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.