Monthly Archives: May 2011

Cutting the cord

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Title card for NBC, promoting their broadcast ...

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Cable TV was just one of those things that snuck up on me and became entangled in my life, kind of like ivy. While I’ve always loved television, it wasn’t until the early ’90s that we even had a color TV, and someone had to die for us to get that (a bequest of sorts, not a violent Sony-jacking, I assure you). We had cable off and on in the ’80s and then not again until we had kids, when we convinced ourselves that a little basic cable would be a good thing. People say they don’t use TV as a babysitter? They don’t know what they’re missing out on.

Then we got the high-speed internet, and upgrading beyond what they called “broadcast basic” was pretty cheap, so we did. Then we got into bicycle racing, which was showing only on the digital channels, which meant an upgrade to digital cable. Then we realized we were spending an unnecessary fortune on telephone service when it would be essentially free if we added it to our cable package, so we did. And suddenly, we’re entwined.

But that was fine. There was science on the Science Channel, History on the History Channel, movies on the various movie channels. Plenty to see. And then reality tv started taking over the earth, and mission creep became the byword of the day. The Independent Film Channel started producing TV shows and not showing so many movies. The History Channel started showing reality shows about junk shops. And there were f’ing Kardashians everywhere. I found myself spending more time finding something to watch than actually watching it. The DVR was one of the greatest inventions in the history of communications, but still . . . I was paying a lot for very little content I wanted to watch.

Through all those years, we’d had very very good service from Time Warner. Then this winter something weird happened, and we stopped getting a whole bunch of channels. Randomly. They’d go, then they’d come back. We changed boxes. We had three service calls that made no difference whatsoever. We were told our problem was going up to some magical higher problem-solving level (and that we wouldn’t be billed while we didn’t have service). Nothing happened, and we got accustomed to not having the cable available. I experimented with Netflix and Hulu Plus, and found pretty much everything I could want to find there, and the rest is available from the iTunes store.

Then we figured out that there were pretty much only 302 people who called us on our home phone: my mother, her father, and 300 telemarketers who ignore the “do not call” registry. So we were paying in the neighborhood of $50 a month for phone service we barely used — three out of the four of us had cellphones, and for $5 a month more, we could make that an even four out of four.

How did we get Time-Warner to finally fix our service? We decided if it wasn’t resolved by date certain, we were cancelling. When we said that to the service department, it made no difference. When we called the billing department to cancel the service, suddenly we had action. And suddenly the problem that had vexed everyone was fixed with just one more visit. But by then, we were off the junk, and really didn’t want to go back on. So we called again to arrange cancellation, and they offered to take $90 off our $150 monthly bill. Very generous? Well, maybe so. But it just pissed us off more than we had been paying way more than was necessary for years, if they were willing to give us such a dramatic reduction just because we threatened to cut the cord. So rather than mollifying us, it maddened us, and that was it: no more cable.

Not to say it was super-obvious. We were without Netflix or Hulu on the TV for the weeks that the Playstation Network was out of service, which was maddening. In the end, we decided to keep our home phone number we’d had for more than 20 years and transfer it to one of our cell phones, so we didn’t end up resolving the telemarketing problem and it took a couple of weeks of gyrations to make that transfer work.

We’re still trying to work out how to interface with the computer’s library, deciding if we’re going to go with AppleTV (which would require us to buy a new TV) or some other solution. But we’ll be able to afford a shiny new TV in a very short time with what we save on the cable and phone bill every month.

G’bye, cable! Time to disentwine.

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Something’s gotta give

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Right knee.

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What with this whole “working full-time” thing, a mess of traveling thrown in with that, an increasingly busy end-of-year schedule for the girls at school, and all the usual things that need to get done to keep a family going, it was bound to happen. Something had to give. That something, apparently, is my knee. Specifically (probably), my meniscus. As Zevon said, “My shit’s fucked up  . . .  the shit that used to work, won’t work no more.” That and rain have been keeping me off the bike, which is the one thing I really didn’t want to give, but of course having to show up to an office every day is bound to put a crimp in the cycling lifestyle. Once I know what I’m doing, I can probably work some rides in, but right now there’s just too much to learn and too many hours to put in.

The knee was actually something I broke back in the big snowfall. Too much shoveling, which always has some twisting involved, and then a couple of days later I went down on my knee and screamed like a girl. I’ve been babying it ever since, and it’s mostly been better, but never all the way. And then it started to get worse. While we wait for the greatest medical system in the world (and to question that is communist) to decide if I can have pictures taken of my knee, the doc told me I could ride, but not hills. Living in Rensselaer county, that’s a challenging prescription. I was going to stick to it tonight, but the rain came down again as soon as I got home and I just wasn’t into it. So, another day of rest. Let’s hope it makes a difference. But something tells me my streak of being surgery free is about to end.

I’ve got an idea forming in my head

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One man band dressed as a jester. CDV by Knox ...

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And that feels good. My several years’ sojourn of being a lone gun / jack of all trades / one man band / just a few teeth above a carnie is at an end. Life as a consultant had its moments, but it all relied on what I already knew, information that I could dole out in little chunks of billable hours. Now that I’m an organization man again, I can focus on knowing something and knowing it well. But first I’ve got to learn it, and there’s a LOT to learn. Learning curve? It’s the learning Mur de Huy. (Especially appropriate, if you know the Fleche Wallone, because while it’s not the steepest climb in the world, riders have to climb it three times in the spring classic.) But climb it I will, and it’s really nice to be learning again.

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Things I’ve learned

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CJ with cropping tool

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I started working odd jobs when I was about 13, had my first real job at 17, worked all the way through college (which, by the way, was a stupid idea), and, other than one summer after graduate school when I only had temp work, never had a moment’s break between jobs since 1977. I always said I needed a break, I just didn’t know the economy would deliver me such a resounding break. After a startup I joined lost its financing, and with employment opportunities in my area extraordinarily slim, I got my break. There’s been consulting work, but there’s also been a lot of free time, time to do things I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten to do. Now, after a break of a few years, I’m going back to regular fulltime work, and glad to be doing it, but I’ve definitely learned some things about myself.

One is that I really don’t need to work. The son of a truck driver, from a working class family, I had the work ethic drilled into me. But you know what? Going to a job every day is not necessarily rewarding in and of itself, and there is plenty to do when you’re not going to an office or jobsite. I got to write, to do some research projects, to improve some skills. I got to spend serious time with my daughters every day when they got home from school. I was god’s gift to the high school bake sale. And I got to do a lot of driving to appointments and helping with a family move.

Another thing I learned is that I’m going to be about the athlete that I am. (Though I think I knew that anyway). I’m not going to get out every day, and I’m not going to get out in every kind of weather. Despite the fact that I could get out just about any time I wanted, and that I have never regretted a bike ride, I still only got out when things lined up, when the weather felt right (which doesn’t always mean sunny and warm), when my body felt right, and when I didn’t feel pressure to get back by a certain time. I learned that sometimes spokes break and leave you stranded. I learned that sometimes tires explode; that can be exciting.

I finally learned to cook decently. My knives are very, very sharp. A fair amount of vinyl was digitized, but I also figured out I’m not getting rid of the vinyl. I learned that there is no end to the amount of little projects around that house that I always wanted to get to that I still never quite finished — no end of pictures to scan, tools to repair, spaces to organize. It turns out they’re really not a priority.

I already knew that I had some amazing friends, and I’ll never be able to thank them enough for their support through these past few years.

And now, back to work.

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