Initial Impressions After Switching From AT&T U-verse to AT&T TV

I’ve been an AT&T cable TV customer for about ten years. When we moved to our current community, we gladly dumped Comcast’s cable TV service that we had at the time. It’s been so long ago now that I don’t even remember the specific issues that we had. But we were pleased overall that U-verse was arguably the best cable service that we’ve had. (Though, as I wrote in 2013, I accurately predicted its end and its future.)

The merits of U-verse were many: it included a DVR that was easy to use. The channel line-up was easy to understand: all common channels like news or sports were all grouped together. The remote control was logically designed. Pausing, rewinding and skipping forward were obvious and useful in the amount of time that it went forward or back. (I remember having to “hack” the Comcast remote to enable a skip-forward function. What nonsense.)

However, U-verse did also have it’s issues. For example, the highest signal output that their cable box would produce was 720P. I have an Ultra HD SmartTV. Honestly, most of the time the U-verse picture looked crappy. I wasn’t very satisfied by that. Furthermore, the channel line-up seemed to become – over time – overrun with throw-away informercial channels. It seemed like there were a hundred to wade through. So my wife and I would sit down to watch TV, and despite there being hundreds of channels available, it felt like we had nothing to watch!

Then, in the last few months, we started to see U-verse become less reliable. Our shows would freeze or we’d lose the signal. I was starting to look at my options when I learned that AT&T was promoting a new service: AT&T TV. Basically, it’s a streaming service. If your SmartTV doesn’t have the AT&T TV app for it, you buy a small Android-based streaming box to connect to your TV via HDMI. The box itself comes with pre-installed apps for HBOmax, Netflix and YouTube. And to incentivize viewers, they sunsetted U-verse by declaring that they would no longer sell it.

So I read the writing on the wall and decided to take the plunge. By signing up, I would be saving over $100 per month over U-verse. That was one of my big complaints with U-verse. It had become ridiculously expensive. I could easily install the new networking gear myself, which was good, as I always hate the sloppy jobs the company installers do. And there’s COVID-19 to deal with too.

I called AT&T and placed my order. I had done a considerable amount of reading in advance so I knew what I wanted and how it would work. Apparently the service was so new they weren’t quite prepared for existing customers calling in to switch over. A sales representative had to call me back three hours later and go through the order. However, once they had me on the phone the process was easy. I was happy to receive the new customer perks without having to threaten or haggle.

The new equipment showed up the following Monday, late in the day. Wanting to have a quiet evening, I took a look inside the box but decided to wait until the next morning to do the install. The process was simple. Connect their streaming box to my TV and power it on. There was a minor hassle entering my network password and my account login info followed by waiting for a software update to load. But the process went smoothly and I had TV!

I’m writing this entry now about forty-eight hours after first turning it on. My experience so far has been both up and down. The positives? The picture quality is great! Finally content in true HD. The DVR is a “cloud” version, so they keep a copy of everything broadcast on some servers someplace for ninety days. So not only can I record as many shows as I like at once; but I can reach back in time to grab anything that I missed that was broadcast in the last ninety days. We’ve already taken advantage of that.

On the downside, the system is not set up for casual browsing. The guide isn’t particularly easy to read. The channels are tossed together in random sequence. Some things are grouped together, such as the premium movie channels. But sports, news and the like are tossed all over the place. AT&T TV also relies too much on the voice-activation gimmick. It’s helpful if I want to jump to a show that I know is on. But if I want to surf, it just gets in the way. There’s also some advanced features that are just missing, such as extending the recording time of a show. What basketball game has ever finished on time? The only work-around at this time is to record the following show. That’s minor league at best.

Another thing that has me pissed off is that some of my local channels are missing. I carefully reviewed the channel listing provided on the website. But there were no specifics regarding the local channels. Now I have to live without PBS or KQCA, which was available via U-verse. I’ve already complained but nobody knows when or if I’ll ever get them back. So while the service is cheaper, it’s clearly not quite as good as the old one, which is disappointing. If they fix the missing local channels, that would help quite a bit. I suppose we’ll get used to the rest of it. I just filled out a customer survey where I roasted them for the channel issue and usability. We’ll see if it makes a difference.

Maxim Dadashev Died Today

A boxer named Maxim Dadashev died today in Maryland. I’m not a fan of the sport but I’ve seen a lot of fights from my youth. It used to be that boxing was a big deal in America. There was a televised boxing card every Friday night. Men like Muhammad Ali were national figures. But as brutal as the sport is, it is rare for a boxer to die in the ring or of injuries from a fight.

So this news shook me up in a strange way. Yes, it’s sad for the dead boxer and his family. It shakes up the public. It must linger in the back of the minds of the boxers and their trainers.

But we’re forgetting an important actor in the drama. The boxer who won the match, Subriel Matias. What is to become of him? There’s really only one of two ways he can go. Back away from the death or head toward it. If he backs away that will increase the pressure that must already be on him to quit. People will surely reason that no sport is worth the ultimate price that a man can pay.

The other choice is that he embraces it. He can now positively assert that he is so savage a fighter that he beat an opponent to death. His matches will now draw special attention from the morbidly curious. Will this cause his opponents fear and dread? It should.

Death as a result of boxing is a risk that all boxers know and understand. Even though a man died, the death at the hands of the winner is not a chargeable offense. Those are the rules of the game.

So where will our winner Subriel Matias go from here? We’ll just have to see…

Three years??

OMG! I just looked at this WordPress site because version five is now available. It’s been three years since I last posted something. Jeez! Not that the world has been beating down my door for nuggets of wisdom or anything. But wow, looks like I’ve been busy.

On the other hand, perhaps it’s been a good thing that I’ve kept my own counsel. Ever since the 2016 election, I’ve been on edge. Our President, Individual #1, has been trolling the nation relentlessly. I wish that the media would catch on to that and stop letting him whip them around so easily. They do, after all, give him the oxygen that he so drastically needs.

So I’ll leave it at that. I’ve got lots of thoughts and opinions. I’ll see if I can break loose some free time to clarify some of those thoughts into pieces worth reading. Hopefully not in another three years!

MyHosting.com Nightmare!

I have a customer that has a large auto dismantling business. They provide an online car part search function (that I created) on the site based on a third-party database. Periodically I reload the database with refreshed data. That data comes to me as a Microsoft SQL Server database backup. I crack that file open by purchasing a Windows Server VPS with the developer suite.

My VPS vendor of choice for this task has been myhosting.com. Historically, they can rent me a VPS for around $50 for a month, although all I need is a day or two to restore the database and export certain tables in a text format. In the past it’s been fairly easy: place the order and they spin up a VPS in three hours or so.

However, this time around it was nothing but a tale of annoyance and irritation. First thing Monday morning, I went to log into my old account. While I hadn’t been back since September, that shouldn’t have been a big deal. But I found I was locked out of my old account.

I contacted customer support and was told that I couldn’t have my old account unlocked. Instead I was to create a new one. That seemed kind of stupid but I did so and placed the order. Shortly thereafter I received a phone call asking if I had indeed ordered a VPS, which I said I had. Nothing unusual, that’s just their procedure from the past and I was expecting the call.

About eight hours later, having not received any emails about the VPS creation, I logged into the backend panel to check on the VPS status. I saw that there was a VPS in a “ready” state. However, I couldn’t log in. So I waited. The next morning – more than 24 hours later – I was still unable to log in to the VPS. So I contacted support again. They gave me some vague excuse that it was in a “long running” operation state. And to wait. So I did.

At the end of the business day, I received several emails. The first was that my VPS was ready. The next was that my order was on hold and I should contact customer support. So I called – again. The rep was clearly confused as to why the account was on hold. However, I still couldn’t log into the VPS. At this point I was getting pretty annoyed.

The next day – more than 48 hours after placing my order – I received yet another email telling me that my VPS was ready. But I STILL couldn’t log in. So I called customer support AGAIN. The rep opened another yet another support ticket. Several more hours were wasted in email exchanges with technical support. I had told the rep on the phone that I couldn’t log in because my password wouldn’t work. In creating the ticket, the rep implied in the message that I couldn’t access the VPS, so the responding rep replied back with a telnet log showing that the VPS was accessible. I had to reply back and beg for a password reset because I couldn’t log in.

Finally, some 52 hours after placing my order, I was finally able to log into the VPS.

What the hell guys? You’ve gone from an easy three-hour process to one that took more than two days. I wound up contacting their customer support team more than half a dozen times. During those days when I didn’t have the VPS I was scouring the Internet evaluating other possible vendors for the next time around. Nice job taking something that worked very well and screwing it all up…

I Finally Turned Of Registration

After running this blog for a number of years, I have finally caved to the annoyance of all the random subscriber registrations. I really didn’t want to do it. But I have obviously been deluding myself. Somewhere in the back of my mind I must have been thinking that my occasional commentary on the state of the world would make a difference. At least, enough of a difference that people would find my ramblings and wish to comment on them.

But I was wrong. In all the time I’ve been writing on this blog, only one kind soul was brave enough to leave something behind. I know this because in order to comment one must register as a subscriber first. Instead, I have been getting two to five junk subscriber registrations per day for months now. They’re obviously spammers with junk email addresses from Russia or Peru or God knows where. The usernames and addresses are ridiculous junk and simply annoying.

So I’ve disabled it all. It’s now finished. I shall continue to write but it’s not the same any more. The words are out there but there shall be no feedback. Not now, not ever. The spammers have won again. Sad day…

CIA Torture Report

This morning I downloaded the Select Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture. The entire document is 525 pages. However, the forward and executive summary are considerably smaller and a manageable read.

Reading what had been done in the name of the American people – in my name – brought me to the point of tears. The criminal attack on 9/11 shocked and angered me very deeply. Today I still have difficulty viewing the footage of the planes hitting the World Trade Center. But in our desperate attempts to get the criminals responsible we have become our own worst enemies.

I just saw what I wrote and realized that “becoming our own worst enemy” has new meaning to me now. For that’s how we’ve now defined ourselves with these acts by the CIA. Think of ISIS or the Taliban. How much different is what they are doing to their captured prisoners is what we’ve done to some of our “detainees?” I am ashamed of our behavior.

Where do we go from here? Clearly, with this report now public, the race to the bottom is now over. But our moral authority in world affairs – earned during World War II – has now been entirely spent. We’re really not much better than the Russians now. And that ain’t saying much…

My Second Chance Year

My wife and I started playing the California lottery on a regular basis shortly after we got married some seventeen years ago. No big prizes yet but we’re always hopeful. 🙂

I’m always the one who buys the tickets. We play the same numbers each time so I use the “advance play” option which means that I only have to deal with it once every month or so. When I bought my tickets at the grocery store in January, I noticed something new. The California Lottery added a new raffle called Second Chance.

The Second Chance is a little code that appears at the bottom of your ticket. To use it, you log into their website and register for an account. Once you’re in there’s a place where you enter the code. That enters you into a drawing for cash prizes. Weeks or months later, the drawing is made and the winners get from one thousand to ten thousand dollars. Nice!

For the first month or two I entered just the codes from my own tickets. Then one day, after checking my expired tickets at the lottery machine at the store, I went to throw them away in the trash can conveniently placed next to the machine. I noticed that there were other discarded lottery tickets laying there in the trash. I decided to scoop them up, take them home and enter those codes for myself. Why not?

Well, one thing rapidly lead to another. The lottery website has a thousand ticket per month limit. I wasn’t coming close to reaching that but I started going by the trash each time I was in the store and collecting as many tickets as I could. I was getting nearly a hundred entries a month.

Then another realization hit me. Besides SuperLotto tickets, there were also Scratcher game tickets in the trash too. They had Second Chance codes on them as well. Why wasn’t I collecting those? By this time August had rolled around. I was still doing around a hundred a month. What if I really tried to get as many Second Chance entries as I could – maybe go for that one thousand limit? Could it be done??

The California Lottery website has a lot of information posted on it about the Second Chance promotion. According to their documentation, they have imposed the monthly thousand entry limit as a means to protect players from themselves. It was supposedly a means to prevent players from compulsively playing too much by buying too many tickets. But I wasn’t playing any more than usual. Instead I was picking up discarded tickets from people who didn’t want to bother with the Second Chance drawing. Their loss was potentially my gain. I decided for the month of September I was all-in. I was going for the limit!

My plan was simple. While my local grocery store was a plentiful source of tickets, I had to expand my territory. I needed to find every outlet that I could where people would buy and discard their tickets. So I got in my car and did a little driving around. Gas stations and convenience stores sold SuperLotto and Scratchers tickets. But space was limited so they didn’t have dedicated space with lottery machines. No machines, no way to check and therefore no trash cans. So that cut out a lot of opportunities right away. That took me back to grocery stores. I found four stores that were local to me that had machines and a trash can that I could check. The game was on.

As I was making my rounds throughout the month, I started noticing some patterns. While I was collecting some SuperLotto tickets, most of my scoops were Scratchers tickets. And not all Scratchers were the same. In fact, there was quite a range of games, from $1 up to $20 a ticket. The $20 tickets are awesome – when the game is concluded, 180 days later they will hold a drawing for $5 million dollars in prizes. That’s a raffle I want to be in.

Another thing I noticed was the players. Sometimes when I went to check the trash, somebody was already in line buying tickets. Curious, I would stand in line or linger nearby pretending to be looking at merchandise but watching what they would do. There were many times when I would see somebody pull out one or two hundred dollars in twenties, feed them into the Scratcher vending machine and buy all $20 tickets. It got me wondering how much money was involved in all of it.

So I went to the California Lottery website and found the financial reports section. I had to do a little digging but I got some very interesting results. Slightly more than half of all the State lottery was generated by Scratcher sales. For 2013, that was three billion dollars! Of that total, sixty percent is paid back to players in prizes ($1.8 billion). No wonder I was seeing so many Scratcher tickets. The odds are a lot better: typically one ticket in four is some kind of winner. Compare that to the astronomical odds of the SuperLotto. Having said that, though, the odds of winning the grand prize is still very remote. Still, the Scratcher games are obviously the public’s favorite game.

So September ended and I managed a total for the month of 417 entries on the website. In many ways it was like an Easter Egg hunt. You never knew what you might find on a daily basis. Some days I would score tons of tickets. Others barely any. And throughout all of it I have yet to win anything. But that’s not unexpected. The Second Chance drawings are like an exercise in delayed gratification. You put in your entries today but it could be six months before all the drawings are completed.

As I write this I’m on track to hit that thousand entry mark; but for the entire year – not one month. I suppose that there are others out there that have gone completely all-in on it. Dumpster diving behind convenience stores and making rounds over great swaths of territory. I know that I have competitors out there. I’ve stood in line only to see the guy in front of me scoop up the trash before I had my turn. But I wish them well. It’s a numbers game and all I want is something, anything to show for my efforts. Doesn’t anyone?

Disappointment with 1&1

It seems that all I write, when I write, is about bad customer experiences. I’ve got another one to detail today. But before I do so, I’d like to make the point about why I write these reviews. First, I can get this aggravation off my chest. I’ve had to take action that I didn’t really want to. The reason why was entirely preventable. And that’s my second point. This is a teaching moment. When something annoying happens and I feel compelled to write about it, it’s a reminder to both myself and the world that it could be done better in the future. Hopefully we all learn from that.

I purchased a dedicated server at the end of July from the very large hosting provider 1&1. The server was for one of my best clients so it had to be right. Without boring all the details, let’s just say that it’s purpose was to host 1K+ email accounts and be a hot-backup and fail-over machine if the primary server goes offline.

After bringing it online and loading it up, it ran well for a while. However, by mid-August the server began freezing and/or crashing. Their technical support department was remarkable little to no help. Their attitude was “it’s your server, it’s your problem.” I could accept that judgement if I was running some funky custom set-up. However, it was off the shelf CentOS 6 with all the patches and Plesk 12. Nothing strange here.

Eventually I gathered enough evidence to show that there was a hardware problem. I reported this to a sympathetic tech support rep. The next day, without prior notice, engineering took my server offline and replaced the hardware. Then the server wouldn’t work because the MAC address had changed. Once again technical support offered little help. Eventually I was able to get the server repaired by the grace of a friend of mine (and sysadmin of Khoza Tech) and carry on. However, the crashes didn’t end there.

Once, after logging off from using the 1&1 web admin panel to restart the server, I was presented with a feedback form. I leapt at the chance to write a detailed note explaining my frustration with the server. The result of that feedback? Nothing. No contact from 1&1. No acknowledgement whatsoever.

Ultimately I had to move on. By early September I had documented ten separate occurrences of mysterious crashes. I’m a patient guy but enough’s enough. My dream of geographically diverse servers was not to be. Instead I had to settle for a slightly more expensive solution in Fremont. While that’s still probably far enough away to survive just about any disaster short of an asteroid strike, I’m still disappointed. I’ve been doing business with 1&1 for years. I recommended a dedicated server from them to a good client. That server has been rock solid for years – never a crash or failure. Perhaps the hardware they were using for the server I picked is just not reliable. After all, I’d never heard of using multi-core Atom processors for generic hosting before. Either way, the real issue is a failure by 1&1 to take care of me as a customer. I would have gladly locked in with them for years but they didn’t even acknowledge me after I had gone out of my way to get their attention and tried to get things right. I hope that they’ve got other satisfied customers because they lost this one.

How to destroy a TV show

One of my favorite shows on television is one that appears weekdays on ESPN. It is called Pardon The Interruption, or simply PTI. The show began broadcasting in 2001. I’ve rarely missed an episode. The format is simple: two veteran sportswriters sit at a table and talk about the sporting events of the day with a shot-clock. When the bell rings, they go on to the next subject. Entertaining and my primary source of daily sports news.

The trick is that the show broadcasts each day at 5:30pm Eastern time. Since I’m on the west coast, it’s not practical to find a TV and watch it live. In the early days, I set up my VCR to record it for that evening. Now I just record it with my DVR. And since we’re in the age of smartphones, my preferred form of consumption is to download the daily podcast which is usually available about two hours after the show airs. Then I can listen while I exercise at the gym. Which is a good plan, because ESPN will sometimes spontaneously move the show to another ESPN channel without warning, defeating the DVR.

Lately they’ve been getting increasingly sloppy with posting the podcasts. There have been some days where the podcast hasn’t been available until after 5:30pm my time; sometimes not until the next day. The production quality of the podcast has also gone down. The audio is so faint that I have to turn up the volume to maximum just to hear them. So when an ad is interjected in-between breaks, I’m nearly deafened by it.

The first rule of show business is to reliable. Repeat viewers are your core audience. Make it available at the place and time you tell people. Each time I am disappointed that the show isn’t there, the higher the probability that I won’t come back.

The second rule of show business is to make your best effort, every time. To do less is being disrespectful to your audience. If the quality is low, they’re less likely to come back.

In both of these areas, I give ESPN a failing grade. It’s ironic because the hosts were recently given contract extensions. They may have a show; but unless ESPN gets it’s act together soon, they won’t have any viewers left.

The Concussions Must End

I was watching a football game the other day. One of the players that was on my fantasy team got knocked out of the game early. I was bummed. Then I got what I thought was a brilliant idea. Why can’t they get some of those accelerometers that they use in cell phones and put them in helmets? The thinking is basically this: load the helmets full of accelerometers and connect them to a CPU with some LED lights that are installed on the top. When a player is hit (or hits) hard, the light goes from green to yellow. Yellow players must sit a “down” before they can return to action. If the hit is even harder (on the impact scale) then the red light goes on and the player has to sit out the rest of his team’s possession. If it’s a very dramatic hit then all the lights start to flash. The player is done for the game and automatically has to undergo the concussion protocol. By using the technology in the helmets, players are dis-incentivized from turning themselves into missiles and instead tackle with their arms.

I thought I was so smart. Then I went to the Internet to see if anybody had also thought of that. Of course they did. The NFL begin experiments with accelerometers in football helmets years ago. Apparently it’s easy to judge the force of an impact but not always whether that impact translates into a brain injury. Still, something needs to be done. In the years since the publicity began of former players committing suicide, youth football participation is down ten percent. While football is still widely popular, this is still a concerning trend if you’re an owner of a team in the league or a fan of the game. In time, if there isn’t a fix for the concussion problem, no parent will allow their child to play football. And that would be bad for all of us with fantasy teams.