Yearly Archives: 2010

GTFO Comcast

I’ve spent years dealing with Comcast. I’ve used them for TV and Internet for the better part of 10 years. Throughout this time, I’ve dealt with increasing prices, some fairly despicable customer service, and overall a lack of consumer competence on their part.

I haven’t had any experience with Comcast to rival the level of Vanlandw’s AT&T travesty, BUT their continuously ass-holish persona accompanied by ever-increasing pricing structure have finally become too much for me to bear. For example, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called for support and ended up with them trying to sell me a triple play bundle with home phone service. Inherently frustrating, I must admit that I fully enjoyed explaining to the representative that I use Skype with a VoIP USB adapter as my home phone, and it is 32 dollars annually for unlimited calling.

Anyways… The event to kick off “operation Comcast BRB” was my wonderful wife purchasing me a new 50 inch plasma TV. Such a television commands a respectable television service to accompany it. As I began looking at Comcast upgrade options, I quickly realized that the digital starter package was way more than I even wanted to consider paying (79 a month to start, 120 after). The digital premier package with ~200 channels was even more over-priced; with a 119 dollar promo rate for 6 months followed by a $165 dollar fee after that. Seriously. 165 dollars a month. This is before adding additional HD tuners or DVR.

The Switch
I knew it was time to make a change, and this had been a long time coming. First and most importantly, I searched for a new television provider. I explored Dish Network, Direct TV, and U-verse. U-verse was most intriguing because I saw them as the likely successor as my internet provider. But, after pricing out package and options I decided on Dish Network. It was hard to pass up. Dish has offered a deal including free HD for life, 15 dollars off for a year, and a wonderful co-worker (chouse) giving me a 50 dollar gift card to dish. Called, ordered, scheduled. 120 channels with HD and a DVR for literally 32 dollars a month.

Dish obviously doesn’t offer internet, so that was my next item to tackle. Options here were fairly limited, and there was never really any other consideration aside from AT&T U-verse. My Comcast speeds had always been amazing. I would regularly test at between 20 and 30 megs download speed; so this did make the switch a bit more difficult for me, but Comcast’s medium level service for Internet starts at 59.99 monthly. They offered me an option to downgrade to DSL speed and still pay 44.99; but there was no chance of this rancid company staying in my future monthly budget. I called, ordered, scheduled install of AT&T U-verse 6MB connection for 40 dollars a month.

Let’s review. I was paying approximately $65 a month for fast internet and for the BASIC television from Comcast (like, 15 channels basic). Any upgrade strategy through them resulted in 100+ dollars easily.

By making a switch to Dish Network and AT&T U-verse, my bill at this point should be somewhere between 80 and 90 dollars. So, I spend 15-20 dollars more per month; and I receive a drastically improved television service and broadband internet combination.

The Install
My installation experiences for Dish and U-verse were not smooth by any means. My dish installer was over 3 hours late past our 4 hour block of appointment time. By the time he had gotten to my home, I had already contacted Dish to complain; and they had credited my account 25 dollars and rescheduled my installation. Even with that, I was relieved when the installer arrived. I was so anxious to get dish going. The install went quickly and painlessly once he got started, and soon I was watching 120+ channels, messing around with my DVR, and basking in High def victory over my red rival Comcast. As the dish installer left, 1-800-Comcast ensued with a cancellation. They tried to sell me home phone service and a triple play as I canceled. This is where I also found that canceling my 17.99 basic television service resulted in my internet price jumping from 44.99 to 59.99. Comcast, this is precisely why I hate you – you raise my price by 14.99 after I get rid of a 17.99 TV service? You are just horrible people; and at this point I couldn’t WAIT to get U-verse internet and rid my life of your wretched ways.

My AT&T U-verse installer got to my home at around 9.30 am (he had a 9-11 window). As he got started, he replaced my wiring from the pole to my home, and began wiring to bring the U-verse internet into my home via the Comcast installed coax (which is awesome on multiple accounts). But, he soon realized he was getting no signal at the pole as he should be. He continued, made phone calls, left my house, came back with various people. In all, 4 people were involved, 3 different AT&T vehicles – one of which was a Bucket truck, and seemingly a neighborhood re-engineering from AT&T’s perspective. Finally, at around 6pm that night, I had mother effing internet.

As soon as my installer left, I again dialed 1-800-Comcast to rid myself completely of this vile and disgusting excuse for a service company. I desperately tried to record the phone call with Google Voice, but for some reason pressing 4 repeatedly would not engage the call recording. I tried probably 20 times to initiate recording, and there was never a time in my life that I wanted something more than to record that phone call. It was monumental.

The representative tried desperately to sell me on a triple play bundle, to plead with me to not cancel in any way possible. I told her that I’ve been down this path countless times, and I don’t want to pay 120 dollars for two services. She persisted, talked over top of me, and finally I flat out said “listen, I appreciate what you’re trying to do here – but at this point I have Dish Network installed and I’m on ATT U-verse internet. Comcast cables arent even hooked up to my home anymore, and I’m not going to sign up for any services with this company ever again.”

This ended the call, and I look forward to my final bill. I will mail a check with it, with the memo “ef yoo”.

The Review
Dish’s TV services are awesome. I had the 120 channels for maybe 4 days before I upgraded myself to the 200+ package. This increased my bill by 10 dollars (42 dollars now instead of 32) – but it was a necessary thing to do. FX, NFL Network, G4, Discovery Health, and BBC America were some must have channels in the 200 package.

Dish’s DVR functionality is also awesome. I wired ethernet to the badboy, and it allows me to remotely access and manage my recordings online, or from my ipod touch (the dish network ipod app rocks). I enjoyed getting used to DVR functionality, and set up recordings for a variety of shows ranging from Jon Stewart’s daily show to Top Gear and The “Steve Wilkos” show… ūüôā

One thing that did catch me off guard with Dish, was that the recording on the DVR had to use one of my two TV channels. So, one of the TV’s hooked to my primary receiver HAS TO display what is being recorded. This was by no means a deal breaker for me; but was something that I didn’t expect to happen. I did find out that you can watch other recordings while the DVR records shows, so that alleviates some of the frustration there.

I’m very happy with Dish, and I fully recommend them as a top notch TV service provider.

AT&T U-verse internet is thus far a solid and consistent connection. I pay for 6 megs, and my speed tests will regularly show up to 5.8/5.9 megs. So, I’m getting what I pay for. On the other hand, the 2Wire 3600 gateway device that they use leaves a bit to be desired. I’m not able to customize the DNS and DHCP settings to any degree (much less turn them off like I want to) – but I’m still looking at instituting a work-around for that. I’ll figure out something.

The 6 meg speed shows itself from my usual Comcast 20+ speeds. Downloading an iso or torrent at 500-600k is quite a bit different than my 1-2meg sustainable downloads with Comcast. Saving 40 bucks a month sure puts that in perspective though…. and there’s no way I’m ever going back to Comcast. I hope that company gets oil spilled on it. And nobody anywhere around them will even consider offering Lemon scented Dawn to them.

GTFO Comcast.

Dear Expendables – Save Us

When we head to the theater to catch a movie on the big screen, we already have to deal with continuously growing ticket prices, massively overpriced food, and talking teenagers with their bejeweled cell phones. But a much more disturbing trend has been taking place in the last decade or so, a very terrible trend that literally forces me to stay at home and avoid going to movie theaters whenever possible:

Teeny Bopper Takeover.

This despicable scenario of pre-puberty is not a single faced monster though. It has several facets. The first of which being the fact that many more movies center around highschool age characters for their plot lines. From Tranformers to Twilight, Superbad to Juno – there is no denying it. Way too many movies that have come out in the 2000’s surround lame teenage characters.

The second side of teeny bopper takeover is the actual movies being produced. Hollywood studios seem to strong arm directors into producing PG-13 rated movies to maximize their profits. I can understand this to a point; but when DIE HARD 4 comes out as an effing PG-13 movie, something is seriously wrong with the mother effing world.

Not only do the studios jack the movie up to maximize the teeny bopper profit at the theater, but they then release the “Director’s cut” to DVD/Bluray so that the 18-35 crowd will theoretically spend a few more dollars to see the movie how it should have been theatrically released in the first place.

The Twilight generation is ruining the movie industry for the rest of the world. I don’t care if Bella is sad. I don’t care if you want to be in a “wolf pack” at school. It’s effing stupid.

Well, teenie boppers, The Expendables are going to break you. The biggest collection of action movie stars ever. From the classic Stallone/Willis/Lundgren to relative newcomers Statham/Couture/Austin – The Expendables promises us all everything.

It is my prediction that The Expendables are going to turn the tides of the movie industry. This movie is made by awesome men, for awesome men. Even the Old spice guy would approve of its existence. There’s no bullshit rating cut here either. The MPAA rates “The Expendables” a solid R with the following description: “Rated R for strong action and bloody violence throughout, and for some language”

This film has seen a fairly significant male call to arms via the internet. And it seems like MEN around the world are uniting in blood to see this movie on August 13th when it comes out (on my 30th birthday, oddly).

It’s going to be a success. It’s going to own the box office for the weekend and possibly for several weekends. Hollywood is going to notice, and they will realize how stupid they have been. How they’ve been missing out on making this kind of movie for a long, long time.

If you’re a man – then you really need to see The Expendables at least once on August 13th in the theater.

The Trailer ensues

Pandora it is

A couple months ago, I was blogging about my exploration into the world of internet radio and streaming music.¬† I was enthusiastically trying new services and overall just making a push to find a better way to experience music.¬† I was weighing pros and cons of a few different services over this time, and I’m happy to emphatically proclaim that Pandora radio is by far the best service for me.¬†

I purchased¬†the annual¬†subscription to the premium Pandora One service, and it is possibly the best 36 dollars that I’ve ever spent.¬† The premium service grants several enhancements; most important are¬†the ad-free listening, a desktop application, and higher quality audio streams.¬† For a clean and simple to use service, it’s amazing what somebody can get from Pandora.¬† I supremely enjoy the fact that I can queue up an endless stream of music that is specifically tailored to my tastes; all while not having to worry about creating playlists or syncing up any media devices.

Not only has Pandora simplified the way I listen to music, but it’s drastically expanded my exposure.¬† Before Pandora, I had very specific musical tastes.¬† I grew up listening to only a handful of what the music had to¬†offer, and that basically¬†trained me to keep¬†in a “sheltered” state of music.¬† I was overly picky and I never gave anything new a chance.¬† I didn’t know that Killswitch¬†Engage’s song “Holy Diver” was a cover of¬† Dio.¬† I didn’t know Dio sang for Black Sabbath.¬† I didn’t know or appreciate what Jimi Hendrix could do on a guitar.¬† I didn’t¬†enjoy the vintage appeal of bands like Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones.¬† I didn’t grasp¬†the depth of genre that has come with the last¬†decade or so in music.

In short: Pandora has been my higher education of music.

I’ve also noticed how the tech world is adopting Pandora on a much wider scale than I realized.¬†¬†I was amazed to see that my¬†new¬†Panasonic television has¬†Pandora streaming capabilites.¬† Heck, Ford is even in the works to get Pandora¬†into their Sync platform! (which, I still give massive props to¬†Ford)¬† Pandora is clearly the frontrunner and defining what streaming radio can be.

Pandora is an awesome service; plain and simple. You’re doing yourself a significant injustice if you dont give it a try. It’s free, easy, and immensely powerful. I highly recommend it to anyone that enjoys music.

If anyone is interested, feel free to check out my Pandora stations. I’m proud of them and they have become finely tuned to my liking.

And for reference, here is my Pandora profile: http://www.pandora.com/people/vanberge5#

World Cup Fever

I grew up in a small town with a smaller public school system.

In this small public school district, the only time soccer was offered as a sport was during a summer months league.  The programs were largely put on by volunteer coaches/refs and organizations like the Jaycees printed team uniforms.  I took part in this summer soccer league for 2 or 3 summers during my elementary grade-school years.  I never had much interest in it though; as I wanted to spend the precious summer vacation months riding my bike, playing nintendo with my brother, and watching TV and cartoons.  Really I only participated in soccer because my parents took me, my dad volunteer coached our teams, and many of my friends played.

I soon outgrew the summer soccer league, and my minimal interest in the sport faded until it was a complete and total lack thereof.¬† I didn’t follow the sport, I didn’t find any interest in it whatsoever, even when a more organized school sponsored team formed during my late high school years.

Fast forward more than a decade – and I have World Cup fever.

Before this World Cup started, I couldn’t have named a single soccer player aside from David Beckham.¬† Still, for reasons that I simply cannot understand or communicate, I’ve made a strong effort to watch as much soccer as possible in these early stages of the tournament.¬† It started perhaps with the much-hyped USA vs England round 1 match, but it’s since morphed into near addiction.¬† Following the USA alone has been thrilling and entertaining.¬† They’ve had very dramatic games with tight scoring, referee controversy, and topped that off with a sensational last minute victory over Algeria to win their group and advance.¬† Even with the US since being eliminated by Ghana, they’ve certainly made me a fan.

I have been trying to decide the pros and cons of this sport, maybe searching to answers for why I’m all the sudden so into it and eager to jump on the bandwagon.¬† So this is the best I can come up with:

What I like about Soccer:

  • No stoppage of play.¬† The clock keeps ticking no matter what.¬† Any lost time for injuries or substitutions is added on at the end of the match per referee discretion.¬† Compare that to the NBA where the last 2 minutes of a game take nearly as long as the previous 3 periods combined.¬† Whistles, timeouts, fouls, etc.¬† Soccer maintains a much quicker flow and consistent tempo because of this and I am glad it works that way.
  • Yellow/Red cards.¬† Seeing somebody get kicked out for a red card is purely entertaining.¬† I also enjoy the fact that a red-carded player results in the team playing a man down for the remainder of the match.
  • The teamwork.¬† Soccer is similar in strategy to hockey.¬† The length of the field and gameplay result in a lot of ball movement, passing, and formations.¬† This makes it impossible to have a “Ball hog” type player a-la Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant.¬† One player can’t make the team, and I like that.
  • Substitutions.¬† I don’t know how other leagues do it, but international rules of the Worldcup only allow for 3 substitutions per match.¬† This adds to the dynamic of the game, and speaks volumes to the conditioning of the athletes.

What I don’t like about Soccer:

  • Dives.¬† It seems like players continuously take dives at the slightest hint of any contact in an effort to draw penalties.¬† They do this more than in any other sport I have ever seen.¬† A slight tap to the calf muscle may result in the player writhing in pain as though his leg was just blown off by a frag grenade.¬† It’s just completely ridiculous.¬† But the public makes the most if it with hilarious hilight compilations scattered throughout the web.
  • Vuvuzelas.¬† I can understand blowing an effing Vuvuzela when something happens in the game…¬† When a goal is scored, a foul, or a great play.¬† But when fans just blow them continuously and constantly it makes no sense to me whatsoever.¬† It’s almost like the fans are bored with soccer and have to do something to occupy themselves.¬† The sound is annoying, distracting, and is seriously almost unbearable to cope with.¬† It sounds like a swarm of steroid pumping insects that can devour anything in their paths.¬†¬† They’re terrible.

With all of that detailed near-amateur analysis, the bottom line is that I’ve enjoyed this year’s World Cup tournament quite alot.¬† I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of it play out.¬† And I just may be a converted soccer fan.

Protecting My Mobile Phone

This week I heard about F-Secure’s Anti-Theft for Mobile product being released for free.¬† It’s available for Android, Symbian, and Windows Mobile platforms. Unfortunately they do not currently have a version available for Blackberries.

The video below shows off some of the main features which I found to be pretty slick.  The premise of being able to locate your lost/stolen phone, protect your personal information, and to have a bit of a jump on a would-be thief is something I instantly craved for my Blackberry.  I use my Blackberry for work, so it has the potential to have confidential information as well as alot of personal contacts/pictures/information that would be accessible.  Not to mention the access to my Gmail, Twitter, and Facebook accounts.  After seeing this video, I went on a quest for finding something similar on the Blackberry.

I started doing some typical online research and reading reviews at various Blackberry websites; and I’ve found that there are several different offerings.¬† The main and most popular seem to be RobLock, WaveSecure, and SmrtGuard.¬† Of these three, SmrtGuard had by far the best review/ratings score on Blackberry Appworld.¬† Not to mention, it was free compared to the others requiring a paid annual subscription.¬† With some negative reviews regarding the support and stability of the other two; I quickly made my decision on trying out SmrtGuard.

It’s awesome.¬† Plain and simple.

The impressive list of features in the free version include:

  • Remote locking
  • Remote data wipe
  • Remote listening
  • Tracking/locating via GPS
  • Email/SMS notifcation of SIM card change

Here’s a screenshot of the web dashboard for my phone.¬† You can see the map where I’ve played with the tracking and following.

SmrtGuard Dashboard

It’s fairly comforting to know that if my phone does ever get lost or stolen, I have a few options and things I can try to recover it.¬† Part of me even WANTS it to happen…¬† To have an upper hand on a would-be thief, setting off audio alarms, reporting his new SIM card information to authorities/cell companies, using remote listen to spy on him… etc etc etc.¬† The list goes on and on.

I’ve been using the app a few days now, and I’ve really found it to be pretty impressive for a free offering.¬† It’s lightweight, simple to configure, and having a web dashboard that integrates with the phone side is pretty impressive.¬† Clicking a button from the web dashboard results in near immediate execution on the phone.¬† The tracking and location functions work based off the GPS if signal is avialable, and otherwise seem to use some sort of cellular triangulation.¬† I found that you did have to have a security password set in order for the phone lock function to work, but that’s understandable.¬† The paid version adds anti-spam and anti-virus capabilities, as well as an over-the-air backup and restore feature.¬† But really the most important thing I was looking for was the anti-theft and security features.¬† So I see myself staying with the free version.

Highly recommended.  This SmrtGuard application for mobile security is available on Blackberry, Android, and Symbian devices.  I see myself using it for as long as I own a smart phone.

If you use a Blackberry, Android phone, or Symbian device Рcheck them out:  http://www.smrtguard.com

My Evolution of Music

Music can soothe the soul, amplify emotions, and change the way we experience many situations.¬† Some music helps me concentrate and focus while I’m working.¬† Some music brings me back to certain memories and times/places in my life.¬† Some music embraces the various traits of my personality.¬†¬† But overall, I love music and have spent the last couple weeks searching for a better, smarter way to utilize music in my life.¬† I’ll call it my next “stage” of music evolution (More on this to follow).

I’m looking for an on-demand, streaming, intelligent way to get to this next level.¬†¬† I think about how Netflix changed the way I watch movies forever (I haven’t bought a movie on DVD/BluRay/etc since 2007 when I joined Netflix) – and more or less I’d like to find¬† a service that can do the same thing for my music…

Last.fm, Slacker Radio, Pandora, GrooveShark, Lala, etc.¬† The list goes on and on for web-based services allowing you to stream, organize, and overall just get more connected with your music.¬† These are exactly the kind of thing I’m looking for, and I see them as being heavily inolved in my future of music. ¬† So, I’ve been trying to figure out which service(s) work best for me.¬† My main criteria are as follows:

  • An easy way to stream music
  • A blackberry/iPod capable mobile app
  • Help find new music that I enjoy
  • Rely less (much less) on my iPod

With those criteria in mind, I narrowed my field and focused on two services: Pandora and Grooveshark.  They are each somewhat similar, and they each have their pros and cons.

Pandora is a fantastic service.¬† Simple, clean, and easy to use – It capitalizes on the music genome project to take your listening habits, ratings, and stations that you’ve created and use intelligent algorithms to play music that you like.¬† Most services will provide recommendations based on similar genres and/or meta tagging – but Pandora actually uses deep elements of music theory and composition to provide recommendations to you as a listener.¬† For example, Pandora just played “The Hollow” by A Perfect Circle on my station, with the following explanation: “based on what you’ve told us so far, we’re playing this track because it features hard rock roots, a subtle use of vocal harmony, groove based composition, a twelve-eight time signature, and repetitive melodic phrasing“.¬† I don’t know what most of that even starts to mean in layman’s terms…¬† But Pandora has been remarkably accurate thus far in determining music that I like.¬† It’s been a very enjoyable service to use, tweak, and make my own.¬†¬† I’ve created 6 or so stations ranging from vintage rock roots, through instrumental movie scores and techno, and reaching my pillars of Hard Rock and Metal.¬† I really like how Pandora does this, all while making it simple and fun to use.

Pandora also has robust mobile applications for both iPod and Blackberries.¬† So I can listen to Pandora in my car connecting it through the blue-tooth of my radio.¬† That’s nearly a priceless selling point.¬† I liken it to a satellite radio subscription service.

Pandora does have its weaknesses.¬† Most notably is the lack of a selective listening.¬† If I want to hear “Crawl Through Knives” by In Flames, I would try to make a new station and type in that song title.¬† But that song will not play…¬† The station will continue to be created, and play songs SIMILAR TO Crawl through Knives musically; but there is no way to listen to a specific song at a specific time and I frankly don’t understand why that is.¬† It definitely doesn’t ruin Pandora in my perspective, as I have enjoyed the variety and anticipation for hearing new music.¬† But, I wouldn’t mind if the option existed.

Moving on to Grooveshark.¬† Grooveshark is another very slick web service.¬† It’s a little more expansive and functional than Pandora is, but it may be just a little bit “too much”.¬† Pandora’s biggest weakness is also Grooveshark’s biggest strength – I could literally search for a band or song name and be met with immediate and accurate search results.¬† Functionality ranges from adding tracks to playlists, organizing your library, or listening to Grooveshark radio for random selections.¬† Clicking through Grooveshark is quite rewarding; it is very speedy, fast, responsive, and overall just fun.¬† I found myself forgetting that it was even a web application.

With much more depth than Pandora, Groooveshark is a very interesting option.¬† Aside from syncing to a mobile device for you, Grooveshark is almost a drop in web-based replacement for iTunes.¬† You can even upload your own music in a youtube style fashion.¬† It’s a very innovative service… and one that I’m certainly keeping my eye on moving forward.

Overall, I was actually quite torn here.¬† Pandora is such a fitting option, awesome in its simplicity.¬† Grooveshark is in its earlier stages, but making an impression fast and furious.¬† Pandora has mobile apps.¬† Grooveshark has mobile app in beta/development (although not for my Blackberry Storm).¬† Grooveshark has listening on-demand for specific songs.¬† Pandora has detailed musical analysis resulting in hours of specifically tailored music without me having to worry about organizing any playlists.¬† I think in the end, I find the music genome project fascinating.¬† It takes such a unique approach to music, and that alone has nudged me ever-so-slightly towards Pandora.¬† The mobile app allowing for bluetooth integration has seemingly sealed the deal for me – as I’ve recently found myself¬† nearly fully gravitated towards Pandora.¬† I’ve been streaming it at work, tailoring my stations at home and from my Blackberry when I feel the need or have an inkling, and have been looking to find ways to fully utilize Pandora’s offerings.¬† (note PandoraFM, which scrobbles your Pandora tracks into Last.fm).¬† Pandora and Grooveshark each have free and premium versions that you can subscribe to.¬† They are nearly the same cost – and as of now I haven’t purchased either.¬† But, unless something changes drastically (and soon) I foresee a Pandora subscription in the very near future for my person.

But I’ll always take recommendations or opinions of the limited readership that graces this site with their visits… Here are my Pandora stations as a reference:

Now, with the possible future of music as I know it laid out… it didn’t feel fitting without giving a brief history of what led me here. Expand to read a bit more about how music came to be as I know it today.

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