Idiot & Cheapskate’s Guide to Automating Your House (DIY SmartHome Hubs Controlled via Phone)

When I was a kid, I had this vision for my home that included automated everything — from lighting to blinds. Until last night, it was theoretical. Now I can turn off lamps from various rooms… from an Android or iPhone, even when I’m not in the house. It’s a start. And this morning when I got to work, I had the joy of toggling the lights from my phone to freak out WifeofNalts.

Let me warn you that we’re in an odd point of home-automation maturity. We’re moving beyond the era where it was reserved for the wealthy or techno elite. But it’s definitely not ready for prime time, and requires more patience and experimentation than I’d like… but such is the cost of being an early adopter, right?

My entry into “Smart Home Land” set me back only about $125: just $50 for a Wink hub (less if you buy it with add-ons) and about $75 for a bunch of GE Link lightbulbs (get the six pack). And I’ve got a plan for growing into additional functionality like remote monitors, appliance device on/off, security/alarms and broader control of lighting without doing the nightly sweep of 50 light switches. I can’t yet spring for the Nest, which is the connected thermostat that is the best-selling in its class. Honeywell and Lux fell asleep at the wheel.

Let me cut to wide shot and tell you about your options to entering “Smart Home Land.” Home automation was once reserved to the elite and wealthy, and required a special contractor and installation. Now you can pick up a hub and some $50-$150 add-ons and do-it-yourself quickly. I’m not going to get into the really nerdy hacks, but there are plenty of forums that can teach you to customize these beyond what the manufacturers specify or even offer.

There are too many options and a shake-down is looming. There’s Belkin Wemo, Phillips Hue, Quirky Wink, GE Link, Staples Connect, Harmony, Insteon, Lutron, Revolv, Smart Things. Overwhelmed yet? Here’s a review of some of them if you want to get into the weeds.

Let’s cut to your basic entry options, and then I’ll tell you why I started with the cheap, flawed but Swiss Army Knife option called Wink… note that I’m favoring options that don’t require ugly remotes or special displays. We’ll use our iPhones and Androids, thank you very much.

Which smart-home system offers the best flexibility at the best price?
Which smart-home system offers the best flexibility at the best price?
  1. Belkin has a Wemo switch that is a best-seller on Amazon and an easy place to dabble since it’s only $40. It uses your wifi and allows you to control any appliance via your Android/iPhone (just plug appliance into the Wemo, and the Wemo into your outlet. You can add on lots of additional options via Amazon or Home Depot. And if you’re all about lighting, you can get a Belkin Wemo starter kit for $85 that comes with a little hub and two lights… nice dorm room gift for that college techno kid. But I don’t see Wemo as a serious player.
  2. Then there are the lighting-specific solutions: Phillips answer to lighting customization: the Phillips Hue, which comes with a ton of different lighting options. The starter kit will set you back $188 and the individual lights get pretty expensive. Phillips Hue is generally cost-prohibitive except for those elite wealthy who might as well higher a contractor. But Home Depot has a decent spread of expensive lights so I imagine Phillips will be a formidable player. For those without excessive cash, the GE Links are better (you can also get these at Home Depot).
  3. There are a few other hubs that I didn’t look at closely. A cool-looking Revolv smart-home automation system (now part of Nest, the Google thermostat). Haven’t seen Revolv as a player yet. There’s Staples Connect (with Linksys), which is decent player and one that will likely survive the consolidation because Linksys and Staples are serious individual players. And the Smart Things Starter kit, which seems fairly comprehensive and has the best Amazon ratings… but is $300.
  4. And there are loads of home security devices, but I’m not writing about those.
  5. And the winner/wiener is… Wink hub despite some seriously negative reviews (including my own). Setup is torture (40 minutes of trial/error), but adding GE Link bulbs was as easy as screwing in bulbs and naming them. I can’t speak yet to the pain/joy of adding things beyond GE Link bulbs, but that alone made it worth the trivial entry cost of $50.


wink compatible products
Wink’s interface allows you to connect with a bunch of devices from other manufacturers

Wink is the buggy but poor-man’s Switzerland of all these home automation standards and devices. It has built-in support for Bluetooth LE, Wi-Fi, ZigBee, Z-Wave, Lutron ClearConnect, and Kidde. It also handles Phillips Hue (with some limitations) and works like a breeze with GE Link bulbs. I also like that Wink is a product of Quirky/GE, which gives inventors a chance to manufacturer ideas.

Once you have a hub and suffer through setup, you can add all kinds of things: alarms (Kidde/Nest), blinds (Bali/Lutron/ZWave), cameras (Dropcam), weird things from Quirky, garage doors (Chamberlain and Quirky/GE), heating and cooling (Honeywell, Nest, Zwave, Quirky/GE), lawn/patio, kitchen, door and window locks, and general appliances via a power plug that accommodates two different plugs that can be controlled separately (the other two are just plain extension plugs). Warning- that power plug got absolutely hosed on Amazon comments and it’s clearly flawed.

We’re still a few years before this stuff becomes more mainstream, but it’s nice that it’s become somewhat affordable and I like that you can experiment with different components to see what’s worthwhile.

Have you tried any of these? Would love your experience and “watch outs.”

Get Cheap Intros & Graphics For Your Videos

Today we’ll explore how to get cheap (inexpensive) assets like logos, graphics and video intros… for as little as $5. There are loads of talented creators online, as evidenced by the submissions to my Nalts Consulting logo request. Now there are websites specifically designed to identify and commission small projects that otherwise would be difficult to find, sell and buy. For instance you may want a logo for your channel, a unique and customized video introduction, a specially scored song (like the Ukulele on this video, which was $5). The “gigs” being sold vary from “get x friends on Facebook” to “I’ll draw your message on my beautiful butt.” Some sell products but most people sell specialized skills in the form of pre-priced “gigs.” “For $5 I’ll customize this animated video introduction.”

eBook cover cost $5

So my new hobby is commissioning these $5 projects on, and eagerly checking to see if they’re delivered each morning. I’ve gotten loads of stuff that I think is worth more than $5. For instance, the current masthead for this blog. The cartoon of me above. The video introduction graphics and logo to Unlicensed Therapist. The eBook cover to “How To Become Popular On YouTube Without Any Talent.”

So let’s look at 1) how this works, 2) which websites facilitate these eBay-like exchanges (source), then 3) provide some cautions.

1) The Process & What You Get is fairly simple. You wander onto any of these sites, which look almost identical because they’re presumably all using the same software platform. You can browse “gigs” being offered by sellers. On the video front, people have gigs listing cool video introductions they’ll customize, graphics/logos they’ll design, and even shady software and tips that are supposed to jack up your YouTube views (buyer beware). Once you find one, you buy it with Paypal usually. The seller automatically requests direction or photos from you. Then you wait the designated time period, and when it’s done you get an alert and an attachment to download directly from the website. If you like it you can rate the seller.

2) Where to Go: Here are a handfull of more sites like Fiverr. I’ve been to them all, but only transacted on and

  • Everything is priced at $50, but frankly the “gigs” aren’t much better than or
  • Gigs for $20. Appears dead right now.
  • and You can post gigs ranging from $5 to $100.
  • Redirecting to Gibucks. Post gigs for $3, $5, $7 and $10.
  • Almost identical to Fiverr where everything is priced at $5.
  • You can offer and buy gigs for up to $10. Better tools for buyer or seller communication (which are somewhat thwarted on Fiverr).
  • Buy services for $5 or $10 or $20. Their gigs stats with “I’m gunna..”!
  • MagicGig is another online micro-task marketplace that allows you to offer your services for $10.

3) Caution Time: There’s a lot of crap on these sites. This includes broken English claims that are dubious or shady. Some of the sellers are rumored to not complete their deals. I I’ve had a couple default. A lot of the tasks are nonsense like backlinks, friends, views, traffic. One guy offers to troll someone for $10. Some are useless like someone agreeing to sing you a custom song on a surf board. But in the graphics section you get some pretty good artists who can convert a photo into a digital painting. Some make logos (fairly well for the price). And although it’s hard to find a good video intro, they do exist.

Have you used these? Let me know if I’m missing a site, and tell us what you got.



8 Ways to Turn your TV Into a Web-Video Player (for under $99)

AppleTV is slick and all. But Roku's packed with content, and darnit I like that little purple clothing tab
Online-video on your TV is not this difficult anymore.

Sure most BlueRay disc players have the ability to stream YouTube and other content. But it’s 2011.

Walk away from anything that requires physical media and, gasp, has moving parts.

Here are 8 plus ways to stream videos from the Interweb to that big-ass monitor your mama calls an HDTV. CNet reviews the collection, and generally comes down with the Roku 2 as the winner above the AppleTV. I have both, and was an AppleTV raving fan who purchased horrific amounts of content I was too lazy to seek out for free. Then the AppleTV started giving me password and synching problems, and the new $99 TV-rental model felt unfair. So both have been paperweights for a few months, but the Roku is still an easy way to stream my all-you-can-eat Netflix movies.

  1. Roku 2 XS 1080 for $99 is a pretty sweet deal (Amazon affiliate links). Easy startup, and there’s plenty of default content in addition to YouTube and Netflix. Seriously that little fabric tag is almost as cute as a Chumby octopus.

    Worship me. I am Chumby.
  2. AppleTV’s $97 model is decent, but a step backward not forward. Had Jobs stuck around, this might have gotten interesting.
  3. Logitech Revue (GoogleTV) got a luke warm Cnet review, but the keyboard makes it a favorite of many “lean forward lean backers.”
  4. Sony SMPU10 USB Media Player- it’s ass. Skip it.
  5. WD-TV Live Plus Western Digital thing. Doesn’t come with wifi built in, which is like sending it out without a friggin’ power cord. CNet liked it, but the readers didn’t.
  6. VeeBeam: Some reviews say it’s easy to install, but it simply provides a wireless delayed stream from your laptop to a TV. Seems like a cheap connector would make more sense. Am I missing something?
  7. Netgear offers some Push2TV device that works with an Intel wireless laptop (widi), so if you can figure that out… go for it.
  8. A Friggin’ HDMI Cable (from laptop to TV): Finally, if you’re going to tie up your damned laptop, how about connecting a stinkin’ $5 HDMI cable directly from it? I’m not seeing the appeal of choices 6 and 7, when a simple cable does most of the work without lag. Depending on your laptop, you may need an adapter to have it HDMI ready, but remember that HDMI is an HD cord that carries audio and video.
So that’s my modification of the CNet article, but keep in mind that there are other options, ranging from TiVo and your stupid cable-TV box to various videogame players that will achieve much of this (and may be sitting idle in your home).
TiVo logo
Suck it Chumby. I was around longer and can do more.




10 Creative Budget DIY Production Effects, Tips & Tricks

How can we provide film-like effects and special effects using modestly priced gear? For instance:

    • What are the best ways to shoot video using a digital SLR camera, and make it look like cinema film?
    • What $2 item in your kitchen provides a perfect way to keep your camera still in a car?
    • How can a pet’s home let you shoot underwater, using your existing camera without an expensive add-on?
    • When can a painter’s tool get you a crane/jib shot?
    • How can you make a person vanish or defy gravity by crawling on a wall?
    • What’s the easiest way to clone yourself in a video?
Keep your hard-earned money, and try some of these free or low-budget hacks, tricks and effects

Today we’ll look at some of these do-it-yourself (DIY) poor-man techniques, and see example videos are provided (most links advance to the effect’s precise moment in the video to save you time). Tomorrow I’ll provide a collection of 10 free websites and tutorials about creating a film/cinematic look using a fairly inexpensive digital camera.

But first… a quick tip on selecting a killer $500-$1000 videocamera that will produce footage you could barely get from a $5,000 to $10,000 just years ago. The solution for film-like quality in your videos is a cost-effective ($500-$1000) HDSLR video camera. Click here to see three pro ~$1000 compared (Sony vs Panasonic vs Canon).

Your HD-SLR can give you near-film quality with some of these tips.

Many YouTubers and quasi-professional video creators are using traditional SLR cameras as their primary videocamera. Sxephil, for instance, was using a Canon 5D when he showed how he establishes his home studio. Now that the video quality rivals many high-end video cameras, we’re able to enjoy the beautiful effect that decent SLR lenses provide — like that depth-of-field look you see in WheezyWaiter and MysteryGuitarMan videos. Let’s call these HDSLRs.

With help from a variety of sources (Videomaker, Amazon, B&H, PCMag, Cnet and the cameras used by top YouTubers) I’ve compiled some of the winners on this Amazon videocamera store, and it’s an affiliate program that makes me almost nothing except when stalkerofnalts told me he was buying expensive new gear, and let me generate Amazon affiliate links for his products). At least I can provide people with this link when they ask for my advice.

Now back to the poor-man effects. There’s a lot more to professional-looking video than a decent camera, and some of the most important factors are lighting, camera movements, audio and a really good lense. That being said, the latest issue of Videomaker (Sept. 2011) has an article by Kyle Cassidy titled “Home Grown Video Gear.” The same author wrote a nice piece last year titled “Making Your Video Look More Like Film.” The top-three tips are thanks to Kyle.

Now the Top-10 Creative Budget DIY (do it yourself) Production Tips and Tricks to Create Film-Like Special Effects

A bag of rice makes a nice car tripod

1. Very Steady Car Tripod Using Bag of Rice: I do a lot of video vlogs, and I find a bunched-up shirt works as well as any fancy device. It keeps the camera from sliding and falling over, and it’s also easy to adjust (just scrunch more shirt under the front to tilt the camera up). Kyle’s technique is even better. A bag of rice! Isn’t that brilliant? It’s easy to adjust, can work well on the window to keep your camera steady on a zoom, and it might even buffer some of the shake from the car.

Brilliant. A fish tank as underwater camera case.

2. Underwater Housing With Partially-Immersed Fish Tank: Turn your existing camera into an underwater one without the fancy, cost-prohibitive custom-housings. Simply use a small fish tank that’s partially immersed in the water. Now you’ve got the ability to adjust the camera (focus, zoom, turn on and off) and it stays dry. Brilliant! Kyle suggests covering it with a towel to avoid flashes, and I’d recommend putting it on top of something like that rice bag below it. Then if a careless move causes the tank to go under, you’ve got the camera away before the tank fills.

3. Jib or Crane Shot Using Telescoping Painter’s Pole. I’ve used a pool net to produce a camera-in-sky and sweeping horizontal “crane” effect (see a 5-year-old flying Charlie in Super Baby). Brushing the camera above and through branches provides a breezy feel. I also mounted the video camera on a flag pole for Google Maps Butt crack (approaching 1 million views). I even attached a Flipcam to a bunch of helium balloons (see video, and behind-the-scenes). This would have been a lot easier once I purchased my super-light car-key hidden camera, but the quality is rather poor. But Kyle suggests a telescoping painter’s pole, which range from $5 to $90 for a telescoping one (see Home Depot). I just picked up this inexpensive telescoping pole from Amazon for $20 and change (free shipping since I’m on Prime). While on a motorcycle, we got some nice footage using a tripod as a crane.

The web is packed with homemade dolly devices. Smooth is key.

4. Hello, Do-It-Yourself Dolly: A gently moving horizontal-slide of a camera (slider, dolly) can create a powerful effect (see example), especially when there are objects near and far to show perspective. While drooling over the $800 Cinevate Atlas 10 FLT, I went about searching for homemade Dolly tracks. I once bought a steadicam that worked pretty well, and was constructed with weights and plumbing equipment. Courtesy of LifeHacker, I found a guy with a how-to video on Veoh where J.G. Pasterjack created a dolly with skateboard wheels, and it can run on a flat surface or along a 2-by-4 board. Knowing I’d burn too much time and probably screw it up, I asked to be on his waiting list. He’s since created, and is having trouble keeping up with demand on eBay.

5. Disappear or Defy Gravity With Wall-Decorated Floor: Your floor makes a good wall, can give the effect that people, objects or pets are climbing on the wall. See “lovey” the kitten crawling up a door, which was laid on the ground. This 2006 “Gravity Wall” video with my kids is a bit more obvious. To disappear, a) mount a camera perfectly still on a tripod or surface, b) simply shoot the background/setting alone and be sure lighting doesn’t change noticeably, c) videotape yourself (or person/object you wish to vanish), then d) use a “dissolve” effect when editing between the two clips (which diminishes subtle changes in the video). For instance, I provided a shock ending that made it look like a garbage truck ran over me inside a garbage can — seen in this fairly popolar “Garbage Can Prank” video.  I used it in one of my first kid videos (Katie turned invisible in this video shot maybe 5 years ago and uploaded in April) and more recently in this Dr. Who sponsored video, with some added glow via Iggy35.

A poster or inexpensive table cloth works as a green screen

6. Poor-Man’s Green Screen: Green screen allows you to replace a plain green background with a video or photo of your choosing. There are two ways to create a cheap green screen. First, you can use green posters or a dollar-store plastic table cloth. Second, you can use a painted wall that’s close to green. Most video-editing software with “green screen” functionality can “knock out” a background even if it’s not pure green. You just want to: a) ensure that you’re not wearing any colors that are close, b) light the wall separately to avoid shadows, and c) avoid wrinkles or seams that will invariably catch shadows. I have a cloth green screen, but that’s because I use green-screen to make it appear that I fall down steps. Cloth is critical to that effect.

7. Clone Yourself With Matte Effect: The Matte effect, where you overlay a portion of one video over another, is somewhat painstaking. But it can give you the ability to hire the cheapest support cast you’ll find: yourself. Here I cloned myself by shooting two scenes of myself and overlaying the clean Nalts over a video of my clone surfacing from mud. It’s something that requires a higher-end editing tool like Final Cut Express… but worth it.

8. Get Nutty and Grosse: If you’re not inclined to use special-effect software, here are some how-to homemade special effects that require little knowledge or effort (MightyCouch). The knife-tossing how-to is especially good, and you can even simulate the knife landing precariously by tying it into a string and pulling it away… then playing that clip backwards. Here’s a how-to video that shows more gory special effect tricks, including a bloody explosion using a condom full of fake blood.

9. Sundry Techniques for Leveling Camera, Hiding Wires & Creating Soft Effect: Kipkay is a prolific video creator that shares many of his production tricks and hacks, and this rapid fire “volume one” video is loaded with clever Magiver-like techniques. KipKay’s second Howcast video provides some less sexy but handy tips — such as using bread clips to mark cables.

10. Set your HDSLR to Resemble Film: Lastly and most importantly, there are a load of ways to get your HDSLR to give you a film-like quality… there’s even a book devoted to the subject (DSLR Cinema), which is on my wishlist. I’ve embedded a fantastic instructional video by Drumat5280 who has other videos like “DSLR settings.” He jokes that he’s an expert because he and his wife watch videos weekly. The important items include avoiding zoom, setting your camera to highest resolution (1080i) or higher, mic carefully, and set camera to 24 frames per second (which creates the film look and smaller file size). He encourages you to use a “shallow depth of field” which encourages viewer to focus on that which your camera focuses.  VideoUniversity has a nice piece on little nuggets like avoiding auto-white balance and any setting that is called an “enhancement” (which is almost as bad as the cursed “digital zooms,” which pixelate the video by cropping only a portion of the screen). And Techwaffle has a how-to video that shows you how to auto-focus and use your computer to control your camera (at least with the Canon 5D).

What’d a miss? Any tips you’ve learned and are willing to share? Even little things help — like how to use a laptop as a tele-prompt (something discussed in the valuable Videomaker forum). Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention Film Riot, a Revision3 show that is loaded with amateur-ready tips that produce very cool and otherwise-costly effects. Check it out.

Tips for Filmmakers and Video Production

Nice piece in indie wire featuring Edwards Burn, where he talks about the beauty of low-cost production. No booms, lights, or film. Just a Canon 5D and a small budget. And the ideas? Crowdsourced.

P.S. My birthday is May 12 in case you wanted to buy me a Canon 5D. It’s less than $3500. If all of my susbcribers chipped in, it’d be a fraction of a penny. If all of my active viewers chipped in it would be just $35 each. If all of the readers of WillVideoForFood chipped in, it’d only be $3500 each.

what digital camera does edward eddy burns use
Edwards Burn uses a consumer SLR still camera to film his low-budget movies

Creative & Sponsor Trump Peanut Butter & Chocolate

I love it when a certain artist, video creator, or web series finds THE sponsor. Not a sponsor, but the ideal one. The kind of sponsor that you’d think would be stalking the entertainer, but sadly probably doesn’t know they exist. There are matches made in heaven: iJustine or Happyslip and Mac, Rhett & Link and any CPG brand, MysteryGuitarMan and a cool electronic device, SxePhil and Tequila, LisaNova and Stayfrees, ShayCarl and Twinkies.

To my surprise, while catching up with Revision3’s FilmRiot via TiVo, I heard Ryan Connolly (host) announce B&H as a sponsor. Yes it’s peanut butter meets chocolate, and I can’t imagine how they scored it. I don’t think of B&H as the type of marketing organization that would be so savvy.

Anyone serious about video, audio, production or schweet home entertainment is probably well aware of B&H. I think I’m an affiliate, and I think I’ve made nothing. But what the store lacks in marketing acumen it makes up for in an insane inventory of well price stuff, informed people, and excellent prices. That said, it’s easy to forget about them and go to what’s “top of mind” (like Amazon or BestBuy). The store is 50% of heaven for me, but missing the pools of white chocolate, dancing midgets and a few other things I’d like not to mention.

Electronic deals and discounts from Revision3 FilmRiot
FilmRiot, a quirky, informative, well cut show... now sponsored by B&H, which is to video creators what virgins are to terrorists. Only we video creators actually get the equipment, and the terrorists just get the promise of virgins but burned weiners instead.

I always thought Netflix was getting the deal of its life with FilmRiot. I wonder if Netflix dropped, which would be enough to make me drop- maybe Louderback will spill the beans if I get him drunk enough. BTW Louderback (because I think you actually do read this blog) I just received a friggin’ awesome ethernet-via-electrical socket device on his reco and it rawks my previously stalled webTV rig). Next time I open my Roku I’m going to switch from Netflix to Revision3 shows just to pout. [5/12/2010 7:45 am Louderback says Netflix didn’t drop it’s rotating].

Anyway I think there’s an even better FilmRiot ROI for B&H — which wastes not a penny on promoting the show. It’s better than paid search, because it’s reaching the exact people who will/do buy there. Paid search churns money on people that will shop on B&H but buy locally. Yet B&H is unlikely see the direct benefit, just like Netflix will never know that I returned as a customer mostly because of FilmRiot and I’m its friggin’ dream customer (never quite watching/ordering enough movies to cost them much, but always paying my bill).

Check out Film Riot’s Technical Deal Recommendations and find out some killer electronics you can buy me for my birthday, which just arrived 3 minutes ago. Hey- I’m spending my birthday with TiVo and a laptop, and a wife and family asleep. Stupid nap today. What could I do? I had a pain procedure. I was sleepy.

A New Model for Producing Television & Online-Video Ads

Okay get a coffee and sit down. This is one of my important posts. You’ll learn in this one post more than you learned in that stupid communications major (the sender sends messages, and the receiver receives them). I switched majors the day I realized half of the women in my Freshman 101 communications class wanted to be the next Oprah.

Now traditional advertisers and commercial production shops don’t much like the notion of online video ads (especially consumer created) because they prefer to shoot $500,000 commercials in lovely locations. It’s one of the perks of selling your soul to agencies. And I’ve got friends that bemoan the future of television spots as they adore the romantic trip to Europe (to film a pool that looks remarkably like one in a New Jersey suburb).

Alas, advertisers and their favorite commercial directors need not fear online video! While we marketers may request fewer $500K commercials, we’ll still need good content. Lots of it. Instead of one Superbowl spot, however, we’ll want an assortment of creative ads that appeal to our various and fragmenting audiences. So we need to get our cost-per-produced-minute down by 50% or more. And I’m not talking about amortizing the shoot by rotating three actors: a white guy, one hispanic gal, and a slightly overweight Asian transgender.

We ideally want to tailor the ad content to the medium. I was thrilled to see V’s debut (the television show) with a character on YouTube’s homepage that actually mentioned YouTube. Hey, she belongs here. Check out this Louisiana hot sauce spot by pro-amateur Jared Cicon (embedded below), and if you drool over it like I do… check out the rest of his reel. Is it Superbowl material? Maybe not, but it would cost about the same as a single ticket to the game. And I think if Jared (who conveniently puts himself in most of his spots) would probably have just the same Q rating as the best-looking transgender Asian your talent agency could find.

We have two important forces at work: advertisers need MORE video content to participate in the 30-40% growth of spending on this channel. And we have lower-cost options like Jared that do damned good work. So what’s the solution? Wel you have three choices:

  1. First, large production shops — with pricey directors and overbaked sets — can dial down their costs for the medium. I’ve talked to at least 5 production companies that are adjusting their model to bring budgets down (on a shoot for a magazine ad photo, I was happy to see wardrobe with 90 clothing options from Gap that they’d return the next day for a credit).
  2. The other option is for advertisers to put work “out to bid” to a new swarm of directors with minimal costs but talent (that won’t impact the veteran directors, is awesome for the noobs, and probably scares the hell out of the rest). Use a clearinghouse like, or go direct to people like Jared.
  3. Finally, advertisers can run a contest. However I don’t like to see online ads for contests like the Dove blitz. I feel like the advertiser should be selling the product not wasting it on reaching those of us that enter video contests (although they get points for trying to engage the audience). Ultimately most contests get minimal participation, and why not just reach out to ringers — especially if they have an audience online.

Mind you, Jared or PopTent offer advertisers low-cost but remarkable production quality via amateurs. What you won’t get, of course, is an audience. That’s why Hitviews, who contracts with “weblebrities” who already have an audience, makes more sense for some… you get a decent video, and fairly guaranteed views. Or, as I wrote about yesterday, you could bid for product placement on Placevine or Zadby.

By the way, I like an online-video contest that rewards the cat who drives the most views or votes, and Jared likes the ones where quality actually matters to the judges. He’s got talent and I have an audience. In the end, Jared always wins and I get a free f’ing Slurpy coupon.

In 2010 smart advertisers will commission work for less than the cost of an agency dinner. And here’s the part you say “hooray!” First, we can skip 45-stages of market research, and just flight the damned partially executed concepts and learn from them. How’s that for a dislodging that kidney stone? Maybe “ready, go, set” is better than “ready, ready, ready, ready, set, set, set…” Second, we can finally determine if the ad worked because of the messaging or the creative… because we can test multi-varied approaches.

What the hell do I know about research? I’m not even sure I used multi-varied approaches correctly. But I can tell you that I spent an assload of my employers’ money to test three sets of creative, and still wonder if we’d have been better off with a different execution of one of the alternative campaigns that died in market research maybe because the headline or image didn’t resonate with those pretend consumers that spend 50% of their life behind a two-way mirror for cash.

Can I hear an AMEN!?

Now you’ll flight 20 ads online, and take the crappy half out to pasture. See? Maybe we can finally kill that stupid quote: “half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, but I don’t know what half.” It’s about as cute as “Hang on Baby, Friday’s Coming.”

P.S. Some of you will love this ad, and some of you will hate it. But good news. Some day Google will save you the trouble of ignoring an ad or moaning over it… you’ll only see the ones you love.

The Poor & Lazy Man’s Top-10 Guide to Watching Movies & Archived TV Shows via the Internet… But on Your Big-Screen TV

  • Are you one of those movie/TV geeks that built a collection of several hundred VHS movies in the early 90s by surfing stores that Blockbuster crushed?
  • Did you crack up when you watched this video last May, in which The Onion Comedy Network last May parodied Blockbuster as a historical landmark and portrayed VHS tape renting as archaic? 
  • Are you poor, but also extremely lazy?
  • Did you stare at the headline to this post for a few seconds, then wonder why I write such long posts?

Here are some ideas for enjoying television and movies without wasting precious calories getting in the car. Now if you’re really poor, you probably don’t have a television set or computer.. but I needed a catchy headline. And these tricks will save movie and television lovers some money, and make their viewing far more convenient. But don’t stop watching videos online, kay? They’re free and funnier.


Clara and Her Owl
Clara and Her Owl Despise Blog "Scanners"


  1. Steal: The ultimate “poor man’s guide” is to use peer-to-peer and steal movies, but we lazy people aren’t so ambitious. I’ve tried, and it was a nightmare– I even paid token amounts to have access to certain websites, but they were scams. The experience was like using Napster as it crumbled, where everything was porn, spam and fake. Then there’s this whole 10 commandments thing, and the fact that my kids are asking questions about digital theft.
  2. AppleTV: Pay per movie you watch — $3-$5 to “rent” or purchase at regular DVD prices. Not a great bargain, but no pesky monthly service fee, and you don’t need a Mac to use it! The AppelTV is probably my favorite electronics purchase in the past 2 years because it’s so darned easy to use. In the past months, I’ve spent about $150 buying movies and Lost (season 1 and 2) via AppleTV. Although I can’t afford to sustain that, it kept me sane after back surgery. The slick lil’ box connects my wireless Internet to the television set, and is so easy my parents could figure it out. As I’ve been saying, I expect this year’s Christmas “tipping point” device (previous years it was DVD players, HD televisions and GPS machines) to be a web-to-TV player. The AppleTV is my favorite for ease of use (brainless installation and elegant interface), and I like that I don’t pay unless I’m watching. I just wish the price point was lower on purchases, because I can’t stand digital renting (more on that later), and Apple desperately needs to shift its attention from stupid flat phones to this crucial piece of connectivity. The device will put you back $200-$400, but one of the best electronic purchases I’ve made. 
    1. The $200 one is here: Apple MA711LL/A TV with 40GB Hard Drive a
    2. For $340 you can have 160 Gigs of memory instead of 40 (click here for details: Apple TV with 160GB Hard Drive – MB189LL/A). The extra memory is more important if you expect to buy a lot of high definition videos.
    3. You shrewd dudes may decide to buy the cheaper AppleTV and add your own spare hard drive. Guess what? 1 terabytes (100 friggin’ gigs) are now under $120! Here’s a WD one I may get to join my other 14 external hard drives (not kidding): Western Digital My Book Essential Edition 1 TB USB 2.0 External Hard Drive WDH1U10000N
  3. Netflix/Roku: $9 per month gets you access to unlimited views of a portion of the Netflix library. I recently got frustrated by the limited movie selection on AppleTV and Verizon Fios ($3 to watch 1970s Disney films?) so I’m trying Netflix again (I was an early adopter, but so busy the red envelopes were piling up like unread magazines). Netflix won me back last month with its unlimited access to a portion of its movies that I can watch “on demand” — on either my computer or via television through a $99 device called a Roku Digital Video Player. As long as we watch one movie a week, it’s going to save us a lot, and minimize my obsessive need to stock-pile videos unless I love them. The Roku’s quality is a bit better than VHS but certainly not DVD quality. It’s frustrating to find a Netflix movie that can’t be viewed via this program, so you go to, login, flag your favorites from the “watch instantly” section, then they’re waiting for you at your television set via a simple Roku device and remote. Again- my folks could handle this. I don’t imagine I’ll watch many movies on my computer, but the sound is great and the Netflix PC/Mac player (Microsoft makes it) is decent.
  4. Turn that Old PC into a Media Center: If you’re clever, you can turn that old PC into a media center (here’s a blog post that gives you tips and a PCWorld article). There is software you can purchase, or you can simply use services like and Netflix without the Roku. All you need is a connected PC with a remote (see Switched video for some solutions). Remember you can just plug your current laptop to your television, so you don’t have to settle for staring at your monitor. Furthermore, you can pirate movies on YouTube if you’re willing to search and tolerate poor resolution and 8 separate videos for one film. Again- good for the poor, bad for the lazy.
  5. Buy an inexpensive media drive: You can buy fairly inexpensive media centers that can fling the movies on your hard drive to your television set. Since I can do that via the AppleTV, I’ve never needed this. But it’s half the price of AppleTV and useful if you already have movies on your computer. Here’s a Western Digital one for $99: Western Digital WD TV HD Media Player.
  6. That Gaming Device is a Media Center, Dude: If you have an Xbox, you can use it to play DVDs and watch movies via and other websites. I’ll bet you didn’t know that. Seriously- admit it. You have an Xbox and use it for gaming only.
  7. Amazon is Renting and Selling Digitally. You can pay-per-view (rent) or buy movies, but you’ll pay almost as much as you would with DVDs. Just like with iTunes/AppleTV, you can purchase or “rent” videos via Amazon On Demand. You can transact via a PC, Roku or TiVo. A word of advice- don’t be tempted by “renting” videos digitally (a third of the cost). Murphy’s law dictates that you’ll forget or get too busy to finish it. Then *poof* they’re gone. I’ll never know the ending to Transsiberian, just like when my VHS ran out of tape recording the original “Planet of the Apes” decades ago. I missed the classic fallen Statue of Liberty scene, and didn’t know that landmark was created before the human species evolved.
  8. TiVo: I’m going back to TiVO today to replace the horrible Verizon Fios and Comcast Cable DVRs. I’m big on simple interfaces. It infuriates me when I have 20 minutes to watch a show, and it takes 10 to start it. I bought this one, but don’t forget you need an expensive USB TiVo TCD652160 HD Digital Video Recorder. But don’t forget you have to pay that irritating monthly service rate and buy one of these stupid USB network adapters unless you have an ethernet cable that reaches the TV: TiVo AG0100 Wireless G USB Network Adapter for TiVo Series 2 and Series 3 DVRs.  TiVo’s partnership with may erode my purchases on AppleTV, but it depends if my lazy ass is on the couch or the bed. 
  9. Rip Web Television or Digital Rentals: Once you’ve rented a digital movie or streamed a television show with ads on, there are hacks to rip and save the video. But again, we lazy people aren’t motivated enough to figure that out. I suppose I could use SnapX Pro to grab it and save it.
  10. Some newer televisions are coming with Ethernet cables, and the ability to bypass some of these devices. We’ll see manufacturers soon creating standards, and some of these intermediaries getting squashed. But that’s got some time to develop, and you need answers now.

I hope you’ll comment with anything I’ve missed or misspelled (and you know who you are). I know this isn’t a comprehensive list, but it’s an exciting time. In 1998 I debated buying a Dell media center that was $3000.00, and a decade later my TV and the Internet are finally connecting in strange workarounds. But I’m telling you- watch for that $199 killer device before Christmas 2009 that could make web-to-TV “mainstream” as DVD players. 

The AppleTV and Roku are So Easy a Hand with a Face Can Use Them
The AppleTV and Roku are So Easy a Hand with a Face Can Use Them

Where to Buy Cheap Video Camera and Gear- New and Used (B&H)

Unknowingly I was approved as a B&H affiliate last December (I should check e-mail more often). So here’s a banner below. For those of you that don’t know, affiliate programs allow bloggers and website owners to earn some small portion of your purchase if you visit the e-commerce site via the blogger’s coded link or banner. So bookmark this page!

A lot of people ask me what video equipment to buy, and where to get it. I default to BestBuy for impulse electronics, and often buy from But my “heaven on Earth” is the NYC B&H store. I’ve mentioned it several times before (even before I had the old “affiliate” hidden agenda. 🙂

B&H is like FAO Schwartz for digital video, audio and camera nerds. They sell video cameras, digital accessories, sound gear and computers. Prices are amazing, and I’ve never had an issue with service or returns (bought my recent Canon HV20 there for a steal). I’ve been burned by NYC retailers before, but the place is run by Amish I think.

My original blog ( was littered with low-revenue text ads, but I’ve deliberately not junked this blog up with low-profit Google text ads. They’re an eyesore. But here’s an affiliate banner for B&H. I have no idea how much I make if you go there via this banner, but I thought I’d give it a try. I’m pimping, but I know I’m not steering you wrong.

So if you’re on the market for gear and you can find a better price at B&H, go there via this link and you’ll be helping me offset my Bluehost fee for this blog! Again- I wouldn’t send you there if I wasn’t really happy about my experience with B&H, and most of the prosumers (professional/consumers) I know buy all of their gear at B&H — whether they live in NYC or not. Double check because occasionally you’ll find a better price there, but the options on Amazon for video enthusiasts are limited.

The actual NYC store is a dreamland. Get there if you can. I drove past it recently with Mr. Safety and told him about the giant conveyor belts that shoot your product from the warehouse to the register and he thought I was teasing. When I shop there I hear circus music in my head and people’s heads transform to giant lollipops.

Converting and Uploading Those Old VHS Videos

I’ve got two or three plastic bins in my basement, packed with hundreds VHS tapes. Among a lot of junk (Simpsons episodes, SNL reruns) lies some of the first video shorts I’ve made… um… two decades ago. So I spent hours this morning researching ways to convert them, and it comes down to a few complex choices with big tradeoffs:

  1. Ship your tape to a service provider (I found AMB Media Services via a Google text ad). For the price of $5 to $9, you can transfer VHS, VHS-C, Mini-DV, or Hi-8/8mm tapes. If you only have a few tapes, and want a low-maintenance solution (because your VHS still blinks 12:00), this is your best option. But when you add the shipping (about $9), converting a few tapes will cost more than buying a device. Some pharmacy and photo shops offer this service, and maybe shipping is less expensive.
  2. Use a camcorder with an analog input. Then you can connect your ol’ VHS to your camcorder and record it digitally. Next, you simply convert your digital tape to your computer as you would any new footage. Unfortunately my high-end Canon HV20 doesn’t have analog in. But I used an earlier camcorder to convert and upload “Woodblock Doll,” “Mint and Treats,” and “Attack of the Killer Slinky.”
  3. Buy a “Black Box” Device. Pinnacle’s Dazzle was the first device I bought to convert my Mini-DVs to digital footage more than 8 years ago. I researched the space, and paid maybe $200 for the device and editing software. Now there’s an AV-to-digital converter that’s selling for less than $50. There are other “black box” solutions like the Canopus ADVC-1110, but it’s pricey at $200 plus. Here’s one of the highest-rated VHS/DVD devices on Amazon (the Sony VRDMC5 DVDirect DVD Recorder). This Sony device got a favorable review from PC Magazine as well as CrunchGear, but a few customers have complained about audio problems.
  4. DVD/VHS Combination Units. Wired’s “Gadget Review” compares a number of other solutions, that include simple consumer decks that have both DVD and VHS. Some of these allow you to dub a VHS to a DVD… but this appears oddly complicated.  Further, you’ll need software to “rip” that DVD signal to something you can edit, compress and upload. This ‘DVD/VHS combo option leaves you with a full DVD copy of your tape without all the editing and manual work.
  5. Additional Options and Sources. In researching this post, I did find a nice review of options by “AskBobFranklin.” And two reviews worth mentioning: Video converter software compared and Video editing software compared. I also like this post by SignVideo that describes the method and gives you tips on preserving the quality.

So what’s the bottom line? I’d go with a service (online or at a local store) if you just have a few tapes. But if you have six or more then it’s much more affordable to get a device. While writing this post, I bought the Pinnacle Dazzle DVD Recorder ($44 at Then I realized that it had a few bad reviews on Amazon, and… oh… it’s not Mac compatible. D’oh. So now maybe I’ll spring for the Sony VRDMC5. Or maybe I’ll tell wifeofnalts it’s on my birthday-wish list. The black box is convenient but it’s another darned device that has limited functionality beyond this purpose.

Here’s my description of “the perfect device,” but I doubt it exists:

  1. It costs less than $200, and has a VHS deck and a DVD burner.
  2. The DVD is playable on a regular DVD player, but it also automatically chunks the video into segments that can be viewed via thumbnails. Or you can set it to chunk in 5/10-minute increments.
  3. You’d store the entire DVD as a safeguard against the deteriorating VHS tapes (although obviously burned DVD are far from permanent archives). Still, I suppose we’d actually watch our wedding tape more than once a decade if it was on DVD.
  4. But the DVD would also allow for easy exporting in the form of Quicktime, .mov or .mp4 files… so that you don’t need to use software to “rip” the entire DVD, convert, edit and upload. Too many steps!

Would appreciate any feedback if this device does exist. I’d love to dust off some of the videos in the basement, like these vintage Nalts clips (see “more” for details).

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