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Cutting the Cord (Part 1)

By M Davies   /     Aug 13, 2016  /     Technology Hates Me  /     3 Comments

To quickly catch you up with what’s been going on in my life:  I have a child entering High School, I have another one entering 5th grade, I have a husband now working out of the house (he had been working from home since 2008) and I’m barely ever here.

 

That being the premise, I no longer have the need for a physical landline phone.  We held onto our Frontier phone service since moving from Lee Park (CLEC territory), although, we did not port our 570-270 number when we moved and opted for a new number entirely.  I’ve had the 570-477 number (ILEC territory) since 2008 and I don’t want to part with it.  Utility companies have it, the school has it, and many family members have it.  I would have started looking into VOIP solutions to port the number sooner, but we still needed the physical phone line for my husband to test dial-up modem shelves at his last job.  Yes, believe it or not, people in 2016 still have dial-up 56k v92 modem service.  Let’s all take a moment of silence to acknowledge their pain.

 

We good?  Ok.

 

Here’s a snapshot of my last phone bill (undoctored except to remove my personal information):

 

13659031_10153672465666727_3376583416509643270_n

 

54 dollars.  You read that right.  54 dollars for a phone that carries no features or long distance besides call forwarding to my cell phone and the unpublished number fee.  If you’ll notice, half of the cost of the actual service charges is paid to taxes and other miscellaneous service charges.  This line is connected to a telephone in the basement, that no one uses.  Once in a while, we move the RJ-11 cable to fax stuff.  That’s about the extent of our usage.

 

Every month, I may as well burn 54 dollars in my driveway.  I’m paying for something that I’m not using.  It’s actually the stupidest bill that I have.

 

I decided I would take a whack at Frontier’s customer service “churn buster” line to see if there was any promotions or credits I could earn for being a loyal customer.  I was told the only way to reduce the cost of this bill would be:  A) Bundle it with another service.  B) Drop the service level down to a “Lifeline.”  C) Sign a contract for 2 years.  Let’s explore these options…shall we?

 

A)  The bundling they are talking about would be including Internet or TV of some sort into my already outrageously sky-high telephone bill.  We already have Internet service through Blue Ridge Communications and are (for the most part) quite happy with it.  At the time when we moved in, it was the fastest and cheapest option available to us.  We tried the Frontier DSL, or I’m sorry, “HSI” for the allotted 30 days.  The speeds were appalling and similar to that of ISDN BRI.  It was unusable, so we had no choice, but to drop it.  The “TV” portion of the service that Frontier offered at the time was DISH network.  I previously had Directv.  I know it isn’t the same, but it kind of is….they always lock you in to a 2 year contract and its super expensive to get out of it should you choose to cut the cable.  We looked into Blue Ridge at that point and with the cable and fast Internet service bundled together, it was a no brainer.  Blue Ridge did offer us phone service, but after Irene happened and learning that their remote/head end did not have a DC battery back-up, it was not a feasible option for our needs.

B)  “Lifeline” is a telephone assistance program provided through the “Universal Service Fund” you pay in your monthly bill.  Families in need can receive a $10 stipend each month which is applied to their landline or cell phone bill.  There are income requirements, and you need proof of income to qualify for this program.  I am well without of the qualifications for this program.

C)  There is no way in hell I’m signing a contract for 2 years for a service I barely use now.  Period.  End of story.

 

The phone call ended with a courtesy credit of one month applied to my bill with a “thank you for not cancelling” line of bullshit.  I received my next bill with only a half month credit applied.  I don’t have the energy to wait on hold to argue with these people again, so I’ll just eat the other half of the credit, I guess.

 

I took to Facebook and talked with my network.  Most of my friends fell into one of these buckets:  ported the number to another service, got rid of the land line entirely, or bundled with another service.  I seriously considered trying to port the number to my already established Google Voice account, but it would require more work than I was willing to do.  Here’s the gist of it…Google Voice (which used to be called GrandCentral) won’t port landlines. Basically you would have to port the number to a burner phone and then once that is complete, port the phone number on the burner phone to Google Voice.  A lot of friends recommended magicJack.  I saw the commercials…I looks kinda chintzy.  Not that I’m opposed to cheap, but it seems like it needs a dedicated machine to always be plugged into to work…I am always carrying my laptop back and forth with me to places, so it’s just not a viable option.  There is Vonage, which we did try a long while ago while living in Lee Park, but it got expensive over the years.  They are now nickel and diming you to death like any other phone company would.

 

photo

 

After talking with a co-worker and reading for several hours, I discovered Ooma.  Ooma is another VOIP service similar to Vonage, but way cheaper.  My phone bill would end up being $4.99 (roughly) a month based on their savings calculator.  Basically you’re only paying the taxes on the number after some initial fees to purchase the equipment and port the number to the service.  Based on a cost analysis that I preformed on Frontier bill vs. Ooma, it would take 3 months for the service to “pay for itself.”  It was another no-brainer.

 

The equipment I ordered came with in 3-5 days of my phone order:

 

13891868_10153692888296727_5028879074991430411_n

 

 

Admittedly, I kinda dropped the ball getting everything installed at first because I was super busy with NEPA BlogCon stuff, but when I had a few minutes to actually sit and think, I was able to get it going with little to no effort.  The network device they had sent to us required a bit of IP address reconfiguring and NAPT to get it going.  It’s up and running as I write this blog post.  My request to move my 570-477 to this service is still pending, but should be complete shortly.  Once that happens, I can cancel Frontier completely out of my life for good.

 

So far, I’m happy with the service.  There’s nothing to complain about because as I said, I really don’t use my landline.  I rely on my cell phone for everything, but its a nice thing to have as peace of mind for my kids who may need to use it in an emergency situation.  That’s another thing to mention:  everyone freaks out about VOIP and 911 service and keeping your address on file up-to-date.  Ooma takes care of that for you.  If per chance, you move and forget to update your address, they forward your call to a centralized 911 center and then they can forward your call to the appropriate call center.  I’ll be honest with you though, there were a few times that I witnessed bad accidents and called our local 911 only to get a busy signal.  You’re only as strong as your weakest link in an emergency situation….this isn’t a dig, it just is what it is.  I understand 911 operators are overtaxed with overly asinine phone calls and make next to no money, so spare me the lecture.

 

Here’s a review of the service from CNET.

 

I think I’ll circle back around to this post in a few months to revisit whether or not I really think it is still worth it, but for now, it’s a great service and I’d recommend it as an option for anyone looking to cut the cord.  I could have really went more deeply with this post about the features that the service offers in the cost, but I have been up since about 2am, and I am exhausted.  That will have to wait for another time.

 

One final thought that came to my mind while writing this post and discussing cord cutting with friends:  It’s ironic that my husband had to go back and work for the company for me to realize we no longer need it’s services.  It just goes to show you how much the industry has changed in a measly 9 years.

 

The times.  They are a’changin’.

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Bitcoin

By M Davies   /     May 09, 2013  /     Technology Hates Me, TV Rants  /     0 Comment

On April 17th, I appeared on a local cable access technology show, ComputerWise.  The topic of discussion for the show was “Mining on the Internet” with a specific emphasis in bitcoin.  Bitcoin is an open source deregulated digital currency, a protocol, and a software that enables…

 

 

• Instant peer to peer transactions

• Worldwide payments

• Low or zero processing fees

• And much more! (Source: http://bitcoin.org)

 

 

Rich has been reading up on bitcoin for sometime and cramming my brain with information about how it works, who’s using it, what it can be used for and the like.  I thought it was an interesting topic, so I contacted George Roberts, the host of ComputerWise, and he agreed that it would be a good topic to discuss!

 

It’s been a while since I crammed for something, but I worked most of the day on that Wednesday to put together some discussion points to talk about live later that evening.  Powerpoint is how I like to roll, pulling my inspiration for the presentation from the 20×20 format that Pecha Kucha uses.  Here are the fruits of my labor:

 

Here’s the full episode of ComputerWise that I was on (my part starts about 26:00 in):

 

 

I’ve been watching this show for MANY years.  In my experience, the viewers of ComputerWise aren’t necessarily “tech savvy”, so the information that I discussed was a bit of a dumbed down version so that the viewers of the show could more easily understand what was going on.  Here’s a link to show you the demographics of the viewers of the ComputerWise website (most of them are pointed there from the TV show):  http://computerwisetv.com/tvshow.htm

 

The format of ComputerWise is kind of casual.  George is a gracious host and makes you feel comfortable, but he doesn’t really reveal what questions he may ask during the segment.  You have to think about what may be asked and try to be prepared to answer questions.  I’m not going to lie.  I could feel myself not being prepared for a few questions and tried to think quick on my feet by making use of the computer on set or kind of BSing my way through a question or two.  All in all, I think I nailed a good majority of the talking points.  I am always super critical of myself and think I do awful on TV.  It pains me to watch.  I asked a few other of the reporters and meteorologists that I work with how they deal with it, and they feel the same way.  I guess it’s a natural thing.  Every time I get nervous, I think back to Leadership Wilkes-Barre advice on public speaking my class received:  Only you know how you feel on the inside.  No one else can tell you are nervous, anxious or ready to crawl out of your skin unless you make it obvious or mention something about it.  Fake it ’til you make it.  Or whatever.

 

It’s really great being able to educate people about a topic they may not otherwise know about.  This is my fourth time on the show doing such things.  I have already suggested some more ideas to George for upcoming shows.  I would love to some day see a show like this come to NEPA (ComputerWise mainly airs in the Lehigh Valley area, and to those who have Service Electric and Blue Ridge Cable).  Even if it existed in an online format.  Hmmmmm *wheels turning*…..

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WTF is Minecraft?

By M Davies   /     Mar 10, 2013  /     Mommyhood, Technology Hates Me, TV Rants  /     5 Comments

I once called my kids’ Nintendo DS a Gameboy and they looked at me like I had three heads, but sit them down in front of the game Minecraft (graphics created circa 1985) and they’ll play that shit for hours.

 

We *ahem* Santa bought *double ahem* gave my kids a Google Nexus tablet for Christmas to share, and ever since then it’s been Minecraft all daylong every day.  While one kid is playing the tablet, the other kid is on the computer looking up videos on Youtube of other kids playing Minecraft.  Maybe I’m getting old, but I just don’t understand the appeal of this game.  Get off my lawn!

 

As I said before, the graphics are just plain awful.  I’ve seen better animation out of my 8 bit Nintendo.  Think I’m kidding?  Here’s a screen shot from PCGamer.com (by the way, that’s supposed to be a sheep):

 

minecraft-faceing-sheep-01-1024x607

 

Am I missing something?  I asked this question recently on Facebook and Twitter, and received a ton of replies from my friends, who are also the parents of grade school-aged children, wondering the same thing.  Why is this game so popular?

 

According to fellow NEPA Blogger Thomas Tomeo:  “Minecraft is basically Legos meets The Legend of Zelda meets The Oregon Trail. They scrounge around the world for supplies to build buildings, tools, weapons, and hunt for food. Then, when night falls, you have to protect yourself from the various evils that stalk the wilds.  It’s an enthralling experience for children young and old. I love the hell out of it.”

 

I don’t love the hell out of it.  It turns my kids into fighting zombies for hours at a clip.  “MOMMY!  IT’S MY TURN TO PLAY!”  “YOU ALREADY HAD YOUR TURN!”  “I WANT TO PLAY!”  My brother suggested that I buy some legos for my kids to address their need to build things.  Trust me, they have a bunch of sets.  Gabby usually bosses Owen around until it is built and then it’s back to Minecraft.  Maybe the solution is to buy another tablet so they don’t fight as much, since the game seems to be semi-educational and semi-promotes creativity.  I just don’t want to encourage their heathen brattish behavior.

 

Any other parents out there feeling my pain with this one? Leave me a comment to discuss!

 

Hey kids!  You want to build something?  Here’s some 2x4s and some nails and a hammer.  I expect a shed in 12 hours.

 

You want to survive the evils that stalk the wilds after nightfall?  Mommy will bring you to her work to camp out overnight!

 

Problem solved.


 

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Pet Peeve of the Nanosecond: .NET Framework

By M Davies   /     Mar 09, 2013  /     Technology Hates Me  /     1 Comment

Sometimes Microsoft products are crankier than my two children combined, and that’s saying a lot.  This particular issue has been a thorn in my side for several months, and I finally found a workaround that fixes the problem.  And now without further ado, I present the .NET Framework Fix.

 

If you happen to run into an XP machine having trouble installing a .NET Framework Windows Update, it will most likely need the .NET Framework Fix.  It’s an annoying time consuming process of uninstalling and reinstalling various Windows updates.

 

Symptoms:  A Windows Update/Automatic Updates error similar to this (Error code: 0x80070643):

 

dotnet

 

Cause:  According to Microsoft:  “This issue may occur if the MSI software update registration has become corrupted, or if the .NET installation on the computer has become corrupted.” However, I personally believe it is the way that Microsoft stacks updates with the .NET framework, similar to older versions of Adobe Reader or Java.  It never completely cleans out/uninstalls the last version before trying to put in the next version in thereby creating issues.

 

Solution: 

 

  1. Download the dotnetfx_cleanup_tool.zip:

http://blogs.msdn.com/cfs-file.ashx/__key/CommunityServer-Components-PostAttachments/00-08-90-44-93/dotnetfx_5F00_cleanup_5F00_tool.zip

 

  1. When you are prompted, click Open, and then click Extract Now.
  2. In the files that you extracted, double-click cleanup_tool.exe.
    If you are prompted for an administrator password or for confirmation, provide the password, and then click Continue.
  3. In the Do you want to run the .NET Framework Setup Cleanup Utility? message, click Yes.
  4. Click Yes to accept the license agreement.
  5. In the Product to cleanup window, click the list, select .NET Framework – All Versions, and then click Cleanup Now.
  6. After the .NET Framework is removed, restart the computer.
  7. Download and install the following components:

 

.NET Framework 1.1
Microsoft .NET Framework Version 1.1 Redistributable Package

.NET Framework 1.1 Service Pack 1 (SP1)
Microsoft .NET Framework 1.1 Service Pack 1

.NET Framework 3.5 SP1 (this will also install the .NET Framework 2.0 SP2 and the .NET Framework 3.0 SP2)

Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5 Service Pack 1

 

 

8.  Restart the computer.

9.  Visit Windows Update again, and then check for and install updates.

 

 

I have tested this on several computers at the station that refused to install the .NET updates and it works like a charm.  Big THANK YOU to Aaron Stebner for sharing this information!

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NEPA BlogCon: The Technology Wrap-up

By M Davies   /     Oct 20, 2012  /     Blogging, Events, NEPA, Technology Hates Me  /     6 Comments

I’m juuuuuussstttt getting around to writing my wrap-up about NEPA BlogCon.  It’s been a crazy 2 weeks, and I haven’t been home much.

 

As part of my role with the Fearsome Foursome, I was tasked with being the “Technology Wrangler” on the day of the event.  No sweat because this is the type of thing I do every day at work, right?  Kinda.  I did run into some challenges on the day of the event.

 

To prepare for the big day, I made lists.  Lists of everything.  I used Google Docs to store this information.  I had a list of login information, a list of the girls laptops available at my disposal, a registration list, a list of who received swag vs. who did not receive swag….etc, etc etc.  I think at one point Karla freaked out at how many documents of lists I created!

 

In my technology arsenal, I brought my iPhone (where I did most of my live tweeting and updates), my MacBook Pro, a Samsung tablet I had on loan from Verizon, and a Netbook I had from work.  LCCC equipped us with a WIFI login so that people with devices could login to the College’s network and use the Internet as well as a computer login, so that if attendees wanted to login to a computer and try something they learned in class, they could.  I have my own student login for the computers at LCCC, so I used that.  I found out rather quickly that the machines did not have “administrative rights” under the special login or my student login.  This was a problem because we had 2 Skype sessions and also videos to transfer and play.

 

I first grabbed for my MacBook because I thought when I had checked the computers out earlier in the week, I would be able to do a DVI connection to the projector.  WRONG.  It only supported VGA.  And because Apple has proprietary cables for everything, I’d need a special connector (read: $49.99) to get it hooked up.  Plan B.  I try to download Skype to the computer because I thought I might get lucky and be able to skirt around the administrative rights issue the way Google Chrome does when you install it.  WRONG.  I was denied access to installing the program.  Plan C.  I pull out the Netbook from work, which is crappy, but amazingly enough, it has a VGA connection and Skype already installed.  After fiddling around with the display settings, I was able to get it working with the projector in the first room.  Shirley Yanovich was our LCCC/CIS Computer Club partner, so I had to get her to call the help desk at LCCC.  After a short eternity, they were in the second room helping get Skype installed.  YAY!  I copied the video files to both computers and did a test.  It looked perfect.  Not too long after that, people started filing into the rooms.  Darling Stewie and I stood in each room and used hand motions to time the start of the Gala Darling‘s keynote so that both rooms were roughly cued up to the same time.

 

Issue #2 arose when we tried to Skype in Gala Darling for a Q and A session.  Since this was a last minute thing, we did not have time to test it out.  We wanted both rooms to be able to participate in the Q and A, but we could only get Gala up in one room.  She wasn’t sure how conference another person in with Skype.  To get around this, we were able to cram everyone (uncomfortably) into one room to participate in the Q and A.  This is a learning point for next year….Q and As might be done via Twitter or we will use Google hangout instead.

 

The rest of the morning sessions went off without a hitch.  I started a video that Hey Shenee! sent us in advance about Branding.  The video played fine, but the sound was a little quiet.  I had to crank it all the way up to get it to an audible level for the room.  I didn’t really have time to check the videos ahead of playing them, as we literally received them THE NIGHT BEFORE.  I’m not even kidding.  Later, I assisted Shannon Nelson and Jessie Holeva with their presentation – I pushed the button to make the slides advance, don’t laugh….it was an important duty!

 

The afternoon sessions went mostly well.  We were a little concerned about Kris Jones’ whereabouts, but he showed up right on time.  There was another Skyped session with Lauren O’Nizzle that was a mess.  I don’t know if there were connection issues on her end or on our end, but the video was really choppy.  Gala‘s skyped Q and A from earlier did look fine on the screen despite the conferencing issues.  I would have to assume the connection issues were on Lauren’s end, but I cannot be sure.  Again, I think next year, we will avoid the Skyped sessions and opt for videos in advance (those worked out extremely well) or just do live presenters.

 

During Kris’s presentation, there was some online trolling going on in our Tweet Chat.  I won’t bore you with all of the details, but Karla covers it in her post here.

 

After the event was over, I collected surveys from the attendees and crunched the data into a Powerpoint presentation.  The overall response was positive.  There were a lot of good suggestions that we will take into account when we start the planning process for next year.  For now, you can check out all of the videos of the sessions and panels by visiting our website:  http://nepablogcon.com/blogcon-2012/videos/

(Hey….now I can watch everything I was busy troubleshooting…SCORE!)

 

The mission of the conference was to educate Northeast PA about the social media and blogging tools at their disposal while giving back to the community.  I am happy to report that we raised over $2500 for our two charities, the Arc of Luzerne County and the Northeastern Pennsylvania Veterans Multicare Alliance.  We also had a TON of food over from the event.  All of that was donated to a homeless men’s shelter in South Wilkes-Barre.  For having 100 registered attendees, I would say this wasn’t a bad first year.  We are already starting to talk about next year and how we can make the event grow.

 

Whether you attended, sponsored, presented or volunteered the day of the event, we cannot begin thank you enough.  Without you, this day would have not been possible.  THANK YOU! 

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