Tag Archives: cable

Blip Service

How I plan to die.

This is how I plan to die.

This is part 42 in our never-ending coverage of the techpocalypse. Note to self: Kill everyone on staff for overusing the apocalypse thing. -Ed

Once upon I time I said, “Golly gee whiz wilikers, I wish I could see anything I wanted at the time of my choosing. You know, that on demand shit.”

That’s when Lt. Uhura showed up, called me “Captain Adventure,” stunned me with her phaser and uproariously laughed, “Be careful what you wish for.”

One thing they never told you. After one is stunned by a phaser blast one will tend to void their bowels. Finally something worthy of pay-per-view.

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A Link To Centuries

knockingAll I want for Christmas is a “no soliciting” sign. I had one before but a solicitor stole it from my door. I know because I was inside ignoring them when it happened. And, true story, they were selling for the company where I worked. Unbelievable.

In the meantime…

It was a Saturday afternoon. My wife and I were hanging out in the living room with the cats. I wasn’t wearing pants. Suddenly, there came a sound from the door. The cats ran away. The moment was lost.

You know that knock? The one that says, “Hey, it’s me.” It goes like this:

Knock knock!
Knock knock knock knock knock knock.
Knock knock!

I heard that sound and cocked an ear. “Who the hell can that be?” I gasped.

No worries. It was a just a salesperson.

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Roku: A New Hope

Even the Adams Family likes it!

Say hello to my little friend!

Today I would like to introduce Roku. I don’t often gush about electronics but this little guy has got me all hot and bothered.

I think it was maybe a year ago when my wife and I stopped by the local home theater store. Those are always fun places for me. We were looking for a nice set of speakers.

My current home theater consists of a $5 receiver my wife found at a garage sale, a set of used speakers that were a gift from my gerbil (also from a garage sale), and an older smallish TV since our ultra-cool 42 inch plasma died a few days out of warranty. The cable box from Charter Communications is also in there somewhere but I detest the bloody thing.

At the home theater store the salesperson gave us a demo of a device that would play internet music on your home stereo and even included on-screen menus. I believe it played Shoutcast radio stations. It was love at first sight!

Since then I’ve also fallen in love with Pandora and I pay the $3 a month for “Pandora One” which includes higher-quality streaming and removes the limitation of 40 hours per month that comes with a free Pandora account.

So, when my wife recently asked what I wanted for a present, I spouted off the usual logical and responsible ideas: A remote control helicopter that would fit on my hand, a gaming keyboard that glows in the dark, and bottles of Kahlua, Baileys Irish Cream and Grand Marnier – something I have affectionately have dubbed “The B-52 Kit.”

Aside from such practical ideas, however, another thought began to tickle my brain. Perhaps, just perhaps, the time had come to find one of those little devices to play Pandora music through my home stereo. That would be the bomb. I’ve seen Pandora boom boxes and such, and something like that would be cool, but playing Pandora music through my home stereo would be so much cooler.

My search criteria was simple: It had to work through my wifi, would not require my computer to be turned on, and would absolutely not require any subscription service with monthly fees. (Like a Tivo.)

I began to scour the internet but quickly became dismayed by how complicated things seemed to be. There were too many choices and too many horror stories of products that seemed to be almost what I wanted but also difficult to work with your computer, hard to configure, etc.

So I gave up. It wasn’t long after that when, completely by chance, I heard of something called a “Roku.” (Which is also the Japanese word for “six.”)

I quickly learned more and became very excited. This is a device that hooks into your home theater system (both stereo and TV) and grabs music and video from your local wifi router. (It also has a jack for a network cable.) And your computer does not need to be left on, either.

This thing does everything I wanted and more. So we got it.

It’s so small it was easy finding a spot in the cabinet. There is a power adapter and luckily I had room on the power strip. Then two RCA cables connect the audio out to my receiver. Lastly, a yellow “composite” video cable connects the Roku to my TV. (It also supports HDMI but does not include the cable. Unfortunately my TV is too primitive for that.) Installation done!

The thing hooked up, we turned on our TV. We selected our wifi using the remote control (also provided) and setup was a breeze. I did have to go to my computer to create a Roku account, and a computer was required to connect channels, like Pandora. But there were no glitches and it went amazingly fast. Within 5 minutes of power up we were listening to Pandora through my home stereo and never had to do anything excessively geeky. It was great!

The Roku account was completely free and did not ask for credit card information. I can understand why it is required. It is how they tie channel access to your device.

I love listening to music through the Roku. Not once has it ever glitched or paused to “buffer” or anything like that. I like to listen to music when I do the dishes and switching out CDs is a pain. Now my wife says I can do even more dishes! (Curse you, Roku!)

The extra fun, though, it how much other stuff the Roku can do. We were already Netflix subscribers and now we can stream Netflix movies right to our TV. And it works way better than Charter’s “On Demand” ever did. The only bummer is that only certain movies and content are available for streaming. If you can watch something from Netflix on your computer then you can watch it with your Roku. We watched an episode of Saturday Night Live and with no commercials!

There is also something called Hulu Plus. I’d never used Hulu before, but apparently Hulu Plus (which costs $8 a month) does NOT include all of the Hulu content. I signed up for a one-week trial and found very little that I was interested in. In my opinion most of the content is pure crap. Plus, even after paying $8 a month, the content still includes commercials. Yuck! I doubt we’ll be keeping Hulu Plus at this time. I think it still needs to improve.

We also found a free channel called Vimeo, which seemed to be a lot like watching someone’s home movies. We found a video of a family riding around in a boat. I think it might be like another YouTube, but it was a little hard to find anything interesting to watch.

Even more fun – there are lots of free channels. You just select a channel you want, and it adds it to your channel bar. One of those we found is called “Chow.” It’s a channel about food and has even won a James Beard award. And it’s completely free. We watched a show called “How to eat Sushi” and it was pretty good. Something tells me that more free content may show up over time, too.

There are three different Roku devices to choose from. Roku HD is $59.99. The Roku XD is $79.99. (This is the one we got.) And there is one called the Roku XD|S for $99.99. (Which is discounted by $10.00 if you order online for the next day or so.) You can learn more here.

We’ve only had the thing for a week now but we love it. I think it is one of the coolest electronic devices I’ve ever owned. We’re even buying another to give out as a gift. If you like this sort of thing I don’t think you can go wrong with a Roku.

Roku is going to enable me to dump my cable box from Charter Communications once and for all. Yeah!

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Roku in any way and received no compensation in any form for writing this post. These are all just my opinions and my actual experiences with the device.

Charter Communications: The Eat My Ass Trilogy

Charter Communications Sucks

One of my earliest photoshops

To start this post, first a quick definition. “Charter Communications” is a cable company who’s primary function is to run commercials for themselves using vast quantities of their own unsold ad space on their channels. Essentially customers pay for a service where they get to watch commercials for Charter Communications and sometimes, as a bonus, actual programming.

It’s time for Charter Communications, Episode 3, where it can finally be revealed that Charter Communications is my father…

In Episode 1, we learned about an asinine $25 fee that Charter slapped on my ass because my “Quick Pay” payment “didn’t go through” and they couldn’t tell me why. We also learned about Charter shipping jobs out of our country by closing call centers in the United States while opening them up in foreign countries. (In my case I got to work with Panama City, Panama.)

Then, in Episode 2, we learned how I cry at sappy shit. (I so love being pathetic.) But we also learned how Charter’s “On Demand” is one of the largest piles of steaming shit in the galaxy. It’s truly craptacular. A veritable Death Star of Crap.

Today, the rest of the story can finally be told. The saga continues…

Charter Communications: Eat My Ass – Episode 3

It is a dark time for the Charter rebellion. Although treated badly and provided with a horrible product and horrible service, the leader of the rebellion still remains a Charter customer. So far, threats of canceling service or changing companies have never actually been carried out.

We catch up with our hero at a time of service renewal…

Here’s a quick recap of events so far. We were Charter Communications customers. We hated Charter. We had problems with our internet, with our Moxi box, and every single interaction with them was always extremely unpleasant.

We moved into a new house. We found a flier on our door with the direct number to a guy who would help us with Charter. We called and he turned out to be a Charter employee. Since we had moved, he hooked us up with a deal to get internet and TV service for a discount. The discounted price is actually more like what I would call a fair price, not the vastly inflated rates they normally charge. Things were fair and basically worked for that first year. Yes, the box sucked but our internet was ok, so we lived with it.

After that year was up, Charter jacked our rate. For the slowest possible internet and a plan consisting of the smallest possible number of channels, they wanted about $90 a month. That included the “On Demand” box and about 70 channels that we’d always had. That price was simply too outrageous and unacceptable. We made preparations to live without TV and find someone else to provide our internet.

But first, my wife decided to call that guy who had helped us before. She still had the door hang. She talked to him and explained the situation. If we didn’t get relief on their outrageous rates, we would opt-out of Charter once and for all.

The Charter employee (I again confirmed this) said he would extend the rate to us for one more year and we’d continue to have “exactly” what we had now. We agreed to this plan.

This is where Charter starts to make The Empire look like a bunch of amateurs.

For some strange reason, for his plan to work, the Charter employee had to show up at our house and swap out our cable box with one that was exactly the same. He also had to replace our cable modem for the internet. None of this made much sense to me, but whatever. I was merely a hostage in the situation AKA the customer, so I went along with it.

I had to meet the guy after work to let him in the house to make the equipment swaps. He brought in the new box and the cable modem. He swapped everything out. Everything seemed to work. Then he handed me some paperwork to sign.

WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT!!!

On the paper work was the name “Tom Wigglebottom.” I was like, “Who the fuck is that???” It was my first name with a different last name.

The Charter employee explained this was the way it was done. Our service had previously been in my wife’s name. He explained that to continue the special price he had to close the old account, open a new one, and that it had to be in a new name. So he had invented a person with my first name and my wife’s maiden name. “Everyone does it,” he said.

“Fuck that,” I said. “I’m not going to fucking lie to be your customer.”

He said it was too late. He’d already set everything up. He said I had to accept it or everything would be shut off. I reluctantly agreed, but I was seriously pissed off. (I guess this is the moment I sold out my soul and for fucking Charter?)

I asked, “What happens if we have to call in for tech support? There is no human being with that name. They won’t talk to us.” (I knew this because Charter never allowed me to call on my wife’s account.)

“You’ll always have to go through me,” he said. “I’ll be your point of contact.” That sure sounded suspicious to me. The whole thing was one smelly deal.

His deceitful work done, the guy left. Within a day we noticed that our 70 channels were gone. We were now limited to approx. 15 channels, and most of those were public access, shopping and religion. What a wonderful deal! Also, the “On Demand” service that had previously worked OK was now the steaming pile of shit as documented in Episode 2. Something was seriously wrong.

We called the guy back. We certainly didn’t have “exactly” what we had before as he had promised.

Lo and behold, the guy was unavailable and didn’t return our calls. Now we were fucked. So we waited and waited and waited some more.

Finally my wife bird-dogged him and got him on the phone. “It must be the box,” he said. And there began a process lasting a couple of weeks. The guy would come to our house every few days, swap out the box, nothing would change, he’d talk to the home office, then promise to be back with a new box. It was amazing how many times he tried this.

Eventually the guy got pissy with us. “Listen,” he said. “You were never supposed to have those channels in the first place,” he hissed.

What the fuck? He was the one that set up the original deal! And promised to give us the same thing again. “Exactly,” he had said. And now he was making us feel like criminals for having something we weren’t supposed to have??

“We never asked for those,” I said, “nor did I ever know they weren’t supposed to be part of our plan.”

“Take it or leave it,” he said.

And this is an example of a Charter employee? Someone who doesn’t keep his promises, lies, is unethical, and then disappears after saying he’s your only point of contact. And at one point he told me, “This is how it works. Everyone does it.

In closing, I’d like to thank Charter for making my asshole three sizes too large. That must be their version of The Grinch Who Stole Abysmass.

Epilogue – A New Hope

It is beginning to look like we may have the last laugh after all. For my birthday I wanted a device that would play Pandora music on my home stereo using our wifi. It took some time but we finally found such a device. And it does so much more than just music. (More on this device in a post coming soon.)

In fact, finally, we’re going to be able to fire Charter, at least partially.

It turns out the device can stream Netflix and all sorts of other programming directly to our TV. Charter’s “On Demand” service is now obsolete. (Cue the party in my pants.) And the little device works awesome. One simple little device comes along and makes everything Charter does look like a tinker toy. That’s neat.

This next week we will be turning in our Charter box. We are also considering turning off their TV service altogether. That will mean we’ll be paying their cheapest rate for high speed internet. That will probably be something like $60 to $70 a month without being in a “bundle.” What a rip off. But our overall monthly bill with them will still go down. And we’ll finally be able to put our account back in our own friggin’ names and terminate the snarky lie their employee established.

So, that’s it for now. The trilogy is complete. Originally I had envisioned a series of nine stories about Charter. Three more “prequels” and then three more continuing what happens next. But I don’t think I have that kind of energy. Maybe instead I’ll just be done with them forever…

Beg, steal and borrow: A gerbil’s tale

What's mine is mine and what's yours is mine

Gerbils sure are industrious little critters.

My little point and shoot camera isn’t much but it’s all I have. My wife and I used to have two of the exact same cameras, but one was lost, along with a vacation’s worth of pictures, in a Greek restaurant in the big city. I don’t recall what I was drinking that night but it must have made me forgetful. As far as we can tell, I must have left the camera in the booth and it was never seen again. Someone out there got some crazy pictures of me at the Chinese gardens, that’s for sure!

I guess it would probably be a good idea to make a sign that says, “Hello. My name is Tom B. Taker and this is my camera. My email address is shoutabyss@live.com and my phone number is 555-555-5555.” I could have my picture taken holding that sign and keep it as Photo #1 on the camera for all time. Yeah, something like that would probably be a good idea. I guess that’s probably why I’ve never gotten off my ass and done it yet! Maybe we should also use a Sharpie to write my name in my underwear. Meh.

It turns out that our son, the gerbil, has a camera like ours, too. Same make but a newer model and, amazingly, it uses the exact same USB cable to download pictures into the computer.

I have these hooks in my home office where I hang my car keys. I’ve always kept the camera cable hanging on one of those hooks because I do not want to lose that puppy. We don’t have fancy things like card readers.

Even though we were careful somehow the cable still went missing. We were never sure what happened and just shrugged it off as one of those things.

We take a lot more pictures than the gerbil, so we ended up “borrowing” his camera cable. That was a few months ago.

I don’t want to go into all of the specific gerbil news of late, but suffice it to say he has been quasi-moved out of our house for about two months now. In a nutshell that means that all of his stuff is still in our home, his dead car is still in our driveway, and we see him about twice a week but only when he needs favors.

Somehow this weekend my wife ended up going through some of the gerbil’s possessions that still remained in our home. They are likely to be there until the day we die.

Suddenly I heard my wife cry out in alarm. “You are not going to believe this,” she yelled across the house.

Fearing the worst, I stayed relaxed and kept my ass glued to my chair in front of my computer as she came to me rather than the other way around. “Guess what I just found?” she asked.

She held up a camera USB cable. “This is the gerbil’s camera cable!”

I dumbly looked at her holding up the cable and then over at our camera case. Laying there, next to our camera, was the twin to that camera USB cable. A light bulb went off over my head. “That means we’ve been borrowing our own damn cable from the kid this whole damn time!!!”

She just nodded. “Yup!”

Bundle this with your small print

An online ad for Qwest internet service says, “Connection speeds up to 7 mbps just $25 a month for 12 months.” That sounds pretty good. Maybe I’m actually interested. Ooops! Wait one cotton-picking minute. Underneath comes the bad news in grayed text and a smaller font: “When bundled with home phone service.” Ah, therein lies the rub!

Or consider Dan Hesse, the CEO of Sprint, the guy who inserts himself into his own company’s TV commercials, when he says, “Wouldn’t it be nice to get everything we offer for one low monthly rate?” Sure. I’d go for all that and a bag of chips. By the way, what is the rate for their “Simply Everything” plan? $99.99 a month for an individual or $189.98 a month for the “family” version (which includes up to two lines.) Fuck me! For a goddamn cell phone?????? Why doesn’t he mention those numbers in the TV commercials? Not exactly the kind of information that will induce one to sprint to the phone to order, eh?

Taco Bell (quickly approaching cliché status here in the abyss) is currently running an advertising campaign for something known as the “Drive-Thru Diet.”

How does a dictionary define the word “diet?”

“a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight”

What does Taco Bell say about usage of the word “diet” in the fine print for this promotion?

“DRIVE-THRU-DIET® IS NOT A WEIGHT-LOSS PROGRAM … NOT A LOW CALORIE FOOD.”

Calling it a “diet” while at the same time claiming it is not a diet. Fiendishly clever, motherfuckers.

Or how about the local big box store? They run an ad that says “Everything is on sale!” with an asterisk. The fine print, of course, says something like: “Excludes housewares, linens and home electronics.” It makes me wonder how they can use the word “everything” for something like that. You keep using that word “everything.” I do not think it means what you think it means. Inconceivable!

The biggest bundle pusher ever, however, has got to be Charter Cable, one of the worst companies of all time. They can’t sell all of their cable TV advertising space, so they cram those unsold spots to the gills with commercials for their own shit. Which consists primarily of them hyping something known as the Charter “bundle.” They want you to “bundle and save” but the reality is that if you fall for the bundle you’ll end up sending them more money than if you had only ordered what you really wanted. On the plus side, however, Charter assures you that one of the benefits is that your bill will be “simplified.” Gee, if only there was someone who had control over the bill who cared enough to make it simple in the first place. Bundle up your cable TV, your high-speed internet and our crappy telephone product and “save.” Of course, bundling doesn’t change the fact that it is still the same shitty company. FAIL.

What ever happened to truth in advertising? Why are companies allowed to advertise using words that are absolutely devoid of meaning and are utterly false? Why does our government simply stand by and shrug as they do that? Advertisers shouldn’t be allowed to use a word like “everything” unless it actually means “everything.” I mean, come on! That’s the freakin’ purpose of that particular word! The fact is that our government doesn’t enforce jack shit on commercials except in the most extreme and egregious of cases. The rest of the time it is open season, and on who? Yep, the American consumer.

Stuff rules.

By the way, “He went to Jared” isn’t covered by the concept of truth in advertising. For that we desperately need the Anti-Hurl in Advertising Act or what I like to call AHAA!