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Cutting the Cord is Hard

Have you considered cutting the cord? If so, get ready for A LOT of resistance and delays when you try to cancel your services!

My wife and I are downsizing from our large family home to a townhome or condo. We haven’t yet purchased a dwelling so we’re uncertain as to which cable provider we may end up with and, since it’s summer, it seemed like a good time to begin cancelling all the services we don’t need and do it now. Plus, it’s actually highly likely we may not renew a cable subscription anyway.

So let’s say you have decided to cut the cord. Cancelling is not a 5 minute per account adventure.

CANCELLATIONS
Not surprisingly, none of these TV provider subscriptions can be cancelled online. One must talk to a human who will do their best to try to talk you out of it and keep you as a customer. Be prepared to invest at least 45 minutes per cancellation and call earlier in the day rather than later.

  • Cancelling Comcast escalated the call from a Philippine-based call center to a U.S.-based “Cancellation Office” where they gave me the third-degree on why I was cancelling. I was forceful that I just wanted to cancel (not put my subscription “on hold”) and they finally cancelled it.
  • Cancelling TiVo was another story. Again it was a call center somewhere and the woman, Joyce, made multiple offers to keep my subscription alive. “We can put it on hold” or “We can offer you X months at a reduced rate” and I was having none of it. “I just want to cancel it” and it turned out Joyce was having “technical difficulties” so could not cancel the account. Fortunately, a few hours later, an email came through with a cancellation notification so that’s done.

Here’s is why it’s so hard to cancel. These legacy TV providers are losing subscribers like crazy and are obviously doing whatever they can to hold on to us:

Five of the largest U.S. pay-TV providers posted subscriber losses during the second quarter as younger viewers increasingly cut the cord and moved to “skinny bundles,” or cheaper packages with select channels, and Internet streaming services like Netflix or Hulu. (via Fortune)

CUTTING THE CORD
If you’re like us, or most people we know, the lion’s share of our TV watching is done through streaming boxes (we have an AppleTV and Roku) as well as subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu (commercial free), AcornTV and DirecTV Now (it’s only $10/month since we have an AT&T Unlimited Plus family plan and then we pay $5/month for HBO too).

Two things we considered strongly and are two things to ponder if you’re considering cutting the cord yourself:

1) There isn’t yet a streaming service that can become a cable replacement, one that includes all the major networks and channels one might want or need. For example, DirecTV Now does not yet have all of the Minneapolis/St. Paul local channels. They also do not have CBS at all. So they’re not an option…yet…but parent AT&T has announced big changes for this Fall.

Whether there is a service that hits the sweet-spot of what people need — at price-points we can stomach — is certainly in flux and there is A LOT of uncertainty about who will be that be-all, end-all provider. You can see a good comparison of the top five providers here.

2) Maybe we don’t need to worry about local channels anyway. I just ordered a Mohu antenna that, for $20, will get all the HD channels we need in the Twin Cities and is better quality than what we’ve watched on cable (over-the-air signals are uncompressed so look much better than compressed cable TV signals). For where we’re going to move to next we don’t yet know which antenna we’ll need, but for now this will work great.

Hope this helps if you, too, are considering cutting the cord.

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Communicate Like a Pro

Regardless of your occupation, having great communicator skills are “table stakes” to be in the work game today. Especially if you host webinars, record screencasts, podcasts or videos, or even chat with a friend over Skype.

National Public Radio (NPR) has this very useful NPR Training website where you can learn the techniques NPR has honed over many, many decades.

As someone who has done all of the above for communicating with others, the subtleties and nuances of properly delivering what you want to get across is something easy to learn…but you do need to learn it. Too often I’ve attended webinars with the host taking the first five minutes to “um” and “hang on a second” as they futz around getting everything ready. Then they talk like they simply do not care about what they’re saying, you as an attendee, or that they’re bored out of their mind.

Come across as the real you. Not the “DJ” you or what you think you should sound or look like. This training will really help you communicate like a professional so check it out.

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One Guy's Experience with the New Apple TV

appletv

The new AppleTV device is about the best experience our family has yet had with any product like it. Is it perfect and actually the “future of television?” Nothing ever is, and this may-or-may-not ‘win’ the future, but in my view it’s about as close as anything has ever come to date.

For the last 15 years or more I’ve owned and dabbled with just about everything: satellite and cable boxes; TiVo; Boxee, Plex, Kodi (formerly XBMC) and other media center offerings; Roku; and finally AppleTVs (we own three of the ‘old’ ones). My frustration with most mainstream offerings delivering close to what I want—but also missing features I need like access to my own ripped movies, home videos, photos and music—that I ended up with multiple home theater devices connected up:

  • Roku – Mainly to access Amazon Prime and AcornTV (my bride and I are addicted to British TV)
  • AppleTV – for iTunes store, connection to our computers & media, as well as Airplay capability
  • Plex media center to deliver everything else that is not in iTunes on my computer and/or NAS (network attached storage).

FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Headed to the Apple store on Friday, October 30th to buy the new AppleTV since the Best Buy close to my house did NOT have them in stock yet (even though all news accounts said they would be in stock). The Apple Store Southdale shelves were full so I bought it and headed home to hook it up.

Booting it up the first time the device asked me if I wanted to set it up manually or via an iOS device. Selecting the iOS option I was asked to hold my device close and it sucked off the Wifi settings. Impressive.

Immediately I was surprised to see how much more detailed, crisper and saturated the graphics were on it. That carried over to the videos and games too. That alone made the purchase worthwhile, but obviously isn’t enough.

Buying and setting up a new device is always somewhat of a pain-in-the-ass since, even though one usually uses a backup for a new computer, smartphone or tablet to accelerate the setup process, one still has to connect it up and set up all the accounts and the new AppleTV process is not user-friendly.

atv-remote2I had to use the new, very slippery remote (and replacements cost $79.95 so DON’T DROP AND BREAK IT!) to manually scroll an alphabet to laboriously put in my email address and password for ALL of the accounts. No remote app for iOS is yet available—that would have made this a painless process—and I found myself pissed off that I had to do it. A bluetooth keyboard connection or Remote App for iOS would instantly fix that issue.

Next I launched the TV App Store and added all the familiar apps: Netflix; Hulu; some games, and more. Since there isn’t yet a “Categories” feature in the App Store, the only way to see what apps are in the store is to use that damn alphabet to click “a” to see apps starting with an “a”; “b” for “b” apps; and so forth. What a drag.

podcast-appWas stunned to find a glaring omission too: Where the hell is the podcast app? Especially since Apple was the first company to offer podcasts in iTunes; Google is now offering them so there is competition; and podcasts are accelerating in popularity.

Fortunately, once setup the AppleTV experience was phenomenal.

[Read more…]

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Publishing Fail: Inhabitat

This is a post about a site I’m not going to anymore and I’m writing this because I tried to connect with them on their contact form. But I was stunned to see that one has to have a username and password to use the form. Really? So they don’t care to hear from anyone else?

Inhabitat is a site I’ve read for several years because I’m interested in their focus: Inhabitat.com is a weblog devoted to the future of design, tracking the innovations in technology, practices and materials that are pushing architecture and home design towards a smarter and more sustainable future.

That should probably instead say: Inhabitat.com is a weblog devoted to making as much money as we possibly can off of you. We do that by packing in so many ad-trackers, audience identifiers, and advertisements, so only 30% of your screen real estate is actual content while the other 70% is either visual noise or ways for us to make you click on stuff so we make money.

Unfortunately they are making the #1 small publisher mistake which is driving me away: Instead of making the visit to their site a great experience, instead it is crystal clear it’s all about providing them with an opportunity to monetize.

inhabitat-noisy

Would you believe that, if you go to their site, they use 78 advertising-related services and 35 analytics and tracking ones? Holy shit…see for yourself. While many of them might not be active (you have to subscribe to BuiltWith to get deep analysis), the site has so much going on when you visit (and a WordPress mobile plugin I detest: OnSwipe) that it’s more bother than it’s worth. I have a 75mbps download speed on my broadband connection and it takes 30-45 seconds to completely load their homepage!

So publishers, or anyone who creates and delivers anything to customers, FIRST focus on your visitor and their experience and THEN on yourself. If you reverse that you will fail…just like Inhabitat has done.

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Takei Tours YouTube Space LA

George Takei’s YouTube show, Takei’s Take, tours YouTube Space LA (there are also London, Tokyo and New York locations currently). If you haven’t yet heard about this space, and what they’re trying to accomplish, this is a perfect overview in 4 minutes (and always enjoyable due to George’s take on things and his delightfully positive attitude and outlook)!

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New Zealand in 4K

This video, shot in 4k of New Zealand vistas, is visually spectacular (even though my own display is not in 4k resolution). Watch it in full screen mode and enjoy the quality AND see why visiting New Zealand should be on your bucket list:

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Understand What 'Resolution' Means

As an amateur photographer, I often try to explain to people why my small Nikon D5000‘s 12.3 million pixels produces a better photo than their smartphone camera or even what could be produced by this new Lumia 930 with its 20 megapixel camera.

Besides the obvious: the lens is bigger, it is that and the sensor in the camera that determines the resolution of the image. I know figuring out resolution, and why it matters, is a challenge so I encourage you to watch this very well presented short video that explains it better than anything I’ve seen yet:

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Gadget Man - Why the World Needs InternetTV

gadget-manIn 2007 I became aware of a new show called The IT Crowd in the United Kingdom and a bunch of my geek buddies were highly recommending it. I found, ahem, alternative ways to obtain the show since it was not available in the United States at the time. My son and I started watching it and it became a much beloved show, and we had a really nice shared bonding experience over it (since he’s a geek too).  

Fortunately, today the show is available on Netflix in its entirety if you care to watch it. I wish Netflix streaming had been around then since I hated having to use those alternative ways to view the show back then but it was the only way to see it. 

We got quite a kick out of one of its main characters, Moss (played by Richard Ayoade). Looking for a video I’d mentioned to a client on YouTube, I stumbled across a show which I’d never seen before: Gadget Man, starring Ayoade. Turns out he’s just as funny and engaging as he was on The IT Crowd, and the British penchant for smart programming (vs. low-brow reality TV like so much of U.S. cable) makes this a very engaging show to view.  

[Read more…]

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Howard Kurtz: A Turning Point in Media

You might have heard the brouhaha about CNN’s Howard Kurtz and his handling of the Jason Collins story, the supposed first major sports figure who came out publicly as gay. This is the seven minute segment where Kurtz sets up how he botched the story and gets grilled by two other journalists.

Why is this a turning point? Because in a day when any of us who blog, are on social media or are otherwise connected online we can comment and bring forth a shitstorm of opinion. By doing what Kurtz did this is the only way he could potentially save his career, maintain credibility at CNN itself, defuse the irony that he runs a show where he analyzes the American news media called “Reliable Sources,” and to do the right thing. Give it a watch:

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The Minneapolis Star's Demise

final-mpls-starMy dad died less than a month ago (here is our tribute site to dad) and my sisters and I have been going through the house and his belongings. Besides removing anything of value and cleaning the place out, we have a relative staying there who also has uncovered some cool stuff like this old newspaper in a crawl space which I saw and went through yesterday. Dated Friday, April 2, 1982, it was the last of the Minneapolis Star evening editions which was then merged in to the morning paper to make today’s Minneapolis StarTribune.

Paging through this yellowed rag brought back a lot of memories of the role this newspaper played in our lives and yet it was another reminder of how the old makes way for the new. People, and information delivery methods, all outlive our usefulness as direct economic contributors. The history of mass media shows how the first “high circulation” newspaper was the London Times in the early 1800s, so the major daily newspaper is but a blip in the timeline of humanity. 

Bill Borsch photo

Bill Borsch

Thankfully, as evidenced by how wonderful it was for my dad to be around for twenty five years after he retired at 62 years of age, dad’s influence and ‘usefulness’ to everyone around him continued on.

But back to newspapers. A lot has been written about the demise of ‘traditional’ media like TV, radio, magazines and newspapers. Most of us are aware that things are downtrending, some magazines have gone to digital only, and clearly newspapers are struggling. 

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