02/15/2019: Snow-income

We in the Seattle area are still digging and thawing out of the 14 plus inches of snow that we received over the past two weeks. The highways and most main arterial have been cleared, but most of the side-streets and parking lots have not. The warmer than freezing weather is helping with the clearing in downtown Seattle, but because of the convergence zone in the area, some places are not thawing out as fast. Those places happen to also be places where lower-income people currently live.

Less than ten years ago, the cost of living close to downtown Seattle started to rapidly increase. Wages could not keep up with the cost of living, so the people who worked downtown and rented had to move further and further away. Within that time, the cost of buying a house also increased, so many who wanted to buy a home closer to work were denied that opportunity. King County tried to implement and higher minimum wage in hopes that it would increase everyone’s wages, but that only helped a little.

Now, I’m not trying to say that the Seattle area is unique in that people who are lower-wage workers can’t afford to live close to work. That happens in a lot of cities. It also happens in a lot of cities that transportation options also don’t keep up with growth, which also happened to the Seattle area. In fact, Seattle is currently is number 6 of 60 urban areas with the worse traffic. If I had to put two and two together, I am going to guess that most of that traffic are the lower-income workers trying to commute into downtown Seattle.

I’m fortunate enough to have a job and a boss that allows me to work from home. I can’t do it all of the time, but I do have the ability. This came in very handy in the past two weeks, as the area that I live in is one of the convergence zones that got a lot of snow and is still barely getting temperatures above freezing. Like most people in my area, my form of transport is either my car or bus. But, my car was trapped by snow and ice and buses were being consistently cancelled. So, the only way I would be able to get to work is walk the 1.5 miles to the bus station and hope that a bus would show up to take me to downtown Seattle. Which, is what I ended up doing yesterday, but that was mostly voluntary. For others, it is a necessity.

The point of this post is not to complain, I do have some solutions.

First, businesses need to be more willing to allow people who don’t have to physically be at work, be able to work from home. This is a trend that I have seen fluctuate in the past decade. The technology is there, so it comes down to if a company and bosses are willing.

Second, businesses that need workers to physically be there need to also consider where employees are coming from and not open. This is very difficult to do, because it does mean loss of revenue. Yet, at the same time, you should not ask employees to put themselves in harm’s way to come into work.

Third, we need more affordable housing close to downtown Seattle. I’m not the first to say this and will not be the last. There are different ideas and projects in the works to make it happen. Hopefully, it will happen sooner than later.

Third, we need to continue to build out light-rail and other forms of transportation. Roads are useless when they are covered in snow and ice. Or, if they are blocked by accidents. Light rail may not be the ultimate solution, but it does help a lot.

While it may be a long time before we see another snow storm like we just had, we shouldn’t wait until another disaster happens to react.

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01/17/2019 – No, it’s not coffee making instructions

As of this post, I have completed both the HTML and CSS introduction courses on LinkedIn. Today, I started the course on Javascript, which is something I have limited knowledge of.

Any time I learn something new, I want to use it. Therefore, I want to see if I can insert a little Javascript into one of these blog posts. Unfortunately, while writing this post, I tried and it turns out that it will not display. That is okay, I can still play around with making an HTML document on my computer. But it will make this a much shorter post than I planned.

I’m still considering what I want to do once I finish the Javascript course. I may see if there is a course on creating phone apps. I also would like to continue learning more about Microsoft Office products, like Access and Word. After all, the course on Excel has improved my use quite a bit.

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01/11/2019 – Dealing with the Devil

The timing finally came together for me to be able to take my daughter to her first show. In fact, there was two shows for kids her age that I could possibly take her to. Each of them were derived from TV shows that she loved. So, with credit card in hand, I clicked on the “Tickets” link, ready to spend up to $25 per ticket. That is when I was redirected to Ticketmaster.

Even when I had plenty of time, I rarely attended events because of Ticketmaster. You see, I hate fees and surcharges, which is what Ticketmaster is famous for. And, since they are almost a monopoly, I decided to protest by not attending events where they sold the tickets. But, that was years ago and I heard that they stopped with those practices. Now was the time to test that out.

The lowest costing tickets for the first show were $26 each. Well, that was a little more than I wanted to spend, but I decided to try anyway. So, I started with the purchasing process and the old Ticketmaster showed up and put a $10 extra charge on each ticket. Having not entered my credit card details yet, I backed out.

Swallowing my anger, I tried the second show. Tickets were $20 each. Given the previous transaction, that could go up to $30 per ticket. It still was more than I wanted to spend, but I really wanted my daughter to see at least one of the shows. So, I continued and the extra charge of $8 was added to each ticket. Still not what I wanted, but again, it was for my daughter.

With the advancement of payment technology, it still bothers me that venues still resort to using Ticketmaster. While it may just be a “drop-in-the-bucket”, Ticketmaster just lost this venue the money I would have spent. And, it will cost them on any future shows, because I now know that they use Ticketmaster, so I will avoid going there. I don’t know if that matters or not to the venue. I don’t know if they are not seeing as many ticket sales and are scratching their heads, trying to figure out why. Either way, I did my one-time dealing to make my daughter happy and complained on my blog to make me feel better.

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01/09/2019: Learning

Despite doing really well in school, I never went to college. Let me correct that, I took some classes at community college, but did not pursue a degree. The reason I didn’t go any further was due to lack of money and time. Most of the skills I learned after high school are self-taught.

A few months ago, the company work for announced that they were giving access to employees to LinkedIn Training. Since it was paid for by my employer, I decided to check out the training.

I’m not going to go into all the training I’ve done so far. I just wanted to touch on two courses: Excel and HTML.

I thought I had a decent grasp of Excel, given how often I use it. At both my job and personal life, I’ve found ways to use Excel to make things easier. In fact, when there is an Excel issue, my coworkers usually come to me. Initially, I took the course just to see what it was like. The course taught me about features and formulas that I had never even thought of. It made me wish that I had more things that I could do with Excel.

The HTML course, I am still working on, but it has also taught me a lot. All of my HTML knowledge is self-taught, usually from looking at the code on webpages. So, I have a lot of bad habits that I did not know about until this course. The worse is using “<br>” instead of “<p> </p>”.

Once I am finished with the HTML course, I am planning on doing CSS, Javascript, and Microsoft Word. I’m excited about what I am going to learn next!

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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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