Saturday, September 20, 2014

Serious threats to my viable use of Netflix

Dear readers, a frustrating thing is happening with my computer, and it has risen to the level of annoyance that I now need to tell you about it.

My damn wifi keeps dropping.

In an age when we require an uninterrupted internet connection to properly stream movies, this really sucks.

I don't know if it's my computer (age: 3 1/2 years) that's at fault, or the weaker internet in Australia (quote from my wife's colleague: "We don't do internet well here"), or simply that my favorite viewing locations are dead spots in our house (the kitchen table and the living room couch). But the symptoms are far more consistent than the access. And they are these:

The first time the internet drops, I get a red X over the wifi icon down in the system tray. This is what's considered a "good" problem, relatively speaking. I can just close the laptop, open it again, and the internet will restore.

The second time the internet drops, it's not a red X but a yellow exclamation point. When you get the yellow exclamation point, you have no choice but to reboot the whole computer, a process that takes three to five minutes.

On rare occasions you will get multiple red X's before the yellow exclamation point, but usually not.

This, my friends, is no way to watch a movie -- especially when the cycle occurs three times in the space of five minutes of the movie's running time.

That's what happened when I tried to watch Berberian Sound Studio last night. I came home from five beers out with co-workers after work, a rollicking time indeed, and was in perfect shape to do something that I endorsed earlier this week: watch a movie you've already seen (and love) when you're in a state of unreliable concentration and diminished stamina.

I got through about 20 minutes of Berberian without a problem, but once the internet dropped once, it was just off duty for the evening. My wifi, that cantankerous bastard, went through the full cycle a second time before I'd even gotten to resume the movie from the first reboot cycle. The news seemed a little better after the second reboot, as I got to watch about three more minutes of the movie. But on the third strike, I was out.

I've tried all sorts of things to reduce the likelihood of this occurrence, like close all other tabs on my browser and watch movies in SD rather than HD. But any fixes are only ephemeral, if not illusory.

The funny thing is that an attempt to watch Berberian Sound Studio was also thwarted the previous Friday night. This time, however, it was my VPN's inability to trick Netflix into thinking I was in the U.S. The Hola plug-in has been a godsend, single-handedly allowing us to remain subscribed to our Netflix streaming plan, but it sometimes involves a little tweaking, a little turning off and turning back on. Only rarely, like last Friday night, can it just not find an available VPN server at all. I worry that this is going to be a more regular trend.

I also worry about this:

Yes indeed, we learned this week that Australia, of all countries, is putting pressure on Netflix to prevent the some 200,000 people who watch Netflix "illegally" in Australia from being able to do so. But this wouldn't just be an Australia-wide ban -- it would force Netflix to block all VPNs. So our stupid corrupt television broadcasting companies (who are in such brutal competition with each other that they often fail to tell viewers when programs are airing until just before the air date, in order to theoretically keep you glued to that network) could be screwing over the whole world.

This would be cause for much doom and gloom except for two considerations: 1) Netflix might tell Australia to go fuck itself, and 2) Netflix is actually supposed to be coming to Australia "soon" (though we've been hearing that for about a year). It'd be great to have Netflix here, but it would both be significantly more expensive than in the U.S., and have a significantly poorer selection. Like everything in Australia, they price it right to the brink of it not being worth it.

I suppose it's no coincidence that these two turns of events coincide with an uptick in my rentals from iTunes. The beautiful thing about an iTunes rental is that once it's on your computer, it's there -- it doesn't require an ongoing internet connection. Apple is also offering an attractive slate of 99 cent rental options, highlighting one a week. In the past two weeks alone, I've downloaded both Joe and The Lunchbox for 99 cents apiece, and can start watching them any time over the next 30 days -- with full knowledge that it will be an uninterrupted viewing. I've also downloaded A Cry in the Dark for $2.99, having ironically been unable to source my September selection for Australian Audient anywhere locally.

"Downloaded" may be a bit of an optimistic term, though. And here's where my frigging internet connection comes in to play again. Even though Joe appears in my iTunes rentals as available to view, every time I open iTunes it attempts to download it, projecting three or four hours of remaining download time. And it never completes those three or four hours, because -- guess what -- the internet drops before it has the chance. I fully expect to sit down to watch Joe and then realize that only 20 minutes of it are actually on my computer.

In case you were wondering, I'm just not buying a new computer. Not right now, anyway. I waited two-and-a-half months to have this one fixed around this time last year (did I tell you about that? Jesus Christ.), and while this one still has breath in it, I will continue to use it. My wife and I have talked about a device to boost our internet signal, but I can only imagine what that will cost in Australia.

In the meantime, I plan to finish my second viewing of Berberian Sound Studio sometime in October.

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