Archive for category Revelations

Cutting the (Cable) Cord Part 2: How I Did It

In Part 1, I described your options for cutting the cable cord. Here I disclose which option I went for and how I have it all set up.

But first, a couple of minor changes and additions to Part 1:

I’m sorry if you went to Part 1 looking for your options on how to cut a (literal) umbilical cord, post-childbirth. . . . Actually, now that I think about it, I’m not sorry. That post is way fucking cooler.

On a more serious note, there is one piece of equipment that I forgot to list in Part 1: An HDMI Adapter for your handheld devices and Tablets. It’s a last resort in case you are unable to stream to TV and absolutely must have it on your big screen TV. I’ve included it here.

Let me list a few of the goals I used to help me focus on getting this all right:

  1. I wanted a “whole home” solution, with the least amount of inconvenience. I wanted to eliminate or minimize switching TV inputs, and I wanted to access all entertainment in the same way on both TV’s in the house. Accessing the entertainment on devices was actually secondary for us.
  2. I wanted to minimize or eliminate the number of shows lost.
  3. I wanted to keep costs down by using equipment that I had on-hand where I could. I’ll have a cost list later in this post.

Here’s what it all looks like. Click here or click on the picture to see it Full Size:

GUACPostPart2

 

The List

Here’s what I eventually needed to pull this all off. Descriptions and links for these can be found in Part 1. Here I will be talking more about setup and the cost for each in rounded numbers (we’re not launching a rocket to fucking Mars here). You can also take a look at the Visio Diagram (above) I’ve provided:

  1. [Living Room] HDTV Antenna (Cost – $90.00) – You’ll have to experiment with the best location. Outdoors is ideal, the higher you can mount it the better, and line of sight to your most important stations is how you’ll want to aim it. This will take some experimentation. I had to mount mine indoors, which wasn’t ideal, but that’s the down side to renting. You’ll need to read your TV’s manual to figure out how to scan for stations.
  2. [Living Room] Coax Amplifier and Splitter (Cost – $50.00) – Why I needed this was due to an issue I encountered while implementing #3:
  3. [Living Room] Tablo PVR (Cost – $229.00) – OK, if you are going to detract from what I’ve done, this will probably be it. The Tablo (otherwise known as “TabloTV”) is what we’d call in the IT field a “Version 1.0 Product”. Not only is it Version 1.0 (new to market), but the phrase “Version 1.0 Product” is a euphemism in Software Marketing that means, “Please don’t expect all this shit to work.” If you’re ever in a meeting with a software vendor, that’s a red flag. I’m not saying it’s a dealbreaker, but it’s a red flag. Anyway, Tablo Support sucks, and their Android App crashes incessantly. However, it has three things going for it. (1) The PVR is flawless, (2) its Roku App is intuitive and enables live viewing of the HDTV Antenna in multiple rooms and (3) its iPad app is solid. To their credit, TabloTV sent a recent update (all I had to do was update after a prompt), and it seems more solid now. One issue I ran into was that the TabloTV app on Roku is 4-10 minutes behind Live TV. So I bought a Coax/Amp Splitter to go to both the RF input on the TV and one into the Tablo to record shows. To watch Live TV in the bedroom we have to use the Tablo App, and I guess we’ll get those important news updates 4-10 minutes later than everyone else.
  4. [Living Room] 300GB Sony USB Drive (Had on-hand) – USB Drive attached to the Tablo Set-Top box, for recorded shows. I know that isn’t much space, but I’ll scale up when I have to. We purge it all the time. 40GB is taken up by the Channel information, the rest is for shows. I read somewhere that an hour HD show takes up about 6GB. No idea if that’s true. Never checked. Running out of room on your DVR is quite the First World Problem so . . . zero fucks given really.
  5. Cheaper ISP (Cost – $50.00 a month) – I went with a more local-area Internet Provider. $125 Cheaper than Comcast.
  6. [Living Room] Roku 3 (Cost – $100.00) – Pretty much the most important part of Cutting the Cord. This brings it all together. This provides for Internet-based TV and is very convenient.
  7. [Living Room] Chromecast (Had on-hand) – Internet-based TV/Entertainment provided by Google but there are a lot of Chromecast-enabled Apps, even on the iPad/iPhone.
  8. [Living Room] Wireless Extender (Had on-hand) – Extends internet access to the Tablo.
  9. [Bedroom] Roku 2 (Had on-hand) – Brings everything together onto the Bedroom TV. Like I said, through the Tablo App we can watch Live TV or Recorded TV in the Bedroom. Everything else we can get through the Roku Apps, just like in the Living Room.
  10. [Living Room] iPad HDMI Adapter (Had on-hand)  - Last resort in case we must have streaming apps on the TV that can’t be done through the previous methods.

Cost Breakdown

I am not including a Cost Breakdown for OTT Services like Amazon Prime Movies, Netflix, and so on since we were already paying for them previous to Cutting the Cable cord, therefore they had no influence on “Money saved”. I also assessed the cost of anything I had on-hand as $0.00. I was also lucky enough to get an $86.00 rebate from Comcast:

Cost Numbers for Cutting the Cord

Cost Numbers for Cutting the Cord

 

As you can see, after about 3 months, it’s money in our pocket, a savings of $125.00 a month.

I recommend highly you do the numbers before jumping into this. If it’s going to take 10 years to get your return, then perhaps this isn’t for you.

Hope this helps.

 

 

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Cutting the Cord Part 1: Your Options

I recently joined the ranks of an exclusive club (well, sort of exclusive) and officially “cut the cord”. If you are unaware of the concept, cutting the cord means you get the satisfaction of telling your overpriced Cable provider to “go fuck yourself” and save some substantial cash in the process.

I won’t go into the details of the nightmare that Comcast . . . yeah, you saw that coming didn’t you . . . has been over the past month, but when we moved to our new apartment we “upgraded” to the XFinity X1. We were told about how awesome the new X1 “platform” is and that it would be $15 cheaper a month.

It was bullshit on both accounts and I should have known better. I probably don’t have to tell you how Comcast doesn’t really give a fuck about you, and that when I called them to disconnect, they didn’t even try to keep me as a customer. It is my hope that more people join the ranks of cord-cutting and will force Comcast and companies like it to stop screwing people with unnecessary and exorbitant fees and crappy service.

Here, in Part 1, I will list the options I found for cord-cutting. In Part 2, I will describe what I went with, and I plan on having cost numbers, a parts list, and hell . . . fuck it, I’ll even make you a Visio diagram.

As a bit of a teaser, by cutting the cord, we are saving $125.00 a month. After the initial expense, doing this pays for itself in about three months. After that, it’s money in Bryan‘s pocket.

So first, some thoughts and advice, having gone through the process:

  1. There will be an initial cost of implementation, and you’ll need to do the numbers. Do an ROI and see if it works for you. Cord-cutting isn’t for everyone. If you don’t have the hardware on-hand, you’re looking at about $350.00-$400.00 as a one-time capital expense for this project. You’ll need to think about the initial investment and long-term monthly costs, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, the cost of Movie rentals, etc. If you already have those “Over the Top” services (OTT, it’s a thing, trust me), then you’re ahead of the game, as it were.
  2. Everyone in the household will need to have patience and may need to make small sacrifices. Some of this will be trial and error mixing and matching the most optimal setup. My wife was phenomenal through this as I had to try a few different setups to get everything right.
  3. You’ll need some technical knowledge. Wi-Fi in particular is crucial to pulling this off.
  4. You may not be able to get all of your shows, or at least you may have to watch them after everyone else has. If you’re the type who circle-jerks over Game of Thrones during its real-time Twitter feed (not even sure people actually do that), then maybe cord-cutting isn’t for you. See #2, above.
  5. Finding a DVR/PVR (if you need one) will be a big challenge.
  6. Streaming the same shows and entertainment in all rooms (called a “Whole Home” solution, in cord-cutting parlance) will also be a challenge.
  7. You will still have to pay an ISP for internet access.

The list of options that follows is by no means an all-inclusive list. Everything depends on what shows you watch, what shows you may be willing to give up, your technical knowledge, and how to get everything all through the house. I also tried to keep costs down by using equipment I had on-hand (more on that in Part 2).

My disclaimer here is that there are a myriad of ways to do this and I am always open to ideas. Just remember when you start typing your smart-ass, telecom-nerd comments, I don’t claim to be an expert at this shit. I am sure in retrospect I could have saved myself $100 or so by being more resourceful, but isn’t that the way all home improvement projects are?

Live TV

  1. Downgrade to Basic Cable and Decline to Use their [Shitty] Equipment- It’s an option. Where cable companies get you is by charging you a monthly fee for “use of the equipment”. You don’t have to use their equipment. You can get your own, as you’ll see in the next section.
  2. Use an HDTV Antenna – This is what I would call the “balls deep” option for this section because other than the one-time cost of the Antenna, these stations are free. These HD stations are in local areas, but your success in using them will depend on your location and your line of sight to the Station Signals. You can check channel availability for your location here. This gets you the mainstream channels, such as ABC, CBS, NBC, etc. And for some reason, no matter how you tune the HD Antenna for optimal reception, at least 5 Christian Evangelist stations. Options: AntennasDirect Clearstream 2V, Mohu Leaf. I went with the Clearstream; as to why and how, I will disclose in Part 2.

DVRs/PVRs

This may prove to be your biggest challenge, and possibly the most expensive. Cable companies and the telecom industry make it difficult to have an open market for DVR’s (ownership of content, limiting options to consumers so the cable companies can charge for their equipment, and so on). The challenge I found was not in finding a DVR. The challenge was finding a DVR with an RF jack that can also be accessible throughout the entire house.

  1. TiVo – Not a bad option, but for a whole-home solution, you’ll need multiple TiVo devices and there’s a monthly fee (last I checked $14.99).
  2. Other PVR/DVR Set-Top Boxes - Something like the Mediasonic HomeWorx line of xVR’s (can’t vouch for it and I’m not including a link because xVR’s have a tendency of going defunct). You’re looking for an RF interface. But, getting recorded shows throughout the house is the challenge with these.
  3. Tablo – I will be talking about this one in more detail in Part 2. Despite it’s flaws, it has RF support, PVR, and the whole home solution all wrapped up in one Set-top box.

Whole Home Solutions

Next is getting everything throughout the house, and the solutions here are diverse. Many of which offer the ability to stream to any device. I will tell you that having a Smart TV will help you tremendously here. I don’t have any Smart TV’s, so I had to use another solution.

  1. Tablo (see above).
  2. Slingbox – Great option but does not include an xVR or RF interface.
  3. HDHomeRun – Also, great solution but does not include an xVR and requires an ethernet connection (I will disclose my work around to this in Part 2).
  4. Roku – IPTV through your WiFi (Roku 3 now includes an ethernet connection).
  5. Chromecast – IPTV for Chromecast-supported apps.
  6. AppleTV – Apple’s IPTV product.

Other Equipment You May Need

  1. WiFi Extender with Ethernet Connections – Many of the whole-house solutions listed above require an ethernet connection. My house isn’t fucking wired for ethernet, so it’s frustrating when I want to bring everything centralized into the main living room and these asshole set-top box makers (as above) require an ethernet connection, like a bunch of dicks. I suppose I don’t have to centralize it that way, however the HDTV Antenna had to be placed in the living room and I wanted to bring everything in there.
  2. Multimedia over CoAx (MoCA) – In retrospect, I probably should have used this.
  3. Coax Amplifier/Splitter – Due to a complication with the Tablo (more on that in Part 2), I had to split the signal to have seamless Live TV. My advice is to spend the money on the amplifier. Don’t ever just split the signal.
  4. USB Drive – Depending on the xVR you buy, you may need to purchase USB storage for the recorded programs.

TV/Movie Replacement Services (OTT Services, previously mentioned)

This is where you’ll have to be careful. These costs can get away from you. Again, the list here is not all-inclusive, and I am sure there are some out there of which I should be taking advantage. I’ll just be listing the major players here. I did not give a description for most of these because if you don’t know about them, then you have been living under a rock, most likely, or Amish, in which case, you won’t be reading this anyway . . . Sorry, to all my Amish readers:

  1. Netflix
  2. Amazon Instant Video – Your Amazon Prime membership will come in handy here.
  3. Google Play Music/Movies/TV
  4. Hulu Plus – Fine Comcast, I’ll throw you a bone.
  5. Pandora Internet Radio
  6. Plex - Access your music/photos/movies anywhere.

Stay tuned for Part 2, when I detail what I chose from the above and I’ll give you some tips based on what I did to make it all work.

 

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On Being a Linchpin

Seth Godin - LinchpinThe highest level of management I’ve reached in my career is Operations Manager. It was a tough job, but I was successful. I was good at it. And it was an eye-opening experience for me.

When I started, I had nothing to go on but instinct, and as it turns out my instincts were good. The owner of the company was old school, all numbers. He was cut-throat – making the employees “happy” and “motivated” was my job, no matter what dumb-ass rule or restriction he put into place.

In other words, he didn’t give a fuck. He just wanted people to comply, and if you didn’t, you were out. He’ll find someone else.

Why do I bring this up? I am reading Linchpin by Seth Godin. It is a life-changing book, and not just because it brings to light shit I’ve suspected and known for years. The premise is that American business has trained us to be factory workers; a cog in the wheel so to speak, and business wants it that way. Everything from the creation of Public Schools (in their current form) at the turn of the century on down to the Hierarchical command-and-control business model has been designed to turn us into compliant factory workers. Show up on time, do your work, keep your mouth shut, and keep your head down. Public School in particular, is one giant exercise in learning how to comply. Think about it.

I’ve never fit into that model. I have always had a rebellious spirit, always had a place in my heart for iconoclasts and provocateurs, titles I can only dream of applying to myself someday.

All too often business people “lead” using fear and intimidation, and all too often people are afraid and intimidated. I don’t play that game. I am no one’s puppet. I think for myself.

In my current job, I have fired off e-mails, made phone calls, sent IM’s asking for why some asshole in our company (an equal, no less) is saying “no” to our customers when they should be saying “yes”. I’ve sent countless e-mails at 2 AM suggesting better ways of doing things, some of which go against our current practices. I have had numerous conversations about staying ahead of all my peers in my career development. I ask countless questions to make sure that the delivery of my next assignment is nothing less than perfect. This is what Godin refers to as my “art”. Kind of a cheesy concept if you ask me, but I understand where he is going with it. I am an artist. Artists are passionate; they take risks. All good artists go against the grain.

One would think, after hearing what I just described, you might say, “Oh well, damn Bryan, I want you to come work for me!”

Not most of my bosses throughout my career. Usually, my bosses think I’m a pain in the ass. Why? Because they usually want me to just show up on time, do my work, keep my mouth shut, and keep my head down, because thinking and working outside the box is a risk. With risk brings attention and (deep breath in), the “R” word . . . responsibility. If I take risks, according to our command-and-control expectations, it means that if something goes wrong, my boss has to answer for it, so it’s this Domino cancer-effect of everyone in the chain not wanting to go against the top-dog. If I take a risk and get burned, it’s my ass, then my bosses’ ass for not “controlling” me, ad infinitum until everyone’s whipped into submission. . . .

Show up on time, do your work, keep your mouth shut, and keep your head down.

But, let me tell you this, bosses and company owners: You want a guy like me. Do you really want a carbon-copy asshole just like the last person in that slot?

If you do, it’s quite possible you could be in, what Seth Godin calls, “a race to the bottom”. If you are running a cookie-cutter business where you just have cogs in your company, you are attempting to provide an ordinary service, and you are competing with others who are also ordinary. The only way of competing at “ordinary” is to be more ordinary (read: inexpensive) than the next asshole offering the same shit as you are. You want to be remarkable (another Godin word), and to be remarkable you need to be different.

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How Weight Watchers Changed My Life

So fellas, what was your first impression of the title? Did you call me derogatory names? Did you laugh? Why is Bryan talking about meetings of overweight women in spandex and over-sized shirts?

If that’s what you think Weight Watchers is, you should listen up, because when a man of my level of skepticism shows up to praise something I have to spend money on, you might want to pay attention.

I have chronic back problems, specifically Degenerative Disk Disease, and about once a year or so, I have a relapse of pain that likes to remind me of this condition, hence the word “chronic”.

In 2003, during one of these relapses, I had decided that enough was enough. I was the heaviest I had ever been in my life at 216 pounds (which is heavy for a guy at 5’8″), and I had known that there is a correlation between weight and back pain. As a matter-of-fact, I had a doctor tell me that there were 3 things I could do to minimize or prevent these chronic back problems:

  1. Keep my weight under 185.
  2. Exercise and strengthen the core and back muscles to provide support.
  3. Stop smoking cigars and drinking.

Well, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.

A doctor once told me also that excessive weight means that you might as well be carrying an extra sack of potatoes around 24-7.

I needed to do something fast. I thought about what would be the best way to lose weight. Here it is. You ready?

  1. Eat healthy
  2. Exercise

That’s it. That’s what you need to do. Easier said than done right?

I needed to come up with a plan, either one that I devised (I am not a dietitian), or I would follow some program. I had 3 criteria:

  1. Structure. I grew up in a family where food was important. This is not a critique of my family. Americans in general have an obsession with food, but that’s a different blog post. I had let my over-eating take control and I needed something to help me reign it in.
  2. Simplicity. I have better things to do with my time and brain-power than memorize which fucking food has too much starch, carbs, sugar, fat, fiber, hydrogenated oil, “good fat”, “bad fat”, cholesterol, salt, enzymes, fungus, urine, rat feces or whatever some fad diet tells me I have to or can’t eat.
  3. Permanence. The plan had to be something that I could follow for the rest of my life, not something that I follow for 3 months and then abandon.
  4. Power. I want to continue to eat foods that I want to eat.

Looking at my options, and with a little help from my beautiful wife, I joined Weight Watchers in March of 2003. Since then I have lost 36 pounds and with very little variance have kept it off.

Recently, the Weight Watchers program has placed even more of an emphasis on exercise.

It’s the only weight program I can think of that let’s you eat anything you want, you simply have to limit how much of it you eat. It’s portion control. And it works.

The way I think of Weight Watchers is that it basically puts you onto a food budget. Want to eat steak? You got it. Ice Cream? You got it. You just have to plan for it.

And, no more back pain.

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Stuff I Don’t Believe In

The title says it all. I left out the obvious shit, like Leprauchans, Unicorns, and Santa Claus:

  1. Any God or Gods, personal or Biblical, or any Religion. . . .
  2. (therefore I also don’t believe in) Intercessory Prayer.
  3. Life After Death.
  4. That Human Beings have a “Soul”.
  5. Religious Interpretations or Predictions of an Apocalypse (I have my own take on the end of the world, thank you).
  6. Spirits, Demons, Ghosts or anything else defined as “Supernatural”.
  7. Bodily Possession by such, as above.
  8. Predestination.
  9. Miracles, as per the official definition.
  10. Reincarnation.
  11. Other-worldly UFOs.
  12. Alien Abductions.
  13. Crop Circles being created by aforementioned Aliens.
  14. Psychic Powers of any sort.
  15. Astrology.
  16. The Loch Ness Monster.
  17. Bigfoot.
  18. Most Conspiracy Theories.
  19. Most Alternative Medicine Remedies.
  20. Out of Body Experiences.
  21. Transubstantiation.
  22. Creationism or Intelligent Design.
  23. Magic.
  24. Graphology.
  25. Dowsing.
  26. That Vaccinations by and large cause any form of illness.
  27. Fox News is “Fair and Balanced”.

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F is for “Effort”

Apparently there are some New England Schools publishing something the media has dubbed the “Effort Roll”. It’s a list of students who did not make the Honor Roll, but get a pat on the back anyway.

Now, I consider myself a relatively progressive individual, but I believe wholeheartedly and unequivocally that reason and common sense should win out over political affiliation without exception.

I am no parent, but my first real job out of college was teaching English in the good ‘ol American Public School system, and it just so happens I know a thing or two about child psychology.

I hope I don’t need to tell you that this “Effort Roll” is one of the worst fucking ideas I’ve ever heard. Listen up because other than my statement above about reason and common sense, the quote below is the most important thing this post offers:

Self-esteem cannot be given without adversity. It must be built through adversity.

As a blood-pumping human on this planet, one thing life has taught me since leaving the cradle is that I have gained more belief in myself through my failures and pushing past them than I have with the rare successes that just so happen to fall in my lap.

From what I’ve seen, this “Self-esteem as a handout” approach has been around a while and is profoundly effecting our youth in a negative way. That is not how the real world works. The world doesn’t hand you success. If it did, success wouldn’t be worth having in the first place.

Another example of this madness? Kindergarten Graduation Ceremonies. Fucking ridiculous. It’s god damn kindergarten. So, nice job for finding your Cubby every day without pushing Johnny and drawing a mountain with crayons. It must be rough for you parents who actually want to teach self-esteem through adversity.

In Denis Leary’s book Why We Suck, he talks about how there are way too many parents who want their kids to be geniuses, when they are not. His commentary, and I’m paraphrasing here (sorry Denis if I mangle this, I love your work), is you shouldn’t praise your kids for shit they’re supposed to be able to do:

“Look at him, 15 months old and he’s walkin!”

Of course he’s walking. He’s supposed to be walking at 15 months. That’s normal.

If you have a 4 year old who can come up with a convincing and original interpretation of Joyce’s Ulysses, well then, OK, maybe you have something there. Otherwise, if the kid falls within the normal range of performance, then you should accept the fact, that maybe, when it comes to that one thing, your kid might just be (SHOCKER!) . . . fucking NORMAL!

Building self-esteem and letting a child discover their own strengths and talents is a gradual, difficult, and ongoing process. There are very few child-geniuses out there, but everyone has moments of genius or talents that allow them to rise above the rest. But it’s almost always hard work, and one has to want that reward. The real-world makes you work for it, and you do kids a disservice by making them think it can all be handed to them for being normal. It makes them not want to try and whine about it when they don’t get it.

You learn more about yourself when you fail than when you succeed. I hope I don’t need to prove that. And I would purport that proper guidance for a child after failure, rather than just handing them success leads to a more well-adjusted individual.

If the world is really moving toward “Self-esteem (and therefore success) as handout”, then that would be just one more bit of proof that the human race really is doomed.

See you next time.

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Lists and Rodeos

Rodeo

This cowboy better stand up very soon

I have crossed something off my list, a list I didn’t realize I had.  This List has no name.

Some have a Bucket List; that list, either written or in mind, that contains the things that one wants to accomplish before they leave this mortal coil… or kick the bucket as they say.  A few things I have been able to cross off my list, some even before I knew I had a bucket list have been things like:

  • Descend into the Grand Canyon (in my case, by helicopter)
  • Fly an airplane (thanks Bill!)
  • See an active volcano – check twice (different volcanoes)! Once I flew to the volcanic peak via helicopter.
  • Drink a Guinness IN Ireland – if you want to be technical, I crossed this off multiple times in the course of six days, but we don’t need to be picky.

Then there are things you wind up doing in life that you don’t ever expect to do, but have that “wow” factor.  These are things that you never think about doing, have an urge to do, or even think that you might some day get to do if the opportunity comes around.  These are the mysteries that life holds for us around corners. Life’s little enigmas, if you will.

The item on my Enigma List (a name!) that I crossed off was: Attend a Rodeo.

Now, you do not know much about me, I’m sure, but a rodeo really is the perfect thing on my personal Enigma List.  This is for many reasons:

  1. I live in New Jersey. Yes the state with the reputation for big hair, plenty of beaches, industrialized towns, chemical landfills, the Mob and those morons from the reality show.  I don’t live in Texas, Oklahoma, etc.
  2. I don’t watch NASCAR, work with livestock, or listen to either of the associated music,  Country OR Western.  I’m not judging here in any way, they are just not my thing.  I watch football, work with computers and listen mostly to rock.
  3. I don’t have big belt buckles, a plaid shirt or a cowboy hat.
  4. I don’t chew tobaccy.

There is a rodeo in southern New Jersey called, wait for it… Cowtown Rodeo.  This is serious.  I heard about it years ago when I moved down here, but just kind of thought the whole thing was a guy named Jim with chaps and a lasso who had an aged horse and sickly cow. Oh how I was wrong.

This thing has been going for over 50 years, and from what I understand, is on the national rodeo circuit, or something. They do all the things that I saw on TV when I was a kid: bull riding, bucking bronco riding, steer wrestling, calf roping and abusing, steer rasslin’… maybe I have the names of some of them wrong, but come on give me a break!  They even had a rodeo clown of sorts out there, mic’d up, to entertain the crowd.  This guy was supposedly famous and from Wyoming.  Something odd was when he started talking about the Philadelphia Eagles trading away our starting quarterback, Donovan McNabb to the Washington Redskins.  At that moment I truly felt like I was in some kind of twisted dream sequence on Hee Haw.

The whole thing was the suggestion of one of our friends and it snowballed from there.  All in all, four families headed over.  I really don’t have enough space here to explain how many oddities I witnessed on that night.  The mosquitoes were the only bit of normalcy I do believe.

First thing that hit me was the damn cost! We could have gone to a Major League Baseball game for the same cost that night. But the difference was, you could bring in a cooler of your favorite beverages! How, you ask?  Well, you know at the airport before you check in at the counter, there is a size measurement for your carry-on?  You have to make sure your carry-on fits in there, or it has to be checked.  Well, the rodeo had that for coolers.  The cooler had to fit in, or you couldn’t bring it in.  Nice.

There were cowboys everywhere. The hats were on, the plaid shirts were blazing, the buckles were huge and the jeans were painted on. I felt very out of place in shorts and sneakers.

There was a guy on a folding chair drinking a 40 of beer, who, about halfway through, went into his cooler and took out a bag of Godiva chocolates.  I mean what’s a better compliment to Bud than truffles?

picture on live bull from rodeoAll of the signs were blaring with painted letters on plywood or cardboard. From the front entrance costs, to the “Sandwiches” and “Fixins” signs at the food booths, to the sign trying to sell you a bull. OK, quick explanation here. There was some huge ass white steer that you could pay $8.00 to sit on and get your picture taken with.  Yes, $8.00.  Anyway, a sign was next to him saying that the steer and the whole photo setup was for sale, “Serious inquiries only.”

After several hundred mosquito bites, and about a hundred dollars’ worth of cowboy hats, funnel cakes, popcorn and drinks for the kids, we headed out at the Intermission.  We left partly because it was getting late, and the kids needed to go to bed soon, but that wasn’t all.  Mostly it was because our wives cheered loudly during the calf roping portion.  Not in the traditional rodeo sense, but instead every time the sprinting calf escaped the lasso and wasn’t violently yanked to the ground.  This, to rodeo attendees, is like a New York Giants fan coming into the Philadelphia Eagles stadium and cheering loudly if the Eagles fumble the ball.  Let’s just say I thought some drunk cowboys were going to hogtie us.

All in all it was an adventure and a good time. It was the people I went with that made it a great time.  Will I go back? Maybe if I tailgate first. But I was able to cross something off my Enigma List.

Oh yeah, I’ve also gone to a Lumberjack Festival, but that’s a story for another time.

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A Long Overdue Rant on Facebook

Part 1 – In the Beginning. So I’ve been on the juggernaut that is Facebook for just over a year now. And it has further solidified my belief that there really is no hope for the human race.

When I first started Facebook, I thought it was a place to wax philosophical, or get at least somewhat intellectual: you know, divulge your own nuggets of wisdom on life.

I now know better.

I’d roll out my thoughts on something deep and philosophical, or make some obscure reference. Here’s an example:

Bryan read some Faulkner yesterday. Yesterday – being cold – bled yellow sunlight across the imitable sky as a hummingbird buzzed languidly – long and desolate – and didn’t seem to mind that the cold was a biting cold, while the trees (there was a forest of them), mocked me silently, and with a building peace, nature went on and on, like ancient clockwork tick-tocking, while I watched the inescapable beauty of it all.

Get it? I made a post about reading Faulkner while using a Faulknerian writing style.

Well, I thought it was funny.

You know how many comments or “likes” I got about that?

One. Because other than my one other intellectual friend on this earth who understood the reference, no one else fucking reads Faulkner anymore and probably doesn’t get it because they’re a bunch of douches.

But, I have found that if you say something as childish as . . .

Doesn’t everyone LOVE Cake??!!! (SMILEY SMILEY WINK WINK)

1,400 comments of “YEA CAKE!!!” and 300 “likes”.

We’re a species of 12-year-olds.

Part 2 – Your Privacy. Let me get this straight. You put your information on the fucking internet and you’re upset because some nefarious individuals are able to see it?

Idiots.

Part 3 – Categories. I know it’s cliche, and I know there’s been 1,800 bloggers (ironically “bloggers” comes up as a misspelled word . . . go figure) categorizing Facebook posters.

But I can’t resist. And yes, those of you who are my Facebook friends **cough** **cough** CHUCK **cough** **cough**, I know I am occasionally guilty of posting movie quotes or inspiration, but these categories are of people who overdo it in each category. So, here goes:

  1. The “Movie Quote” Poster – Be original. Anyone can use Google to find movie quotes to make people laugh. A form of plagiarism to me.
  2. The “I’m Political” Poster – Seriously, Facebook is no place for your political agenda. It makes you look like an asshole, even if your friends agree with you. And on that note, never argue with anyone over politics on Facebook. Even if you’re right. Very few people know what forensic argumentation is, and even fewer know how to use it properly.
  3. The “Look at Me, I’m Religious and Put My Prayers on Facebook” Poster – The only thing worse than being political on Facebook is being religious on Facebook. Instant grounds for defriending in my book. Even worse yet is the “I’m on Facebook to Convert People to my Religion” Poster. Luckily I don’t befriend assholes like that in the first place.
  4. The “I’ve Got My Own ‘Business’ but Don’t Know How to Setup a Facebook Fan Site” Poster – Do not advertise using your normal Facebook logon. Setup a fan site. Otherwise you are basically spamming your friends with shit they’re going to skip over every time it happens anyway.
  5. The “Wisdom of the Ages” Poster – You know, the one who always posts inspiring quotes or reminds you every chance that “Life is short” or some shit like that. Be original.
  6. The “I Need Advice on What Product I Should Get” Poster – This one pisses me off more than any other. Why? Because there are starving people in this world, and for you to ask something so douchey as,

    So, guys, what should I get, The iPhone or The Droid? I can’t decide!!!

    is a slap to the face of every person on this planet who doesn’t have that opportunity. Believe me, not being able to decide about shit like that deserves no sympathy and is even less deserving of an answer.

  7. The “Music Lyric” Poster – No one cares what music you listen to. Your obscure lyrics of some band that reflects how “cool” you think you are does not impress me.

Part 4 – Posts on my Facbook Page that are my favorites – Here are the top 10 in no particular order. I have re-formatted some of them so that they are more readable than on Facebook.:

  1. Bryan had a foreign object removed from his eye yesterday. Here’s how it went:
  2. ME: “Will I need to wear an eyepatch?”
    DOCTOR: “No.”
    ME: “Can you give me one anyway?”
    DOCTOR: “No.”

    True story.

  3. Bryan is watching Chinese Folk dancing. Yes, there is such a thing, and yes, there are dragons.
  4. Pineapples are the flamboyant gays of the fruit world. . . . OK, sorry. I’ll say it in a more politically correct way: Pineapples are the “interior decorators” of the fruit world. Discuss.
  5. Bryan had to drive back from Rhode Island with no windshield wipers in pouring rain. Used only my powers of sight and a GPS. It reminded me of that episode of The Dukes of Hazzard where Bo and Luke Duke were driving the General Lee from the floorboards with a map of Hazard County to fool everyone into thinking it was their ghost. Only it was better.
  6. Two things I heard at the DMV today:
  7. 1. “Why would that be a problem? You lick my feet every night.”
    2. “I want to go to Wal Mart later, but I don’t think I’m dressed for it.”

  8. As a reaction to parental outrage, the Cookie Monster now eats vegetables. This is horrifying. No letter of outrage is needed, just good parenting. For example, when I was a kid, I asked my mom why the Cookie Monster never swallowed the cookies. My mom responded with, “Because he’s a puppet and doesn’t have a throat. Now shut up and eat your carrots.” Parents, that’s how it’s done.
  9. Yet another aphorism: Killing spiders for my wife should be considered as heroic as winning a cage-fighting match or saving a puppy from certain doom.
  10. Bryan has been watching some late night TV. I have realized that the Exercise Industry has been selling some minor variation on the same piece of exercise equipment since 1982. Just goes to show you, yet again, that with enough enthusiasm and a “Money Back Guarantee”, people will buy anything.
  11. Not liking flowers is tantamount to not liking beer or kittens. It’s just wrong and downright un-American.
  12. No matter how different you think it looks, a snake, dragon, or naked lady tattoo looks the same as any snake, dragon or naked lady tattoo ever.

Enjoy.

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The Subtle Art of BS Detection, Part 3: Final Thoughts

So let’s sum up BS Detection. What follows are some basic guidelines for good BS Detection:

  1. Realize that you have biases, and admit them to yourself, especially when it comes to politics. I fall a little left of center on the political spectrum, and the challenge for me is to set aside my own biases in order to weed out the propaganda that fits into my own world view. There is propaganda and Conspiracy theories spewed out from all parts of the political spectrum. There are “crazies in every camp”, and anyone who hates a skeptic hates a hypocrite even more. I have an equal amount of disdain for MSNBC as I do for Fox News. I verify with equal amount of veracity the “facts” I’m told by Keith Olbermann as I am told by Bill O’Reilly. If you are the type that swallows whole everything you see on either channel, turn on your BS Detector. They both do it.
  2. When talking to people about their theories on life, BS detection thrives on asking probing questions in a non-threatening way: Where did you hear that? What are the details? Why would they do that? Unfortunately, questioning people’s statements is tantamount to pissing on their Cheerios. Nobody likes a skeptic. I have been at dinner conversations before and debunked people’s outright gullibility. The reaction I get is like in those ingenious SNL Rachel Dratch sketches, Debbie Downer. I’m the dick for crushing their hopes about some cockamamie medical cure. I’m the asshole for making the government far less conspiratorial than it is. I’m the douche bag for challenging their world view on their theory about when the world will end. Granted, I am not known as the most tactful person on the planet. But really, after their reaction, most people don’t even change their view anyway. We are a stubborn species.
  3. If you don’t have the knowledge to talk on the subject, keep your mouth shut. For some reason, no one ever wants to say they don’t know. It is better to say that then make an ass out of yourself by attempting to keep up with someone who thinks they know just a little more than you do.

People seem to be taking things at face value these days. They are controlled by the media. Unfortunately for us skeptics, a lot of this thinking has graduated from fringe thinking into more conventional “wisdom”. It’s hard to fact-check anymore. Most websites are biased.

Humans want to persist in believing the world is more interesting than it really is to continue their need for a spicier life. They may want to persist in believing the world is more harmful than it really is to continue their need for paranoia, or they may want to persist in believing the world is more safe than it really is to continue their need for solace. Here comes another Carl Sagan quote:

It is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.

HTH.

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Gambling and the Slot Machine

Slot MachineSo we took a trip this weekend to our local Hotel and Casino. It was just an overnight trip to get away. I took some time to reflect on the trip, and came away with some knowledge about myself, which is always a good thing.

Maybe it’s just my age, but I have decided that I am against me gambling. Notice I didn’t say I’m “against gambling”. I said I’m against “ME gambling”.

First of all, I have never been a big gambler. The only time I ever sat at a real casino table was playing blackjack just for fun. It was a slow night at this casino, so I figured I’d give it a shot.

I lost $35 in less than two minutes.

I stopped.

Now I’m not saying someone can’t make money at gambling. It’s just that the odds are against you. Some people get a thrill from that sort of thing.

Dangerous thrill, but whatever.

I’ll leave the analysis of high stakes gambling to the big dogs. I’d rather go a bit more small time and talk about the Slot Machine. I have decided that the slot machine is one of the most ingenious god damn inventions on the planet.

Think about it. People willingly put their hard-earned money into a slot, lose their money, and, here’s the kicker: they are OK with it.

That’s fucking ingenious. I mean, they aren’t buying tangible goods and services, they’re buying into an illusion.

I decided to look up “Slot Machine Probability Statistics” just to do some research for this and sure enough, appropriate to the topic, the internet is clogged up with slot machine scams.

So, I’m not going to link your computer to the unfortunate mess of online slot machine scams. You’ll have to trust me on this one. If you really want the link from which I draw my data, I will be more than happy to disclose. I had to comb through a lot of shitty data to find the real scoop on slot machines. I am no mathematician, but here’s some basics about what I found, and I am sure that many of you already know this, so I’m not expecting this to be groundbreaking information. Looking at the math, though, I find it interesting:

  1. Every slot machine has what’s called a “lookup” table with mathematical weights corresponding to each symbol in the reels, the higher monetary value symbols have lower weights. That means the higher the monetary value of the symbol, the lower the probability they will align. This is perfectly legal and does not break any US laws.
  2. The historical payout of the slot machine makes no difference whatsoever. A machine in which you put your first coin is just as (un)likely to payout a jackpot as a machine you’ve been playing all day.
  3. There is a built in psychological “mind trick” to slot machines with the way the reels are organized. They are situated in a way that gives people the illusion that they “almost” hit a jackpot or higher payout. For example, someone might get a reel that is one symbol off from winning 20 credits as opposed to 2 credits, leading them to falsely think they “almost won” for that spin. The idea, of course, is that this will get said player to keep playing under the pretense that the next spin will increase their odds of winning. This is an illusion. Once again, perfectly legal in the US.
  4. The “payout” on slot machines, even including jackpot payouts, on a per user basis can be anywhere from 86% to 97%. What that means is for every dollar you spend, considering all factors, you will get anywhere from 86 to 97 cents back. But, that is statistics according to the Casino, not on a per-outing basis, which means that one visit to the Casino does not guarantee this “return” (emphasis on the quotes). One outing you might lose all your money, the next may be up by $40 for that visit, whatever. In other words, you should expect to lose 3 to 14 cents overall per dollar spent on total visits to slot machines. Sure, you might indeed hit a jackpot and be one of the few people who actually win something life-changing, but considering all factors, it is a losing proposition, tantamount to playing the lottery. Odds are you will be out money. The odds of winning a full jackpot are anywhere from .00004 to .00007 percent, according to my “research,” for what it’s worth.

They don’t put slot machines in casinos for nothing. They are profit-making machines like anything else. But what is ingenious about it, is that they are exploiting human psychology. It’s one thing if you buy tangible goods, but putting money into a slot machine like that, it’s just too damn easy for them.

You might say it’s great for the free booze, but that’s all part of the loss as well. You are certainly more likely to spend more money if you are inebriated than if you are not. I don’t think I need to quote statistics on that.

Me? I’ll keep my money, thank you.

If anyone finds a flaw in my analysis or math, please make a comment below. I’ll be the first to admit that I am no mathematical genius. Just please be gentle. :)

* Image courtesy of Jeff Kubina via Flickr

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