Amazon – Easy Alternatives

Let’s get the ball rolling in this by talking about the easy ones and get those out of the. Because there are certainly some Amazon alternatives that are glaringly obvious.

Amazon Video Alternatives

So this is probably the easiest thing to find an alternative to. Amazon Prime has its own streaming service, but it clearly is not a focus, it’s more of an add-on. The reason I say this is because the Originals are sub-par and they don’t get a ton of third-party support either. However, Amazon does have deals with HBO & BBC to show their older backlogs, although neither of these is all encompassing. (As an example, they don’t have the very excellent Coupling TV series that ran on BBC from 2000 to 2004, they do have Downton Abbey.)

I do strongly suggest Netflix as the primary alternative. There’s actually a lot of duplication for what third-parties show on both, so for the third-party stuff, you don’t lose much by going to Netflix. Netflix even has a lot of BBC shows, my favorite being IT Crowd. They don’t have much from HBO, instead they tend to pick up Showtime series such as Dexter or Californiacation. And then there is obviously the originals. Netflix, realizing that they will be losing third-parties sooner than later, has more originals pretty much than all other streamers combined. Though there is a lot of give and take in quality these days. (Their early shows are still top notch and worth watching.)

Hulu, I feel, is a strong compliment to Netflix, though their advertisements on a paid service continues to bamboozle me. Still, they tend to pick up most shows off most networks, both old and new. They partner with NBC, ABC, and Fox, so there’s just a lot there. Like Amazon, their originals are fairly weak overall, even with the Handmaid’s Tale. And also like Amazon, they do offer add-ons like Showtime or HBO or even live TV.

If you absolutely must have HBO shows, HBO Go is out there. I don’t suggest it though. They have great originals and a good backlog, but the cost for what you get is actually quite terrible compared to the other 3.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that, if you don’t mind ads, a lot of networks now just put their current stuff out on their websites for free. For instance, you can watch The Daily Show and South Park on Comedy Central’s website, or The Flash on The CW’s website. It’s actually surprising how much is free out there these days.

Video’s Ugly Step Child

Perhaps the one area of Amazon Video that is more difficult to cut out is Twitch. If you don’t watch Video Game Streams, then this isn’t a problem. But I do, so it is. Twitch is a juggernaut in the streaming realm, and they get stronger every year. And truthfully, I don’t have a great solution to it because of things like Overwatch League being exclusive to Twitch.

But I’ll give it a go all the same. My overall suggestion on replacement is to use Mixer.com instead. Why? First, I do think they are trying to come up with ways to innovate the streaming space in positive ways, and for the most part it works. They have low latency, their recent addition of paying out streamers for certain levels of “sparks” earning gives a solid way for streamers to monetize without costing viewers a dime works a lot better than anything Twitch has, and the interactivity can be pretty cool if used correctly. They also do A LOT to help streamers get noticed, they have several channels that randomly host, they feature smaller channels, and they even have an “up and coming” section. These are great for newbs.

Youtube also has been trying to enter the streaming space. And they also have low latency. I think they tend to give preference to live streams in search results too which helps. But, it is ridiculously difficult now to get and maintain partnerships as a new streamer, and they have fewer avenues of monetization even if you get there. Their interface is also just terrible. Pretty  much the only place that it is easy to find just random streams is by using there gaming app. Which is VERY specific and not overly casual friendly, especially if you are on the PC. I rate their interface as a whole similar to Amazon Video’s… a lot of clutter and hard to find what you are looking for. Odd for a search engine company that prides itself in its simple interface.

Mixer has flaws though which stop it from being better than Twitch in the first place. One, it just doesn’t have the traffic. That is not just viewers, that is streamers as well. They are kind of in a paradox here though, they can’t get viewers because they can’t get streamers because they can’t get viewers. It’s hard to be in that position. It also doesn’t have the plug-in support or the clear path to Partner that Twitch has. Twitch also has more avenues to earning money (bit purchasing and ties to amazon come to mind). Also, for some reason, the only way you can watch Mixer on TV is via Xbox One. No app that supports Roku, Fire Stick, or Chromecast. No app on PS4 or Swtich. It’s odd.

Still, as weird as it is to say… Mixer is the clear underdog. And I say that is weird because it’s Microsoft. The company that got the title of stock worth the most back from Apple. But in the competition of Google vs Amazon vs Microsoft… Microsoft feels like the clear underdog to me. And I want to support underdogs where it is worth it and I think Mixer has a lot going for it.

As an aside. I recently started Streaming on Mixer. So head on over to www.mixer.com/Razakius to hang with me sometime!

Pet Supplies

This one seems obvious to me, but maybe it isn’t to everyone else. But Chewy has made quite the name for themselves recently and have quietly carved out a chunk of Amazon’s business. For months, I have already been using Chewy primarily for all my pet needs. I buy cat toys, litter and food (both dry and wet). From Chewy, and I actually order pretty frequently because cats go through things fast.

Truthfully, I’m not entirely sure why I’ve moved to Chewy but I have, and so has all my friends, and looking at the recycling bin when I’m throwing out my boxes, a lot of others have as well. Both Amazon & Chewy have similar prices on their goods. Both give discounts if you subscribe. Chewy gives free shipping at $49 and it is 1-2 day shipping. You can get these things next day with Prime but at $25 you get free 3-5 day shipping.

I will say, $49 is a lot more difficult to attain than you might think. I usually hit like $43 with a huge bag of litter and 2 boxes of wetfood and then am struggling to figure out what to add to get the free shipping. The downside, I feel, with Chewy is that the boxes are heavy! They very rarely split those $49+ boxes, so you are lugging these huge boxes around, I have never ordered pet supplies from Amazon, but I am sure they have the same issue.

Discontinuing my Amazon Prime Membership

It’s November… What does that mean? Well for me, it means it’s time to renew my Amazon Prime membership. And you know what? I’m not going to do it. I’m dropping out of Amazon Prime, and what’s more I am earnestly going to attempt to stop shopping at Amazon entirely.

I have been contemplating ending my Prime membership anyways. And there are a few reasons for this. Amazon raised their price, and I’ll be honest, my budget could use the extra money so there is that. But really, once I started hearing rumors that Amazon has been contemplating opening a bank and starting their own UPS competitor, I started to realize that Amazon has become the modern day Wal-Mart in many bad ways. You know, for a long time, I thought it was quaint that Amazon was putting the hurt on Wal-Mart after years of Wal-Mart putting the hurt on everyone else… but in a way, even though I will not shop at Wal-Mart, I kind of am rooting for them as the small guy. Weird right? Because truth of the matter is, we need brick and mortar stores, and by saying we need them, what I do not mean is that we need Amazon to open brick and mortar stores (which they are). Moreover, we need more competition, both online, and off.

For the longest time, I was proud of what Amazon had become. One stop shop for everything. After all, this was the company that started online shopping in one sense. They helped bank roll many early websites with referral programs (something that they have stopped doing for smaller websites like mine that don’t get a ton of traffic). I loved them. And I returned that love with my money. I bought most everything from Amazon now, Games, clothes, electronics, food… seriously almost everything. I am becoming too reliant on them and this has, in reality, been terrible for competition at large. Other retailers, both online and off, have a hard time competing with them because they just don’t have the resources to.

Consider Toys ‘R Us… They were the last toy chain out there, I live in a decent sized town and only one toy store remains… an independent retailer that specializes in expensive hipster toys. Or Borders and several other book retailers. Even Barnes and Nobles is struggling in recent years. Best Buy is on its last legs. And no matter what you feel about these individual companies… them closing is NOT good for business, except if you are Amazon.

And so I was looking at the $120 a year program whose real cost was that I buy everything from them instead of diversifying… and I wonder… am I doing the right thing?

And you know… Amazon is actually making it easier on me. One of their bigger features of Prime was that you get a 20% discount on pre-ordering video games. I bit into that hard. And they pulled that away. They also pulled benefits that really didn’t lose them a ton of money like removing ads for Prime members on Twitch. Prime Pantry, which was never great, has gotten worse because it is now a subscription on top of Prime. And the other big thing… their video service… I’ve never been a huge fan of the originals they have offered, and their interface for finding videos has always easily been the worst of every online streaming service hands down. And that thing that got us all hooked originally years ago? You know, free next day shipping on everything? Well first of all, they got rid of paying to ship for the remainder of this year anyway, and even when they go back, free shipping is down to $25 instead of $35. And really the next day was always a meh benefit anyway. Part of the reason ordering everything on Amazon instead of going to say, Best Buy, was OK was because I made the conscious decision that I didn’t need the instant gratification of going into a store and getting it RIGHT NOW. I could wait to save money, and that remains true with waiting an extra day or two for shipping.

I’ll be honest, I’m a little surprised that at the same time that they are raising the price, they are removing features. I am certain that they made up for any perceived losses from the various Prime benefits from having people use them almost solely instead of another store. Prime features were Amazon’s loss leader. But now it seems that Amazon wants to make profit on even the yearly subscription and I am sure they have done studies to prove that if they take stuff away and raise prices, they won’t lose much business so why not.

I think I’m going to blog the next couple of weeks about my disconnect from Amazon. I want to blog about steps I’m taking to cut the cord, alternative stores I’m going to instead of Amazon. I’d like to cut the cord on Amazon Web Services too thanks to Hisan Minhaj (thanks bro), but I don’t think that is a possibility at this point considering that would mean also cutting out the likes of Netflix. Maybe that’s phase 2 or 3…

No Man’s Sky Next

What is starting to feel like a yearly return, I find myself once again back in the realm of No Man’s Sky. In a clear sign that Hello Games, and the gaming community, are more content with the game than early on, the second year only brought 1 content update, whereas the first year brought 3. I don’t entirely mind… diminishing returns and all, it’s the second year and while I am sure it sells a decent amount with each update, they probably sell fewer units with each update. I wonder at what point they decide to add an expansion or DLC, and I wonder how that would even look.

But I digress, the latest patch is 1.5, nicknamed Next and it is kind of a doozy. Probably the #1 most requested feature was added… multiplayer. And I’ll be honest I don’t care about that one too much. It’d be nice to play with someone, but I don’t really have any friends who would play the game, and I don’t particularly want to get randoms. Even without the multiplayer, I felt it was a really big update.

First off… the space things that they added. They added Frigates that you can hire that will fly around your freighter and give you defense power from pirates. But you can also now send the Frigates out on missions to get you resources and money and such, which is a nice touch. I have only marginally experience Freighters since the update and I do think the main pathway is less confusing than it was and the base building seems more sensical. Speaking of which, they sort of overhauled space stations. Now, instead of a couple of tunnels with tiny rooms, each having a couple of creatures. Now they opened them up and they include more creatures to interact with, a space suit customizer, shops, mission givers, and a teleporter. It feels a little more fleshed out which is appreciated. And lastly, they added ringed worlds. Yes, ringed worlds! I think they are a little more common than I’d like, nearly every system has at least one, but realistically they are pretty common in the real world. and they are gorgeous both in space and on ground.

Speaking of Bases, they enhanced bases on the ground as well. They added new parts, and now you can build more than one base, AND you can build them pretty much anywhere, and they can be pretty large as well (they used to be limited to like 250 parts or something). I’ve seen pictures of people building bases under water, in cave systems, and even on crashed freighters. With this ability coupled with portals, I can totally see myself building a network of worlds that get me any resource I want and are beautiful. This has gotten me FAR more interested in base building than I was previously. Previously, I was resigned to just build a base in my freighter, because although you could take a portal to the planet easy enough, I may as well take the base with me. Now I can do both.

They renamed pretty much everything and re-working crafting as well. Overall, I think the name changes were good. I like that I need oxygen to recharge my suit instead of thaumium for instance. Overall, the materials seem to make more sense than they used to (Platinum is actually fairly rare, instead of growing out of plants!). I also think that the crafting changes were good as well. It added a real progression to crafting. You start by crafting in a portable refiner, then move onto Medium refiner, and finally heavy refiner. I haven’t gotten too advanced into crafting to get into the nuts and bolts, but on the outside looking in, it looks much better.

They also made some tweaks to terrain generation. Overall, I think when people go looking at planets, they are much more appealing in general. I personally think that there is more variation in land formation. However, many people have noted that there is less variation in color schemes. Before you could find bright yellows and pinks all over the place, it was kind of like going to a world painted by splatoon inklings. And generally, this was more problem then good. People often complained about the eyestrain, so of course once they fix that people complain that there isn’t. Can’t win I guess. I will say, that I think the bigger complaint is that while all in all it’s better, people still want the occasional super bright colored planet. I’ve seen people complain that they only ever see red, green and grey colors, but I do get the occassional lush planet with blue grass and yellow & pink plants and it is marvelous when I do. I do think it happens, but it could probably happen a little more. They also took out the resource pillars that were common in the game previously, probably for the best, but I admit I miss the pillars sometimes. I like that they aren’t everywhere, but it’d be cool if every now and then you ran into a planet that had pillars of gold. I think the key point to take away is that what they were doing previously was only bad in its frequency, if they made them uncommon to rare planets, these things still hold a draw.

Lastly, they added third-person view and improved graphics. It seems like every major release comes with improved graphics, and it is always appreciated because it makes a beautiful game even more beautiful. I really like the added third-person view (and the character customization!). I am not a huge fan of first person so this was a nice addition, though I do admit, it took a little time to adjust to targeting what I’m shooting at. I kind of wish they had character customization parts that you could unlock, maybe they do, or maybe that’s in the plans for the future. I don’t know.

One thing I have to say, is that usually at about a month of play time the novelty kind of wears off and the grind gets annoying. So it will be interesting to see how that develops over the next couple of weeks. But an interesting point to note is that my last play through ended at about 20 hours. This kind of ended prematurely, I wasn’t quite bored of the game yet, but because my ship spawned in the ground I rage quit. In my current play through I am at 17 hours, and honestly I am getting more excited to play the game more as I go on. I have some neat plans that I hope to execute fairly soon <>. And I don’t think I’ve had this much excitement about the game in previous attempts this far into it. I feel as excited every time I sit down as the last and it is the same excitement I had before the game was released. Is the game perfect? Far from it, but this is pretty darn close to what I had imagined at launch. I look forward to seeing what Hello Games does in the next update because I honestly have no idea where they will go now.

An open letter to my doctors

In 2016 there were 20,000 deaths attributed to Opioids. Funny thing about that stat. If someone dies to a heroin overdose but has an opioid in their system, they count the person in both categories. There were 15,000 deaths attributed to Heroin. Another interesting stat. There were 45,000 deaths that same year attributed to suicide. People with chronic pain are twice as likely to commit suicide than someone without chronic pain. Which means to say… had 30,000 of those people had access to Opioids, there’s a good chance many of them would still be alive. Now we are telling people with chronic pain that they should remain in chronic pain because some idiots overdosed… do you think the suicide rate will go down or up due to this decision?

People have overdosed on things for decades… that’s not going to stop just because you make opioids harder to come by…. I mean a key point here is that 15,000 people died in 2016 due to Heroin. Is heroin legal somehow? What doctor is prescribing Heroin? People are dying from it nearly as much as from Opioids yet, it’s harder to come by even now than opioids.

The worry that as I get older I will need pain relief more and using it now will desensitize me to the point where it isn’t useful in 15 years. This begs the question… how will I get to 15 years without it?

If you really don’t want me to have opioids, then find me a real alternative. Not this Lyrica and Tylonel crap, that I’m sorry if you people think actually was going to work, you need to go back to school because I could have told you otherwise (and have). Why hasn’t CBD oil been put on the table? What about PAMs? Are any drug companies looking for human guinea pigs for pain drug experiments? If there truly is no other drug besides tylonel and opioids for pain, then we really need to go the route of opioids because that is the only option.

I agree that doctors need to be more careful about who they give opioids to and why. But it’s darn right irresponsible to force a chronic pain patient into pain. Moreover, it’s just mean. I don’t know what I have done to wrong you, but whatever it was, I sincerely apologize for it. I would not wish this sort of pain on anyone I have ever met, I must have done something woefully wrong to warrant this backlash.

Please stop punishing me for what others did with Opioids… it isn’t right. You are causing me a severe amount of pain, and I just can’t take it anymore. This needs to stop and it needs to stop now. I am begging you… help me.

Game Boy Mini?

News has recently come out that Nintendo has registered a trademark on the Game Boy. First off, Nintendo didn’t have a trademark on the Game Boy? But more importantly, this seems to indicate that Nintendo is likely going to release a Game Boy classic after the success of NES Classic and SNES classic.

Honestly, this is one that I could do without. The reality is that many NES games are difficult to play with modern technology being what it is. Game Boy with it’s 4-bit grey and black graphics and minimal gameplay… it’s honestly not that good. There are very few games that I would consider classic. In fact, the Game Boy is a system that I decided not to collect early on… partially because it is hard to store & display the games, and also because the games just aren’t that good.

But it seems Nintendo is eyeing Game Boy over going the N64 route for its next mini series (probably partially due to the difficulty of emulating the N64). So I feel the need to put out what I think should, or will be on the Game Boy Classic. I am going to make the assumption that the Game Boy Classic will actually be a Game Boy Color Classic. And keep in mind, this is likely going to be every game worth playing on the game boy plus a few that aren’t.

  1. Color – Ok, not a game, but the games chosen for the Game Boy Classic would be best if Nintendo offered a color mode. Whether it was an actual color remake of the graphics, or just a lame color lense that the Game Boy Color had (Now it’s light blue and dark blue instead of grey and black!).
  2. Pokemon Crystal – The Game Boy Classic is going to have a Pokemon game, how can it not? It’ll be interesting if they just give the straight game or if they have some way to do pokemon trading. Regardless it will have one… Whether they go with Classic First gen or do second gen is the key. They could be super annoying and have a Blue Game Boy and Red Game Boy, but I think they would sidetrack that issue by going with Crystal which is considered one of the best Pokemons of all time. It’s also not an easy version to get your hands on.
  3. Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX – Another no brainer. This game was a sister game to Link to the Past, and is pretty good. Doing the DX version means that owners would get a full colorized version with a bonus dungeon.
  4. Tetris – I’m not sure how the rights to this game work. But what is the Game Boy without Tetris?
  5. Kirby’s Dream Land – So far every Classic has come with a Kirby and this was the best one on Game Boy.
  6. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins – 2 was better than 1. Neither is as classic as console Marios.
  7. Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 – Better than 2 and actually a decent game in its own right. It’s unfortunate Wario hasn’t really had a decent release since.
  8. Metroid II: Samus Returns – I don’t think this game was great in the first place and I don’t think it held up either. But, Metroid has name recognition and Nintendo recently did a remake so this makes sense.
  9. Final Fantasy Adventure – This was actually the first Secret of Mana title, but Square didn’t think Americans would understand having a game with a different name? No idea, still it was pretty good.
  10. Final Fantasy Legend II – Second was better than the first, these were true Final Fantasy games.
  11. Donkey Kong Land – Making a clone of a console game and throwing Land at the end of it was pretty common… Again.. name recognition…
  12. Pokemon Pinball – OK… I doubt the GB Classic would come with rumble, and honestly that was kind of the truly revolutionary thing about Pokemon Pinball… that being said, it was a solid little pinball game.
  13. Dr. Mario – Puzzle games do a better job with the test of time because they don’t need great graphics and simple is sometimes better.
  14. Mega Man V – Generally thought of as the best Game Boy Mega Man… I could see them throwing a dart at a board and just picking whatever one it lands on.
  15. Shantae – So Shantae has had a rebirth thanks to a pretty good kickstarter. How epic would it be if Nintendo decided to approach WayForward to get it on the GB Classic?
  16. Gargoyle’s Quest – GQ 2 on NES and Demon’s Crest on SNES are generally well thought of, but this was a solid game in its own right. Neither of the other two were good enough to make it onto the other systems, but there’s not a ton to choose from on the GB and this game turns out to be one of the better on this system.
  17. R-Type DX – Shmups are great, R-Type was an amazing series and this one was in color. This may have issues due to the fact that the company who made it is no more (I don’t even know who owns R-Type anymore), but it would offer a nice bit of variety to the system.
  18. Mario Tennis – Good lord  this series has been around long enough to be on the Game Boy? Why yes it has! Again, the system  needs some variety and even though you don’t generally want to load too many of the same faces, Mario Tennis is fun.
  19. Kid Dracula – The other systems had Castlevania, this system should have the game that made fun of Castlevania.
  20. Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters – Why? Because why not? Kid Icarus is one of those series that people love to want but it turns out the games aren’t great. Still… this would maybe appease some people whining for the series, may raise awareness of the series, and at the very least is a series Nintendo owns that isn’t in the Mario or Pokemon universe.
  21. F-1 Race – Ok we have hit the bottom of the barrel, but when I was looking around for inspiration on this list I noticed that this game was actually the 16th best selling game on the system. I don’t remember it at all, but it sold about 3.5 million units and was published by Nintendo. Even though it sold a lot, I think this would be a great obscure game to add that gives the system variety.

Back to YouTube

Last Sunday, I released my first YouTube video in over a year. It took quite a bit of work to get this video posted. Far more than I had originally thought it would. And now that it’s up, it has taken even more effort refining it once posted, and getting video number 2 up (which was originally intended to go up Thursday, and now I’ve delayed until Sunday). Now I realize that not posting in over a year, is a big no no on YouTube, but I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to get back up and running! I mean, I had made more than 200 videos previously, and though it was varying degrees of quality, I had quite the groove going. I figured since I’m in this bit of YouTube re-discovery, I would share some of my experiences with everyone.

First of all, though I started with my subscriptions, I’m basically starting from scratch. I had previously used Vegas 12 to edit my videos, I moved to Vegas 14 for the first video and the second video is causing me issues so I am trying out Adobe Premiere. Even if I was able to stay with Vegas, I feel like I’m  having to relearn how I did everything. My first video was extremely basic, no outtro, no real intro, no cards used, nothing. It was as barebones as I could make it, and I probably should have followed that for the second video, but I wanted to get my video quality at least back to where I was before (in fact, I was improving it in some cases). It’s amazing what you forget!

I also had many issues actually recording. I started recording last Friday evening and kept having to start over. I had always used Mirallis Action! As my recording studio of choice, but I recall towards the end of my previous youtube tenure, that I was having issues with it for some reason in one of the later releases. So I had bought an Elgato Capture Card in hopes of not only getting a device that worked, but also decreasing the amount of processor time used in capturing. Well unfortunately, for some reason the voice capture kept on glitching out in Elgato, so I would finish my recording job and load it, only to find it was ruined, and then have to start over. It wasn’t until a move to playing No Man’s Sky on the PC and a switch to using Audacity to record voice did I solve all my issues. Long term, I don’t like this solution and in the future I will have to re-dedicate some time to getting it better. The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be any method to hit record for both programs at the same time, so there is a little lag that I need to adjust for when editing.

Onto the bright side of life… it’s been a slow week at work this week. Why is that good? I have spent a lot of time this week researching how I can improve my channel. This has made me re-look at how I had been dealing with SEO on my channel and videos. Over the week I have been fine tuning everything and I think this has already gained me some returns, even though the changes didn’t begin being made until 3 or 4 days after I published the video. I went from around 10 random keywords that related to my videos and channels to about 20 in each and the new keywords are much much more refined than they used to be. I then went back and looked at my description and started fine tuning that as well to make it more keyword dense.

I have also discovered a couple of applications in TubeBuddy and VidIQ that I have found to be tremendously helpful. Both of these are freemium services and chrome extensions that you can sign up to that analyze your channel and give you reminders and suggestions on how to improve your channel. They have a ton of stuff hidden behind a pay wall, and their pay wall is pretty pricey (Starting at $10/month and goes up from there). I honestly can’t imagine paying for either one because I think they are so cost prohibitive, but I see what they have and I’m kind of tempted. Still, even without paying, they are extraordinarily helpful, especially the VidIO extension. I now can go to competitor’s channels and see who is linking to them, what keywords they use, how they are ranked in those keywords, and it even tells you subscriber counts in the comments for everyone. Very helpful stuff, have loved the added info and am using it where I can.

I still have a lot of work cut out for me, but I do feel like I’ve made progress. In episode 2, I am working on getting a decent intro up and running as well as a basic outro. Going forward, I want to get a better outro, and even refine my intro further, get better music for them both (right now I’m relying on Google’s music, but I think I’d be better off using free music from somewhere else), I also kind of want to improve my banner for my channel, though I’m not sure how, and I would like to get a better logo that can actually be used in the intro. On top of that, I want to refine my recording process to make that easier and figure out better ways to promote the channel to get the growth going (YouTube is kind of like a snowball, the more subs/views you get, the faster it grows, so early going it’s a struggle unless you push it).