photograph of the keys ran in the Washington Post. Turns out that’s all you need to duplicate them.

Google “TSA Luggage Keys” and you’ll find people selling the keys and even files you can download so your 3D printer can make them.

If there is a backdoor for law enforcement in encryption products, experts fear they too might be discovered by the bad guys. Just as luggage keys leaked, backdoor technology may leak, or simply be discovered by hackers.

Recently Juniper, maker of firewalls that are designed to keep digital data safe from hackers, discovered someone had inserted a backdoor into their product. Juniper firewalls are used to protect commercial and governmental data, so there was a real potential that bad guys had gotten data we did not want them to have.

Now Wired Magazine reports a German security expert, Ralf-Philipp Weinmann, believes “Juniper culprits repurposed an encryption backdoor previously believed to have been engineered by the NSA, and tweaked it to use for their own spying purposes.”

The NSA is one of several suspects of who actually spied on traffic through Juniper devices. The Wired article is cited in this week’s Link post at

Too many in the public do not know they themselves depend on encryption. Certainly you do not have an encryption app on your phone or PC, nor do you have to encrypt or decrypt your email before you send it.

Our phones and computers encrypt and decrypt data for us on the fly, invisible to us.

When you shop at Amazon, HTTPS encryption encrypts your credit card information while it is in transit. Someone “listening” in to Internet traffic between your PC and Amazon would not be able to read your credit card number. Look at the address bar in your web browser. If the address begins with HTTPS then you are in an encrypted conversation.

The same happens when you log into your bank. More and more sites are using HTTPS security by default. Even this column is encrypted before Google Docs saves it to its server.

We could not do business, banking or review our medical information securely without encryption. It is a mainstay of online commerce.

And the fact is terrorists would simply communicate using other secure means if encryption became insecure. They learned to not use cell phones, and Osama Bin Laden’s home was the only one in the neighborhood without Internet.

Emails could be sent encrypted with one-time pads; manual encryption codes that defy decryption and are said to be unbreakable if used properly. It would require more effort for those using it, but would leave only those of us needing encryption for good things to be using insecure encryption.

To Share this article on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and others, click the appropriate button below.

Links for this week's column are here.

To subscribe to the print edition of Prince William Today, visit their website.