Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I've had it with this POS DVR from Comcast

I've lived in a Comcast market ever since I moved to Eagan in 2002. Since 2005, I had a Motorola DVR box. It wasn't the greatest, but it did what I needed it to do and it was passable. It had its quirks, like it would inepxplicably freeze on a screen for a bit and queue up remote commands and then unleash them all at once. But once you got used to that, it was a minor annoyance more than anything.

I transferred this box to our apartment in Eagan for the few months that we lived there, but when we bought a place in Minneapolis, I was told I'd have to get a new box since the Motorola boxes were not compatible with the Minneapolis market (it's an old Time-Warner market that had flip flopped with comcast, and they use Cisco (Scientific Atlanta) equipment).

Well, the Cisco box that I have now is an utter piece of crap compared to even the Motorola box. It can't do series priority at all, and my wife likes to record a lot of shit on HGTV and stuff like that which is on multiple times per day. What ends up happening is that the box stops recording other things I want to record randomly, and I don't figure it out till I realize it hasn't recorded. It's maddening. The Motorola DVR also had the (undocumented) ability to program a skip button. No such luck on this thing. There's a lot of other things about this Cisco box that just plain suck but those are the two most glaring weaknesses.

On the suggestion of more than one person on the various AV forums, I started checking out the Tivo HD DVR. When I last checked out Tivo a few years ago, the Series III was just coming out. It was really what I would have wanted, but the pricetag, north of 750 if I recall, was out of the question, especially compared to the serviceable motorola dvr I already had.

Flash forward to now, and Comcast is charging me 15.99/month for this piece of shit box that's far inferior to the Moto box I had before (for the same price). Tivo's 12.99 per month (and can get even cheaper if I pre-pay) and the box is only 250. Seems like a no brainer. Comcast will even provide the cable card the box uses for free.

The Tivo box can also do a lot of other stuff, like watch netflix on demand movies and access Amazon's movie library as well. My wife will dig that.

Gonna make the leap. Comcast can take this DVR and shove it...

Stuff you can do if you run out of stuff to do on the internet

I'm sure I'm like a lot of you when I say that I've got content coming out the wazoo most of the time. Far too much stuff. My normal routine is to first hit up Twitter to see what's new. I'm something of a completeist, so I usually read most of what I've read back to the last time I read Twitter. Brizzly is a great Twitter client for that because of the J/K shortcut keys and the continuous scrolling. Can scroll through a great deal in a short amount of time. When I've just gotten too far behind, the new Twitter lists are great for checking up on certain people or things. They now work in Brizzly too, so the same scrolling principles apply. Once that's done, I usually float into Google Reader. While some notables in the Tech community have all but abandoned it, I still find it to be the most useful tool for accumulating what you want to read for later consumption. Sure, I end up seeing a good chunk in my Twitter feed (I do still try to avoid Twitter feeds that are simply mirror's of a site's RSS feed, because Google Reader does that better), but I can aggregate a lot of things.

Very rarely do I run out of things on Reader. If, by chance I happen to, there's a few things I will do if I have some time to kill and my laptop in front of me.

The Popular Feed on Google Reader - The popular feed is great to find new stuff to read and peruse what people like. I like to page through it periodically. Lots of good visual stuff on this feed. I've found multiple new blogs to follow this way.

Comment feed on friend's shared items in Google Reader - Google's implemented a bunch of features related to the social aspects of sharing items. They're implemented rather haphazardly in my opinion. However, conversations do start up on some items, and it's always worth a gander to see what people are saying.

Drop in on your Twitter Lists - Lists are a great new feature in Twitter. I've used them to find and increase the number of accounts I follow. Increasingly, I'm following people on my lists that I don't follow on my main Twitter account. Mostly because they are entities or people that I don't always need to see updates from, but are good to check in on every once in a while.

Drop in on other people's Twitter Lists - one of the other great features about lists on Twitter is that you can follow other people's lists. This allows you to sample tweets from other people without actually following them or taking the time to cultivate the list yourself. I like to go in and do this periodically to see what's going on. The Breaking News list compiled by a New York Times editor I follow is interesting when a story is breaking. The New York Times staff list is also another one I'm liking a lot. And the list of TC Journalists is also interesting for a local new perspective. There's lists for all manner of things, the sky is the limit, really. There's a list for that, so-to-speak.

Check out Friendfeed - this is something I'm doing less than a few months ago, but I follow a base of people on that site that I don't follow other places, and they're interesting people. There's always something to look at content wise there because FF aggregates an individual's content, and it does a pretty good job of filtering the best of the day for various lists you can set up. Unfortunatly, the once-thriving native-to-friendfeed community here is less of one - since facebook bought the company a few months back a lot of people have all but abandoned native participation in favor of it simply being a stream. I'm guilty of that myself.

I very rarely peruse individual sites for content anymore - I can't remember the last time I went to look at startribune.com without being linked there, for example. I very rarely look at individual blogs where I'm not either linked there or read it in Google Reader. It's an interesting shift from the way things used to be, but it's one that I find gives me more information that I want/need, versus having to go through a bunch of stuff that I don't care about.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Delta's got some work to do to keep me as a regular customer

MSP (Northwest, now Delta)has been my home airport for the last 14 years. Prior to that O'Hare (United/American mini hub) and Midway (Southwest, various low-far lines over the years), when I lived in Chicago, and when I was very young, NYC (numerous). So, I've lived in a hub of one sort or another for most of my life. And I've often had access to direct flights.

Like a lot of my fellow MSP travelers, I was not really thrilled with the Delta acquisition of Northwest last year. I've been a regular Northwest customer for most of my adult life. They've been a good option for travel, and we get direct flights on them to almost anywhere. Sure, directs were often 50-100 more than connecting through Chicago on United/American or Atlanta on Delta But after you get stuck at ORD or ATL once or twice waiting out standby lists, the directs become the way - particularly when you can afford them.

I'm going to be close to getting medallion status with Delta this year due to some bonus miles and late year traveling. I probably won't make it, but I don't know that I care that much. Delta kind of sucks compared to NWA for a variety of reasons. There's lots of little differences that are annoying, but their general service level just seems to be lacking in comparison as well. Maybe it's just because I'm primarily dealing with disgruntled legacy NWA employees right now.

I'm a little concerned that we're going to start losing directs out of MSP, but I don't know that it bothers me that much. I may end up flying Southwest more often down the road (though I haven't found their fares out of MSP to be very competitive with DL so far on the ones I've checked, in fact, they're often more expensive), even if it means connecting through Midway, Denver or St Louis. Southwest is adding new destinations from MSP pretty fast, and if Delta decides to reduce service further at MSP, I bet they'll come in with even more.

Simple math and geography dictates that Delta has too many hubs post-NWA merger. All signs point to Cincinnati (actually located in northern Kentucky), a legacy Delta hub, being the first casualty - and with Memphis and Detroit in the fold, that makes perfect sense. Delta was already hinting at downsizing there before the merger even took place. Memphis still seems awfully close to ATL, though there's no sign of downsizing there yet, and there's some overlap between MSP and DTW which leads me to believe that Delta may choose to focus more on one or the other.

Regardless of what happens, I really hope the discounters like SWA look more heavily at MSP. We've got a lot of business travel originating out of here because of all the Fortune 500 companies that are HQ'ed or have large presences here, and it seems like it will continue to be the case.

I'm hoping I can get medallion sooner or later on some airline. I don't travel tons for work, but do a fair amount of leisure travel. Fully half the flight I was on yesterday was medallion, and that left me in the predicament of being able to get in the 3rd row of coach because of my business fare, but not being able to get on the plan in time to avoid the dreaded gate check (all too common these days with people avoiding the bag check fees).

I've never really worked the system as far as credit cards and other special offers go, I think I need to start doing that as well.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Livin' in the Citaaaaay

I've been a Minneapolis resident for a few weeks now. I dig it. My commute's a little longer, and totally reverse - I head out to my office in the burbs every day. It's only slightly longer than when I lived in Eagan. My wife has a commute generally less than 10 minutes in which she does not need to take any freeways. It's great for her, and I'm happy - she's had the longer commute for a long time. It's nice to have her in bed longer in the mornings and be home by the time I am usually. She tends to work more hours than me anyway.

I like a lot of things about the city. My Walk Score went from a 39 to a 73, a dramatic improvement. Interestingly, 73 is still in the bottom half of all walk scores in Minneapolis. But it's still way ahead of most anything in the burbs.

I haven't done tons of walking yet. It is getting colder out. But even having 4 or 5 different non-chain restaurants within a few blocks of my place, and hundreds more if you go to a 20 block radius is great. Options were always so limited in Eagan - it was basically a handful of chains or some local chain joints that I could usually get my wife to eat at. For that, I am happy. Fits better with my lifestyle. We ate out a few times this week at different places. Mostly because we could!

Finding things in your new neighborhood is always interesting. I had to figure out where my new polling place was. I voted in the first Minneapolis city elections to feature Ranked Choice (instant runoff) voting. It was not a very interesting mayoral race, with RT Ryback having no serious challenges going in. The park board race was the most interesting thing on the ballot, and only because I live in the 5th district, which was one of the few contested races. Indeed, it's going to the IRV for the official result since three candidates were within a few points of each other.

I also had to figure out where mailboxes were. The USPS web site has a nice tool for that. The nearest redbox. Grocery stores. And on... Lots of stuff is very close.

Since we have a bigger house with more storage, we decided to join Costco and made our first trip there last week. Good decision, will help save us some money in the long run.

I feel good about the long run benefits of living in the city. Someday I'll probably work in DT Minneapolis or the vicinity again. That will come in handy. Even if I don't, we are centrally located to a lot of things now.