thinking about cord-cutting again

Back in 2021, I dropped my regular cable subscription down to their “broadcast basic” package. At the time, it was $25/month, I think. It went up to $35 at some point. And now, it’s gone up to $50. Which seems like a lot to pay for mostly just regular over-the-air channels. (I’m too far from both NYC and Philly to pick up OTA channels with an antenna, so if I want them, I need to get them from cable TV or streaming.)

The price increase, and an occasional desire to watch ESPN, has gotten me interested in maybe shutting down cable entirely, and switching to YouTube TV or Hulu + Live TV.

I’m also paying $150/year for TiVo service, which comes out to $12.50/month, so my total cost is $62.50/month. YouTube TV costs $73/month, so I’d be only be paying $10.50/month extra, and getting both my local channels, and a bunch of cable channels. And I could ditch my TiVo and stop having to switch HDMI inputs on my TV every time I want to switch from watching broadcast TV to streaming and vice versa. I could just do everything from my Apple TV.

And if I switch to the Hulu + Live TV bundle with Disney+ and ESPN+, I can actually save a couple of bucks. I’m currently paying $19/month for my legacy Disney bundle, so cable + TiVo + the Disney bundle is $81.50. Ditching those three and switching to the Hulu bundle would cost $77/month. So that’s probably my best bet. (I’d lose the ad-free Disney+ that way, but I could live with ads on Disney+, I guess.)

On the other hand, maybe the new streaming service from Fox/Disney/Warner would be a good compromise. It looks like that would get me my local ABC and Fox stations, plus ESPN and some other random channels. No clue what it’ll cost though.

The prices on all of the streaming services are getting too high, really. Maybe I should rethink the whole thing and spend more time reading books and comics.

Wheel of Time and other distractions

Today is, for me, the last day of a three-day weekend. I took Friday off as a “well-being day,” which is a new category of PTO at work, started last year. We get two of them a year. The concept in general gets an eye-roll emoji from me, but I’m certainly not going to turn down two extra PTO days.

Anyway, Friday was the twentieth anniversary of my brother Patrick’s death, so I though I’d take the day and maybe do something in his honor. On the tenth anniversary, I’d made an attempt to visit the tree that was dedicated to him on the lawn of the Rutgers library, but that failed for a couple of reasons, one being a snowstorm that had left a ton of snow in the streets (hence no street parking) and my confusion over which Rutgers library it was. (Turns out there’s more than one library at Rutgers!)

So I thought maybe I’d take another shot at that, but it was kind of cold and rainy, and i couldn’t talk myself into it. The tree is probably gone by now anyway, or at least the tag with his name will be. In the end, I read several chapters of Lord of Chaos, watched four episodes of NCIS:Sydney, and took care of some bills and stuff.

All of which is preamble to what was going to be the main point of this post: I finished reading Lord of Chaos yesterday. And also finished watching season two of the Wheel of Time TV show. I’d started reading Lord of Chaos at the end of December, and finished at the start of February, so it took just over a month for me to read. That’s pretty fast for me, considering the length of the book. LoC is book six of fourteen, so I’m almost halfway done with the series. And if I can keep up that pace, I could finish the series this year. (But I probably won’t keep up that pace!)

I kinda needed this three-day weekend, as things had been getting pretty hectic at work, and I think I was getting close to… something. I don’t want to sound dramatic. Not a nervous breakdown or anything. I just needed a quiet day or three to hit reset and drown myself in dumb books and TV.

Fun with Kobo, Calibre, and Discworld

Following up on my previous post: I decided to fool around a bit again today with Calibre and the Discworld books from Kobo. This time, I installed Adobe Digital Editions, “downloaded” the books from the Kobo web site, brought them into ADE, then from there into Calibre. That actually worked. So I now have 39 Discworld books as DRM-free EPUB files that I can (hopefully) read on my Kindle. (I only loaded one of them to the Kindle, and it worked, so presumably the rest would too.)

I also decided to try loading some DRM’d books I’ve gotten from The University of Chicago Press into ADE and them Calibre. That worked too. Previously, for those, I’ve followed the instructions from UChicago, which was to download them directly to the Bluefire Reader app on my iPad. (That app is tied into Adobe’s DRM system.) I’ve discovered that I can take the files from Bluefire, save them to OneDrive, then strip the DRM with Calibre. So that’s cool, and it means I can finally read those books on my Kindle. (I have about a dozen unread books from them. Maybe this will actually get me to read some of them. Or not… I have over 600 books in my TBR pile on Goodreads right now.)

And, since this has gotten me thinking about e-readers and tablets and stuff, I decided to finally trade in my old 2015 Fire tablet. It only cost me $35 when I bought it, and it no longer powers on, but Amazon gave me $5 for it, plus 20% off a new Fire tablet. (That’s assuming they accept it. I guess they could reject it, but I already told them it doesn’t power on or hold a charge, so it should be fine.)

I don’t really intend on using that 20% off on a new Fire tablet, but I poked around a bit, just to see what they have. The Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus is on sale right now for $75. So I’d get another $15 off, bringing it down to $60. That’s not bad. Of course, I have no particular need for a Fire tablet, so I need to remember that.

I’m still kind of curious about picking up a Kobo Libre 2 maybe, but of course I don’t need that either. Still, e-readers and small tablets are a lot cheaper than, say, the Apple Vision Pro, so if I’m going to get tempted into buying gadgets I don’t need, I’m better off with e-readers and cheap tablets, right?

Discworld bundle

A few days ago, I noticed that Humble has a Terry Pratchett Discworld bundle up right now. Thirty-nine books for $18. I love the Discworld books, but have only read 3 or 4 of them. So I was ready to jump on it, and get (nearly) all of them, but then I saw that the books aren’t DRM-free, as they usually are with Humble. Instead, they’re redeemable through Kobo.com. I don’t have a Kobo, and have never really delved into the Kobo ecosystem, so my first though was “oh well, not for me.” And I should have left it there, but I’m a weirdo nerd, so I started looking into what I could do with Kobo books.

It turns out that you can download them, strip the DRM, and pull them into your Kindle library, so that got me interested. I decided to play around a bit. I installed the DeDRM plugins into my Calibre install on my PC, registered a Kobo account, and started reading up on things. I decided that it was doable, and $18 wasn’t that much anyway, so I went ahead and bought the bundle.

The simpler method of stripping the DRM didn’t work for me. That involves using a plugin called Obok, which should be able to pull the files from the Kobo desktop software, strip the DRM, and import them into Calibre.

There’s a more complicated method that involves transferring the books from Kobo into Adobe Digital Editions, and then stripping the DRM from there. I haven’t tried that yet. It would definitely be time-consuming to do it for all 39 books in the bundle. Maybe I’ll try it on just one and see how it goes.

Meanwhile, this has gotten me curious about the Kobo e-ink devices. The Kobo Libra 2 is interesting. There’s no particular reason why I can’t buy one and have both a Kindle and a Kobo. Except that I don’t really need yet another software platform/ecosystem in my life.

Sigh. For now, I’m just going to leave the Discworld books in my Kobo library. I’m plenty busy with the Wheel of Time books right now anyway. I’m not sure when I thought I’d have time to read 39 Discworld books…

New Year’s Day 2024

Well, here it is: my traditional New Year’s Day blog post. I first wrote one of these in 2008, and have been writing them on and off since then. Here’s a link to last year’s post, and just for fun, here’s a link to the post from ten years ago (2014).

I don’t have a lot of energy today, so this may be less organized and comprehensive than some of my previous posts. When I think back on the last year, I really feel like I’ve barely stumbled through it. I took no real vacation last year. And I didn’t go into NYC at all. I did get out to see a couple of movies in a theater (Across the Spider-Verse and Elemental). Both were reasonably good, but I got sick after both of them. If there’s a theme for 2023, for me, it’s “every time I go out, I get sick.” And, of course, this was the year I finally actually got COVID. And, to complicate things further, at work, we switched from 2 days in-office per week to three days, in September. I’ve been having a little trouble with that.

Health

In terms of all this health stuff, I’m not really sure what I’m going to do in 2024. I guess I’m just going to continue being careful about going out, and stumbling through as best as I can.

In terms of other general health stuff: my weight right now is just under 160. I started the year at 150, so I’ve once again put on almost 10 pounds in a year. I’m still not too worried about that, since a few people have told me recently that I look healthier than I did when I was in the 130’s, so maybe the 150’s are where I need to be. Regardless, I really do want to draw the line at 160. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do that or not, but I’m going to try.

I’ve been doing pretty good with exercise. I’m still using my Apple Watch to track everything, and I’m still getting a lot of walking done. (In fact, I just ordered new shoes and insoles, since the ones I’m wearing are getting a bit worn out.) My move goal is currently at 540, and I generally meet that goal, if I’m not feeling sick.

Work

There have been a lot of changes at work over the past year, and I think there will be a lot more in 2024. My long-time boss retired at the end of 2023, and I’m now under a new guy. He’s new to the company, so I don’t have any previous relationship with him at all or really know anything about him. So that’s a big unknown for 2024. (Most of IT management right now is new guys, brought in from outside, so there’s a lot of uncertainty there for the folks like me who have been around a long time.)

And I got moved back out of management myself in 2023. I’d had three CRM programmers under me for a fairly short period of time, from Nov 2022 to July 2023. But they decided to consolidate things, so there would be fewer managers with more direct reports. So I didn’t do anything wrong, or get demoted. It was just a reshuffle, and I’m fine with it.

In theory, we should start working on our migration from on-prem Dynamics AX to the cloud-based Dynamics 365 this year. That’s anticipated to be a three-year project. And I’m not sure how involved we’ll be with that (vs. how much is going to be outsourced). So all I can do at work is do my best with what I’m assigned, try to build up a good reputation with the new guy, and see where it takes me.

Finance

There’s a lot I could say about finance right now, but I’m going to hold off on that. I did fine in 2023. I’m starting to look ahead to retirement, in around 10 years. I may write up another post, later, about subscription services, and other stuff I’m spending money on, but I don’t want to do that now.

Fun

I often put a section in these posts with links to my Goodreads and Letterboxd “year in review” pages, and stuff like that. I don’t really want to do that now, since it’s getting a little late, and I don’t have the energy. I will say that my big reading accomplishment in 2023 was starting the Wheel of Time series, and getting through the first five books. I blogged about that a few days ago.

For the rest of the day today, I want to read a couple of chapters in Lord of Chaos, and maybe watch a movie or two. And I may need a nap at some point. Then back to work tomorrow.

Lord of Chaos – getting back into the Wheel of Time books

I took a break from reading Wheel of Time books after finishing The Fires of Heaven in November. But I’m ready to dive back in now, I think. I made it through the first five books last year. I figure I can make it through the next five in 2024. Or maybe even finish out the series, though that may be a little too ambitious.

The next book up is Lord of Chaos, which is either the longest book in the series, or the second longest, depending on who you believe. This page seems to show LoC as slightly longer than The Shadow Rising, which other articles say is the longest. I may have gone down a “pointless analysis of WoT books” rabbit hole just now… Here’s a reddit post with some discussion of word counts, and a reddit page with links to a bunch of other weird little bits of analysis. Do you want a stacked bar chart analyzing Nynaeve’s braid tugging habit? It’s out there!

Anyway, what was I really going to talk about here? Oh yeah, so I have the book downloaded to my Kindle and ready to read. And I checked the audiobook out from my local library, and have that on my iPhone. I don’t know if I’m really going to listen to it at all, but maybe I can make it through the book faster if I switch back and forth between the ebook and audiobook. (Of course, that would be easier to do if I just paid the $7.50 for the Audible narration option from Amazon, but I’ll see how far I get with the library copy before shelling out for that.)

I also downloaded a handful of the Tor articles about the book to Instapaper. I had been reading all of those recap articles, for the first few books, but I gave up on it at some point, since I didn’t feel like I really needed to, and I didn’t want to slow myself down. But I want to try getting back into them again, at least at the start of this book.

(I mentioned in another post recently that the price of Instapaper Premium is doubling soon, so I spent a little time looking at alternatives. But I think I’m going to stick with Instapaper for now. I may be writing a blog post about that, and some related topics soon. Or not, depending on time.)

Windows 11, and more audio stuff

I feel like I’m blogging too much lately, but I also feel like I have a lot of stuff rattling around in my head, and I need to get it out.

I’ve mentioned in a recent post that we’re in the middle of a company-wide Windows 11 upgrade at work. They finally got around to pushing it out to my desktop on Wednesday and my laptop on Thursday. The desktop upgrade broke networking, which was a bit of an issue. I won’t get into the details, but I had to unplug the PC and walk it over to our help desk so they could get it working again. That cost me a couple of hours, between the upgrade and all the troubleshooting and back and forth.

The laptop upgrade was easier. I had a similar networking issue, but I knew how to fix it now, and could do that myself, in that instance. Also, I could continue working on the desktop while the laptop was updating itself. (With the desktop, I hadn’t brought in the laptop that day, so I was stuck fooling around on my phone while the upgrade was running, and while I was waiting on the help desk…)

Windows 11 hasn’t broken any of the tools I rely on for work. It’s made one or two things slightly harder to do. I don’t think it’s made anything easier. (I’ve probably said this before, but my criteria for OS upgrade success these days isn’t “does it make things better?” but rather “does it break anything important?” and “how much more of a pain is it vs. the old version?”)

I’ve been toying with the idea of upgrading my home desktop PC to Windows 11, despite the fact that it’s not really supported. (The CPU is too old.) I set a registry value that is supposed to bypass the CPU check. But that still wouldn’t allow me to run the installation assistant. So, then, I made a bootable installer on a USB stick, but that won’t let me upgrade, just do a clean install. So, anyway, that was all a waste of time.

Back on the audio stuff: There were three football games airing exclusively on the NFL Network yesterday, and I wanted to watch them. (Maybe not all of them, but I wanted to kill a little time with football playing in the background.) My NFL+ subscription lets me do that, but I couldn’t get the audio working in the NFL app on my Apple TV. This is one of those things that should just be a minor irritation, but I was in enough of a mood when this happened that I got really frustrated with it. I actually could get sound, weirdly, if I switched from my TV speakers to AirPlay output to my Sonos speakers. (I’m using a Sonos soundbar as my TV speaker anyway, but I have it directly hooked up to the TV, so the Apple TV isn’t normally aware that it’s even using the Sonos.) I’m definitely not the only person to have this issue with the NFL app. I’ve found references to it on Reddit and the Apple forums. And the NFL+ site has an article about troubleshooting audio problems, but it’s typically generic and useless.

The frustration was mostly around how complex something as simple as watching TV has gotten… It used to be that you could just turn on your TV, and, you know, watch a football game. Now I have to turn on the TV, switch the HDMI input to the Apple TV, turn on the Apple TV, launch the app, watch it lock up, force quit the app, relaunch the app, wait for it to load, find the right button to press to get into the right feed… Yeah, I know I’m an old man. I should be happy I have so many options for quality entertainment.

And a little more on my new Beats Studio Pro headphones: I found a good video review of them from MKBHD. And I used them last night to watch 65 on Netflix. “Loud dinosaur movie” was a good choice for checking them out. They worked well for that, and successfully drowned out the Christmas music outside.

I’ve been awake today since 5:30 AM. It’s almost noon now. I haven’t done much useful, but I made myself a nice breakfast, went for two walks, listened to some music, read some comics, and had a croissant for a snack, so life is good, I guess.

Beats Studio Pro

As mentioned in my previous post, I ordered a pair of Beats Studio Pros from Costco yesterday, and they arrived today. Setup was simple. They’re definitely more comfortable to wear than my Solo Pro headphones, so that’s nice. The sound quality is probably better too, though I haven’t spent any time comparing them. I listened to a bit of Mammoth WVH II, and it sounded pretty good.

The one weird/annoying thing is that they don’t automatically turn off when you fold them up, like the Solo Pros. You actually have to press the power button to turn them off and on. It’s funny — I’ve gotten so used to my AirPods turning off when I put them in the case, and the Solo Pros turning off when I fold them up, that having to actually use a power button seems weird.

An interesting feature that I haven’t tried yet is that you can use them wired, either with a USB-C cable or an old-fashioned 3.5 mm cable. At some point, I may try the USB-C audio with my MacBook, just to see how that works. And maybe I’ll try the 3.5 mm cable with my old stereo receiver, and see how they sound as “traditional” headphones.

Speaking of USB-C, these charge via USB-C rather than Lightning. I guess that’s OK, but it a little inconvenient for me, since all of my other Apple devices charge via Lightning, except for my MacBook Air. So, to charge these, the easiest thing for me to do will be to unplug the cable from my MacBook and plug it into the headphones. I guess, eventually, all the Apple stuff will use USB-C, but for now, it’s a little annoying to have to deal with both connectors.

They’re playing Christmas music outside again today, so I’ll probably try them with the Apple TV later, and watch a movie, so I can find out how well they work with that.

audio stuff (mostly)

In my last post, I made mention of an audio issue with my home desktop PC. It was bugging me again, so I decided to take a stab at solving it, and I think I have. (At least for now.) My old speakers where hand-me-downs from my brother, and were at least 20 years old. I remembered that I also had a pair of speakers from my Dad’s old computer. Those are at least ten years old, but they’re probably a little newer than the other speakers. They’re also taller than the other speakers, so I can’t put them on my desk surface like those, since they don’t fit under the hutch. So I put them on the hutch, behind the monitor. (There isn’t enough room to put them on either side of the monitor, so they have to sit mostly behind it.) That’s not perfect, but it works, and I’m not getting any interference now. I’m not sure if that’s because the speakers are better shielded, or just because they’re a little further from the router, but I’ll take it.

The old speakers came with a subwoofer that I kept under my desk, and that really improved the overall sound. These speakers are just a basic stereo pair, but they’re pretty good. And I don’t really need great sound quality at my PC. It just needs to be good enough for some background music while I’m working.

On a semi-related topic, I ordered a pair of Beats Studio Pro from Costco last night. They’re on sale for almost 50% off at a bunch of places right now, so I decided that $180 was a reasonable price to play for a set of headphones that will get some use, but probably not as much as my AirPod Pros, which I use nearly every day.

I bought a set of Beats Solo Pro headphones in 2021, and I only use them occasionally. The Studio Pros should be, hopefully, a noticeable improvement on the Solo Pros. I feel a little bad about buying these, when the Solo Pros aren’t quite three years old yet, but hey, at least I’m (still) not buying the $550 AirPods Max.

So I now have my old AirPods (bought in 2019), the Solo Pros (2021), and those 20+ year-old PC speakers to get rid of. I guess I should just recycle the old PC speakers. They’re probably still fine, if you’re using them in an environment without any wifi interference, but I’m not likely to find anyone looking to buy them. And the AirPods and Beats both still work (and hold a charge, though probably not as good as they were when new). I’m not sure if I want to go through the hassle of selling them on eBay though. Maybe I should see if Goodwill accepts old headphones. I know a lot of people don’t like the idea of used AirPods, but if you clean them up a bit, they should be fine.

We’re having some kind of Christmas Jubilee here in Somerville tonight, and they’re already playing Christmas music outside. I just looked at the schedule, and it looks like it’ll be going on until 9:30 PM. And I’m guessing the noise level will get louder once the main part of the event starts up. So I guess it’s going to be another night of drowning out Christmas music with Monarch: Legacy of Monsters and other loud TV shows. (Maybe the new season of Reacher? That’s loud, right?)

I’ve found one new Christmas album that I really like this year: The Frostbound Wood: Music for Christmas by Peter Warlock. (It’s not really new, of course, just new to me.) It’s nice and calm.

progress? (maybe a little.)

I thought I’d post a follow-up to yesterday’s post, with a few little items.

  • I did manage to send my Christmas cards out yesterday. I only sent out seven cards. And, two seconds after dropping them all in the mailbox, I realized that I hadn’t put return address labels on any of them. Oh well. My handwriting is atrocious, so they may or may not make it to their intended recipients. And, if they don’t, they won’t make it back to me. But, eh, I did my best.
  • I did get that email from our “talent team” confirming that the guy I assumed was going to be my new boss is, indeed, going to be my new boss. Also, there is no change in my title or salary. So that’s (probably) good. (Certainly better than getting laid off or demoted or something…) That reminds me that I never did find out if I got a raise after my year-end review. My old boss was supposed to let me know, but never did. So I guess that’s another thing I’ll have to figure out at some point.
  • Still no clue when my work machines are going to get upgraded to Windows 11. Theoretically, that should happen at some point this week, and I’d like to get it over with, but I guess I still have to wait.
  • I still want to write a new blog post about subscription prices. In addition to the aforementioned Instapaper price doubling, I got an email reminder today that my Evernote subscription is going to renew in January, at the new rate of $130/year. (The old rate was $70/year.) I knew that was going to happen, but hadn’t been thinking about it lately. I’m going to let it renew, since I couldn’t convince myself to switch to Obsidian, back when I was experimenting with it over the summer.

And one thing that’s unrelated to anything from yesterday’s post: Ever since I got a fancy new router last year, I’ve been having an intermittent problem with noise coming through my PC’s speakers. I have the router on my desk in between the speakers, so it’s not that big a surprise that this would happen, but it’s never been a problem with any of my previous routers.

I’ve read a few articles about ways to fix this. The obvious thing would be to move the router away from the speakers, but that’s easier said than done, given the constraints I’m working with. There’s really no other place to put the router. I’ve seen conflicting opinions about whether or not putting ferrite core(s) on the speaker wire(s) would help. And I found one suggestion that wrapping the speakers in aluminum foil could help. (I’m not trying that. But I’m tempted…)

My speakers are pretty old. I got them from my brother Pat, and he passed away in 2004, so they’re at least twenty years old. So maybe I just need new, better shielded, speakers. But trying to get info on which speakers are well-shielded and which aren’t is a little tough. One other thought I had was to switch from a pair of speakers to a single soundbar. If I did that, I could put the soundbar right under my monitor, and that way, I wouldn’t have a cable running right past the router. But the speaker would then be right above the router, so maybe that’s not any better… I don’t know.

The noise comes and goes, and it’s usually not noticeable if I play music through the speakers. For some reason, it was really bothering me today though. That might just be because I was unusually twitchy today. I’m also wondering if I should wait on this until I get a new PC. (Assuming I do get a new PC… that’s another thing I’m dithering about…)