Category Archives: simplify

simplicity in practice

Happy New Year

Lots of people think up resolutions this time of year. I’ve done it in the past but never really accomplished anything meaningful by doing so. Being a perfectionist, I tend to turn my “setbacks” into “failures.”As a result, I gave up drafting New Year’s resolutions a few years ago. I prefer a more subtle approach to making changes in my life.

This upcoming year I’d like to write more. This includes, blog posts, emails to friends and family, or anything else bouncing around in my head. But if I try to create some sort of regimen or schedule to follow, then the first time I mess up I’ll feel like, “the whole thing’s blown; so, why continue?”

So, I thought I’d take a simpler approach. I’ll try to make writing as easy and as enjoyable as possible. The operative term here is “easy.” I want to be able to write whenever the inspiration hits. To do this I took a cue from LifeClever. In a recent post, Chanpory suggests a brilliant strategy to trick yourself past writer’s block. In a nutshell, start your writing assignment as an email message. He goes on to list several reasons why this may help. The biggest reason for me is a psychological one. I can write email effortlessly. I do it all day long and am very comfortable with the process. So, it’s much less intimidating to stare at my email editor than a blank Word or OpenOffice document.

My next step is to use Gmail to “manage” my writing for me. I don’t want anything complex, so a few tweaks will keep my words flowing.

  1. Create a contact for my “diary” – I just add a new contact in Gmail named “diary”, using a sub-email address. For example, if my address were, this new contact will have for its address.
  2. Set up a filter – I use Gmail’s filters to recongnize any email sent to and deal with it accordingly. For me, that means: skip the inbox, mark as read, and label it “diary.”
  3. Add this new contact to any email clients I use – I’ve already done this in Gmail, so I’ll create a contact named “diary” in each of my other address books (work, school, etc.) so I can fire off a thought as easily as possible.

This makes writing an easy and flexible task for me. And by using Gmail’s filters and labels I can keep the entries I make out of sight until I want to find them again. One easy click on the “diary” label brings back all of my entries in chronological order.

Thanks for the tip, Lifehacker.


Hittin’ the Open Highway

My wife and I are about to embark on a journey. We are visiting some friends in Omaha, NE for the Labor Day holiday. Then, we have the rest of the week to do whatever. We intend to see as much of the country as possible.

We’d really love to hit the Northwest. But, to keep our expenses down, we’ll probably stay a little closer to home. Right now it looks like we’ll loop down through some Southern states. We really won’t know until we leave.

Being on the road is our favorite pastime. We are most at home sharing the confines of a vehicle at high speeds.

If you’d like to share the adventure, then keep an eye on this blog (subscribe). Or, my Flickr photos. My wife may upload some photos, too. The most up-to-date information will be on my Twitter page.


Netflix vs. Vongo vs. CinemaNow (part 2)


This is the second half of a post comparing the good and the bad of some of today’s online video services.

Today let’s look at Netflix.

Netflix was the first online company to offer DVD rentals via mail.  When you start an account you choose the number of movies you can have out at a given time.  When you return one the next DVD in your queue is automatically sent to you.  This is very handy if you do not have a reliable video rental store nearby.  It’s also good for those of you who, like me, hate Blockbuster with every fiber of your being.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, Netflix allows their users to watch movies over the internet.  Their Watch Now feature is being rolled out progressively through June 2007.  And it is wonderful!

At the top of the page are recommendations for you from their Watch Now titles.  Directly below is a list of movies that are in your queue, so you can choose something that you already want to see.  Very handy.  Below that are other featured movies and collections grouped by genre.  And if you are familiar with Netflix, then navigating these pages is a cinch.

I chose my first Watch Now movie from my queue (Reality Bites).  After clicking the “Play” button I was prompted to download and install a plug-in for Internet Explorer.  (I know; I don’t like it either.  But with the IE Tab extension for Firefox this process is actually very painless.)  Once the plug-in installed the movie began buffering.  Soon, I was watching.  The whole process, clicking “Play” to watching, took less than one minute.  And half of that time was downloading the plug-in.  This is by far the fastest service I’ve tried.

At this point I’d like to mention the player.  The movie plays right inside your browser window.  The background is black with the movie screen in the center.  At the bottom you have a play button, a slider that shows your progress in the movie, a volume control and a “Full Screen” button.  When you switch to “Full Screen” mode it changes without missing a beat.  Your minimal (but sufficient) control bar stays in the center and promptly hides itself once you stop moving your mouse.  You can start and stop the movie with just a mouse click or by using the space-bar.  It really could not be any easier.

I’m very happy with the Netflix experience.  I expect I’ll push the envelope each month with my allocated number of movies.  More on that below.

Comparison: How do all of these services rate when compared to each other? 


Vongo: $9.99 per month for unlimited downloads.

CinemaNow: pay per movie.  Rentals range from $0.49 to $3.99.  Purchases typically run $9.99 to $19.99

Netflix: included in the price of your subscription.  Your “allowance” corresponds to your subscription price.  I pay $17.99 per moth so I can watch 18 hours of movies every month.  Subscriptions range from $4.99 to $47.99.  They’ve got a plan for everybody.

Winner: Netflix wins because it doesn’t cost me anything extra.  I already have a subscription.


Vongo: over 2000 titles.  These are mostly what I would consider “backlist” titles.  They tend not to be big hits.  They do have some newer titles but those are usually pay-per-view.  Pay-per-view movies are not included in the monthly subscription.

CinemaNow: brand new movies and some backlist.  You can watch quite a few new movies on the same day they release on DVD.  However, these popular movies seem to only be available for a short time.

Netflix: mostly backlist titles.  I don’t think they have new release movies at all.  According to Engadget, they have about 1,ooo titles available now but hope to increase to 5,000 later this year.

Winner: CinemaNow wins this one because they have the latest and greatest available for download now.

Ease of Use

Vongo: not easy at all.  You have to download their software and open an account (with a credit card) just to view their selection.   When you want to watch a movie, it usually takes about 5 minutes of buffering before you can start viewing.

CinemaNow: fairly easy with some minor inconveniences.  You need to use Internet Explorer with CinemaNow’s plug-in.  You must enable cookies for the site otherwise you risk losing the movies you paid for.  Once you choose a movie you have to pay for it.  They require your password at this point.  Then, you have to wait about 5 minutes while the movie buffers.

Netflix: very easy.  Again, you’ll need Internet Explorer and a plug-in.  However, once you find the movie you want it’s just one click to start it.  This time you only need to wait 30-60 seconds for the movie to start.

Winner: Netflix by a landslide.  They cut out unnecessary steps and shortened the wait time dramatically.


Vongo: very portable.  You can watch your downloaded movies on multiple devices including laptops and some Windows compatible portable media players.

CinemaNow: portable.  Most movies you purchase can be viewed on up to 3 devices.  This includes Windows PC’s and the Archos 604 portable device (flash site).

Netflix: kind of portable.  Netflix movies are not downloads.  So, you can’t bring them with you.  But, I suppose you could watch them on any computer that meets the specifications and has a high-speed internet connection.

Winner: Vongo wins because it provides you with more options.


Netflix is the champion!  I choose Netflix because the price is right and the service is great.  Vongo is too restrictive.  CinemaNow is too pricey.  However, even though I’ll primarily use Netflix, I will buy from CinemaNow when there is a new movie that I’d really like to download.  Plus, they usually have coupons on Tuesdays.

Do you have any experience with these companies?

Netflix vs. Vongo vs. CinemaNow (part 1)

I’ve “taste-tested” three movie download services. What follows is part 1 of a 2-part post comparing my experiences.

I am an unabashed movie fan. My DVD collection is not huge but bigger than most. When my wife and I first signed up for high-speed internet the first order of business was to find a good movie download service. We don’t have cable television so we were hoping this would broaden our entertainment horizons.

The first service we tried was Vongo. Vongo was still in beta back then. We were initially drawn in by the price. The service is subscription based and only costs $9.99 per month. Not bad for unlimited downloads. They also have a pay-per-view service for newer or more premium movies.

We dropped ’em after a couple months because the selection just was not there. It’s hard to believe but we weren’t even watching ten dollars worth of cinema each month. It was actually pretty disappointing. When we started with Vongo, I thought we’d be able to save money by leaving Netflix.

So, a couple of months floated by and we survived on network television and Netflix DVD’s. It was pretty rough not having instant movie gratification! We thought again about cutting Netflix to save the $17.99 each month and I began another search for movie downloads. Legal movie downloads.

At that point I found CinemaNow and Movielink. Also, this was just about the time Amazon released Unbox and iTunes debuted movies so we had lots to choose from. I wanted good selection and decent prices.

The first service we eliminated was iTunes. I liked that I could buy movies in the same way I was already buying music. But they had the worst selection and all their titles were for purchase only. Rentals were important.

Amazon’s Unbox offers rentals as well as purchases. Their prices weren’t even that bad; they tended to be comparable to CinemaNow and Movielink. Amazon was the next to be cut, though, because you need to download their movie player. I’m already cluttering up my computer with huge movie files. I don’t want another piece of software gumming up the works. Plus, I’ve got good media players.

It was the same story with Movielink. Your first movie download includes their movie manager and player. That’s the only way to watch movies. To their credit, they had a very good selection of new movies. Their back list wasn’t too deep, though.

CinemaNow was very similar to Movielink. Rentals and purchases. Comparable selection and pricing. Plus, CinemaNow’s prices tended to be better than Amazon’s. I chose CinemaNow because I didn’t have to download another movie player. I just had to have a new version of Windows Media Player (which I did) and Internet Explorer. OK, I NEVER SAID THEY WERE PERFECT!

I had a couple of problems with CinemaNow. Once, I tossed my IE cookies and lost the ability to “see” the movie I’d just purchased. That means even though I was logged into my account there was no evidence I’d made a purchase. So, I couldn’t download and watch the movie. Another time, I lost my licenses for viewing some other movies when I did a system restore on my laptop. In both cases, CinemaNow’s support was responsive and gave me a coupon to re-purchase the movies. These experiences were annoying but I was satisfied with how they were handled.

Coming soon: Netflix. Plus I’ll do a side-by-side comparison of features and prices on all three I evaluated. Stop back in a day or two or subscribe to my feed for notification.