Thursday, January 29, 2009


Beer, Bratwurst, Cheese and a Bag of Radishes,


Does lunch get any better? Yes, but only with sauerkraut.

The guys are going to LOVE me tonight at work.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009


No asteroid.

No fire and brimstone.

No terrrrist attack.

Just a falling stock market.

So much for Change We Can Believe In.

Bah! Humbug.


Monday, January 19, 2009


Dish Network

Satellite TV is a service I love to hate, and Dish Network, being the provider I have dealt with, is the satellite TV service I love to hate the most.

I own my own equipment. I installed my dishes and switches and wired my house. I did this because I don't want to be locked into a long-term contract. Dish Network, to be fair, has been great about letting me change my programming at a moment's notice and, after some bitching, will usually waive the fee for dropping programming - a process which costs them nothing, or next to it. I note that they don't offer to give me $10.00 when I add programming. Currently, the only programming I carry are the "local" channels - braodcast channels I would have ordinarily got over the air for free.

I have yet to be convinced that there is a good reason for Dish Network's programming packages. Their "family" package is a joke. Their basic package doesn't include Fox News. The Top 100 and Top 200 packages include music channels, as well as shopping channels and public service channels I get just by having the satellite. I mean, I get 20-odd channels with no paid programming package at all! Granted, the vast majority of them pretty much suck, but then so do most all of the channels in the other packages.

Channels I'm not interested in:

Music channels. Have these people never heard of the internet? I can program my own radio channels and stream them to my receiver and listen to them in stereo.

Shopping channels. I'm not paying for shopping channels. Especially when I can get them for nothing already.

Music TV. The Flava of Love. Seriously? Music video TV, Fuse, VH1 thru 100. I can live without all of them.

Kid TV. Nick, all the various Disney channels, etc. I'm 50. Do you think I watch The Little Mermaid? If the grandkids are over, I put in the DVD. Or better yet, I actually interact with them.

How about channels for adults? The ESPN channels. Fox News, finance and sports. CNN, HNN, MSNBC, CNBC, Bloomberg, etc. TCM, AMC, IFN, TNT, SciFi, History, etc. You know, actual entertainment. I'd buy a package like that. Better yet, let me pick 30 channels. You can stick me with whatever other crap you want up to 60, and I'll pay $30 bucks a month and be happy. There's a reason I change my programming so often. It's because none of the available packages are compelling enough for me to keep.

My most recent encounter with the folks at Dish Network soured me even more. I inquired after their HD packages which, oddly enough, contained pretty much just the channels I wanted. I was prepared to purchase the necessary equipment, only to be told that the only way I could get the HD channels was to buy some other package that I didn't want. Guess what? I didn't bite. And I won't.

Sometime in the not too distant future, Roku or some other intrepid company is going to stream HD TV over the internet for the right price and with the right packages. Netflix has already replaced HBO, Showtime and Starz! in my home. Amazon Video on Demand will replace Dish Network's PPV movies at less cost and with more variety. Dish Network needs to understand that they must be more responsive to their customers, or they will be left in the dust. The battle is no longer just between cable and satellite; there are more and more options for entertainment out there. I'm buying, but not what Dish Network is selling.



Why I don't hate Embarq any more - pt. 1.

My unhappy experience with magicJack had a happy side effect.

First, some background. Embarq, if I understand the muddy waters of the telcommunications industry correctly, is a local telecom provider and spin-off of Sprint Nextel. Embarq focuses on plain old telephone service, high-speed internet, and DISH Network satellite TV. Embarq offers bundled services to customers, with the "convenience" of one monthly bill and provides discounts to customers for adding additional services. Many moons ago, when I first moved to lovely downtown Podunk, I became a more-or-less dissatisfied customer of Sprint. I say more-or-less because I knew that life in Podunk came with some disadvantages.

Like no cable. And when cable showed up, no digital cable.*

Like ridiculous sewer bills.**

Like crappy cellular service.***

Like 1970's level phone service.

Sprint was a little higher than the Geetingsville Telephone Company (next town east) and the Mulberry Telephone Company (next town south) but, monopolies being what they are, there wasn't a helluva lot I could do about it, so I learned to growl and bear it. Since I had to have a landline in order to get on the internet, I was pretty much stuck with Sprint. When DSL came along, I was even more stuck with Sprint because Sprint owned the wires that DSL used to get me on the net.

We live in a small world, made even smaller than the internet. It was pretty easy to figure out that Sprint's prices were a little higher than everyone else's and the level of service could only be described as "smug." I wasn't going anywhere, and they knew it.

Time passed. A merger here and a spinoff there and - Voila! - I'm an Embarq customer. Nothing else changed, of course - the letterhead on the bill and that was about it. I'm still using the original Sprint DSL modem. As time went on, though, other things changed. Cellular service got better; 3G was introduced. Coverage got better. VOIP got better. It is now possible to contemplate breaking the local telecom monopoly and go totally wireless.

Sprint's own 3G network covers my home in Podunk. With speeds of 1.7M, it is possible to network the computers in my home to share the internet connection, including the use of a service like magicJack or Vonage to go completely wireless. On the Sprint network it is possible to stream 2 or three movies a week and download a lot more than the 75 or so songs a month I get from eMusic.

There is real competition now for the the local telecoms.

In a crowded market, about the only thing you have going for you is customer service. In our "service economy,"**** good service is rare. Customer service is offshore. Technical service is bad and getting worse. Companies either don't care or are relying on their competitors service to be just as bad. Or both. When the chance came along to streamline my services to try to save money and still get the services I wanted or needed, I jumped at the chance to dump Embarq and break away from a company I'd come to dislike. So this brings my story to the really bad experience I had with magicJack.

Part 2 later...

*Still no digital cable. **Sewer bills going up about 10% - thanks, IDEM! ***Cellular service still mostly crappy. Verizon and AT&T don't really service my home area. I get around it by purchasing my service in the next large town west and living off the extended network. This presents some opportunities for really crappy customer service - more on AT&T Mobility later. ****I notice that the "service economy" is morphing into yet another paradigm - more later.

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kel, for one, is apparently happy that this blog has turned, at least temporarily, into a consumer blog. This post, then, should make kel happy.

Netflix by Roku - Still happy as a clam. The unit had no off button, which puzzled me at first. It's a minor annoyance; I have it plumbed into the DVD player, which is programmed to pick out the first signal it reads and default to it, so I have to manually switch to satellite or VCR if I'm doing something besides watching Netflix. I found out why the Roku had no off button when I had to do a power down on the network. I had to go through the setup again. All the information was still there and it only took a couple of seconds, though. I wonder what happens if the power goes off?

I'm thinking about bumping my download speed up to take advantage of the new High Definition capability being offered by Netflix and Roku.

MagicJack - I was notified that they had received the faulty unit and that a refund would appear on my next statement, unless I was never billed. I was and I wasn't, so we'll see. Still more impressed with the return than I was with the hardware and the support.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009


50! Woo-hoo.

My annual birthday post.


Friday, January 09, 2009


Netflix player by Roku

I'm really not trying to turn this into a consumer blog, but it seems that lately I've had to deal with products new to me and so in turn I get to weigh in with my opinion.

Today's product is the Netflix player by Roku. As a Netflix subscriber I get to view streaming movies on my computer for no additional cost and now with the Netflix player by Roku I can stream them from my internet connection directly to my TV, or in this case through my DVD player, making Netflix a far more attractive and affordable option than premium services like HBO, Showtime or Starz through Dish Network. For $8.99 a month I can watch all I can stand in addition to the two DVD's at a time I get in the mail and, best of all, I get to pick the movies from, according to Netflix, 12000 titles.

I didn't count them.

The Roku box itself is nothing short of amazing. It's about the size of a router and has outputs for HDMI, S-Video and the standard RCA jacks. It operates either on wired or 802.11g wireless networks. The setup allows you to choose HD, Standard 4:3 or 16:9 Widescreen TV outputs. All for $99.99 and no extra monthly fee. Are you listening Dish Network? Outstanding.

The FedEx guy dropped this neat little gadget at my doorstep this morning and about 20 minutes later, including having to find the SSID for my network, two unrelated telephone calls and logging on to Netflix for the activation, the Roku was installed, updated, up and running with absolutely no hitches. It came with a large, easy-to-read installation guide that walked me through the process step-by-step. It couldn't have been easier.

After the debacle with the magicJack installation, I was absolutely thrilled with the ease of the installation. Hallelujah! Somebody got it right!

I had loaded a couple of movies into the queue in anticipation of the Roku players's arrival and settled down to watch "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines" with my lunch. The player automatically adjusted for changes in video quality - a minor annoyance while in the process and I would like to find out if the problem is in the wireless network or the internet connection or Netflix. Still, I couldn't be more pleased with the product.

Roku promises more entertainment channels for the player beginning early in 2009. If they are to be anywhere near as good as the Netflix channel, I can't wait. I normally like to live with a product for a while before I praise it, but really this Netflix player by Roku is that good. Highly recommended.

Update: Coming soon to a Roku player near you - video on demand. $.99 for back catalogue titles to $3.99 for new releases. It just gets better.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


Do NOT buy a magicJack ....

I ordered and received a magicJack this past week and was not at all happy with it. The order process went well; it arrived in a timely fashion and all seemed right with the world.

I followed instructions and plugged it in and waited for it to load itself, happily anticipating the moment I could finally tell Embarq to take their overpriced service and go away.

The nightmare ensued.

The unit would not self-install correctly, and even worse corrupted the registry causing my optical drives to malfunction. Well - okay. MagicJack's website offered up live tech assistance 24/7. No problems, right? Ummm - technical support was a nightmare. Of course, 24/7 support means foreigners typing instructions in a chat format, following a script that may, or most likely doesn't, address your actual problem. After 5 hours of following the written instructions of various "levels" of tech support all following the same script, I gave up.

Unfortunately, by the time I was done, not only were the optical drives messed up, but the last tech wizard, who went by the name of "Dover" also managed to screw up my internet connection - I'm pretty sure purposely. Spent about an hour and a half getting the PC back to normal, which involved a recovery to a time before the install, and a registry repair. So, 7 hours of wasted time so far.

My best experience of the whole ordeal was getting the return authorization to send the damned thing back. Now if my card gets credited promptly, I'll write the whole experience off as a bad idea and forget it.

I might add that Microsoft's guided support was awesome. It made the registry repair a snap.

I did save the chats to a text file, if anyone is interested.

Based on my experience, I can't recommend magicJack. Their website included no phone numbers to talk to a live rep and the overall feel of the site was sketchy. Technical Assistance was worse than useless. If you are planning to buy a magicJack, think twice.

I hate Embarq, but unless something comes along a lot better than magicJack, I guess I'm stuck.

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Thursday, January 01, 2009


Happy New Year!

I started this photo blog a little over a year ago. Just look at the way it's affected me:



Happy New Year!

God bless us, every one!

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