Cutting The Cord Act 3 – Cordless Is A Myth

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Scene 1 – The Cord Was Already Cut
Newsflash – there is no such thing as going truly cordless not if you’re ditching the cable box for streaming services that require a data connection to stream.  My first act to cut the cord was to establish a healthy data connection and that meant dealing with a cable company since in my area the conduits are completely controlled by cable cos.

It’s at this point I feel a disclaimer is warranted – this is the one post where I will definitely be going into full-on rant mode so for those of you hoping to read an eloquent post full of practical advice (though there will be some) and void of angst then move on.  Nothing to see here.

Still with me? Good then read on as I scorch the cable industry as a whole as the reasons why so many customers like me are ditching cable become crystal clear!
My approach to cutting the cord and one I recommend for anyone else was to overlap my streaming services with my cable subscription for at least a month.  This takes the edge off the shock of cutting cable and allows some extra time to work out at least the biggest and most unexpected kinks.  Little did I know then but I would end up maintaining an overlap for almost 2 months as what transpires over the next few paragraphs is a colossal failure to execute a basic reconnect by a previous cable provider!  My current data connection was capped at a paltry 18 Mbps with my current provider which shall remain nameless (eh hum nickname Ma Bell).  Their tap (code name for the actual distribution box where their lines are distributed to several residences) was the limiting factor and it was barely adequate for our needs to begin with so I decided to return to a previous provider where the tap could feed us up to 300 Mbps.  We would settle on their 100 Mpbs plan which included phone and internet since we still maintain a landline.
This does bring up a good question, what’s the best data speed for cutting the cord?  Generally speaking, I recommend a minimum 25 Mbps if you plan on streaming from multiple devices including mobile devices.  Ideally go for 100 Mbps and above to future proof you for data-hungry 4K content.  Side note of caution…read the fine print when you ditch your cable programming package for internet only.  Since customers are fleeing profitable cable bundles cable companies are fighting back by capping their internet data packages, usually at 1TB per month.  For those of you who sleep with your tv on this may be troublesome for all others a 1 TB limit is more than adequate however as the amount of 4K content increases over streaming services it may become a factor in the future.
So now back to the task of reconnecting the cord (internet sic) so I could cut the proverbial (cable) cord and stream away.  Leaving my current cable service intact I contacted my previous cable provider (who shall remain nameless but whose name just might rhyme with fox) with faster internet to schedule a reconnect.  Bear in mind my last connection with them was only 3 or 4 years ago and since we were keeping a landline we also needed to get our phone number transferred to them as well.  The initial phone call was easy and pleasant.  I was told the cable would be on in a few minutes as it was just a flip of a remote switch for them though I learned that my old modem that I’ve kept won’t keep up with the data speed I’ve chosen so I had to purchase a new one.  I tell them I’ll get my own rather than pay their silly rental fee.  When I’m done reestablishing the internet connection I’m transferred to an automated system to request the phone transfer a process called “porting”.  I followed the instructions and was advised that the porting process would take up to 5 business days.  No problem since I was wisely overlapping my two services anyways right?  So VERY wrong!!
It’s at this point things took a diabolic turn.  I purchased the new modem that day and went online to register the IP/MAC addresses with the cable co. as instructed before connecting it.  It doesn’t register a signal.  After exhausting all avenues of troubleshooting including reconnecting my old modem and busting out a multimeter I’m convinced there’s no cable signal coming into my house.  I finally call customer service and thus enter a pit of misery that I won’t see daylight from for several weeks.  I’ll skip the blow by blow because honestly it could fill a novel and might just come off as so outrageous that it must be embellished and just do my best to summarize:
  • 2 visits by techs just to find out previous cable co. sabotaged box on my house by cutting all cords.  Apparently this is a thing and “I’m lucky they didn’t cut cables in my attic”.
  • Over the next several weeks after finally reestablishing a signal it will lock up on average once a day and sometimes once per hour.  The only way to resolve it is to reset my modem.  Call customer service.  More fruitless troubleshooting which leads to many more visits usually by clueless contractors and not actual cable co. techs not to mention at least two instances of being stood up at appointment times.
  • There’s constant squabbling over service fees and my insistence that nothing has been resolved meanwhile I continue to extend my other cable service until resolution.
  • Coinciding with all this a whole separate saga with transferring my phone unfolds.  It includes work orders never created to work orders mysteriously closed.  There’s confusion between cable co. and techs whether the phone box on house must be upgraded.  I’m also given a ginormous phone modem I now have to find a place for and a temporary phone number until old one is ported.  This would eventually be the last issue sorted out nearly 2 months later!
  • Related to the phone issue is nobody at any point ever asks me if I have a monitored alarm system. Once phone finally gets ported my connection with alarm co. is thus severed. Alarm co. begins making weekly robo calls 8 AM EVERY SINGLE Saturday morning to inform me that the line is not connected.  More visits by clueless contractors until I pitch an epic fit and finally get a cable co. expert tech out to resolve the issue.
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Cutting The Cord Act 2: Why Cut The Cord?

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Scene 1: Why not?

I won’t beat around the bush. My reasons for cutting the cord are almost entirely to do with money. When I ranked my monthly bills my cable bill was consistently my third greatest monthly expense behind mortgage and car payment. After decades of dealing with cable companies (note I’m lumping satellite and cable services together into the term “cable” for this discussion) I’d like to think I’ve become somewhat of a pro at working their systems. It usually goes something like this – sign up for new customer bundle deal, bundle deal runs out a year or two later and price soars, call and get a discretionary deal that reduces price but adds content and features for 6 months, call 6 months later and cancel the new content and features and receive another special offer that lasts for another 3-6 months until finally the price inflates again and fed up I cancel service altogether and repeat process with a different provider. Similar plights to mine are well chronicled on many cable hating blogs in much more angst-filled terms so I’ll stop there and move the discussion on to the second reason of why I cut the cord.

Scene 2: Choice

Over the last few years the market has been flooded with new streaming services all vying to top each other with brand new binge ready content. Their original content is getting really good as budgets continue to increase and as this year’s awards season begins they are sure to follow the trend over the last couple of years and snag up more than their fair share of awards. I decided I wanted in on all the fuss, however, we’ve already established my skyrocketing cable bill and the 475 out of 500 channels I never watched made it unfeasible to splurge on these new services.

I decided enough was enough and I was ready to watch what I wanted to watch when I wanted to watch it!

Additionally, cable is inherently wired and by nature made it difficult to watch my content on the go. It’s only recently that many cable providers are making inroads on their mobile apps to allow for even paltry mobile experiences, for me though it was just too little too late. In hindsight, I wished it was a greater factor in deciding to cut the cord than it was at the time else I would’ve ditched it likely long before I eventually did.

Even 6 months later and 475 channels less my newfound freedom and variety are no less appreciated.

Scene 3: The Gear

Let’s face it I’m a gadget guy. I’m unashamed about this fact and I was simply fed up with my 4 year old cable box and its clunky interface, noisy hard drive, a litany of indicator lights that lit up my bedroom like a Christmas tree, and wretched rental fee to boot!! This was not lost on me every time I passed a tiny Roku stick at Best Buy with its tiny remote and Netflix shortcut button. It sorta gets back to wanting choice and not just about the content I consume but also the hardware by which I watch the content and by extension control over my experience. In fact, I’ll never forget the time when I returned to a cable provider after running the gambit with another provider and literally being handed the exact same hated hardware I had turned in 3 or so years earlier! Not one thing had changed in that time.

I suspect most like me will consider cutting the cable due to the promise of big savings, and make no mistake you will save, however, in hindsight should in some alternate reality the price savings be voided I will NEVER give up being able to choose my own tailor-made experience that I now have to return to the bondage of cable.  If you can ever get past the shock and bumps that I’m about to unleash in my next few posts I suspect you will neither.

Cutting The Cord Act 1 – Kickoff

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Scene 1: Introduction
People are cutting cords in droves this past year and I was one of them.  I considered blogging each step of my experience and perhaps in hindsight it really was a missed opportunity because in so many ways so much went so so wrong; it would’ve been great fodder.  Nevertheless in the next few posts I’ll hit the highlights of just what it takes to cut the cord and along the way offer some perspective after 6 months cord-free (which turns out is not entirely possible) and I will at least cover some of what went so very wrong because it’s so relevant to the conversation of just why so many people are cutting the cord in the first place.
You’ll also notice I’ve decided to label this series by Acts and Scenes as if it was some long drawn out saga because really well it is!  The whole process has been full of drama with highs and lows ranging from extreme rage to ‘Well I’ll be darned’ moments of surprise when things actually work really well so sit tight and enjoy.  I hope my ongoing chronicles help tailor expectations for those just starting your own cord cutting journey or for some validate your choice to stick with cable and for others maybe just feel good to know somebody else feels your pain.

New Year’s Resolution | Quit Technology

1451778196_DangerThis is not some post ranting and raving about the societal impact of social media or some wake up call after realizing every person in my family can’t even eat a dinner together without the added appendage that is their smartphone and thereby pledging a righteous fast from all forms of technology for the New Year.  Nay this is simply the rant of a fed up tech nerd.  I started ILikeTek.com as an outlet for somebody who really does nerd out and appreciate most all forms of tech (almost all…selfie sticks are kidding me?!).  I really do like tech and love even more opining about this passion.  Most days I relish my tech savy panache and just last week had someone confide in me how they wished they knew even half what I knew because “the world would be such an easier place”.  That was my mom after I hooked up a flat screen TV that sat idle for a few weeks until the next time I visited to hook it up.  It took me all of five minutes to bring it to life and I even reduced her entertainment center down to one remote (that she already had but didn’t know how to program).  Her wish implied that I just didn’t get tripped up like most other non-techies on gadgets and software.  It implies I breeze through life like a Kardashian.  This actually couldn’t be further from the truth.  In fact you can say today, gasp, I Don’t Like Tech!  You see at any given moment I have a laundry list like most people of gadgets or software that simply aren’t cooperating and like most people it can be downright frustrating and almost debilitating at times.  For full effect here’s a glimpse at my present laundry list:
  • The volume pot on my PC speakers is malfunctioning resulting in a constant tussle to get both speakers to actually play.
  • I wasted over an hour just yesterday trying to reformat a micro SD card for my new Kid’s Kindle Fire that inexplicably was corrupted with no success.  Crashed my computer twice in the process.  Right now my kid is playing with our original Kindle that has a faulty power connector where getting it to charge requires a time sapping jiggle dance with the power cable.
  • My iPhone also inexplicably decides to revert to default text tones robbing me of my glorious “Alright Alright Alright” Matthew McConaughey one liner that serves as my text tone for my B Team phone contacts.  This began with the release of iOS 9 and I still haven’t cracked the puzzle to resolve it and every time that friendly default text tone dings it infuriates me to no end.
  • I’ve spent more time than I care to admit this past week trying to transfer my XBOX gamertag to a more desirable Microsoft account to no avail.
  • Yesterday I had to return my wife’s Fitbit I bought her for her birthday just 4 months ago because its bluetooth radio failed.  It was her fourth activity tracker that failed in the past year alone.  They’re all universally junk.
  • My keyboard occasionally decides to wig out and substitute different characters and commands for key presses.  Not kidding…requires a reboot to clear it up.  Same issue on my old pc so I know it’s driver related to an accessory I recycled from old pc.  Have tried other keyboards with no success.  Forum queries have been fruitless.  Have honestly fought this one for about four years.  It’s quite shameful actually.  Had to take a break writing this to reboot for this very issue.  Fail.
  • My wifi gets crazy slow sometimes.  Every single diagnostic I’ve ever done shows a healthy signal and speed yet my devices drudge on and then magically it’s healed.  It’s secure, doesn’t appear to be hacked.  Also no clue, perpetually unresolved.
  • Have a printer that can’t connect to said wifi.  Also it recently spazzed out and issued several errors codes.  Did a factory reset then it ran out of black ink.  Replaced ink with a new cartridge.  It still said is was out and wouldn’t let me print with color unless I replaced the black ink cartridge…again.  Finally caved and replaced the black ink cartridge with another new cartridge.  It worked but still spurns wifi.  Whatever.
  • Bought my kid a lava lamp for Christmas.  The lava doesn’t float.  It just sticks to the bottom in one congealed blob.  Shook it real good…then read instructions which explicitly states to never shake it.  The blob remains but has now moved to the top.  I’ll have to return it.
  • I have a portable speaker I’m particularly fond of that periodically turns itself off then back on after a couple of minutes.  The next day it’ll work just fine.  As an electro-mechanical engineer by day I am also shamefully clueless as to why.
  • I have a piece of Dell crapware that I can’t get to stop pestering me with daily notifications.  For certain reasons I don’t want to uninstall it.  It’s not found on any of my startup programs or background processes where I could disable it so for now I’m forced to answer it’s rude and overriding interruptions.
  • Recently my engine light to my car started coming on intermittently.  I theorized it was a loose battery terminal, the dealer disagreed and the light never stayed on long enough for them to catch it with their diagnostic machine.  Later there would be a battery terminal recall for this very reason.  It was with no small measure of satisfaction I had them service it under the recall.  The intermittent light has recently returned.  Face palm.
  • Finally the clock on my coffee maker runs fast.  It gains a whopping 4 minutes a day.  If left unchecked for even a week it starts brewing coffee 30 minutes early.
The truth is I’ll only resolve half of my technological issues at any given time and the rest I’ll lose patience and simply replace whatever is malfunctioning.  Today (after I finish this post if my keyboard allows sic) I’ll quit technology.  Tomorrow I’m certain I’ll renig on this resolution.  There is really only one difference between me and most non-techies.  Most of the time technology does not cooperate for me either; I just can’t feign ignorance when it does.

TekFail | LastPass Won’t Give Me A Final Pass

1426316167_699481-icon-5-thumb-down-512Today’s TekFail comes courteous of LastPass the online password manager.  I’ve been using LastPass for the last couple of years and have come to love its simple interface and painless transition from Norton’s Password Vault.  Best of all it is free for the web version only.  Recently I’ve found myself stuck trying to sign into an app or website while away from my pc.  LastPass offers a premium version that allows you to access your entire vault of usernames and passwords securely from within its mobile app.  A couple of months ago I sprung for the chance at a free two month trial offer delivered to my inbox just to see if I could justify the paid leap.  At the end of two months I could not and simply let it expire.  This though was just not good enough for them.  The emails began a month before my trial period was over and so far continue more than three weeks since it ended.  In the final month I got six emails from them reminding me that my trial subscription was due to expire.  When I let it expire I expected at least one followup.  After three in a week I was fed up.  I’m all for a sales pitch, in fact it was their original sales pitch by email that got me to sign up for the trial period in the first place.  What irks me is nine emails in less than five weeks just to get me to renew.  It’s borderline harassment in my book.  It’s not like I quit using their service altogether.  A simple check of my account usage through a feeble query algorithm would’ve established that I was still using their online service.  Instead though I could count only a handful of emails in the last 2 years as a customer they’re now hounding me almost daily. This has decidedly turned me off as a customer almost completely.

On the 9th email about renewing my subscription I decided to fire back a reply.  In it I wrote simply, “I know already. You’re previous 8 emails told me so. Stop harassing me about it!”  I expected either a canned response about how to contact them for support or maybe even a mail undeliverable return reply.  What I got instead is the reason why I’ve given LastPass a TekFail today.  I got an email describing they’ve responded to my service ticket request.  Service ticket request..huh? That’s right they opened a customer service ticket based on my sarcastic response.  I again ignored this email.  Two days later I was emailed a reminder to the first email about my alleged service ticket request.  This time I read it and opened the link to the service ticket.  Naturally it offered me instructions on how to access my account settings and change my email preferences.  Incredulous!  It was also clear that it would likely continue to hound me unless I officially responded and closed the request.  I did and in the comments section I wrote, “The simple fact that you created a ticket for my snarky email shows that you just don’t get it. Point being that just because I’m a customer and I entrusted you with my email address doesn’t mean you have to abuse this trust. I’m not changing any settings. Just leave me alone.”  That last comment I think just about sums it up for me.  Companies and services think since you’ve entrusted them with your email address even as a customer paid or not they have cart blanche on spamming it.  News flash, if I’m already a customer and I continue using your service, be happy and just leave me alone already!

Customer Service – The Good, The bad, The Ugly Part 2: Get a Clue

1378435745_mailToday is the official start of the NFL football season and to celebrate it I’ve received two emails and counting from ESPN.  One was a reminder that “NFL is back and ESPN has you covered” and the other was a reminder to download the fantasy football app.  Last week I got the same reminder emails about college football and their corresponding ESPN College Football App.  Seems like harmless notifications right?  When I already own both apps and have likewise signed into both with the same credentials that included the very email address these emails were blasted to I find these emails decidedly repetitive and annoying.  This post could be considered a bit of an overreaction but my frustrations go way beyond these emails; they just serve to illustrate a point.  The point is, those emails were dumb.  Ok so now I sound juvenile right?  Couldn’t I have used a more eloquent word than dumb.  Nope.  There are at least two factors that qualify something as simply dumb.  The first is could it have been avoided?  The second…see factor #1.  In the case of the ESPN example a simple algorithm in ESPN’s databases could very easily have filtered out anybody who has downloaded those apps by corresponding registered emails.  The emails were simply pointless to me an already engaged app user.  Is there anything wrong with a reminder email, no but folks these were not reminders emails, they were blatant pitches to download their apps.  A separate reminder email encouraging me to engage with the app would have been just fine and frankly expected if I had opted in to subscribe to their alerts and correspondence.  Junk mail.  Purely avoidable.  Dumb.  ESPN has the means to know that I already own their apps and use them. Read More

Customer Service – The Good, The bad, The Ugly Part 1: Will HELP For Fee

1375855160_call-userWith this post I will begin a four-part series that examines the importance and relevance of good customer service.  For each post I will cover a specific customer service theme and as the title suggests I will offer real world examples good, bad, and ugly.  For my first post I’ve chosen a theme that I believe is at the heart of what customer service means – helping.  In this day and age of easy access to online forums, help articles, how-to videos, etc. it is easy to suggest that customer service doesn’t quite hold the importance it once did but that notion is easily dispelled the second you get a flat, or your AC goes out on a blazing August day, or you’ve made an honest mistake when paying a bill.  In times of crisis we are sometimes forced to rely on good old-fashioned customer service be it via phone, in store, or online and nothing is worse than when you are at your most vulnerable and need help you get hit with fees and fees for fees!  We’ve all experienced that sinking feeling when you ask for help and the response is “Sure, that’ll be $195 including service fees”.  It begs the question, should customer service cost?  The short answer is technically yes, because customer service, like parts and labor, costs companies and must be accounted for somewhere but we the consumers just don’t like to pay for it when we need it most.  I’m no different; it’s like pouring salt on an open wound when I have to pay additional fees for an unexpected expense.  Below I will go into a few personal examples I think illustrate how to properly service a customer and keep a customer because let’s face it bad customer service equates to lost customers.

The Good

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CANCEL FOR CREDIT

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I visited Salesforce.com today to find out what the hub bub I’ve been hearing recently was all about.  I come across at least one mention a day about the workforce service company and my own employer recently instituted it for it’s sales and marketing folks.  Working in engineering I was left out so I decided to hop over to the site for an in depth looksy maybe see if I can find some usable tools for my team.  On the home screen was a link to the obligatory demo videos you usually find for enterprise sites so naturally I clicked on it.  What it took me to precisely sums up everything that companies so easily miss about providing a good consumer/customer experience – a form.  Oh yes, it wanted to know my name company, address, email, and phone number before it promised to give me unfettered access to their products’ demo videos.  Folks this is like saying you have to fill out a form before you can watch the next Apple commercial!  It’s getting so that every site you go, every place you shop wants you to fill something out.  For crying out loud I came to you to shop, let me shop already!!!!  There aren’t enough exclamation marks for that last statement!

Some marketing guru decides they need to gather as many metrics as possible to market effectively that they’ve forgotten one basic metric – what turns off their customers?  Why did they walk out of the store empty handed or clicked that ‘X’ to your site without emptying their virtual cart?  Forms aren’t going to give you that metric because your customer is gone the second you thrust one at them.  The only information you need is my credit card number when I pay and that’s ALL that should matter!  Asking me twenty questions on the card swipe screen feels an awful lot like entrapment!  Have you ever thought to yourself “Well I’ve already swiped my card so they’ve got my information so I guess I better answer all these stupid questions?”  As long as we’re talking about swiping credit cards why on earth don’t they just say CREDIT; why must I press CANCEL  for credit (it’s a rhetorical question of course, it’s because of the difference in fees banks charge between debit and credit transactions but that’s beside the point I’m making)?  Why does paying have to be so complicated (self checkout stations)?  I’ve already shopped with you, I’ve placed goods on your sales counter, I’m now handing you my payment now stop selling me something and say “Thank You!”  That would be good customer service right?  Finally use some common sense already because I’m not going to open up Target Red Card to save 5% on a $4.32 purchase!  I could go on and will soon in an upcoming look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of customer service.  Stay tuned.

Happy Hanuka…I Think?

Credit:  Fantastical

Credit: Fantastical

As long as we are gracing the topic of calendars (see previous post) why is it that not one single digital calendar I access shows any holidays?  Not even my favorite by Fantastical.  It must be because app developers wish to remain universally neutral which I guess makes sense but why not build in the option for country holidays or religious holidays to be shown that can be turned on or off at will?  Doesn’t this just make so much sense?  I found an app that will add holidays based on nationality and/or religion to your native phone calendar called US Holidays 2013-2015 but it costs $0.99.  It seems just silly that if I want to figure out when to wear green for the next St. Patty’s Day I either have to Google it or…gasp…find a printed calendar.  By the way have you ever seen a printed calendar that didn’t list most holidays?

“The Trouble With Tribbles” – Facebook Birthday Notifications Run Amuck

Credit: ThinkGeek.com

I hereby dub this Tek | Angst Day!  Time to rant!  I hate that word and I vowed not be an angry blogger who just uses his site as a virtual soapbox to rant.  I’m in the midst of a crummy week and I just can’t help myself so I’ve decided rare exceptions must be allowed to rant.  Just know that this is as bad as it gets with my posts and being able to vent frustrations on this forum is truly therapeutic but I promise to make this a rare thing.  So here it goes; below is the first of three or four posts today that will tackle a few things that just set me off:

Happy Friggin’ Birthday!

Facebook is barely tolerable most days but one thing that for me rises above all other cannon fodder I could lob its way concerns its birthday notifications.  They’re like that episode of Star Trek with the cute little Tribbles that multiplied at exponential rates!  I’m sure at some point I inadvertently said ok to some oblique pop up that allowed the flood of birthday notifications to enter my digital world.  They’ve literally thrown up all over every screen I turn on and like Tribbles they’re multiplying exponentially now with a flood of related notifications like wanting to know if I want to purchase the birthday boy or girl a gift right after asking if I want to poke them!  If I haven’t seen you since high school it was likely because I picked on you or you picked on me so frankly I don’t care that it’s your birthday.  I probably accepted your friend request in a moment of curiosity to see what kind of train wreck you became or because I felt guilty for successfully blaming that particularly foul silent-but-deadly-one on you during chemistry class.  Trust me for those who I genuinely care about I don’t need a FB reminder for your birthday.  Those same people know that my penchant for numbers would never allow me to fail to remember such an important date.

Nevertheless when I groggily checking my iPhone’s lock screen first thing in the morning, or am at my Windows 8 login screen, or flicking through my great Fantastical calendar app, my email, my notifications bar, or last but not least opening Facebook I must be reminded of some practical stranger’s birthday nearly every day.  Why gripe, was it not my fault in the first place to accept their silly friend request or somehow say yes to the notifications in the first place?  I gripe because I can’t seem to stop the flood.  I’m pretty tech savy and with some instances I have been able to remove those notifications but there are still many places where I have been completely unsuccessful.  My notifications bar on my iPhone is the worst offender because it will not let me clear it.  I must stare at it all day!  For those of you who share my disdain for these very intrusive notifications I vow to find all the secret formulas for ridding your world of Facebook’s birthday notifications and devote a whole post someday to what I will dubiously call “The Great Purge”.

P.S  Notification:  Today is my Unbirthday!  I will freely accept gifts but please poke someone else by sharing this post.