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12 Netflix Tricks You Aren't Using (But Should Be)

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By Wil Fulton

It's difficult to remember my life before Netflix, and frankly, I'd rather not. The era of all-day binge-watching and having unlimited titles waiting patiently at our literal fingertips has completely revolutionized the way we consume media—but still, even the best things in life have some room for improvement. 

Here are 12 tips, tricks, and "hacks" (for lack of a better word) that will improve your Netflix experience dramatically, all compatible with the current, revamped version of the site. You may never leave your house again.

1. Add Rotten Tomatoes ratings, IMDb links, and trailers.

If you want to instantly improve your binging, your first step should be downloading the Netflix Enhancement Suite, a smorgasbord of vital add-ons in one succinct (and free) package. From pop-up ratings off of Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes (so you can separate the cream from the crap) to IMDb profiles, to trailers for basically every title, once you enhance, you'll wonder how you ever Netflixed without it. 

2. Use an unblocker to get other countries' Netflix movies.

Did you know other countries' Netflixes have movies and TV shows that aren't included on our US version? What the hell, right?! Why should Argentina get Modern Family, when we're stuck streaming five seasons of Undercover Boss? Unblockers like Smartflix (for free) or the pay-for-play Media Hint trick the site into thinking you are in another country, granting you access to literally hundreds of new titles. Though Media Hint isn't free, it may be a better option than Hola, considering the unblocker has landed in some hot water recently over security issues. Unblock at your own risk.

SCREENSHOT VIA FLIX ROULETTE

3. Play Netflix Roulette.

Do you ever wish Netflix had a "random" button, so you didn't spend the prime of your life skimming over 4,000 titles, only to settle on rewatching Parks and Recreation for the hundredth time? Flix Roulette is this miracle device, and much more: you can pick directors, actors, or even keywords (like sexy thrillers featuring a strong bisexual lead) to help hone your searches. All-day Frank Stallone marathon, here I come. 

4. Put an end to buffering.

Buffering time is the scourge of bingers everywhere. How can one be expected to navigate Mad Men's dark themes and dramatic buildups, if the climax is snarled by the horrors of excessive loading? There are some workarounds here, but they only work for watching on a computer: while playing a title, hold down Shift+Opt (Shift+Alt for Windows) and left click to open up a "hidden" menu (called the Stream Manager) with buffering fixes and other streaming options. If you are using Chrome, press Ctrl+Shift+Alt/Opt+S to access this menu. If you're streaming on Wii, Xbox 360, or PlayStation 3 use the directional pad click up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, up, up, up, up.

5. Watch Netflix at weird times for better video quality.

One way to improve your video quality is streaming during off-peak hours (like early in the morning, late at night, etc.), according to a Digital Trends report. During the study, they found video quality and speed improved significantly during hours when fewer people were logged into the site binging. Finally, a legit excuse to quit your job and stay home to watch some high-quality Kimmy Schmidt

6. Know all the computer shortcuts.

These five keyboard shortcuts will make your binging more efficient, leaving you with even more time to scar yourself for life by watching Black Mirror:

F will give you full screen; Esc will take you out of it
PgDn pauses; PgUp will play 
- The spacebar will also pause and play
Shift + Right Arrow will fast-forward; Shift + Left Arrow will rewind
M should toggle your mute button, depending on your computer

SCREENSHOT VIA NETFLIX

7. Make sure you're optimizing for HD.

Wouldn't you be embarrassed if you were paying for HD streaming, but weren't even using it? This is the case for many Netflixers, who neglect to check out their streaming settings -- just go to Netflix.com/HdToggle to make sure you're always set up for HD viewing. WARNING: if you like to catch up on Breaking Bad outside of Wi-Fi zones, this will seriously destroy your data plan (HD videos use up more data, duh).

8. Customize your subtitles.

If you're a foreign-film buff, but don't own 30 versions of Rosetta Stone, you probably rely heavily on subtitles. But even the biggest supporters of Fellini and connoisseurs of Kurosawa might not realize you can adjust the default Netflix subtitles to change color, size, font, and more -- based on your preferences, and what fits the title you're viewing. All you need to do is go to Your Account > Your Profile > Subtitle Appearance, and prepare to soak up all that delicious culture. 

9. Binge with friends using Rabbit.

If you're in a long-distance relationship and waiting to finish House of Cards until you and your significant other are reunited, the video-chat service Rabbit is a great alternative to FaceTime and/or Skype. Unlike the two previously mentioned video-chatting services, Rabbit allows you to launch a window that can be viewed by all the parties in the chat—inside that window, you can do whatever you wish, including streaming your favorite shows and movies. So essentially, you can latch onto someone else's viewing, with another window open to video chat and message in real time.  

10. Wear Netflix socks to prevent spoilers.

There's nothing worse than nodding off during the third episode of House of Cards, only to wake up during an exceptionally spoilery scene in episode 10. That's the inspiration for Netflix socks, which sport an embedded pulse sensor that automatically pauses whatever you're watching when it detects you've fallen asleep, so you never miss a moment. They don't come ready-made quite yet, but this comprehensive tutorial has everything you need to make them yourself.  

11. Use the "Netflix Bible" to find exactly what you're looking for.

If browsing simple categories like "Action," or "Romance," just isn't scratching that itch, What's On Netflix has a veritable encyclopedia of weird, wild, and interesting subgenres that would never show up while skimming the surface of the site. They provide easy-to-use ID codes that can be added to the end of a provided Netflix URL, that will send you straight to the promised land. Try 6384 for "Tearjerkers," if you're looking to have a nice cry. 

12. Consult Reddit for the best titles to watch.

On the other hand, if you have no clue what you're looking for, an excellent point of reference lies within the vast Internet wasteland/gold mine of Reddit, where the dedicated subreddit r/NetflixBestOf features a frighteningly motivated community of film and television fans that provides constant recommendations on notable titles they've stumbled across. And if you're specifically in the mood for a Netflix original, this ranking should give you some ideas, too.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

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