When Free Video Streaming Abounds, Who Needs Netflix?

After being a Netflix member for 21 years, I finally terminated the service in August 2019. Did I miss it? The answer is 10% YES and 90% NO.

At least, for me, the service is no longer a necessity, so eliminating it from the monthly household bill was an easy decision.

But what were the real reasons why I decided to terminate my Netflix subscription? For one, it was not really the cost. The last monthly bill was only for $15.99 (Premium Plan).

In the U.S., Netflix started in 1998 as a DVD-by-mail service. By late 2006, it began to offer a few movies to stream online but only through the use of PCs. When standalone media streaming devices like Roku proliferated, Netflix started its streaming only subscriptions in 2010.

My official Netflix cancellation notice last Aug 2019.  Looking forward--- what's next after video on demand?
After 21 years of being a Netflix subscriber, l had never looked back since August 1, 2019. Looking forward to something new.

In 2011, Netflix split-off its DVD-by-mail service (dvd.netflix.com) and streaming-only service (Netflix.com). While both units are still active and profitable (note: the DVD-by-mail service is available only in the U.S.), its streaming-only business had been the main driver of growth as it was able to offer this service on a global scale.

Netflix through the years. This was the 2011 e-mail when they informed subscribers of the split of the DVD-by-mail and online-streaming business.

Which leads to the question –why did I terminate my Netflix (streaming-only) membership when it such a good deal?

Here are my answers:

#1. Amazon Prime. Yes, membership ($119 plus tax a year or $10.90 a month, tax inclusive) with the world’s online superstore includes unlimited viewing of Prime Video movies. Their selection had been growing by leaps and bounds despite being a latecomer in the streaming-only business.

When I had both (Netflix & Amazon Prime), I watched more movies that were to my liking with Prime than Netflix. Moreover, most movies that are available on DVD sometimes don’t make it in the streaming-only format in Netflix — but I happen to find them in Amazon Prime. And. if you love documentaries and other hard to find movies in the streaming-only format, nothing beats Amazon Prime.

#2. Free Streaming Sites (Ads supported or Totally-Free) . During the last three (3) years alone, the apps as well as Internet TV channels that are in my media streamers and Smart TVs had grown to a gazillion. Although some of them had come and gone, in the U.S., apps like Tubi, Roku, Popcornflix, Pluto, FilmRise, IMDb (acquired by Amazon), YouTube plus tons of others had been offering both totally free or ads-supported movies and TV shows for the last few years now.

You can even have a totally-free (yes, no ads) streaming service by just being a member of your local library. In the U.S., this service is provided by Kanopy.

The apps or websites as well as content-aggregators mentioned above may not have the latest offerings or come only in SD (standard definition) format or that it may have viewing caps (like Kanopy, at fifteen (15) movies a month), the tons of choices from all of them are more than enough for the casual viewer.

#3. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Most ISPs in the U.S. today have their own streaming-only portal built-in to the service. They offer both free and paid streaming videos and some – like Comcast/Xfinity- will even give you a free media streamer of their own. Comcast/Xfinity just recently renamed their video streaming portal, Peacock.

Lastly, #4. Netflix itself. A lot of movies released on DVD don’t make to the streaming-only format with Netflix — which was the main reason I joined them in 1998. During their early days, they offered the best selection of movies on DVD from the comforts of your home with free shipping and no late fees. Their concept was such a huge hit among movie buffs that it forced the big brick and mortar video rental firms like Hollywood Video and Blockbuster out of business.

Netflix’s 2007 e-mail to subscribers. Note that online-streaming was available only through the use of computers and was capped for just 14 hours a month..
Just a year later, in 2008, and with the proliferation of dedicated media streaming devices like the Roku, Netflix members were upgraded to unlimited online-streaming.

To keep their streaming-only customers beholden to the service, they had resorted to producing their own films and TV shows. And released they did – all episodes of shows are all in one big bundle that you’ll bound to waste a lot of your precious time on this planet and led to the term, binge-watching.

After 21 years, I missed Netflix only by 10% because I might go back to their DVD-by-mail service only.

But, then again, times have changed. Today, for their $7.95 a month subscription (unlimited but only one (1) DVD rented out), I can have more than one (1) DVD — as my very own.

A Deal Better Than Black Friday – $17 Linksys Router

Once in a rare while, while shopping, you will find an item that is priced so ridiculously low that you’ll have to convince yourself that a). there’s an obvious pricing mistake made by an employee, b). a mischievous person switched price tags, c). there must be something wrong with the item, or, d). you must be just plain lucky to be at the right time and place.

Exactly two weeks before Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) of this year while doing my early morning grocery shopping at the retail chain store that made someone from Oklahoma spectacularly rich and famous, two (2) sealed boxes of Linksys AC1200+ Gigabit Router sat among other gadgets atop one of the shelves in the electronics department.

This $17 Linksys router may not be top-of-the-line model, but the price tag is simply too good to pass-up on

I was there to get some eggs, milk, a few cans of Spam & some other ingredients for a seafood dinner as well as new SkinGuard razor blades. But, definitely, not shopping for any electronics that particular day.

But, for a tech-junkie, how can I pass-up and not buy a brand-new, in still-sealed-box Linksys dual-band router with 4 Gigabit Ethernet ports & a USB 3.0 port — for just $17 ????

It’s an older model alright -after I checked on the product specs on my phone- but, nonetheless grabbed a box and headed off to the nearest price scanner to verify the price. It was not a mirage. It was really $17.

Back at home, I pondered what to do with my latest score. I already have two latest model Netgear routers as well as indoor & outdoor Hawking WiFi extenders – already a bit too much for such a small area of about 5K square feet.

Three days after my purchase, I had decided just to store the still-sealed router in the attic –as a backup unit.

It was only after three weeks that I would find out that the $17 Linksys router would serve as my new indoor WiFi extender after I discovered that the Hawking was no longer functioning.

Operating as a WiFi extender, this $17 dual-band Linksys router has 4 gigabit Ethernet ports to hook up even more devices

Tying it up with my other 2 Netgear routers & making it operate as a dedicated WiFi extender -to the 2nd NG router that serves as an access point– was a bit tricky and took a bit of time.

But, the effort was well worth the $17 price tag.

Second Impressions: The Tesla Model 3

Last week, Don, my brother-in-law picked up his metallic deep-blue  Tesla Model 3 from one the company’s showrooms –they sell their cars direct and not through a dealership–  in Fremont, California.

A year ago, he had put up a US$ 1,000 deposit for the promised US$35, 000 Model 3 unit that had just gotten off Tesla’s designers drawing boards and into production mode at that time.

The Tesla Model 3  was supposed to catapult the fledgling company into the mainstream car market.

All their previous models, the Roadster, the Model S  as well as the Model X (an SUV – sports utility vehicle) are relatively expensive that only a few middle-income American consumers could to afford it.

Tesla had been in the forefront in the rebirth of the all-electric vehicle boom that had seen the release of competing models from the big Japanese and European car makers  -notably Nissan (the ‘Leaf‘) and BMW (the i3 – with the latest release, a 2-cylinder ‘range extender’ engine is now just optional )- as well as from the top 2 American car firms — General Motors (the Chevy ‘Bolt‘) and Ford (coming up with its ‘CUV‘).

Tesla Model 3 interior - driver seat perspective
The Model 3’s simple interior and almost bare dashboard is both a boon and a bane

As it turned out, Tesla’s promised consumer-friendly price tag of US$35,000 for the Model 3 ‘base model’ ballooned to almost US$57,000 after the company failed in its promise to offer one with the ‘standard batteries‘ during the consumer rollout.

Eager to drive home with his Model 3, Don was literally compelled to buy a more expensive unit with long-range (up to 310 miles) batteries + premium exterior with rear-wheel drive.  His choice of color, deep blue metallic (extra $1500), alloy sports wheels (extra $1500) set him back another $3,000 plus all the taxes and fees.

The price would have gone even so much higher had he opted for one with an all-wheel drive (extra $6,000 for the ‘basic’ all-wheel drive and extra $15,000 for the ‘performance’ all-wheel drive) & enhanced Autopilot (extra $5,000).

After all the extras, a fully loaded, top-of-the-line Model 3 goes for about $75,500 before all the taxes and fees –and that’s not a price for the average consumer.  For all that money, you could buy four (4)  brand-new (latest model) Toyota Corollas and still have a few thousands left in your pocket.

Charging the car at home via a dedicated 240V outlet.

So for the US$57K price he shelled out -before Federal & State tax incentives- Don’s Model 3 car should, at least, be impressive.  It is but not without some drawbacks.

Most electric cars have impressive torques and the rear-wheel drive Model 3 can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 5.1 seconds.  The car’s handling was also impressive as the 19″ wheels were big enough to mitigate some road imperfections.

You can’t say enough praise for all the tech goodies inside and outside the car with its gaggle of radars, sensors, cameras, software updates for the touchscreen control panel as well as the very impressive all-glass roof.   All of the Model 3’s glass parts including the windows were made by Saint-Gobain Sekurit which traces its roots all the way back to 1665 in France as the Royal Glass Works.

The Model 3’s all-glass, UV protective roof is very impressive. Those 2 micro LED pin lights provide just enough illumination for the passengers at the back

And, as this is an all-electric vehicle, you tend to rely less on the brakes to slow down the car —just release your foot on the accelerator and you accomplish two things: 1). slows the car down to halt and 2). you charge the batteries (regenerative braking).

Let’s get to the things that I didn’t like about the Tesla Model 3:

Firstly, the door handles.  Opening a door is a two-handed affair.  What??? You have the push the recessed handle with one hand and grab the handle’s end once it pops out with your other hand —yes, just to open a door.

If you’re quick, you can grab open Tesla’s Model 3 with one hand. For most others, opening a door is a two-handed affair.

Second, there is no manual override just to open the glovebox compartment.  To open it, you to have to turn on the touchscreen tablet (which acts as the sole instrument panel and controls everything inside the car) and push the ‘open glovebox‘ button.  Too cool but also too dumb.  Any determined thief can simply use a screwdriver and force it open.

Third, and as mentioned above, the car relied too much on the 15″ touchscreen tablet located right smack in the center of the dashboard.  I honestly believe that Tesla did it to cut cost in guise of the ‘cool factor’.

Truly functional or just for the 'cool factor'???
This 15″ touchscreen tablet is the only instrument panel inside the Tesla Model 3.

This is specially too distracting when driving around the city as you have to deal with all the functionalities of the car on a touchscreen panel.  As if texting while driving is just not bad enough.

Fourth, for the steep price tag on any premium variants of the Tesla Model 3, real leather seats should be standard.  As it is, the ‘premium interior’ model could only boast of a faux leather in black.

Lastly, except for topping-off the windshield washer fluid, there’s nothing a Tesla Model 3 owner who’s keen on maintaining the car himself can do much.  Most of the other end-user replaceable parts & fluids are either hidden underneath the car’s chassis –where the engine sits in your typical internal combustion vehicle is now a front luggage compartment-  or, not that easily accessible.

This means that if ever the car needs even the most simple maintenance, you may have to take it back to a Tesla dealership.  Bottom line: costlier upkeep. 

There are other minor flaws that needs no mentioning and can be ignored but the ones above are just simply too obvious to be overlooked.

After all, Tesla’s mass production model cars -starting with the 2012 Model S- had only been around for just a few years.  Improvements should come in their next iterations of those models.

That is, if  -with their massive debt and government subsidies in the form of tax incentives that’s ending soon-  they will remain viable and, most importantly, become profitable, as a company in the coming years.

Fun Little Drone: Ryze Tello Adventures

Old habits die hard and R/C flying is one of them.

Since I caught the aerial remote-control bug during my almost 4-year stint in Saudi Arabia in the early 80s, I had really never forgotten this sometimes expensive hobby.  They say that in the heart of hearts of adventurous people lie the extreme desire to fly like birds.

R/C flying had come a long way since the days of gas-powered COX engines and radio controllers with telescopic antennas –with small banners attached to them that denoted the radio frequencies.

In today’s world dominated by computers, software, cell phones and other Internet-connected devices, it comes as no surprise that the hobby of R/C flying had also evolved to take advantage of them.

Today, you no longer need a dedicated controller to operate an R/C device –a smartphone and the appropriate app will do it for you.  Changing crystals (to change radio frequency transmission) inside the transmitters are so passé –almost all new R/C these days have Wi-Fi built-in (mostly, at 2.4 GHz) and utilize that same wireless frequency to connect to the smartphone.   Bluetooth is also built-in for pairing with a dedicated remote controller for easier flying.

Just attach a smartphone (with the Tello app) to the controller and you're all set!
A Wi-Fi extender (shown here attached to a battery pack) and a Bluetooth controller for extra fun.

More sophisticated but expensive models incorporate a GPS, 1080p or 4K cameras propped on small but high-end gimbals as well as a gaggle of extras for easy maneuvering even at long-range distances.  Not to mention longer flight times as well as apps with sophisticated features.

Currently, a Chinese company called DJI dominates the aerial R/C market and had relegated the term ‘R/C’ into something more futuristic — ‘drone‘.

The drone market had literally exploded in the last six or so years after amateur and professional photographers alike had made them an essential part of their toolkits to take visually-stunning aerial photos and video footages.

Unedited photo taken with the DJI-Ryze Tello at 15 meters up in the air.

DJI not only makes a variety of off-the-shelf hobbyist drones that caters to everyone’s budget but also custom-made ones depending on the application — be it in military, science, agriculture, engineering, and of course, the movie industry.

To capture the lowest end of the hobbyist drone market, DJI partnered with Intel and Shenzhen, China-based Ryze Tech and brought out the Ryze Tello.

You could dress-up the Ryze Tello with skins to make your unit stand-out!!
The fun-to-fly Ryze Tello drone (shown here with a packet of some unique ‘skins’)

It’s a vision positioning system-equipped US$99 toy-hobbyist drone with a programmable Intel processor as well as a 5-megapixel 720p camera (at 30 fps) -not sure though, if some Hasselblad technologies were incorporated after DJI bought into the Swedish camera company in 2015- as well as some other tech goodies packed in 80 grams -battery included- of good-quality plastic and miniature circuit boards.

It’s basically a very, very small home computer with a nice webcam that flies.

What makes this little toy drone so fun is that it won’t hurt your pocketbook so much if ever you crash or lose it.  But, it’s so stable to fly that the only way you can lose or damage it is to fly it in very windy conditions.

In actual use, the Ryze Tello flies for a good 10 minutes -specs say 13 mins.- on a full charge with a range of about 100 meters.  But hacks like using a US$10 Wi-Fi repeater or range extender improves not only the range but also the video quality transmission.

Also, software hacks like TALS (free) and Altitude Limit for Tello (US$ 0.99) – but both are available only for iOS devices– can extend the 10 meter height limit of this little drone to 10x or 100 meters.  Be careful though as the vision positioning system of the drone gets compromised at over 10 meters.

Accessories for the Tello are also inexpensive like the US$29 GameSir T1d Bluetooth controller and about US$ 15 to $25 for a 3 to 4  battery-charging hub.  Extra original batteries -made by FullyMax– are about US$19.

These prices might be even lower if you get the Ryze Tello in ‘bundle deals‘.  I once saw a DJI stall inside a very popular shopping mall in downtown San Francisco selling the Ryze Tello with an extra battery for as low as US$ 89.

These Tello accessories, a power bank and your smartphone are all you need to master flying this fun drone!
Inexpensive Ryze Tello accessories: GameSir T1d Bluetooth controller, Wi-Fi extender (beside silver packet), extra original battery and Tello battery charging hub

All in all, for about US$ 200, you can truly enjoy the thrills of R/C flying -or, shall I say, drone flying- without the nasty additional expenses associated with the learning experience alone.

Once you had mastered -it’s so easy-flying this tiny toy drone or, simply has grown tired of it but truly enjoys aerial photography, then, you could upgrade to a DJI Spark…and then to a Mavic Air, Mavic 2 or Pro.

April 2019 update:

In late 2018, a new app -available only for Android- called Tello FPV + RTH was released by a German hobbyist called Volate!lo.  Priced at $5.49, the feature-rich app made the Ryze Tello drone much more capable particularly the return-to-home feature in spite of the unit’s lack of a GPS.

Last November 2018, Ryze sold their Tello Boost Combo at a discounted price of only $99 (plus tax) from the current/regular price of $149 (plus tax) at DJI’s website.

The package includes the Tello drone, two (2) sets of spare propellers, three (3) original FullyMax flight batteries, a 3-battery charging hub and the USB cable.

All the contents in the Boost Combo set would have easily cost between $150 to $170 if purchased individually.

It was such a steal that I couldn’t resist but to get one as a spare unit.

A new app -currently available only for Android- called Tello FPV + RTV by Volate!lo makes this beginner drone uber fun!
Ryze Tech ‘Boost Combo’ package includes the Tello aircraft, two (2) sets of spare propellers, three (3) original FullyMax aircraft batteries, a 3-battery charging hub & the USB cable — all for US$ 99 during their 2018 November sale

Also, early this year, Ryze Tech released an Iron Man Edition of their best-selling beginner drone for die-hard Marvel fans and currently sells for US$ 129 (plus tax).

It is essentially the same Tello unit except for the Iron Man-themed protective shell, colors and trims of predominantly metallic-red and gold.   This special edition Tello also comes with its very own app called Tello Hero.

Note that you can use the standard Tello app to fly the Iron Man Edition Tello aircraft but you can’t use the special Tello Hero app to fly the $99 ‘ordinary edition’ Tello.

But, of course, you can also use the much better Tello FPV +RTH app by VolaTe!lo on the Iron Man Edition unit.

A must-buy for all Marvel fans and avid Tello flyers!

Diamond Multimedia Rio 500: The Trouble With Goodbye is Hello

Sorting out my tech stuff in the attic for spring cleaning, I was surprised to discover a cache of old MP3 players.  Among them were five (5) Rio 500s made by Diamond Multimedia in the late 1990s.  They all came complete with odd-looking (smaller than a standard 5-pin Mini B) USB cables together with some old batteries.

Why I had 5 of them I had totally forgotten. Excitedly, I put on a fresh Duracell AA battery into one of them and slid the switch on. The unit’s small, rectangular (1.5″ x 0.57″) screen glowed a warm blue hue and the first track in the playlist appeared.  This thing still works!

The unit has 64MB of memory built-in and a SmartMedia card slot for more songs
The Diamond Rio 500 MP3 Player and its unusual USB cable

The Diamond Rio 500 Digital Audio Player was one of the early MP3 players that tried vainly to simplify the intricate and sometimes confusing domain of digital music transfer and rights management until Apple’s iTunes hit the jackpot in 2001.

Released in 1999 for about US$270, the sleek 3.5″ x 2.75″ x 0.6″ gizmo (just slightly thicker than a deck of playing cards) came with 64MB of memory built-in, a SmartMedia card slot for expansion, a minimalistic design, RioPort Audio Manager software and, most importantly, a USB interface.

Note that RioPort Audio Manager was a Windows-only interface when it was released.  It would take three (3) ex-Apple software engineers to port it for the Mac (worked well under Mac OS 7.x to 9.x) that same year and called it SoundJam MP

SoundJam, the company, was eventually bought out by Apple in 2000 and whose codes would eventually result in – you guessed it correctlyiTunes 1.0.

Today, there are still a slew of digital audio players that eschew iTunes yet are still so easy to use because of the USB cable plus the fact that computer OSes had become so much betterjust drag and drop your audio files!

So, the Rio 500 has a USB interface and I have the original USB cable, so transferring a few MP3s using the latest versions of Windows, Mac OS, Linux or even Chrome should be easy, right?

The trouble with goodbye is hello. Or, should that be, “hello again”?

The trouble with trying to use old technologies using modern tools are the accompanying hassles that naturally comes with them.

No, the Rio 500 won’t simply come up as just another USB device after I connected the unique USB cable on any one of my latest computers.

It only worked -transferred a few more MP3s- after I was able to get hold of an ancient Dell Latitude (with a vintage Pentium 233 MMX CPU) laptop -luckily, with a solitary USB port–  that operated under Windows ME (Millennium Edition).

Fortunately, the laptop has a single USB port for the unusual cable
An ancient Dell Latitude CPi (with a Pentium MMX processor) laptop running Windows ME

And, thanks to a software called RIOsitude (v3.12) that was provided by the open-source community, I was able to transfer a few MP3s to the vintage player via USB.  Back in 1999, an MP3 player holding about 20 songs (at 128 Kbps bit rate) in its internal memory was impressive enough.

RIOsitude 3.12 delivered the 'goodies' to the Rio 500 audio player!
The Open Source community delivered once more to make this MP3 player usable; the player runs on one (1) AA battery!

Today, most portable gadgets are designed for ‘planned obsolescence‘ and that is why it’s always nice and fun to rediscover technologies of yesteryears.

While my 6th-generation iPod nano -released 2010-had been out of service for almost 3 years now after the tiny built-in lithium ion battery inside gave up & trying to open it up required the skill set of a world-class surgeon, this 20 year old music player still works.

As long as you have the right tools, there’s a good chance that those gadgets that were made 20-30 years ago- or, even older- would still be operational today.

Besides, what MP3 or high-resolution audio player today uses an AA battery as its power source?

 

Notes: You can download the English version of RIOsitude (v 3.12) as well as the USB drivers for Diamond RIO 500 MP3 player as a zipped package here. Please note that these would work only under Windows 98, ME & Windows 2000.

Fire TV Cube = Logitech Harmony + Amazon Echo

Today, I received my Amazon Fire TV Cube right at my doorsteps and was able to set it up in about half an hour including the installation of all my apps — mostly to watch TV shows and movies all over the web.

I would admit it’s a fascinating yet cheap -got it at the pre-sale price of $89– device but only if these factors are present in your setup:

  • Very fast internet connection – the unit has dual-band WiFi ac built-in but an Ethernet (10/100) adapter is included  with the set
  • A Smart 4K (UHD) TV (recommended) or any TV that uses an HDMI input
  • And, if you have an AV system, the receiver(s) -the TV provider box and/or the home theater receiver- must be compatible

It was only a few years back -January 2015 to be exact- when Amazon launched their very first salvo in the home automation market with the Amazon Echo.

The Fire TV Cube
Amazon’s latest play in the very lucrative “smart home” market

They had since integrated the core Alexa ‘far-field voice control and recognition’ technology from the Echo into almost all their line-up of devices including the cheapest Fire TV Stick.

Now with the Fire TV Cube, Amazon had one-upped again the competition by  crossing-over an Echo with the capabilities of today’s web-connected TVs and audio systems.

While the Echo was such a ground-breaking gadget in itself that led Apple and Google to release their own incarnations in the HomePod & Google Home respectively, the Fire TV Cube clearly targets a market segment dominated by the Lausanne, Switzerland/Newark, California-based Logitech: the smart-universal remote control.

Fire TV Cube has buttons for volume control, microphone muting as well as an ‘action’ button

Although the Fire TV Cube set includes the similar remote that comes with any Alexa-built-in Fire TV devices (note: the first 2 generations of the Fire TV devices didn’t have Alexa), its main use is for inputting information like usernames & passwords to services like Hulu, Sling, Netflix, YouTube, etc., as well as to install and to operate open-source apps.

Amazon advertises the Fire TV Cube as a device to “control your TV hands free from across the room” but the applications and possible uses are so much more than that — all in a very, very small package.

Update:  Sometime in October of 2018, Amazon came up with a new version of the Alexa Voice Remote (2nd generation) with TV control for the Fire TV series and now comes bundled with the latest Fire TV Stick (4K) and the Fire TV Cube.  By itself, the new remote costs $30.

It now has dedicated buttons for power, mute & volume (up/down) –  to control some TV functions.

However, the new remote is compatible only with newer versions of the Fire TV Stick, Fire TV Stick (4K), Fire TV (3rd gen – pendant style) and the Fire TV Cube.

Amazon had also discontinued the original, square Fire TV with built-in Ethernet series as well as the Fire TV (3rd-gen, pendant style).

The 2nd Generation Alexa Voice Remote for Fire TV with TV Control

As Dirty As A Charcoaled Rug

Everyone in the in the compound seemed to be awakened by the loud voice from the entrance. Even a nocturnal guy like me who spends the wee hours of the morning watching tacky movies like Bruno and Borat was moved out of bed by the obviously jovial yet familiar voice of a man.

I was not mistaken. It was Kuyang Rey, the buddy of my father-in-law, whose loquacious nature had made the people in the barangay  think that he is good for nothing except for gossiping.

At first, what he was saying was confusing but when I heard the whole conversation between him and two of my uncles, everything became clear.

“We already have a ‘poso’ (manual water pump) and it was courtesy of Kumpareng Andong.”

“Also, just to inform you, since my kumpare is running for the seat of barangay captain, everything that we request from him would be granted.”

“Mind you people, this is our opportunity.”

Once called as ‘barrio’, a barangay is the smallest administrative unit in the Philippines headed by a ‘kapitan’ (captain or chairman) and several ‘kagawads’ (assistants).

All these news elicited excitement from the faces of my aunts and uncles. Some of them inquired if the candidate would be willing to donate a truckload of gravel and sand, hollow blocks or even an entire roof for the house!

One even asked if on the day before the election, Andong would seal his victory by giving every voter of Barangay Burgos five-hundred pesos (about US$ 10).

Amidst the bewilderment, my cousin boasted that the other candidate is capable of providing what this aspiring barangay captain could give.

Manong Tolome can double what you’ve been receiving from your Andong,Untoy (my cousin’s nickname) said with some pride and a look that seemed to challenge Kuyang Rey.

“I heard that Manong Tolome shouldered the electric bill of the Tolentinos, provided all the bottles of beer during the birthday of Sidro, and this is the real kicker–he’s been giving a thousand pesos (US$ 20) to every single voter of Purok 2 in our barangay.

The statement caused quite a stir as well as excitement among my relatives. As for me, I was half happy to hear that Kuyang Rey’s family does not have to go to the neighbor to fetch pales of water to flush out their shit, since they already have their poso.

Although it was such a big deal for them, I was more sad than happy.  Ah, I almost forgot that in a couple of weeks, barangay elections would again take place.

Campaign materials for the Barangay and SK elections along Roces Avenue in Quezon City on May 10, 2018. Photo by Maria Tan

The pomp and all to sudden generosity that we only witness from the mayoral and congressional wannabes had already seeped into the barangay level.  It is just amazing, fucking amazing to witness how some kagawad and barangay chairman candidates could provide a poso or visit a birthday celebrant’s party and shower them with a variety of gifts.  They attend the funeral rites of a friend of a friend, meet and greet the elders, have pictures of them taken carrying a child or kissing a filthy old man and whatever.

They visit you, shake your hands and beg for your vote. Together with their so-called supporters, they roam the streets riding an ‘owner jeepney’ equipped with loud speakers playing a song by Inigo Pascual with modified lyrics to promote their advocacies.  Same old stupid scene.

What are their advocacies? It varies from very personal to general, but regardless of what their advocacies are, what they would do remain blurry and puzzling.

And let us not forget the one-liners of these “prominent” candidates. Their print ads read “Maaasahan mo” (Someone you can lean on), “Ipaglalaban ka” (I would fight for you.), “Ang Tatay ng Barangay” (The patriarch of the barangay), “Kay Dodong, Panalo Tayo” (With Dodong, We are the winners), “Una Ka Kay Manang Tasya” (You are the priority of Elder Tasya) and other fascinating promises.

No matter how sweet and promising their one-liners are, they do not seem to meet or even exceed the standards of good governance.

The country is very notorious for its corruption –down to the ‘barangay’ level

A perfect example would be the one who campaigned that he is “someone you can lean on”.  Leaning on, in the context of public service, is neither the kagawad who would provide the cases of beer during the birthday party of a barangay member nor the barangay chairman himself would shoulder the sacks of cement for a house construction.

Being “someone to lean on” is a leader who organizes scholarship funds and livelihood programs . To see to it that the jobless are encouraged to join  a business cooperative.  That every barangay member are taught garbage segregation and proper disposal.  That no one is seen consuming alcohol or smoking in public places.   Or, even simply to espouse cleanliness and discipline is to say that the barangay chairman is genuinely someone you can lean on.

Ipaglalaban ka” does not mean that when a person is the cause of a brawl, all he has to do is to ask for the help of kagawad and his wrongdoings would be tolerated and that he would be defended no matter how wrong he is.

When a candidate pledges that “he would fight for you”, it means that he will defend what is morally right even if the deed deems to be unpopular.  Fighting for someone is fighting for the rights of the oppressed whether he is your associate or not.

When someone claims that “he is the patriarch of the barangay”, he should see to it that his words and actions are within the level of acceptable behavior.  He should take concrete steps in maintaining the health and well-being of each and every barangay member by integrating medical missions –just like a father who wants all his children healthy.

He should not take sides during barangay hearings but rather, punish the wrongdoer.  And the punishment should be like that it’s coming from a concerned father who does not want his son to become the bane of the barangay.  The world simply has too many assholes already.

While the candidates enjoy the perception that they are appreciated by the people with their advocacies and promises, they appear to be ignorant with regards to the long-term needs by their constituents.  What they usually offer are short-term and patch-work solutions to the same old problems  that had been haunting and destroying the Filipino values for centuries.

This is where I pity Kuyang Rey and the majority of the Filipino people. While the deed of the politician in providing the poso, the construction materials or even cinema passes (yes, free movies) appears a class act, it totally defeats the concept of self-reliance and value of hard work.

Having lack of money is not an excuse for working-class Filipinos to be dependent on other people –especially the politicians. By giving Kuyang Rey’s family the poso, the candidate did not really help him. It only made Kuyang Rey even worse.

Money for your vote.

After all, it is not the barangay chairman’s task to provide a family a deep well pumping machine; it is the job of the padre de familia to invest all the essential things needed by his family. It’s not the church, DSWD, PCSO or other charitable organization who is responsible for one’s need but the person himself.

Instead of the poso, a well-meaning politician would rather coordinate with the water company so that everyone in barangay would benefit, not only a few families.

Instead of construction materials, why not help the person find a decent job so he can gradually build his own house from his sweat?

Instead of movie passes to get the teen votes, a resource speaker can be invited over to the barangay hall to give English-proficiency classes.

Poso is good for only one family, but an efficient water distribution system is good for the entire community.

A hundred-fifty hollow blocks is good only for Aling Bebang’s comfort room but a job opportunity would enable every father in the barangay to build a house of his dream.

A movie pass or two would be a temporary escape to the harsh realities of life but an English proficiency class could equip them with confidence in finding a job..

Ah, to hell with the shallow minds of these politicians. Politics is as dirty as a charcoaled rug.

As I write this, my drinking buddy texted to inform me that Andong would come over to our compound tomorrow to shower us with paper bills.  Lots of one that depict the face of a brilliant senator who was assassinated at Manila’s main airport in the early ’80s — the five-hundred peso bill.

Maybe the money is enough to buy myself a good pair of jeans, or a cellphone ‘load’ good for a month, or even a wax and tire black for my dying jeep. After all, the entire barangay won’t even know if I sold my soul or not.

Nah, I’ll just sleep all day tomorrow and Kuyang Rey will never be able to wake me up even with a megaphone.

Toshiba Aurex System 10: Still Playing After All Those Years

On the last week of January of this year, I was reunited with my vintage Toshiba Aurex System 10 hi-fi stereo set that I had been using in Manila since 1984.

I had purchased the micro hi-fi system back in 1982 in the commercial district of Al-Batha, Saudi Arabia.  It was the height of the oil kingdom’s industrial phase and I actually worked in the district of Al-Hair -about 20 minutes from the capital city of Riyadh- for a business conglomerate owned by a sheik.

Life was not only lonely but also very boring in a country whose religion is Sunni Islam and where Sharia laws are strictly enforced.  Moreover, I was there to make a living and not as a tourist on a short visit to explore and to enjoy the desert kingdom.

The unit was way ahead of its time with state-of-the-art electronics, aluminum chassis, metal knobs and excellent overall design.
The Toshiba Aurex System 10 as it appeared in a German hi-fi catalog layout in 1979, with dimensions shown. Top to bottom: SB-A10 amplifier, ST-T10 hi-fi AM/FM tuner and PC-D10 dual-head, stereo cassette tape deck.

During our day offs -Friday and Saturday- we usually go to the big city to window shop, meet friends or relatives of friends, hang around in a park where most expats congregate or just about anything to keep our sanity until we finish the terms of our work contracts.

Typically, after our working hours, listening to music in our stereo systems provided us some of our great joys while we watched the sun transition from a fiery ball of yellow to a magnificent mélange of orange hues as it hides behind the sand dunes.

The late 70s up to the mid-80s was the peak of hi-fidelity’s  golden years as digital music began its slow-but-sure march to take over the entire music landscape.  I could still recall that early models of CD players where priced as high as US$ 1,000 plus in the few electronics & audio shops that showcased them.

Back then, Sony had been dominating the music scene after the huge success of the Walkman.  Because of its portability & affordability, it also made the compact cassette tape the de-facto standard.

At music shops in Riyadh in the 80s, the average price of an original music cassette was about 10 riyals (about US$ 3) while the bootleg version was about 3 riyals (US$ 0.90).  Like any marketing ploy, the so-called ‘metal tapes‘ (type 4), of course, provided the best sound if you have the appropriate cassette tape deck/player.

I bought the Toshiba Aurex System 10 after I had saved enough money and had grown tired of listening to my growing collection of music cassette tapes on my portable cassette player.

I emphasized music cassette tapes since plain audio cassettes were also the very popular media expats used to record and to send messages to their loved ones back home as the Internet was still reserved for a few people in the academe and government back then.

All machined-aluminum casings!!! Toshiba used the best in electronics such as toroidal capacitors, leading-edge FETS & ICs during those days!
Via the AUX (auxiliary) jack, this vintage Toshiba Aurex System 10 can still play today’s digital devices –iPods, CDs and, yes, MiniDiscs as well as DAT (digital audio tape) players.

Prior to my purchase, I had just watched with envy as my coworkers -specially the senior ones with much fatter paychecks- unloaded and unboxed their expensive, high-end stereo systems with huge speaker sets inside their villas.

Sansui, Denon, NAD, McIntosh, Nakamichi, Tannoy, Pioneer, Marantz, Bang & Olufsen, JBL, Teac, Grundig, Kenwood and other leading Japanese, American and European hi-fi brands were the buzzwords those days.  And those systems were really manufactured in Japan, the U.S. and Europe.

I had visited several audio shops in downtown Riyadh before I decided on the micro-sized Toshiba Aurex System 10 because of its uniqueness, design and almost magical impression upon me.

I bought it discounted but complete with a pair of black Aurex (S12W) 80-watts bookshelf speakers for about US$800.  It has a more sophisticated -and expensive- sibling in the System 15 (about US$1,200 without speakers) but it was just way beyond my budget at that time.

The tropical heat and humidity of Manila is no match for the durability of the Toshiba Aurex System 10. The sound is still clean, detailed, powerful and nicely musical.
The PC-D10 cassette tape deck simply needs replacement of a few rubber belts inside. The DC motor & tape heads still function well. This unit has the manual tape controls.

Both models were spectacularly designed and housed in high-grade aluminum chassis that made them withstand the elements as well as high-quality internal electronic components.

And, as a bonus, the Aurex models that were sold in the Middle East had power supply voltage selector switches so that AC power input can be set to either 115V or 230V -depending on where you are or what country you’ll plug them in.

So what are the differences?

The System 15 has a beautiful main amplifier (SC-M15) housed in a one-piece diecast aluminum with an all-DC toroidal transformer that drives 40 watts per channel into 8 ohms (or, 100 watts in ‘BTL’ mode). The back of the amp has professional-grade connectors (screw-on and ‘banana’ plug) for 2 sets of speakers.

The separate pre-amp (SY-C15) came with 2 phono inputs, a variety of switches typically found in bigger high-end stereo systems plus gold-plated contacts for all the RCA jacks at the back.

The FM-only tuner (ST-F15) has a VFD (vacuum fluorescent) digital display with a 10-button direct/up-down push-button tuning with memory presets capability.

And, finally, a better metal-capable tape deck (PC-D15) that utilized two (2) separate DC motors to drive the reels.  A touch-key tape operation control pad perfectly complemented the elegant unit.

Today, this vintage micro-component system still command a decent price among collectors!!!
The very elegant Toshiba Aurex System 15. Including a pair of speakers, it would have cost me a month of my salary back in 1982! Top to bottom: SC-M15 main power amplifier, SY-C15 pre-amp, ST-F15 FM-only digital tuner and the PC-D15 stereo cassette deck with 2-motors plus IC-logic control.

The System 10 was a much simpler set with just 3 pieces.   An integrated amplifier (SB-A10) that’s also encased in extruded aluminum with a much smaller DC toroidal power transformer that drives 20 watts per channel into 8 ohms, an FM/AM tuner (ST-T10) with an old-school, knob & scale tuning and a tape deck (PC-D10) with a single servo motor to drive the flywheel & reels plus manual tape operation controls.

You could actually mix and match decks or components from either system and even use two (2) SC-M15 amplifiers in monaural mode via the BTL (bridge tied load/ bridged transformerless) feature to drive a massive 100 watts per channel.

There were cheaper mid-sized/micro components options during those days like Sony’s FH-7 or Technics’ Concise series but most of them used either plastic or sheet metal housing and did not look as elegant as Toshiba’s Aurex System 15 and 10.

After 36 years, I am still amazed how this vintage hi-fi system can remain to look so beautiful and elegant than some of today’s latest digital audio decks and to sound so impressively– after I hooked up either my FiiO (X2 and X3 Mark III) high-resolution audio players, the iPod Classic or, yes, a Sony DiscMan via the amp’s auxiliary input.

Some things are just way ahead of their times.

A Tale of Two SSDs: OCZ-Toshiba and PNY Customer Supports Story

While we don’t want our computer hardware to fail at all or even while still under its warranty period but its a fact of life that some of them do.

In my case, I thought solid state drives (SSDs) would be more reliable than a conventional one because the former has no mechanical or moving components.

I was dead wrong.

In a span of a week, two (2) – one (a 120 GB PNY CS1311)  was used as a back-up in a Mac while the other (a 480 GB OCZ-Toshiba ARC100)  was the primary drive in a custom-made PC- of my SSDs failed that left me scrambling to look for their invoices up in our attic.

Luckily, I had saved those receipts and that both SSDs are still within their warranty periods.  Majority of SSD manufacturers these days offer a 3-year warranty for their entry-level to mid-range models.  Some high-end units (usually the ‘enterprise’ models) get from 5 to 10-year warranty periods.

So this was my RMA (Return Merchandise Authorization) experience for the two products:

For the 480 GB ARC100 by OCZ-Toshiba, my expense was zero and I had my replacement SSD in hand just after four (4) days of filing the RMA.   Currently, they have the best warranty program in the industry with their  “Advanced Warranty Program” for most of their SSDs including some ‘legacy‘ (aka: obsolete) models.

After they had received a copy of the receipt (proof of purchase as well as to confirm if it’s still under warranty)  via email, a UPS Ground return label was included with the RMA number.  The next day, they promptly shipped a replacement SSD via UPS 2-day service.

OCZ-Toshiba’s customer support was very professional, straightforward and excellent. No nagging and unnecessary questions.  Moreover, you are constantly notified via email of the entire RMA process.  This is what customer service/support is all about.

OCZ-Toshiba RMA turnaround was very fast and free!!!
The defective 480 GB OCZ ARC100 (left) and the replacement 480 GB OCZ Vertex 460A. The replacement SSD was received just 4 days after I requested an RMA number from OCZ-Toshiba. Thanks to their “Advanced Warranty Program”.

For the 120 GB CS1311 made by PNY, my expense came to about $10 shipping back the defective unit via USPS Priority Mail to their support center in Parsippany, New Jersey- and I had the replacement SSD in hand eleven (11) days after I filed for an RMA number.

It could have taken more time had I not sent the defective unit back via USPS Priority Mail which usually take just two (2) business days.  PNY shipped the replacement only after they had received the bad SSD and utilized the cheaper but slower UPS Ground service.

To its credit, PNY’s customer support was also prompt and straightforward but it lacked the same attention to details as OCZ-Toshiba.  And, they didn’t send follow-up  emails to inform how the entire RMA process had evolved.   You had to constantly go to a link they had provided after the RMA # was issued to check on its status.

Verdict: Hands down, OCZ-Toshiba was the winner with its “no-cost to the consumer approach” and very fast turnaround.

That’s why a product’s warranty is the only protection consumers have for their hard-earned money.

And, how companies go about honoring their warranties spell the difference between respectability and plain money-grab.

So, when buying a solid state drive make sure that you save those receipts and keep them inside an envelope as most of them are printed out in thermal paper.  Prolonged light exposure will erase all the information and render them useless.

NOTE: Both OCZ-Toshiba and PNY replaced their defective units with brand-new, in retail-box sets.

Sony Dash Resurrected

Sometime in May of this year, my six year old (purchased in January 2011) Sony Dash Personal Internet Viewer  (HID-C10) received a control panel update to inform me that service for the device would end in July.

The last firmware update (from version 1.7.1461 to 1.7.1526) was done on April 08, 2016 after the device had issues “downloading the main control panel” and rendered it useless.

Over the 6+ years that I had owned the unit, there were intermittent issues with Sony’s backend servers that kept it inactive. But, Sony was always able to come up with firmware updates to keep the service going — until July of this year.

Sony Dash
Sony Dash (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Sony Dash is a small tabletop alarm clock-radio-weather/gadget with a 7″ touchscreen that sold for $199 when initially released in April 2010.  Its functionality relied 100% on the Internet, hence, WiFi (a/g) is built-in.

Aside from the beautiful design, the main attraction of the gadget, just like a smartphone, is its capability to load additional “widgets” (or, apps) via its built-in memory.  It enabled owners to stream videos and music from content providers like Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, Pandora, Slacker, Sony Music, etc.  There are also thousands of other useful widgets that ranged from the arts to zoology.

And so, one day in July of this year, I saw the dreaded firmware update – 1.7.1604– that would turn an otherwise very useful device into a door stopper.

Don’t hit the OK button!!! The dreaded Dash firmware update -1.7.1604- that would stop all functionality to the unit

Of course, I did not do the firmware update but, instead, called Sony’s customer service (in the U.S., it’s: 1-800-222-7669) to ask them what to do with a useless unit.

To the company’s credit, it promptly replaced a product that had reached its ‘end-of-life’ (aka, planned obsolescence), with a choice of either an alarm clock/AM-FM radio (ICF-C1) or a Bluetooth speaker (XB10) after I e-mailed the image of the unit’s serial number.

When the replacement ICF-C1 clock-radio arrived a week later via FedEx (shipping also paid by Sony), I grabbed the Dash that sat atop one of my stereo speakers – still with the ‘Update available’ screen- and yanked out its power supply.

Sony sent this free ICF-C1 clock-AM-FM radio (or, the XB-10 Bluetooth speaker) as a way of recompensing owners of bricked Dash units

Meanwhile, somewhere in the coastal city of San Diego, California, a guy had been very busy writing code to port the Dash (running firmware 1.7.1526) to make it work with Chumby.com’s server(s) after Sony’s May software update alert.

Chumby (now, operated by Blue Octy, LLC) is a small company behind a line of very affordable “Internet viewers” similar to the Dash. In fact, the Dash runs on an OS that was simply modified from the Chumby OS.

Finally, in early August, Blue Octy released the software patch (but only for the Dash HID-C10 model) that resurrected some Dash units.  The patch is chumby-HIDC10-1.0.0.zip.  It could also be downloaded here.

So, if you have an HID-C10 Sony Dash, just make sure that your unit is running firmware 1.7.1526.  If  you had accidentally installed firmware 1.7.1604 and bricked the unit, simply revert back to firmware 1.7.1526 via the instructions here before applying the patch.

All set to install the patch to the Sony Dash (for model HID-C10 only) to enable it to run off Chumby.com’s server

If you applied the patch correctly, you should have restored some usefulness to your Dash such as the clock, weather and a few radio stations.  A $3 monthly subscription fee would enable one to get numerous apps as well as multiple channels on this gadget that — simply, refuses to go away.

Sony Dash back in business with new Blue Octy channel/control panel interface!!!