Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cutting the cord, continued, and why USI Wireless is awesome for us

I gave up on #resound11 about half way through. Just got behind from the 8 ball and couldn't keep up.

But I am still working on reducing my Internet and Cable bills. When we last discussed this topic, I was getting ready to order USI Wireless on a trial basis to see if it could serve as a reasonable substitute for the Comcast service I've used for the last 8 years or so at multiple addresses.

I've always been something of a sucker for speed with these connections and since I've been able to afford it have typically purchased mid/high tiers of service. I most recently had 20Mbps service which I was paying 54 bucks a month for. I enjoyed fast podcast downloads and other media files purchased from a variety of sources, and no challenges from a streaming perspective but was also aware that this kind of speed is probably borderline overkill considering the data cap on Comcast is 250GB so if you stream constantly in HD you'd probably get in trouble with them anyway. .

USI Wireless in the city of Minneapolis comes in 3 flavors, 1, 3 or 6Mbps. They allow you to pre-pay for a year, which amounts to a substantial savings of $144 on the most expensive tier, or about 33%. It works out to 23.95 per month. Even Comcast's cheapest tier, which is 1/3rd the speed at 2Mbps is 26.95 per month (and probably rising) and in order to get at least 6 you have to spend 44 a month with Comcast. So clearly, if you can make it work, the price is very attractive for USI wireless.

I had two concerns besides going to a much slower speed (and I wasn't that worried, because for most things I do, 6Mbps is adequate) - latency, and reliability.

I got the service set up about 6 weeks ago on a Sunday Night. I was very impressed with the available USI install appointment windows - they offered a variety of night and weekend options - very convenient if nobody can easily be home during the day. Everything went smoothly. The tech checked my preferred locations for their wireless device to be mounted either to a window or the side of the house. We ended up having to put their equipment on the top floor of my house in the back. This was line of site to the pole with their transmit/receive equipment on it and allowed me to get fully advertised speeds.

This placement likely would have been a problem for the less technically minded. I was working off a cable connection coming in at my TV in the basement where I had several wired applications that needed to remain so. Luckily, I already had a second router set up as a wireless bridge and repeater so I swapped it in and it worked perfectly for both wired and wireless connections. The main router went upstairs to serve as the main wireless broadcast for my house directly off of the USI equipment. I have nothing directly wired to that box.

At some point, I will probably upgrade the router upstairs to an N router for better range (and to reduce reliance on the g repeater in my basement, an aging Linksys router than may go at any time).

Performance wise, it works as advertised. I'm able to get 4-6Mbps down, slightly less during peak times and I haven't had any noticeable service interruptions. Quite manageable speed even for downloading Podcasts, music from Rdio, etc. Video files and larger files take a bit longer but queuing them up still results in getting them in a semi-timely fashion. 1Mbps up is a bit on the slow side, particularly when uploading photos, but nothing that you can't queue and forget about either (and still much faster than what I had with Comcast a few years ago-and Comcast wasn't that much faster on the up-side today either)

On the TV side, we had mixed results from my trial run, and I haven't cancelled cable yet as a result. I did end up ordering a RCA ANT1650R Flat Digital Amplified Indoor TV Antenna from Amazon. It picks up all the major stations, but not without some adjustments on occasion. I had a couple of Vikings games that didn't record because the antenna needed adjustment and several other times where the signal has been borderline. Also, the NBA resolved their differences, the Timberwolves have a product worth watching, and the Bulls are on national cable TV approximately 20 times (which are games that are blacked out on the NBA Season Pass). There's also the college game which I go in and out of being interested in but come tourney time it would be nice to have cable.

So I haven't cut the cord with Comcast all the way , but we're half way there. I'm impressed with USI Wireless's customer service as well. In addition to sending me an email highlighting the different avenues of customer service, they also gave me a call to make sure everything was OK and it was working well for us. They also handled my request to switch the modem rental to a purchase without any hiccups. Compared to my Comcast fiasco a few years ago, it was smooth sailing. 

The TV thing we'll reevaluate after basketball season. It's always the sports that keep me connected. I didn't watch much baseball last year and could probably get by with an antenna for the summer months.   It's possible I'll pursue a dish connection too, but over there, there's contracts, a new DVR box and other shit I don't really want to contend with.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Resound11 Prompt 5: Theme Song

If your life was a television show, what would its theme song be? What music would be cued at the start of the show or when you entered a scene?

Think about this past year. Is there a song that you've heard that has really struck a chord, one that has spoken to you? Maybe there's a song that goes along with your
one word for 2011. Maybe there is a song that you've heard that instantly cheers you up or makes you think of a special moment that happened this year?

Foster the People - Color on the Walls - Don't Stop. Because nothing stops, life just keeps moving along. Plus my daughter likes to jam along to this song. This album got a lot of play in our house earlier in the year, and the lyrics to this one are a lot less serious than Pumped Up Kicks, for sure. This song also symbolizes the demands my daughter places on my life.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Resound11 Prompt 4: Superpower

Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound ... we know you've got one. What's your 2011 superpower?
For those of you going what the what ... stop. Think about it for a moment: what have you learned that you can do better than anyone you know this year? What can you do that no one else can? Don't be shy!

It's juggling all of the aspects of life and doing generally a better job at it then in years prior. Work was constantly changing this year - new boss, reorganization that significantly impacted my job. On the homefront, adjusting to life with a mobile child and having a pregnant wife again. A pregnant wife that while still quite capable, needs more help with things. Keeping a much larger house running - cleaning it up, and after our extremely affordable cleaning lady left the state, deciding to go back to cleaning it ourselves. We don't do as good of a job.

I don't really remember what much of life was like before Abby was born, but I wonder what the hell I did all the time.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Resound 11 Prompt 3:Virtues

Yesterday we got down and dirty and revealed our 2011 vices; today we'll wipe the slate clean and talk about what personal virtues we discovered in 2011.

What good have you done in 2011? Where do you really shine? What have you done that makes you proud of yourself?

This is an area where I feel like I could be better. I'm not particularly good about giving money and time is something that is hard to give. Right before Thanksgiving though, I did two activities that I meant to blog about anyway, so this is probably as good of a time as any.

The first was a volunteer session at Second Harvest Heartland with about 10 members of my team at work. Second Harvest is a food bank in the Twin Cities area that provides food to various shelters, food shelves, and the like. We went to their warehouse in Northeast Minneapolis and packaged rice into individual packages for 3 hours. It was very similar work to the work I've done at Feed My Starving Children as an activity with another work team. There were other opportunities to do work with food donated from grocery stores. This is a great charity, doing an important job. They gather a lot of perfectly good food from stores around the metro area that otherwise would have to toss because of expiration dates. We ended up going through most of a huge thing of rice in our three hour shift. I was a sealer, which I feel like I was pro at by the time the shift was over.

The second volunteer activity I did was to take a day off of work (paid, thanks to my employer's generous gift of two paid days to go do volunteer work) and work at Bridging, Inc. in their warehouse. Bridging is an organization that collects furniture donations to supply to people getting back on their feet, getting their own place again, typically coming out of shelters or from living with someone else. Katie took the day off too and she worked in the front doing client visits, sorting of linens and office work. I moved furniture around.  It was very rewarding. I met a lot of great volunteers and you can directly see the impact of what you do. A great organization and I hope to volunteer there again soon.

Resound11 Prompt 2: Vices

I posted for 31 days last December using the Reverb10 prompts. While the original creators of those prompts are not doing them this year, another person has stepped up and I'm going to follow along. I really enjoyed reflecting on my year last year and hope to have a similar fun experience this year.

 Did you slip back into any old habits that you wish you hadn't? Did you gain any new habits that you wish you would have walked away from? Did you discover the evils of Nutella? 'Fess up ... we won't tell.
My addiction to checking Twitter, Google+, Facebook, etc got a little crazy at times. I blame my iPhone and iPad. They're always with me at home. I did try to get better at putting them away while Abby is awake. I also recently dialed back on the number of people I follow/friend on several of the sites which reduces the flow. I'm something of a completist as well, and I need to give up on that. Don't have to read every last tweet! Trying to do that by having a list on Twitter that I go to if I just don't have time for it, to at least see what my closest friends/acquaintances are up to and doing similar things on the other services. 

To note: I've been smoke free for nearly 3 years now and it feels great. Still get the urge every once in a while, but that's usually after too much alcohol and the fact that virtually all of my friends have also quit the habit makes it easy to not fall back into bad patterns.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Resound11 Prompt 1: One Word

I posted for 31 days last December using the Reverb10 prompts. While the original creators of those prompts are not doing them this year, another person has stepped up and I'm going to follow along. I really enjoyed reflecting on my year last year and hope to have a similar fun experience this year. Without further ado the first prompt:

What is one word to describe your 2011? Why does that word sum up your year?

A lot like last year, I'd be willing to bet a lot of these posts are going to be focused on being a dad because it's probably still the biggest thing going on in my life right now. My wife is due with our second child at the end of January so 2012 is going to be similar as well.

One word to describe 2011 for me is discovery. It was a year of discovery for my entire family, as well as a year of personal discovery for myself. While this is true every year, it felt especially true this year.

My daughter Abigail entered 2011 as a 8 month old infant, and is emerging from 2011 as a 20 month old toddler. The difference between those two points, as I'm sure those of you with children know, is HUGE. She is in full-on discovery mode right now and that has been fun to watch and experience.

Watching her discover what makes the world tick, the common language that we employ, and proper behaviors in the right context has been really interesting. Her brain is just absorbing and picking up all these new things, and doing a pretty good job of it. It's amazing how quickly they go from drooling baby to curious toddler that picks up on more things, understands conversations, and starts formulating words to express her feelings.

My personal discovery has revolved mostly around my career and job, and my wife and I have continued to explorer where we want to go with our lives. There's been a number of events that have occurred with my job and career that have caused me to pause and re-evaluate what I really want to do in the long term and that's been filled with discovery on several different fronts, a process that is ongoing and will continue into 2012.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thoughts on cutting the cord and getting Comcast out of my life

A casual survey of my friends and acquaintances shows that more people have cut the cord on cable or thinking about it, lately, despite the complete ignorance of industry executives. My wife and I are thinking about doing it for economic reasons, but also just for time. And I think we're actually going to do it.

I'm building a strategy around doing so before I actually do it, as I'd like to completely cut ties with Comcast. Their internet is probably without a doubt the fastest and most reliable (you get what you pay for as it's also the most expensive) available where I live. But, I just abhor them as a company-I don't think they do many things that are particularly customer friendly, and they constantly jack the rates and give you more shit that we don't need or want to watch for it. (and if any Comcast reps are reading this, don't bother to comment here, I will delete it as we're through!) We do watch shows on multiple cable networks, but a lot of it is disposable crap that I don't think I would really miss too much, or couldn't find elsewhere if I really wanted to.

What I think I'd miss
In theory, sports have been the main driver for me to not already have done this. In analyzing my actual viewing habits, I have not consumed enough sports to justify the exorbitant expense of having cable. I watched a handful of Twins games last season, and almost none in the second half of the season. That would probably increase if they were doing better, but there's also no shortage of watering holes where I could take in a game from time to time. I've been watching Gopher hockey this year, but I could live without. I'd probably miss being able to watch college hoops and the NBA as I tend to watch a lot of random games, but I'll just have to catch more on the networks. The Timberwolves might be better this year, but maybe I'll just go to more games. The Vikings are on network TV if I even care to bother watching them anymore. I'm also fortunate in that I'm still a fan of multiple out of market teams including the Bulls and the Cubs, for which there are several viewing options through their streaming packages if I'm so inclined. The NCAA tournament is totally streamed for free as well, reducing the need to have the cable portion and all the big games are on CBS anyway.

Other TV shows aired on cable would be missed, but I believe there are alternate legal means to get most of them should I decide I miss them and want to continue watching. I can think of a couple of shows that fall into this category. With the money we are saving on cable, I can justify splurging on a few season passes via Amazon.
Obviously, cutting ties completely with Comcast and not wanting to get involved with the even more deceiving Satellite industry leaves us with over the air as our alternative. I'm looking at various antenna options and tells me that we should be able to receive everything broadcast in the area with an indoor digital antenna. I just bought this antenna from Amazon and I'm going to test it out before committing to cancelling cable.

I'm also looking at getting some kind of additional streaming option - such as an Apple TV or a Roku box. But that is something I'm probably going to research later. I already have a TiVo which can download some items and I've bought a few TV show season passes through it for items aired on AMC (a channel for which I could not justify the extra expenses in having the expanded tier by itself, with no interest in other channels on that tier). We're going to keep the TiVo around and hook it up to the antenna to record network items that we still watch, but we may even get rid of that eventually depending on how much we end up using it. My TV can also handle certain types of streaming as well, an option which I have not spent much time exploring.

This is probably the trickier one for me. As I said earlier, Comcast is probably the most reliable and fastest but it is also the most expensive. I think I am paying $55 a month for the second to top tier of service. I could dial back to the cheapest tier of service, and that may be something I consider, but if I cut cable completely, then they will charge me more for that.  (I've also considered going down to the bare bones basic tier on Comcast if the antenna doesn't work, and then cutting down to the cheapest Comcast option may be better).

Alternatives where I live are DSL from CenturyLink and USI Wireless internet. I've not looked at the first option too much as I've heard the speeds are suboptimal in our neighborhood and I also don't want to deal with pairing it with POTS to get the best price. I have little interest in a traditional landline. I've seen mixed reviews of USI Wireless and have several friends that have ditched them after bad experiences, but I've seen more good than bad lately. I've heard the service has somewhat improved.

In the interest of not pigeonholing myself, I'm going to get USI Wireless internet set up and see how it works at my house. I've heard this is a huge YMMV thing, with some people having more success then others, based largely upon your home's orientation to the antennas in your neighborhood. It seems to be favorable as there is one at the end of the block and one block over, and I am the second house in with a clear view of the antenna from the back windows of my home. So I'm going to give it a go and not cancel Comcast until I'm sure it will work for us. It'll probably require me to reconfigure my router setup and have a bridge in the basement to get hard wired ethernet ports but I can figure that out.

We're going to give it a go. We can always go back later. I have a feeling I won't miss it enough to bother. I've generally been watching less TV lately and this frees up time to do other things instead of watching mindless crap.

I'll update here as we go along for those who are interested.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Book Update October 2011

I really need to make a point to update here more often. I keep saying that but then life gets in the way. I like writing here when I do. I think I just need to come up with some regular topics I can talk about.

I've shifted into hard-core book reading mode lately. I've always been a pretty big reader but I went through a bunch of my 20s where I just wasn't reading that much. I finally discovered the Hennepin County Library reserve system and it's a winner!

I was buying a lot of books used off Amazon but they are starting to pile up again and really there are only a few books that I've read that are worth keeping in the long term. Resale value is basically zero after a while so a lot of them get donated to Goodwill, etc. I'm still not on the e-book train, I suspect I'll get more there eventually but as long as the library is available, I do prefer reading paper books. I'm old fashioned like that.

I'm trying to watch less TV and reading is a way to accomplish that. I'm kicking around cancelling cable after Daughter #2 is born, we could do without the expense, and the library is free. I'm not sure Katie is on-board but we can probably figure something out where she can get her fix.

I'm going to try and write an update every month about what I'm reading.

Without further ado:
Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge by Mark Yarm
About the Seattle Grunge scene of the early 90s - goes pre-historic with talking about bands like the U-Men, Green River, etc that were the precursors to the bands that everybody knows from that era. Really interesting Oral History, though I did have the problem I have with most Oral Histories - it takes me about 100 pages to get into it. But once I am, it's a page turner, I downed it in a few days after I started. He does a good job covering up the fact that he wasn't able to get much of Pearl Jam or surviving Nirvana members to participate and didn't have much material from a couple of other key players. Quite a bit on Alice in Chains though and the parts about Layne Staley at the end of his life are just heartbreaking. Nice job by Yarm. I was so young when this started and of course I caught the Nirvana bug like every 13/14 year old out there. I remember, I bought that album along with Metallica's black album.

Lucas Davenport "Prey" Series by John Sandford.
My dad tipped me off to these a long time ago, and I started reading them when I was looking for something a little lighter. I'm on Book 11 in this series after about 6 months of reading them on and off. There's 20 some odd total. They are good filler in between more serious reading and all take place in the Twin Cities. I can crank one out in a weekend if I don't have a lot going on. The last one I read was Certain Prey and that one was good - a female killer for hire was the main antagonist and she was a pretty strong character. Lucas Davenport is a great character too and the length of the series lets Sandford really develop him over the breadth. I've heard that some of the mid-teen books are the best in the series and I look forward to working my way through them. He has 2 other series I also intend to read eventually. 

Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground by Kevin Poulsen
I was tipped off to this book by a Podcast I heard on Planet Money. I usually enjoy these types of books but this one was skippable. The subject matter just wasn't terrible interesting and the author didn't do a very good job of trying to make it compelling.

Freedom: A Novel by Jonathan Franzen
Finally got around to reading this one. I've not read anything else by Franzen, I need to circle back and read The Corrections and some of his older stuff. This book was fantastic though. The narrative development was top notch and the characters just kind of popped off the page. (one of the leads was named Walter and I had a hard time not picturing Bryan Cranston for some reason - too much Breaking Bad!). Helps that it was set in Minneapolis and a couple of the characters went to my alma mater, Macalester College. A bit of length but another page turner for me once I got about 100 pages in or so. Read most of this on my week long vacation in early October and it's an excellent vacation book.

Zero Day: A Novel by Mark Russinovich.
I wanted to like this book, but I just couldn't get into it. Too hokey - a computer virus is taking over the world. Just seemed really unrealistic given what I know about modern day technology and the author's attempts at relationships in the book just fail miserably.

I'm currently reading Dauntless, the first book in the Lost Fleet Series by Jack Campbell, a millitary sci-fi series. Haven't read this type of stuff in a long time but it's usually page turners and this one's no exception. I've got Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss and Love ready for pick up at the library but I'm considering returning it without reading it since it's about a father raising his daughter after his wife dies post-labor. Might be too much for me right now. Also have Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live by Jeff Jarvis and The Pale King, David Foster Wallace's last unfinished novel on their way to the reserve shelf. Should be a good couple of weeks of reading.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Netflix move takes guts

I'm fascinated by what's going on with Netflix. I come at this as a former long-time customer. I first had an account near the beginning when we still had to mail DVD's back to California. I wasn't dissatisfied with Netflix as a service, we cancelled simply because of lifestyle - having a young baby is not conducive to watching many movies and we were much more attached to our Tivo than our DVD player for entertainment anyway.

I've watched from afar as Netflix has grown its streaming business while keeping the DVD business by its side. It's a nice compliment. I never found the streaming options to be that great when I last subscribed almost two years ago. Some told me they had improved, but then I keep reading stories in the news about deals gone bad.

I'm sure a number of my friends who are more into movies will have some decisions to make, or maybe they've already made them. But as a casual movie watcher who is more into current TV programming, they've probably lost me for good.

It takes a bit of guts to do what they are doing though, and take a perfectly good business, splitting it up into parts - aligning strategically with the future of content delivery. Don't get me wrong, I don't think anybody knows exactly where this whole thing is going to land between the distributors (the networks, cable companies, and streamers, etc), creators (studios) and the consumers, but it does seem likely that physical media will fade out at some point in the next 10 years. If not completely go away, it will have a lesser role, and could eventually be limited to those that streaming is not an option (those without access to high speed internet). Unwinding/morphing that business into something completely different is totally different from what the company has been for the first 10 years of its life, and certainly a much different thing than streaming video content, the future of the business.

Netflix is doing what it can to separate these businesses before they are publicly forced into doing it by investors. They may even have a suitor already. This is one step in a much larger plan.

This move is not unlike what Kraft Foods is doing with their business, or Tyco International, or countless others have done over time. Concentrate on what they do best or what to do best and where the growth opportunities are and unload the rest. The trick is to do it without alienating your existing customer base which is no small feat, and one that Netflix is clearly struggling with.

This will make a really interesting b-school case study someday, but perhaps for not the reasons people think.

Monday, June 27, 2011

St Paul Summer Beerfest Wrap up

I really need to make an effort to write more in this space, and part of that is writing about the things I'm doing. I could write ad-naseum about my daughter and all the wonderful things she's doing these days, and I do that elsewhere anyway, also not as often as I should.

One of the things I did was to attend the St Paul Summer Beer festival last weekend. It was my first time attending this festival. It's been around for several years, and used to be held in the parking lot of Midway Stadium. This year, however, it moved to the newly-rennovated International Baazar at the State Fairgrounds.

The fest's new home was perfect. A stage for bands. Adequate space for vendors in an arrangement tailor made for this sort of thing. A grassy area in the back for more vendors and other stuff (VIP, entertainment, education tent). Adequate coverage from rain, which was sporadic during the first hour.

On the advice of Jumi, I bought a couple of VIP tickets. VIP's get access to the grounds an hour before the general admission, and have access to a tent area with its own porto-potties. Having access an hour early is crucial for an event like this because you can try whatever you want without crowds. Many brewers bring small batches to sample and they're gone quickly once the full-bore event gets going.

Highlights for me included Engine 20 by Great Lakes Brewing, a smoked Ale. It won the people's choice as well, though probably because they were campaigning harder than anybody else I saw and had ballots right there at the booth. It was still an interesting and good beer, it's a shame it's a limited deal and wont' be available here anywhere. I've liked what little Great Lakes I've had and I'll have to make a point to buy some more of it.

Other highlights - I really enjoyed Harriet Brewing's Saison Nourrice, a Belgian Style Farmhouse Ale. Perfect Summer beer. I think Harriet really hit it out of the park with this one. I've been a fan of theirs and have frequently stopped in to buy some growlers. Their West Side belgian-style IPA is probably the best of that style that I've ever had. Some of their seasonal beers have been hit or miss for me, but Saison Nourrice is a keeper. Growlers go on sale July 7th and I'll be over there to pick one up for sure.

I also enjoyed finally trying Ovalde's Auroch's Horn. I had heard about this beer from a few people, and I'll have to pick up a bottle next time I'm over at South Lyndale Liquors. It's a sipper for sure, and the sample glass size was perfect, but I wonder how a bigger "sample" would treat me.

Couple of other local things - Theodore Fyten's Fytenberg Grand Cru was good, apparently these guys are brewing out of the horse stables of the old Schmidt's brewery in St Paul. Very little online about them, but I was intrigued enough to try and find some more. Town Hall had a Macaroon beer that was fun, similar to Coconaut last winter. And Lift Bridge had a Strawberry-Rhubarb infused Farmgirl Saison that was fantastic. They really ought to get some of the infused Saisons into stores, they had a lemongrass one at Winterfest that was equally as delicious. I like this beer straight up too, though.

I didn't get to Fulton before they ran out of the Randall of Worthy Adversary with vanilla beans, coffee and cherry bark - it looked interesting from a tweet I saw during the event but I forgot to go there and all they had left was Lonely Blonde by the time I got over there.

There weren't many disappointments about the day overall. The beer selection from many vendors was very boring, nothing new, original or unique. I did try some things I've never had before though. I guess I wonder why they even bother, but they probably get some of the less-into-it people to try things they've never had.

Summit's a good example, they brought nothing but bottles of the same shit you can find at any liquor store in the metro area. As one of the first area craft breweries in the modern movement, and at a beer festival mere miles from their brewery in their hometown, you think they'd try to not mail it in if they are going to show up.

Surly also was a disappointment. I was hoping they'd have Schadenfrude as it was listed in the program, but they seem to have substituted Smoke, and didn't have anything else that wasn't readily available. I know that they are a different case than Summit in that they're probably still less drank, but at this point, they are the godfathers of the current resurgence, and don't most people that go to these things know them by now? I also realize that these guys probably prefer to pour everything they've got into the Minnesota Craft Guild events, but still, throw us a bone, will ya? Something not available elsewhere would have been nice. Just feels like it got mailed in.

Ultimately, it's an event I'd go to again, though I would probably be satisfied with just hitting up Winterfest if we can get tickets, and the Autumn Brew review, and maybe throw in a Beer Dabbler event as well.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thoughts on Physical versus Digtal media

A blog post by Louis Gray on physical media extinction in his life made me think briefly about my own media consumption habits of late. While I'm not as far along the physical media path, I am getting there. I'm still holding out on some things though, particuarly books. A summary:

Music - I can't remember the last time I bought a physical CD. It was a while ago. I do download from iTunes from time to time but I'm really not as big of a music consumer as I used to be. I have some CDs sitting in a closet somewhere that I really need to get rid of. But this seems like more trouble than it's worth. What do I do with it? Try to sell it to a used CD store? They'll probably take very little of it. Do I just throw it out? Donate it to Goodwill? This is why it sits in my closet. I think most of my physical collection is digitized, and the stuff that's not can probably stay that way. We listen to Pandora a lot in our household, and I've given Rdio  and similar services some consideration but I don't think I'd use them enough to justify.

Movies - We have a young child and it's hard to find a block of time to watch a movie. We have enough TV content on the Tivo to keep us satiated most of the time. When we do rent movies, it's typically from redbox. We'll occasionally splurge on an Amazon rental downloaded to the Tivo if we're too lazy to go out and get a movie. But still very planted in the physical world here, and that's mostly because of price. I wound up buying a blue-ray player because our DVD player was on its last legs. I could see these going away in the next few years, but not until a few more things happen in the industry.   We had Netflix but were not using it enough to justify the monthly subscription, especially once Abby was born.

Books - I don't have a dedicated e-reader yet. I do have an iPad now and have a couple of free books saved on the Kindle app and iBooks, but I've been reluctant to buy anything else. I have a backlog of probably 30 printed books going, one that I continue to feed with used book purchases from Amazon, which with Amazon Prime is cheap and painless. I'm not in a huge hurry to get a kindle or other device, and as I commented elsewhere, I suspect I won't do so until stuff is only digital that I want to read (and is longer than 40-50 pages, otherwise, I'll hit it up on my iPad) or the price of the Kindle drops to be virtually nothing. I believe the latter will probably happen before the former does - and more likely is that the latter will drive the former to occur. If I were to buy one today, it'd be the Kindle and one more reason has fallen for me to consider not doing so. I've heard a compelling case for the Nook as well, and either seem like they would be a viable solution. However, I'm already ensconced in the Amazon world, so I tend towards that.

Magazines - I'm down to two subscriptions from a high of probably a dozen 10 years ago. The Atlantic and Fast Company. I think I'm letting them both expire. I get most of my magazine-type content via the web. I'm using Instapaper quite a bit now. I'm a huge fan of long-form pieces and follow several sources of longform journalism on Twitter. I've found that it's broadened my horizons into a number of things that I probably wouldn't have otherwise read. For other things I used to read magazines for, I have a variety of Twitter lists and sources fed into Google reader and use tools like flipboard and Reeder on my iPad to browse.

Newspapers - I actually subscribed to the paper edition of the Star Tribune for 6 months with a groupon deal back in November. It was something like $25.00 for 6 months of 7 day delivery, which is basically giving the thing away. Definitely a come-on to get new subs that will eventually pay the full rate after the trial period is up. Problem is, I don't consistently read the thing every day. The new publisher may doing good things (some of which have translated to a better product) but it's still not something that's compelling enough for me to read daily anymore, and certainly not at full price. The papers tend to pile up during the week where I browse through them on the weekends, but I've even lost interest in that lately.

I've given the Star Tribune e-edition demo a test drive on my iPad and it's something I'd consider subscribing to at $1.99 a week (there's a come-on for existing subscribers that I might try to latch on to which is $14 for a whole year). I'm going to cancel the paper version when my sub is up and see how it goes after that. There's a plethora of paper machines around my hood when I feel like buying an individual copy, usually of the Sunday paper.

I've toyed around with getting a digital subscription to the Wall Street Journal, but I feel like that's another thing I wouldn't consistently read and it would be a waste of money. I do like that they sell individual issues digitally and have bought the Saturday version a few times, but I'm just as likely to take a walk and buy the paper copy, which is $.50 cheaper.

Economic Incentives for consumers are still lacking in the digital world - Sometimes I find it hard to believe that the media titans of yesterday and today (but probably not tomorrow for some of them) are still fighting digital content so hard well after a lot of these technologies have been introduced. The pricing economics of it still aren't in a good place, and they should be better. There's trade offs - I can go rent a top 100 movie title blue ray disc at Redbox for $1.50 but the same rental on Amazon or I-tunes costs me $3-$5.00, double or nearly triple. I can get access to Netflix's catalog of streaming titles for $7.99 a month, but it's missing a lot of movies that I have to pay double that to get access to their much broader disc collection. Pricing versus physical varies greatly on books but for back-titles, you're better off buying used.

I realize that I am probably more frugal and price sensitive than some, so take everything you read here with that in mind. But it seems as though a lot of people are price minded on this stuff, and if they don't perceive value in what they are buying, they will skip it altogether.

I'm sure this will evolve over the next few years even more than it already has, and it should be interesting to see what happens. I'm of the mind that eventually the big media titans will figure this out.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


I got sucked back into the Steve Jobs reality distortion field (aka Apple) a number of years ago, and it's bad now. I was a full blow Mac guy until college was over in 2000. At that point it was in my best financial interest to go PC (as well as sanity - Apple was on the brink at the time, this was pre-Jobs coming back, pre-OSX and the constant stream of iGadgets was a glimmer in somebody's eye).

Over the last decade, I've followed along from a distance - noting that the price gap on PCs and laptops, while still quite large, was coming down. I dipped back into Apple products with an iPod circa 2004 (white one with the monochrome screen and the click wheel - seems so quaint now). Loved it, it was finally a way to keep a big chunk of my music library in one place. I've followed the evolution of the iPhone closely and finally dropped for one mid-last year when the timing of my Sprint contract expiration and the release of the iPhone 4 lined up quite nicely.

So low-and-behold, the iPad. A device that has turned from a "who would want a giant iPhone" to a gadget that I desire in the span of a year. I think part of that is that I'm already entrenched in the iOS sphere, so it's easier to go for. I have a personal laptop at home that's having screen issues - it still works fine as a computer if I plug it in to a monitor, but its days of being a surf on the couch device are probably over. Rather than buy a new laptop, I'm going to get an iPad 2 to be my surf and sit on the couch machine, and we'll see how that goes. My iPhone is already serving quite nicely in that capacity.

I kept an eye on news of the new model and considered waiting in line for one last Friday, but decided against it, since my vacation time at work is better spent on other things. I thought that perhaps I could wander into a store that weekend and get one, but I grossly underestimated demand. On a whim, I went to the Best Buy on my way home from work around 4:30pm, an hour before the units were to go on sale. There were not as many people waiting there as i thought there'd be and I was told that I might be able to get one, so I stuck around. Right around 5, they finally got to me with the tickets for the units they had left. Sadly, they had no AT&T 3G units left and that's what I wanted. Not wanting to get something else, I took off, still thinking there was an outside chance of Apple having them still. Thanks to the power of Twitter searches, I was able to determine that local Apple stores sold out quickly out of the model I wanted, and most were completely out by 8pm.

I ended up ordering online around 6pm the night of release, and I'm 2-3 weeks out, with a tenative delivery date of April 6th. Ok by me - would rather do that then try to track one down in stores for the next few months.

Pretty excited about this device as I think it will fit in nicely to my flow. I have an endless supply of articles to read in Instapaper, use Twitter a lot, and Google Reader via the excellent Reeder app for iOS. 

If you want to be entertained by how obsessive people are about this thing, check this thread on Mac Rumors out. It's crazy. Some of them need a lot of perspective.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A relatively new dad's perspecitve on baby gear

I started jotting out a gigantic Google Buzz response to an article by the fantastic Mint blog but figured that a long-form blog post was probably more appropriate.

The article was specific to baby gear buying for new parents and it had some really good advice about what to buy, borrow and skip. Since I'm the father of a 10 month old daughter, I have some opinions.

For my childfree friends with no interest in kids, you can probably skip this post. But if you're gonna have them some day, you should book-mark this article for later (and maybe my blog post too).

It was spot on in its assessment of bottles, crib mattresses, and convenience feature sheets (The Ultimate Crib Sheet is great, we have two).

As far as infant car seats and bases go - these are great in the early days, but if the baby's not going to be in a second car that much then I would advise to skip the second base and just buy a full sized convertible car seat for the second car - you're going to have to buy one or more eventually anyway, and the infant will fit just fine. The Graco MyRide 65 is an excellent option (we have 2). We bought a second base and I wish we hadn't. The base in my car got very little use because my wife was home with Abby for 12 weeks and then our daycare is very close to our house - but I realize this depends entirely on your situation. Certainly if you're splitting daycare duties and have to drive anywhere for any length of time in more than one car, 2 bases is worthwhile. (Update: Alison points out in comments that there are safety issues putting a wee infant in the convertible seats and you're best off using an infant carrier - good point, and one I overlooked). Our daughter outgrew her particular model (23 pound limit) at about 7 months - she wasn't too heavy, but too tall. Although there are models that you can use up to 30 pounds that detach, they are hard enough to swing around when she's 20 lbs, much less more than that. At that point, you're better off carrying her into the car.

We bought a digital ear thermometer, though our doctor told us they don't work that well with infants and you're better off taking her temp under the arm. I like to use the ear thermometer on myself though.YMMV.

Baby Monitors are great inventions and if you can afford it, get one with video. Unfortunately there's a lot of crappy, overpriced ones - we're on our 2nd model, 3rd unit since Abby was born - the first two died on us, and now we have a Motorola one which I'm pretty happy with so far. It's a little more expensive than the previous model we had, but hopefully it will not die on us.  (the other one's being returned again for future use with another child and I would not recommend it at all). You may want to buy a second cheap audio unit as a backup and for traveling, etc. as well.

I agree with only two things in the borrow section - exersaucers and pack and plays. We barely use our pack and play and unless you travel a lot, you probably won't either. We may end up using it as a holding area as Abby continues to get more mobile,  but so far it hasn't really been needed. And when we did travel where there wasn't a crib available, we rented equipment and that was money well spent, because we didn't have to drag a ton of stuff with us.

However, if you're a breastfeeding working mom, or supporting one, the Boppy and pump are must haves. I would even suggest buying more than one pump if you can afford it. It helps so that potentially one doesn't have to be lugged back and forth to work, and there's spare parts in a second one if anything goes wrong (try finding a power adapter for a Medela in-style at a local store, they don't sell the damn things except on the internet - which is how we ended up with a second pump). If you're on your first kid and planning to have more, chances are you'll end up needing to buy more than one anyway.

The Bumpo I could go either way on, perhaps why it's in the borrow section. It's one of those things that's great when your kid is starting to be able to try to sit up on their own, but it has a limited shelf life. We used it as a feeding chair for a few weeks too, but the dedicated booster seats are much better for that once your child doesn't have issues sitting on their own.

I don't have most of the stuff in the Skip section, we didn't buy a Diaper Genie, but we did get the Diaper Champ which uses regular trash bags. It's worth it when they are wee little, but my daughter's room still smells shitty after a couple of diapers end up in there, so I don't think it works very well once they transition to solids. We skipped the warmers and the other stuff. We did buy a nice la-z-boy recliner which has worked great rather than one of those uncomfortable gliders, and as a bonus, you can use it for general relaxation long after a glider has outlived it's purpose.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Reverb 10's over, now what?

I need to write more than I do now. I've written various things on the internet over the past 15 years, but I really start to feel like Twitter causes this odd decay in the long-form. It goes a little something like "rather than bang out a blog post, half of which is nonsense, why not just cut out the good stuff and post the nonsense straight to Twitter." Not that it's actually a pre-conceived notion, but you get the idea. And that's exactly what it turns into. Nonsense on Twitter.

Don't get me wrong, Twitter's been a valuable asset, and I probably spend more time using it than anything else in my digital life. I check it in the morning as I'm getting up, during the day and at night before I go to bed. It's where I most often learn of breaking news, and also interact with a core group of friends.

But Reverb 10 really helped me to focus on some things to write, drove a fair amount of traffic here via the hashtag and got a lot of complements. And really made me feel good about long form writing.

So what's next? I don't really think I could keep up the pace of a daily prompt (a quick Google search turns up several of them), but I do want to write more here. Perhaps I will come up with my own writing schedule and map out some things I want to write about. I don't just want this to be a "what I did blog", because frankly, I doubt many of you want to read about changing poopy diapers and I already have a blog that I should be writing in for my daughter.

Anybody have any other ideas for what keeps you motivated to keep writing?