Contract Cutters

With all the talk of cord cutters over the past several years I have got to thinking about things we shell hundreds of dollars out for without really thining about if there is an alternative.  And I realized of all of my household bills, (internet, cable, electric, gas, insurance, cell phone, etc “excluding student loans”) my cell phone bill was the highest.  AT&T was getting $150/month of my money ($1,800/yr).

When i first assessed this, there wasn’t really all that much I could do, other than switch to a lesser carrier.  Then came the family plans.  I started to run the numbers on switching and realized that it would raise my bill by about $15/mo.  So I didn’t bother.

AT&T Next and Family Plans

A bit later yet, I decided to look into not doing the full 2 year contracts.  This is great, I can have even newer and newer models all the time.  Up to this point I have unlimited data on my device and my wife has 3GB/mo.  The family plan that looked like it would suite us would be the 10GB/mo shared (and a bonus, we get internet sharing, a feature I wanted but did not want to pay for).  At the end of the day I would be losing my unlimited, my wife would have more data, we would get internet sharing, but we would be paying ~$15/mo ($165/mo | $1,980/yr).

At the time I wasn’t really interested in any of the new models of phones.  My wife’s 920 was starting to age a bit but still in good shape, but overall we had no need to change devices.  And I started to look at my pricing options.

  1. Same old contract $40/phone – $100-20% = $80/mo + 2 phones($40ea) = $160/mo
  2. NEXT $15/phone (plus $5~$50 extra per phone) – $80/mo + 2 phones($15) = $110/mo + ($10-$100) $120-$220/mo
  3. Off Contract $15/phone – $80/mo + 2 phones($15) = $110/mo

Let’s Look at the Numbers by Life of Device/Contract

My current plan is to try to make devices last 3years (or more) and spend no more than $300 on the device.  So lets look at the number.  I’ll base my NEXT off of the most comparable option the 24mo (30 installments) with cheapest iphone6

  1. Off Contract – $110/mo x 36mos + $600($300/device) = $4,560 ($760/yr per line)
  2. Same Old – $160/mo x 36mos + $2($1/device avg) = $5,762 ($960/yr per line)
  3. NEXT – $140/mo x 30mos + ($110 6 remaining) = $4,860 ($810/yr per line)

Now the next can vary a bunch because you can, instead of paying the last 6 installments, give your phone back to AT&T (if it is in perfect condition).  Also that is an iphone 5c so prices can go way up from there.  The normal contract is more expensive than NEXT here because that 3rd year you are still paying $40/device even tho you are out of contract.  Even at it’s worst this saves me $100/year.  And realistically, our devices will last more than 3 years, we don’t spend $300 on them and I can repair many things myself or we have cheap backup devices.  Since we buy used/mid range deviced I priced the 2 yr contract + NEXT with last year models/cheaper devices.  If you bump up to current models that price goes up fast.  This does assume you do not upgrade at 24 or even 30 on the NEXT plan, if you do then obviously the price will go up.

Conclusion

Of course this isn’t for everyone.  Some people are perfectly happy paying a hefty price to make sure they have the latest and greatest.  That’s not me.  Also, I am not afraid to get on ebay/cl to pick up some used devices to use for parts when need be.  In fact, when my phone breaks I usually get it fixed for free or even make money selling the spare parts.  The whole point of the article is just that, now we have much more control in how much we pay for our cell phone bill.  You can drastically lower your bill without lessening your experience by much.  I simply buy used phones or just mid tier models rather than the premium devices.  I never have been one to need the most expensive of anything and luckily my wife likes saving money more than she likes showing off what her phone can do.

Google Wants Data Not Users

In this day in age, I do not understand how people can support Google. They are easily the worst company when it comes to reasoning for it’s products. They will, and do, axe any product that does not mine enough of your personal data as it can. The will not keep a product alive because it makes them money and makes users happy if it isn’t harvesting the sufficient amount of data. Google reader is amongst the many fallen products. And it isn’t even just axing products that their users love. A lot of companies have to cut expenses that may effect users. But google does it not to save money but to harvest more personal data.

Imagine if any other product or service you use did this? Would you stay with that company? It would be like Netflix stopping it’s normal streaming of movies and shows in favor of having someone come into your house and examine your life and decide what movies/shows you would like to watch. Or forcing you to have a Netflix phone that you carry with you all the time and transmits information back to Netflix to decide what you should watch. People so blindly pledge their allegiance to google and it blows my fucking mind.

Beyond the forcing products that it thinks you want, it also uses its monopoly on search and personal info to subdue you into uses what it wants you to use. Android is now nearly 90% of the global smartphone market and that is thanks to Google making you feel that you cannot live without it. To really drive the point home, they throw their weight around to make sure there is no competition. Google has gone as far as blocking google maps and youtube from windows phone users to try to force them into Android. I don’t know about you, but I will never let a company make that choice for me. And will never support a company that uses those kinds of tactics. Google literally screws over it’s own users to try to keep Microsoft out of the mobile market. You cannot be a google user with a Windows Phone because google will make sure you can’t. That is not a company I will ever support.

Windows Phone 8.1 AT&T and Verizon Issues

Not sure if anyone else is having this issue but I thought I should throw it up here to maybe find out. The rooms in Windows Phone 8 are a great feature which my family, friends and I use quite often. We use them for easily shared calendars and pictures mostly but then also some group messaging. One of the family members in our room is on Verizon, where the rest of the room is all on AT&T. I am the only one so far to have updated to Windows Phone 8.1 via the developer preview and the one person on Verizon can no longer see my messages ‽

Verizon WP8 Room Members Can’t See AT&T WP8.1 Room Members Messages

My thought is to remove and readd one or both of us to the room (I am not the owner of the room), but if that does not work then I am kind of at a loss. Anyone else have any issues with Verizion to AT&T communication after updating to WP8.1? Would love to see if there are any other issues out there with things like this.

iView Remote Control For Slingbox

UPDATE: I just upgraded to the Slingbox 350 which you can use custom remotes for and found a remote that works nicely for the iView here.

I decided to dip my toes into Slingbox with a craigslist purchase of the SB240 for $25. I quickly realized to do what I wanted, I would need to get a TV tuner. So I settled on the iView DTV tuner/converter (you can find it here).

Like many of you who have purchased a Slingbox, I excitedly set it up and felt a bit giddy when I first saw the picture coming through on my laptop. Then I discovered the cleaver IR blaster used to change the channel as I was curious how that was accomplished anyway. So I set up the blaster and then tried to load in the iView IR codes. Of course iView likely being some cheap Chinese knockoff, Slingbox does not support it. To the forum.

I spent hours trying to find others with a similar setup of iView 3500 and Slingbox 240. With some of the newer Slingbox setups you can upload custom IR codes from what I understand but I couldn’t even find those codes anywhere. So, I was to the point of accepting it being on just one channel which is mostly fine as I just wanted sports. However, I decided to try to find other Chinese knockoff sounding remotes and just mashing buttons. Come time to finish setup I needed a remote because I had lost the physical remote.

After trying a lot of remotes with little to no success I found Qingdau Cable TV remote. When the remote loads, it looks similar to the original device remote, however it is all in Chinese or something so don’t expect to understand anything, of course unless that is your preferred language. I made a quick and dirty diagram of what buttons do what. If you happen to find more functions out of the button then hit me up in the comments. I will try to also make a list below of what we figure out.

iView Remote Control For use With Slingbox

Button Function List

Starting from the bottom left and moving up left to right

  • Blue -> channel down
  • Yellow -> # 4
  • Green -> List of Channels
  • Red -> # 8
  • Audio -> Audio Device
  • TAB -> # 5
  • Favorite -> USB Device
  • *(asterisk) -> # 6
  • #(pound) -> # 3
  • 7 -> # 0
  • Screen -> Favorites
  • Chinese English -> Program Guide
  • Mute -> Mute/unmute
  • P- -> USB Device
  • Menu (green middle) -> #9
  • Volume up/down -> Volume up/down
  • Back -> Back Button (only tested in menu)
  • Cursor Down -> Menu
  • Page Down -> Forward Button
  • Cursor Left -> Power on/off
  • Select/OK -> Last Channel/Previous Channel
  • SWAP -> Schedule

If you hover over the buttons you should see the name of the button appear. These are the button references that I use in this list.

Royal Games Fails with Browser Detection… What Year is This

Browser Detection FAIL!!!
Candy Crush Internet Explorer

First off, you developer person fail at life for using browser detection in 2013, secondly you provide links to download flash and firefox to ‘upgrade my system’ who are you to tell me my ‘system’ needs an upgrade. My first reaction was to open Firefox, but a split second later I thought, F12 that shit. So dev tools, change user agent…. MAGIC Royal Games CAN RUN IN INTERNET EXPLORER11. I also checked with IE11 in IE10 mode and it worked their too.

Candy Crush on Internet Explorer 11 - Opera User Agent

One Simple Trick to Help Manage and Find Photos in Your Collection

So you have gotten used to having a nice digital camera or even just a better camera on your smart phone. AWESOME! But when you want to try to find that great picture you took that one weekend when you were out a year or 2 years ago you have to search through thousands or maybe tens-hundreds of thousands of pictures.

Sure you can organize your pictures into dated folders, or maybe even nest some folders by year, month, etc. but that takes time and still isn’t great. So what then? Tags.

Tags Play a Part In Many Aspects of Our Digital Lives

So why not in the massive amounts of images that we have stored on our computers? Folders are great for general separation, but tags are awesome because you can add lots of tags like ‘Halloween Party’ and you can have all of your Halloween pictures come up in one search. Ok so down to business, I’ll show you the quick and easy steps to quickly getting massive amounts of images tagged on your computer. I am using Windows atm but I am pretty sure the process is very similar on Linux and Mac.

  • Select images and right click
  • Select ‘properties’
  • Go to ‘details’ tab
  • Type your tag or tags

Step 1: Select a bunch of files and right click

Step 1:  Selecting Photos and right click
Select as many files as you want here with shift + click and/or ctrl + click. You want to select files that have something in common to tag.

Step 2: Select ‘properties’ of the highlighted photos

Step 2: Select properties from the drop down

Step 3: Go to ‘details’ tab

After you have done this a few times you will notice that there will be auto suggestions. Also if you do multiple tags they will be separated by a semi-colon.

Step 3:  Go to details tab

Step 4: Type in a relevant tag or tags

tagging-photos-step-four-adding-the-tag

When you are done with this simply click OK and you are done. You can tag hundreds of photos at a time and they are not only now easily searchable but programs can use this information to make your experience better as well.

The Cool Part, or at least one of them

Now from my Windows 8 home screen I can simply type ‘Washington dc’ and hit enter. Below is the page that comes up, and you will see that the images that I had just tagged are there.

Enhanced Search Results by Tagging Photos in Windows 8

Conclusion and additional fun

As you can see this can make for a powerful tool when you are looking for pictures of a certain place, event, person, or even if you want to quickly make a slideshow of all of your past Christmas parties. Speaking of slideshows, Windows Media Center on the Xbox 360 uses tags so you can easily show friends and family slideshows of whatever you please by simply selecting the tag that you want. Now get out there and play around with tagging your massive amounts of photos. I know someone with hundreds of GBs worth of photos that I need to show this to.

Custom Tiles–Updates and New Features

One thing that people saw about Windows Phone sometimes, is that it is not very customizable.  While I disagree whole heartedly, I also like to make it a little simpler for people to add customizations to their Windows Phone devices.  With my Custom Tiles web app you have customizability that no other phone has.  You can add a lot of color, custom icons, and custom text to your WP home screen while also making them work as useful links to the websites that you use everyday.

 

Help Tips

You will notice that I added a ? to the top right of http://zqp.me/custom-tiles so that you can quickly see the steps it takes to start adding some flare to your WP home screen.  Tapping on the ? will open an easily listed out set of instructions for adding your favorite websites to your home screen with a heavily customizable tile.

  wp_ss_20130926_0004

 

Unicode Character Help

I made Custom Tiles support Unicode Characters a long time ago but, I know that many people do not realize the power that this added.  So to help you all out I added a quick access panel to a variety of different Unicode characters that will help you to customize your WP7 or WP8 home screen.  I will also take requests from people to find more specific Unicode characters and add or remove certain ones from the quick list.  To access the quick list of Uni’s you simply tap on the ‘Title’ input box and it will appear at the top of your screen for you.  Then all you have to do is tap on the Unicode Character that you like and the rest is magic.

wp_ss_20130926_0002

 

Have fun customizing your home screens.  If you would like to share some of your creations, it would be greatly appreciated.  Also if you have any feature requests, feel free to submit them in the comments or on Twitter @Brad_Billman.

 

Epic Green Chili

This chili has completely been an experiment and it actually isn’t even done yet. It is simmering but man it smells and tastes good so far. First off, I love cooking and I love chili. Also, if you love to follow recipes to a T you might not want to try this as I don’t follow recipes ever. I have always made my dad’s pretty standard chili relying heavily on chili powder, but over the last year or 2 I have really wanted to wean myself off of chili powder. I have done pretty well with my last few patches and incorporated things like turmeric which has been awesome.

Healthy Green Chili Experiment

You can use any meat you want or no meat with this recipe, but I am using a deer and pork mixture of about 90:10. So largely deer. Mostly a little pork for some fat.

Ingredients

  • 2lbs deer, pork mix (use whatever you want)
  • 4 cans of beans (1 kidney, 1 chili, 2 great northern)
  • 4 bell peppers (I did 1 of each; green, red, orange, yellow)
  • 1 large onion
  • 3T olive oil
  • 2 Jalapenos
  • 6 garlic cloves (or more if you like)
  • 3 zucchini
  • 6-7 large celery stalks
  • 2 15oz cans of diced tomato
  • 2-3 cups of spinach (pureed with northern beans)
  • 2-4 cups of water
  • Frozen corn (or canned if you want and as much as you like or have room for)

Spices

  • Cinnamon
  • Ground Cloves
  • Turmeric
  • Garlic Salt
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Paprika
  • Preparation

    You will want to coarsely chop up the veggies and while doing so you can be browning your meat with the olive oil, garlic, and some water. After the meat is close to being done browning add the spices in. I do anywhere from a tablespoon to 2 of each of the spices other than, garlic salt, and oregano, they both had about 3T. Just let that cook until it smells good, and while that is happening puree 2 cans of the northern beans (or whatever you want) with the spinach. Either don’t drain or add some water. Add the puree to the meat and stir. Then add the veggies.

    Now it is just a waiting game of letting it cook. At this time I am tasting and tweaking the spices which I added most of the tweaks in the previous additions already. Let it cook/simmer for about an hour probably. Pull it off whenever the veggies are tender, I am guessing about an hour.

    Enjoy and tweak

    Wireless Charging Is So Close To Being Useful

    Right now we are seeing wireless charging in some of our shiny new smartphones. Some people say it isn’t really wireless blah blah, it is, but it isn’t terribly useful in most situations because you do have the cord for the pad. So lets get rid of that cord.

    We Should Start Seeing Difference Surfaces With Built In Wireless Charging/Power

    The future of wireless charging/power is in many different surfaces. We are already starting to see cars that are equipped with wireless charging which is very useful. If it works like the JBL Nokia Speaker Dock where the NFC also initiates the BT connection to start music playback (or at least I assume that is how it works) then it will be awesome.

    But how great would it also be if when we walk into work and sit down at our desks we could just set our phone down on the desktop and it would charge? Instead of having to have a wired charging pad the wires are all hidden away somewhere and the desk itself is plugged in.

    Let’s Take Wireless Charging Into The Bathroom

    Now lets imagine that our bathroom countertop is connected into our homes power and the whole surface is capable of wireless charging. Now you can have your toothbrush, shaver, detailer, or even wireless straighteners, curlers, etc all charged up without wires. I don’t know about you but the car and bathroom are two of the most annoying places to have multiple wires hanging around.

    Wireless Charging In The Living Room

    This one seems it might be a bit trickier as you likely don’t have standard built in that you put your devices on. Instead a lot of tend to put our devices on coffee tables and end tables. So maybe we have a retractable cord on our coffee table that we can plug in when we need it and have our laptop, tablet, or phone just sitting on the coffee table charging. Or if we get really extreme have our floor setup for wireless charging and the coffee table serve as a sort of pass-through that can bring it up to the level. Hopefully by that point we have wireless charging that has a longer range but still an idea.

    Another Exciting Use of Wireless Power is The Kitchen

    Here I am talking more about wireless power than wireless charging, which I am not sure how it works but just stick with me. Right now I have a microwave, toaster oven, Kitchenaid mixer, and coffee pot on my counter. I would love it if none of them had any cables but instead the counter top was powered up like the QI charging and these items just powered by sitting on the counter. To take this even a bit further, it would be cool if we can get maybe 1-2 foot range on the wireless power for things like hand mixers which are not in contact with the counter when they are in use. Of course these could be battery powered instead and charge on the counter but who leaves those out on the counter?

    Cincinnati Bengals First Back To Back Playoff Seasons In My Lifetime

    I don’t blog much on sports but I am an avid Bengals fan and seeing them make it to the playoffs 2 years in a row is huge for me. Not sure that I have any Bengals fans that ever check this site but I am just psyched about this. I started being a Bengals fan in the days of Esiason which I remember back to about the age of 3 or 4 years old.

    Bengals Going to The Superbowl?

    Not likely, sadly I expect they lose in the first round. That said I think the Bengals can beat the Patriots because of how their defense has been and because Patriots likely won’t be able to stop Green, Jones, Hawkins, and Gresham. Would be quite amusing to see a San Fransisco and Cincinnati Superbowl happen again as that is the only team the Bengals have played in their 2 Superbowl appearances. I imagine we will see a high scoring game in the first round of the playoffs this year.

    So let me know below what you think of the Bengals or general thoughts on who will be in the Superbowl XLVII.