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Cord Cutting is Devastating Comcast. Will They Be Disrupted or Save Themselves?

A site I follow, Cord Cutters News, had this interesting article today about a Comcast Executive Vice President gave a warning to investors, “…that the company expects to report losses of 100,000 to 150,000 video subscribers in the third quarter 2017. That is a massive swing of subscribers because just one year ago in the third quarter of 2016 Comcast added 149,000 video subscribers.

Comcast, and other cable companies, are being disrupted by all the online streaming TV offerings and especially DirecTV NOW. Since our family has an AT&T Unlimited Plan, we “cut the cord” with Comcast (plus we’re selling our home and downsizing anyway) and signed up for the DirecTV NOW basic service with HBO added. The total cost is a measly $15 per month.

We also ditched TiVO and their $20 per month DVR pricing so we’re saving well over $100 per month on TV. Yes, we have Netflix, Hulu and a subscription to AcornTV (we love British television) so our total outlay is higher but still under $50 per month.

How could we NOT cut the cord? Especially since DirecTV NOW will soon have a recording capability and a new user interface (sometime this Fall). Our kids are now adults but are classified as Millennials and they, especially, don’t care at all about having cable TV options. They want streaming, on-demand, and binge-watching options and neither of them care about sports options which cable TV companies basically force us all to pay for monthly.

WHY ISN’T COMCAST / XFINITY DOMINATING STREAMING?

Comcast could argue that they are in this space as they provide an Xfinity Stream app. The issue is that this app’s service pricing is not even close to being competitive to other offerings (e.g., SlingTV; DirecTV NOW) and its pricing is almost identical to an Xfinity cable TV subscription.

Those streaming TV “deals” come with the same old cable TV-like pricing games: You sign up for a “first 12 months” — for what appears to be a somewhat competitive price — only to have it jump by 50% after the “deal’s” first term ends. (e.g., in my home area of zip code 55347, a streaming TV app subscription for 140+ channels is $49.99 for the first 12 months but leaps to as much as $75 per month once the term ends AND you are locked in for that entire term).

On that deals page under the “Add to Cart” button, there is a Pricing & Other Info link. Clicking it reveals this text in the popup:

Offer ends 10/29/17. Restrictions apply. Not available in all areas. New residential customers only. Limited to Digital Starter service. 1-year minimum term agreement required. Early termination fee applies if all XFINITY services are cancelled during the agreement term. Equipment, installation, taxes and fees, including Broadcast TV Fee (up to $8/mo.), Regional Sports Fee (up to $6.50/mo.) and other applicable charges extra, and subject to change during and after the promo. After applicable promo, or if any service is cancelled or downgraded, regular rates apply. Comcast’s monthly service charge for Digital Starter, ranges based on area, from $52.49 to $75.49 (subject to change). Service limited to a single outlet. May not be combined with other offers. Limited Basic Service subscription required to receive other levels of service. On Demand™ selections subject to charge indicated at time of purchase. Not all programming available in all areas. 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee applies to one month’s recurring service charge and standard installation up to $500. Call for restrictions and complete details. ©2017 Comcast. All rights reserved.

So you can see that it’s basically a cable TV subscription but through an app. You also cannot end your cable TV subscription and immediately subscribe through the app (New residential customers only). Also, there will be all sorts of associated fees and taxes — like the “Regional Sports Fee” whether or not you even care about sports — a fee that you do not have to pay with competing services.

My wife and I got sick-and-tired of having to go to the Comcast/Xfinity ‘store’ near our house every six months or otherwise our cable TV subscription would often jump-up by $60 or more. Numerous times over the last decade we’ve suddenly received a Comcast bill that was more than double our “reasonably priced deal” monthly subscription. We refuse to play Comcast’s game so we said goodbye a couple of months ago.

Comcast absolutely could own this streaming TV space but their streaming app subscription is virtually identical in cost to a cable TV subscription, so being competitive (and stopping their game-playing with pricing) means they would have to decimate their own TV business which they’re not likely to do.

Why would Comcast not cannibalize their own cable TV business?

Harvard Business School professor and author Clayton Christensen, wrote a best-selling book called The Innovator’s Dilemma (which The Economist named as one of the six most important books about business ever written). Its premise is that successful, outstanding companies can do everything “right” and yet still lose their market leadership – or even fail – as new, unexpected competitors rise and take over the market  (book at Amazon).

The reason Comcast will quite likely lose their leadership (or fail) is because they have so many contracts with TV providers they’d have to unwind, cable TV subscriptions they would lose to cord cutting, and top-line revenue they would have to replace, that it’s probable they will fail.

I, for one, will be happy to say goodbye to the cable TV gaming when it comes to their pricing models (and, hopefully soon, the cable TV company internet-service-provider monopoly, but that’s a topic for another post).

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Healthcare Costs: No Transparency and Ready for Massive Disruption

Healthcare costs are out of control and, in particular, negatively impact those of us whose healthcare is individually insured in the United States (the U.S. Census Bureau states that approximately 9% of we 323.1 million Americans are individually insured or uninsured).

There is no pricing transparency and healthcare is not a free market.

Whether it is the wildly differing prices of an MRI to our costs for pharmaceuticals being among the highest in the world, the fact that there is no transparency, near-zero alternatives, little power to drive costs lower as consumers, and that most of the health-insured in America don’t shop around since they are only responsible for a low co-pay amount, this is a market ready for massive disruption.

This massive disruption may start with Amazon inserting itself in to the drug supply chain and disrupting it as you’ll see below.

My post from yesterday about Why Trump and the GOP’s Healthcare Approach is a Barrier to Entrepreneurs compelled me to add something today about healthcare costs, specifically because our current president and Congressional leadership are doing nothing about controlling costs of pharmaceuticals, wildly different prices for procedures, and positioning consumers to shop around for lowest prices in order to create an actual free market.

This Wikipedia article points out why U.S. healthcare costs are so high and that it’s not a free market and outcomes are lacking:

Unlike most markets for consumer services in the United States, the health care market generally lacks transparent market-based pricing. Patients are typically not able to comparison shop for medical services based on price, as medical service providers do not typically disclose prices prior to service. Government mandated critical care and government insurance programs like Medicare also impact market pricing of U.S. health care. According to the New York Times in 2011, “the United States is far and away the world leader in medical spending, even though numerous studies have concluded that Americans do not get better care” and prices are the highest in the world.

As patients we generally do not have access to pricing information until after medical services have been rendered which is fundamentally flawed and goes against everything I believe in when it comes to the free market.

Would you buy ANYTHING if the manufacturer or retailer didn’t tell you until AFTER the purchase how much it would cost? Of course you wouldn’t. But that is EXACTLY what happens when you have a co-pay and figure that you’ll let the insurance company and provider fight it out over price since you only have to pay some nominal amount.

Here’s one example which, if you had to buy it yourself (like I would since our family is individually insured), is a reason I’m so up-in-arms about healthcare costs: A chest MRI in Minneapolis (where I’m from) is available from standalone MRI businesses for $460. One hospital here charges $2,026 for the same MRI! (from this article).

It gets worse with pharmaceuticals but maybe Amazon will come to the rescue.

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Why Trump and the GOP's Healthcare Approach is a Barrier to Entrepreneurs

As small business owners, my wife and I are one of the 18 million individually insured families in the United States. In addition, since I’ve been in the tech community in Minnesota for my entire career (and also published Minnov8.com for over a decade), I know all too well the only way most startups can happen is if a spouse has healthcare insurance. You’ll see why in a moment.

This morning I received an email from our Minnesota healthcare insurance exchange called MNSure about a ‘sneak peak’ at 2018 health care plans. I immediately went there and discovered that the plan we’ve been on for 2017 has our family monthly premium rising by $200 a month to *over* $2,000.

The ‘range’ for our out-of-pocket medical expenditures go from a yearly “low at $25,115” (for which there is a 17% chance we’d actually be on the low side) to a “bad at $37,815” (and a 12% chance at that). The average is $31,155.

When you add up all the out-of-pocket prescriptions and little “nits” we pay, I’m gonna guess we’ll shell out $35,000 or so like we did the last couple of years.

WHO THE HELL CAN AFFORD THAT KIND OF AFTER-TAX MONEY!?! More to the point, even with a Health Savings Account (HSA) — which can’t be used for the $24,514.80 in premiums we’ll pay for 2018 — the total amount we will pay out for medical stuff is 73% of the U.S. mean household income (that mean is $72,641 and I’m assuming a conservative and low 35% paid in taxes).

Yes, Affordable Care Act subsidies still exist, but don’t Trump and his GOP minions truly understand that the #1 roadblock to startups in the U.S. is the enormity of individually insuring one’s family?

There is no f__ing way I’d start up a tech company today if my family was still young and take the risk of no insurance — or having a wildly expensive plan that would virtually guarantee we’d fail without significant VC backing — since there were many times in our past small business owning lives when we didn’t take a salary, sometimes for a couple of months at a time.

Hope they think about this as they stumble their way forward trying to hide the fact they don’t give a shit about the lower, middle or upper middle classes in America.

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Why Cross-Site Tracking for Ads is Disturbing, But Also Badly Targeted

We’ve all had these sorts of experiences: A friend or loved one uses your computer to, for example, look up skateboarding and you soon notice that when you’re on some news site you typically frequent but suddenly the advertisements are now skateboarding related? Then you go to Facebook and the same thing happens with those types of ads appearing?

What’s bothersome to me is BOTH the ads AND the cross-site tracking companies that advertisers use so they can “follow us around” and display what they think are relevant ads. The problem is that my wife and I share a single Amazon Prime account so I logged in to Amazon as her this moring, bought her a new backup hard drive (her current one died), and then looked at my news reader and clicked on this Ars Technica article.

The ads were suddenly for beauty products like this one:

While I get my beauty sleep and care how I look, I do NOT use Clinique so I come across with a “better glow.”  😉

Here’s the thing: Ars Technica is a geek site and highly technical in its articles and why I so enjoy reading it. But I usually only read it in a browser with ad blocking turned on because, after they were acquired in 2008 by Advance, the parent company of publisher Conde Nast, their ads slowly-but-surely became larger and more intrusive like the HUGE one above (which, by the way, is in THREE other places on the page as I scrolled down.

USING AN AD BLOCKER
Ads are intrusive overall regardless, but they are REALLY annoying when I’m reading on my iPad which is what I typically do. Why? Because constantly loading ads in a header or sidebar means that, as I’m reading and maybe halfway down the article, it suddenly jumps to the top of the page! I get SO pissed off that I typically hammer on the publisher through tweets or an email, but they don’t care so never respond.

On my iPad I use 1Blocker to block cross-site tracking and ads, primarily to stop that behavior I just mentioned but also since it is a MUCH better experience to not be punched-in-the-face with ads since they are never discrete…they only want to intrude, interrupt, and completely take over one’s reading experience. They also make their “close boxes” as hard as possible to use so we inadvertently launch the ad’s website so the publisher gets credit for click-through!

Here is the exact-same article on my iPad:

If you’re interested in an ad-blocker (and, in some cases, a cross-site tracking blocker) for iOS, here are some options.

Google’s Chrome browser is the one I use but they are taking NO leadership for us. Only for themselves, advertisers and cross-site tracking companies since Google’s business model is primarily ad-centric and they provide us with all of those “free” services (e.g., Gmail; calendar; voice; and more) to get better-and-better at advertising to us and selling our data to others.

WHAT I DO
I don’t use ad-blockers or cross-site tracking blocking in Chrome usually since it interferes with too many web development activities which I perform within our Innov8Press business. Instead, I create site-specific browsers using Coherence 5 so cookies are self-contained within my “search” browser, for example, since Coherence allows you to turn any website into a full-blown macOS application in seconds. And, using the power of Google Chrome, allows each app to have separate settings and extensions.

STOPPING CROSS-SITE TRACKING
Fortunately there is hope. Apple’s decision to stop the cross-site tracking of advertising companies in the newest version of the Safari browser (version 11) — and put the power back in to the hands of those of us doing things online — has come to the fore with great controversy.

Publishers are obviously upset since their business models are advertiser-centric. While I completely understand their motivation, don’t they know that bitch-slapping us with ads, making them as HUGE as possible, hiring cross-site tracking companies to follow us around, does nothing but make everyone want them to STOP!!

Perhaps if publishers showed some restraint and took the high-road, things would be different. But for now I know I will do WHATEVER IT TAKES to block ads and cross-site tracking companies.

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Colorspike is a Portable & Programmable LED Lightbar for Filmmakers and Still Photographers

There is a recently launched Kickstarter for a portable and programmable LED lightbar called colorspike that is pretty amazing. Whether you’re a filmmaker (or wannabee like me goofing around shooting 4K video with my Nikon D500) or a still photographer, this new gadget is sure to open up huge creative possibilities.

The few professional filmmakers I’ve been able to meet over the years have one saying they all agree on:

The crew doesn’t matter, everything off frame doesn’t matter, all that counts is what’s on screen…it’s the shot that counts.

Though there are a lot of variables in getting to that on-screen shot outcome, there is no question that achieving the perfect shot is heavily dependent upon lighting. Trying to get lighting effects like a flickering campfire, police/fire/ambulance lights, or various kinds of mood lighting is typically achieved with colored gels smeared on lights. Besides being a pain-in-the-butt to use, using gels is slow, tedious, and very creatively limiting.

If it’s the shot that counts, getting that shot might take multiple (and sometimes dozens!) of attempts to get lighting effects set just right to achieve the shot. Colorspike looks like it will definitely give us a virtually unlimited lighting effect and color palette to work with as we shoot video or stills.

If you pledge $299 you can get one and they expect to deliver in March 2018. Check out the colorspike Kickstarter page to learn a lot more and see screenshots of the app too.

Before you go, however, take a few minutes to watch the video below and you’ll likely begin to imagine what you might do with this clever tool:

via BoingBoing

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Be Aware of the Biggest Change in macOS High Sierra: APFS

After upgrading to macOS High Sierra on my MacBook, I also
converted my 512GB SSD Time Machine backup drive to APFS

Upgrading to macOS High Sierra? There are enough new features that it certainly seems worthwhile, though you’ll actually notice little difference in the upgrade since most of the changes are under-the-hood in car-speak and not necessarily visible.

Though mostly hidden from view, you do need to be aware that Apple has implemented APFS — the Apple File System — and it’s a ‘mandatory’ change when you upgrade if your Mac’s internal drive is a solid state one. (NOTE: If you have a Fusion or spinning hard disk drive (HDD), an upgrade to macOS High Sierra will not update your drives to APFS but the new operating system will be installed).

What does this change in the file system mean for you? It’s the wave of the future for Apple and works with iPhones and iPads so sharing files will be more seamless in the future. APFS is also a ‘modern’ file system optimized for fast, solid state drives (SSDs).

If you upgrade any Mac with an internal SSD, the Apple File System will automatically convert your drive and its contents (and yes, it will preserve your FileVault encryption if implemented since APFS fully supports FileVault). Like magic it just happens and the upgrade was surprisingly fast.

As far as I can tell (or from what I’ve experienced thus far) there are no “deal killers” by upgrading to macOS High Sierra, but you should be aware of what changing to APFS means.

Here are some things you need to know if you are upgrading:

a) Apple: Prepare for APFS in macOS High Sierra

b) OWC’s blog post: Translating Apple’s New High Sierra & APFS Compatibility Document

c) For those more technically-minded, here is an Apple File System Guide on Apple’s developer site that gets in to more detail.

d) Still on the fence about upgrading to macOS High Sierra or want to know a lot more? Ars Technica has the best in-depth analysis of the new operating system I’ve read yet.

At this point I’ve upgraded my MacBook to macOS High Sierra but not my main, production iMac since I cannot afford any hiccups with it. Still, I’ve seen absolutely nothing yet that would deter me from doing so, but on my main production machines I always wait at least a week to ensure there aren’t any “gotchas” with a new OS release. It’s likely by early next week I will have upgraded my iMac to macOS High Sierra too.

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Why This MICHELIN® Tire Promo is Essentially a Scam

UPDATE ON 9/25/17

In August I purchased four MICHELIN® brand tires for my 2013 Toyota Prius Persona. This is a car my air-traveling wife hardly drove and has only 18,XXX miles on the odometer. As such, its tires are ones I could have easily driven for another 10,000 or more miles but, since I’ll be driving it to California in the next few months and will be putting on a lot of miles once I’m there, I wanted new tires.

Fortunately there was a $70 rebate on the 60,000-mile rated MICHELIN tires and service for which I spent nearly $800 on (see the screenshot about the rebate). Though I absolutely detest rebates, mainly since companies make it very hard to comply with all the instructions in the hope they’ll fulfill as few rebates as possible, I am quite meticulous on how I apply for them to ensure I’m complying with instructions and thought this would be seamless and easy. After all, MICHELIN is a major company and is (I thought) above the plaid-sportcoat-like behaviors of other companies who try to block and make rebate redemption difficult enough that the vast majority of consumers find it more bother than its worth and stop pursuing the rebate as soon as push-back by the “fulfillment centers” occurs.

That said, readers of this blog know I *deeply hate* rebates, unless they’re the “taken at the checkout” kind which gives a discount immediately. Consumers hating-rebates-backlash is the primary reason why Best Buy began eliminating rebates entirely in 2005 since most are as close to scams as these companies can away with and not be stopped by the Federal Trade Commission or Congress.

In my view rebates like this one are scams since they prey on the likelihood that only 21.1% of total sales or 67.6% of incremental sales from people successfully submit information to receive the rebate or they mail in the original receipt and then get a letter saying something like, “We never received your receipt. Please send another” knowing that the consumer likely doesn’t have a copy, can’t get one, or deems it not worthy of the effort.

See more on my posts A Nikon example of why I *hate* rebates and Nikon fills rebate….but how? or read The Great Rebate Runaround in Bloomberg BusinessWeek which said this back in 2005 of rebate redemption amounts:

In November 2005, BusinessWeek estimated a return rate of 60 percent. Some estimates have been as low as 2%. For example, nearly half of the 100,000 new TiVo subscribers in 2005 did not redeem their $100 rebates, allowing the company to keep $5,000,000 in additional profit.

It’s that throwing obstacles in the way of getting one’s legitimate rebate which is why I believe this MICHELIN® tire promotion rebate is essentially a scam since I complied with 100% of the instructions for submission and never, ever should have received a follow-up email requesting “…a little more information.”

But it’s not just me. Many others have viewed rebates as a “scam” and this crap by manufacturers goes back a long time as this 2003 Slate article on The Great Rebate Scam illustrates.

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Equifax Has a Stunningly Bad Web App for Signing Up for TrustedID

After Equifax finally revealed that they had been breached and personal credit information (and credit card numbers) on as many as 143 million Americans had been stolen, they created EquifaxSecurity2017.com for information and enrollment which, as it turns out, should have been named EquifaxINSECURITY.com.

Why? It’s because of trying to sign up and having their web application for TrustedID not come up, return an error, and then finally display after two minutes without a theme! As you will see from the screenshots below, someone like me with A LOT of cyber security knowledge is concerned, even though I did verify that their certificates were valid but my Equifax trust level is very, very low.

View five screenshots of why this failed and why even me, someone with the skills to determine if this is a real app loading from Equifax, don’t trust it:

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Wells Fargo: Why the Bogus *Incoming* Wire Transfer Fee?

As my wife and I are rapidly approaching the “third half” of our lives, I’ve begun removing money from one of my brokerage accounts and wire transferring sums monthly to an account at Wells Fargo.

My wife noticed a “wire transfer fee” of $15 for each transfer. Hmm….Schwab (where we trade) has zero fees for outgoing wire transfers so I sent in this message to Wells Fargo customer support:

Never noticed before that you charge a $15 fee for **incoming** wire transfers until my wife alerted me to *her* wire transfer from Charles Schwab to Wells Fargo and it $15 fee.

This is ludicrous. A $15 fee for an incoming wire transfer? Schwab charges nothing for outgoing transfers so why does WF charge a fee for one coming in? This is nothing but bits across a wire and internal server gateways opening and closing. There is zero human cost in this equation (other than initial programming time) so a “fee” is NOT appropriate.

With all the personal and business money we have with WF, there is NO REASON to nickel-and-dime us on wire transfers like this one and I want someone in a managerial capacity to contact me directly and let me know why.

NOTE: Schwab actually has a $25 fee for outgoing wire transfers, but if you have enough dough in accounts like we do there they waive the fee and there is no fee for incoming transfers. With all the personal and business accounts we have at Wells Fargo — let alone the money we have there and transactions we run through our merchant gateway — my expectation was they’d not charge incoming wire transfer fees. The response from Annette in customer service came as no surprise as you’ll see below.

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Make Your Own Site-Specific Web Browser "App"

Need to tell you about a very cool Mac app (Windows version coming soon) that has transformed how I manage my online work and even social media interactions.

The app is called Coherence, now in version 5, which I hadn’t heard about until I stumbled across it this past week and downloaded the trial version. I liked it so much I purchased the Family License 20 minutes later!

The app allows you to create site-specific web browsers that function as their own self-contained Chrome browser application. Why would I want to have a bunch of separate web browser apps on my Mac instead of just opening up 10, 15 or 20 tabs in my Chrome browser? Besides slowing down Chrome and using up lots of my computer’s memory, I have a need to keep things separate:

  • MANAGING ACCOUNTS: With four GSuite accounts (a personal one and three for our various businesses) I could just log in to all of them in my main Chrome browser, but that would mean choosing accounts before going in to Google Drive, calendar, or other GSuite apps, a huge pain in the butt and often confusing. Having one site-specific browser for each GSuite account is fabulous and makes managing all of those accounts a breeze!
  • DEVELOPMENT: With our Innov8Press business I’m constantly logged in to multiple accounts and like to keep everything contained as I work, especially since I’m often logged in to a client’s web services (e.g., Mailchimp; Salesforce; Dropbox) and using a Coherence-made browser makes it simple to not have to login and logout over-and-over again as I go through my workday.
  • KEEP TRACKING TO A MINIMUM: Rather than use a plugin to keep Facebook (and others) from tracking my activities all across the web, Facebook has its own browser and everything runs within it. I even have a “Media” browser with bookmarks to publications I view in order to again, make it harder for third-party tracking companies to follow me around while I browse and use the web.
  • UNIQUE, DISCRETE APPS: I often play Pandora in a browser on my desktop so it’s really nice to be able to do so in a separate browser app vs. having to have the highly insecure Adobe Flash installed so I could run Pandora’s Adobe Air app. I also have a browser app for YouTube/Netflix/Hulu streaming apps as well as one to use with UberConference. Again, it makes my workflow so much more manageable.
  • EXTENSIONS: One last, highly useful aspect of of Coherence 5 is being able to load extensions. For example, in most of the Coherence browser apps I’ve created I’ve included my LastPass password manager extension. That way I can login to a client’s sites (or my own) as needed. Since sometimes I also need to view a client’s site from the standpoint of a user in the U.K. or countries in the E.U., being able to connect a given site-specific browser via the Private Internet Access (PIA) VPN to one of the PIA servers in one of those countries really helps (especially being able to perform Google searches in those countries in order to tweak SEO).

There are lots of other use-cases I’m sure you can think of, or will soon discover, on your own and, at the very least, it’s definitely worth considering. You will find the pricing here:

  • Coherence 5 for macOS 10.10 and Above – Single License $4.99
  • Coherence 5 for macOS 10.10 and Above – Family License (5 Licenses w/ 10 Activations) $24.99

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NOTE: I should mention that I have used FluidApp for several years, the site-specific browser creator which makes a Safari-like (i.e., WebKit) browser. There are some features in it I like, but it’s not as flexible as Coherence 5 and I find being able to add extensions and use a Chrome-foundation browser meets my needs better.