Friday, July 7, 2023

Never read the comments, but read these comments

There's a long time saying about "never read the comments." That's usually good advice.

However, sometimes there are actually good comments. I'm not talking about entertaining comments, but rather useful information.

A post at Cord Cutters News had an interesting comment thread about Comcast and its policies regarding fees. The initial comment is from a former Comcast customer service representative. Now, let's be clear that I don't know the person, and can't confirm that the person used to actually work for Comcast as a CSR, but it rings true. I'm inclined to believe what I read. It includes both a defense of Comcast and a damning of Comcast. It seems real, and I've accepted it as real in my mind.

The post itself is a rehash of an earlier report about Comcast raising fees. It appears that Luke from CCN thought a new round of fees had hit, when it was simply another report about the same fees that went into effect recently. He corrected it within the post, but left the post, as it is a good reminder about the high fees that Comcast is charging.

That's where the comments, or this one thread, come into play. Someone who identified as "Chris" and claimed to have worked for Comcast talked about the fees:

I worked in a Comcast call center when these fees were introduced. I remember asking, "Comcast simply rebroadcasts, so why are we having people pay twice now for the same programming?" They said we weren't, we were just charging separately now. I said, "Then why didn't package prices go down to reflect that?" I was told to just follow the information in the pamphlet from legal. I inquired what I should say if a customer asked the same questions I'm asking. They said, transfer them to legal.

Those fees are bullshit and have been from the start. I left a year or so after they started because I felt the company wasn't being honest anymore. Not with customers and not with me.

The thread is interesting, and Chris does defend Comcast about a couple of things in response to other comments on his comment thread. Overall, it shows that Comcast, and other cable companies, are hiding price increases inside fees.

Don't get me wrong, I do find Comcast to have reliable Internet service. I've been a Comcast (Xfinity) Internet customer for years. I don't use their TV service however, although I still have some family members that are paying those outrageous costs and fees for it.

My Streaming Life absolutely depends on Comcast's Xfinity Internet service, which is for a reasonable price. But I do not and will not use their TV service. I have enough options with streaming.

Thursday, July 6, 2023

New Walmart Onn Streaming Stick rumored

A couple of years ago, I tested Walmart's Onn streaming devices, both a box and a stick.

They were terrible.

The remote was good, but the device itself was awful. Both the box and the stick, although the box was better than the stick.

However, the newly released box is a pretty good device at a good price.

Now word is that Walmart will upgrade the stick. This makes sense, but was never a certainty, at least publicly.

I'm looking forward to testing it. I said I like the box, but it has one flaw: the weight, arrangement of the ports, and the stiffness of HDMI cables combine to make it sit funny. Most boxes have ports on the same side, but the box has them on opposite sides, meaning you either have cables out the front and back (looks really bad like that) or out either side (also looks bad).

A stick would be completely out of sight, so an unfortunate cable port arrangement wouldn't be seen. However, the testing from 2021 makes me uncertain it'll be a good device. As bad as the box was (and it was bad) the stick was worse. So, I expect the stick to perform not as well as the box. The question is just how much the difference is.

I really want the stick to be a good device, as the rumored $15 price is really low. If the Google TV device works well, it's a good and cheap way to get into streaming. My Streaming Life usually uses Roku devices, but I am impressed with the Google TV interface, and the Onn Streaming Box. I really hope the stick performs well.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

YouTube ad crackdown

Remember back in May when there were reports that YouTube was popping up messages about ad blockers. What was happening was the user was being nagged about users running ad blockers.

At the time, it was called an "experiment" with no word about what might be next.

Well, here's what's next.

YouTube is now taking a tougher stand, going so far as to block users from watching after three times.

Several screenshots have appeared on Reddit and Twitter displaying the warning which explains the YouTube “video player will be blocked after 3 videos” unless the ad blocker is disabled or the viewer signs up to YouTube Premium.

The notice continues: "It looks like you may be using an ad blocker. Video playback will be blocked unless YouTube is allow listed or the ad blocker is disabled. Ads allow YouTube to stay free for billions of users worldwide. You can go ad-free with YouTube Premium, and creators can still get paid from your subscription."

The Google-owned business confirmed it was carrying out the experiment and reinforced that viewers will be cut off if they “ignore repeated requests to allow ads on YouTube."

As I've been testing YouTube Premium, I've not encountered this. Even then, since I don't use ad blockers, I wouldn't encounter it anyway.

This isn't really as aggressive as it could be. It's not really that uncommon for some Websites to refuse to allow users to see the content until ad blockers are disabled. YouTube isn't doing that, exactly. It's three times until it's blocked. Small favors, huh?

My Streaming Life continues to have YouTube, and no ad blockers, so I'm not impacted. But many do block ads -- and I understand why -- and will be impacted. YouTube's extortion -- that's what it is, really -- will anger some. And it should.

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Independence Day (2023)

One of the most important documents in world history is the United States Declaration of Independence. If you've never read it, it may be worth reading. It gives you a glimpse into history, as well as the Unites States overall.

In Congress, July 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

  • He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
  • He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
  • He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
  • He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
  • He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
  • He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
  • He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
  • He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
  • He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
  • He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
  • He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
  • He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
  • He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
  • For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
  • For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
  • For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
  • For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
  • For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
  • For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
  • For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
  • For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
  • For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
  • He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
  • He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
  • He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
  • He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
  • He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

As a proud citizen of the United States, I still get chills every time I read it.

Monday, July 3, 2023

YouTube Premium

I've been using YouTube Premium lately. Normally, I won't pay to get rid of ads, but YouTube Premium is something I've played with for a variety of reasons.

One, of course, is the ads. While I don't really mind ads in content, YouTube videos aren't always built to accommodate ads. And by "not always" I mean "never." It's a jarring and unpleasant experience. It's almost as if YouTube is making it unpleasant just so you'll subscribe. Like blackmail.

Another reason is that YouTube Music is included with YouTube Premium. That $10/month service has a lot of music included, and I can use my phone to listen to YouTube Music in the car. I've been using SiriusXM for years (and years and years, before the Sirius and XM merger), but the price keeps going up, and I'd like to do something cheaper. Subscribing to YouTube Premium allowed me to test out YouTube Music.

And, there is downloading of music, but I haven't used that, and am not really interested.

So, the main things are YouTube Music and ad-free YouTube. Which means with my subscription paused, I need to evaluate how it's going to determine if I want to continue it.

The lack of ads is great. I really like being able to play videos and they just start without a three minute ad (yes, some are that long, or even longer) playing about something I really don't care about. Yes, they can be skipped, most of the time, but I would rather not have to bother. I like the ad-free bit.

YouTube Music leaves much to be desired. They seem to think that I like music by these auto-tuned no-talent hacks that rule the airwaves these days. Hint: I don't. 

Okay, that's a little unfair. They do present a lot of music I like, and have given a "thumbs up" like to in the system. But looking at the current offerings, I'm seeing music from John Mayer (of whom I've never bought a single thing), Little Big Town (again, never bought a thing by), and others that I've never given a "thumbs up" or spent money on. You'd think Google would know that, since they capture as much data as they can about everyone.

Of course, they do have a lot that I have purchased or given "thumbs up" to, meaning it's decent. What they don't have that I would like to see is something that is similar to SiriusXM. I want a station I can select that plays the type of music I like. 60s on 6, for example. A classic rock station. My music. YouTube Music doesn't offer that. Or if they do, it's not easy to find. And when I'm driving, I want it right there, not having to scroll through menus to find while I'm traveling 65 MPH on the Interstate.

I can't really compare it to Apple Music, as I've never subscribed to that service. I may do a one month trial and see how it stacks up. It may be a worthwhile service. And since there's a Roku app, I can stream it at home easily as well as in the car on my phone.

What would be ideal is for YouTube Music to offer genre radio stations, such as classic rock, and I could get a lot for the money. I could drop SiriusXM and not deal with any other music service. YouTube Premium would be ideal, if they had that one thing.

My Streaming Life has more music in it then I normally think of it as having, but I haven't worked out the best, most cost effective way of doing it.

Sunday, July 2, 2023

More are using FAST services

A new report indicates that the number of cord cutters using free ad supported television (FAST) services.

About four years ago, 18% of streaming services were FAST services. That's up to 25% now, which is nearly a 40% increase. (While it seems to be a 7% increase, the ratio is 38%, since 25 is 38% bigger than 18.)

Most of the services I use are FAST services, with few subscription services. Most of the subscription services I have are included with other services -- Paramount Plus comes with Walmart Plus, Peacock TV from Xfinity Rewards -- but I do subscribe to Frndly TV. However, I watch more FAST services, including Roku TV, Pluto TV, Plex, Freevee, Tubi, Xumo Play, Local Now, and more.

My Streaming Life costs less than it did, and I'm enjoying being able to watch all the TV I want, and do it cheaply.

Saturday, July 1, 2023

My streaming service subscriptions

I've tried most of the subscription streaming services over the years. I subscribed to Sling TV when it first launched back in 2015. I've also used YouTube TV, Hulu+Live TV, Fubo, Vidgo, DirecTV Stream/ AT&T TV Now, AMC+, Starz, Max/HBO Max, Frndly TV, Paramount+/CBS All Access, Peacock TV, Apple TV+, Discovery+, PlayStation Vue, Disney+, BritBox, Acorn TV, Philo, Netflix, Prime Video, and more.

I've mentioned before that I don't get much value from the cable alternatives, such as Sling TV, DirecTV Stream, YouTube TV, etc. To me, those are simply streaming cable, and offer a bunch of things I don't watch. And they're expensive.

Okay, Philo isn't quite as expensive, with a $25/month price for a lot of content. Frndly TV is cheaper at $7/month (though Frndly's $9/month plan with its HD and multiple streams is a better deal in my mind).

I will subscribe to one of the expensive cable alternatives, usually Sling TV, during college football season, but only for those four months. (If you plan it out, you can cover 15 Saturdays with three 30-day subscriptions, with cancellation periods mixed in, plus a month for the bowl games.) The rest of the year, I don't use the services.

I'm watching more FAST (free ad-supported television) content. Those cable alternatives have commercials, so I'm not losing on any trade off.

But what subscriptions do I actually use?

Well, I mentioned Sling TV is only part time (for ESPN during football season). Regularly? A few, but not many.

  • Frndly TV - This is exactly what it says it is (ignoring vowels): Friendly TV. Content you can watch with your grandparents or grandchildren. And current content. No local channels, no sports, but family friendly content.
  • Paramount Plus - This comes with my Walmart+ subscription. I don't know if I'd subscribe otherwise. Maybe. But with it being included with another service I already have, I'm going to count it.
  • Peacock TV - This comes with my Xfinity Internet service, because I redeemed by Xfinity Rewards offer. It used to come free for all Xfinity Internet subscribers, but now is free only if you redeem a reward. I've been an Xfinity Internet subscriber long enough to have the reward to redeem. Would I pay for it otherwise? Maybe. Maybe not.
  • Apple TV+ - This is actually ending in a couple of weeks. I got it free with a phone, but that free service ends in mid-July. I won't renew. I'll eventually buy a new Apple device that qualifies for it, and will redeem that. Otherwise, even though it's only $7/month, I don't watch enough to make it worthwhile.
  • AMC Plus - This was a subscription for a family member. No longer needed, and will expire soon.
  • Starz - Another subscription for a family member that's no longer needed. It will expire soon as well.
  • Curiosity Stream - This is my kind of content. However, a lot of the content is available with other services, so I'll probably drop it when it comes time to renew.
  • Prime Video - I really don't count this, since I subscribe to Amazon Prime for other reasons. This is a bonus, but with recent cutbacks on the other Prime benefits, I'm considering not renewing in January.
  • Pub-D-Hub - I know, public domain content shouldn't cost anything. But they curate a lot of interesting content, and the really cheap price of less than $10/year makes it worth it. Small operation, with occasional glitches, but overall enjoyment of content you don't always see elsewhere. And no commercials. Unless you specifically want to watch a bunch of classic commercials. Plop plop fizz fizz ...

That's pretty much it. Two subscriptions I keep (Frndly TV, Pub-D-Hub), four that will not be renewed (Apple TV+, AMC+, Starz, Curiosity Stream), two that are included with other services (Paramount+, Peacock TV).

Add to that all the FAST services -- Roku TV, Pluto TV, Tubi, Freevee, Local Now, Plex, etc. -- and I have more TV than I can watch. And for not a lot of money.

My Streaming Life is good. And cheap.