Archive for category Tips

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.

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Driving Tutelage

Driving while putting on lipstick and talking on the phone.

Safe Driving

Driving on a busy road, these are some things I’ve learned.
I do not suffer from road rage, rarely wish anyone dead, or make my issues anyone else’s on the road. I also do not think I am invincible and think my driving skills can get me out of any mess. I thought that way once, and not 30 seconds later I was T-boned by a moron running a stop sign.
I realize that for many of us, Drivers Education was a long time ago. Even for those fresh out of high school and behind the wheel, those classes are distant memories. Those youngin’s will learn with practice and experience, and the car will truly become an extension of themselves. Most of the people I encounter on the roads have been driving for years, and that extension is complete. Some believe their extension enhances their male prowess, but us realistic drivers get a good chuckle out of them and inwardly shake our heads in pity.
Because DE is so far in the past, most hit the road with their extension in the same way they go through their lives: careless, self-involved and oblivious. Do I write this as a driving elitist? Definitely not. I fall prey to the mistakes any driver makes, but am cognisant of the fact that I’m piloting almost 4000 lbs and a stupid mistake could cost lives.
Others behind the wheel don’t care, think they are impervious to mistakes, feel deserving of the road as theirs, or are just plain idiotic in their lives.

So I’ve learned much over the years, and I’m trying to help those less fortunate with some simple guidelines:

  • On an on-ramp, you do not have the right of way over those that are doing 65 on the highway.
  • The left lane IS for passing, do not drive the speed limit, or anywhere close to it, when in the left lane.
  • Do not use the shoulder to pass all of us people that are sitting in the traffic, you are not better than any of us, douchebag.
  • Get off your damn cell phone if you can’t drive straight, it really is that simple.
  • If it is raining, you don’t have to continue to do 75. As an aside, you do not have to go 25 below the limit either. Drive normal, all will be well.
  • Just because you turn your blinker on, does not automatically give you the right to switch lanes when people are passing you by.
  • Motorcyclists, you’re always screaming about respect on the roads, well you’re only going to piss off us car and truck drivers by weaving in and around us by mere inches when we are following the rules, you know, by staying in our lanes in slow traffic.
  • The gist of the word “yield” (verb, of course) is to give way to another. Dictionaries never have stated that it means “To go forward at full-bore and to hell with anyone else around you.”
  • If I am going over the speed limit, passing a line of slower cars, there is no way in hell that I am going to get INTO that slower lane of cars just because you are now driving three inches from my bumper. As an aside, as you can see (because you are driving half on the shoulder to “tell” me that you want to get around me), there is also a car in front of me doing the same speed as me. I will not be an asshole and harass them like you are, so piss off.
  • It’s been covered in so many places before, but why not here? When you’re driving, just don’t put on your makeup, eat, text, read a book, get something out of your eye, fetch your phone from under your seat, apply hair spray, re-program your stereo, rearrange your glove compartment, apply meds to that anal sore, change clothes, masturbate or write notes. Listening to self-help audiobooks on how not to be a dicktard? That’s acceptable, and in your case, mandatory.
  • Laying on the horn for an extended length of time only brings attention to the fact that you are, again, a douchebag. The cause of the issue has already moved on, and you are left with an angry dumb look on your face.
  • If you are behind me, and all of us in front of you are patiently waiting to make a right turn or get off on this exit, flooring it out of line, passing 20 of us, then trying to squeeze back in is just cause for extreme directed hatred.
  • Generally, I do not expect you to blast your way in between me and the car in front of me, so when you surprise me with such creativeness, don’t throw your hands up in surprise when I’m hitting the horn from the shoulder to your left.
  • Driver, please do not be surprised when a Peacemaker pops out of a car window and proceeds to disrupt your pristine paint job with perfect circular holes… perhaps you should not have sent that last text message while you traversed the left shoulder and the two lanes to your right. Just sayin’.

Corollary -
Those people that put the type of car they are driving on their license plate, are dorks.
So Mr. Driver that has “LOTUS X2” on your plate when you are driving a Lotus X2, I don’t care what you are driving, you’re a fucking dork.

Tags: , , , , ,

NERD ALERT: The “Cloud Computing” Phenomenon

Cloud ComputingThis one goes out to all my geek peeps. Word to your mutha.

For about a year now,  I have been hearing/reading the phrase “Cloud Computing” shoved down my throat flashed unashamedly from top vendors everywhere: Microsoft, Novell, VMWare (particularly VMWare) and Cisco. As a matter of fact, it’s hailed as nothing less than revolutionary, kind of like, as John Stewart has humorously referred to as, vendors “talking about it while hiding an erection.”

Let me give you the best definition I have seen of Cloud Computing, and believe me, I’ve seen a bunch:

Cloud Computing – An approach to computing that leverages the efficient pooling of on-demand, self-managed virtual infrastructure consumed as a service.

Now, that’s all fine and dandy, but I have really struggled with this Cloud Computing thing since I first grasped the concept.

The struggle for me is that I didn’t think it was a big deal (I still don’t . . . sort of). I kept asking myself, “Am I missing something?” Cloud Computing, to me, looks conspicuously like a fancy-schmancy phrase for virtualization, which is nothing new. I have been using virtualization professionally for a little over 4 years now. So, I just don’t understand the hype.

I am not alone in this. Most of my peers have felt the same way, and they just wave their hand at it and affectionately tell me to STFU about it and move on. But, me being the analytical type, I have been on this quest, until recently, to find out what the hype is about Cloud Computing.

In my profession I go to a lot of vendor events. I run into company insiders all the time. I have asked Vendor Engineers (who shall remain anonymous) to give me an example of Cloud Computing. Goes like this:

ME: Can you give me an example of Cloud Computing that makes it different from Virtualization?
Vendor Dude: Sure. You can pool resources together for instant scalability.
ME: That’s virtualization. I’m asking about cloud computing.
Vendor Dude: (looking perplexed) OK. You can utilize your SAN for centralized storage of Virtual Machines for ease of provisioning.
ME: That’s virtualization. I’m asking about cloud computing. What makes cloud computing different?
Vendor Dude: Hmm. Not sure what you mean.

/facepalm

I recently came to a revelation about it at the most recent VMWare Forum I attended.

I’m not fucking missing anything.

Cloud Computing = Virtualization

Now, that isn’t completely true when I say that; I did find a minor difference, but not enough that it isn’t going out on a limb to say that.

Now that we’ve established that, here’s my take on Cloud Computing:

  1. I know I’m bragging when I say this, but the reason why I didn’t see the significance is that I am ahead of the curve in my career. Those of us who have been doing virtualization for a while, have already been using cloud computing for a long time now. Hence we’re so close to it we don’t see the difference.
  2. Cloud Computing is mostly a mind shift in how IT is designed, not a new technology. Most of the technology behind cloud computing has been around for years.
  3. “Cloud Computing” is also a marketing term for CXO’s who don’t understand virtualization. I think vendors got so sick and tired of trying to explain virtualization, they had to change their marketing approach. We all know how much CXO’s love cheesy catch phrases. Think about it, have you ever tried to explain enterprise virtualization to someone who doesn’t even understand the basics of how an Operating System works? But put it into a cheesy catch phrase like “Cloud Computing”, make the symbol for it look like the internet, and talk about the business benefits like, “Instant scalability without additional cost” and they’ll start listening.

But, there are a couple of subtle differences between virtualization and the ultimate goal of cloud computing, meaning virtualization as a means to an end to bring about:

  1. A change in how an “Operating System” will function. It is my prediction that in 5-8 years, what we currently know as an Operating System will be vastly different. OS’s will be far more special purpose, suited to the Application that runs on it. This is already accomplished through pre-built Virtual Machines, but we’re going to see that become far more streamlined. Or, applications will run as detached from an underlying operating system.
  2. User self-management. Currently, setup is done by admins at the request of users. We get a list of all the shit the users need called a “User Requirement Document”, we then go into some dark room and build the infrastructure accordingly. Instead, with cloud computing, we’ll pre-build everything and have it “lie dormant” so to speak on a set of virtualized servers somewhere (hint-hint “the cloud”), provide the users with a web-based interface, and they’ll tick off check boxes of the features they want, click submit, and the cloud will enable these features on the back-end in an automated fashion. That’s the software-as-a-service (SaaS) part of Cloud Computing.
  3. Further ease of large scale deployments. This is more of an evolutionary concept than the previous two points. This is already accomplished through a bunch of pretty technical concepts like primary data deduplication on the SAN, and automated deployment tools. I have seen enterprise environments that can roll out 500 virtualized desktops and the user accounts that go with them in 8 minutes. This will become a lot more mainstream as the technologies mature.

So there you go, you now have some cool catch phrases and acronyms with which you can impress people at parties. Don’t ever say that GUAC isn’t informative. :)

Tags: , , , ,

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.

Tags: , , ,

The Subtle Art of BS Detection, Part 2: Lies, Damn Lies, Statistics, and the Media

Let’s take another type of BS I’ve heard of late. Statistics. For example, on someone’s Facebook status recently, they said:

“Dr. Oz says that 200+ orgasms a year leads to 15-20 added years to your life!”

Did you spot it? He really did mention the 200 orgasms, but 15-20 years? Really? If it sounds outlandish, it probably is. What he really said was:

“If you have more than 200 orgasms a year, you can reduce your physiologic age by six years.” (Source)

But, here’s the kicker, your BS detector should have gone off again. This one’s not so simple, however.

There is a new health fad out currently, called RealAge, whose website is created and maintained by the Hearst Corporation. And currently, the home page has an image of Dr. Oz and the “co-founder” of RealAge giving the thumbs up with a huge smile on their faces. Their claim is that scientific studies affirm this idea of Physiologic Age, and that there are ways of decreasing it.

This brings me to my next tips for good BS Detection:

  1. Anything that can be affirmed by common sense does not need expensive scientific studies to affirm. Common sense will tell you that living a healthy lifestyle is improved by eating a healthy diet and exercising. This “physiologic age,” most likely is an indicator of health. But it is nothing more than an indicator. How do I make my physiologic age lower? Eat right, exercise, and apparently have orgasms. Done. Move on people.
  2. One should be skeptical about any corporation that runs a website that claims to “help you”. They are in the  business of making money, and due to factor number one as above, take the advice they give out for free and move on with your life.

Dr. Oz’s quote was based on a Duke University study. For the life of me, I cannot find this study. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, but I don’t believe any “scientific study” unless I can read it.

I should tell you about any “study” that claims to be “scientific”.

The world of true science is a public one. Mere mortals like you and me have access to these studies through scientific journals. I don’t give any credence to scientific studies that are (a) extremely difficult to find on the internet, and/or (b) have not been rigorously peer reviewed.

In fact, you should be skeptical of any media outlet that covers a “new scientific study”. The key word is “new”. “New” scientific studies have not been peer reviewed by the scientific community.

The problem is, there is no rule that any cockamamie “scientist” can’t release their “findings” to the public without it being peer reviewed. That’s when the media gets a hold of it, and by the time the study is debunked, does the media do the responsible thing and retract it? Nope. They’re off to the next new “scientific study”.

And we wonder why no one trusts scientists.

Why does the media do this? Well, because the media is no longer responsible for journalism, as it’s become diluted by corporations.

I recently read the book True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society. One of the topics mentioned in the book are VNR’s (Video News Releases). VNR’s are “news stories” developed by marketing firms that have subtle advertising (or sometimes, not so subtle). Go to YouTube and type in “Video News Release” and you’ll see countless examples. According to a 2005 Public Notice, the FCC requires a disclosing of the source of the VNR, but for whatever reason, this is not happening in many cases.

Have you ever been watching the News and thought to yourself “How the Hell does this qualify as news?” The most likely answer? VNR’s.

Someone somewhere wants you to buy something. Think for yourself.

And yes, the above sounds conspiratorial, and after reading my first post on BS Detection and Conspiracy Theories, I find that comparing Parts 1 and 2, this one’s dripping with irony.

You can decide for yourself if I am full of BS.

Tags: , , ,

The Subtle Art of BS Detection, Part 1: Conspiracy Theories

It is better to be too skeptical than too credulous.

- Carl Sagan

I was fortunate, in my formative years, to have developed what I call a BS Detector. Carl Sagan (quoted above), who is one of my all-time greatest heroes, calls it a “Baloney Detection Kit.” Mine was mostly developed in college I’d say, but started in high school while listening to, of all things, heavy metal music. I fashioned myself a bit of a rebel, as it were. “Question Authority” and all that. The beauty of the BS Detector is that we all have one, and it’s easy to use. The results of using it, however, can be hard for some people to deal with.

It should come as no surprise to you, dear reader, that you should never believe everything you read, see, or hear. Well, with the exception of what you’re reading now, of course. But of late, my BS Detector has been working overtime. The conspiracy theories, the misinformation, the outlandish statistics, and the outright lies are just getting really out of hand. So bad, in fact, I have to distract my mind with rainbows, kittens, and puppies just to stop myself from becoming a complete misanthrope.

It’s no mystery that the media has changed over the past 30 years. Gone are the Walter Cronkites, and the Edward R. Murrows. They’ve been replaced by pundits, blogs, and partisan-backed media channels. I really want to avoid politics in this post; so please don’t jump to any conclusions about my slant. There are lies spewing out from the entire political spectrum. I am an equal opportunity blogger: I’m criticizing everyone.

I want to talk specifically about Conspiracy Theories in this post. Part 2 will be about statistics in the media, and Part 3 will be some final thoughts and I’ll give some pointers abut freethinking and using your BS Detector without pissing people off.

So let’s start with a real-life example. Last week, I had a guy approach me and start a sentence with a very nonchalant, “So, when they shut down the internet . . .”

Shut down the internet?

When someone says something so mind-numbingly ridiculous, there is a point where my BS Detector pegs the needle so hard, my brain actually shuts down for a second, probably out of the need for self-preservation.

Anyway, once I recovered, I had this man explain. I’ll spare you the details, but apparently, he believes that, “the Obama administration is looking to install an internet control system like they have in North Korea and will shut down the internet on anyone who violates the controls.”

Dear reader, we share the planet with people like this. I see this guy every day.

Why are some people so willing to believe such nonsense? How do they live like that? My theory is that we humans have a need for things to be far more interesting than they really are. It would be so much more interesting if Elvis really did live. It would be so much more interesting if the government really did cover up an alien crash landing in Roswell in 1947. Additionally, we all have what’s called a confirmation bias that keeps us believing what we want to believe. This confirmation bias, by the way, is the antithesis to the BS Detector. You need to keep that tendency to a minimum.

Take a look now at conspiracy whack-job Alex Jones, who pretty much comes up with a new conspiracy theory every week. He has an “underground” radio show and two websites. I refuse to link them due to the whack-job factor, but if you want to check him out, use Google to your advantage. You’ll know his websites when you see them, and to be on the safe side, I wouldn’t visit them at work. You’ve been warned.

And before you go crying “foul” on me, yes, he’s been characterized as a “Right Wing” conspiracy theorist, but due to his history, I don’t think he cares who’s in Office. No one is safe from his theorizing. Thus, he’s just a straight whack-job in general to me. So, in my mind, he’s free game to use as an example here.

His list of conspiracy theories include:

  • 9/11 was an inside job.
  • Government-based Health Care death panels.
  • The aforementioned “Obama’s shutting down the internet” conspiracy.
  • FEMA’s secret building of concentration camps.
  • Man-made Global Warming is a hoax.
  • His take on the “New World Order” conspiracy.
  • And, get this, a conspiracy theory about the “World Government” suppression of conspiracy theories. (Youtube link)

. . . And the list goes on.

These types of people used to be written off as part of the “lunatic fringe”. But these people now get air time on “more conventional” (emphasis on the quotes) news media outlets and people like Jones’ faux “documentation” to “prove” their theories, dupe otherwise ordinary people into entertaining his complete bullshit.

Two facts about career conspiracy theorists (Alex Jones is not the first, nor the only), are as follows:

  1. The conspiracy theory is usually impossible to disprove (though keep in mind there is no real evidence for it either). Conspiracy theorists go by the “Since no one can disprove it, it must be true” fallacy.
  2. If the conspiracy theory is disproved, they are already off on another one for the masses to buy into.

People like this are well-aware of these facts, and they get a lot of notoriety and make a lot of money doing it.

Debunking conspiracy theories:

  1. Consider the source. If they have something to gain from it, such as a Political Agenda, money, ego-feeding followers, or all three, it’s a count against the theory.
  2. If it sounds outlandish, it probably is.
  3. All propaganda starts with a kernel of truth. There is a Bill in Congress that is looking to put in place the ability to shut down parts of the North American internet infrastructure in case of a Cyber Terrorist attack. Reading the language of the relevant part of the bill though, I hardly see it as a conspiracy since there is no language indicating a  “North Korea”-like control system.
  4. Be wary of phrases like “we know better.” For example, if they say something like, “Congress is debating over a bill now that would give The President power to shut down the internet in case of a cyber terrorist attack, but we know better. It’s really about the government taking away your freedom!” That becomes pure speculation.
  5. Be wary of phrases like, “don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise, they’re probably part of it,” which is proof positive that they don’t want you checking into the details.
  6. Beware of the slippery slope and/or “the piggy-back”. I will spare you the details, but if the “news story” starts with something innocuous and then graduates into something larger and unrelated, the presenter in question has an agenda. For example, the news story about the PA School board giving out laptops that could spy on students was graduated into Google spying on us in some circles, which is patently false.
  7. Check the facts. Most Conspiracy Theories don’t stand a chance against a good 5 minute search on the internet. But be aware that not all internet sources can be trusted either. All of the links I have used in this blog post have been as unbiased as possible. Stay away from sites that are too left or too right wing. They are just as untrustworthy. You will know them when you see them.
  8. If the information to debunk the theory is too hard to find, then there is no evidence for it and you should suspend judgment. As said before, conspiracy theorists go by the mantra, “Since it can’t be disproved, then it is true.” Don’t follow their logic.

On to Part 2: Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics.

Tags: , , ,

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

Tags: , , , ,

Why I Don’t Have Kids

I’ve compiled a list of reasons why we don’t have kids. Here they are:

  1. Kids are money-leeching, whiny little germ factories. Ask any parent.
  2. So I can keep having sex, smoking cigars, drinking, and swearing. I am sure my life will be shorter, but alas, I will fortunately miss out on those miserable last 10 or so years of life where every bathroom visit starts with, “Ohhh, it hurts to pee”.
  3. We love sleeping in on the weekends, or sleeping in, in general. Enough said.
  4. Money. Cruise last year? Paid for in cash. Trip to Europe this year? Cash. Monthly supply of booze and cigars? Cash.
  5. For the Environment. Lifetime energy use per American over is 20,000 kJ. I have no fucking idea how much that is, but I’m sure it’s a lot. The average American will use 32 gallons of water a day, 5 pounds of food per day, and 1,025 gallons of oil per year (sources available on request). This means I can still do good for the environment all while buying an SUV and selling baby seal pelts out of the back seat.
  6. So I can keep gaming. Still looking for a good MMO that isn’t just like every other damn MMO ever made.
  7. So I am not tempted to put my kid on the phone. Parents, please don’t have your kids answer the god damn phone. Although you understand them just fine, and I’m sure they’re making progress with their language acquisition, no one else understands what the fuck they are saying at age 4, nor does anyone else care. Even worse is when you tell them what to say because you think it’s cute. Besides, I called to talk to you, not to that drunken midget of yours you call a child.
  8. We don’t have to be the people who bring the crying kid on the plane. I am a firm supporter of child sedation for travel, by the way.
  9. Because we like to have nice things. Cigar Humidor? Spotless. And, have you ever taken a look at the inside of a parent’s car? I cringe at the thought.
  10. So I don’t have to teach them “responsibility”, or whatever.
  11. Not needing to have a gun collection to show off to my daughter’s potential dates. You think I’m kidding? I’m not.

I’d like to hear if anyone else has good reasons why they don’t have kids. Put them in the comments below.

Tags: , , , , ,

Ebay’s Mistaken Treasures

The old saying goes that one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure. The best marketplace for treasurable garbage is Ebay. And who isn’t looking for the best deal when it comes to said treasure? I have an old saying of my own: it’s great to learn from your mistakes but it’s even better if you can learn from someone else’s. Or in this case, profit from someone else’s.

I used to own a sports memorabilia store, and I purchased authenticated, signed merchandise on Ebay for resale in the store. I had a good idea what things wholesaled for and knew a good deal when I saw one. One time, I saw a deal on an Emmitt Smith signed mini helmet that was too good to be true. The auction was ending in less than 30 minutes and the item was going for well below what others of the same quality and authentication were. What was wrong with this one that turned people off? What was I missing? I was missing my mistake and more importantly, the mistake of the person who listed the item.

When I searched for the item I typed in “Emmit” and not the proper spelling of his name, “Emmitt.” This misspelling is what kept everyone who knew how to spell his name correctly or didn’t commit a typo while searching from seeing this auction, hence, the good deal. I won the auction and paid $75 less than what I was willing to pay for the item. Good deal. Not bad for a so-called mistake on my part. Did I learn from it? You’re damn right I did.

I went on to pay significantly less for: a Squire Stratocaster guitar (proper spelling: Squier) and a Derek Jeeter signed baseball (Jeter). I got a very nice deal on a Wayne Gretzkee (Gretzky) signed 8×10. All because I took advantage of others’ mistakes.

So, the next time you’re hunting for your next treasure, type in what might be a common misspelling and see if you can get a good deal. They are to be had. If you are listing an item, use the flipside of this tip. In the listing, put common misspellings in so that everyone finds the listing and not just those who spell the name correctly. Don’t list: an Emmitt Smith signed mini helmet. List instead: an Emmitt Emmit Smith signed mini helmet.

Tags: , , ,