What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Shipping. I know it’s the busiest shipping time of the year – and now it’s overlaid by the number of people who have increasingly turned to online shopping during this plague year. The big carriers – UPS, FedEx, USPS – are likely running near capacity and will be doing so for the next few weeks at least. I’m enough of a logistician to know that when you flood the pipeline, the amount of time to get things from Point A to Point B increases. Even in a low-defect environment (and I’m not conceding that delivery services are that even on their good days), an increased number of items means a correspondingly increased number of errors.  I’m a reasonably rational human being who understands these things… but that in no way means I’m not getting thoroughly annoyed by the number of packages in the last few weeks that seem to have been lost in transit or simply “disappeared” from tracking apps. 

2. Dog life. A certain short haired dog of mine decided earlier this week that he didn’t like going outside when temperatures were hovering at or below freezing. That led to an issue Tuesday night where he’d been “holding it” so long that he’d periodically dribble when he walked. Not cool. As a guy who once sequestered himself to the kitchen for six months to crack the code on housebreaking, I’m fairly certain a fit of willpower and determination will also see me through this phase too… even if that means carrying the fuzzy little bastard out the door over my shoulder like a 70-pound sack of squirming, unhappy potatoes.

3. Xfinity. I like to keep something streaming as background noise while I’m working from my home office. Usually that means one of the big news channels, but could be Futurama or Star Trek reruns when I get tired of hearing whatever stories the major news outlets are pimping on any given day. Increasingly, I’m met with buffering, dropped feeds, basically unwatchable content when signed in to Xfinity’s streaming website. Sure, I could just turn on the TV in the other room and boost the sound a bit, but that’s inconvenient for switching between channels as the mood strikes. Basic diagnostics show all speeds are great and I can’t come up with a reason there should be a problem, but there is one. I’d be considerably less aggrieved if this wasn’t part and parcel of the same Xfinity that wants to slap me with yet another regular charge for busting through their arbitrarily set data cap every month. Look, I don’t mind the cost of the service, but if you’re going to pillage me out of $250+ a month, I’d very much like to get the services for which I’m paying.

Neutrality…

​With our political and media celebrities having trouble keeping their dicks in their pants, the possible end of Net Neutrality is something that’s not getting as much coverage as it probably should.

There’s a big part of me that generally favors deregulation. Having worked under and been responsible for writing government regulations, I can attest that they often have a certain stifling effect on whatever they touch. I also recognize that “the internet” isn’t some ubiquitous “thing” that sprung into existence in nature. It’s a network that exists because companies went out and designed, built, installed, and maintain the infrastructure that has come to deliver us the connectivity we know and love. The “net” in net neutrality, then, is underpinned by a whole lot of businesses that spent a whole lot of money based on the assumption that they’d make massive amounts of profit by doing it. You didn’t think they developed the net out of the kindness of their hearts so we could exchange funny animal memes did you?

​On the other hand, I’ve learned to despises Comcast with the burning fire of a thousand suns don’t want to give them any more control over the internet or give them and the other cable/intent providers the chance to bleed me for even more money every month than they’re already getting. It’s a painfully interesting case of self interest versus governing philosophy.

​Google, Apple, and the rest of Big Tech are arrayed against Comcast and the companies who own the “pipes” the internet flows through. It’s not like they aren’t profiteering off our data left and right themselves, though.​ Unlike the cable companies who take their cut month by both, the tech giants skim theirs in the more subtle way of data mining and selling the personal information that we’ve all chosen to give them. Most of us choose not to notice that bit.

My bottom line is that the internet is going to be controlled by someone – some big business pursuing their own self interest in collaboration with big government who wants to keep an eye on all of us.​ Whether it’s the cable companies and monthly fees or its big tech mining our personal information, probably doesn’t make much difference in the end.​

So which side do I fall down on? I don’t know yet. It feels a lot like picking the lesser of So What or Who Cares when it’s really just picking which set of companies will run the show for the foreseeable future.

Picking easier…

With of the ludicrous cost of cable television I’ve toyed off and on for about a year with cutting the cord and trying to cobble together a collection of streaming services that would get the job done. After some exhaustive research, the real problem became the fact that to get all of my non-negotiable programming I was going to end up needing essentially all the streaming services.

I’m grudgingly forced to admit that cost not withstanding, cable is just the most convenient way of getting what I want. Getting those 40 channels means I end up paying for 300. As much as I hate writing that monthly check, I’m resigned to the fact that I’m just going to go ahead and keep paying for the convenience of having it all piped in through the same service.

For the better part of a decade I’d been living with my old 40-inch 780p plasma screen in the living room. Its picture quality didn’t justifying the full HD experience and I’d always resisted handing over the extra $10 a month for HD channels. The 58-inch monstrosity now residing in my living room, though, made standard signals look like absolute rubbish. So I gave in and took a Saturday side trip to my “local” Comcast storefront.

I have to confess the swap out to HD boxes all around was quick and easy. The truth is, I’m tremendously impressed with the picture quality that’s getting sent over the wire. I’m impressed enough at least to keep paying the bill until a real industry disruptor comes along.

I set out last weekend to make my life cheaper and easier and was forced into a choice between the two. Under those circumstances I’m going to pick easier just about every time.

Lessons on a snowy day…

Yesterday wasn’t the first snowy day I’ve had here on the homestead. Compared to last winter’s big storm, this one hardly rated a blip, except for the part where the last half of the storm turned to ice. It’s pretty to look at, makes for some interesting watching the dogs try to find traction, and cuts down trees and utility poles like nobody’s business. It’s that last bit that served to set the stage for the most important of the day’s lessons.

I’ve always known my AT&T wireless signal at home was spotty at best. Since I don’t make all that often, this fact was largely hidden by my home Wi-Fi picking up the slack for data purposes. It’s a system that works well enough under normal operating conditions. With Comcast having gone MIA due to any number of local lines being down, operating conditions yesterday were less than ideal. By “less than,” I mean that my fancy new iPhone was utterly and completely useless as a means of communicating for almost the entire duration of the cable outage.

Also learned yesterday was the fact that every penny I spent installing and maintaining my generator was money well spent. Twenty seconds after the lines came down, it roared to life and kept the furnace blower blowing, the well and sump pumps pumping, the dryer drying, and the lights lit. I cooked a normal dinner and settled in to watch The Hunt for Red October and then Master and Commander… while occasionally seeing candles dot the windows of the house across the street. It kept right on chugging through 18 hours without a moment’s complaint. With that I am well satisfied.

Aside from a few other minor details, yesterday’s experience was one up and one down. Over the next few weeks, I know I need to beef up my communications capability. That’s good info to have before I find myself in a position of really needing it. Once the ice melts off and I get a decent day, I also owe the generator an oil change and a pat on the proverbial head.

Comcast, once again, sucks…

If there’s are recurring threads to this blog, one of them must certainly be my ever increasing disdain, annoyance, and hatred of Comcast. Last year, I argued, cajoled, and bullied my bill for internet and television down to a svelte $97.04. That bought me 80 channels, “performance” internet, and HBO – the one splurge that’s non-negotiable (at least until HBO figures out a way to let people subscribe to them as a service instead of as a cable add-on). When I opened my bill this morning and found the price jumped to $124.09, well, let’s just say that they’ve given me one more reason to be less than impressed with their service.

Sure, business costs increase. Got it. Understood. Yet somehow, I don’t think the cost of delivering television and internet here to scenic Rental Casa de Jeff increased 25% year-over-year. Cutting the cable seems like a more and more realistic option for me every time they dish out such asshattery. Of course I’d still be saddled with a business relationship with Comcast because they have a monopoly on high speed out here in the wilderness. They suck, but sadly are the least bad of a host of truly god awful alternatives.

We can land a goddamned man on the goddamned moon, but can’t seem to come up with a way to watch Game of Thrones and surf the interwebs for less than a C-note a month. Maybe when the Chinese take over they’ll figure this mess out for us.

Happy Christmas

This would probably be a longer Christmas post if the internet connection here at the Jeffrey Tharp Historic Childhood Home, Library, and Giftshop weren’t so problematic this morning. Since it’s come down to needing to post using nothing but thumbs and a 5-inch screen I’ll simply say happy Christmas. Enjoy the day and all that comes with it.

The not so mysterious case of Comcast sucks…

Well, tonight you were schedule to get the post you should have gotten yesterday… But it seems “Comcast is experiencing technical difficulties that are impacting your cable television and high speed internet service.” Therefore, since I don’t feel like re-typing the damned things with my thumbs, you get another day of space filler. So in conclusion, Comcast sucks.

Yes, I know this is a first world problem… and since I live in the United States and not some remote herding camp in East Dirtbagistan, we’re just going to call them problems from now on. It’s one of the perks of living in the first world.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Comcast. We’re now on the 3rd monthly bill that’s jacked up as a result of my changing cable plans. This month’s bill got it mostly right, but still shows a $16 charge for a DVR and service that I no longer have. That’s not going to blow the monthly budget, of course, but it’s one of those small things that it really shouldn’t take three months to sort out. Now that I’m not really doing any living in the basement, I think I’ll just have that cable drop turned off and send the box back… At this point, any time I can put fewer dollars in Comcast’s garter, the happier I am. Optimistically, I think we should have everything resolved by sometime in June.

2. Terms of Service. If Instagram changes their terms of service and you don’t like it, go ahead and delete your account. To the best of my knowledge, no one is required to use Instagram. Since their providing a free service to the people of the interwebs, I think it’s only fair that we expect that at some point they’re going to have to figure out a way to make money from their service. If my fancy business classes are to be believed, the whole point in starting a company is to actually make money. Otherwise, they’d be a charity (or an arm of government) and would be interested in providing all of us something for nothing until the end of time. If you think applying filters to your grainy camera pics is so important, go ahead and by a copy of Photoshop and do it up right.

3. The Friday before a Ten Day Weekend. If anyone is expecting great and wonderful things tomorrow, let me disabuse you of that notion before we even get there. Although my body may be physically be shackled to my desk for one last eight hour stint, rest assured my mind has already flown the coop for 2012 and isn’t accepting any additional old business at this time.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Comcast. Making the list for the third or fourth time this year is the cable company that everyone loves to hate. Ever since I downgraded my service a two months ago, my bills have been arriving with what I’ll generously call wild inaccuracies. I spent 30 minutes yesterday on the phone with a very nice CSR who thought she was going to be able to make this month’s round of corrections. Except, of course, she couldn’t because the amount of the correction was in excess of $25… which triggered the need to execute what I believe she called an “elevation form for tier two service.” Instead of being transferred to this group of genies, I’d have to “stand by for them to contact me sometime within the next five business days.” I don’t know why I ever hold out hope that anything can either A) just work the way it’s supposed to work or B) Be corrected with a single phone call. Clearly my expectations are misaligned with reality.

2. The five day work week. I’m out of practice with being at my desk for a full five days in a row. I know this because it’s Thursday and the only ambition I have left is to muddle through tomorrow and get to the weekend. It’s not that the week has been particularly busy, problematic, or strange… but the trek from Monday to Friday has just seemed to go on forever. Now if I can just gin up enough oomph to drag myself through three more long weeks, I’ll be all set for the 11-day Christmas weekend.

3. Lunch. When I worked in DC, it was two blocks to Chinatown, one metro stop from Union Station and the Hill, or a 10 minute walk in almost any other direction to find a diverse and tasty array of lunch options. Here in Aberdeen, there’s a Subway, a Burger King, and a few other lunch places that more or less serve the same thing. While I don’t miss the daily 90 minute commute, I desperately miss having some variety in my lunch options. I miss General Tso’s from Tony Chang’s, burgers at the District Chophouse, and deep dish from Armand’s. At this point, God help me, I even have fond memories of the build your own salad bar next door to the office and the hot dog cart set up on the curb. I’m not expecting an urban food environment here in the wilds of north eastern Maryland, but if I don’t find something other than sandwiches soon I may have to resort to bringing my own food… and that’s just not an option I want to entertain.

Something corporate…

I’ve spent the last 90 minutes waging my own personal war against Comcast… the company that we all love to hate. If it weren’t for basically needing to have high speed internet, I’d cut the cable all together. Sadly, there just isn’t a viable alternative to cable internet available here in the back woods of Cecil County and I’d end up paying as much for internet alone as I do for the cable/internet bundle.

Up until I made some changes, I had 300 channels of which I watched maybe a dozen with any consistency… something about paying for something I’m not using just rubs me the wrong way. Since my TV is usually parked on some combination of History, Discovery, and Fox News, cutting way back on the number of channels just seemed like the thing to do. As far as I’m concerned, they ought to pin a bright shiny medal on the guy who finally cracks the code on unbundling television channels. Let me pick five for $20 and I’m on it before the ink dries on the deal. Still, I managed to cut my bill in half tonight and I have the funny feeling that I’m not going to miss much even after “losing” two thirds of the channels I had been getting. With Apple TV, Netflix, and Hulu lined up to fill in the gaps, it’s possible that I’m well on my way down the road to ditching cable television completely just to make a small personal statement regarding my thoughts on the services they offer.

Is anyone else out there using Comcast for internet only? As always, feedback is encouraged.