Friday, January 30, 2015

Follow-Up on Ditching the Man: Meh.

Meh. That’s pretty much my assessment of Cable One’s internet service, four days after getting it.

The speed is, well, I guess since it’s the lowest tier, we’re getting what we’re paying for. And the service, well, that’s all been my wife, who had to deal with the installer (who appeared to be scared of white coaxial cable rather than the traditional black) and seemed pretty condescending to a household that did not know where the cable hookups were since we had never had cable service in the house.

And the local office seems, to put it bluntly, clueless; we’ll see if the leased modem we had in the house (for a day) which we returned in favor of our own actually appears on our account long enough to be taken off so we’re not paying the $8 a month lease fee. I’m not holding my breath.

So, meh.

And that’s saying something, since meh was about all Centurylink got out of us, before the price increases.

We’ve been in this house coming up on three years now – and we’ve gone through three internet providers in that time. All three of them earned the meh grade, though one – SpeedConnect – got downgraded to whatever it is past meh when they introduced metered billing.

I keep watching the news for the announcement that Google Fiber is coming to our town – and then I read about the $70 a month they want for gigabit service and I have to say meh. Is it really worth that much a month? I have a hard time convincing myself yes.

It’s a shame we have to settle for meh. I’d much rather be astounded by an ISP that underpromised and overdelivered, but I think meh is about all we’re going to get.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Ditching the Man for Two Other Men

We’re getting ready to stick it to The Man*, and I couldn’t be more nervous.

I mean, I used to work for The Man. Trained in its tactics. Scared by its customers. Tired of its bag-the-new-while-poop-on-the-current customer service plan. I did enjoy the health insurance, though.

And we’re really leaving The Man to throw ourselves at other iterations of The Man, but perhaps in combinations that will save us a little bit of money and perhaps a lot of frustration.

Still can’t think, though, that they’ll send their hired goons out after me when they find out.

We’re ditching Centurylink.

For those who don’t know this iteration of The Man, Centurylink is one of the leftover Baby Bells – landlines, broadband internet, truculent customer service and such. We’ve been with them since forever on the landline, and off and on for broadband internet for several years. We’ve played the cheap broadband game with them for about three years now, and they’ve finally decided we’re loyal enough customers that they can stop offering the deals, jack up the prices and all will be right with the world.

They don’t know my wife very well.

If it were me, yeah, I’d not bother. But my wife pays the bills. And she’s ready to stick it to The Man.

So we’re dropping the landline in favor of our cell phones (upgrading my wife’s cell phone plan in the bargain). And we’re switching broadband providers.

But I’m the one who has to call Centurylink to break the relationship and persuade them (perhaps) to let us keep the phone number my wife has had since 1997. And they’re not going to take it well, given the experience I had working in the call center I know I’m going to have to call. And maybe they’ll try to wheel some deal to try to keep us. Well, I’ll say y’all should have tried that when I went online to chat with y’all earlier this month about our prices shooting up to nearly $100 a month  -- and then insisting there’s nothing you could do to lower prices but let’s see how we can save you money by seeing who your TV provider is.**


I’m glad I don’t work there anymore.

And soon, we’ll have other Men to complain about.

*If you don’t know what “The Man” means, I offer you the definition They Might Be Giants offered at a concert I attended in Utah many moons ago: “The Man is a euphemism for The Man.”

**They took it better than I thought. I found their special “We’ve Given Up Hope Retaining Customers” line and called it. Was done in less than three minutes. Our last day is today.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

IT . . . COULD . . . WORK!

I sent myself this somewhat cryptic email after I received a bit of inspiration on how to make Doleful Creatures a better novel:

Both j and a lose spouses in first beaver death. Rest of story shows how j and a work thru guilt and mutual animosity over deaths. A goes to the lady to try to free his beloved, go far himself there instead. Jarrod flies higher and higher to find her, to say himself there.

Thru man in rock and cave somehow they are,able to communicate 26th lived one's at end.

I'm thinking this about it now:

If only I could figure out what I meant by the 26th. . . 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

You want HOW MUCH for Fiber?

An item from the City of Ammon Newsletter for Fall/Winter 2014:

On December 15th Silver Star Communications officially announced the availability of gigabit service to Ammon businesses and residents through the use of the City’s fiber optic network. We are pleased to support Silver Star in their delivery of these next generation services and continue to actively pursue further development of this essential infrastructure for the benefit of our businesses and residents.

Now how cool is that? Gigabit fiber optic internet service. For residents! And Silver Star Communications, out of Jackson, Wyoming, has it all locked up. Oh, the competition’s got to be screaming! And what timing: Our 20 MB service with Centurylink is set to increase in price this month to a burdensome $70 a month. Time to hit the phones and find out how much this service is going to cost us.

Got a quote via email last night from the folks at Silver Star: To deliver this essential infrastructure to our house is going to cost us from between $20,000 to $25,000 just for the fiber alone, forgetting the monthly service costs, because apparently this essential infrastructure is nowhere near our house.

Sticker shock.

So I wrote back to the folks at Silver Star, saying thank you for the quote, but that their price – even if I found 20 to 25 neighbors who also want gigabit internet service to help defray the cost as they suggested in their quote – was a bit out of my price range.

Reading further on the city’s fiber optic network at the city’s website, I find little information on the extent of the city’s network. There are hints that residents could agree to a bond to extend services to every house, but no hint that such a bond is in the works or has been attempted in the past. The city suggests gigabit internet service could be brought to residents via a bond for about $15 a month. (But therein lies the conundrum: WHAT?! Make ME pay for a service that I DON’T WANT TO USE?! Preposterous. So it ain’t gonna happen.

Which is a shame because broadband internet service in Idaho is generally poor in quality. The 20 MG service we have from Centurylink is acceptable, but I have a hard time telling any difference between it and the 5 MB service we had from them a while back. While there are more than one company offering broadband service in the area, there is no real competition: Prices tend to vary only a few pennies difference. Getting a service offering a gigabit connection in town sounded too good to be true – and, alas, that is the case.

And now I’m sending this little note to the City of Ammon. While I applaud the city’s efforts to bring fiber optic internet to its residents and businesses, I suggest that perhaps the city is overselling its ability to provide this essential infrastructure to residents and businesses at this time and should dial back future rhetoric on the matter, or at least provide additional detail on the extent of the city’s “fiber optic network” so as not to get residents’ hopes up and waste Silver Star’s time.

To be fair, even before I got to send this to the city, they went me an email (Apparently Silver Star forwarded my little screed to them on to the city). They were apologetic about the situation -- but I reiterated to them all I knew was what was printed in the city newsletter, and that it's unfortunate the details of the city not having fiber everywhere was left out. I'd much rather, I told them, invest the $20,000 to $25,000 in solar power at the house, rather than in a fiber connection. Hoping, however, they continue to work on the system and expand it in the future. Without the sticker shock.

Tell, Don't Show?

We hear this often as writers: Show, don’t tell. If you’re telling us what is happening rather than showing us, you’re a crappy writer who may as well poop on the pages and tell the readers to read that.

But recent events are leading me to think that, judiciously used, telling, not showing, can be an effective writer’s tool.

Consider this scene from Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind:

Everybody else in this show – Roy Neary’s family excluded – gets to see these freakin’ UFOs. But those guys in the Indianapo9lis Center for air control, they get to see nothing. Nothing outside of a few streaks and blips on a radar screen. The whole scene is telling, not showing. The only “show” we get is the alarm when the traffic conflict is recognized by the computer, and the crackling in the radio traffic when the UFO flies by the airplane. Everything else is just told us.

Or is it?

We get a lot of showing in this scene. We feel the tension build in the ATC as the captains of these two planes relate their condition, and as the emergency mounts and disappears just as suddenly as it came. But there are no cool UFOs. Not like this scene.

But note how similar these scenes are. Because we don’t get to see the UFOs playing with the electronics or with the mailboxes – until the lights turn on. And the CB traffic after the UFO goes away – that’s the same kind of telling, not showing, that we get to see in the ATC scene. As is the case with the birds, the crickets, the barking dogs – all coming back on after things have gone back to “normal.”

Why do they work?

They tell the story through heightened tension. They give us hints and clues as to what’s going on. They put us into the story and we can’t get out and we want to keep on reading or watching. They don’t give us a break – they ratchet us down and lock us into the story.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Feardom: A Review

I may have an inkling as to why the United States is dominated by a two-party system, and I’m going out on the limb in my thinking: Potential third parties are filled with loons.

I, of course, am a potential loon, having grown tired of the shenanigans of both mainstream US political parties. Additionally, repeated application of Facebook political tests consistently reveal I agree more with Ron Paul (or, as it should be written, apparently, RON PAUL) than anyone else. Clearly, I should have my head examined.

Then I read Connor Boyack’s “Feardom,” and have come to the conclusion that the version of the Election Night Special skit performed on Monty Python’s “The Final Rip-off” album is far superior to their television version embedded here.

Oh. And libertarians are a bit loony. Just like the rest of us.

Not that Boyack doesn’t have good points: We should be discerning in our consumption of news and be willing to question what news and politicians tell us is right. But as Boyack cautions us agains the hobgoblins of fear and sheppleness required of the media and bad, icky government, he fails to realize in writing that he’s trotting out the boring ol’ hobgoblins of libertarianism, mainly the evils of the social safety net, police “often” SWATting the wrong house and fomenting fear and distrust and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope, and the idea of any kind of government outside of the Ron Swansonesque man sitting at a desk deciding who to nuke.

Boyack’s solution to whatever problem out there – increased love, empathy, whatever you choose to call it – is also admirable. But it’s all couched in the traditional libertarian hobgoblinism of sheeple too complacent and whatever for peace and contentment and hamburgers and such who aren’t going to do anything at all to fix things because they’re not smart enough. But love, right?

I’m being harsh and snotty here, of course. Because Boyack does bring up a very important example of the love he’s talking about: Israeli Ronny Erdy with a small group of activists uploaded posters to Facebook telling folks in Iran “we will never bomb your country, we [heart] you.” The effort brought about a positive reaction throughout the Middle East that transcended the narrative put forth by news media and governments. A good thing, yes.

But as far as libertarianism in writing, I have to go with P.J. O’Rourke’s “Parliament of Whores,” where the solutions are ample as well as the humor and hopelessness.

From the editor in me: Boyack needed one. He mentions the film Monsters Inc but adds an apostrophe (Monster’s Inc) and misspells the name of Miep Gies (as Miep Giles) and misrepresents her as the sole person who hid the family of Anne Frank, when it was rather a group of Anne’s father Otto Frank’s friends and office workers who hid the family from Nazi persecution.

Charlie Hebdo, meet Terry Jones

James Poniewozik is so wrong.

Writing about the terrible attack on the headquarters of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, in which (at this writing) 12 people have been killed, Poniewozik writing for TIME says this:

Maybe you would never have read Charlie Hebdo or seen The Interview. Maybe you think mocking beloved religious figures, or fictionally blowing up the head of a living world leader, is in poor taste. That’s fine; decent people can lawfully criticize speech and still hate it being attacked unlawfully.

That’s fine; I agree with him one hundred percent.

But then he starts to get a little wobbly:

But if you care about freedom, you don’t always have the luxury of defending monumental art. If speech rights only protected polite comments that everyone could agree with, we wouldn’t need them.

If I care about freedom? Why yes I do. But I also care about treating others with kindness. Treating others as I wish they would treat me. I also care about not deliberately poking people in the eye just to see what happens.

Then he writes the horrible sentence:

And no matter who you are or what you like, these attacks are also attacks on you.

No, they’re not.

Don’t get me wrong: This attack is beyond deplorable. If you dislike what someone writes or draws about something you believe in, the answer is not to barge in with ski masks and guns blazing. That’s where Poniewozik and I agree.

But saying these attacks are against me is a false flag. It’s the same false flag many used to justify the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that spawned this ISIS crisis in the first place. No, this attack is against a magazine that has constantly thrown oil on the fire, doing so rightly behind the protection of free speech, as Poniewozik writes. It's not against me. Or the West. Or any other of the hobgoblins form the long list of terrorist "they-made-me-do-it" targets. If I happened to be foolish enough to wander into ISIS territory, I would be a target.

I’m not that headstrong.

It’s true – we have the right to say anything we want. But we have the responsibility, once in a while, to consider whether the right we have to say whatever we want ought to be tempered by the thought: Should I say whatever damnfool thing pops into my head?

You don’t shake the devil’s hand and say you’re only kidding, as TMBG sings. And there has to be a seed of racism, a seed of xenophobia, that spurs hatred, even hatred that’s legally and rightfully protected by any rights of free speech.

And I have to believe that Poniewozik’s Defense would not be applied equally. Terry Jones’ showing of a low-budget film that depicts the prophet Mohammed as a “thuggish womanizer” and who promoted Sept. 11, 2010, as “Burn a Koran Day” could also rightly hide his hateful message behind any free speech amendment, but you certainly don’t hear the likes of Poniewozik defending him, do you? Nor the Westboro Baptist Church and their anti-muslim and anit-flavor-of-the-week whatever’s flown up their nostrils.

I call it the Myrna Minkoff Defense, named after the character from John Kennedy Toole’s novel “A Confederacy of Dunces,” in which the character Myrna Minkoff is thrilled with a message she believes will save society – until she discovers it’s from a pamphlet written by the Ku Klux Klan. She’s embarrassed by the “right message, but from the wrong people.”