Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Sorry I Missed Your Birthday, Dad!

MikeBo’s Blog!
Cloudy with Sun in Afternoon 59°F/15°C at Cokeburg, Pennsylvania
Sunny 75°F/24°C at Cedar Park, Texas
Dobrý den!

Yesterday, as I signed onto Facebook for my morning ration of clack and clatter about The Decline and Fall of the American Dream at the Tiny Hands of the Upstart From Queens, one of my
Dad in 1945
  Facebook Memories popped up on my screen. It was an old blog of mine, entitled A Story My Father Told Me! Not being inclined to wallow through another memory flogger, I passed on it and went on to more current events. Then, last evening, my cousin Linda reminded me that it was my father’s birthday – October 23rd, the same as my cousin Bernie Botula, my dad’s godson. When I replied to her message, I mentioned that my kid brother Packy had his birthday on the 18th. This morning, as I lurched into consciousness, I realized that, had he lived, my dad would be 108. (He died in 1965 at 52). The title of that Facebook memory and my blog escaped me, so I went back to the source to refresh my memory.   

Sunday, October 8, 2017


MikeBo’s Blog!
Location: Austin, Texas Area
Partly Cloudy 72°F/14°C Roma, Lazio, Italia
Sunny 89°F/31°C Cedar Park, Texas
    Back in August I recounted in my blog how I had cut the apron strings connecting me to my cable TV provider. It was a divorce from a longstanding relationship of (at least) three decades. Since my friends and neighbors on Facebook and other social media sites have texted me with comments, I thought it might be time for a follow-up, so I can answer the musical question: how’s that streaming thing working out for you?
    In a word: GREAT!
It took me several months and several conversations with the customer service reps from my provider to get it done. For me, cutting cable was more Evolution than Revolution. I did it in steps.
     First, I needed to shop around for the necessary add-ons. I was starting with a new big screen
Smart HDTV set. A visit to Amazon brought me a high gain indoor TV antenna, which gave me my local Austin, Texas area channels. Then, off to Best Buy where, after discussing my goals with one of their customer service reps, I brought home an Apple TV adaptor, figuring it would synch up better with my IPad and my IPhone. However, other options are: X-Box, Amazon Fire, Google Chromecast, Roku, Android Smart TV among others.

The Smart HDTV has a built-in computer, and thus offers an array of streaming apps in addition to my Apple TV. Some of them duplicate the Apple TV apps, but some are unique to my big screen Samsung. After the tedious process of selecting and down loading the apps I wanted, I was ready to give it a try. (Mind you – at this point I still had my cable service connected). I quickly discovered that some apps require a cable TV provider to function. But, most require a subscription but operate independently of cable. After several weeks of tryouts and putting the same streaming apps on my laptop, IPhone and IPad, I called up my provider and started the unraveling process. I cancelled my land line phone service, placed my cable TV service on a vacation hold and took off for Italy for the next month.
    Internet streaming has one HUGE advantage! You don’t have to be home to watch TV. The Apple TV component provides the apps and access to your subscriptions just to your TV set.  All other apps and subscriptions can be downloaded directly to your IPhone, IPad or PC or laptop. You can be anywhere in the world and still watch Law and Order. Once I had been assured that my rental apartment in Rome came with WI-FI, I was in business. And that formed the basis of the ultimatum I could give to my cable TV provider when I got home the following month.
    Lifestyle changes combined with the ever-increasing costs of staying connected, were my primary reasons for my electronic cost-cutting. My move from California to Texas in late 2015 meant my suburban home no longer needed to care and feed the technology behind four or five rooms with cable boxes and TV sets. My new home was a two-bedroom apartment with a big-screen smart HDTV in the living room and a 30-inch HDTV in the spare room that I use as an office.
     As time passed, not only was I dealing with increasing cable TV expenses, but increasing costs of maintaining cell phone service, especially when I was traveling.  Once I settled into my new digs in Texas, I had my cell phone, a land line phone, cable TV and an internet connection all wrapped into a nice big bundle from AT&T with an average monthly cost of about $400 bucks. Once I got rid of my land line and cable TV service, my monthly tab has dropped to less than half of that.
    Cable TV providers are extremely loath to lose their customers to streaming of any kind, and AT&T was no exception. So, I decided on taking a gradual approach. In my first call, I cancelled my land line phone service and put my cable subscription on vacation hold. After I got back from Italy, I called them again and asked to cancel my cable TV subscription. Sir, your cable TV service is BUNDLED with your internet service. If you cancel one, we will have to terminate the other, the friendly customer service rep told me. You’re telling me that I can’t have one without the other? I asked. That’s right, he replied.  BUT, we CAN reduce your cable TV subscription down to basic cable. You’ll save about $30 a month. Would that be satisfactory? I decided to retreat from the battlefield and fight another day.
    Over the next few months I refined my streaming set-up. I had already subscribed to CBSN for news and Netflix for House of Cards and Narcos. The Apple TV came with ITunes. Now, I added HBO Now, You Tube, IHeart Radio, Comedy Central, PBS, the National Geographic Channel (OK, I had to subscribe to the magazine to evade a cable provider), The Weather Channel, and a few others. Now, some months later, I am still adding channels while subtracting others. The refining process is an ongoing thing, but my choices are my own, and not a cable provider’s take-it-or-leave-it bundle.
    With IHeart radio, I can stream music and news from around the world. From my buddy John Stephens’ Paradise FM in Tauranga, New Zealand to my good friend and colleague Hans Laetz’ KBUU-FM in Malibu, California. I can even check to see if they are still playing polkas on my old alma mater WRIV 1390 in my hometown of Riverhead, NY. While I’m writing, I generally listen to Austin’s classical KMFA89. On weekends, it’s jazz on WDNA, Miami. And if a big California story catches my eye I can hear it on KCBS, San Francisco; KBFK, Sacramento or KNX, Los Angeles.
    With my indoor antenna I can watch all the local Austin channels, including 4 – count ‘em – FOUR PBS channels through KLRU. PBS Kids (which I leave on for Lola when I go out), KLRU Create, KLRU-Q and the regular KLRU-HD, which is the only PBS channel on local cable. The PBS.org streaming app offers a bonus: unlimited streaming of any PBS program through its Passport Program. All it takes is a minimum donation to PBS, and your donation is tax deductible.
     Since I’m a former newsman (TV/Radio reporter 1st class–retired) who capped off a career in broadcast news as a press secretary for Los Angeles County, California and Public Information Officer for the State of California, I’d like to mention the wide variety of news sources available through streaming. PBS does a first-class job starting with the PBS Newshour.  But they also offer BBC World News America, NHK Japan and DW TV Germany. DW TV also has a streaming app and broadcasts news 24/7 in multiple languages. Another example are the apps from the New York Times and Washington Post, just to mention two major newspapers that also publish video products and produce podcasts. Contrary to what you may hear in the political windstorms these days, there is Real News out there if you know where to look for it! Associated Press, Reuters, Al Jazeera. I even have RAI-TV news on my IPad when I want to follow the news and practice my Italian simultaneously.
    My Samsung big screen offers Amazon Prime TV through its built-in apps. Since I’m an Amazon Prime customer, the television streaming is included in my annual fee. (Can’t wait for the new season of Bosch, a dandy LA detective series). It’s funny, though. The Amazon app on my Apple TV will only let me shop on Amazon, not watch any of the Amazon TV product. Must be a competition thing.
     Just last week, I added CBS All Access to watch the new Star Trek: Discovery and was pleasantly surprised that a subscriber can either stream the shows of their choice or watch CBS on the local CBS affiliate. In my case, that’s KEYE-TV Austin. As good a signal as it pulls out of the ether, my TV antenna is still subject to occasional interference.
     The last time I talked to my cable TV provider, I had all my ducks lined up. The customer service rep that I talked to didn’t really put up a struggle. I was prepared to tell him that my cell phone contract was no longer in force and I was prepared to offset some of the cost reductions for my cable TV service with a higher quality internet connection. I was about to tell him that I could cancel everything with AT&T and go with another provider if we couldn’t make a deal. (My mailbox overfloweth with ads and solicitations from Spectrum and other cable and internet providers). By the time we were finished talking, my cable TV service was gone and my internet service had been upgraded.
     Now, I pray that the electricity and my internet connect stay up.
Onward and Upward!

© Mike Botula 2017

[Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!  (Amazon Books)  MikeBo’s Blog is a subsidiary of www.mikebotula.com.  Mike is on FacebookTwitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus!] Mike’s book is available from Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble Books.