Comcast fees are absurd

Just about 2 years ago, I decided to sign up for a “great deal” with Comcast. $69 a month for 300Mbps internet and a lot of TV channels. The actual bill that came was $91 a month!

Of those extra $22, more than half were “fees” that are definitely not taxes. A “Broadcast TV Fee” of $7 supposedly covers costs of showing me my local TV channels, which I could watch with an antenna. This “fee” is just $7 of free money for Comcast.

The “Regional Sports Fee” of $5 seems to make sense since I know the local TV sports monopoly for the local hockey and baseball teams could charge the cable company a lot. But then I remember – Comcast owns the network that shows the local hockey games! More free money for Comcast.

After year 1 of the 2-year contract, they charge you an extra $10 a month unless you downgrade your internet speed to 150Mbps. I lowered it… no big deal but it was opt-out instead of opt-in for the extra speed in year 2. And also in year 2: the broadcast TV fee is now $10 and the regional sports fee is $8.25! Some government tax went down but still I’m now paying $95 for my special $69 per month deal.

Finally, my contract is ending this month. If I do nothing, my price will go up another $25 since I’m no longer getting the discount. I’m sure the fees will go up again too, so seeya later Comcast. My condo building recently got Starry Internet which is $50 a month, with no “fees” added on to that price. It doesn’t include TV service, which I may try to solve with an antenna (not hopeful living in a condo building surrounded by other buildings). The speed is 250Mbps – and something I noticed that’s a massive improvement from Comcast is that the upload speed is equal to the download. Comcast gave me 150Mbps download but only 5 Mbps upload. That led to some very long waits when having to upload large files for work.

I will see how I like not having cable TV service. There is another cable company in the area – RCN. Since Starry doesn’t require a contract, I could switch to RCN if I miss having cable TV too much.

Listen to music for free? What a novel concept.

I noticed the following story on one of my favorite blogs, Daring Fireball.


Now, isn’t that a novel concept? One of my favorite press release quotes was “Listening to music on your Google Home speaker right out-of-the-box seems too good to be true, right?” I guess nobody ever thought of a device that would allow you to just plug it in and listen to music before today, right?

Why don’t you try one of these? Bonus: unlike “Alexa,” it doesn’t record your conversations to be listened to by Amazon employees.

picture of a radio

Control marketing emails by using iCloud

I help a number of people when problems come up with their home computers. One common issue is dealing with marketing emails. When buying anything online, one normally must provide an email address. Often this leads to a steady stream of marketing emails from the vendor. My clients deal with this in a number of ways. They mark them as spam, or create a second email account that they use for signing up when buying things online. I have suggested unsubscribing in the past, but a number of people tell me they don’t mind receiving the occasional email from the vendor. However, they would like it to go somewhere other than their inbox.

Now, Gmail offers a service that uses an algorithm to isolate marketing emails to an area called “Promotions.” This is a great idea on their part, although it doesn’t catch everything, and can occasionally relegate actual important emails to the “Promotions” section. I want to suggest that you can use iCloud to create a more reliable method of isolating marketing emails. This method utilizes two iCloud features: Rules and email aliases.

The first step: log into iCloud via a web browser, and follow the instructions here to create an email alias. Once this email alias is created, you now have a secondary email address , but you don’t have to remember another password or create an account with another email service. It also allows you to choose a color that emails coming to that alias will be tagged with.

The next step is to create a rule. You can do this from Mail on the Mac or from – I will focus on the method since it will get all email regardless of whether you check it on your Mac or just on an iOS device. Click on the gear icon in the bottom left of the Mail window. Choose the “Rules” tab from the top of the settings window, then click “Add a rule…” to create one. You will see “If a message…” and you should select “is addressed to” and then enter the email alias you created. Then make sure “Move to Folder” is selected and then select a folder from the drop-down list and or create a new folder. Now every incoming message to that email alias will go straight into that folder.

If you followed those steps, you will have created a secondary email address that you can use to buy stuff online, sign up for online forums, or anything else that might generate marketing emails. Then they’ll all go into a mailbox of your choosing to be ignored or glanced at when you feel like it. And all without having to create a second email account, which saves you from having yet another password to remember, and giving your personal information to another company.

Macs are not too expensive, are they?

I am reading review after review about the new Mac mini, and they’re generally positive with one caveat: At $799, it’s supposedly too expensive.  May I point out that these same websites give great reviews to the iPhone XR, saying what a super deal it is for $749.  So, you’re saying a full-powered desktop computer that’s only $50 more than the “great deal” iPhone XR is somehow too expensive?

Au fond du temple saint

The duet “Au fond du temple saint” is one of the most loved duets in all operatic literature.  It is from the 1863 opera Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers) by French composer Georges Bizet (1838-1875).  Bizet is perhaps best known for another opera, the masterpiece Carmen.  Les pêcheurs de perles was written earlier, and was not well received by critics at the time.  However, the opera was premiered before Bizet’s 25th birthday, and showed a remarkable ability for somebody so young.

After Bizet’s death, Les pêcheurs enjoyed a revival, and modern critics have looked upon the opera much more favorably than Bizet’s contemporaries.  Although the entire opera is not performed as often as Carmen, this famous tenor-baritone duet has become a classic in its own right.  It is often performed separately from the whole opera as a feature in concert or recital.

“Au fond du temple saint” focuses on the relationship between Nadir (tenor) and Zurga (baritone), who had both fallen for the same woman, Leila (soprano).  As they sing the duet, they are reuniting after a time apart.  They sing of the time they were in conflict over Leila and recall their oath to renouce their love for her and pledge undying friendship to each other instead.

As is often the case in opera, their friendship falls apart shortly thereafter when Nadir sees Leila and immediately rushes into her arms again.  Zurga finds out and orders them both to be killed.

However, this duet expresses the intent to remain lifelong friends, foreshadowing a resolution that saves Nadir in the end.  Zurga discovers later that Leila had saved his life when she was just a young child.  Seeing her as that child instead of a romantic partiner, his anger subsides, and he sets Leila and his friend Nadir free to be together at the end of the opera.

The recording of Jussi Björling and Robert Merrill is considered one of the best renditions of this incredible duet.  Feel free to listen and enjoy.

Apple might actually care about privacy

Everybody is complaining that Siri doesn’t do enough in the new HomePod. This week there is yet another story about a “smart speaker” invading the privacy of the people who bought it. An Amazon Echo recorded a couple’s private conversation in their home and sent it to the boss of one of them!

There was a prior story about a Google home device literally recording everything said in somebody’s home and sending it to Google’s servers. In both cases, the companies apologized, but it seems that they have put so many features into their devices with little to no thought of their users’ privacy.

So, perhaps there is a good reason that the Home Pod doesn’t do everything the Amazon Echo or Google Home speaker can. Perhaps Apple would prefer to deal with negative reviews of a “dumb” smart speaker rather than give a device that can hear everything going on in your home too much power to invade or violate your privacy “unintentionally” or otherwise.

Wasted Effort

The Google Duplex “demo” which may have been faked, or at least edited and staged, made me sad for another reason. Some of the greatest engineers in the world are wasting human capital doing things like maximizing advertising sales and saving people from having to call each other to make hair appointments.