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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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WGHubris on October 9th, 2014

Years ago, we had a friend who personally knew someone who was running for a political office. I don’t even remember who, or what office now. I didn’t know the person running, but my friend knew him and threw a fundraising party. In support, (of the friend, not really the candidate) I attended said party and donated $50, I believe. Political donations require more than just handing someone a check, so I also provided the necessary information, including my email address.

Fortunately, I, like many others, have several different email addresses. The one I use for signing up for things from businesses, or Groupons, or even political campaigns is not the same one I use for business, or the one I use for personal email. That being said, I do skim through that “customer” email account on a regular basis. After all, I really do care if Red Robin sends me a coupon or something. (I only eat the Royal Red Robin burger since I love it and am disappointed whenever I eat anything else there, so I don’t need all the specials for new burgers that I won’t order, but my point is still valid.)

The trick to political emails though is that once you give it to one campaign or candidate, it will eventually end up with everyone in the same political party and all associated organizations because you are a supporter of the cause, or maybe just because you were a fish before, maybe you will be again.

They all do approximately the same thing. First, they say,

“Oh no! Did you hear what the other party just did? It will ruin everything in life.”

Once you know that they are doing terrible, terrible, things. They’ll tell you exactly what you can do to stop them. You want to guess what it is? I’ll give you a hint. It’s the same thing every. single. time.

That’s right!

You should donate money!

Of course, money fixes everything right? Well, not really but they actually only need you for two things, your vote, and your money. The rest of the email is just a way to make it seem legit and not like they are begging.

Since that one day, many years ago, some analyst decided that Obama won the Presidency because he had a better ground game, and a better electronic campaign. So, every campaign has a full court press email strategy.

The short version is that every single politician this election (on both sides, somehow) has been sending me daily emails saying Oh no! Please help us fight. Of course, it would be bad form to send an email every day, so they pretend to be different people just casually and independently reaching out. First comes an email from the candidate, then one from their campaign manager, then one from a volunteer, then one from a concerned citizen group, then one from…

The best part of this is that both sides’ emails tell me how the other side has the upper-hand, and far more money, and how only me and my donations can help fight against the tyranny of the other side’s infinite pile of wealth.

Since that day, over 10 years ago, I’ve donated exactly zero to political campaigns, but hope springs eternal, or more specifically, spamming email addresses is free, and no matter what, they can’t be stopped, because this is an election, and election emails are freedom of speech, and….

So, needless to say, today I’m researching how to set the filters on my yahoo email account.

Have a nice day, and no I won’t send you $100, $25, or even just $5 to save the world from those evil politicians on the other side. I guess we’ll all just have to take our chances.

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WGHubris on September 29th, 2014

So, by now, you’ve probably heard of Ello. Ello, which I’m guessing is “hello” without the h, is a new, privacy-focused social network. Specifically, Ello has picked up traction recently because of Facebook’s real name policy and the fact that commercial social networks such as Twitter and Facebook sell out your information in order to display advertising to you. Ello, has promised to both be anonymous and ad-free. It’s still in a beta period, and the overwhelming interest means that signing up for Ello requires getting on a wait list and then being patient.

Check out my review of Credit Karma.

Get On Ello Now

My plan was to get on Ello right away by finding someone that I knew who was already on it. On the way to finding that someone, instead, I read about how the invites work and was able to sort of bust my way in by switching around some of the commonly used words in the Ello invite codes. So, yea!

ello account

Now what?

Just like Google+ before it, the problem with starting a new social network is that not only is that company starting a new social network, but so are you. I have to find friends and follow them. They have to find me and follow me. I have to decide what, and how, I want to post on Ello. For now, I kind of have a division where Facebook is mostly personal, with real life friends and family. Twitter is more online friends and people I follow, who don’t know me, because they are interesting. Google+ is where I post stuff and then +1 it so that Google will find it and rank it, and also for Ingress. I really have no idea where Ello fits into that dynamic.

Follow me on Ello here: @arcticllama

If you prefer, I’m still on all the “main” social networks too, usually as ArcticLlama. I’m theArcticLlama on Instagram though. Someone beat me to it, which is actually why on wanted to get on Ello right away, to reserve the name, just in case.

Ello Interface – Basic and Ad Free

Once you get used to a minimal interface, it can be a powerful and freeing existence. Until then, I don’t know what the smiley faces things are for, how I find new people to follow, how I follow people I already know, and so on. Frankly, I just wanted to reserve my username, so I don’t want to put too much effort into it. Fortunately, since the Ello fad is big right now, I’m sure the usual tech news/blog sites will have plenty of How-To guides.

In the end, I’m not really sure there is much future here. The last network to gain traction because people were mad at Facebook was App.net. I don’t even know if it is still running. App.net also was privacy focused, and against ads. Of course, someone has to pay for the servers and electricity, so App.net charged a monthly fee. That kept it from ever getting big.

Ello, is not charging a monthly fee. Instead, it took some venture capital money to pay the bills. Unlike some others, I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing, but sooner or later, they’ll need more money. If people wouldn’t pay a modest $5 or $10 per month for App.net, I’m not sure how many people will pay for premium features either, especially since everything really necessary has to be free, or people won’t use Ello at all. The people willing to pay for premium features are usually companies who want to reach users about their products, but if this is a really an all-privacy, no ads network, then I’m not sure how much those premium features will be worth.

So, maybe I just signed up not for a Facebook alternative, but for a App.net alternative.

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WGHubris on September 19th, 2014

Here we go again. This time, it’s the Guardian and the particular “patchwork of laws” that will make it difficult for businesses are those mandating paid sick leave for employees. However, this is not a new argument. Amazon used the same supposed inability to manage a patchwork of laws to oppose having to collect sales taxes according to state laws. Cell phone companies use the excuse to avoid having to comply with state fraud statutes, if you can believe that.

Ironically, the entire concept is false on its face to anyone who cares to look for two seconds.

The Myth of Standards

The particular article this time is about how some states and cities have passed laws requiring workers to get paid sick time, although the concept of a “patchwork of laws” being too difficult to comply with is a frequent attack made by business for varying proposals.

It seems that different amounts of sick time, with differing eligibility, across different locales is going to create a big burden for business. It’s easy to see how unbelievably unfair and difficult this will be when your realize that until these laws were passed, all other employee pay, benefits, rules and regulations were the same for all employees everywhere.

Oh wait, that’s not true at all.

patchwork of lawsThat’s right. Business today, and forever, has dealt with the fact that different places, different customs, different people, different times, and different laws prevent business from being a cookie cutter effort. Before any sick leave laws were passed, there was a patchwork of minimum wage laws, a patchwork of child labor laws, a patchwork of who does and does not get overtime, and so on.

Whenever you hear this ridiculous excuse, think of one thing: Safeway.

Safeway is a grocery store. It isn’t some fancy high-tech company. It isn’t “disrupting” anything. It doesn’t need over the top, cutting edge technology. It operates all over the country in numerous states, countless cities, and just as many counties.

In Colorado alone, Safeway must calculate different sales taxes based not only on location, but based on what is being sold. In Colorado, food is taxed at a different rate than other items, and so are other categories such as alcohol and tobacco. Each city and county has their own sales tax amounts as well with different rules about what counts as taxable, and what isn’t. In addition, there are different zoning restrictions, signage rules, utility connections, permits, and who knows what else.

And, that’s just Colorado, what about other states?

Of course, the taxes aren’t even the hard part. The hard part is actually the business part. Safeway sells tens of thousands of items, but not all the same items in every store. Different stores carry different things based upon community demand, and time of year. Each item must be priced, and the store doesn’t have the same prices for the same item in every state, or even every city. Every single Safeway store prices tens of thousands of items on a per store basis, and changes those prices regularly. Do you honestly think a company that does that, all day every day, can’t mange to give 4 sick days to people in State A and 6 sick days to everyone who works in State B?

The Business Patchwork

It isn’t just laws either. Without any rules or regulations requiring it, businesses all over the country pay different employees different amounts. Even two people doing the same job make different amounts, sometimes based on how long they worked there, sometimes based on merit, and sometimes based on demand. And, that’s not all.

Many companies offer benefits like health insurance or a 401k plan. These poor businesses have to keep track of who signed up for insurance and who didn’t, who signed up with kids, who chose the high deductible plan, and who chose the HMO plan. Some people sign up for the 401 plan and some don’t. Those that do choose different amount of contributions. How can a company be expected to keep up with such a difficult patchwork of employees?

For starters, computer help a lot. Believe it or not, nobody does payroll by hand writing amounts in a ledge with ink and quill. Even small one and two people businesses either have software that helps with payroll, or they hire a bookkeeper (who uses software to do payroll.) That software is plenty flexible to handle some variance in sick days. Even if that wasn’t the case, every business with more than one location has to figure out how to do business in multiple locations.

The rebuttal is that a small business won’t have the resources. Of course, a small business won’t NEED the resources. After all, a business small enough to have a little old lady doing the payroll by hand won’t have that many employees in the first place, and certainly not scattered over dozens of states. If she can keep track of Dave’s pay rate and Mary’s pay rate and get their tax withholding right, she can certainly count to four, or six, or whatever number of sick days they end up with.

The country is filled with a patchwork of laws because we have a patchwork of governments. Any business capable of doing business in more than one place, is capable of handling more than one set of rules. Let’s put this ridiculous burden of patchwork of laws myth to bed once and for all.

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