the value of our Roku

About a year ago I wrote that I had bought a Roku device so we could get the CBS All Access streaming service in order to watch Star Trek: Discovery. That series, the first season at least, was an absolute disaster, so bad that I cancelled CBS All Access before the end of the season. (We are hoping for a better season 2 and expect to re-up in January.)

Roku packageThe Roku has been great for other reasons, however. It gives us simple, easy access to Netflix and Hulu. We get access to streaming movies through Fandango, Vudu, and Redbox.

The Roku also provides access to the CBSN streaming news service. I have been watching more news since the democrats won the House of Representatives, and I watch CNN and MSNBC, both of which show a bias against that guy with the orange hair who lives in the White House. That is more than fine with me, but it’s nice to have CBSN for their more down the middle approach.

Then there’s NASA TV. With the excitement around the Mars InSight mission I thought perhaps Roku might offer NASA TV. In fact, they do. How very cool is that?

The Roku was an inexpensive purchase. We are getting more than our money’s worth.

our instantaneous world

It is an instantaneous world out there. We sometimes take it for granted, but it was not always so.

When I was growing up I would sometimes buy books by mail order. I would fill out the order form, give my dad cash that I got from my paper route and he would in turn give me a check for the appropriate amount to include with the order. When I worked for B. Dalton bookseller, special orders for customers took six to eight weeks. We would fill out a four-part form using carbonless paper and put the original in the daily U.S. Mail envelope that went to the general office. When the publisher processed the order it was shipped book rate to the store.

The world is very different today. The debit card I use to buy groceries at our discount supermarket has that they call card controls. That means that the second my transaction is processed at the checkstand the text message app on my iPhone chimes and alerts me that the transaction has occurred.

We’re all familiar with Amazon Prime and how we can get packages in two days, or the next day if we pay an extra $6.99. That can be very useful. The technology is impressive if you stop to think about it.

5-hour EnergyWhen we were coming up on Terry’s knee replacement surgery I knew that I had a challenge. I had to have the energy to get her the thirty-three miles home from Kaiser Hospital after the surgery, but given my own medical condition and the medication I’m taking I get tired easily. It occurred to me that I would do well to have a bottle of 5-hour Energy in the car. It was Sunday and Terry’s surgery was Tuesday. I was standing on the energy drink aisle of said discount supermarket. They had no 5-hour Energy. I had neither the time nor the inclination to run around town looking for it. I pulled out my iPhone, opened the Amazon app, and did a search on the product. I found a flavor that could be shipped to arrive the next day. I ordered a case. With twelve minutes to spare. It arrived on Monday and I put a bottle in the car. The day Tuesday was much longer than either of us had anticipated. That little bottle packed quite the jolt and saved the day for our drive home in rush hour.

It’s an instantaneous world these days.

not for everything

I love my iPad and I use it every evening. But the iPad (or any tablet) is not good for everything.

iPad caseOne thing it’s not good for (to my mind) is magazines. As it happens I can get many magazines for my iPad free through the library. There are many quality magazines available, such as the New Yorker. But I’ve given up reading magazines that way. The iPad is too small to really enjoy them in that format. While I can increase the font size, that just becomes awkward and uncomfortable to read.

Magazines are best suited to the print format.

college has changed

I recently wrote about listening to an Open Yale course from iTunes on the New Testament. While the production values of iTunes U classes are not as polished as those for The Great Courses, they are interesting because you get to hear recordings of actual classroom sessions.

Yale campusWhen I was in college we didn’t have computers. Well, we had one DEC System 10 mainframe for all of the Claremont colleges that sat in basement of Scott Hall at Pitzer College. You could get access to it by going to a computer room on one of the campuses that had three or four terminals and you could either play one of a few games or do some basic programming if you had those skills. Few of us did much with that.

Today having a laptop is essential to academic life on campus. The professor spoke at the beginning of the course about access to course materials on the server. At the end of the course he stated that the final exam could be emailed to one’s teaching fellow.

Some things, perhaps, don’t change. Like students being lazy. At one point the professor said that he could tell that many of the students hadn’t downloaded and read a certain document that he was lecturing on by the blank looks on their faces.

The technology has certainly changed. Student attitudes, even at Yale, seem to have not.

the continuing Microsoft saga

I wrote recently that I was not pleased with Microsoft. When I applied the infamous Windows 10 April update to my laptop it could no longer see my desktop, something which I heavily relied on.

MicrosoftMore recently my desktop demanded that I apply the April update there. I had no choice but to comply. After the update I wanted to see if anything had changed with respect to my laptop. I found that if I manually entered my desktop’s name in my laptop it could see the two folders that I had shared. That was a start, though annoying that it did not find them automatically.

The other annoyance is that the recipe database on my laptop does not find those folders on my desktop when I try to do a backup (even though they’re there in Windows Explorer on the laptop), so I can no longer do a backup directly from my laptop to my desktop as I did before. I have to go through a couple of iterations.

Except that this evening Windows Explorer found the shared folders automatically and the recipe database saw them as well, so today all worked as I would expect.

We’ll see what happens next time. Microsoft does indeed aggravate.


why I hate Microsoft, reason #472

Or: Why Microsoft Doesn’t Win Friends and Influence People

I have both a desktop and a laptop computer. Both run Windows 10. On my laptop Windows has been telling me that a recent Windows update installation failed. Some research told me that this is a known problem and in most cases the installation succeeded and the failure was being incorrectly reported. However, Windows kept telling me that I had an update ready and I needed to restart my computer. Every time after the restart it told me that the installation failed and Windows Update kept insisting that my Windows installation was out of date and my computer was at risk. It was the same update each time, by the way.

MicrosoftI continued to search for any resolution to this issue. Finally, recently, I saw mention of an April update to Windows 10 and I found a pointer to a manual installation tool. It turns out that this was a major update and took several hours.

When it was all done Windows told me, “Oh, by the way, you no longer have Homegroup.”

Say what? Are you kidding me? I regularly share files between my desktop and laptop using Homegroup. How aggravating. It seems that Microsoft wants everyone using OneDrive. My perspective is that Microsoft knows enough about me as it is and I’m not going to log in with my Microsoft ID to manage files between computers.

I should be able to share files between the two computers with the build-in Windows networking capability even without Homegroup, but right now my laptop can’t see my desktop. grrr…

There are workarounds. I have Dropbox on both systems and will use that. It’s a bit more effort than using Homegroup but not a terrible inconvenience. Still, Microsoft should not be breaking things that worked previously.

making a change

A year ago at this time I wrote that I was happy with Frontier Communications because at the end of my two year term I got a lower rate and more channels. This year that’s not the case.

What turned out to be a two-year term was only one year. When I asked them for some kind of rate accommodation I was told nothing was possible. That was it. It was time for a change.

I had been thinking about changing to Spectrum for a while. They have the Dodgers on TV and they have the Weather Channel. Frontier has neither. This, and Frontier’s inflexibility with respect to our rate, prompted me to make the change.

We did drop to a lower tier of service without the movie channels, but on the streaming side we have Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and movie services via our Roku.

We don’t get Cooking Channel, but we have Food Network. And I have Genius Kitchen on the Roku, which comes from the Food Network folks. I don’t get Decades with its Dick Cavett reruns, but I still have PBS Create.

Our savings is $60 a month. That doesn’t take into account the rate when our Frontier $30 a month loyalty discount was to expire.

And most importantly we get the Dodgers. We get to have the Dodgers on TV. That goes for a lot. We’re going to thoroughly enjoy that.

protecting my data

I have always taken care to back up the data on my desktop PC. At one point I had a third-party product which I really liked to back up my data to an external drive. But it just stopped working one day. So I moved to the built-in backup on Windows 7. That worked well. It kept working even when I moved to Windows 10. Until it stopped working. I decided to use the Windows 10 built-in backup. That worked nicely, and I liked the fact it backed up files throughout the day rather than in one session in the evening.

There was only one problem. The Windows 10 backup doesn’t tell you when it stops working. I checked on my backups in early December and discovered that it hadn’t done a backup since mid-November. What? That doesn’t work.

CarboniteMy intent was to find a third-party product I could use to back up to my external drive, simply to avoid paying yet another subscription fee. When I posed the question to my editorial freelancer’s email group, a member pointed out that it was a good idea to have offsite backup in the case of natural disasters. He noted that his parents had lost everything in the Santa Rosa fires. As this response came just as fires were raging across Southern California the point was not lost on me. He recommended the Carbonite service and others seconded his recommendation.

I checked out Carbonite. It’s $60 a year for unlimited storage when you have a single computer. I went for it. I found it easy to use and as far as I can tell it seems to be solid and reliable.

It gives me a level of comfort to know that my data is safe and recoverable.

an easy way to scan a document

Dropbox appI have long had the need to scan documents for various reasons. I’ve always used one of our all-in-one (printer, scanner, fax) devices, using the flat bed and letting the light bar do it’s thing. It was slow, tedious, and time-consuming.

It turns out that my Dropbox iPhone app, which I installed primarily to move photos from my iPhone to my desktop computer, has a neat scan function. You simply center the document, hold your phone still, and the app draws a boundary around the page and scans the document. It creates a respectable PDF file which you can sync to your desktop computer or send to whomever you wish. It’s much quicker and less tedious than using the all-in-one flatbed.

It works well. How cool is that?

NPR comes through again

Book ConciergeA few years back National Public Radio came up with an amazing innovation to allow book lovers to browse the best books of the year. Rather than simply present a list of their picks for the year’s best books, it developed NPR’s Book Concierge.

And now they have released their 2017 Book Concierge. Such a delight! NPR compiled what it considered to be the best books of the year and then labeled each book with one or more categories. Categories include things like Staff Picks, Biography & Memoir, Historical Fiction, etc.

What is great is that you can mix and match categories. So, for example, you can select Eye-Opening Reads and Historical Fiction to get the books that are tagged as both. Or you could select Biography & Memoir along with Seriously Great Writing.

It’s a lot of fun and a great way to select the next book you want to read. If you’re a book lover you’ll want to check it out.