economy

Cable Television Needs to be Sent to the Glue Factory

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I don’t have cable television. And I don’t miss it.

Everything I want to watch can be seen through AirPlay on my Apple TV or with an HDMI cable through my laptop to my television. This doesn’t mean I don’t want more. This simply means I’m not willing to sell my soul each month to Time Warner, Cablevision, Comcast, or any other television content fister.

Cable an’ iPhone sitting in a tree, could me making some money right from me…

Here in Austin the vast majority of people I know do not have cable. Less then 10% of our friends and coworkers pay for television channels. In fact, I have a single coworker that I know of that has cable. Most of us depend on live streaming Netflix at a whopping $15.62 a month, PBS through an antenna, and books. Hulu has a certain allure for NBC and Fox television shows, but even their online content contains more and more advertisements – the exact reason many of us dropped cable service in the first place. And I’m going to simply glaze over the recent indiscretions of Netflix, what with upping their rates and QuicksterGate, etc. The $15 a month I’m paying Netflix right now is more than worth their service to me. I’m over their past mistakes.

Once I counted up the friends and contacts I have without cable I discovered a correlation to the iPhone: Every single person I knew without cable had an iPhone. We vary in age from 25 to 40, and vary widely in nationality and race. Some have children, some refuse to even touch kids. I work for a mobile company, one friend a social worker, one friend an anesthesiologist, another three movie and comic book artists, most college educated, some not, some beyond an undergraduate degree. What I’m saying is that the group I looked at has differences, but what it came down to was that we hate ads shouting at us, telling what meds we should be on, and we have to pay for that harassment.

It’s certainly an interesting coincidence. Or maybe our attention spans are so shot do to über short television programs that are then fragmented by ads that our multitasking and high strung brains now need to replace one form of technology for another because it’s simply the only way we now know how to function.

I don’t regret giving up cable at all. Most days I find myself thankful I have no idea what the Didgeridoo with the Stars shows are that I hear about on the radio and from the coworker I know with cable. This does not mean that there aren’t shows that I would certainly like to see, however. It just means I’m tired of paying thousands a year when what I want to watch is probably valued at $5 a month.

I hate cable for that reason. But I do blindly love my iPhone. The iPhone and its entertaining and multitasking capabilities are an indication of our future. I’m paying less then half of what I was paying for cable for my iPhone AND I don’t have to deal with advertisements. I even have Netflix on it, and can send anything to my television through AirPlay on my Apple TV. I watch any show I’ve purchase from iTunes for a dollar or two on the big screen. No ads and I own the few things I’ve purchased forever and ever.

When I am in a household with cable television I generally watch BBCAmerica or PBS. BBCAmerica always winds up being a rather frustrating experience: American cable corporations cut an additional 10 minutes from an hour long BBC program to squeeze in more ads. Simply knowing that I’m getting shorted is immensely irritating. I am “sold at” every second of every day – we all are. By that I mean in some way at almost every moment, something is accosting me with ads, even when it’s through a purchased service such as Pandora or Hulu.  I wanted to watch a program airing from 8pm until 9:30pm one evening a few nights ago while staying with my parents, who have cable. When we hit the “information button” on the remote to get a summary of the show we noticed it’s run time was 53 minutes; there was 37 minutes of advertisements for a 53 minute show, meaning roughly 35% of what we’d be watching – and my parents were paying for – was ads! Fox added 70% airtime of the original length! The constant presence of companies shouting at any and all makes a listener feel intruded upon, violated, and leaves one with a very short fuse. We’re paying exorbitant prices to conglomerates making millions from the advertisements alone that they force upon their loyal customers and it’s simply not worth is any more. Cable stopped being worth its cost years ago.

While Hulu may be the internet’s number one cable programming site, I can’t imagine it will last much longer without changing its business practices. Hulu had two to three ads per show at its inception. In many cases you could opt to watch a  three minute advertisement or trailer and then watch your 22 or 42-minute television program without any break whatsoever. That is no longer the case. Hulu now often has 4 or 5 breaks per 22-minute episode and often those breaks have at least two advertisements. The ironic thing is that Hulu believes people will pay for this spike in advertisements, essentially saying “We here at Hulu are now making more money then ever from ads and on top of it we want to guarantee our multimillion dollar bonuses by making you pay for service you’re technically already paying for.” That service is of course Internet. And I have yet to meet a single person who does pay for Hulu Plus. Even at $8 a month, it is not worth it. The Street summed up HuluPlus in a single short comment perfectly: It costs $9.99 a month and still has commercials? Lame.

I was always ready to chuck something straight at my television every time I was told “This program is brought to you by…” Bitch, please! The programming is brought to me by no one other than yours truly – ME! – for paying my own cable bill.

Issue at hand:

Hulu and the other cable companies could be smart: I would pay $10 a month for advertisement free Hulu that I could play on the internet, my iPhone, Apple TV, or through a game system. I might even pay $15. But there would have to be NO advertisements. I want credit for bringing the program to me, damnit.

If the large cable companies had a single brain between the group of them, they could see a major money making opportunity in front of them – and respond to the major decline in cable subscribers. Make an “App” for mobile devices, cut some losses and rebuild service in the way the public is demanding. They could attempt to appease their clients and at least keep some revenue coming in from consumers.

Unfortunately, for now it seems cable companies are apparently blinded by the massive boner they have for the almighty dollar and would rather keep fees at absurd levels and lose people completely, then work with the consumers wants and needs to keep far more customers around.

I may be a punk, but even I know that hard economic times can often mean the restructuring of how business is done. If cable networks were willing to create a “Pay By Channel” option, I guarantee a flood of ex-customers would come flocking back to their services. And if Hulu dropped the crap ads on top of having to pay a monthly fee, their subscribers would double in number. I would sign up today. But that might mean that some King of Shit Mountain CEO would only get a $29 million bonus this year instead of $30 million. And we just can’t have that.

*A little FYI about Netflix and Quickster: In the 1980’s, when video stores became big business, the government stepped in and said they could not sell the personal information of their clients to outside sales companies. This law remained in affect when Netflix was born; even though it was a ‘dot com’, it was still a movie rental business and therefore couldn’t earn the added income of selling its clients’ information. By splitting into two separate companies, a streaming television group and a movie rental group, Netflix could legally sell all our information, at least on the streaming side of things, which was unprotected. So, kind of a dick move on their part, but, as nauseating as it all is, our personal info is bought and sold every day. Ever been asked for your number in order to purchase something at Bath and Body Works or Radio Shack? Yeah…Just say “No” from now on.

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Paying For Batteries in Cash & Dignity

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September 2010 OpenSalon Editor’s Pick

“Okay…8 pack of  double A batterieeeees…Anything else?”

“Nope, that’ll do it.”

“Okay, phone number area code first?”

“Excuse me?”

“Your phone number, area code first.”

“I just want to buy some batteries.”

“Yeah, we have to enter everyone’s phone number for every sale.”

“Why?”

“Um…Cuz.”

Luckily, like most girls, I’m practiced in the art of giving out a fake number when need be. I just never thought I’d have to do it to buy batteries.

I am thankful for the Information Age. We’ve got dating sites and this new thing called “social networking”. We’ve got twits doing tweets and we never have to leave our house for Christmas shopping. Amazon.com is my personal savior.

I love online shopping. Buy those shoes you need while on your lunch break, without even getting into your car.  I only buy from sites I know, sites with those security insignias all over, long established sites and only sites that promise my information will not be sold. But I often wonder if these sites can be trusted. I only ever enter information when I’m purchasing something and I only enter the information necessary for billing and shipping; I generally don’t have a problem with it.

I do have a major problem, however, with stores that request personal information when I’m checking out in person. If it’s not being mailed to me I don’t understand why any of my personal information is necessary or why I should be expected to give it out.

After my trip to Radio Shack, to which I gave the number 867-5309, and received both my batteries and a dirty look, I went to Payless Shoes, where I was requested for the same information.

“I don’t give out my phone number.”

“Not a problem,” replied the sales woman and continued with my purchase.

At least she was able to finish without having to enter anything false.

At lunch my husband and I went to a chain Japanese restaurant.

“Two for lunch, please.”

“Sure! First and last name and zip code.”

“Is there a wait? It looks empty.”

“No, no wait. Name?”

I raised an eyebrow. Had I missed a memo? In an age when identity theft is both relatively new and on the rise, why are we so pleasantly expected to give information everywhere we go? Perhaps there was a criminal on the run, the local authorities only knew her name and that she liked to frequent fake sushi places. Surely that’s the only reason anyone would need personal information to sit you at an empty restaurant.

“Kate Doe. 78704.” The hostess typed it in.

“Birthday?”

“I don’t give that out.”

“Would you like to give your email to rece-“

“Actually I would just really like some lunch.”

“Oh.” She paused. “Okay.”

Lunch? In a restaurant?!? What a novel idea!

Though I was asked for information when ordering, it was just salad dressing preferences and type of rice, data that actually had relevance to eating. At the end came the bill and… an info card, which we received a full debriefing on by our waitress: Give them our information to do whatever with and we’ll receive coupons periodically…amongst other wank in our email box.  That was the last straw.

I just laughed.

“What?” My husband asked me. “We’ll get coupons and it says they won’t sell our information.”

“No, they won’t. But the third party that holds our information, archives it for them, does.”

I used to work for a bookstore while I was in college, we’ll call it Edges. Shortly before I quit, they implemented a customer card system. I watched coworkers get fired because they did not push this card enough. Edges’ policy was that there was no reason why anyone should leave the store without one. I watched customers get into fights with managers that wouldn’t drop it, I watched people complain and scream to workers young and old  – and make them cry – during the heart of the holiday season because Edges forced their employees to push this past the point of “No.” According to them “no” never means “no” because “there is no reason why a customer should leave the store without this card as it saves them money for free”. This policy means, of course, that Edges has the personal information of everyone who has ever shopped there.  And, sure, as stated, Edges doesn’t sell the phone number, name, address, and email of those shoppers who signed up for the card. But the company who handles the information sure as hell did and does. That’s what’s known as a loophole.

Part of the problem is that we live in the age of corporations. I went to Payless because it’s all I could afford. I went to Radioshack and the lunch place because they were near the other locations we had to visit. We could dive into facts, conspiracy theories, etc. denouncing the faceless corporations for feeling entitled to the personal information of those it keeps living in hovels. I know my information is out there and it makes me nauseaous. The fact of the matter is that I made the decision to shop where I did on this day and if I want to keep my information private I now have to consider that in where I buy the days necessities.

It’s an acknowledgment of a ridiculous truth and it’s completely infuriating.

Fat Monkeys Have All the Luck

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Like all people who have “tried every diet” and suffer being “fat from birth”, any miracle drug completely excites me. Part of that is because science amazes me. Much of the pills we take come with both positive and (many) negative effects, many simply cannot be good for the human body, but we take them anyway in a desperate attempt to achieve whatever it is we’re seeking. After all, even placebos are often more than 10% affective. When one views medical science’s studies, failures, and new policies of the past 100 years – hell, even in the past 50 years – they surpass the previous 1000 years by leaps and bounds. And there’s something very mad-scientist about everything. I like to believe that it’s all for the betterment of mankind, but medicine, like American Universities, are now merely businesses with the prize being cash and not an advanced human population. We’re a people of instant gratification so we jump at cures, damn the long term affects.

I am no different, and I might carry a little shame, but not enough to stop me from getting in line for the following drug, if it one day winds up on the market. The good people at the Medical School at the University of Texas at Houston have developed an injection that kills blood vessels that feed fatty deposits. This means the blood vessels shrivel away, the fat is starved and then reabsorbed into the body, at which time the lucky recipient urinates or sweats out the excess just like regular weight loss. While all animal testing has its ethical issues, it is good news in the medical world that this drug is proving so effective on monkeys, as frequently drugs that may test well in the first stages (on rats) may not work well during the next point of testing, on our cousin primates. The drug may also help with insulin resistance.

I assume UT Houston purchased the primates from lab supply centers, and then fattened them up with a healthy diet of American junk food and Lifetime Television. I imagine they might have even turned binge eating in front of the BoobTube into a sort of drinking game with food instead of booze: Every time there’s an episode of Golden Girls on, the monkeys get cheesecake. A made-for-television movie featuring Jennifer Love Hewett would warrant a pizza and a pint of cookie dough ice cream. Designing Women means fried chicken and bourbon. Paradise… But I digress.

Once their test subjects had the “fatty deposits” necessary, testing began, and thus far has been excitingly successful. The average monkey on the injection lost 11% of their body weight in a month, an amount most humans struggle to lose and keep off within a year’s time. The placebo monkeys only lost a maximum 1% and their thighs now make a shwishing sounds whenever they wear track pants.

Much to the chagrin of curvacious ladies everywhere, the next stage of testing will be on humans, but only on men with prostate cancer. It is not clear why this would be and the NPR article offers no explanation. It has occurred to me, however, that this might be so that in the event of complications, i.e. death, the scientists would have the option to say “Oh, the cancer killed them. P.S. the drug is now for sale through Phizer.”