April 14, 2016

The New TV

A couple of recent changes have improved my TV experience and I felt like reporting on them. TiVo announced two new features. First, "QuickMode", it plays video 30% faster while keeping the audio intact. I've wanted this feature for years to briskly watch content light on interest or programming light on content. I've fast forwarded through shows like this before, but without audio, you miss out on stuff and it takes a lot of concentration to go in and out of fast forward. I actually saw this feature years ago on a friends VCR and perhaps noticed it in a software player or two. It's difficult to pull off well from what I understand. TiVo does pretty well at it, content flying by 30% faster does require a little more concentration, especially since the audio becomes a little less intelligible. I notice a syllable or pause here or there gets dropped. I've found myself using this feature very often, far more than the few use cases I already had in mind. Great feature, works on all content. Next up, "SkipMode", skips the entire commercial break with a single key press. When it was announced I wasn't much interested, especially since it comes with fine print. Such as only working on certain shows on certain networks and has a long history of legal issues that might make the feature disappear in future. I wasn't sure it would even show up for my Canadian service. When it launched, the little icon indicating a show that had the feature started to trickle in, mostly on US Network primetime. But as time has gone along, I have noticed it work and work correctly with both US channels that have been simsub'd to Canadian equivalents and also on Canadian channels directly. More often than not SkipMode is not available for a show, but when it is, it's really a time saver, much easier to use than fast-forwarding or doing 30 second skips through the commercial breaks.

The other change was the CRTC requirement that providers offer "Skinny Basic", a basic channel package offered at a maximum price of $25. They also included limits on how additional channels could be packaged. I was pleasantly surprised by Shaw's Skinny Basic and package offerings as I was expecting the worst, the bare minimum requirements. They added a few channels to the basic package, including the prime US networks and offered it at $25. Additionally the small packages they offer are reasonably priced, including the sports channels. In fact you could recreate their older larger packages using the new Skinny Basic and packages for about the same price, also unexpected. After evaluating the new offerings I found that I now had quite a few options I was interested in, it was nice to have a choice. I ended up switching to Skinny Basic and adding some channel packages, reducing my overall cost while at the same time increasing the number of subscribed channels I was interested in. By December the CRTC will require further changes with providers required to offer each channel individually as well. It will be interesting to see if that allows any further improvements.

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December 27, 2015

A New (Virtual) Home

A few years ago I moved my web site to a hosted VPS server and I was quite satisfied with the result. But some unfortunate decisions and technological limitations in the first few days meant it was difficult to upgrade the system. A change in their business model more recently made it pretty much impossible. So within the last few days I've moved everything to a new provider, Vultr (referral link), which looks to be a little faster, cheaper and better. All setup with the latest, greatest and optimized virtual interfaces. A lot easier to setup and run now with functional defaults and standard configurations.

Coincidentally, the little counter that has been running on my website since 1997 has just turned over into 8 digits, 10,000,000 hits. The first million took a little over 8 years, the next 9 million about 10 years.

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December 16, 2015

The MTS Experience

After graduating university, having an internet connection was high on the want list. At the time dial-up was the only realistic option. I chose Escape, one of the largest ISPs and seemingly best. Once they offered DSL I quickly jumped on board. It wasn't long after that, that MTS bought up Escape and pretty much every other ISP in the province. So along with the landline service, my internet service was with MTS. I experienced many issues with both of the services. Shaw launched cable internet some where along the line, but it wasn't available where I lived. Once I moved I was happy to be rid of all my MTS services. The alternatives of Rogers Wireless and Shaw Internet turned out to be cheaper, higher performance and more reliable.

Over the years, the abysmal customer service at Rogers and insane price hikes that always had to be negotiated back to reasonable amounts left me wanting more. Shaw started as a company I highly recommended and turned into one I despise. Their customer service went from reasonable to insulting fools, their price constantly marched upward, while products where at best stagnate, but often declined in quality.

I reluctantly restarted my relationship with MTS for wireless service. My contract with Rogers was coming to an end, Rogers prices again hit a new high and they weren't negotiating, I was tired of it anyway. I monitored the options and shopped around. Although MTS was on the bottom of my list, they were at a reasonable list price without any negotiation needed. I was also confident that their network was reasonably wide and fast after they started a networking sharing/building agreement with Rogers some time prior. That agreement also extended to hardware, so I knew I could get the iPhone I wanted as well. I spent a lot of time crossing the T's and dotting the I's. MTS's website is quite sparse and barren for detailed information, so I chatted with customer service a lot to make sure I understood everything and could get exactly what I wanted. One of the deciding factors turned out to be customer service. At MTS I got consistent and correct answers from everyone I talked to, unlike everywhere else. They may not have been the answers I wanted to hear all the time, but they weren't misleading or incorrect. I decided to give MTS a 2 year trial, the length of a contract.

Continue reading "The MTS Experience"

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