Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Goodbye AT&T

I am in the middle of changing my TV/Internet providers. I have decided to ditch AT&T U-verse for those services. I have been an AT&T customer for various services since the days of rotary phones. Over the past year, I have ditched AT&T mobile and reduced my bill by ½ to ⅔. The service and signal strength are better too. Now it's time to do the same for internet/TV. 
Out with the old

I have chosen YouTube TV streaming to replace U-verse TV. I picked Spectrum internet to replace the internet part of U-verse. My new combination will be less than ½ the cost. This is not an apples to apples comparison, some things better, some things worse. It may take a while to figure out if this was a good decision or not. I can always switch back or find another alternative. 
In with the new

YouTube TV is one of many new streaming services. It is delivered over the internet, not a dedicated cable, satellite or DSL connection. There is no special receiver and remote. While I don't get nearly as many channels, I get most of what I want. There are no infomercial or shopping channels, no dozens of fringe channels I never watched. No 75 music channels, that's what Pandora and Spotify are for. I do get my local stations, the major cable news networks, the major sports providers including Fox Sports Southwest for the Rangers games, and a few general entertainment and movie channels like TBS & TCM. 

There are a few sacrifices. None of the streaming services offer PBS, although limited PBS shows are available online. I will no longer get AXS which had great music shows/concerts. I won't be able to watch the oldies stations like TVLand, MyTV, H&I. No more Gunsmoke or 77 Sunset Strip or Mannix, or Wagon Train... That's OK, I have probably seen every episode of those shows and 100 other old series. Also, I can probably find some of this stuff on the internet, it will just be a little more difficult than switching to channel 1136. 

Some of these like PBS and MyTV are available over the air. Unfortunately, I live on the first floor of a brick three-story apartment building which is right next to another three-story building. I have yet to find an indoor digital antenna that works consistently for most of the local over the air channels. 

On the internet side, I have increased my speed by a factor of over 10 and for less money. I am also hoping that the reliability of broadband and wi-fi improves. Hopefully, the equipment is also a little more robust. I have replaced my AT&T modem/router at least three times. I have also replaced the TV receiver/DVR. Of course, each time was a battle to finally convince AT&T that the equipment was faulty. 

I guess this can be considered "cord cutting" but of course that is not completely accurate. Yes, I am ditching a traditional cable TV package for an internet streaming service. Still, we can not completely cut the cord. We need a physical connection to the internet. Maybe someday wireless internet like the coming 5G networks (or Trump's 6G) will be able to replace a physical phone line, coax, or fiber to your residence but not yet. 

YouTube TV has unlimited DVR storage in their cloud and the shows are kept for nine months. Unlimited, that means you won't fill up the physical DVR sitting by your TV. The one downside, to me, is that once you pick a show to record, it records every episode including reruns. That makes the recorded library a little unwieldy but I'll fight through it. The problem of too much rather than too little. 

There are other minor changes that mostly will just take getting used to There are no more channel numbers, just names on a scrollable list. No immediately jumping from CBS to ESPN to TCM by number on a numeric pad on the remote. Sometimes the channels take a few seconds to start, there is the ubiquitous spinning buffering icon. I'm not usually in a rush.

I still get to stream my TV channels on my phone, tablets, and PCs. Important for when I'm away from home or when I am at home and want to watch two or more sporting events at the same time. 

It's a new day with new technology and new providers. For the first time in forever, I will not be writing a monthly check or two to AT&T. Like many companies, they have taken me for granted for years. Never offering the best or even a better deal to established customers. Rarely offering good customer service. When I called to cancel my AT&T U-verse service they, of course, tried to talk me out of it. He said I had two offers on my account that I hadn't taken advantage of. They totaled about $70/month. I didn't ask what the length or terms went with these offers. The reason I hadn't taken advantage of these offers is that I had never been told about them. Typical AT&T taking established customers for granted. The only offers I ever saw were for phone upgrades and I have never bought a phone from them. 

I'll let you know if this was a mistake. For right now, everything is fine. 


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Death Penalty

When I was younger, I was a passive supporter of the death penalty. I thought that there were crimes that warranted this most severe penalty. Brutal murders, horrendous crimes against children, and others. Some of that support was also because there didn't use to be life without parole sentences. Those sentenced to life were typically eligible for parole after X number of years depending on the state. 

After years of observing the criminal justice system, I have changed my mind. There should be no death penalty sentences.

I have two major reasons for this change of view. First is that over the past few decades, it has come to light how prejudiced and unfair our justice system can be. If you are poor, Black, Hispanic or other minority, you are more likely to be wrongfully convicted. If you are railroaded to a guilty plea or conviction, there is no reversal of an execution. Even if later proved innocent, you are dead. 

The second objection is that it takes so long to actually carry out a death sentence. There are endless appeals and other delays. Almost every one of these delays involves a court hearing and mass quantities of legal fees. The government usually has to pick up those fees for both sides. Is it really a deterrent to a capital offense if the final punishment takes years, maybe decades, to carry out? 

Here is the dichotomy of my thoughts. Capital punishment should be swift for the guilty but we should make sure that those found guilty are truly guilty.

Because of this conflict, I think any death penalty crimes should be changed to life with no parole. Maybe sentences of 100+ years with no parole serve the same purpose. 

California governor Gavin Newsom just stopped all death penalty executions in his state. This an executive order and can ultimately be changed by the California legislature or courts. There are currently 747 California prisoners on death row. That is proof that under current procedures, regulations, and court rulings we do not actually execute anyone in a timely manner. No one has been executed in a decade. Only 13 people have been executed since 1978, that is 41 years. That comes out to 0.3 per year. At that rate, it would take almost 2,500 years to clear the backlog. 

Texas, where I live has the most active death chamber in the nation. Even with that, there are 221 prisoners on death row. On average those prisoners have spent 15½ years on death row. BTW, 44% are Black in a state with a 12% African American population. 

There is no need to continue to dig into the statistics. It is clear that our current system of carrying out the death penalty is broken. It is certainly not swift and often appears not to be fair. So, let's do away with it. Jail the murderers, rapists, pedophiles, etc. for life. Make the incarceration less than ideal. 

There is no simple solution or answer to this. Beliefs, biases, politics, prejudices, faith, etc. all figure into how you view this. I have come to the conclusion that the death penalty is no longer a deterrent or fair punishment in its current state in our country. That being my conclusion, it should be eliminated. Maybe there are drastic revisions that would make it viable again. Maybe you have a different view of the current situation. That's fair but for now, no more death penalties.


Thursday, February 28, 2019

Very Random Thoughts - February 2019

  • No one is truly self-made. Certainly not people like Donald Trump. 
  • When did the response to "Thank You" become "Thank You"? I always thought it was "You're Welcome".
  • Oh wait, sometimes the thank you response is now "no problem" which I find obnoxious. 
  • Just in case I may have forgotten, the flu reminded me this month that it sux. Old and flu are a bad combination. 
  • Remember when some places offered a discount if you paid with cash? Now some stores are trying to go completely cashless. 
  • Why are weather people called meteorologists? They rarely if ever give us any information about meteors. 
  • Whatever happened to Sarah Palin? 
  • The latest BS marketing term is "tactical". We have tactical shirts, pants, belts, sunglasses, flashlights, etc. 
  • Jeff Foxworthy has a furniture line. If you buy any pieces, you might be a redneck. 
  • I'm noticing a new category of drugs being advertised on TV. These drugs don't actually cure or fix anything, they just make the numerous drugs you are already taking work better (allegedly). Drugs to help your drugs. Do we really need to be taking more drugs? 
  • Stupid and ignorant are not the same thing. Many smart people are ignorant. 
  • The new product called Sheex is marketed as performance sheets. That leaves room for various interpretations. Are these sheets an alternative to Viagra? How do they work?

Friday, February 1, 2019

Very Random Thoughts - January 2019

  • Do GM workers get mad when the company offers the employee discount on their cars to the public?
  • Speaking of cars, who would buy a used car from one of those internet sites that deliver them to your door. Don't you want to kick the tires before the purchase?
  • Hasn't the Gatorade dousing of the winning football coach just about run its course?
  • On January 1st, all those last chance year-end sales become last chance New Year's sales. 
  • Common sense is not evenly distributed. 
  • Personal injury lawyers (ambulance chasers) have some of the worst and most stupid TV commercials. I can't imagine choosing one of these clowns to represent me. 
  • When did we need to have a slash on sevens? 
  • Back in the old days when I had to send programming sheets to the keypunch department, we had to slash zeros (0) to distinguish from alpha O's. Believe me, computers really cared whether it was a 0 or O. When I looked back, I realized that was backward. There were far more zeros than O's in the programs source code.
  • Have you noticed that junk food is way more often on sale or has coupons than the healthy stuff? Keep America fat.
  • I have noticed a large increase in the number of memes and comments by the Trumpers that are derogatory toward Democrats since the midterms. They even dust off old Obama and Clinton slurs. Facts be damned. 
  • Often times free stuff is way overpriced.
  • Do the 800K federal employees who are either furloughed or working without pay count as employed in the Labor Department jobs statistics?
  • Oxymoron: premium economy airline seating.
  • It always seems strange to me when I see an advertisement for one TV channel like TBS or FX on another network like NBC or CBS. 
  • The Texas Roadhouse steakhouse chain was founded in Indiana and is headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky. False advertising. 
  • The University of Oklahoma goes by the initials OU. Apparently, dyslexia is very common in amohalkO. 
  • A local TV commercial for an eye surgeon starts out with the doctor saying "If you have cataracts, you are lucky". He then says something about many options. Really, you are lucky? I feel very unlucky that I don't have cataracts so I can have surgery and pay large medical bills. 
  • If the #TrumpShutdown causes the IRS to delay tax refunds, can we also delay tax payments if we owe money? I'm guessing NO.
  • Sometimes it is almost impossible to tell the fake from the real commercials on Saturday Night Live. A sad commentary on the real ones.
  • Why do TV sports programs have aerial coverage of indoor events?
  • It's amazing how prices and salaries have changed over the years. Some of the dollar figures spouted on old TV shows are really low. $50K was a fortune. 

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Kominsky Method

The Kominsky Method is a comedy/drama on Netflix. It stars Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin as two longtime friends who are going through life in their golden years. These two have a very loving relationship but are constantly needling each other. The difference between you and me and our best friends is these guys have some very funny writers coming up with their put-downs. 

Sandy Kominsky (Michael Douglas) is a somewhat famous acting coach. He runs an acting school with his daughter. Norman Newlander (Alan Arkin) is a very successful agent who owns his own agency. He has represented Sandy for years although he has been semi-retired for a few years. 

The other regulars are Mindy (Sarah Baker), Sandy's daughter and Lisa (Nancy Travis), a student at Sandy's acting school and his new love interest. 

There are several recurring roles including the students in the acting class. Some of the more famous recurring character actors are Danny DeVito as the guys' urologist, Ann-Margaret as a friend of Norman with ulterior motives, Lisa Edelstein as Norman's drug-addicted daughter, and Susan Sullivan as Norman's dead wife who still appears to him. All are good in their roles. 

There are also several well-known guest stars, many who play themselves. These include Patti LaBelle, Jay Leno, Elliot Gould, Corbin Bernsen, and Eddie Money. 

Sandy has had three failed marriages and Norman's wife of 40+ years dies at the end of the first episode. The second episode funeral is great. So now the two old friends need each other more than ever. Let the hijinx begin. Michael and Alan have a very good rapport as do Michael and Judy Travis. All seasoned actors who know what they are doing. The funny lines seem natural, not forced. Another bonus is that there is no laugh track. You get to decide which lines are funny. I hate laugh tracks, especially the overactive ones. 

The circumstances depicted seem mostly real too. Maybe that is because I am about the age of the principal characters. The fact that a urologist is a recurring character will give you a hint. 

I'm not sure if young folks will find the show as funny as I did, but since most of my friends are of a certain age, I have no hesitation in enthusiastically recommending The Kaminsky Method. It is funny and at times poignant. The episodes are 30 minutes so you can fit them in easily. There are eight episodes in the first season so it's only a four-hour investment. The good news is that the series has been renewed for a second season.

I rate this a solid A. Give it a try. 

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Ben Is Back

This is not a comedy. The very serious, emotional Ben Is Back is about the 24-hour visit Ben (Lucas Hedges) makes back home for Christmas. Home consists of mom (Julia Roberts), sister, stepfather, and two young half-siblings. Ben is a drug addict currently in a rehab center. Let the fun begin. 

Ben is welcomed with open arms by Holly, his mom, and young half sister and half brother. Not so much by his sister and stepfather, who don't believe Ben has kicked the addiction or the bad behavior associated with it. More details of Ben's past life are revealed during the movie. It's not pretty. Mom is just happy to have her son and first born home for the holiday. His sister has lived through his addiction and lies. The little kids haven't seen Ben as an addict and his relapses. His stepfather doesn't trust Ben and is tired of the drama and probably the rehab expenses.

The family members come to an agreement that Ben can stay for Christmas but then must go back to the rehab center. The rule is he can not be out of his mother's sight for the duration. 

As you may guess, there are complications. Mostly minor at first but it spirals into more and more serious circumstances. It winds up with Ben and Holly on a dangerous chase to find the family's kidnapped dog. The kidnapping a result of Ben's past life.

By the end of the movie, I think Holly is just as sick as Ben. His past addicted life has taken just as big a toll on her as it has on him. Crazy behavior on both parts. 

The story did not play out as I first expected. It ends with no real resolution. Not an uplifting film.

This is definitely a two person movie. Julia and Lucas dominate the story and the screen time. They both do an outstanding job. The rest of the cast is barely needed although they do a fine job. 

This was not my favorite movie. If you are a Julia Roberts fan, you will get to see a lot of her doing a very intense part. Lucas again plays a troubled youth as he did in Manchester by the Sea.

I'm going to rate this a B-. Good acting, Not an enjoyable story. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Very Random Thoughts - December 2018

  • Spring forward, fall back. Changing the clocks used to be a big pain in the ass twice a year. Not so much anymore. I only have one or two clocks that I use that don't adjust automatically. 
  • Is it icing or frosting?
  • Who decided that the football player who gets the hike and runs the team should be called QUARTERback? That makes him sound like the least important back.
  • If Trump wants to start another branch of the armed forces, it seems to me our tax dollars would be better spent on a Cyber Force rather than a Space Force. 
  • It appears that Beto O'Rourke might be on the national political scene for the next couple of years. Maybe as a presidential candidate. So, I think we should all pronounce his name correctly. It is not Bait-O, it is Bet-O, short E and long O, as in place a bet or you bet your life. Clear?
  • If you think Google search is prejudiced against your political leanings or party, there is an easy solution. There are several other search engines. Bing, DuckDuckGo, Yahoo, Dogpile, WebCrawler, etc. Just do a Google search for search engines.
  • How come people get to use their temporary government titles for the rest of their life? I'm talking about governor, ambassador, secretary, senator, etc. Once the gig is over you're just a regular Ms. or Mr. again.
  • The entertainment industry awards aren't until next year but the promos for the shows are already airing. Unfortunately, I can't set my DVR for February. I may miss the Oscars. 
  • The English language is dead. I was watching a late night talk show. One of the guests managed to say LIKE at least twice per sentence, often more. My ears caught fire and I had to mute the interview. 
  • Have you ever noticed that in movies or on TV, when someone is looking for something they always initially look in the wrong direction when they enter a room? Then they can do a dramatic take or comedic doubletake when they look in the right direction. 
  • Here's a variation on the old oxymoron jumbo shrimp. We now have jumbo popcorn shrimp. What is jumbo popcorn?
  • Were parents able to navigate Christmas shopping without Toys "R" Us? 
  • I like it when drug TV commercials say during the long disclaimers, "Do not take wonder drug if you are allergic to wonder drug." How would you know if you are allergic to a drug before it is prescribed and you take it? On the other hand, why would anyone take a drug they know they are allergic to? 
  • How come men have to wear black, navy blue, or charcoal gray suits but women can wear almost any color. Seems unfair. 
  • It's a little hard to digest, but if I say "back when I was growing up", that was about 60 or more years ago. 
  • I have no recollection of whether I have ever had a white Christmas. Maybe when I was really young in New Jersey. 
  • DVRs and TV remotes spoil us for movies at an actual theater. I sometimes want to rewind a few frames to hear what was said. Worst case is a desire for a pause button when nature calls. 
  • I learned recently that mixed up phrases, such as boldface lie instead of the correct bald-faced lie, are called eggcorns. Relatively useless information that will not often be needed. 
  • The good news for the lazy is that Nike will be drastically reducing the price of their $720 self-lacing shoes. The bad news is they still will cost $350. Think I'll continue to tie my own laces manually.
  • How much do you think the big stars get paid for those hokey infomercials? Tom Selleck does reverse mortgages, Alex Trebek does $9.95 life insurance, William Shatner will sell anything. Besides, how believable are actors? They pretend for a living.
  • There should be a law against TV reality shows using the words celebrity or star in the title unless there are actually famous people on the program. Dancing With the Stars, really. Celebrity Big Brother, not quite.
  • A person and a people are two different things. One is an individual the other is a group. Don't judge the person by what people they belong to. 
  • So what's your New Year's food? Black eye peas, tamales, pickled herring, greens, Hoppin' John?