11/08/2018 – Cable-less

Back in late August, I dropped cable television. The main reason was the consistently rising cost. Channels that my family would watch would be moved to a “higher” service tier, which meant that I had to subscribe to more channels to get the few channels that we actually watched. I was paying about $9.50 per television (we have three) to watch cable, which I already was paying for, on that television. Lastly, I was paying an additional charge to access local channels and sports (which I don’t watch). Here is the breakdown of what I was paying:

Cable & internet bundle $153.45
Cable cards (for TiVos: 2 * $9.95ea) + $19.90
HD fee for cable box (just to access the HD channels) + $10.00
Broadcast fee (to receive local channels) + $8.00
Sports fee (we don’t watch sports) + $6.30
Speed boost (for internet, added without consent) + $15.00
Equipment rebate (for using the TiVos) -$5.00
Taxes & fees + $13.39
Cable total: $221.04

Because I also have the two TiVo boxes, there is a fee of $30.35 per month that I was paying to them. That brings the total amount to $251.39. All of this just to watch a few channels.

Before making any decisions, I had to figure out a few things. Fortuntely, because I had already been streaming content from by my home server, Netflix, and YouTube to each television, I knew that I had the equipment I needed. I also understood that I could get over-the-air channels. However, I knew that most of the content would need to be from streaming services, so I had to answer a few questions.

Would I be able to use my current internet provider and plan?
Having stumbled onto this information a few months ago, I found that my cable provider had a 1TB per month data cap. If there was an official anouncement, I don’t remember. I know it certainly was not on the monthly invoices. I had only exceeded that 1TB cap once, and that was after switching on-line back-up providers. Now that we would be using the internet more, I needed to know if we would exceed the cap. I also needed to know how big of a connection that I needed. The connection I had was 250 Megabits per second (Mbps) or 31.25 Megabytes per second (MBps). Did I still need that big of a connection?

First thing I needed to figure out was how much data does streaming use. I was able to find some information from Netflix regarding now much data a movie uses. They estimate (up to) 1GB per hour for standard definition content, 3GB for HD content, and 7GB for Ultra HD. All three televisions only support 1080p or less, so I would use the HD content estimate of 3GB.

From the same Netflix article, I was also able to get an estimate of 5Mbps for the bandwith needed to stream HD content. This number would also come in handy for knowing what speed we needed. Since there is three of us, I estimate a 15Mbps connection would be the minimum needed.

Second, I needed to know the estimate time spent watching television. My wife is currently a stay-at-home mom. During the day, she likes to leave the TV on, even if she is not watching it. She also likes to have the TV on when she is sleeping. So, for her, I figured 24 hours of consumption. My daughter, she likes to watch stuff on her Kindle when she is at home and awake. So, I figured 6-12 hours for her. Me, I barely watch television at home. And, most of that time is spent watching as a family. So, I estimated 2-4 hours per day. Going at the highest estimate, that would mean that we would consume 40 hours of TV per day.

Now that I had my two numbers, it was time to figure out our estimated usage. 3GB (HD stream per hour) x 40 hours = 120GB per day. 120GB per day x 30 days in a typical month = 3,600GB per month. Since 1TB is 1024GB, we would exceed the cap before a third of the month was through. Cutting down consumption and quality of streaming content may keep us under the cap, but I was doubtful that would work. So, I needed to shop around.

The speed with my cable provider was good, but the price and data cap was an issue. So, I checked out other internet providers. Despite living in a Seattle suburb, there is not much competition for high-speed internet for someone living in an apartment. The only alternative I had to the cable company was a 7Mbps DSL connection. So, I had to explore if there a way to get around the data cap with the cable company. Fortunately, I was able find a way, but it would cost me $50 per month. So, I checked out the internet plans offered by the cable company and found one that was $20 cheaper than the one I currently had, yet still was fast enough for streaming.

Where would I get contect from?
Had our cable provider offered an a la carte option, we may still have cable. As I mentioned before, there was only certain channels and television programs that we watched. So, I compiled a list of those channels onto a spreadsheet. They were:

  • AMC
  • BabyFirst TV
  • Cartoon Network
  • Comedy Central
  • Disney Channel
  • Disney Jr
  • FX
  • HGTV
  • HLN
  • Investigation Discovery
  • Nick Jr.
  • Nickelodeon

In addition to the channels I listed, I also wanted to find a service that would stream our local ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC afiliates.

Thanks to the r/CordCutters sub-thread on Reddit, I was able to find a list of different streaming service providers. I went to each provider’s website to see what each plan cost and which channels they provided. I ended up having issues with some of the websites not being up-front with what exactly they were offering. Often, they would show small channel logos or say things like, “these channels and more”. Content providers, if you want people to chose you, my advice is to be up-front with what you can offer them.

Eventually, I found two streaming plans that would work; Hulu Live TV and DirecTV NOW. We already had Netflix and decided to try Hulu’s streaming library, so the Live TV option was appealing. All of the options had free trials, so we checked each one out and ended up just going with DirecTV NOW for live TV and Hulu’s streaming library and Netflix for prerecorded content.

The big day and after.
Prior to actually cutting out cable, we tried to live a few weeks on only streaming content. By the day came to cut off our cable service, we were fully ready to say “goodbye”. This is what our current plan looks like:

Internet (60Mbps/7MBps) (taxes & fees included) $49.95
Unlimited data option $50.00
Netflix (streaming only, grandfathered price?) $12.13
Hulu streaming library (no commercials) (taxes & fees included) $13.22
DirecTV NOW (Live A Little) (taxes & fees included) $44.16
Total: $169.46

Compared to the amout we were paying with cable ($251.39), that is a savings of $81.93. The majority of the cost is from the internet service, which I plan on rexamining alternatives the next time we move.

Since going with streaming only, we have also found a few more sources for free content. Channels like Pluto TV, Roku TV, Tubi, Crackle, and Crunchy Roll. In addition, our local library also provides streaming services and DVD check-out. If anything, since cutting the cord, we have discovered more content that we ever had with cable. My family and I are happy we made the decision.

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05/18/2018 – Conveniently “evil”

This post may just be me airing out my grievances. It may just be me complaining. If that is what you take it as, then so be it. I don’t have 100% proof to support my claims. All I have is what I have observed.

As I write this, my Nexus 6P is charging back up. Like I have many times before, I unplugged to use during my lunch. This time, it went from a 100% charge to 0% charge within 40 minutes. For 15 of those minutes, it was not in use. For 25 minutes, I watched a video.

For those 40 minutes, the wifi antenna was turned off. The GPS was turned off. The cellular data plan was turned off. Only antennas on were Bluetooth and cellular (voice). I only leave those on so I can use the phone (if needed), get text messages, and use my Bluetooth headphones. Otherwise, I’d turn those off, too.

The thing is, even if I turned everything off, my phone may still die. This morning, it went from 100% battery to 0% battery within 10 minutes of removing from the charger. The only thing I was doing was surfing the internet. Yesterday morning, it also dropped from 100% to 0% when I used it to take three pictures. It shut down just as I snapped the third picture.

This behavior is not new, but it is getting worse. And, it all started some time between January 2018 and the end of April 2018. It is not just my phone that I have observed doing this, but also my wife’s. She now has to use both a case with a built-in battery and an external battery. Me, I got a back-up battery, but most of the time, I am looking for places to plug my phone in before it decides that the battery is dead.

Of course, I can only tell you what I have observed. But, if you do a web search for Nexus 6P battery issues, it turns out that there are a lot of other people with the same issue. From what I have ready, until recently, it appears that Google (whom we bought our phones from) and Huawei (who currently manufactures the phones) were replacing the phones. Now, they are saying that it is normal behavior, because the phones are old. That is also what I was told by Google support this week when I contacted them. I told them I had old tech, so I know how a battery degrades over time, but this was not normal. Of course, support had no solutions for me, because the company they work for will not offer any.

Google’s slogan was once, “Don’t be evil”. So where is that now that they have a large group of people complaining about a defective product? Well, they conveniently dropped it without a peep, back in 2006. So, they are free to be as evil as they want to be by pushing out an update earlier this year that would destroy the Nexus 6P battery. The same tactic that Apple had been using for years with their iPhones. But at least Apple admitted to it (after getting caught) and is now offering replacements.

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03/05/2018: Motivation

It was around 1998. I had graduated from high school back in 1995, and was working full time. Why I did not go to college is another story for another time. My mom was struggling with pay the bills, due to only having a part-time job and barely having any hours at that job. Because I had a full-time job, I moved into the two-bedroom house that she was renting and took over the rent and bills.

I don’t remember exactly when it first started, but I remember as far back as when I was a pre-teen, the windows in my mom’s room would always be “blacked out”. In other words, she would put thick curtains, blankets, black trash bags, or other things like those to completely block out any light from outside. Her room in the house that we were living at the time was no exception.

The place that she was currently working at had stopped giving her hours. So, except to go outside to smoke, she had no reason to leave her room. And, for a few weeks, she didn’t leave her room. I tried a few times to get her to come out, but she didn’t want to. Finally, when she finally did emerge, she said how tired and out of energy she felt. I told her that it was because she did nothing but sit in her room all day for weeks.

When I feel tired and don’t want to do anything, I think of my mom during that time. We all get tired and need the rest. But, the longer you rest, the more your body is going to want to rest. I cannot recall all the times that I felt like just sitting around, but instead, forced myself not to. I would go for a walk, or for a car ride. Or, just go to the library or book store and find something to read. Any reason to get out of the house. There had even been times where it felt like a headache was coming on, but after getting out of the house for an hour, I start to feel better.

Now, I have my daughter and like most kids, she gets bored very easily. This serves as a bigger motivator for me. We are fortunate enough to be living in an area where there are often place for us to go. So, any chance I get, we are off doing something, even it is just going to check the mail.

My takeaway is this; it is very easy to just sit around and do nothing. But, that will often lead you to doing even more of nothing. You have to fight that urge and even if it is a small thing, just get up and do something. You’ll feel better about it later.

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02/28/2018 – Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others

Like everyone else, I am going to give my opinions on the recent mass shooting.

I’m going to start out in saying that neither banning guns or arming everyone are viable solutions. Both are just talking points that end up turning into arguments, rather than a conversation about solutions.

The first issue you will run into when you try to ban guns is that guns are so ingrained into U.S. culture that it would be next to impossible to ban them. It would be political suicide to any politician that voted to ban all guns. And, should the ban pass, it would tied up in court for decades.

Second issue with banning guns is, sometimes they are a necessity. I live in a city where I can call 911 and there will be a police officer there within a few minutes. However, there are places in the U.S., where people live, that it would take law enforcement an hour or more. For those places, gun ownership is a matter of protection.

As for arming everyone, the biggest issue is that is just going to lead to more accidental shootings from untrained and/or fearful users. Or, the armed person may not be willing to use the gun, which gives the criminal an opportunity to take the weapon and use it.

What I propose we do is three-fold:

  1. There are too many loopholes and failures in the way that guns are obtained. We already know that guns can be deadly in the wrong hands, so we need to ensure that they only get into the right hands. Background checks need to happen for all purchases; gun stores, guns shows, online, and even person-to-person. It is the first level of ensuring that the person obtaining the gun is going to be a responsible owner.
  2. What guns and accessories are legal needs to be redefined. Since 1986, fully automatic weapons have been banned in the U.S. From 1994 to 2004, certain “assault weapons”, like the AR-15, which either it or similar type of rifle have been used in the mass shootings, were banned. And following the shooting in Las Vegas, lawmakers vowed to ban bump stocks, but still have not (at least not on the Federal level).
  3. My third proposal is that there needs to be properly trained (the key words here) armed security at schools to protect the students and faculty. In my first two proposals, we’ve tried to keep the guns away from those who would do harm, so this would be the last line of defense. For this to happen however, schools need more money, so they can pay for this security.

So, those are my thoughts and proposals. I admit, even if properly implemented, they will not shop every shooting. But, they will drastically reduce them, which is better than doing what we’ve been doing all this time, nothing at all.

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02/02/2018: But it makes YOU feel better

Starting around the age of ten, until I was sixteen, I was abused.

I don’t mean sexually, just physical. And, it was not a secret. Everyone knew that my mom’s boyfriend would abuse my brothers and myself. Well, everyone but him. He thought that it was just “punishment”.

Once, he drug me down a flight of stairs and whipping me with a belt until my mom called his parents. That was just punishment for listening to my Walkman after he told me to go to bed. Another time, I was made to chew a bar of soap until I puked. Then, I was whipped with a belt for puking in front of my mom. That was when my pubic hair had started to grow in and I unconsciously scratched myself. To this day, even the smell of a soap bar causes psychosomatic reactions. But at least I did not get it as bad as my older brother. Once, he got his leg broken as a punishment. My mother and her boyfriend told the hospital that it was a skateboarding accident to avoid the police.

There are many more stories of the abuse, but I think I’ve provided enough examples for now. As a father now, I constantly fear abusing my daughter. Given the widely held belief that those abused will often also become abusers.

Before we had our daughter, my wife and I talked about my fear of becoming an abuser. Raising a child would mean that I would also have to punish them at some point. While positive reinforcement works when they do good things, they also need to be learn that bad behavior has consequences. Raising a child together means that both my wife and I have to be on the same page when it comes to when punishment is due. Allowing my wife to do all the punishment will only cause our child to see my wife as the “bad guy”. Our child would not learn that what they did was wrong, but rather getting caught by mom was the issue.

The key, I realized was to focus on that what I would be doing would be teaching. As a parent, part of my job to teach my child what is acceptable behavior. Even if what my child does makes me angry or frustrated, the punishment should not make me feel better, because it has nothing to do with my feelings.

My daughter is three years old now and she knows how to “push buttons.” But every time she does, I think about what my reaction is going to teach her. It is a difficult thing to do most of the time, but for her sake, I have to. Fortunately, for both her and me, that fear of crossing the line into abuse helps keep me in check.

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01/31/2018: Cat’s In The Cradle (Part 3)

I’ve never liked crowds. And I especially do no like crowds in small places. My dad’s house was not very big, so even with the limited amount of people there, it still felt crowded. To avoid the crowds, I went downstairs.

My dad had converted the lower level of the house after the last of his wife’s kids moved out. When my bother and I visited as pre-teens, we stayed in the guest bedroom on the lower level. When we were not out doing something, we often were in that bedroom. So, it felt like a second home to us. It was also the place where my dad committed suicide.

My attempt at suicide was overdosing on over-the-counter medication. My dad’s attempt was much more efficient; he shot himself. The spot he did it was in that spare bedroom. The rug had been removed from where he had did it, exposing the cement floor. Again, planned out to keep the bullet from causing damage to the house.

I did not want to stand around the bedroom, so I went into my dad’s office. The place looked like it had been ransacked. On top of the printer were print-outs of some of the email conversations that he and I had. One of his widow’s kids came in and noticed me looking at the print-outs. They said that they were looking for the missing $5,000. Again with the money. As of this post, I can say that have absolutely no idea where that money went.

When I was leaving my dad’s office, I ran into his widow. She and I never really got along, but I was not going to be disrespectful to her. She reminded me that I had promised to my dad that I would move to Seattle. Even though he was gone, she still wanted me to keep that promise. And, that she would like for me to come stay with her while I got established in Seattle. It would be helpful to her, now that my dad was no longer there. I figured that my dad’s death caused a change in her and maybe I should give it a chance. So, I agreed that I would.

Upon returning back to Walla Walla, I started setting up a timeline to move to Seattle. As my dad’s widow reminded me, I had plans to move, but they were a “someday” thing. My choice to set up the timeline came from more than the reminder from my dad’s widow. During my visit to Seattle, I realized how much I missed being around my brother and my nieces. Within six months of my dad’s death, in May 2000, I finally moved to Seattle.

My mother had moved to Seattle a few months prior to me. Her brother, David, had offered to move her and let her stay with him and his family while she got established. So, that left me with the house to myself. I got rid of almost ever thing. By the time I was ready to move, all my possessions could fit into a five foot by five foot square. Kris, a long time friend of mine, and his wife had offered to drive me (and my cat) to Seattle. As planned, everything I had fit in the back of the SUV that Kris had rented.

I ended living in the same guest room where my dad had killed himself. To cover utilities and food, I payed my dad’s widow $500 a month in “rent”. Within a few months, she and I started having conflicts again. Partly, because she had started dating. While I did like the guy she was with, it felt disrespectful to my dad. So, I found an apartment and moved out of my dad’s house in December. I have not seen my dad’s widow or her kids since I moved. Without my dad, I have no connection to them.

As for my mother, well, I could fill many blog entries about my relationship with her. But, I don’t want to. Despite trying to reconnect while I was in Seattle, it didn’t work. If anything, our relationship got worse. I finally decided to cut off all contact with her when she moved from the Seattle area back to Walla Walla in 2001. So, both of my parents missed me getting married and the birth of my daughter.

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01/30/2018: Cat’s In The Cradle (Part 2)

My brother was too broken up to give me all the details over the phone. So, we ended the call and I went outside. My mother was out there again, having a cigarette. I was trying to stop smoking, but given the situation, I wanted one. It was a nasty habit that I had picked up when living with my ex. She smoked at work and at home, so being around it all the time, I ended up giving it a chance. But, before I could ask my mom for one of her’s, she started talking.

As I mentioned in the previous post, the relationship between my mom and I was strained. And, a lot of that was due to the fact that I had found out about her lying and manipulations in order to keep myself and my brother away from our dad for most of our childhood. So, when she started rambling off about how my dad would still be alive if they would have stayed together, I almost lost it. I wanted to say, “he would have killed himself sooner,” but I instead said, “I’m going back to work.” The anger inside me was boiling up so much that I just needed to get away from her. So, I went back to work.

Of course, my supervisor was surprised to see me come back to work. He knew a little about my dad dying, just not all the details. I told him that I just needed to be distracted, so I would like to finish out my shift. He let me know about the company’s policy regarding family deaths and then let me get back to work.

Within a few days, I was boarding a plane from Walla Walla to Seattle. It would be the first time riding a plane. When we would visit our dad as teenagers, we would usually ride the Greyhound bus. It was a lot cheaper traveling that way, but took anywhere from eight to ten hours. I was an adult now and able to afford it, so I decided to take a flight.

My younger brother met me at Sea-Tac airport. His car was not very reliable, so he had left it at home and rode the bus to meet me. I was going to stay with him and his family overnight. During the bus to his apartment in north Seattle, my brother filled me in on what he knew about my dad’s death. It was a long ride, so we had time to talk.

There was no note from my dad, so no one knew exactly why he committed suicide. He had been sick a lot lately and even called in sick to work on the day he did it. The prior year, he had walking pneumonia, which had hit him really hard. We would find out later that he had a doctor’s appointment a few days prior to his suicide. What exactly happened at the appointment, not even his widow knows. We came to find out that there was talk about him having Guillain-Barré syndrome. Later, the neighbors told my brother and I that they heard him and his widow fighting a lot, right before his death. I also know that he had been battling depression all his life. So, it could have been that he was facing both a divorce and a debilitating disease, he finally gave in to his depression. But, without a note, we’ll never know for certain.

Most of the funeral was a blur. I remember my brother breaking down during the viewing. Remember getting up and speaking to a room full of strangers. I remember all the people, most of them I never met before, coming up to me and telling me how much I looked like my dad. And, I remembered that I did not cry. I would not cry over my dad’s death for almost ten years.

I can’t remember which one it was, but one of my dad’s widow’s kids offered to give my brother and I a ride to the funeral and to the gathering back at my dad’s house. After my mom and dad split, my dad married another woman who had kids. The kids were about ten years older than me. Despite them all living together, my did never legally adopted any of the kids. They had all moved out of the house by the time my brother and I reconnected with our dad. Yet, I remember my dad and his wife sometimes fighting, because she said that he treated my bother and I much better than her kids. But, there was much more going on there that I would rather not go into.

On the ride to our dad’s house, the eldest daughter of my dad’s widow told us that there was $5,000 missing from one of the bank accounts. She asked if my brother or I knew where the money went. My brother and I were dumbfounded by the question. Not only because neither of us knew about the money, but that we just left our father’s funeral and this was what she was focused on. We both told her that we had no knowledge of the money. This prompted her to talk about how her mom needed that money, so they needed to find out what happened to it. And, it prompted more questions. By the time we got to my dad’s house, I told my brother that I would rather walk than take another ride like that.

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