Saturday, May 2, 2009

Digital Standard Preferred Basic Cable

I love cable TV. With all my heart and soul. I love paying for TV. I think it's great that I can get a bill in the mail for things I don't use, like Lifetime, Telemundo and The Hallmark channel. I am, however, oddly attracted to strange channels like Weatherscan. I can get radar, weather conditions and a forecast without having to wait for The Weather Channel's "Local on the 8's."
Imagine my surprise when I flipped on the TV and it was gone, along with the MLB Network and ESPN News. Perplexed, I called Comcast to find out why the screen said "Access denied."
The phone rep told me that they were part of their Digital Preferred package, and I only had Digital Standard. I wondered why I've had the MLB Network since its inception and I've had Weatherscan since I bought the digital converter box a year and a half ago. They seemed like odd channels to have as part of a "preferred" package, and as far as I was concerned, they were just basic digital channels.
She could switch me over (for a fee) to the preferred package, but could offer no explanation as to why I've had these channels before. She said, "People call all the time and wonder why they don't have HBO anymore. They never subscribed to it, but they miss it when it's taken from them."
"I'd know whether I was getting a pay channel like HBO, but Weatherscan doesn't strike me as a preferred channel. It's the weather. Honestly, I don't think most people know which channels are included in their cable packages. I didn't know that those three channels weren't in my standard digital cable package."
It probably goes back to last week, when I responded to an offer to get Starz for free because Comcast is taking the NFL Network away. When they flipped that switch, another one may have been flipped. There a lot of switches.
She then went on a long-winded monologue about how Comcast is going to be switching a lot of channels over to a set of digital channels - apart from the digital conversion that is coming in June. They're looking to add more digital channels. It sounds like they're responding to competition from Verizon FiOs and the satellite providers.
I'm not sure if charging extra for a weather channel is a idea.

Friday, May 1, 2009

What is hip?

Lately, I’ve been noticing how prevalent loud rock music is. Being old enough to remember when rock music was evil and a certain path to Hell, I now find it amusing that the stuff is almost everywhere we go.
At the gym on Monday night I took notice of some Metallica tune rumbling through the plastic ceiling speakers and just below were several people old enough to be my parents, and they didn’t seem to mind at all. In the 1960s (where I come from) such an onslaught would have elicited complaints to the management and demands that they “turn off this infernal rubbish!”
Today, nobody bats an eye – or ear.
Walk into your local Wawa (or similar convenience store) and the stuff is blasting over their speakers. Go to a sporting event and it’s playing over the P.A. system, introducing players and providing between-innings entertainment. It’s playing at restaurants, bars and places where the majority of the people remember buying 45s and watching Jack Paar on TV.
Rock music isn’t social anathema anymore, and that is peculiar to me. In my youth, loud music provided a buffer between us and them. With the proliferation of MTV and other mainstream outlets, the older generations have been worn down and even (egad) gotten to enjoy bands that they should be marching on Washington to protest. You can’t even get them angry at Ozzy Ozbourne anymore, and he’s older than most of them. Of course, Ozzy is still playing, as is Springsteen at 59, Jagger at 65 and Steven Tyler at 61; so maybe they’re just playing to their audience?
I liked it better when there was a social enemy. After all, what better marketing tool is there than to tell someone that something is bad for them or that they can’t have it? Now, everybody gets it and somehow it has lost its appeal. The Beatles used to be “long-haired mop-tops.” By comparison, they’d look like accountants today and our parents would be shouting at them to “Turn it up!”
People of my generation are old enough to have grown up with loud music, and like most things acceptance comes from exposure, which is why I’m a little surprised that marijuana isn’t legal yet.
Mostly, what bothers me is that I’m the same age as the people who were complaining about the loud music I listened to when I was a kid, and I find that disconcerting.

Thursday, April 30, 2009


Joe Biden talks and people listen.
WASHINGTON – Joe Biden said Thursday he advised his family to stay off airplanes and subways because of the swine flu, a remark that forced the vice president's office to backtrack, the travel industry to cry foul and other government officials to try to massage Biden's message.
"I would tell members of my family — and I have — that I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now," Biden said on NBC's "Today" show. Within two hours, Biden's office issued a statement backing off the remarks and suggesting he was talking about travel to Mexico.
Right. The subway is a great way to get to Mexico. Paso subterráneo. Cincuenta centavos, por favor.
It would be nice, once in a while, when one of these people says something and gets called on it, that he backed up what he said instead of backing off. Try this: “That’s right, I said it, and if you didn’t hear it the first time, I’ll say it again.”
Backpedaling and adjusting your stance because someone challenged you is weak. A spokesman for American Airlines accused the Vice President of “fear mongering.” Maybe there’s enough fear mongering to go around, since the Swine Flu pandemic is front page news and the lead story on every TV newscast – just in time for May sweeps.
Oh, that's right - we're not calling it Swine Flu anymore. Now, it's the numbered version: 2009 H1N1. But, if it looks like a pig and smells like a pig...

Best Swine Flu prevention technique: Spit into your hand.

WASHINGTON — The acting head of the Centers for Disease Control said Monday that people can best protect themselves against the swine flu threat by taking precautions they were taught as kids, like frequently washing their hands.
Asked what individual steps should be taken, Richard Besser replied: "The things that we learned when we were little, covering a cough ... staying home when you have a fever, frequent hand-washing. If people do these things, it will decrease the spread in our communities."
I'm not sure, because I'm not too bright - but I think covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze is a lot like spitting into your hand, and I wouldn't want to think we were being advised to do that in order to prevent the spread of a disease.
Are we?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

$33 a minute.

I watch a lot of baseball on TV. During the summer there isn't much else worth watching unless you enjoy watching the Mythbusters crew build a 7-foot Lego ball that amounted to a rolling anti-climax. But I digress.
One of the things I see during the games are the incessant cell phone geeks on either side of the baselines calling their pals to let them know that they're goofy smiling faces are on the TV:
Cell Phone Geek: Hey, can you see me? Wait ... I'll wave. [waving]
Friend at home: Oh, is that you? You're a little blurry. Wait ... OK, keep waving so I can tell if it's you. OK ... now I see you. Wave some more.
Cell Phone Geek: I'm still waving. Can you see me now? Oh ... something happened. No, there I am again, right?
Friend at home: Yes, I can see you now. I just turned the game on. Who's winning?
Cell Phone Geek: Oh ... I don't know. I was calling people.
Friend at home: Great. All right then, let me get back to the Mythbusters. They're going to roll a 7-foot Lego ball down a hill into a car. You're breaking up. They're doing some construction work nearby, so it might sound like I'm hanging up, but just keep waving and I'll tell you when to stop.
Meanwhile, President Obama did nearly an hour on TV last night telling us how he's doing. I'm guessing that the networks weren't all that happy about it. According to the latest ad pricing data from Nielsen, the Wednesday slot between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. generates some $21.5 million for the big four. That's probably why Fox denied his request for air time. It might be counter-productive in "this economy" to ask big media outlets to give up the millions of dollars that The New Adventures of Old Christine could be bringing in so that he can notify the country that he's finished 100 days as president. I thought that's what C-Span was for.
NEW YORK – Of all the veteran actors with films at the Tribeca Film Festival, the length of Sasha Grey's filmography could rival them all. Though just 21, Grey has performed in more than 150 pornographic films. But at Tribeca, she stars in Steven Soderbergh's "The Girlfriend Experience" - which premiered with much anticipation at the festival Tuesday evening.
In it, Grey plays a $2,000-an-hour escort whose Manhattan customers are mostly Wall Street executives stressed by their falling fortunes.
Amidst the furor over the $2,600 seats behind home plate at Yankee games, I never hear anyone complain about paying a hooker two-grand for an hour of sex. The Yankees have been under fire because most of the expensive seats at their new Yankee Stadium have gone unsold, to the extent that they have lowered prices and offered extra tickets for the few who have shelled out hooker prices for a game ticket.
I can't help but draw a comparison between the price of a baseball game and the price of an hour with a hooker, and I couldn't tell you that either one would be worth the money, although either one of them is a better bargain than an hour of network air time.
Prostitution and pornography are huge industries in America, yet they fly under the radar of public outrage. Occasionally, we'll hear Congress debating the logic of having consumers pay sales tax for Internet purchases. Lately, the fire has been burning under the Yankees' ass to get them to bring ticket prices back to earthly levels.
Stop a random person on the street and ask them what an hour of sex would cost and chances are you'd get a range of answers and almost none of them would be close. When you told them that it would cost two grand, they'd be incredulous, but since the industry isn't regulated (like television and baseball) there isn't anyone to complain to. If you complain, you're assumed to have broken the law and seen as a horrible person - because you've succumbed to your base instincts. You remember those. The ones that the drug companies tell you that you are supposed to succumb to and "ask your doctor" if a 4-hour erection requires medical attention.
There isn't anything you can do about it, because talking about it makes you the worst person in the community.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The reason the auto makers are in trouble.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist (or an automotive engineer) to figure out why General Motors (note the "general" in their name) is in trouble or why the others are scrambling to figure out why they're losing money hand over clenched fist. Look no further than the hybrid car market.
Let's start with the Nissan Altima and its little brother, the Nissan Altima Hybrid. The Altima has a base sticker price of $19,900 and gets (EPA estimated) 23mpg city and 31mpg highway.
The Altima Hybrid has a base sticker price of $26,650 and gets (EPA estimated) 25mpg city and 33mpg highway. The higher city mileage is because it's running on battery power. Even so, the extra $7,500 doesn't make sense when you figure in an extra 2 miles per gallon of gasoline. You'd have to be a hard-core tree hugger to shell out $7,500 and get literally nothing in return other than the satisfaction of running a car on batteries for a short time.
By comparison, the Versa and Sentra get 34mpg for a lot less money than you'd spend for an Altima, so if money is your chief concern (join the club by clicking here) then your dollar is better spent on something that consumes gasoline 100% of the time instead of something else.
It isn't just Nissan that is dropping the ball on this stuff. Ford, GM and the rest of them are not making a legitimate effort to convert Americans to hybrid technology. They're building the cars, but if they can't make them worth investing in, then consumers won't bother spending money on the technology. General Motors is closing down the Pontiac division. BFD. That's a division that should have been closed years ago, along with Buick. They aren't addressing the problem, and that's the problem.
I would have hoped that our government's bailout money would be better spent, but then, I have an inflated notion of the intelligence of our government. They gave out money to keep them in business, but it's been business as usual, and that isn't good enough. Mostly, this hybrid technology is what the late Rich Ashburn used to call "eye wash."
Hybrid's are odd and
I find it disconcerting.
Gasoline is King.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sunday in April and as hot as Hell.

We're supposed to believe in Global Warming and I guess I do, although my frame of reference is limited to the 51 years I've spent here. I can tell you two things: (1) We don't get as much snow as we used to and (2) I used to ice skate on a nearby lake and now, the lake doesn't get frozen enough to support my cat on ice skates, which would be quite a sight.
Occasionally, we hear about ice breaking off some northern outpost, and they tell us that it's as big as Texas or something, and we think, "Jeebus, as big as Texas?" Holy crap - an entire redneck state is headed this way. The only thing we don't know is how long ice has been breaking off. Maybe it's been breaking off for decades and only now we're hearing about it? Or maybe the planet really is warming, I don't know. Either way, I think it's a good idea to take care of the place.
That, plus the fact that it's April 26 and we're in the second day of a three-day wave of 90-plus temperatures in New Jersey. That ain't right, Global Warming notwithstanding.
Philadelphia Inquirer auto reviewer Al Haas wrote a review of the 2009 Aston Martin in today's paper. It's a $270,400 car that he called "excellent" and said, "it's the most stunning marriage of performance and luxury I've driven." Ya think? The fucking thing costs more than fifteen hundred blow jobs. I'd hope, if I bought one, I'd at least get one.
I watched enough of the NFL draft yesterday to see who the Eagles picked. That was enough, really. People like Mel Kiper are amazing to me. He's like a TV weatherman. He can be completely wrong (often) and yet explain why the team making the pick is making an odd choice, and then tell you why they should have done something else and how surprising it was. That's the same thing the TV weather people do when we get 6 inches of snow instead of the day of rain they told us.
They're similar jobs: Draft analyst and weatherman. Nobody seems to check their accuracy, they can say just about anything and we buy into it and there is no accountability. Is Kiper good or just popular?
The other amazing thing is how they can have an opinion on a sixth round draft pick, as though they're experts on the guy. I guess they realize that the bulk of their audience is clueless and will believe anything they are told. That's how the weather people behave, also.
The plastic phone book bag is gone, but in its place is another odd structure - the dead Easter plant on top of a cardboard box. Click on the photo and you'll see that it was once a box of "Individual chicken pot pies." That's right, folks. Another slice of condo living for ya. This little duo has been sitting outside my door for the past 3 days, and I suppose until the plant completely dries up and blows away, here it will stay. You thought my life was easy.
It was ungodly hot this weekend, and I'm guessing that Mister Easterplant received zero water, so the death process is a slow and agonizing one. Luckily, plants don't feel pain - only neighbors do.
One question: How long do I allow this disintegrating flower to suffer before it finds its way to the nearby dumpster?
Another question: Could it be that my neighbor is leaving it there out of spite over the previous box issue?
Question three: Does anyone want to make an offer for the place next door?
I spend some of my free time aimlessly wandering around the Internet. It's good for aimless wandering. One of the things I was looking at was the Kindle. What's a Kindle, you ask? A Kindle is a wireless reading device marketed by Amazon that allows you to download and read books, newspapers and magazines. There are, of course, pros and cons:
Pros - It's connected to a 3G wireless network that Amazon pays for, so there are no monthly connection fees. It's slim and light and easy to carry around. Newspaper and magazine subscriptions are available for a reasonable price.
Cons - It's $359. I'd have to force myself to start reading books, which would be the idea of having one. Mostly, I'm a gadget nut and I don't know if this is another Ralph Kramden "Crazy, hairbrained scheme."
Does anyone have one or know someone who does? It's almost impossible to evaluate these types of things over the Internet, which is part of the reason Amazon is having trouble selling them.