Observations


Over the Thanksgiving holiday, my brother talked me into getting Direct TV Now service. The selling point was a free Apple TV 4k device by prepaying for 4 months of service. The cost of the service was about $179 which is what the cost of the Apple TV come to so you’re either getting a free Apple TV 4k or 4 months of Direct TV Now for free depending on how you look at it.

I signed up right away on Thanksgiving day as we talked about it. It has now been 5 years since our family decided to give up cable TV for iPhones. Over the past five years we have watched TV primarily through Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Now and over the air antennae and we haven’t missed cable TV so I took this as a great experiment to see if we would ever go back. The result may surprise you!

So here are the Top 10 disappointments with Direct TV Now.

1. Commercials – After over 5 years of commercial free TV, going back to commercial television has been very hard. We don’t watch too much television but when we do it’s through binging a couple of episodes an evening optimized by having no commercials. Going back now to watching for two hours to get 45 minutes worth of content is literally not worth my time!

2. Streaming interrupted – Direct TV now has a horrible habit of having the stream interrupted at the most inopportune time like a critical scene at a TV show or movie. I don’t have this problem with Netflix, Hulu, or HBO Now so I know it is NOT my internet connection speed. This would be particularly ironic since my main service provider is AT&T which owns Direct TV Now.

3. Direct TV Now vs HBO Now – Because I could get HBO for $5/month add on to my Direct TV service, I canceled my $15/month HBO Now service but so far HBO Now is far superior because it has all the shows available to stream, I have not figured out how to get the full breadth of shows from the Direct TV Now Apple app which brings me to point #4 below.

4. UI – The Direct TV Now app on Apple TV has a HORRIBLE user interface. It is extremely frustrating sing the app to navigate the channels, streaming and options. Often I’ll do something that changes the channel automatically by swiping left or right on the Apple TV remote. The guide is horrible and navigation is impossible.

5. Location services MUST be enabled – If you intend on using Direct TV Now, you should be aware that the service requires you to share your location – so much for sneaking off with your mistress to watch TV if you have one because this app will discover your whereabouts at all times. This is one of the many reasons I will be canceling my service when it runs out in four months. No, I don’t have a mistress but I do value my privacy!

6. Streaming Shows Very Limited – There are whole seasons missing from a show lineup. I do not understand why entire seasons of shows are not available. Some shows only have the last two or three seasons available while others skip around (Rick & Morty). It is bewildering to say the least.

7. Spontaneous channel changes – My biggest frustration with the service right now is that we will get a random channel change for no reason. The remote is sitting on the ottoman completely devoid of any contact and the channel will suddenly change for no reason. Again, I did not experience this problem on any other streaming service so to say my Apple TV, remote, or internet connection is off would be wrong since it only happens with Direct TV Now on Apple TV.

8. No Local channels? I only get ABC and FOX local, CBS, NBC, UPN and others non-existent and I’m not sure if this is an accidental omission or some dispute with the other networks but right now I only get two of the many local channels in my broadcast area.

9. Better options – We are at the start of the golden age of TV streaming: Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, Disney (soon), Philo, Rabbit TV Plus, are all offering streaming services, many of them are commercial (advertising) free so if you want a better TV experience there are many options out there for every taste.

10. Commercials – In the modern era of digitization, it is surprising to me that we still can’t have advertising models that are relevant to the viewers. I wouldn’t mind sitting through commercials if they were in any way relevant to the things I like to do: photography, outdoor activities, global travel, etc but sitting through tampon (no need), mortgage (no need), and endless car adverts (no need) in a row makes me want to switch over to Netflix, HBO or Hulu.

I plan on canceling the service as soon as my pre-paid four months are up. The service simply isn’t compelling in any way to keep. Disney plans on starting a streaming service in 2018 and they own a great deal of content. I hope they offer a commercial free version of their service because that package will round out my Netflix, Hulu and HBO Now. Ironically, I’m probably paying the same amount that I would for standard cable TV but I don’t have to sit and watch commercials nor do I have to subsidize channels like ESPN 1-20. I simply pay for what I want to watch and that’s the way it should be.

If you want an Apple TV 4k, try the service out but remember to cancel it if it doesn’t work out for you!

I am going to share a secret with you, it has been over 3 years since I’ve set foot in a traditional retail store.  I do almost all of my shopping on Amazon and the only two other places that I visit occasionally are the grocery store and Costco.   The grocery store I visit almost weekly however Costco I now only visit about once a month at best.

So what’s wrong with retail?   Let me tell ya!

Problem #1 – The Experience

The premise of the retail store is to go out and acquire something you need.   Perhaps the retail experience long ago was also a way to socialize but I wouldn’t know because that must have been decades and decades ago.   So what kind of retail experience exists now?   Well first I have to get into my car and drive to a retail store.  With an ever increasing number of cars being added to the roadways, this means I have to sit in smog for a good 20 to 40 minutes depending on which retail store I am headed to but that’s not the worse part.   Next, I spend quite a bit of time driving around looking for a parking space.   I know what you’re thinking, I’m the kind of guy that waits for a nearby space so I don’t have to walk far but that’s wrong.   I usually take the first parking space I see no matter how close or far from the store but lately there are no parking spaces anywhere near retail shops except of course Sears.  After wasting time in traffic then at the parking lot, I then waste even more time walking down aisles looking for what I need.   I don’t bother shopping for clothes anymore at retail stores because they never have anything in my size – NEVER!    What ever happened to the promise of being measured once then having custom clothes made for you and delivered to your door?    If I do find something I need, I then have to wait for a cashier to ring up my purchases and there is almost always someone in front of me arguing with the cashier about a coupon, rebate, discount, or some other dumb items that will save them a couple of dollars on some stupid item they are purchasing.

 

Problem #2 – Crime

If you live in a big city, you know that on any given day your chances of being robbed or shot are better than winning the lottery.   Nothing is a bigger magnet to criminals than retail stores because criminals know people that are entering these shops likely have money or credit cards worthy of stealing.   Why should I risk my life to go buy a shirt or pair of pants when Amazon can deliver them to my door in a couple of days?

 

Problem #3 – Retail has become Lazy

When was the last time you saw any real innovation at a retail store?   Sure Starbucks offers free WiFi but why hasn’t every retail store setup WiFi hotspots?   Why do retail clothing stores prefer to stock items that may or may not fit people well instead of investing in scanning/measuring technology for custom built clothes?  It can’t be that hard to put a shirt or pants together can it?    Do you want to know where I get my clothes from now?   I had a tailor come out and take measurements then he flew to Hong Kong, had my clothes made then brought them back.  I paid $100 for each shirt and a few thousand for some suits.   Everything fits great so why can’t someone bring this to a larger scale?   It’s amazing that I ended up sending $6000 to Hong Kong when I wish I could have spent that money in the U.S. but retail is clueless!

At least Walmart is trying to change and bringing some minor innovation about 10 years too late but they still want you to go pick up items at their stores which doesn’t solve Problem #2.

The Solutions – THINK ECOSYSTEM

The most successful companies think in terms of ecosystems.  Apple sells iPhones but then sells music to play on iphones, then sells apps to use on iPhones, then sells movies to watch on iPhone, then sells laptops and ipads to view/use your content on different platforms.

Retail stores need to think of their customer as an iPhone.  Take my measurements then make custom products around what I need.  If you make me a custom shirt and pants then you can sell me a belt, then shoes, then socks and underwear.  But why stop there?  Now that you have my measurements, why not sell me a backpack or suitcase that fits my needs and size?   If you know that I like to play tennis, why not extend those sales to sports clothing and sports gear?   Why not then sell me luggage that can fit all of my clothing items?   All of these items eventually wear out and I need to buy them again so this means repeat purchases – GASP!

What’s that?  Your retail business model is to sell shoes only and not the “ecosystem”?  Well good luck staying in business because your main competitor right now is Amazon and I can pretty much buy anything there and it  has a fairly large ecosystem.   I’m just waiting for Jeff Bezos to send someone to my house to take my measurements so I can order custom clothes, I know it will happen someday.

If you haven’t seen the brutal video of a passenger on United being beaten to force him to give up his seat then you must have been hiding under a rock but that’s not what I want to talk about. I’ve read countless twitter posts, articles and opinions on this issue but no one has pointed out the simple and obvious solution to this problem to avoid it from ever getting to this point. What is that you ask?

All United needs to do is to add a simple tick box to their site when booking a flight that asked the question, “Are you willing to give up your seat for compensation if we are overbooked?” If no one had ticked the box, United would know that this is a full flight and no one is willing to give up their seats WAY BEFORE anyone shows up to the airport or boards the plane! The gate agent and flight crew would have PLENTY of time to figure out alternative arrangements for their employees and even other standby passengers.

Let’s face a simple reality here, some passengers have critical events or activities they are traveling from point A to point B for and simply can’t miss that flight (weddings, funerals, graduations, etc). I am one of those people that would never give up his seat for compensation as I fly mostly for business. I get paid about $200/hour so if I’m delayed 4 hours, the delay costs my employer $800. Delay me 12 or 24 hours and that cost escalates from $2400 to $4800. The $1300 cap on compensation automatically puts me OUT of the running to give up my seat. I imagine the doctor in this incident also falls into that “high earner” category and the $800 meant little to nothing for him as it does to me. Eight hundred dollars is 4 hours worth of work for me, why would I give up my seat for this? Of course there are plenty of people that would jump at the chance at getting $800 or $1300 but this may have been a scenario where perhaps many high earners were on board and simply wanted to get to their destination. Contrast this with a minimum wage earner making $8/hr that would earn $32 over a four hour period, the $800 is a very attractive offer.

Perhaps United should use credit scores or net worth of its passengers to ascertain who is likely to want to get bumped. If they knew this about me, they would know not to bother asking. Why can’t United data mine from Facebook and figure out that Sally in seat 10B is going to her sister’s wedding in Louisville and won’t give up her seat? Or that Grandma is seat 11a is on a once in a lifetime vacation and can’t give up her seat?

In a day and age when we have iphones and apps for every conceivable scenario it is remarkable that airlines still can’t figure out that a flight is full and people on that flight aren’t interested in giving up their seats way before the flight even boards!

If this tick box existed on booking of this flight and someone had selected it then United should have known exactly who to offer compensation to right off the bat. Actually, United should get really smart and start letting people pre-bid on getting bumped – I’d put my self on the list for $7500 and up for a domestic flight and $20,000 for an international flight. So if I’m flying from New York to London and United wants my seat, they can come to me when they’re ready to pay 20k for that seat.

I know what you’re thinking..it’ll be too expensive to implement all of this but considering that United at one point today lost $700 million in market value, I don’t think they can afford not to do it!

This past weekend I watched the Super Bowl.  It was the ONLY NFL game I saw the entire season in its entirety and I thought it was the best game ever and I can’t wait till next year to watch this ONE NFL event either.   So why doesn’t anyone want to watch NFL games anymore?  Well it’s not just NFL games, neither I nor my family watch any “commercial” television anymore.

As you recall, a few years ago, my kids begged me to get them iPhones.  At the time, I gave them an ultimatum: You can have iPhones or you can have cable TV – you can’t have them both.  The kids chose the iPhones.    Immediately after cancelling the cable, I decided on trying to get lower cost solutions.  Over the air TV signals was the initial choice but the kids and I hated the commercials and the inability to time shift shows without having to buy a DVR was a deal breaker.

As a compromise, we went with Hulu Plus Commercial Free service, Netflix and Amazon Prime.   Between these three services, we get plenty of TV and the best part was that there were ZERO commercials on these services.    Over time I have added and removed HBO and Showtime whenever the shows I watched (Game of Thrones, Homeland) ended their seasons.   Everyone gets to watch the shows they want when they want too and without commercials!

This brings me back to the Super Bowl.  Watching George Takei plugging Pizza Hut was funny the first couple of times I saw the commercial but by the 10th time I saw the exact same commercial again, I wanted to take a baseball bat to George’s poor head.    The only commercials I could tolerate were the ones for T-Mobile which varied quite a bit over time throughout the game.

The commercial free experience in our family has now extended to radio.   My daughter begged me to get Spotify and they had recently came out with a family bundle that was pretty cheap so we gave it a try and ever since then, I’ve abandoned SiriusXM and all the commercial radio stations.  I simply hook up my cell phone to my car speakers via blutooth and turn on commercial free Spotify and listen to the music I want when I want it!

I will say this right now but the dimwits at the NFL won’t listen to it for years.  Offer a commercial free experience for a nominal cost ($9.99/month?) and watch the viewers come back to the NFL.  It’s just not fun watching a 15 seconds of play action followed by 5 minutes of commercials.  Until then, the young whipper snappers are moving to an entirely different experience that doesn’t include stupid and pointless commercials.

On this Labor Day weekend I had hoped to write something a bit more optimistic but the truth is that holidays are usually a time for me to reflect on what has been happening with close friends and family.   As I do this on Labor Day weekend I come to the inescapable conclusion that the rich get richer and the poor are getting poorer.

Case in point, I’m doing just great financially.  In January I will have a tranche of stock options that I’ll be able to cash out.   It’s not a giant sum of money (around $30k) but it’s 30k that I honestly don’t need but will have coming my way anyway.    Add to that another $30 to $50k in bonuses right after that stock tranche and you’ll quickly add up 60k to 80k of income coming to me that I honestly don’t have any use for at the moment.   Sure I’ll bank it and save it for the kids college fund or maybe buy a new car that I really don’t need.   I’ve also considered upgrading my TVs from 1080p to 4k but what’s the point, I’ll have to then upgrade them to 8k or whatever the new standard will be in a few years anyway and everything works fine now anyway.

On the flip slide, I have quite a few family members that are now having more financial difficulty than ever before.   A few of my family and friends have now resorted to becoming Uber drivers to supplement income.  It seems every time I see someone I haven’t seen for a while their new “thing” seems to be driving for Uber as a driver.    So many people tell me they are doing it that I seriously considered doing it but not for the money but because I am so bored.

I haven’t been blogging because this dichotomy of riches and poverty is really making me depressed.   I know what you’re thinking…”why don’t you just GIVE that money to those poor friends and family?”

Well the answer to that is quite easy, these people are poor because, in my view, they CHOOSE to be this way.   These are all people that have a horrible work / career advancement ethic.  Study?  Go back to college?  Earn a certification?  Nah…why do that when you can go out drinking with your buddies in the evening or go watch that <insert baseball/football/basketball/soccer> game in the evening while you drink?

The people I see getting richer are the ones that do just what I suggest, continue to learn, re-education, advance, network, and grab the endless mountain of money out there to be earned.   The truth is that at work I’ve had a very difficult time finding qualified people to do the work that needs to be done.   We have too many “one trick ponies” coming in with a single or very limited skill set unable to meet the leadership and management demands of the modern business world.    Worse yet are the young kids that just want to text and click on Facebook all freaking day long…. oh well enjoy your poverty…in the meantime I’m planning trips to Thailand, Chile, Costa Rica, and Europe over the next 12 months so I won’t be too bored for too long….

I’m in the market for a new car and I’m open to all options.  I really would like a luxury car so I’ve been checking out Audi’s, Lexus, BMW’s, and Cadillacs but I saw an ad for an Equus made by Hyundai and I thought I’d do a test drive.   What lured me there was the promise of a 10 year warranty for the vehicle and as most readers know, I have a tendency of buying vehicles new and driving them for 10 years before I sell them and move on to something else.

Before I went on a test drive however, I googled “Hyundai 10 Year Warranty” to see what the internets have to say about Hyundai and I run across this financial website with a post entitled, “America’s Worst Warranty – Why I Will Never Buy Another Hyundai” and proceed to read it and the 200 or so comments posted on the site.   There is also this site dedicated to complaints about Hyundai as well.

Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed one bit with Hyundai after reading all the complaints but I show up to the dealership anyway to do the test drive.   The car actually drove fairly well and I was really impressed with the leather interior so supple and soft I thought they must have skinned babies and used their skin  to make the seats in the car.   I ask them about the blog posting and the 200 or so complaints and the various other sites I found on the internets.   The kids at the dealership don’t really know what to say which said more to me than anything else.

I say “kids” because not a single one of them seemed to be over the age of 25 and the one thing about “Millenials” and younger generations is that they hold no loyalty to the Corporate Hegemony of the world.    If these sales people and manager had been in their 40’s or 50s or older, they would have spun themselves as hard as they could to get the “right message out” and that’s what I loved about my interaction with these kids.

In any event, I told them that I probably wouldn’t be buying the $62k Equus marked down to 50k special for me and they understood my reasons:  too many bad reviews on the internet = no sale.   Ironically, they all understood how the ratings systems worked on Yelp and Amazon and agreed with me that if something has anything less than 3 or 4 stars on a 5 star scale it’s not worth wasting money on and they agreed.

As for the other dealerships (Audi & Lexus), well I’m dealing with old timers there so I’ll need to bring my best game to the match.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably are aware that it is now illegal to sell or import traditional incandescent light bulbs. The “old” bulbs typically cost a little over a buck and had a bonus of generating a little heat to warm your house during the winter. The new bulbs are either compact florescent containing things like mercury or LED bulbs which have their own toxic substances within.

As bad as the mercury and other things are however isn’t the biggest problem. The biggest problem is the new bulbs cost a lot more money. The premise of the new bulbs is that they will last a lot longer than the old bulbs but that has not been my experience.

It seems for me, I’m having to frequently change the new light bulbs in two areas of my home. The first is the bathroom where these bulbs rarely last over a year. Perhaps the constant turning them on/off in the morning and in the evening is too much wear and tear? The second areas is the kitchen dining area where we have breakfast and dinner every day. This is another area where we constantly turn the bulbs on and off. I’ve probably spent more money replacing the bad bulbs than I have save with their energy efficiency and I now have to turn the heater on just a little bit higher because the bulbs don’t generate heat!

I’m now on a mission to get to the bottom of the longevity of these bulbs. I’ve taken a Sharpe and written the date on the base of the bulb of when I installed it and will compare that to when the bulb dies in the hopes of understanding what the problem is with these bulbs.

Me thinks it’s one huge scam!

I ordered a Roku 3 device for my new treadmill.   My treadmill has a TV on top of it with an HDMI interface so I figured I would hook it up with the Roku and listen with my earbuds hooked into the remote.   Unfortunately, the brand new out-of-the-box Roku worked for a total of 5 minutes then died instantly.  No more power, no more TV.

If that weren’t bad enough, that’s not the reason for abandoning the device, the real problem is “device management.”   You see the problem is a huge proliferation of “devices” that my family and I now have.   We have ipods, ipads, ipad mini’s, iphones,  mac notebooks and imac.    When I add them all up we have well over 20 devices and the amount of devices is growing.  I can easily envision buying four new iwatches or other innovative products.

When you sign up for services like Aereo, Netflix, HuluPlus, etc you have to “register” each device with the service and if you take 20 devices x 10 services you can see that you will spend the better part of a few hours registering or re-registering or removing 200+ devices from services.   This is simply not manageable and having “too much” choice is detrimental to every TV business model out there.

Ironically, I started down this path because cable tv was too expensive but when I factor the hassle and lost time managing these devices, the cable TV proposition is starting to look very good.    The good part is the cable tv company takes care of the backend work for the most part as I don’t remember these hassles when I had ATT Uverse.

I’m sending back my Roku 3 and hope to get a new one soon but I’m already dreading having to re-register all those damn services with those crazy codes.  Roku, if you don’t find a way to make it easier, you’re business model is done.

My son began high school in August.  He’s attending a private school with a price tag of about $25,000 per year.  This past week, we had parent-teacher conferences to understand the curriculum, review each class syllabus, understand the amount of work required for each class, etc.    As your typical high school, he’s required to take the usual classes and he’s enrolled in the following:  Biology, Physics, Algebra, World History, English, Theater, Spanish.  Note that this is an IB  program.

When we got to English class I was already a bit perturbed as some things but in particular the lack of diversity in the program.   The school student body is plenty diverse as it has kids from all over the world including from Asia, Africa, Middle East, Latin America, Europe and the US however the materials were far too Anglo-centric in my view.  So we get the reading list of books students should read for English class.  The kids don’t need to read every book but select from the list.    I took the list and what immediately jumped out at me were all the euro-centric names on it so I did an analysis and here’s what I found.

9th Grade Reading List

Analysis Percentage Count
Male 59% 30
Female 41% 21
     
USA 67% 34
England 16% 8
Canada 2% 1
Ireland 4% 2
Russia 4% 2
France 2% 1
Greece 4% 2
India 1% 1
     
Black 12% 6
Asian 2% 1
Latino 2% 1
     

There are a total of 51 authors from different segments including drama, nonfiction and fiction.   The instructor and/or school did a good job with gender balance at a split of 60% male to 40% female authors.     Where the reading list falls short is in any other kind of diversity.   The list is 67% top heavy with American authors with the second highest, 16%, coming from English (UK) authors.   These two groups account for over 80% of the reading list and the diversity only gets worse when you break the authors down by race and ethnicity.    Of the 51 authors only 6 were Black, 1 Latino and 1 Asian.    I didn’t do a religious analysis but I suspect that 80% were likely Christian and the remainder Jewish with a few atheists to make up the remaining esoteric intellectual authors.

So you’re saying to yourself, “What’s the beef with this….it’s an ENGLISH class and it’s best to learn American English from American authors….”

Here’s some trivia for you…do you know how many countries around the world have English as the official language?   The map below will give you a hint but there are 88 nation-states from around the world.

English-as-Official-Language_Map

My beef of course is that the world is now globalized and I deal more and more with people from all over the world including many people from Asia (Japan, China, India/Pakistan and Malaysia) and emerging markets in Latin America and Africa.   All too often I’m embarrassed at my cultural ignorance of holidays and other customs from these regions because I suffered from being raised in a USA-centric school system.    Perhaps it was fine to be raised in a USA centric educational system 30 years ago but the world if far different now and knowing/understanding experiences from different point of view is critical to being able to bridge relationships with people from all over the world.     On a personal level, I now officially know more couples with mixed heritages than I do of people with same heritages.   This is probably not the case if you’re in Kansas or North Dakota but it’s pretty much the case anywhere that borders an ocean or sea.

I was fairly vocal with the instructor that the list was not diverse enough and she assured me the students could pick their own books but they needed her approval first.   I guess as long as the master approves of the my son’s choices, we’ll be able to get some diversity in on our own.

On the 50th anniversary of MLK’s “I have a dream” speech it seems like we still have a long way to go and it needs to start with the revamp of the educational system.

 

As I’m in my last semester of my second MBA, an interesting thing happened the first day at class.    The professor asked the class why students were interested in earning their MBAs.  While the responses varied from “opportunity” to “options” the common theme was that it was the baseline degree now needed for a management role.    I won’t disagree with that sentiment since the sole reason I’m getting TWO MBAs was to be able to check that box twice.    Undergraduate degrees are definitely the new “high school diploma” and MBA’s are the new college degree to have.    I know so many people right now at different age groups that are back in school perusing MBAs that it’s a bit frightening.

Interestingly, the professor kept stating, “it’s never to late to get your Ph.D” almost lobbying the students to begin considering getting their Ph.D in respective fields.  I suspect that the next generation (i.e. my kids) will likely need to go all the way through to Ph.D to have any hopes of a decent career.   Of course, true entrepreneurs often don’t finish college and simply start businesses sometimes successful sometimes not so that’s always a possibility.

I have received some really great benefits though such as the general and liberal loan amounts the fed likes to issue which helped me bank 50k at 1.75% interest rates.   I also have been able to buy new macs for my home over the past few years getting the educational discount not to mention the huge savings on academic software.   I’m really going to miss all these perks so I may opt to continue my education or push my wife to get her MBA or MS.

Next Page »