old man thoughts

I’ve been thinking old man thoughts this week. There are a variety of reasons for this.

First, I was contacted by somebody new at Merrill earlier this month to go over my finances. I had a couple of relatively long phone conversations with him, the end result of which was really to just… do nothing. Basically, my money is where it should be, doing what it should be doing. Looking back at my history, I could probably have done better with some stuff, but it’s too late to change that. At some point in the next few years, I should probably start moving some stuff into less risky investments, but I don’t need to do anything yet.

This was all kind of surprising. Since this new guy at Merrill called me out of the blue, I assumed there was going to be a sales pitch at some point to move me into a more actively managed account, with a management fee, but nope. Overall, it was probably the most casual and least pushy interaction I’ve ever had with a financial professional.

That all got me looking at some other financial stuff, including one oddball account I have, at MetLife, which was set up as a payout for my Dad’s life insurance, back in 2010. This kind of account is basically a sneaky way for life insurance companies to get out of actually paying out on their life insurance policies. Instead of a cash payout, they set up an interest-bearing account which you can write checks against. You can, of course, write yourself a check for the full amount in the account, but they hope you won’t do that. I decided to keep the account, since it was making more interest than my regular checking account. I used it once, in 2012, to buy the car I’m still driving. Other than that, I’ve just let it sit there and accrue interest.

My justification for keeping it was largely as an emergency account, following the general principle that you should have one account that’s at a different institution from your regular bank, just in case something happens with your main account(s). On several occasions, I’ve thought about closing it down and moving the money to a higher interest HYSA. Honestly, I should have done this long ago. Right now, some HYSAs are paying close to 5%, so I finally decided to do it. (The MetLife account was paying a little over 2%.) I was also starting to get fed up with the web interface for the MetLife account, which was always a mess, and a pain to use.

So my goals for a HYSA were to find one that (1) wasn’t associated with BoA or Merrill, (2) had a good reputation and user interface, and (3) had a good interest rate. I settled on Marcus, from Goldman Sachs, via an AARP link that got me a slight bump in the interest rate for the first couple of years. (And the link in that last sentence is an affiliate link, by the way.) I wasn’t 100% sure I should go with Marcus, since there was some talk last year about Goldman getting out of consumer banking. But they still seem to be pushing Marcus, at least via the AARP partnership.

Setting up the Marcus account was pretty easy. I didn’t have to do much to prove who I was. (That might have something to do with the fact that I have an Apple Card, which is managed by Goldman, so they already know who I am.) I couldn’t link the MetLife account to the Marcus account to transfer money out of it, though. Instead, I linked my BoA checking account, then wrote a paper check out of the MetLife account and deposited it to my BoA account. It hasn’t actually cleared yet, of course, but I have enough money in my BoA account that I could transfer some of it into Marcus and get started.

So now I need to wait until after the Memorial Day weekend, see if the check clears, then transfer the rest of the MetLife money from BoA to Marcus. And I then want to see about taking some of the Marcus money and putting it into a CD, since they have CDs paying around 5% right now.

I’ve already set up the Marcus account in Quicken, which is another thing I couldn’t do with the MetLife account, so that’s cool. And I have the iOS app for it installed, though there’s not much point to that.

Of course, now that everything is set up, I’ve realized that Marcus maybe isn’t great as an emergency account, since the only way I can get money out of it is to transfer it to a linked account, and I only have it linked to my BoA account. So if the BoA account got locked or hacked or whatever, I’d have no way to extract money from Marcus. But, hey, we’ll cross that bridge if/when we come to it.

Looking back at some of my old notes, I see that I looked at HYSAs back in 2021, and found that they were only paying around 0.5% interest, which is the same as I was getting from MetLife at the time. So I guess that partially explains why I sat on the MetLife account for so long. When rates were lower, it was making about the same as a HYSA or CD.

So that was all a bunch of long-winded old man financial stuff. I remember, when I was younger, often zoning out whenever my dad started talking about his finances. (At some point, as I got older, I started paying attention, of course, and learned a lot from him.)

My other big “old man thoughts” instigator recently was listening to this episode of .NET Rocks, with Shawn Wildermuth, talking about being a senior software developer. Shawn is 55, so he’s around my age (as are Carl and Richard, I think). All three of those guys are self-employed, though, so their issues are a little different from mine. But there’s still the challenge of being an older guy doing software development, trying to keep current and stay interested, being an “individual contributor” later in your career vs. going into management, and other interesting stuff.

Along those lines, I tried to keep up with the stuff coming out of Microsoft Build this week, but it was a lot. It’s kind of funny how they’re talking about all this cutting-edge stuff, and I’m still working on stuff in our Dynamics AX 2012 system, on my Windows Server 2012 R2 VM. And also working on ASP.NET web services using .NET Framework 4.7, from 2018. Oh well, at least I’m using Visual Studio 2022 for that (though it’s on a Windows 10 VM). Someday, I’ll work on something in .NET 8, on a Windows 11 PC, but that probably won’t be until I’m 64.

And my last old man thought for the day, since this thing has gotten way too long: At work, we got to see our remodeled space yesterday. (I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned it on the blog before, but our company is in the process of remodeling everything in our building. My group is currently in a temporary space while our regular space is remodeled.) Our old space wasn’t great, but the cubicles were reasonably large, with fairly high walls on three sides. The new cubicles are… not great. There’s a single sit/stand desk, with a surface that seems to be around 3′ wide by 2′ deep, with two arms to mount monitors on. And there’s a two-drawer rolling file cabinet under it. The cubicle walls are a little higher than the ones in our temp area, but nowhere near as high as our old cubes. Around 4 feet high, I think? Also: I’m not sure there are any regular Ethernet ports in the cubicles. There are a couple of AC outlets, and what I assume is a USB power outlet, but I didn’t see anything that looked like a network port. I’m not sure if that means that they’re hoping we can get by with just wifi, or if I missed something.

Anyway, I’m thinking about all the adjustments I’m going to have to make. The old cubicles had L-shaped desks, with three drawers on either side, for six total, plus a bookcase above the desk. Now, I’ll just have two drawers. And about half the desk space I had previously. (Or maybe a third? It’s a lot less either way.) Over the years, I’ve cut down on the amount of physical crap I keep at my desk, but I’m still wired to want/need more stuff than the younger folks typically do. I had around a dozen tech books at my old cubicle; they’re all in a box in the back seat of my car now. I’d assumed I’m be able to keep them at my new cubicle, but it doesn’t look like there will be room. I guess they’re getting recycled. I’ve noticed that some of the younger guys in our group have literally nothing on their desks, aside from their laptops and monitors. I need to figure out how to work that way.

Kobo, Pocket, Instapaper, and some Wheel of Time thoughts

I finished reading Winter’s Heart yesterday, the ninth Wheel of Time book. I do want to start the next one, Crossroads of Twilight, soon, but before I do, I want to catch up with the last couple of episodes of The Wheel Weaves podcast. A lot happens in the last few chapters of Winter’s Heart, and I feel like I need someone to walk me through it so I can understand it a bit better.

I haven’t been actively reading Sylas K Barrett’s “Reading The Wheel of Time” series over at reactor.com, but I noticed that I’m now further along in the series than him, since his latest article is on chapter 25 of Winter’s Heart. The Wheel Weaves, on the other hand, is currently on book 12, so I have a while to go before I catch up with them.

Anyway, I thought I’d take a break from book-reading today and experiment with reading some short fiction and newspaper/magazine articles on my Kobo, via Pocket. Overall, I think I’ve decided that I like the experience of using Pocket on Kobo, but there are a few caveats.

I started this process by taking a couple of New York Times articles, saving them to Pocket, then reading them on the Kobo. That worked out fine. Then, I thought I’d see if I could take a few things I’d saved in Instapaper and read those in Pocket. The first thing I discovered is that Pocket seems to have two modes of saving articles: for some articles, it saves a readable view of the article in Pocket, and for others, it just saves a bookmark. For the latter type, those don’t sync down to the Kobo. Pocket calls these two modes “article view” and “view original” apparently.

One idea that I had for saving Instapaper articles to Pocket was to just hit the Pocket button on the webpage for Instapaper’s readable version of the article. But that just triggered the bookmarking mode for Pocket, and didn’t save the readable version. So that was useless. And I found that, for a few things I’d saved in Instapaper, either the original article had disappeared from the web, or the original article could also not be saved to Pocket except as a bookmark. That was an interesting experiment, and I think it convinced me that Instapaper is still superior to Pocket as a general read-it-later service, since I don’t think I’ve ever found anything that Instapaper refused to save to its own database. Pocket definitely works for the New York Times and the New Yorker, but it’s only about 50/50 on other pages I’ve tried.

So, anyway, having saved a few things to Pocket, I did some reading on the Kobo. I found that the experience was pretty good, with a few caveats. The biggest issue is that I realized that you can’t highlight Pocket articles on the Kobo. That’s maybe not a big thing really, but it is something I’d like to be able to do.

It’s occurred to me that, for longer articles, I could save the Instapaper version to an .epub file, then transfer that over to the Kobo via Calibre (or Google Drive). There’s a point where I’m jumping through too many hoops just to read a short story though. I may spend some more time messing around, but not right now.

Meanwhile, I’m thinking about using the Kobo to read the next WoT book. I’ve already copied it from my Amazon account, into Calibre, then over to Kobo. (The WoT books are sold without DRM, so I don’t need Calibre to remove DRM, just to convert them to EPUB.) On Kobo, I’d lose the X-Ray feature that the Kindle has, which sometimes comes in useful with WoT, given the large cast of characters. But X-Ray is often useless, and I’ve taken to looking up characters in the WoT Compendium app on my phone instead.

I’m not sure if I spent more time today actually reading, vs. playing around with Instapaper, Pocket, Calibre, etc., but I did have a relatively pleasant morning, so I guess that’s good either way.

thoughts on the Kobo Libra Colour

I got my Kobo Libra Colour in the mail on Friday, and started setting it up and playing around with it over the weekend. I didn’t get to play with it as much as I would have liked though, since I was sick and didn’t have much energy. Still, I wanted to write up some initial thoughts.

Overall, I like the device. But I’m not sure if it’s good enough to pull me away from my Kindle and the Amazon Kindle ecosystem. I think I’ll probably keep using my Kindle as my primary E-Reader, and maybe use the Kobo as a secondary device for certain kinds of books and documents. I’m really not sure how it’ll settle out.

To get into the specifics, let’s start with the obvious stuff that makes it different from the Kindle. First, color: The color screen is nice, though obviously it doesn’t compare to, say, an iPad. It’s nice to see book covers in color, but it’s not necessary and it doesn’t add much value, really.

I thought the color screen might make the device usable for reading comics, but my experiments with that aren’t encouraging. The device is too small for normal-size American comics to look good on it. It’s about the right size for manga, but I didn’t have much luck with that. I had a couple of DRM-free manga volumes that I thought I’d try, but they didn’t work well. I might try that again with different files, but I’m not in a rush to do that.

The second main feature would be the stylus. You can use the stylus to take notes, with the built-in notebook app, or to highlight passages in books and mark them up. I tried the notebook app, and I don’t think I’m going to get much use out of it. I think I’ve gotten to the point where using a pen just isn’t that comfortable for me anymore, whether it’s a “real” pen and paper, or a stylus and tablet. And I think both the device size and the texture of the screen make using the stylus a bit harder than using a regular pen and paper, for me. I did get a little kick out of how much it reminded me of my old Newton though!

I haven’t tried a Kindle Scribe, so I can’t compare it to that. I’ve occasionally thought about getting a Scribe, and that’s still in the back of my mind as a possibility, but I’d say I’m a little less enthusiastic about trying it now.

The stylus cost $70, so I should probably return it, but I’m probably going to hang onto it. Maybe I’ll find a good use case for it at some point.

So I think I’ve figured out that the two main features that set it apart from my Kindle Paperwhite aren’t compelling enough to get me to switch away from the Kindle.

There are a bunch of other interesting features on the device that aren’t specific to the Libra Colour, but to Kobo in general, and I think some of those are quite interesting and maybe useful. I’ve had a chance to set up a few of those and try them out, so I’ll go through some of them here.

  1. Google Drive and Dropbox integration: I set up the Google Drive integration. (I assume the Dropbox support is similar.) This feature let’s you take books from your cloud storage account, and copy them down to the device from there. So it’s mostly just another way of getting books onto the device. It works well, though copying books over USB is more convenient for me, really.
  2. OverDrive integration: This is a really nice feature. OverDrive is integrated right into the device OS, so you can borrow library books directly from the device. Mind you, it’s not really difficult to borrow books via the OverDrive web site and send them to my Kindle, but this does make it a little easier. When I mentioned above that I might find myself using the Kobo as a secondary device for certain use cases, this it the one I’m most likely to use it for, I think: borrowing and reading library books.
  3. Pocket integration: This is interesting. I’d prefer Instapaper integration, since that’s my read-it-later service of choice, but I do have a free Pocket account, so maybe I’ll try it out and see how it works. The Kobo might be a better device than my iPad for reading, say, a long New Yorker article. (It is possible to send articles to the Kindle with Instapaper, but it’s a bit of a hack.)

So that’s it for the oddball features. The most important thing, of course, is how well it works as a reading device. I’ve only done a little bit of reading on it so far. I copied the Wheel of Time book that I’m currently reading over to it, and read part of a chapter. It worked well. I could increase the font size to something that worked for me. The display is bright enough, clear enough, and easy on the eyes. I’m not sure that it’s better than the Kindle, but it might be.

There are a couple of things that I have on the Kindle that I will probably miss (to some extent) on the Kobo. The first would be Goodreads integration. That’s not really a big deal, but it’s nice. The second would be the X-Ray feature on the Kindle. That’s really a hit-or-miss feature, but when it works, it’s nice. Especially on the Wheel of Time books, it’s nice to be able to use it to look up a character name. It is really hit-or-miss though. I often find myself going to an external reference. (I’ve been getting a lot of use out of the WoT Compendium iOS app lately.)

One more topic I should really cover is how it works with Calibre. I haven’t spent enough time on that yet though. I’ve made sure that Calibre recognizes it and lets me copy books down, but nothing more than that. I may come back to that in a later blog post.

So overall, this thing was an unnecessary expenditure, and I probably won’t get much use out of it. I don’t know, though. I get so much use out of the Kindle that it makes sense to try an alternative and see how it works for me. And my vision is so screwed up at this point that it’s worth experimenting to find the device that works best for me and my old broken eyes.

Kobo Libra Colour

I got kinda curious about Kobo earlier this year, after buying an ebook bundle of Kobo books. I’m perfectly happy with my Kindle, but I’m always curious about other hardware and software, whether it’s computers or phones or tablets or whatever. I couldn’t really talk myself into buying a Kobo back then, but Kobo has just released two color e-readers, and that was enough to get me to break down and buy one, just for the novelty of trying out an e-reader with color.

I got the higher-end one, the Kobo Libra Colour. And I also got the stylus for it, and a case, so I’m spending around $350 on it, which is a lot for something I don’t need and might not get much use out of, but, well, I can afford it. I get a lot of use out of my Kindle, so if I find that I like the Kobo more than the Kindle, then it was worth spending the money.

And I’m curious about the stylus. I can’t really see myself using the Kobo as a notebook on a regular basis, but it’ll be interesting to try it out and see how it works. The last time I regularly used a handheld/tablet/whatever with a stylus was probably my Palm i705, in 2002.

The new models are being released on April 30th, so I’m assuming mine will show up in early May. I’ll post some thoughts about it after I’ve received it and had a chance to play around with it a bit.

Going down a NY Times rabbit hole

I have an old friend who subscribes to the print edition of the NY Times. She saw an article in the Book Review last week that she thought I’d be interested in. Her initial impulse was to cut it out and “snail mail” it to me. She’s done this occasionally in the past, and it’s always nice to get an unexpected letter in the mail with an article clipped out of a newspaper. That’s not something people do much these days, but it’s kind of cool.

She’s gotten a little more familiar with modern technology over the last few years, though, so instead she texted me and asked if I still subscribed to the Times. I told her I had a digital subscription. So she then gave me the page number and title of the article, so I could look it up and read it. The article in question was this review of the new book from Gabriel García Márquez. I’d already heard about it, and that it was being published against his wishes, and that it probably wasn’t very good. The review was interesting, and basically confirmed my belief that I really don’t want to read it.

My friend also told me that there was a little sidebar article under the heading “From Our Archives” that I would find interesting. And here’s where I went down a rabbit hole. You can find most of the articles from the print version of the Times by going to the Today’s Paper link. From there, I got to the Book Review section from March 31. But I guess the “From Our Archives” thing was just a filler sidebar that they didn’t bother putting online. So them I remembered that there was a way of accessing a facsimile of the printed edition. That led me to the replica edition that’s available via PressReader. It seems that you need a print subscription to access that though; you can’t get to it with just a digital subscription. I remembered too that I can get some stuff from PressReader with my library card, but I logged in that way, and found that it doesn’t include NY Times access.

Then, later, I remembered TimesMachine. That does work for digital subscribers, but it only goes as far as 2002. In the end, I decided to stop by the library today and browse their print copy of last week’s Sunday paper. In it, I found that the sidebar in question was basically a summary of the 1988 Thomas Pynchon review of Love in the Time of Cholera. I can find that review a few ways. A web search led me to this archived page. A slightly different search led me to this page, which includes a link to the TimesMachine version. (And now I realize that I can print out that archive version and snail mail it to my friend, so she can see it too! Back to the old ways…)

And all that searching also led me to The Essential Gabriel García Márquez, an article from almost exactly a year ago, which serves as a summary of his life and a guide to his books. I should make a point of coming back to that, at some point. I’ve only read One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera.

So that’s my NY Times rabbit hole for today. This also got me reminiscing about my college years and early post-college years, which are, now, more than 25 years ago! I first read One Hundred Years of Solitude for a contemporary literature class, and Love in the Time of Cholera on my own, probably over the summer between my junior and senior years. (It was published in April 1988, apparently, and I remember buying it as a “new release” in hardcover, so that makes sense.)

And I’m pretty sure this friend is familiar with Márquez because I gave her a copy of one or the other of those books, or at least had a conversation with her about them. Which is why she thought of me when she saw the review last weekend. So that was all fun and a nice reminder of old friends and old books.

Meanwhile, in our current timeline, I’m still shamelessly hip-deep in The Path of Daggers, the eighth Wheel of Time book. All this Times browsing got me wondering if the Times ever reviewed Path of Daggers. A little searching reveals that it did! Here’s the article on TimesMachine, and here’s the full text.  It’s interesting to see a mainstream review of this book from back when it was published, in 1998. It’s less snarky than I would have expected from the Times. I liked the summary of the internet fandom around the series at the time: “There is an Internet Usenet group devoted to speculations about its plot lines and its puzzles…” Usenet! I hadn’t thought about Usenet in years! There are, of course, Tolkien comparisons. That’s inevitable. And there are some observations about the book (and the series as a whole) that are pretty interesting. (And no spoilers, which I appreciate.)

baseball, and various office complaints

Baseball season started yesterday, so I thought I’d write up a few thoughts. I paid for MLB.TV this year, at the full price of $150. (That’s after paying just $50 last year, since the season was half-over when I signed up.) Hopefully, I’ll watch enough baseball to justify that price. I still can’t watch many Mets or Yankees games, since YouTube TV doesn’t include Yes or SNY. But at least now I can watch the random games that show up on ESPN and other basic-cable channels too. Anyway, I guess I’ll try to be a Phillies fan again this year, since I can watch all (or most) of their games on MLB.TV.

Today, I listened to a bit of the 1 PM Mets game radio stream, and am now watching the 3 PM Phillies game, both via MLB.TV on my computer, while I am (ostensibly) working. Later, I’ll watch at least some of the 8 PM Yankees game that’ll be on Apple TV+. So, plenty of baseball.

And as a follow-up to my moving day post from a couple of weeks ago: We are now in our new temporary space. The cubicles are the same style as the ones we had in our old space, but unfortunately they’re the “low wall” version, so we’re all essentially in an open-plan office now (or very close to it). I can’t say I’m happy about it, but it hasn’t been too bad so far. Most of the folks in my group are pretty quiet. And I’m not sure if I’m more likely to catch COVID (or whatever) in this space vs. the old one, but it’s probably not that much of a difference.

One weird thing about these cubicles is that they only have a single network port. That seems crazy to me, but I guess it was fine for whoever was previously in these cubicles. I scrounged a four-port switch from someone else, and have been using that, but it’s been iffy and I’ve lost my network connection a few times. I opened a support ticket to see if I could get a new switch, but that’s mostly led me into some bureaucracy, so now I need to decide if I want to keep pushing on that, or give up and just buy a $15 switch from Amazon.

My other dumb problem at work over the last few weeks is that, for some reason, the Verizon cell signal has been really bad, at certain times and in certain places. It seems to be fine early in the morning, then gets worse as the day goes on. And it’s worst, for some reason, when I’m sitting in my car at lunch time. So my habit of streaming a 10-minute meditation on Calm or Insight Timer in my car after lunch isn’t working out so well. (And that meditation time is even more important, when I have no privacy at all when I’m at my desk.) So I need to plan around that. I can still use the plain vanilla timer and do a silent meditation, but the guided meditations usually work better for me.

Oh, and I can’t do an advance order with Starbucks or Dunkin for my post-lunch coffee either, on some days, and that’s a big inconvenience. (I joke, kinda, but waiting in line to order coffee is a pain in the butt.)

moving day

My company has been gradually remodeling our office building, and the remodel has finally hit my group. The plan is to move us to a temporary space, on the other side of the building, for a couple of months, then move us back when our space is done.

Today was our final day in the old space. We all had to pack up our stuff and label our computer equipment and chairs. And hopefully it’ll all be on the other side of the building when we’re next in the office, on Tuesday. I’ve been with the company for more than ten years, working in the same cubicle, so, theoretically, I should probably have accumulated a lot of crap. In reality, I managed to fit nearly all of my stuff into one plastic crate. The stuff that didn’t fit was: (1) my Batman statue, and (2) my modest collection of programming books.

I’ve been mentally comparing this to the last big office move I had to make, at NMS, in November 2007. That one was a doozy! (Probably best not to get too deep into reminiscing about that. I could really find myself in a spiral if I go down that road…) Anyway, I had a ton of stuff to move back then. Now, it’s mostly just a bit of hardware, and cables, and some stuff I need to keep myself from falling apart (tissues, cough drops, aspirin, etc.).

I only have about a half-dozen printed computer books now, in the office. And I don’t really use them. They’re mostly on old tech that I needed to learn to do some maintenance programming, like SharePoint 2013, and VSTO, and other random stuff. I thought about throwing them all out. For now, they’re in a box in the back of my car. Maybe I’ll get up the nerve to move them from the car to the dumpster over the weekend.

I’m pretty sure our temp space is going to look like our current space, with similar size cubicles. I guess I’ll find out next week. When they move us back, into the remodeled space, I’m a little worried that we’re going to have smaller cubicles, with lower walls. That seems to be the way they’re going with the other remodeled spaces I’ve seen. Or maybe they’ll take into account that we’re programmers, and we need a bit of peace and quiet to get out work done, and give us higher-walled cubicles. (Probably not, but I can hope…)

I’ve still got a chip on my  shoulder about the whole “return to office” thing. There’s a reasonable amount of evidence that office mandates don’t help companies make more money, and they certainly don’t make employees happier or more productive. Oh well. At least I still get to work from home on Mondays and Fridays!

no more cable TV

After plenty of dithering back & forth (see here and here), I finally went ahead and canceled my cable TV service today. And returned my cable card to Optimum, so there’s no going back now.

My TiVo still works, without the cable card, so I can at least finish watching the backlog of stuff I have on there. But eventually, I’ll have to cancel the TiVo service (which renews in October), wipe the TiVo, and recycle it. (Or find somebody to buy it, which seems unlikely.)

Canceling cable was a bit of a pain, but not as bad as I’d thought it would be. The phone call took about 15 minutes. The rep made one attempt to get me to stick with the service, by offering me $25 off for three months. If she’d made it $25 off for a whole year, I might would have accepted that and canceled YouTube TV instead. But I don’t really want to just kick the can down the road by three months.

Returning the cable card was pretty easy too. It turns out that Optimum now has a store quite close to me, in a strip mall on the Somerville Circle.  There was no one else in the store when I got there, so I got in and out pretty quick. There was a half-hearted attempt to get me to upgrade my internet connection while I was there, but I said I was fine, and they said OK.

(And then I stopped at Steck’s and got a corned beef Reuben to take home for lunch. I hadn’t been to Steck’s in a long time, but they’re in the same strip mall, and it’s almost St. Patrick’s Day, so it seemed appropriate.)

So, that’s that. I’m not 100% satisfied with YouTube TV, but it’s good enough for now. I think I’ve decided to stick with YTTV for three months, at least, since it’s $10 off for the first three months. After that, I’ll decide if I’m sticking with it, switching to Hulu + Live TV, or giving up on “regular” TV altogether.

Some follow-up, on a nice Sunday

I haven’t blogged in almost a month, and I have a few things I want to write about, so this is going to be a multi-topic catch-up post. And hopefully it won’t be too long, or take me too long to write. But we’ll see how that goes.

Taxes

I filed my taxes today. I used the H&R Block software that I’ve been using (on and off) since (at least) 1997. (I just poked around on my hard drive to try to find the earliest docs from TaxCut, and I found an installer for the 1997 version. At some point, they dropped the “TaxCut” name, and now it’s just H&R Block.) I owed less than I usually have, in recent years. I’m not sure why. And I seem to have reached the point in my life where I’m not obsessing too much about the tax rules and whether or not I’m fully in compliance with them. There were a few things on both the Federal and NJ returns that I wasn’t 100% sure about, but I didn’t spend a lot of time researching them and double-checking them. Maybe I overpaid a little, or maybe I underpaid a little. Life is too short to worry about it too much.

The Wheel of Time

I finished reading A Crown of Swords on Friday. And I’m likely to start The Path of Daggers today. A Crown of Swords was book 7, and there are 14 books in the series, so I’m now halfway done! (Unless you count New Spring, the prequel novel, which I’m sure I’ll slot in somewhere, so maybe I’m not quite halfway through the whole thing, but I’m halfway through the main series.)

I’ve been listening to The Wheel Weaves podcast as I’ve been reading ACoS, and I’ve enjoyed it enough that I signed up for their Patreon (though only at the $3/month level). It’s a fun podcast to listen to, and it’s nice when they point out stuff that I missed, or have an interpretation of something that’s different from my own.

I finished ACoS in just over a month, so it’s starting to look like I might be able to finish the whole series by the end of this year, if I can keep up this pace. I know that’s not likely, and that life will probably get in the way at some point, or I’ll get tired of the series and switch to something else for a while. But right now, I’m perfectly happy just reading the books back to back.

Streaming Services

I signed up for YouTube TV about a week ago. I’m not sure if I’ll stick with it, but I’m starting to get more comfortable with the idea of giving up on my TiVo Bolt and what’s left of my cable TV service. (Which is just the broadcast channels, for $50/month, per my previous post.)

There are good and bad points to YouTube TV, vs cable/TiVo. On the bad side, the DVR interface isn’t nearly as nice as TiVo’s. Nor is the program guide. I guess I’ve been spoiled by TiVo’s great user interface (even though I’ve complained about it at times).

The DVR lets you add a series, but has no configuration beyond that. So I added NCIS, so I could get the new episodes, but now it’s also recording every other single episode of NCIS that airs on any channel, at any time. And since NCIS has been on for 21 seasons and almost 500 episodes, that’s a lot. But DVR space is unlimited, and in the cloud, so I don’t really have to worry about that. And I just pulled up the DVR interface, to see if it could tell me how many episodes of NCIS it’s recorded in the last week, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to see that. So that’s another annoyance with the DVR.

And for the program guide and the live channel interface, you can mark certain channels as favorites, so they’ll show at the top of the list, so that’s nice. But that’s about the only good thing about the interface. It’s hard to jump forward in time, compared to TiVo. You can go forward a page at a time, but it’s slow, and there’s no way to jump ahead a full day, like there is on TiVo. In fact, I think you can only go forward by 24 hours, total.

Also, fast-forwarding to skip commercials on DVR recordings is a lot less convenient than on TiVo. Of course, there’s no auto-skip, like there is on TiVo, but that doesn’t always work on TiVo anyway, so I’m OK with that. And there’s no full-screen fast-forward either; you can only see a thumbnail of the content as you’re fast-forwarding through it.

In terms of the actual channel line-up, it’s interesting to have the usual basic cable channels back again, after having dropped them a couple of years ago. My first impression is that cable has gotten even worse since then. About the only channel that seems to be sticking to it’s original mission is TCM. They still seem to be showing classic movies, and just classic movies. And I assume they’re still commercial-free, though I haven’t checked that yet.

Looking at some other channels, IFC is currently showing an Ace Ventura movie. (Definitely not fitting into their original prestige “independent film” category.) And Sundance TV, which should also be showing quality independent films, is running Andy Griffith and NCIS reruns. So it seems like a lot of the channels on cable are just showing miscellaneous reruns of random old TV shows.

In terms of interesting stuff that I wasn’t getting from Optimum, there’s The Daily Show on Comedy Central, where Jon Stewart has recently returned to hosting, though only one day a week. And I could watch that on Paramount+ anyway. And I can catch up on Rick & Morty now, but, now that I’m checking, I guess I can watch that on Hulu. So I’m not sure there’s anything that I really need the cable channels for.

I still kind of want access to broadcast channels, though, for news and sports. I should mention that there’s a lot of sports available on YouTube TV, mostly basketball and hockey right now. I have no particular interest in either of those sports though. I might find access to sports stuff handy once baseball season starts up. (Though for that, I did just let my MLB.TV subscription renew. And the only regular games I can’t watch through that are Mets and Yankees, and YouTube TV doesn’t have either the Mets’ SportsNet NY channel or the Yankees YES channel for the Yankees, so there might not be much baseball to watch on YouTube TV, really.)

There are two channels I’m currently getting through Optimum that I don’t get from YouTube TV: News 12 and MeTV. I don’t watch a lot of MeTV, but I do like Svengoolie, so I’ll miss that, but it’s not a deal-breaker. And I like having a 24/7 local NJ news network, but I can probably live without it.

So, overall, I’m not super-satisfied with the value I’m getting out of YouTube TV, but it’s probably better than the value I’m getting out of my $50/month Optimum basic service. Optimum bills on the calendar month, so I’ve already paid for March. So I might call to cancel at some point before the end of this month, and give it up then.

After that, I’m not sure if I’ll stick with YouTube TV, or eventually wean myself off of the whole idea of live broadcast TV. I’ve spent some time thinking about it, and I can really follow everything I need without it. I can get the local NJ PBS news through the PBS app and/or on YouTube. And I can still get local NY news through various other means. (I’m pretty sure I can watch the local ABC news on Hulu and the local CBS news on Paramount+.)

So, wow, that was a lot of rambling on about TV. I didn’t really intend to write so much. (Sorry.) It’s a nice day out, and I’ve gone out for two walks already, and I even have a window open for the first time in a while. It’s getting close to lunch time, so I should start thinking about that, and maybe another walk, this time with a light coat! (It’s 60° out!)

 

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.