Hulu, Pandora, Netflix and more from outside the USA, with IPVanish VPN

One of the pains of living “in the province of the empire,” that is to live outside the United States of America, is that access to many online services is precluded on the basis of geographical restrictions.

Hulu, Pandora, Netflix, just to name a few, will simply refuse to work for you — no matter how much you’re willing to pay. In fact, it is extremely frustrating to know that such companies are forced by copyright vultures to refuse access to international customers, and ultimately lose income. It’s a matter of origin: these services see what country your IP address belongs to, and decide whether to let you in or not.

If you can appear to be online from the US, they will often happily accept international credit cards: after all, if it were for them, there would be no silly geographical restriction in the first place. How do you pretend you’re coming from the US? You use a VPN.

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NewsHosting’s Usenet binary revolution

I recently had the chance to try Newshosting‘s Usenet service, and I was very favorably impressed. For those who don’t know, Usenet is one of the oldest communication systems on the Internet, dating back to 1979. It was born as a bulletin-like system, and is very similar in usage to e-mail. Unlike e-mail, however, it’s greatly decentralyzed and news servers, as they are called, synchronize with one another. Each server carries several groups (also called newsgroups; normally they’re counted in the thousands), and each one of them is dedicated to a specific topic.

While Usenet usage is unfortunately declining for text, heavily supplanted by web-based forums and, in more recent times, social networks, it’s being more and more used to carry binary contents. There are many groups (whose name normally include “binary” or “binaries”) dedicated to the exchange of video files, audio files and, essentially, all sorts of material. In this arena, since very few ISPs still run a newsserver at all, and those few that do will just not carry binary groups, several commercial Usenet providers fill the gap. I am currently a customer of UsenetServer, but I may just switch to NewsHosting.

I want to make it clear that it is not my intention to advocate or promote piracy in any way. This post is solely dedicated to highlighting the differences between Usenet binaries and the more widely known BitTorrent system, and showing how NewsHosting got it just perfectly right. Let’s start from the beginning, but if you want, you can jump to the review by clicking here.

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TV shows I’ll be watching

In case anybody cares, here is what I will be watching:

  • Weeds (season 6), Showtime, Mondays — in progress
  • Cougar Town (season 2), ABC, Wednesdays — starting Sept. 22nd
  • The Big Bang Theory (season 4), CBS, Thursdays — starting Sept. 23rd
  • 30 Rock (season 5), NBC, Thursdays — starting Sept. 23rd

Of course, if you — like me — don’t live in the US, there are ways to watch them almost live. You could start looking at the sidebar of this blog, for instance.

Why am I saying this? Well, I may write about the shows here as I have done in the past, so be warned.

Incidentally, you may notice that they’re all sitcoms, aside from Weeds which is somewhat difficult to classify, but definitely has quite some humor. That’s because the days are getting shorter, the weather is getting worse and S.A.D. is lurking in ambush behind the corner. By the way, do those Philips LivingColors thingies help at all?

Cougar Town, a lighthearted sitcom worth watching

Cougar Town is an ABC sitcom focusing on the life of Jules Cobbs, a recently-divorced 41-year-old woman (played by Courteney Cox) who struggles to find a new partner and ultimately her place in the world, as most men her age are either married or going after younger girls.

The name of show is obviously a reference to the slang word “cougar,” which refers to an older woman who pursues younger men (see Wikipedia), and to the football team mascot of the local high school. However, do not expect to see a woman chase young man after young man, because — despite what the first few episodes might suggest — that’s not how the story unfolds at all. Indeed, the first season explores the life of a group of 40-something friends (both married and divorced), and that of Jules’ son.

The writers chose a lighthearted approach to all the topics touched by the show, and that’s probably why it works. There isn’t much room for deep, philosophical conversations between any characters, and their “life-changing revelations” are fast-paced and often quite dull. One might wonder whether the characters themselves are that superficial, or if they deliberately choose not to seek important changes in their lives, settling for the path of least effort.

Still, as I said, the whole thing works. Keep in mind that this is not a show you’re going to watch if you’re looking for intricate storylines or subtle details that only come up when you play the episode again. You still find yourself looking forward to what’s happening next, no doubt, but it’s more out of curiosity than anything else. In other words, you will likely not “root” for any characters; except maybe Andy, as the guy is so clumsy and resigned that you can’t help but wish that he finally gets his way sooner or later. In any case the acting is not bad at all, and the two other female characters’ approach to life, Ellie (Christa Miller) and Laurie (Busy Phillips) do change quite a lot over the course of the show.

An interesting thing I noticed is that, while sex is inevitably a common topic and you will get clear visual clues that a couple just made love (that is, cuddling in bed under the sheets), there isn’t any nudity at all. However, even with the lighthearted approach, I suspect that a kid — and maybe even a young teenager — would fail to grasp many of the implications of divorce, age disparity and so on.

This leads me to the only complaint I have about the series: the liberal use and promotion of alcohol, specifically wine, by virtually all the characters except Travis, the son. One episode actually pivots about Jules’ attempt to stop drinking, resulting in an unusual intervention by anybody else to urge her to start drinking again. While, as I said, Cougar Town is certainly not targeted at kids or teenagers, I am surprised that such glorification of alcoholic beverages made it through. Let’s not forget that we live in an era in which there have been attempts to rate movies as “R” simply because someone smokes in them.

The episodes are quite short, barely touching 22 minutes each. If you have access to the box set or to the video files, that means that the whole first season will take less than nine hours to go through.

All in all, Cougar Town is a nice show to watch and every episode is packed with comic moments and funny quotes that will not fail to entertain. Here are a few clips to give you an idea:







And if you manage to watch season 1 quickly, you’ll be pleased to know that season 2 premieres on September 22nd.

Chords for “Soft Kitty,” from The Big Bang Theory

One of the funniest “inside jokes” of The Big Bang Theory is the song that Sheldon’s mom used to sing to him when he was sick. It’s featured in three episodes, as you can see here:


The song is, like most lullabies, very simple. I came up with the chords earlier today, while jamming with my ukulele. Here they are, for all my musically-inclined nerdy readers. Corrections are welcome.

[G] Soft kitty, [C] warm kitty,
[G] little ball of [D] fur;
[G] happy kitty, [C] sleepy kitty,
[G] purr, [D] purr, [G] purr.

Interesting trivia: they are almost the same chords as The Lion Sleeps Tonight, except for a minor difference in the last verse that shouldn’t prevent the most creative among you to fit one into the other.

Should you prefer so, you could play it as C F C G / C F C G C or by whichever transposition makes you happy.

The Woz on The Big Bang Theory

As if anybody needed another reason to watch The Big Bang Theory, here it is: the Woz is going to be on it. Gizmodo reports that he wrote so on Facebook, and it’s currently unknown when the episode will be aired and whether he will play himself, it’s obvious that it’s going to be great. I can’t wait for Raj and Wolowitz short-circuiting when they see him. Can you say nerdgasm?

Weeds comes back tonight on Showtime

For those in the US and who are addicted to Weeds (get it?), the sixth season starts tonight at 10 PM ET/PT, whatever time zone that translates to for you. In all truth, the premiere has been leaked a few days ago, but if you’re like me, you resisted the temptation. Good for you.

According to the teaser and the trailer, Nancy and her family flee to Canada after Shane killed Pilar in the season 5 finale. They all take up new identities (going from Botwin to Newman), but as the trailer suggests, “you can take the girl out of the business, but you can’t take the business out of the girl.” The trailer suggests that Doug, Cesar and the never-hairy-enough Ignacio are there, at least in the first episode. Online sources claim that Lupita is apparently coming back, which is definitely going to be fun. Hopefully they can get rid of Esteban soon.

I will have to wait until tomorrow to watch it, but hey, it’s definitely well worth the wait.

Also remember that that both 30 Rock and The Big Bang Theory come back on September 23rd, on NBC and CBS respectively. Whee!

Edit: Showtime posted a video on the cast’s memory loss. The actor who plays Doug is Doug-y in real life too, it seems. Way to go!