WGHubris on March 13th, 2015

GM makes an electric car called the Chevy Volt. Unlike a Tesla, for example, the Volt is fairly low-priced. It also differs from electric cars in that does have a gasoline motor. However, unlike hybrid cars, it doesn’t use gasoline to power the engine. Rather, gasoline is used to generate electricity. In other words, the car always runs on a electricity, but it has an on-board gas-powered electric generator to power the electric motor when necessary.

The battery basically lasts 38 miles, which means you can go back and forth to work, or school or whatever without ever needing gas. In this way, the car becomes more like your cell phone. Charge it overnight, use it during the day, plug it in at night when you get home. Whenever you do go somewhere the gas engine allows for approximately 340 miles on a full tank of gas.

Check out my Credit Sesame review, or my review of Credit Karma.

In a lot of ways, this really is the best of both worlds. Mostly you drive an electric car, but if you ever need to go far, or can’t recharge for whatever reason, there is always a gas station around that you can use to keep going.

GM Volt Recall

GM is issuing a recall for the Chevy Volt. If you are wondering what is wrong with the cars, that is the interesting part. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the cars. There are no parts that need replaced, no service that needs done to make sure the car drives safe, no repair of any kind.

chevy volt electric car recall

Instead, because the Volt is an electric car, it is silent when you park it. In other words, it sounds like it is off. Now, for some reason, car makers seem to think that electric cars shouldn’t use keys to turn it on and off. The Volt is no exception. Instead, you push a little blue button.

And, here is where the “problem” comes in. It seems that in some cases, drivers forget to turn the car off. Again, when parked, it is silent because the generator isn’t running. It does have the little ding sound when you open the door without turning it off, but if you’ve ever left your lights on, or your keys in the ignition of a regular car, you know that sometimes, you can be distracted enough to not notice.

With the Volt, the issue is that while the car is still on, it is still using the battery. Eventually, it will drain, and the car will engage the gas-powered electric generator to keep the car running. If your garage is connected to your house, or it is just an enclosed enough space, running the generator builds up exhaust gases. GM is apparently “aware” of two cases where this has caused some sort of injury.

So, the recall is nothing more than a software update that will limit the amount of time the car can be left in the on position after the driver exits. The car will basically turn itself off rather than run the gas generator all night.

In other words, GM is recalling a car because some people can’t seem to use it right.

Tags: , ,

WGHubris on January 26th, 2015

Well, I finally went and did it. After years of threatening, and always finding a reason to back down, I’m finally cutting the cord on cable. For years, the difficulty in cutting the cord was that the duopoly in Denver, Comcast and Centurylink made the option of buying just internet service without cable, or without a phone line so expensive, that it just didn’t make sense.

Just today, for example, when I called Comcast, the first internet only offer was actually internet plus local channels plus HBO for $69.95 /mo. + tax. That’s way better than the $165 I’m paying right now, but of course, there is an additional $10 for a cable modem, so it’s really $79.95 per month plus tax.

cutting the cord cable denverBut, recently, CenturyLink stopped requiring a phone line (and phone line charges) for internet connectivity. The result?

I am getting the “up to” 40 Mbps package of internet service for $37.94 + tax, for at least the next 12 months. That rate includes the $7.99 per month for a modem. Theoretically, with either Comcast or CenturyLink I could buy a modem and lose the lease fee, but until I know where I am staying, that isn’t worth it.

CenturyLink Internet in Denver

CenturyLink advertises that they have up to 1 Gig speeds in Denver, but apparently not at my address. That’s OK. I was going for cheap today, not necessarily super high-speed. I’m sure I won’t get the full 40 Mbps, but according to DSLReports.com, I’m only getting 18 Mbps of the 50 Mbps I’m subscribed to on Comcast now, so I don’t think I’ll be too worried if I get even half of the 40 Mbps. The very big difference is in upload speed, so we’ll see how that goes.

Next up is deciding what streaming or movie services I want to subscribe to. I’m pretty sure I’ll get Amazon Prime for $99 per month. I like both the non-monthly expense, plus all of the “other” stuff we get, especially free 2-day shipping. I’ll be using that to order a Mohu Leaf HDTV over-the-air antenna. Where I live in Denver, according to the various websites that measure strength and distance of over air signals, I’ll be able to get the usual CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, and PBS without an amplified antenna, so that should be good.

The trick now is the DVR part of the equation. Tivo is still in business making DVRs, but it wants $15 per month for me to use it. No thanks. Another company called Moxi makes a box, with no monthly DVR fee, but it wants $500 for it. No thanks again.

This sounds like a job for the internet. I’m guessing a small PC with the right card, a big hard drive, a DVD burner, and a antenna card can be had for less than all of those other options. Sure, I’ll have to set my recordings manually, but that that seems worth the $15 per month savings over the Tivo box.

I’ll keep updating here as I figure out which is best for getting TV shows for kids and what not as I figure it out. In the meantime, wish me luck. I just saved over $100 per month by cutting the cable cord. The great news is that even if this doesn’t work out, I’ll be able to go back to Comcast as a “new” customer in a year or two and get an actual deal on my pricing instead of being taking advantage of as a long-time customer instead.

 

 

Tags: , , ,

WGHubris on January 23rd, 2015

There is a reason that cable companies, cell phone companies, and other telecom companies are constantly ranked lowest in customer satisfaction. The entire business model of the industry is to deceive customers while locking them in so that they cannot “vote with their feet” and leave the service easily for a competitor. It wouldn’t matter if there was plenty of competition, but industry lobbyists spend millions of dollars every year to ensure that never happens.

Today, for those of us in Colorado, the choice is between Comcast and CenturyLink, neither of which conjures up images of satisfied customers and exceptional value. It’s no wonder so many people end up just cutting the cord instead.

Comcast High-Cost

I know that for many Americans, TV is an important part of their life. I know plenty of people who talk about all manner of TV shows and programs that they watch religiously. I’m just not that guy, and neither is my family.

Currently, I watch The Big Bang Theory, and then either Denver Broncos or Colorado Buffaloes football. Depending upon the week, I might watch one or two other games, college or pro, but that’s really about it.

This isn’t a new thing for me either. I didn’t watch Breaking Bad. I only watched the first season of Walking Dead. I haven’t had HBO in decades. I watch Doctor Who, but don’t really like the new Doctor, and frankly, I’m not much of a fan of Clara either. In other words, I should probably just drop TV altogether.

The only reason I haven’t so far is football games, and the kids. My kids don’t watch much TV either. Honestly, I don’t know where they would find the time. They go to school until 3:30, don’t get home until around 4:00. We eat dinner at 5:00 ish, and they go to bed around 8:00 pm. I mean, we’re lucky to cram in one 30 minute episode of anything. Lately, they like Curious George (PBS) and Paw Patrol (Nickelodeon). We most definitely do not watch TV live almost ever. Our schedule just doesn’t fit around the TV station schedule, so the DVR is a requirement as well.

Which brings me to $165 cable and internet bill. Yikes!

I don’t need a home phone. We have cell phones, and frankly hardly use them. I think my plan still offers just 500 minutes, and I never come close to using them all. I DO need internet. I run a business from home, so Internet is a requirement. But, $165 for internet and a little bit of TV seems like such a waste.

I called to see what I could do for a lower price, and basically, I can save like $15 per month if I sign a two-year contract. No thanks.

I can get internet only for something like $78.

What makes this all so infuriating is the common tactic of offering an actual deal that’s worth having in big print ads I get in the mail or see on TV. But, of course, that’s for new customers only. That’s a shame, because $99 per month seems like something I could live with.

CenturyLink Prices

So the only other place I can get high-speed internet is CenturyLink. They are the phone company, so they are dying to sell me a phone line, but like I said, I don’t need one.

So, they have a Double Bundle. DirectTV and 12 Mbps internet for 1 year with a 12 month contract for $54.94. Sold!

centurylink cheaper than comcast

Only, CenturyLink is a telecom company and those companies insist that dishonesty is the best policy.

To actually USE my $54.94 bundle, I’ll need literally $34.99 for the modem (can’t use the internet without it) the TV receivers (can’t use the TV signal without it, and 2 room minimum), and then $15 more because the receivers are “advanced.” That last charge is particularly dishonest because there is no way to use “basic” receivers.

In all fairness, this isn’t all on CenturyLink, DirecTV is no more honest than Comcast or a cell phone company, so some of those are their “add-on” charges.

Still, $89 + tax is a less than $150. As an added bonus, after I haven’t been a Comcast customer for a while, I’ll qualify for their new customer deals, which means I might get a decent price out of them again some day.

And so it goes.

 

 

 

Tags: , , ,

WGHubris on December 17th, 2014

Once upon a time, like just one year ago, all cell phone plans and wireless service companies were basically doing the same thing, offering the same pricing, and saying that they had the best service. This quad-opoly of the big 4 cell phone companies was broken by the desperation of T-Mobile, after the government refused to allow AT&T to buy the smaller company. With new pricing and plans, T-Mobile nudged, ever so slightly, the cell phone market. Now, things are a bit different at the different wireless carriers. Which cell phone company has the best deal might now depend on what it is exactly that you do with your mobile phone, which is why I’m looking into each company’s new offerings now.

Keep in mind that cell phone costs are busting many people’s budgets these days, so it’s important to focus on both monthly cost, and overall cost.

AT&T Cell Phone Plans and Service

I’m starting with AT&T because every time I complain about Sprint on Twitter, the AT&T customer care accounts show up asking that I take a look at AT&T. Okay, I will. (Actually, earlier this year I looked at T-Mobile free switch offering, but things have changed even in the last six months. See, competition is good.)

So, part of the disruption T-Mobile caused was breaking from the model where your cell phone company basically gave you a free phone in exchange for locking you into a 2-year contract. This way, your cell phone company could give you terrible service, and there was basically nothing you could do about it, because it was too expensive to switch carriers. This, is why I’m still on Sprint despite knowing that at least 2 of the other carriers in Denver would offer me much better coverage and much higher speeds.

AT&T has followed suit by offering something called AT&T Next. One of the things that didn’t make sense for me about T-Mobile’s offer was that the carrier’s incentive in locking you into a contract was that it would make more profit on you over those years to make up for giving you a free phone. Well, T-Mobile took away the free phone, but didn’t give you a lower rate. AT&T Next seems to at least give you some of the benefit of buying your own phone in the form of a lower bill.

The AT&T Next plans come in different flavors. So, for example, if you wanted to get the Nexus 6, there is an AT&T 24 plan, an AT&T 18 plan, and an AT&T 12 plan, all corresponding to how long you will be making payments on your new device. The numbers, however, do not correspond to how long you make payments. Rather, that is when you can trade-in your phone and upgrade. So, for example, the Next 6 phone seems to have 20 months of payments for the AT&T Next 12 plan. After the 12 months, you can trade-in your device, and the remaining 8 payments would be waived. However, your device must be in good physical and fully functional condition to trade it in, so no more upgrading for free to get rid of that broken screen.

Of course, the longer the term, the lower the monthly payment. Unlike normal loans, like a mortgage, there is no interest charged, which means you do not pay any more or less overall no matter which term you choose. The difference is that you could upgrade, or leave the carrier faster by paying it offer more quickly.

In this example, the 24 plan has a price of $22.77 per month, while the 12 plan has a payment of  $34.15 per month. Basically, this is just the price of the phone divided by the number of months, because there is no interest being charged.

AT&T Next Service Discount

In exchange for paying for your own cell phone with monthly payments, AT&T Next offers you a discount on your service. Of course, wireless companies love the fine print, so you’ll have to dig and read carefully to find out what your exact discount is. Keep in mind that the bold number on the front page says UP TO $25 per month.

att next monthly savings

My read, as of this writing, is that you get a $25 discount only if you have a data plan of 10 GB or higher. You get a $15 discount on plans with less than 10 GB. (If you had a pre-existing contract with AT&T, there are different rules.)

Now, here is where it gets weird. Depending upon sales, specials, and rebates, and so on, the best deal can be pretty murky.

So, here with a 2-year contract, you could get the Nexus for $249.99 with the instant savings for the contract. If you do the Next plan, you don’t get that instant savings, you pay $22.77 * 30 = $683.

The math then, is a $25 discount * 30 months = $750, but you pay $683 for the phone instead of $249.99, or $433.01 more.

If you only got a $15 discount for 30 months = $450.

But, if there were a special where they offered the Nexus 6 for say $99, then you would not be coming out ahead for making the payments.

What Does AT&T Cost?

OK, enough hypothetical math. Let’s figure out what AT&T costs for someone like me who might want to switch. I haven’t researched cell phone heavily, so I’m just going to use the Galaxy S5 as the example, because I currently have a Galaxy S4, and that’s the next one up.

Before we begin, let’s just get something straight. Yes, I know cell phone companies are bald-faced liars when it comes to their cell phone plans and they will add dozens of dollars worth of phony fees and taxes to the final bill. In an effort to be a slimy as possible, there is virtually no way for someone to figure out what those phony fees will be until you sign up.  So, for the comparison below, we just have to make the assumption that all the garbage charges on the cell phone bills will be relatively equivalent.

So, a Samsung Galaxy S5 from AT&T, on 12/17/2014, is $199.99 with a 2-year contract. Plus, you have to pay a $40 activation charge for a 2-year contract, so it’s $239.99 all in. The monthly payment would be $140 per month for a 10 GB plan, and $80 for a 3 GB plan.

With the AT&T Next 24 plan, it costs $21.67 for the phone. If I kept the phone for 24 months, that’s a total of $520.08. If I kept it for 30 months, that’s $650.10.

The plan cost is $115 per month for the 10GB plan, but when add back in the $21.67 for the phone, that makes the monthly payment $136.67. So in other words, on this particular phone, I would come out ahead by $3.43 per month.

If you got something like a 3 GB plan, then the cost is $65 per month (only $15 discount.) If I kept the phone for 24 months, my plan savings is $360. If I kept it for all 30 months, the savings is $450. However, the monthly bill is actually higher, at $86.67 per month, versus $80 per month with the two year contract.

Here is how the totals look:

 

*includes phone purchase price and $40 activation fee

The Deal Phone Purchase* Monthly Phone Payment Total Monthly Bill Total for 24 months* Total for 30 months*
2-year Contract 10 GB $239.99 $0 $140.00 $3,599.99 $4,439.99
AT&T Next 24 10 GB $0 $21.67 $136.67 $3,280.08 $4,100.10
2-year Contract 3 GB $239.99 $0 $80.00 $2,159.99 $2,639.99
AT&T Next 24 3 GB $0 $21.67 $86.67 $2,080.08 $2,600.10

So, what does it all add up to?

Basically, the difference between a 2-year contract and an AT&T Next plan isn’t much. What you really need to do is determine what the right amount of data is for you. Check your current wireless bill and see if there is a number on there. Then, check a few different months to make sure you know what you usually use. Then, buy the smallest data plan you can. Don’t get sucked into 10 GB just because you get a bigger monthly discount, because while there isn’t too much difference between the 2-year contract and the AT& Next options, there is a very big difference in overall costs between a 10 GB plan and a 3 GB plan. Paying for 10 GB to get a “bigger discount” when you never actually use more than 3 GB will be a costly financial mistake.

How does this compare to other cell phone companies? That will have to wait for later.

But, for now, I won’t be switching anytime soon. I’ve got a grandfathered plan with Sprint that cost me about the same amount as the 10 GB plan on AT&T, except it’s for unlimited data, and it’s for two lines.

Tags: , ,

WGHubris on December 11th, 2014

By now, you probably know that connecting to the internet over a public WiFi hotspot or other public wireless network can expose your browsing to various snooping efforts. In particular, such unencrypted open wireless networks allow others on the network to see things like usernames and passwords when logging into various websites or other services unless those specific sites are themselves encrypted. For example, connecting to Google Mail automatically starts an HTTPS connection that secure your email and username and password. However, watching to ensure that every website is encrypted before using it is a tiresome and error prone proposition. Also, any websites or blogs that you personally own won’t have SSL encryption unless you paid extra for that service and set it up yourself.

angry-computer-user.jpgThe better solution is to use a VPN, or Virtual Private Network, service. There are several free VPN services out there, however, they can be slow and many times they limit the amount of data use can consume on a monthly, or daily basis. For a little money, you can usually subscribe to a faster, unlimited VPN service. You get your own unique username and password and can often select a connection that is faster for you.

Public WiFi Blocks VPN Services

As it turns out, many public wireless services blog various services, ports, or websites. Depending upon your VPN service, this may affect your ability to use the VPN you pay for in order to protect your network connections.

The Denver Public Library for example was preventing the VPN service I use from connecting. I could tell it was trying to work, but by following along with the logs, it wasn’t allowing the connection through.

There are various UDP and TCP ports that most programs and network connection can use. The Denver Public Library WiFi was blocking all of my connections over UDP. Fortunately, it finally worked across TCP and port 443.

So, if you are using the Denver Public Library wireless network and can’t get it to allow your VPN software client to connect, try going into your settings and picking TCP and port 443. That finally worked for me.

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

WGHubris on December 5th, 2014

So, this article makes it sound like the deficit for November is smaller this year than last year. That would be interesting, because there are no real major changes in the U.S. budget or spending since last year. But, then if you read the LAST sentence, you’ll see that the deficit would actually be $3 billion dollars LARGER for November 2014 compared to November 2013, except that there were differences in the timing of certain payments.

Sigh. Never let the facts get in the way of a good headline, I guess.

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — The federal government ran a budget deficit of $59 billion in November, the Congressional Budget Office estimated on Friday, $76 billion less than in November 2013. Receipts for the month were $191 billion, up $8 billion from the same month a year ago. The government spent $249 billion in November, $68 billion less than a year ago. CBO said that the November deficit would have been $3 billion higher than last year’s if not for the timing of some payments.

Emphasis mine.

Tags: , ,

WGHubris on November 5th, 2014

Politics is a messy business. By its very nature, it involves getting people to do what they otherwise would not, whether by compromise, or force. Either way, a lot of people end up feeling like they were not listened to. On the other hand, when a decision must be made, there is simply no way to make a decision for everyone, unless the result was unanimous. When that happens, we typically don’t need politics at all.

Unfortunately, there are some quirks to politics in America that make it seem that our so-called leaders are more out of touch with the people they purport to represent than they should be. The end result is that most all of America hates Congress as an institution, while none of the members of Congress seem to think that means them.

What My Vote Means

The first glitch in American politics stems from the two-party system. In most elections, beyond the occasional novelty or two each cycle, the only candidates that can actually win are a Republican and a Democrat. The difficulty here is that politicians assume that every vote for them is a wholesale, blanket endorsement of ALL their stated positions and values. In reality, that is seldom the case.

In Colorado in particular, it isn’t difficult to find to imagine citizens who have passionate views that cross political borders. A person who loves the outdoors might have several rifles and be a Republican on gun control issues, but at the same time, not want the national forests and park lands his grandfather taught him to fish on to be carved up by logging companies and oil drilling. However, when it comes time to vote, he has to pick an R or a D, and R will think he got permission to send Exxon into the mountains to do what it wills, while the D would think that more restrictive gun laws have been endorsed.

Like most Americans, I vote FOR someone far less often than I vote AGAINST someone else. It seems harder to find candidates who carefully study the issues rather than candidates that just rubber stamp whatever their party leaders say in Washington. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, loyalty to party is not freedom, and it is not America. That’s the kind of crap they do in China and before it, the Soviet Union.

Congress Is Hated

The truth is that no matter who wins, it’s entirely possible that half the people voted against them. Rather than respect that and try and find solutions that could gather 60% or even 70% support, politicians cling to that slim portion of the population that actually voted for them like Golumn and his ring. Nothing else but it matters.

Finally, the really hard reality is that given the option, voters would have voted overwhelmingly across the country to purge the entire Congress. If that had been a checkbox on the ballot, I guarantee the landslide would have been total. But, instead, they’ll all got back to acting like THEY know what is best, and that they have the full support of the people.

It would be funny, if it weren’t so sad.

Tags: , ,