WHAT ARE YOU BUYING WHEN YOU BUY A CABLE OR STREAMING TV PACKAGE?

How many people actually know what they are buying when they buy television services?

It used to be that you bought a television. What you got when you tuned in was whatever was broadcast from big towers on top of tall buildings — free. It usually came from the tower placed atop the tallest building or a mountain where you lived.

It cost nothing. You paid for the television and the broadcasting was for everyone, courtesy of the FCC.

That’s how it was supposed to be, anyway. What you actually got was something else. Unless you happened to be positioned perfectly to get clear pictures from the signal tower, you might or might not actually get the channel you wanted to watch. Or anything at all. Signals were weak, too. So you got “snow” and “rolling.”

If you had a big antenna on top of your house, that could help, but it was a lot of years before television had the kind of resolution we have come to accept as normal. “Free” signals have not kept up with the quality of reception we expect.

In fact, since the 1980s, we have mostly given up free television. Cable TV arrived. With a sigh, we exchanged free television for cable companies who could give us clear reception at a price — replacing all that snow, rolling, and rabbit ears. All we had to do was pay the bill.

With cable, you could see clearly — as long as the cable worked. You paid a price for this service. Initially, not a huge price, but it got bigger and eventually, huge. Ultimately, the price for cable television was bigger than the price for electricity, trash collection, and sometimes, heat.

They lured you in with “specials” for 3-months, 6-months or a year. And when the “special” ended, you got a bill so enormous, your heart nearly stopped.

Suddenly, along came streaming packages. Streaming — wi-fi — was the stuff that made our computers work. It turned out it could also power television.

Instead of trying to compete with wi-fi-based services, cable companies kept raising prices while customers said: “Screw this!” and dropped their cable packages. Despite all evidence to the contrary, cable companies are still convinced most users will hang onto cable because they are too stupid and/or lazy to make the change.

They are wrong. Of course, since they are still the only ones allowed to offer wi-fi, they can keep raising those prices too. I’m sure they’ll keep getting their piece of our asses forever.

Even old people like us refused to pay hundreds of dollars for inferior packages. Ironically, AFTER I dropped Charter (Spectrum — the absolutely worst cable company of them all) offered me a good package at a reasonable price. I said “NO” because I’m not playing their game anymore.

I know them. They’ll offer me a bargain and next year, raise the price by $50. Been there, done that. Not doing it again.

So I bought YouTubeTV which is not only a moderately-priced platform but includes MLB and our local sports TV channel so we can watch all the baseball everywhere AND our own team (the Red Sox) too. What’s missing? HBO and Comedy Central. I miss HBO because of John Oliver — but it’s the only thing we watch on HBO and for $15/month, that a lot of money for one very good show. As for Comedy Central, we can watch it on the computer for free. I hate missing John Oliver, but it’s a small price to pay overall.

What are we buying? We are buying a platform that includes channels, just like when we bought a TV and got channels. The channels come in LIVE — just like “real” television. We can save shows (an unlimited number of them) but we can’t fast forward through them to skip commercials as we did on the DVR. That’s something we thought we’d miss but it turns out we don’t miss it much. Instead, we go to the bathroom, the kitchen, turn down the sound and actually talk to each other.

YouTubeTV is a platform, not a channel. It isn’t Netflix or Acorn. It’s more like cableTV than an individual channel.

Each channel is an individual channel that comes in over the platform. Live. You aren’t buying a “channel.” You are buying a live platform consisting of many signals.

What do you get? All of the networks for your area and a bunch of other channels, depending on your location. We are in the “Boston area” and get that package. We have friends in western Massachusetts who get a slightly different package.

Regardless, it’s a big package. A lot better than what we got from Charter including a lot less junk. More watchable channels. Lots of sports. TCM. Plenty of movies including Sundance, TBS. A variety of news channels. If you hate something (Fox news comes to mind) you can turn it off (we turned it off). A few kid things we turned off.

There’s also a connection to YouTube (regular) so you can watch some very old movies that you can’t find anywhere else via your computer, too. I’m really happy with it.

If Netflix gets any more expensive, I may decide to ditch it. It hasn’t gotten better — just more expensive.

You also get five family connections. We’ve only used three: me, Garry, and our granddaughter. Owen isn’t sure they watch enough TV to bother with it.

It has taken Garry a while to realize that TCM is not a separate channel but a channel that is part of the package that is YouTubeTV, that all those channels are part of one platform. That it’s like getting an entire cable package. For $40 a month. Including baseball.

Oh, happy day!

ON THE INTERCONNECTNESS OF THINGS – Marilyn Armstrong

The late great Douglas Adams (who shared my birthday, March 11th — I’m sure that means something, but I have no idea what) created a character that I dearly love. Dirk Gently (also known by a number of other names, including Svlad Cjelli), was the owner/operator of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.

It operated based on the “fundamental interconnectedness of all things.” I believe in Douglas Adams and Dirk Gently. We all operate, knowingly or not, on the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. More than half the posts I write — including this — are born while commenting on someone else’s post.

We are intricately and intimately linked. I wonder if we take for granted how bound to others we are in this strange cyber world we have created. I have read and heard much talk about the isolation of each person, alone and lonely with their computer. It has been put out there as a metaphor for the estrangement of people from each other, the symbolic isolation of individuals in the technological world.

I don’t think it’s true.

For me and for many friends isolation would be life without the Internet. Without computers. Without cell phones. For anyone who suffers a chronic illness, for those of us getting on in years who can’t get out as much as we used to — and whose friends have died or moved far away — and for young people whose studies, work, happenstance or life choices have settled them long distances — continents and oceans — distant from old friends and family, electronic communications are a godsend.

Super moon

If we cannot share a hug, we can share face time. Electronic communications are fast or instant and let us share in ways that were science fiction a few years ago.

Without my computers, I would be truly isolated. The fibromyalgia, arthritis and heart condition make getting around difficult. Without electronic connections, I would be a squirrel up a tree without fellow squirrels to hang with.

Bonnie guarding my computer

This post was originally inspired by Dawn Hoskings on whose post I was commenting when I realized how lucky I am to be living in a world that lets me enjoy virtual travel and participate in a larger world. I’m proud to be part of a community of bloggers, a community of friends around the world.

And grateful.

How about you?

AT&T’S “WHY DID YOU CANCEL” SURVEY – Marilyn Armstrong

They all do it. They sent me a survey to find out “why I had canceled my AT&T subscription.”

Lists of reason, 1 to 10 … and a LOT of them. Usually, I don’t bother to do these surveys, but I was seriously pissed with them, so this gave me one more chance to tell them how pissed I really am.

The sent me a new bill for $71. For leaving. I upgraded my package by resigning. Canceling.

She said it was for the month of January. I asked why it was $20 higher than my standard bill. Because I upgraded my package.

By canceling.

So the survey asked what (precisely) I hated the MOST about AT&T. Hard call.


I had 100 points to use for up to five selections, of which four were strongly in the running:

a — Bad customer service

b — Too expensive

c — Failure to have a plan that I need

d — Limited ability to actually get their signal. 


It was a difficult choice on every level. I really wanted to give whole hundred points (each) to a & b and another 200 points to “too expensive.” Maybe 75 for “lousy connection.” It would be more, but we so rarely used the telephone, the crappy signal hardly mattered.

That was too many points. Painful. I needed many, many more points.  And no matter how I did it, I would need a few extra points for barely usable service and an old phone that we couldn’t afford to upgrade. And a simple, elderly plan because we barely use the phone. We have 5 computers (maybe 6 or possibly 7 if you count a Kindle as a computer) and a landline. We virtually never go anywhere, so for what do I need cell phone except for the occasional emergency in the car or our more typically “We are completely lost. How do we find you”?

I got it down to three: bad customer service, too expensive, and lousy signal. I put 50-points on “Too expensive,” 40-points on “Bad customer service,” and 10-points on “Lousy signal strength.”

I would never use a mobile telephone for any financial purpose, so all the phone needed to do was make an occasional phone call or receive a text. In theory, I can also send texts but I don’t know how.

Personally, I think people who live on their phones are being awfully casual about security. With all the hacking and thieving via cell phones, people just keep adding more and more apps. How many of those apps are really worms? You folks who use phones for everything could be in for a rude surprise.

Meanwhile, one of the final question they asked if I would ever recommend the services of AT&T to a friend.  So let me be clear about this:

STICKS AND STONES by Garry Armstrong

A while back, Marilyn wrote a piece using the word chutzpah. This is a word I’ve badly mangled when I try to say it. It’s just a word, what the heck?

That was my take for many years until Robin Williams and Billy Crystal gave me a proper public whupping for butchering the pronunciation of chutzpah.  I don’t try to say it in public anymore. It’s a word. I respect it because it carries its own meanings and images.

These days, people often use words or phrases without understanding their origin or meaning. I hear political aspirants, celebrities, athletes and civic leaders say things that make me scratch my head and run back to my dictionary.

Words!  They can be powerful tools — used correctly — but dangerous used ignorantly.

I grew up in a home full of books including dictionaries. Huge dictionaries the size of an Austin and, of course, pocket-size dictionaries for all purposes. I always carried one when I worked and I can’t begin to tell you how many time people asked me why — being on television — I needed a dictionary. Or why I cared about spelling or punctuation.

My parents insisted on using proper language and crisp diction. Street slang guaranteed a head slap or a smack. My two brothers and I were warned about using prejudicial clichés. Since my head has never been properly wrapped, I’ve been guilty of violating those warnings because of my warped sense of humor.

Marilyn warns people that I have toys in my attic.  This is true and some of those toys are pretty old.

A friend and I were trading insults the other day. I snapped at him with, “That’s very white of you”.  His smile said everything. Words!  You gotta know who, when, and where to use them. It was the right word for him and would have been deeply insulting for someone else.

When I was 19 years old and worked in a department store in New York. I was the only goy working in the children’s shoe department. I was waiting on a customer who drove me bonkers. I couldn’t take it anymore and told the parent he was a schmuck.

The manager quietly called me into the stockroom, explained what schmuck meant and asked me never to use it again — even if the customers were jerks. I think he was smiling although reprimanding me.  It was a word I’d often heard used in friendly banter, but I didn’t know its origin or meaning. It was just a word. What was the big deal?  I was 19 and knew everything.  I used big words — “20-dollar” words — to impress people. People often complimented me, saying I spoke very well.  I didn’t understand the veiled insult behind many of those compliments because apparently, being Black, I wasn’t supposed to “speak well.”

After all, they were just words.

John Wayne, of all people, once commented on words and ethics.  It was film dialogue which still reverberates a half-century later. The 1961 movie “The Comancheros”  had Texas Ranger “Big Jake” Cutter (John Wayne) lecturing his younger sidekick, Monsieur Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman).

Regret asks Big Jake to spin a lie to his superiors to alleviate a problem. Big Jake refuses. Regret doesn’t understand, saying they are just “words.”

Big Jake, with that iconic Wayne frown, says softly, “Just words??  Words, MON-soor, are what men live by. You musta had a poor upbringing.”

Regret looks puzzled, not fully grasping the ethical code of this rough and ready Texas Ranger.  It’s a sublime moment and perfect for the 1960s when youth was defying the older generation’s moral code.

I recalled the scene years later in an interview with John Wayne. He smiled, shaking his head because he was in the middle of on-going national dissent against the Vietnam War.  Wayne was one of the most visible and vocal “hawks” in the Vietnam controversy. He had been ridiculed by strident protesters at a Harvard University gathering earlier that day.

“Words, dammit,”  Wayne looked at me, both angry and sad. “My words! No damn Hollywood script. I have as much right as those damn college kids.”  Wayne was fuming. The Hollywood legend collected himself as I redirected the conversation to my time as a Marine. I had enlisted in 1959, fired up by the “Sands of Iwo Jima.

“Words. Good words,” I said to Wayne who smiled broadly.

Today, words are often tossed around loosely on social media with little regard to truth or the repercussions of ill-advised words. We have a president who uses words without a thought in a daily barrage of tweets. Our media is engaged in a daily war of words, ignoring crucial issues facing our nation and world. Those of us of a certain age shake our heads as we watch young people immersed in tweets rather than a direct conversation with friends in the same room. Words have become an endangered species.

I remember the good old days when I and friends went face to face with verbal jousts like “Your Mother wears combat boots!”

Words!  I love’em.

AND THEN, THERE’S AT&T – Marilyn Armstrong

I swear that I’m at that point with AT&T where I’d rather chip half an inch of ice off the car than talk to anyone at AT&T.

Yesterday, they delivered the telephone that goes with the plan. Whatever plan that turned out to be. I actually had no idea what the plan was. Each time I talked to someone, they had no idea what I was talking about. I kept getting computer-generated emails telling me I had to pay $80 or $90 next month and $50 or $60 thereafter. I signed up for their 300-minute plan that comes with a free flip phone.

Yes, they still make flip phones. They are just like the old ones. In fact, I these really might be the same flip phones we used 20 years ago. They sure look the same, although they have a calendar and a camera. I’m not expecting much of a camera and for reasons that are obscure to me, it didn’t import my Google contact, but apparently, it will accept the information if I can figure out how to enter my email address and password into the flip phone.

Right now, I can’t actually turn it on and off successfully. It’s one button that turns it on and turns it off, but you hold it longer to turn it off. If you hold it too long, it starts up again. Meanwhile, the on/off button on the side doesn’t do anything as far as I can tell. I wonder if this thing will ever work. I despair as I try to read what they humorously call “the user guide.”

I went to the site where they are supposed to tell me how to set up the phone and they never heard of it, but the setup site never heard of the phone. I was forced to (gods of olden days please protect me) call AT&T.

I couldn’t even figure out how to turn the phone on or move the cursor. She did turn the SIM on, but it didn’t have any information on it. But, it turns out, there IS a manual for the telephone. Not a good manual, but a “better than nothing” manual. I’m sure you know what I mean. Written by a software program, no humans involved.

“Why,” I asked, “Didn’t they include the manual with the phone? Is there some law against giving basic instructions to users?”

“This is the packaging for this phone, and it doesn’t include the manual,” she explained.

“Lady, I used to write manuals. You ALWAYS include the manual with the device. That’s the point of having the manual. When you get the device, you can make it work and you don’t have to spend three days on the telephone with AT&T.”

She said she was sorry, but she could give me a link to the manual online. I said “FINE. Let’s do that.”

But it wouldn’t come up so we had to clear my browser data and NOT sign me into AT&T and then figure out what phone it was because the only thing it said was AT&T. My home phones are also AT&T, but they don’t actually make them. I think they might be Unidyne ripoffs, but I’m not sure. They work and that’s all that matters.

In this case, she had no idea who made the phone, so I pried open the back and said: “The battery is an Alcatel, so I’m betting that’s who actually made the phone.”

And sure enough, Alcatel made the phone. Got the manual. Downloaded it. Saved it in two places — desktop and on Google — and then she asked me if I need any more help. I said: “No, I’ve had enough of AT&T to last me the rest of my life. I’m going to eat dinner, watch some television and try to never think about AT&T again as long as I live.”

Long pause.

“Thank you for your patience in letting me assist you.”

“If you’d included the manual, you wouldn’t have had to assist me.”

“Well, thank you for being a loyal customer.”

“You’re welcome. Now I’m going to eat my dinner.” And I hung up before she could say anything more. I couldn’t cope with another thank you for being a loyal customer because being a loyal AT&T customer doesn’t feel like a great thing at the moment.

Oh, and by the way, after a lot of conversation yesterday on the phone — I’ve had three days of dealing with AT&T, not to mention half a dozen computer-generated NOT the real bill — I am paying $29.99 a month plus local taxes. The phone cost $3.78 for shipping. That’s it. I am saving about $20 a month … and I nearly lost my mind in the process.

The phone still doesn’t really work, but I can turn it on, turn it off, and enter a phone number and probably, it will call the number. Pretty sure.

I did eventually get it to accept my wi-fi, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time, right?

THERE’S NO GOOD TIME TO CALL AT&T – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Affable

Affable. I was in a pretty good mood when we got home from shopping, or at least as good as I feel after shopping when I have a cold and forgot to buy eggs. That was probably why I thought it was a good time to call AT&T and get my rates dropped. I’ve been overpaying for my phone for more than a decade and I was determined to GET the lower rates this time.

First, there is NO good time to call AT&T. No one knows anything. They transfer you back and forth and half the numbers they give you don’t work. Even when you get the right person, they don’t know anything. No one takes notes so you have to explain the problem over and over and over and by the fourth time I was repeating the same story, I was just plain pissed.

What I had done — THOUGHT I had done — was to transfer from my $53/month plan to the $29.99 plan which is part of the “Senior Nation” set of benefits for we old folks.

This required that I have an un-smart phone.

I wanted an un-smart phone in the first place because I don’t use the internet on the phone. If I want the internet, for this I have multiple computers. But our telephone distributor (they are morons there, too) said they didn’t have any, couldn’t get any — so you had a choice of a smartphone or? A smartphone.

We ended up with this Galaxy Samsung Google phone which does whatever it does pretty well, far as I can tell — but they only thing I do with it is to make an occasional phone call … like when we are on the road and lost (always lost, always and forever), or if the power is out and we have to call the electric company.

I don’t use it on the internet. I don’t use it to update banking or to text. I actually don’t know how to text. That’s embarrassing, I realize, but I simply haven’t done it … so I don’t know how. Garry doesn’t know how either. But Garry is anti-technical and I’m supposed to know all this stuff. I do know a lot of stuff, but texting isn’t one of them. Shoot me, but there it is. I also cannot change the ink in my printer. I hate printers and I refuse to even try.

After making this arrangement to get on the low-cost plan and get a free flip phone (yes, they still make them), I got a bill from AT&T informing me that I’d changed my plan and would now be paying them $90 next month and $60 for each month after that — which is significantly more than I’m currently playing. For having done absolutely nothing except try to lower my bill.

No mention of the senior plan. No mention of the free phone. No mention of nothing.

I called back. No one knew what I was talking about, but they kept transferring me from one department (who knew nothing) to another department (which knew nothing). Finally, I called back and said: “I’ve had it. Either you fix this right now or I’m leaving AT&T. You people are driving me CRAZY.” I have been an AT&T customer for about 15 years and there was a time when they actually had really good customer service.

Ah, those were the days. We were so young, so optimistic.

Phones

So eventually, I got the $29.99 (+ taxes, et al) and can use the phone I’ve got OR the one they are actually sending me. I don’t think you can transfer a smartphone SIM card to a flip phone. I’ll deal with that IF I ever get another phone. My current phone is five years old, but it looks brand new, probably because effectively, it IS brand new. I don’t use it. It lives in my bag and is usually off.

So much for affable.

At this point, I’m plain pissed off, even though I think (I hope, I believe) I have the issue dealt with. But who knows? I may get another bill any minute. Nothing like a long afternoon on the phone with customer service to finish off your good mood of the day.

Now I’m watching the news. The final crunch. I have such a nasty headache, too.

CLUTCHING AT FREEDOM – Marilyn Armstrong

I want everything to last forever.

When I buy a television, I don’t expect to ever buy another one. I will keep using the old one until it simply won’t work anymore … or someone gently tells me that I really need a new one.

“Oh,” I say, “But I just bought this one.”

“You bought it 14 years ago. I can’t even connect most things to it. It doesn’t have the right connections.”

“Is it really that long ago? It seems like yesterday.”

It does seem like yesterday because I can remember buying it. I remember deciding which TV would give us the best pictures, be reliable. Which is how come it lasted 14 years. Actually, it still works. It’s just too old to be of much value — and too huge to get rid of, so I guess it will live in the basement forever.

The only things I buy more or less on a schedule are computers because operating systems change and software won’t run on old systems. I don’t want to get new computers. In fact, I hate new computers. Setting them up is a total pain in the butt. But I cope because I need them.

On the other hand, things like refrigerators, washing machines, ovens? The roof, the water heater, the floor, the sinks, and toilets — aren’t they forever? Don’t you buy them once, then never have to worry about them again?

I’m on my third water heater and beginning to worry about the roof. I’m discovering that the vinyl siding wasn’t a permanent investment as I thought it was. And the ants keep coming back.

Just to remind me how impermanent the world truly is, the rights we fought so hard to create, the young are fighting for them. Again.

Early 1900’s protests against the czar in Russia

How can that be? How can we have made so much progress and find ourselves back — not only where we were, but back to where my parents were. I feel like we haven’t regressed to the 1950s, but more like the 1930s.

The changes we make, the changes we paid for, fought for, battled for … they are supposed to be forever or at least for our lifetime. The roof should never need to be replaced. The heating system should be a lifetime investment.

Freedom should be given — and once achieved, you should always be free. We should never need to battle again for the right to live our lives as we please. I don’t think we should have to fight for it in the first place. We should be born free and take on obligations as a conscious choice.

Freedom has come and gone many times throughout human history. Rome was free until it wasn’t. Greece was free … until it wasn’t. Many countries were briefly free until swallowed up or conquered by others. I guess it’s our turn, my turn, to realize that the freedom I thought we’d won was merely a respite from the despotism of the world.

I’m not sure why it’s like this. Why is it freedom for which we need to fight? Why doesn’t tyranny require a battle? Why do the bad guys always seem to have the upper hand?

I think it’s because we let them. We say “Oh, a few huge corporations won’t really matter” and then we look around and the entire world is made up of huge corporations and we don’t matter. We give up our freedom incrementally.

We surrender it for higher wages, cheaper toys, nicer cars. We give it up because it sounded like fun and we don’t see the downside. We elect the wrong people because they sound good. We fail to examine if they are really who they say or are capable of being who we need.

We do it. Ourselves. We give up our freedom in tiny pieces until we have nothing left to lose.

Freedom is a costly gift which does not come to us without commitment and a battle. I didn’t imagine I would live long enough to need to fight for it again.

Is that some kind of bizarre payback for living longer?