Automatic Oopsie

When I found myself doing an abrupt unemployment tour this month,  the first thing I did was dig into my budget.  I did it so I could see how long it would be before our finances got scary and to see what could be eliminated.

English: A Netflix envelope picture taken by B...

English: A Netflix envelope picture taken by BlueMint. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gah!  So much could be eliminated.

There were things that I’d set up on automatic payments, added to my budget, then ignored.

There were things that I’d signed up for and used, but didn’t get as much enjoyment out of any more.

Example Number 1:  Netflix

We love Netflix.  It gets used every single day.  But the DVDs often sit on the kitchen counter for a month before we get around to watching them.  We clearly don’t need the DVD plan any more.

Example Number 2: Software Subscription

I use some software to track the Google rank of several of my websites.  There is an addon that makes the software work much better.  The addon costs $20 per quarter.   The problem is that I’m not looking at the rankings of these sites any more.  Some of the sites have been shut down, or I’m no longer involved with the clients.  That makes the paid addon a total waste.  I canceled it and told the tracking software to run slower so it would give Google a fit.

Example Number 3: Extra Domains

Hello, my name is Jason and I’m a domain addict.  Seriously, for a while, I was buying domains every time I had a good idea for a website.  Some of them were developed, and some were sketched out and put on hold.   I also bought domains to help with the search engine rankings of the developed websites.   I topped out at about 120 domains.  All of them were on auto-renew.   I’ve been letting them expire, but some didn’t have the auto-renew settings changed, so they (surprise!) renewed automatically.

These are just three examples of several years of development, exploration, and automation of my complicated financial life, and they add up to more than $100 a month essentially wasted.

Here’s what I want you to do.

Right now.

Not “tomorrow”, not “when you get around to it”.

Now.

Pull up your bank statement, your Paypal account and your credit card statements.

Is there anything in there that’s happening every month that you forgot about, don’t need, or don’t even want?

Ax that crap.  Kill it with fire.  Nuke it from orbit. Stop wasting your money.

I’d be willing to bet 99% of everyone has something they are paying for every month that they don’t even want, but either forgot was happening or have just let inertia keep paying the bills.

Be the 1%.

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Chromecast: Saving Money on Cable

Google has decided to jump into the competition of content streaming by introducing its very own streaming device, the Chromecast. Following in the footsteps of other dominant content streaming devices and services such

Chromecast

Chromecast (Photo credit: Stratageme.com)

as Apple TV or the Roku, Google hopes to allow casual video watchers the ability to watch streaming content on their TV instead of on a tablet or smartphone. With penny pinching being on everyone’s minds as prices increase for everything ranging from food to gas, cutting costs on entertainment expenses by eliminating cable is a wise decision.

Chromecast costs significantly less than other devices available on the market at a mere $35. Three months of NetFlix are included with the purchase, which essentially puts the price of Chromecast at only $11. It is a bit larger than a thumb drive and plugs into an open HDMI port on your high-definition television. It can be powered directly through the HDMI port on newer televisions as long as you have HDMI 1.4, but if you have older HDMI technology, Chromecast can also get power from a USB port if your television has one. As a last resort, you can also get an optional power cord to power the device from a regular outlet. You’ll also need to have Wi-Fi access to send the signal from your chosen device.

Chromecast is designed to allow you to stream your content at a low cost without requiring you to buy a smart TV. Once it is connected, you can stream video or audio content from your phone, tablet or computer directly to your television. One of the key benefits of Chromecast is that it can be controlled with multiple devices, not just Google’s. It can be controlled with an iPhone, iPad or Android-powered tablet or phone. You can also project content that you have open in Google’s Chrome browser on your computer to your TV screen. Unfortunately, you’re completely out of luck for the moment if you use a BlackBerry or Windows device since they trail behind Android and iOS in popularity.

Since Chromecast is relatively new, only a few apps currently support the “cast” ability that projects your content to the screen. The device runs a barebones version of Google’s own Chrome operating system. When you press “cast” through an application the content is sent directly to your television. It doesn’t merely mirror your device’s screen, so you can still play games, surf the web or check your email while watching your TV.

Control of the Chromecast is also simple since you can select what you want to watch, adjust the volume and control playback directly from your device without having to adjust to a new interface or have another remote floating around the house. Another selling point is that family and friends can utilize your Chromecast without needing to jump through any set up hoops along the way.

Ditch the costly cable service and get with the times by utilizing streaming devices and services.

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Comcast: A National Treasure

This week, we upgraded our cable TV package.   We were on their most basic 15-channel plan, now we’re on Digital Economy, giving my wife the extra channels she’s been suffering without for the last few years.

Image representing Comcast as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Our Tivo died last week.  I love my Tivo, and we saw its death coming, so we ordered a replacement.  We accidentally ordered the wrong one.  We got the one that can’t take a signal straight off of the cable.  It needs a cablecard.

Crap.

We could send it back and miss out on the Tivo for another week, or we could upgrade our cable package.

Hmm….

We looked at Comcast’s site to see what was available.  Boost Plus–a internet + TV package–was available for $69.99/month for a year.   That’s $6 more than we were paying, for about 30 more channels and it came with 2 years of free HBO.  Yay!

Call Comcast.

The rep couldn’t find the offer, but there’s another one for $79.99 with no HBO, would we like that?

No, and we need to call the online offer number, since you can’t just transfer me.  WTF?

So I ordered from the website directly, because I was getting sick of people already.   I love e-commerce, just for that reason.

The last step of the process?  A 30 minute online chat with a rep to schedule a tech.   Grr.

After “Hello”, the first thing the rep said was, “Based on our conversation, the best thing to suit your needs is…”   A freaking upsell to open the conversation.   Buddy, you don’t know my needs.   You’re here to run a calendar.  I hate people.

No, I don’t want Triple Play.  Your phone service isn’t cheaper than I’m paying now.

No, I don’t want a zillion channels.   I have Netflix and a Roku.

No, I will not pay modem rental.  I bought my own for $50 instead of paying you $7/month for it.

No, I don’t want equipment protection.  The box will be on my dresser, out of reach.  If it breaks on its own, I’ll return it.

Yes, I do want the deal to last the entire year–per the ad–instead of the 6 months you’re trying to change it to.

Great!  Now my choices are a) pay $10 to have the new cable box shipped, b) pay $30 for a tech to come over and plug in 2 cables, c) drive to the cable office and pick up the box.   I’ll take the 15 minute drive and combine it with lunch with my wife, thanks.  I have to go there for the cablecard, anyway, since that’s not something you ship.

Wait a second!  Going to the store means we’re going to cancel everything we’ve just done?  And the store doesn’t have access to this deal, either?   Nevermind, I’ll take the shipping charges.

WTF?

So, it’s off to the store to get my card, but not the box that will ship from that store.   After a 30 minute wait, the wonderful(no sarcasm) lady behind the counter was happy to give me a card.  Unfortunately, the rep from the previous night had entered the wrong deal, with a note on the account mentioning the correct one.  Because that’s how computers and automated billing systems work.   His plan left an error on the account that prevented anything new from being added, like my cablecard.

Grr.

Double guh-errr.

Let’s cancel everything from the previous night.    There’s a better deal.

We got the same package for $49.99/month for a year, then $69.99/month for another year, with HBO for $5/month.  I got to leave with my card and my box.  Wee!  I love you, lady!

Comcast, seriously, WTF?

Now, if I could just get Tivo to recognize the channel lineup for Digital Economy.

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SOPA Is Evil

PiracySo the record companies, the movie studios, the obsolete media, and some large software companies want the ability to nuke a website from orbit if they find any of their intellectual property there.

Or a hint of their intellectual property.

Or, “Oops, I guess that wasn’t ours.  How much business did you lose during the 6 month appeal of a non-judicial takedown?”

Pure crap.

I’m not saying that from the perspective of some junior high pirate watching free porn in his parents’ basement.  Intellectual property is the basis of my livelihood.  I am a Microsoft Certified Professional; a software engineer.  I am a blogger; a writer.  I am a web developer; again, pure IP.

Giving private companies the right to arbitrarily take down sites for what may or may not be an actual violation is absurd.

Over the last few years, a law firm called Righthaven(spit!) has been teaming up with news agencies around the country to extort fees out of websites–generally small sites–for violating their copyright.   Most of those cases involved individual users–not owners–posting fair-use snippets of articles.   Since the cases were filed in Nevada, it would have cost more to fight the suits than to simply pay the blackmail, typically $5,000-$10,000.

Now, add the ability to threaten to administratively shut down the site if settlement isn’t made in 24 hours.  That eliminates the ability to consult with an attorney, undermining the legal system completely.

All because once-successful companies can’t cope with the current world.

I’m not a fan of piracy.  I enjoy buying movies because that encourages the people who made them to continue to make movies.  The delivery system sucks.

Netflix has developed a successful business model out of making it easier to watch movies legally than to pirate them.   For $8/month, you can watch as many movies as you’d like.  If you have a $50 Roku, or any number of other devices, you can watch right on your TV.  Add another $8/month to that, and you can get new DVDs delivered right to your door.   For less than $20/month, they are delivering licensed, legitimate content and making a profit doing so.

How did the movie companies respond?

Did they increase the availability of their libraries, to get more wanting-to-be-honest customers paying a small fee to watch their content?

Of course not.  They reduced the instant library and extended the amount of time before they would license new movies for rental.  They made it harder to get their content legitimately, which increased the amount of piracy.

Now, since Plan A is biting them in the ass, they are pushing for yet more legislation to salvage their failed business models.

Here are three options for watching movies I don’t own:

Option 1:   Instant

Through the magic of Amazon Instant, Netflix Instant, or any of the magical Roku channels, I can…

  1. Open an account.  Once.
  2. Find a movie I want to watch.
  3. Watch it immediately.   This could be included in a membership fee, or as an individual rental.

Option 2: Piracy

I am not recommending illegal activity.  This is for the sake of example, only.

  1. Download torrent software, like uTorrent.  Once.
  2. Go to a site like Torrentz.com and find a movie I want to watch.
  3. Click the torrent link, let the torrent software open it and download the movie.
  4. Watch the movie in a couple of hours.  For free.

Option 3: Buy it.

  1. Drive to the store each time I want to watch a movie.
  2. Spend $15-$20 on the movie.
  3. Drive home.
  4. Fight the bank vault of plastic and tape they wrap the movies in.
  5. Put the DVD in the player.
  6. Watch 5 minutes of “Don’t Be a Pirate” garbage.  Hey jerkface, if I’m watching the DVD, I didn’t pirate it.  Bad market-targeting here.
  7. Watch 15 minutes of commercials that I can’t skip through.
  8. Watch 15 minutes of commercials previews that I can’t skip through.
  9. Watch the movie.  This process takes longer than the piracy and costs more than option 1.

On top of that, I’m told I’m a pirate if I back up my movies for archival purposes.  Or if I rip my movies to my network to allow me to watch them conveniently.   I’m told that I’m merely licensing the content of the disc, but if the disc fails, I have to buy a new one.  I can’t just download the content again.

This is a failure, and it isn’t a legislative failure.

The companies that are embracing modern options are succeeding, and will continue to do so.   The companies that refuse, at the expense of their potential customers, will sink.

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