Cutting the cord

I just cut the cord on our cable.

We’ve paid Charter around $150 per month for years, to get their high(er) speed internet, cable TV, and HBO.

Charter’s on demand service stinks, and Charter isn’t a supported provider on Apple TV for HBO Go, meaning we haven’t really gotten what we pay for from HBO.

Today, I cancelled our TV service and now my Charter bill will be $59 per month for internet. I will sign up for HBO Now for $15 per month, and be able to watch all HBO content from Apple TV.

I also signed up for 3 months of Sling TV, for $20 per month — and the 3 months up front comes with a half priced Roku 3, which I’m really excited to try after reading The Wirecutter review.

Considering we have Amazon Prime, I was tempted to go with the Fire Stick, but a couple of Roku features took me over the top. Roku merges content from the apps I’m subscribed to so I can search everything from one device. Also, the remote has a headphone jack so my wife and I can watch shows without bothering each other if one of us is asleep.

I also like that the Roku is agnostic to services, and between that and the Apple TV, I should be in good hands as various companies continue to compete in this sphere. The Apple TV alone isn’t ideal because I don’t have a good way to take advantage of Amazon Prime, and the Roku seemingly has just as good (and less intrusive) support for Prime as the Amazon Fire TV.

Between internet, Prime, regular TV, Netflix, and HBO, I was paying nearly $170. Now, I’ll get basically the same stuff for $113. And we can easily cancel any of these services or add future ones.

It seems Charter is aware of their problem, too. They pitched me hard for a new service where you pick any ten channels, get internet, and HBO, for (I think) $86. It would be tempting but for the fact that their HBO on demand still stinks (as does their entire cable and on demand interface) and the full HBO app isn’t available on Apple TV.

I’m sure I won’t get away with doing media this way for cheaper forever. Internet pricing will go up as ISPs still don’t have real competition. And the al a carte model will be more expensive as I inevitably get tempted in the future by other channels’ future subscription offers.

But for now, I get more flexibility, a better interface for watching TV, and it’s way cheaper. That’s a win.

Science and God

Science: the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.

Through science, we discover more about the world.

Faith: strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.

Through faith, we believe in God as the creator of the world.

If we have faith in God, then science is a process for discovering God’s creation, and therefore learning more about God himself.

To run away from science is to run away from God. Embracing scientific discovery in the world is to discover God himself.



Don’t solve problems like Major Payne

At the beginning of Major Payne, Major Payne solves a problem. A wounded soldier has a hurt arm, and he offers to help the soldier take his mind off his arm, in a way that, “works every time.”

He breaks his finger.

It solved the specific problem temporarily, but unfortunately just gave the soldier more problems.

Don’t solve problems — including software problems — like Major Payne.

“Off the Record”

Recently, I was listening to Slate’s Political Gabfest podcast, and they were talking about the difference between “off the record” and “on background.” The show notes reference a 16 year old story debating the terms.

The term “on background” is pretty new to me, though I’ve used what it means a good bit. Basically, you can use the person as a source but you can’t implicate them in any way (and how/if your source is referenced at all is debated).

Apparently the definition of “off the record” isn’t very clear at all — even to journalists — and its common assumption has changed over time.

Previously, “off the record” was most often determined to mean its not to be talked about or written about at all, like a tip to then go figure the story out yourself. The “off the record” person is not a source at all.

Now, apparently a lot of journalists basically take it as something you can use but can’t implicate the source in the piece in any way. I find that odd.

I get told I’m “off the record” — yes, in our little WordPress news world — all the time, and it’s pretty annoying to be honest. I’m glad I’ve learned more about the “on background” terminology, because I’ve always treated “off the record” as “go figure it out yourself,” unless I clearly request permission for the parts I want to use, unattributed.

It’s probably time to be a bit more clear in these conversations.

Source: For the Record, What “Off the Record” Means (from 1999 but still an excellent resource).

The Agency

From a nondescript office building in St. Petersburg, Russia, an army of well-paid “trolls” has tried to wreak havoc all around the Internet — and in real-life American communities.

I was late to read the story about The Internet Agency in the New York Times. But I finished it last night and it is a crazy story that really sheds a light on how governments are trying (and sometimes succeeding) at gaming the internet.


The parrot and its owner

A parrot and its owner don’t have the same understanding of what is said, even though the words are the same.

As a writer, I need to remind myself to not take others’ parroting at face value, and to actively avoid parroting without understanding something myself.

I do both more than I would like, but my best work comes when I ask myself whether what I’m hearing is true or if I’m listening to someone parroting what they have heard but do not understand.

Image source


I’ve rarely felt like an author was so inside my head as when reading this three-part series on procrastination by Tim Urban, on the outstanding Wait But Why blog.

Urban invents a three character system — a battle in the procrastinator’s brain every day, every moment — to highlight what it’s like being a procrastinator.

The Rational Decision Maker, the Instant Gratification Monkey, and the Panic Monster are all hilariously perfect; I was in tears of laughter as Urban perfectly described what I feel often, and I could look back on my life and see these three characters in my own brain and see where each won at various times.

All three posts, on why procrastinator’s procrastinate, how to beat procrastination, and the procrastination matrix (perhaps the most important one) are absolutely genius.

For non-procrastinators, you should read to understand the rest of us. For procrastinators, may we meet in The Happy Playground.

Following the path of a stolen passport

An eye opening story from Buzzfeed News on how the wars in Syria and elsewhere have effected Turkey, and even unsuspecting tourists that get their passports stolen.

Neher had been surprised at how little of all this he saw. Istanbul buzzed with its regular charm, the captivating city that welcomes around 10 million tourists annually. Yet the moment he lost his passport he was drawn into the conflict — or the passport version of him was, at least.

From the thief who stole it, the passport traveled into an underworld, fueled by Syria’s war, that pulses beneath the city most tourists and residents see.

In this world — one of smugglers, criminals, refugees, and spies — stolen passports are a valuable commodity. Syrians die by the crowded boatload trying to reach Europe’s shores, but a Western passport offers a chance at salvation far removed from the dehumanizing journey by sea. With a passport like Neher’s in hand, a Syrian whose own identity has been shattered in the conflict can take on a new one, for a few hours, and board a plane. Though the scheme doesn’t always work, the hope that it will can fetch a steep price.

This is one of the more enlightening, and sad, things I’ve read in a long time.


The most common job in every state

While reading a fascinating article about the imminent disruption of the trucking industry — thanks to driverless cars — I found a fascinating map that lists the most common job in every state.

I was surprised to see that four states’ most common job is software developer: Washington, Virginia, Colorado, and Utah.

Looking at the trend over time, the map highlights how technology has consistently disrupted staple American jobs. From farmers, factory workers, and secretaries in years past, to truck drivers now: technology has consistently disrupted enormous industries.

Interestingly, as the article on the trucking industry notes, driverless vehicles will take over a profession where there is simultaneously a large shortage.

Meanwhile, software developers are becoming more common. I’m sure it’s not a direct correlation (the number of software jobs likely won’t replace all of the jobs technology disrupts), but there is no denying that learning to code and manage software is a pretty good field to get into right now.

Of course, software development too can be disrupted.

A senator’s faith — and humility

The intersection of faith and governance is an interesting one.

He understands that many are skeptical of faith, both because “religion [has] come to be so closely associated with right-wing politics” and because the Bible “has been used as a document, as a foundation, to justify discrimination.” The revered text is, to some, “the basis of intolerance, based on outdated teachings and moral codes and has been a source of pain and distance and discomfort for many.”

If Coons had left it at that, this would have been another in a long series of Washington speeches in which a politician tells his allies how much he agrees with them. But as “a practicing Christian and a devout Presbyterian,” Coons had a second message.

Early on, he quoted the very Bible others find offensive, noting that Jesus’s command in Matthew: 25 to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the imprisoned had “driven” him throughout his life.

A new friend sent me this. It’s a topic that’s been on my mind for a long time. I think there is a lot of hypocrisy on both sides of the isle and both sides of the religious spectrum. It’s refreshing to see a U.S. Senator willing to discuss the gray areas between harsh ideologies.