Cutting the cord

At the end of last year, my wife and I decided to cancel our U-verse service and move to Xfinity internet only. We had talked about this for a while but ultimately decided that the cost (and overall lack of interest in watching TV most of the time) meant that we were throwing a decent amount of money away. Like most folks, we watch Netflix, Youtube and the occasional HBO or network show when friends or family recommend them to us, but we’re not really the type of people who sit down and spend any real significant time in front of the TV during the week.

There is one exception, however. I’m addicted to college and professional football. More on that in a minute.

We were paying over $150/month for U-verse and just didn’t’ see the value. The TV service was fine, but the internet was comically slow. So, we decided to check out Comcast. The speeds were drastically improved, and we landed a 1-year promotional deal of less than $50/month. All was well in our household until May rolled around, when I got a bill for nearly $200. Comcast, like other ISPs, have a monthly data cap in their terms & conditions but actually enforce them strictly unlike some of their competitors. The shocking thing to me was that we received notifications only at the email address issued to me, so I wasn’t aware that we had blown through our 3 ‘mulligan’ allotments earlier in the year and were now on the hook for a $10 per 50gb over the 300gb monthly cap.

Looking back, it’s obvious why we went over. We both used (have since cancelled) BackBlaze to back up our computers – my wife is a photographer so you can imagine the huge files going back and forth all of the time – and I had just bought a new computer which has a 500gb HDD and was backed up when I migrated over. On top of that, iCloud Photo Library had just come out and in the winter months we had been plowing through tons of Netflix shows. 300gb is a joke up against that tidal wave of data. I’m at a spot now where we watch what we use pretty vigilantly and have only gone over a few times since then. However, a new set of challenges have arisen: football season.

My plan all along was to use a service like Sling TV to allow me to watch most of the games that mattered to me as Sling gives you access to the ESPN networks for $25/month. It’s actually a fantastic service and also lets you use the WatchESPN app as you are technically using a cable provider. This means I can watch almost any game that’s not on CBS/NBC/FOX with ease. Since there’s no contract, I can just sign up in August and cancel after the season is over. Another angle was to sign up for the NFL Game Pass, which is a $99/year service promising you on demand (after the game is concluded) access to every game by every team. This is great for me, as I could never watch Tampa Bay Bucs games in Atlanta anyway. I’m ok with watching Sunday evening anyway.

I’ve run into a few issues though – the location of my house means I’m unable to get over-the-air HD signals from most major local channels. This means a lot of the marquee games NOT on ESPN are not accessible to me right now without investing hundreds of dollars in an antenna on my roof (and still no guarantee things will work). Also, this weekend was my first trying out Sling TV while games were on. I didn’t sit in front of the TV all weekend but I like to have the games (or ESPN Goal Line) on while I’m doing things around the house. From Thursday night to Monday evening I watched 4 full games and had Goal Line on for a few hours as well. After checking my data use on the long weekend, I found we had used 70 gigs! That’s roughly 1/4 of my monthly cap in a 4-day weekend.

There comes a point where cutting the cord isn’t cost-effective when you do the math on all of the services, antennas, overages, dongles, apps and more you have to deal with just to save a few bucks. In fact, you’re adding a lot of cognitive overhead, worrying about your use when you should just be enjoying whatever it is you’re sitting down to watch. If you’re not a sports fan I still feel like there are fewer and fewer reasons to pay for cable but live sports is proving to be a difficult landscape to navigate when a data cap is in play.

We have a few options we’re exploring right now – the easiest solution is to find a good promotional price for cable + internet service and just deal with it for a few years. Right now, this is what I’m leaning towards. I figure by the time the promotional price expires in 24 months, the landscape will be drastically different. Other options include switching back to U-verse for Internet and hoping they don’t enforce data caps but I still have to deal with a lack of local TV coverage. Obviously, another option is simply changing my consumption of football in the fall, but that ain’t happening.

I’m going to do a little more research before making a decision but I’m leaning toward going back to Comcast with my tail between my legs. I think that the next time my contract expires, the landscape will be drastically different.

Sublime Text Power User

About a year ago I bought an eBook + video series from Wes Bos on leveling up in Sublime Text. I read about 20% of it and somehow forgot about it after the fact. Well, about a week ago I decided to finish up and it’s taken a text editor that I was actually on the fence about (I have lately been flirting with Atom for a while) and made me feel like I’m in complete control of the application.

In particular, the chapters on workflow, packages and quickly moving around the editor with the keyboard have made me much more efficient on the current project I’m involved with at work. If you’re a Sublime Text user and want to up your game significantly I highly recommend this book.

How to destory Programmer Productivity

George Stocker, on How to destroy Programmer Productivity:

Ultimately, each of us controls what makes us unproductive. I suck at peaceful confrontation. I either come of too strongly, or I sit there and let the other person walk all over me. I’m really not good at it at all. As such, I don’t have any good advice for handling the external forces that contribute to not being productive, but I do know this: Whatever I can control, I should control.

This is a constant struggle for any developer – not only the external forces in an office that cause tons of issues, but the personal preferences around how software is set up. Being a morning person, I try to get into the office early and that gets me a long way. But I’m still a mere mortal, so I have to do everything in my power to reduce other distractions.

Keeping my dock hidden on my Mac alone is such a huge boon to my productivity – having an office and the ability to blast music all day goes a long way as well. I’m also super careful about what apps are on my home screen – I keep all social media on the second screen – and which apps can actually send push notifications.

Switching to the iPhone

Joe Casabona writes about 2 months with an iPhone:

But as I use the iPhone more and see how well it actually works, it’s clear that Android is great for some things. But needs to mature in other aspects. And I think Google knows that too. The change in treatment of Android over the last few years has been noticeable. It’s like Google said, “GUYS. We need to fix this mess.”


Good take on the good and the bad of using an iPhone 6 after spending years on the Android side. Seems like most articles these days are Apple folks who are fed up and switching to Android, so it’s interesting to see the other side of the coin from time to time. While we all have our complaints about the Apple world, the integrated nature of Apple products can be a huge peace-of-mind boost if you buy in.

Heck, even I’m tempted to switch to Android sometimes – the new Moto X looks particularly outstanding. But when I really think about it, I feel like iOS is still the place for me. Who knows, I may still switch back to Android one day. But at this point, I feel like the perfect setup is Apple hardware backed with Google services.

This hamburger is made of mystery meat

James Archer writes about the Hamburger Menu:

As an industry, we had somehow gotten “confusing and difficult navigation” mixed up with “fun and engaging user interface,” and convinced ourselves that people would put up with frustratingly vague navigation because it was cool and animated. It took a long time for the industry to finally break that habit.

I feel like I fight this battle with every new design concept comes my way these days, and rarely is it done with user experience in mind. More often than not, it’s put in place to satisfy multiple stakeholders who all want their pet page/project front and center. Out of options, the designer chooses a hamburger navigation option to appease all involved. The user doesn’t win here.

Mr. Archer gives a lot of good examples of why this style of nav is rarely a good idea, as well as a few good solutions for simplifying when you’re on a mobile layout. Definitely worth a read.

Ghostery and the ethics of blocking ads

Marco Arment, talking about the ethical dilemma of using ad blockers:

I recently started using Ghostery on my computers, and a simple homemade iOS content blocker that I may release for iOS 9’s launch. The web performance improvements with these are staggering, and the reports of quite how much Ghostery is blocking on most pages is shocking and disgusting.

I struggle with the similar ethical quandary. I have been using Ghostery for a while as well, and I’ve decided to allow Google, the Deck and a few other Ad publishers through. I want to support sites if they have chosen an ad-supported model as long as they do it in a moderately tasteful way. But to me, web tracking and retargeting is a bridge too far.

What’s great about Ghostery is that it allows you to choose to either block all 3rd party trackers/ads or specific ones, and you can even choose to do so one a per-site basis. This lets me show ads from certain networks I know of and ‘trust’ on some level, while blocking all of the shadier services. It’s a simple add on for Chrome, Safari or Firefox and it dramatically decreases the load time on most web pages, and gives you some level of peace of mind.

As others have pointed out, trackers and ads nowadays aren’t just something you can simply ignore. It’s code, executed on your machine and dramatically slows down the load time of an average web site by a few seconds most of the time. This has costs in terms of time, bandwidth, privacy and even on an ethical level.

I’ll keep tweaking my Ghostery settings to let some types of ads through, but undecipherable tracker names with no obvious benefit … you’re on notice.

Inside the failure of Google+

Mashable’s great article about the failure of Google+:

By early 2014, less than three years after its big launch, the Google+ team had moved out of its coveted building to a spot on campus further from Page. Gundotra announced his departure from the company that April — in a Google+ post, of course — to pursue “a new journey.”


I always felt like Google+ checked all the boxes of what features a great social network should have with the exception of one: nobody used it. Unfortunately for Google, that’s kind of the most important one.

Everything That’s Wrong With the Web

From Jeremy Keith:

It’s funny, but I take almost the opposite view that Nilay puts forth in his original article. Instead of thinking “Oh, why won’t these awful browsers improve to be better at delivering our websites?”, I tend to think “Oh, why won’t these awful websites improve to be better at taking advantage of our browsers?” After all, it doesn’t seem like that long ago that web browsers on mobile really were awful; incapable of rendering the “real” web, instead only able to deal with WAP.

I’m a little late to the party with this article, but I’m glad to see such pushback against Nilay Patel’s ridiculous article about mobile web browsers being responsible for bad performance.  While there are always performance and UX/UI gains to me made in Safari and Chrome, I think anyone with even a basic understanding of how web browser performance works knows that throwing 200+ http requests at any browser is not exactly how the web was designed to work. 

Vox Media appears to have a talented group of engineers who understand they’re up against, but this is an arms race (publishers v. end users) that’s not going to end well for any of us if things continue down the path we are on. By adding more and more intrusive tracking, larger imagery and gimmicky article formats that don’t focus on good user experience but rather increasing time in site. It’s as if our friends at the Verge have decided they’re going to go all-in on user hostile behavior and even try to pin it on the browser vendors. 

I used to think Patel was a good writer. He’s a smart guy but I feel like he’s been corrupted in the search for the almighty page view. Maybe that’s giving him more credit than he deserves, but I find myself thinking “here we go again” when I see his name in the byline. 

Google’s Search Algorithm Could Steal the Presidency

Wired writes about how Google’s Search Algorithm Could Steal the Presidency:

The thing is, though, even though it’s tempting to think of algorithms as the very definition of objective, they’re not. “It’s not really possible to have a completely neutral algorithm,” says Jonathan Bright, a research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute who studies elections. “I don’t think there’s anyone in Google or Facebook or anywhere else who’s trying to tweak an election. But it’s something these organizations have always struggled with.” Algorithms reflect the values and worldview of the programmers. That’s what an algorithm is, fundamentally. “Do they want to make a good effort to make sure they influence evenly across Democrats and Republicans? Or do they just let the algorithm take its course?” Bright asks.

Scary to think about the implications – intentional or not – of skewed search result data. Ultimately, people are building these algorithms and even if their intent is truly ‘good’, the possibility of pushing people one way or another is real. On a somewhat related note, there was a good Atlantic article last fall about a similar concern with Facebook.