A possible fan?

This is the next up from my series of “secret” posts about being a ratings family.

October 7, 2015

It still bugs the crap out of me not to be able to tell anyone what’s going on. What I find more interesting is that the reps from Nielsen (still not allowed to talk about anything) remember their accounts and the people they work with so clearly.

We had a “check up” session or some such thing (read: audit) where a rep had to come by the house and go over all the survey questions again, reinstall the computer audit app on the computer and check all the channels on the TV to verify that nothing has changed. Took around 90 minutes total – and yes it was totally redundant.

The part that really threw me off was that our rep remembered our conversation from last time she was here (4 months ago) and asked me how my writing was going…

Wow. I can only imagine if I had fans.

The fact that she remembered, and asked is weirdly motivating. I really feel the need to jump onto another doc on here and just keep typing.

Off I go to do just that thing!

Interesting Lesson

Continuing with my series of posts about being a ratings family. I suspect I was over-thinking things, but I have a tendency to do that very thing. I can honestly say the further I get from pushing the button the more happy I am that I don’t have to deal with it anymore.

September 21, 2015

Yes, hitting the little button every 42 minutes is still a pain in the butt. The bigger question is how accurate it all really is. What is their margin of error on any of this stuff? I only ask that because when I got home after 6 hours away I noticed that my wife had simply kept hitting the “OK” button without changing who was actually listed as “watching” or whatever they categorize it as.

Interestingly enough it was still my programmed music channel running through the on-line connection. Different listener, same content… does it make a difference? That’s what our house was doing, so that counts? I suspect they wanted more finite data than that.

While I’m thinking about finite data, part of the deal is programming in whenever a guest is watching with you. I’m not sure how your friends are, but if they’re like mine they pay attention – particularly to new technology. How exactly do you explain your “secret” when it’s movie night?

The first time folks were over I actually turned everything connected to the TV off. Just didn’t use it rather than explain the whole thing. You know what? Didn’t have any kind of negative impact on the evening at all. We played a game, chatted, had some food and generally had a great time that didn’t involve media. Perhaps there’s a lesson here.

Adjusting to “The Secret”

Continuing my series of entries from my time as a ratings family. Adjusting to changes isn’t always the easiest…

September 5, 2015

This is becoming a pain in the ass. I hate the fact this company has set the sensor to need you to “check in” every 43 minutes. I’m certain that time has something to do with how long tv shows on networks are or something like that, but it absolutely doesn’t fit how I “watch” things. Let me restate – It’s a pain in the ass.

Example – I have a “smart” TV (the quotes are because I don’t believe it to be particularly smart – it’s simply connected to the net so I can listen to music or watch YouTube on it). I like to put a music provider service up, pick one of my channels and allow the music to be my background while I do stuff around the house. Never gave it much thought. NOW, every 40 minutes or so all the little blinky lights on the Nielsen box go berserk if I’m not paying attention to them. As part of the deal I’m supposed to hit the remote and “check in”. Yes, I know it’s stupidly simple. All I have to do is hit a button. That’s really the point though – before Niellsen it didn’t require any more thought once I turned it on. I would have it on or I wouldn’t. They have by their nature effected their own data. There have been times I have just turned things off when I might have kept them on before because I was tired of having the little blinking lights going off when I was in the middle of doing something else – or worse yet, at the climactic point of the movie I’m watching in the dark.

I’m not sure if there’s a way to change this. I’m certain they’ve got a stack of folks that routinely put a lot of thought into stuff like this and they’ve not come up with a better answer yet, so I doubt I’ll come up with anything either.

As I look over the mail that came in today something else has occurred to me. I can’t just trash the junk mail.

Yes, junk mail still happens but now I can’t toss it without looking at it first. Why? Because Nielsen is so worried about people influencing me and my watching choices that all of their correspondence arrives in unmarked envelopes. No logo, no name on the return address, nothing to give away our “big secret”.

OK, I get it. I know a number of people connected (loosely and distantly for sure) to the media that wouldn’t mind swaying numbers. So now I have to open all the junk mail – just in case.

Overthinking It

Another post from my secret time as part of the ratings system. Much shorter this time:

July 19, 2015

There’s a testing thing… I’m trying to remember what it was. Something about the simple fact that you’re observing changes the outcome of the experiment. I’ll track that down here sometime.

That is precisely what has been crossing my mind every time I look at the TV now. I think about what I’m watching more than I ever did before. Will they note the fact that I turn the volume to “mute” every time a commercial comes on? Will they realize that 5 minute commercial break is the reason I turned that show off?

I actually turned the TV on, then off again, then on again debating this sort of stuff in my head. I’m clearly thinking things over far more than they want me to. The idea is they want me to just do what I did before without thinking about it. How can I do that? They’ve inserted a step that makes me think about what I’m doing.

We’ll see if that changes as I go forward.

Let the Ratings Begin!

Last week I posted about the little secret I’ve been keeping for the past 2 years – being a ratings family for Nielsen. This is from installation day…

July 17, 2015

Installation day!

Mike (expected) and Courtney (new?) were very prompt. The appointment was set up for 10 am and that’s when they got here. No insignia on the car, no official uniform, just computers, equipment and lots of zip ties.

Both of the installation folks were very personable and couldn’t have been nicer. They worked diligently at getting everything connected and running properly. Sounds easy, but they’re monitoring everything connected to the TV. They were crazy detailed about it all. There’s an entire basket full of equipment tucked neatly behind my TV stand that’s connected to all the ins and outs of my smart TV. I’m still not convinced my TV is all that smart, but that’s what they call it. The level of detail they went to lends (at least to me) the genuine sense that this is a thorough and well thought out scientific basis for all their numbers. They sat with my remote and clicked one by one through every single channel I have listed to be certain the signal was connected. EVERY CHANNEL. All the way to channel 1648 or wherever we topped out at, testing the signals all the way.

There were smart and engaged representatives that weren’t allowed to tell me anything about their viewing habits at all. Seriously – nothing. I was trying to describe something to them druring the course of the conversation and said, “have you seen the new Avenger’s movie?” because I figured it would be an accessible place to start from. Mike’s response was, “Sorry, can’t talk to you about that. I can’t tell you if I’ve seen it or not.”

I was shocked. He went on to explain that they aren’t allowed to tell me anything at all about what teams they like or what they’ve watched for fear of influencing what I would watch. It’s a bit silly, I’ve already seen the movie and it’s not in the theater anymore. What difference could it possibly make at this point? But Ant Man is just coming out…

I was really into hearing about what they could talk about. Neilsen is a big company and they’re everywhere. They also monitor more than just TV channels. I believe they’ve scooped up arbitron for radio. They’ve got folks that monitor how you use your credit card. They’ve got folks that monitor what groceries you buy. They’ve even got a group (and I don’t know where or how big this group is) that monitors and verifies what you throw away vs. what you recycle.

I had a little trouble with that last bit. I wasn’t even certain I would be a good demographic – I don’t particularly care for or about TV and don’t watch the regular networks. Mike said, “all information is important to someone…” and proceeded to tell me he’d seen people that didn’t turn their TV on for a month at a time, but somebody wanted to know, when they *do* turn it on, why? What do they want to see?

The process of getting all the information hooked up and connected and tested and running right took significantly longer than I suspected it would. We were all in the living room for about 3 ½ hours. Right through lunch and on until they were certain I had a handle on it all – not that it’s hard. I’ve now got an extra remote that I have to hit my number and “OK” when I turn the TV on. As long as I don’t forget, I’m good.

So – what to watch first?

Shhhh! It’s a secret!

I’ve had a secret, but I can tell you now. I think they want me to wait a little longer, but I also think it very unlikely that anyone will actually check up on me. For the past 2 years our house has been a Nielsen ratings family. We’ve had a bunch of stuff hooked up to our TV and our computer to report in on what we’ve watched and how we’ve connected to sponsors. It’s been a long, secret journey but it’s over now. Since it was such a secret I wrote stuff down as we went. Now that we’re done I’m going back and giving up the details!

July 2, 2015

I’d heard of TV ratings for years. Everyone touts that they have the “number one show” or the “number one comedy” for shows that aren’t actually the most watched but come in higher in the ratings than other shows like it. I know about demographics and I understand that I’m really not anybody’s target demo anymore. I just never really knew exactly how it was all figured out.

It was a really big surprise when somebody that works for Nielsen (the TV ratings folks) actually knocked on my door and asked, “Do you want to be a Nielsen family?”. Uh, sure? I guess?

In my head I immediately thought, “OH! I can help out all those shows that don’t get the love they deserve.”

Then I started to think about it a little more. How much do I really watch TV? Truth be told I’ve written a number of times about the paucity of programming despite more channels than ever and the shallow level of thought involved in attempting to grasp for my dollars. I’d actually shut off our cable for about 3 years – and after an initial detox period I didn’t really miss it. Even now that I do have TV again I don’t watch any network shows. Everything I want to see is online, on demand or part of a smaller channel. TV is a time sink and I use it to help clear my head so I can get some sleep most nights. I can’t think of the last regular TV show I watched all the way through, start to finish. I wasn’t lying when I told the rep that I probably wasn’t the demographic he was looking for.

Undaunted, Dave (the rep) told me that was fine. They’re interested in measuring what we actually watch and if our eyeballs looking at a show lead us directly to a website. They’ve started this new tracking bit – they put a small tracking program on your computer that counts if a website that was mentioned in a program is accessed on your computer. We’re going to represent about 25,000 average households for their estimation purposes. Our “vote” counts quite a lot.

There were lots of survey questions to determine where we “fit” compared to other people that are on the program. There wasn’t any actual paperwork for me to sign – so that was a little surprising. Dave the rep did all the work. The cool bonus to him doing all the work? Nielsen likes to thank folks for being part of their ranking system so they give you gifts – like $50 the day they install the tracker thing on your TV. Then a couple weeks later they send you another $50. So we’ll start with $100 and hit a little button when we turn the TV on to start tracking. That’s not a bad deal in my mind.

So, all this cool stuff – all the neat things to talk about and all the thoughts rolling around in my head my next thought was, “This will be so cool. I can’t wait to get together with everyone at Watch The Skies and let them know what’s going on”.

Not so much. Dave the rep told me this is actually a secret. I’m not actually supposed to tell anyone because they’re afraid that other folks will attempt to sway what I watch and when I watch it. He told me to watch the mail carefully because they don’t even mark their envelopes – the mailman isn’t even supposed to know.

Well, crap. Now what? I’ve got all this cool stuff and I can’t tell anyone about it. For a writer and sometime blogger that hurt. It’s interesting, it’s important to some degree and it’s uncommon enough that people will be interested in knowing what’s going on… and I suppose that’s exactly their point. I know (directly or indirectly) independant film makers, script-writers, authors that are looking to sell the rights to their work, entertainment bloggers, book bloggers and any or all of them might be interested in swaying 25K votes on what shows go or what shows get better ratings.

This is just the initiation. It will be about 2 weeks until the installation representative comes to the house and connects up the little box to start counting what we watch.

So it’s a secret. I can’t tell you until it’s all done and over with (and that can be as much as two years if we keep up with it). What to do about it?

Keep a secret journal of course! I’ll keep making notes and tracking how the whole thing goes. Hopefully this will be as interesting when this is all done as it sounds like it could be now.

All You Can Make Up

This article was previously published in Watch The Skies (I’ve been meaning to get it out here for a while now).

Rogue One is the latest installment of the Star Wars saga. It was the number one movie for a number of weeks. It will be remembered as a landmark film – particularly for visual effects. The effects are simply amazing. If you haven’t seen Rogue One yet, please consider yourself warned that I may spoil part of the film for you. I don’t think it’s particularly “spoilery” but some people might disagree.

Grand Moff Tarkin is in the movie.

How is that possible? I hear you ask, the actor that played his part in the original film died in 1994. It’s true. Peter Cushing, an actor with more than 130 film credits and star of many of the Hammer horror films did indeed pass away at the age of 81 back in 1994. Now, through the magic of visual effects he’s back on screen and acting again.

I’d like to tell you that was as much science fiction as the rest of the film franchise, but it’s not. We have landed firmly in a time when a person may be inserted into a picture, or a film and they don’t actually have to be there (or even alive) for that to happen. We can take footage of any person – however famous and change what their faces and voices do on screen.

Let that sink in for a moment.

If this were only about science fiction movies I don’t think it would be nearly the big deal that it is. Unfortunately the state of voice and image manipulation has reached a point where people can create an entire speech from a mere sampling of video that can be found on YouTube or from a digital creation of somebody that’s been dead for more than twenty years. There is no need for the person’s approval. There is no easy way to be certain what has been doctored and what has not been doctored. So far the people doing these things have been in the entertainment industry and have had the blessing of the actors or their estates. What if they didn’t?

I don’t want to seem alarmist about this technology. I actually like that Tarkin’s in the movie. It makes sense for the story. They had permission from the estate to do that (and presumably the estate got paid).

What if this tech was applied to a fake news story during an election cycle? What if it was applied to a public safety alert that wasn’t real? Think how people reacted to the broadcast of War of the Worlds. We have recently seen just how much money and how much influence supposed news sites can have on the average internet user. There are dozens upon dozens of stories that have no basis in fact that continue to swirl around the net. Now couple with that somebody being able to take the face swap technology and create fake news using old news conference footage and you have a recipe for a genuine disaster. Users – who might have a lower ethical standard than the folks at ILM, or who might have a specific agenda they want to push – can create anything they want and make it believable to the point of being impossible to refute without professional assistance. Want to say that Tom Cruise has admitted to being the second gunman in the Kennedy assassination? That can totally happen and the film footage and voice are becoming more and more believable. It will look like him and sound like him.

I really enjoyed Rogue One. The special effects were amazing. This will be a film that is noted in history for what it has done. My hope is that notability stays in the entertainment industry and is not the harbinger of something far more dangerous.

Go and see face swap and hear about voice additions/corrections:

https://petapixel.com/2016/03/21/face-swap-technology-getting-creepy/

https://www.engadget.com/2016/11/06/adobe-experiment-adds-words-to-recordings/

Article from Yahoo!

https://www.yahoo.com/movies/rogue-one-the-digital-grand-moff-tarkin-is-terrifying-for-all-the-wrong-reasons-203157451.html

Watch some background on making the effects happen:

http://io9.gizmodo.com/watch-how-ilm-brought-back-tarkin-and-leia-for-rogue-on-1790812003

Saturday Night

You would think, given free time and a lack of other responsibilities that I’d dive in and get a lot of things done. You would be wrong.

Saturday my wife and daughter were out camping with the scout troop. I had no other things planned. I had every intention of getting a lot done…

Yeah, about that. You see, what happened was the movie theater. I like to go and see movies on the big screen from time to time. I make every effort to go at odd times so that I avoid crowds and (potentially) obnoxious people. So at 3 in the afternoon I went to see The Accountant.

the-accountant

I went into the movie with no real expectations. I didn’t really know what it was about, and completely enjoyed the film. I don’t want to spoil any part of it because it’s new, but I will tell you that it was intense and violent. I saw what I’m sure would be considered a plot twist coming from the very start of the film, but that didn’t stop my enjoyment. I have an unanswered question remaining at the end – and it’s not a bad thing. I don’t expect there to be another one, so I’ll have to wait for somebody else to see it so we can talk about what that nagging little thing is.

After that I headed to the house for something to eat. I thought, “Hey, I should watch something while I eat. No need to worry about what it is since the kiddo’s not sitting here with me. Maybe I’ll try out Luke Cage…”

luke-cage-cropped

I hadn’t watched or read any of the build up to this show. I didn’t watch any of the trailers. I realize it probably makes me a heretic to any number of folks out there – particularly the comic book crowd – but I only watched about 4 or 5 episodes of Daredevil and dropped Jessica Jones after the first one. Just not into them. So I figured I’d check out the first episode of Cage, be done and move on with things.

Once again, about that… Luke Cage is a really good series so far. It’s Sunday morning and I’m more than half way through the entire series. I admit I am hooked. I am working on what the difference is between this and Daredevil. I can’t yet quantify what it is. Luke Cage is really good. Not that Daredevil isn’t, and that’s what’s confusing me. Acting, production value, special effects are all on a similar level. Much like The Accountant, Cage is violent. So is Daredevil. There are shootings, broken bones and wrecked buildings. It also has interesting characters who seem to grow as you learn about them. I am still wondering why one works for me and the other doesn’t. IF you’ve got access to Netflix you should get on there and check it out. Just try the first one.

So my Saturday was, in a word, violent. Punching, shooting, breaking and all manner of mayhem. How was yours?

Killjoys

Somehow it is July already. I’m not certain exactly how that happened. I think June went into some kind of witness protection program or something. That’s not a big deal except for one thing – a TV show I really enjoy is starting a new season tonight.

I really don’t like a lot of things about SYFY’s recent past – or the not so recent past. The science fiction channel spent a lot of time antagonizing the people it purportedly catered to. I actually tend to refer to them as the syphilis network.

However, the network does genuinely seem to be making an effort to create and show good (or at least fun) science fiction again. I rather enjoy their show “Killjoys” and the new season starts tonight. IF you haven’t checked it out before and you’re into space faring bounty hunters, you might enjoy it!

http://www.syfy.com/killjoys/videos/killjoys-season-2-trailer