almost cord-cutting

I’ve been thinking about canceling my cable TV service for quite a while now. But I can never quite talk myself into it. I finally managed to at least convince myself to drop back from the “Optimum Value” package to the “Broadcast Basic” package, and I called and took care of that today. The math on my cable bill is complicated, but the change should save me somewhere between $50 and $70 per month.

Broadcast Basic is the tier that just gets you broadcast channels, plus News 12. And at this point, that’s about 90% of my cable TV viewing. I’ll also watch stuff on TCM, BBCA, and SyFy occasionally, but not that often. Not enough to justify $50 or $70 every month.

I was pleasantly surprised that Optimum didn’t make me work too hard to do this. They didn’t try to get me to keep the old package, or put me on hold, or disconnect me or anything. All told, it took about 15 minutes.

For streaming video, I’m now paying for Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Disney+, and Apple TV+. So there’s plenty to watch there. Of course, I’m also tempted to sign up for Paramount+, for the Star Trek stuff, and HBO Max, for the DC stuff, but I’m not too tempted.

paying for Pinboard

I’ve been using Pinboard as my primary bookmarking service since 2010. When the service first started up, the creator (Maciej Ceglowski) charged a one-time fee to open an account. Since then, he’s switched over to a yearly subscription model, but all of the old-timers (like me) have been grandfathered in. And we still are, but Maciej sent out an email recently politely asking us old-timers to consider switching over to the subscription model. So I went ahead and did that today, paying $51 for 3 years.

Pinboard has been a pretty good low-key service over the last ten years, but I’ve had some frustration with it. It’s really just run by Maciej, on his own, so he can only do so much. There’s no official iOS client (or Mac or Windows client), just the bare bones web site. And the API that third-party developers can use has been pretty iffy of late. I briefly considered switching to raindrop.io instead, and I might still experiment with that, but Pinboard is good enough for me, for now.

Even before I got the email about switching to a subscription, I’d been meaning to write a blog post about Pinboard. I’ve made some changes in the way I’m using it, and I thought it would be a good idea to write some stuff about that.

First, the Pinboard bookmarklet stopped working in Firefox a couple of weeks ago. (The developer is aware of the issue.) That was kind of annoying, but it got me looking at Firefox extensions for Pinboard. The last time I’d done that, I didn’t find any that seemed to be worth using (vs the bookmarklet). But I have now found a pretty good one and have started using it. It doesn’t really offer much beyond what the bookmarklet would do, but it works fine.

Second, the iOS app I use to save stuff to Pinboard, Pushpin, has been acting up lately. Trying to refresh my bookmarks almost always results in a timeout. I’d stumbled across a new app, called Pins, and decided to try that out. Initially, that didn’t seem to work at all, but it turns out that Maciej was just having trouble with the API that weekend. Once the API started working again, Pins started working fine. I’ve since paid the $10 to unlock the full version of Pins. I still have Pushpin on my iPhone & iPad too, but I think I’ll try to start using Pins instead now, and see how well it holds up.

On my Mac, I’ve been using an app called Spillo to help organize my Pinboard bookmarks. Spillo hasn’t been updated since 2017, I think, but it still works. And the new Pins app also has a Mac version, so I’ve installed that too, though I haven’t had a chance to play with it much yet.

I’m the kind of weirdo who spends way too much time organizing and maintaining my bookmark collection. I have a little over 17,500 bookmarks in Pinboard, and really there’s no good reason for that. Of those, 1700 are still marked “unread”. The general idea of the unread status is that I stumbled across something that I’ll want to read later, but I’ve clearly just let it turn into a link graveyard. And, for the “read” ones, the purpose of bookmarking them is usually that they contain something that I think I might want to reference later. Most of the time, that never happens. I bookmark a page and never return to it. But having all this stuff bookmarked does come in handy sometimes.

There’s a second tier for Pinboard accounts, where Pinboard attempts to archive the actual content of all the pages that you bookmark, so you can do full-text search on your collection, and so you can access content that might have disappeared from the web. When I switched to a paying subscription today, I didn’t bother going for that extra functionality, though I did think about it. I do have a lot of dead links in my Pinboard account, but honestly, that’s fine. (One of my pointless rainy day tasks is to identify dead links in Pinboard and delete them. This doesn’t really serve any useful purpose, but I guess it keeps me out of trouble for a little while. Spillo can identify dead links, so that’s what I’ve been using for that task.)

more frog boiling

I’ve had a follow-up to my previous frog boiling post kicking around in the back of my head for the past couple of weeks, and I think maybe it’s time to write it up. This is liable to turn into a massive Old Man Yells at Cloud post. You’ve been warned.

First, to follow up on the last post, I still haven’t decided what to do with my cable TV service, though I’m leaning towards dropping back to the “Broadcast Basic” package. I’m not currently watching a lot of TV shows outside of the regular broadcast channels. The biggest one would probably be Doctor Who on BBC America, but I could just buy that from Apple. That’s what I did for the last few seasons, when BBCA wasn’t part of my cable package. (Side note: I didn’t much like the first two episodes of this season, but it’s really picked up steam since. The last two episodes, the ones with Tesla and the Judoon, where both a lot of fun.) Anyway, I’m going to wait for my next bill, see how much the prices actually go up, and them decide.

The next thing on my list is my web hosting plan with IONOS (aka 1&1). I’ve been with them since 2003. Their monthly cost went up to $11 in 2017. I got a notice earlier this month saying that it’ll be going up to $14 next month. I guess I’ll still be sticking with them. I could get cheaper hosting, if I wanted to, but it’d be a hassle to move, and I haven’t had any issues with IONOS recently. I did just move two of my six domains to the “included” domains that come with my package, so that’ll save me the renewal cost on them. I current have “andrewhuey” and “andyhuey” in the .org, .com, and .net TLDs. I really only need andrewhuey.com and andrewhuey.net. I’m not using the “andyhuey” domains, and I’m not using either .org domain. I’m a little worried that the yearly cost for the .org domains might go up if the .org sale goes through, so I should probably just drop those.

One more item is my AmEx card. I’ve had it since college, but they’re raising the annual fee on it to $150 this year, and that’s kind of crazy for a card that I use primarily as a backup card. I should really drop it and just get a random no-fee card to use as my backup. I have this weird sentimental attachment to it though. It doesn’t make any sense, I know, but I’ve had it for so long.

And of course I’m still considering dropping my monthly comic book order with Westfield Comics. But I can’t quite talk myself into that either. I did manage to drop one book last month (Nightwing). Maybe I’ll talk myself into dropping Batman and Detective this month. My backlog just keeps getting bigger.

Lastly, the price of Flickr Pro is going up. It was $100 for two years when I last renewed it. It’ll be going up to $118 for two years now. My subscription doesn’t renew until March 2021, so I don’t need to be in a hurry on this one. And there’s a deal where I can renew for another two years now at the old $100 rate. If I do that, I won’t have to think about it again until 2023. So I’ll probably do that. I don’t upload that much stuff to Flickr anymore, but I’ve got a bunch of stuff up there.

Well, I guess that’s all I had to get off my chest today. I thought this was going to wind up a lot longer, and possibly a bit angrier. In the end, I guess my attitude is more of a “meh, what are you gonna do?” kind of thing.

The boiling frog

I’ve been thinking about the boiling frog metaphor a lot lately, both with regards to small things and big things. This blog post is going to be about some (relatively) small things. (And also, a bit, about the sunk cost fallacy.)

My cable bill this month had a notice of a rate increase, starting next month. It’s a pretty big increase, both on my TV service and my internet service. But there’s also a note that says that existing customers won’t see their rate increase by more than $14.50. The wording on this was a bit hard to parse. It said “rate” and not “bill” so it wasn’t clear if it meant that no individual charge would go up by more than $14.50, or if the total increase wouldn’t be more than $14.50. I called to ask about it, and of course it’s the former. So it should be two $14.50 increases, plus a handful of fee increases, mostly in the $1 to $2 range. So my overall bill should go up by maybe $35. If they’d actually done the full rate increase all at once, my bill would be going up by more than $60, and that would likely have moved me to (finally) drop my cable TV subscription. But the $35 increase isn’t necessarily going to push me to do anything rash. Every time I think about dropping cable, I remember that I’ve got a TiVo which would become useless if I drop cable. But I bought that back in 2015, so I’ve certainly got my money’s worth out of it, and I shouldn’t worry about that particular sunk cost.

There’s some talk about the new rates on the DSLReports forums. Nobody’s happy about it, but for folks like me that only have one option for internet and TV, there’s not much you can do about it. I have no other option for internet, so I just have to pay whatever they charge and live with it. And I don’t think I’m ready to drop cable TV entirely, but I’m considering dropping back to Optimum’s “Broadcast Basic” package which is $25/month and just gets you the broadcast channels and a few others.

I did briefly consider dropping cable entirely and recycling the TiVo, but I still can’t talk myself into it. And, heck, I should really stop watching television entirely, since it’s probably going to give me Alzheimer’s. (I may be oversimplifying those study results. Still, it’s probably not good for me.)

Relating to boiling the frog, but not to anything else above: Boil the Frog is a neat service that generates a Spotify playlist linking any two artists together, in a (nearly) seamless way. I tried some random artists and got some interesting lists. The one linking Jimi Hendrix to Boards of Canada is nice.

Thinking about VPNs

I’ve been using Private Internet Access (PIA) for my VPN service for a while now. I’m reasonably happy with them, but they’ve been acquired by a company called Kape, which has a bit of a checkered history. It looks like this is… maybe fine? maybe not?  I don’t know. But it seems like it might be a good time to look into other VPN services, just in case.

Firefox just announced that they’re starting up their own VPN service. So that’s a pretty good candidate for me, since I generally trust those guys. It’s in beta right now, and only available for Windows, but they plan to make it available for Mac and iOS too. They’re partnering with a company named Mullvad on this, so that got me interested in maybe just looking at their VPN service. The Firefox service is supposed to be $5/month, at least to start. Mullvad is in Sweden, and charges €5 per month, which is a little more than $5, I think.

I also took another look at ProtonVPN, from the Proton Mail guys. They’re a little pricey, at $8/month for “Plus” which is probably what I’d need. If their $4/month “Basic” plan supported more than 2 devices, I’d probably switch to that. But I can’t really justify the $8/month plan, which is what I’d need to cover all my devices.

My PIA subscription is only $40/year, so about $3.33/month. (And their plan lets me use it on up to ten devices.) So, honestly, if I can keep trusting PIA, that’s probably my best bet.

I signed up for the wait list for the Firefox VPN beta, and if I get into that, maybe I’ll give it a try. But if they still only have the Windows client out when I get in, then it’s not going to do me much good, since I spend a lot more time on macOS and iOS these days (at least for personal use) than I do on Windows.

more Amazon stuff

I didn’t really intend to write two posts about Amazon in a row (previous post here), but two things caught my attention today:

  1. Amazon is going to try to switch their Prime shipping “guarantee” from two days to one day. That’s interesting, and maybe some of the issues I had with my last order were related to the changes they’re trying to make to get to one-day shipping. Personally, I don’t think it’s necessary. Two-day shipping is fine for me. (But I’m old. I grew up having to wait 4-6 weeks for anything I ordered through the mail. Two days is amazing!)
  2. I just tried to watch something on Prime video, only to see that it was “unavailable”. Then I poked around a bit, and everything on Prime video seems to be unavailable. So I went to my Amazon account to see if somehow I’d gotten dropped from Prime altogether. Right now, any attempt to navigate to the “your Prime account” section of Amazon’s site results in an error. I checked Twitter, and I’m not the only one getting errors on that right now. So that’s kind of interesting. My best guess would be that they’re rolling out some back-end changes related to Prime, and they screwed something up.

So my plan to kill the rest of the day watching an episode or two of Bosch on Amazon Prime Video has been torpedoed. I guess I’ll have to watch Netflix instead. (To be clear, I’m not complaining about any of this. Any time I start getting cranky because of something like this, I re-watch Weird Al’s First World Problems video.)

Amazon delivery shenanigans

I’ve been getting curious lately about some of the stuff that Amazon seems to be doing around package delivery. Like many people, I’m an Amazon Prime customer and I order a bunch of stuff from them. Generally, they’ve been using the US Postal Service for Prime deliveries (at least for me), which has always worked out fine. But lately, they seem to be doing more deliveries themselves. They seem to be setting up an interesting system for that, but they clearly haven’t worked out all the kinks yet.

I ordered a few small items on Friday of last week, and would have been fine with the usual two-day shipping, or even longer. I didn’t have an immediate need for any of the stuff I ordered. But they said the stuff would be delivered on Saturday. So, hey, one-day shipping. Cool.

The package didn’t show up with my normal mail on Saturday, but at some point Saturday evening, I got a notification on my phone that the package was “nine stops away” (or something like that), and gave me an estimated delivery time, and even the ability to see where the delivery driver was on a map. That last part was a little creepy, but OK. Anyway, about an hour later, I got a notification that the package had been delivered. So I went downstairs and looked for it, but it wasn’t there. Kind of weird to have such specific information about the driver’s route and the delivery time, but no actual package.

I checked to see what I was supposed to do to report a missing package, and they ask you to wait 36 hours before doing so. That kind of makes sense, if they’ve handed the package off to USPS, but if they’re delivering it themselves, and they’re apparently tracking the driver in real-time, that doesn’t make much sense. But I waited, and reported it missing on Monday night. They were cool about it, and refunded one of the items and sent me a replacement delivery for the other two.

So, guess what? Now it’s Tuesday, and the original package from Saturday shows up. Again, with the excessive level of tracking detail, where I can follow the driver around and all that. And this time, when the package is delivered, I also get a photo of it, sitting in the foyer of my apartment building.

And, of course, I also get the replacement package today too. Also from an Amazon delivery driver, with a photo of the package in the foyer. Though this one seems to be from a different driver, since it arrived a few hours after the first one. I guess this is good for me, since I now have extra stuff that I didn’t pay for. All things considered though, I’d rather have just gotten the original package in with my mail on Monday, without all this extra nonsense.

So it seems like they’re tracking their drivers all over the place, making them take photos of delivered packages, and also making them take photos of themselves now. Yet somehow, a package can still disappear into a black hole for three days. I don’t know, I can’t decide if this is a utopia or a dystopia we’re headed towards. (Maybe a little of both.)

Here’s an article from Vox, talking about the economics of Amazon’s two-day shipping. It’s pretty interesting. It’s also interesting to think about Amazon’s carbon footprint. They’re so big now, they can probably have a meaningful affect on that just by making small changes. (Though it can’t possibly be efficient for them to have two different drivers deliver something to my apartment building on the same day, just a few hours apart, can it?) I’m also kind of curious about the new Amazon Day thing, where you can choose to get all your packages on a specific day of the week. That could help cut down on excess packaging and multiple deliveries, so that’s a good thing.

The Internet Archive

Right now, if you donate to the Internet Archive, there’s a 2-for-1 match. I’ve been using links from the Wayback Machine to replace a lot of the broken links on my site recently, so I’d been meaning to send them a few bucks. A 2-for-1 match is a good excuse to actually do that. It’s easy to take something like archive.org for granted, but it’s not cheap to keep a site like that running.

Speaking of broken links, I’m continuing to clean them up, slowly. My broken links list is currently at 660. I’ve recently hit a vein of broken links related to “best of” lists from 2004. Some of those are gone forever. And John Vanderslice’s puttanesca recipe seems to have disappeared from the internet. No, wait, I found a copy. (I need to stop now and go to work…)

1&1 Ionos

I’ve been using 1&1 for web hosting since 2003. The cost went up last year, but I’ve stuck with them, partly out of laziness and partly because they’ve been reliable. They recently went through a merger and renamed themselves as 1&1 IONOS. I’m all for this rebranding; searching for “1&1” has always been a crapshoot, whether it’s in Google, my email, or my Evernote database. Whoever decided to name the company using one digit, an ampersand, and no actual letters clearly did not run that past an SEO guy. I think that maybe the guy who named the company “1&1” was stuck in the old “telephone book” mindset, where he wanted a name that would float to the top of most sort orders.

“IONOS” is a name that actually contains enough letters to form a unique search term, so for that alone, it’s way better than 1&1. I’m not entirely on board with the whole name being in capital letters though. That makes it seem like it’s an acronym, and (as far as I can tell) it’s not.

Instapaper Premium

Speaking of changes in paid internet services, Instapaper’s new owner has started charging for premium subscriptions again. When they were acquired by Pinterest, they discontinued premium subscriptions and made all features available for free. But the new owner needs to make some money off the service, so they’ve re-instituted Instapaper Premium. I went ahead and signed up for it, at $30/year. As with Flickr Pro, I don’t mind paying for a service, if it means I don’t have to put up with ads or spam or having my data sold off, and if it means that the service has a sustainable business model that will keep it from going under.