Friday, May 24, 2013

AT&T Customer? Prepare to get Nickeled and Dimed (Pennied too)

I’m usually enraged with everyone that runs the show in the mobile consumer space.

Over the years, I’ve found (as well as you’ve found I’m sure) that the major players do their level best to squeeze every copper penny out of the American consumer, trying to back up that squeeze by telling us about service enhancements and whatnot that come with that charge.   What AT&T is now doing in that spirit doesn’t even come with a veiled attempt at justification.  Soon all AT&T wireless customers will have an additional $0.61 tacked on to their monthly bill.  Now sure that doesn’t sound like too much – I mean we’re only talking about an additional hit of $7.32 to your yearly mobile expense, but that adds up.  Maybe it doesn’t add up to you personally, but add up that $7.62 per customer over their entire customer base and it adds up a little sweeter to them – to the tune of $500-600 billion added to AT&T’s yearly bottom line.

And why?  According to analysts, because they can.

Now let’s take a look at the evil genius of it all.

1. AT&T has a clause in their contracts that if there’s a price increase outside the scope of the contract, the customer has an opportunity to get out of it without having to pay a termination fee.  The fact that they call it an administrative fee means it’s not technically a rate increase, so that clause doesn’t apply.  Take a look at section 1.3 if you’re interested in their terms of service and make note of administrative fees being explicitly excluded.

2. $0.61 isn’t enough to scare customers away – no one’s going to cancel their contract and pay a huge termination fee over $7.32.  Now no one’s going to like it, but it’s jut not enough to quit.  This is half a billion dollars pretty much for free as a gift to themselves from all of you.  Joe Hoffman, principal analyst at ABI Research had the following to say:

“But why 61¢, why not $1 or $5 or $10? Because AT&T understands price elasticity of demand. When AT&T raises the price by 61¢, they know hardly anyone is going to bail on them, and so can impose this with impunity. $1 or $5 or $10 is just too much to swallow all at once, but give them time. For now, $500 – $600 Million will flow right to the bottom line. Brilliant! No fancy software tools, no focus groups, no high priced engineers and programmers, and no iPhone subsidies. Just a raw, brute force price increase. In six to 9 months, add another fee, then rinse and repeat a few more time. Marketing beats engineering every time!”
Now an AT&T spokesperson says that this is pretty in line with what other carriers do or will charge, and I totally believe it.

It’s $0.61 now, but when is that line going to be $0.90? or $1?  It’s going to creep over the years while our phone bills skyrocket, and the average consumer will barely notice.  Not exactly much we can do about it, but you should all fully understand what the mobile industry sees us as:

Cash piƱatas that always pay out.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Xbox One Update - The Whole Internet Connection Thing

** Updated Info on the Xbox One and internet connections **

In my earlier post talking covering the big Xbox One reveal today, I got a little bit into the whole always on issue.  From those who had hands-on experience with the One, it seemed that it would be only games that utilized Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform that would require an internet connect to play.  Well I’m very sad to report that that’s not totally the case.  Let’s hop over to the Xbox press site, where they’ve posted a Q&A describing a lot of Xbox features.  On a question on always-on, this is what they’ve posted:

Q:    Does Xbox One require an “always on” Internet connection?
A:    No, it does not have to be always connected, but Xbox One does require a connection to the Internet. We’re designing Xbox One to be your all-in-one entertainment system that is connected to the cloud and always ready. We are also designing it so you can play games and watch Blu-ray movies and live TV if you lose your connection.


That doesn’t make a lick of sense!

Unfortunately for me my day job keeps me on the east coast and without an invitation to Redmond to ask further questions on what’s going on.  Kotaku’s Stephen Totilo on the other hand does have that opportunity.  When Stephen pressed for an answer, what he received was the following:
“For single-player games that don’t require connectivity to Xbox Live, you should be able to play those without interruption should your Internet connection go down. Blu-ray movies and other downloaded entertainment should be accessible when your Internet connection may be interrupted. But the device is fundamentally designed to be expanded and extended by the Internet as many devices are today.”  After some more digging, here is what always means as far as Xbox is concerned:

The Xbox One checks in with the cloud once every 24 hours.

It’s a technicality that allows Team Xbox to say that they don’t require an always on connection to play.  But it ain’t exactly forever.  So fine, instead of being shackled to a network, we’re now all… on parole?  Are the 300,000 Xbox LIVE servers my parole officers?  Do I get time off for good behavior?

I have no idea what happens if you don’t check in every 24 hours, but I can’t imagine it’s good.  I have my Xbox 360 turned completely off unless I’m playing.  It’s not listening for my voice commands, it turns on when flip a physical switch.  As it stands at the moment of writing this I haven’t turned my Xbox on in roughly a week.  With these rules on the One, am I going to be restricted because I haven’t checked in for a week?

Anyway, no, I guess it’s not as bad as the three minute rule that was rumored before, but it’s still something that’s a pain in the ass.  Just letting you kids know.

OK Kids, Let's Talk Xbox One

Just a little while ago from their Redmond campus, Microsoft finally pulled the curtain and gave us all the big reveal on their successor to the Xbox 360 – The Xbox One, announcing that it will be available later in 2013.  Not to be confused with the old classic Xbox 1, the new unit is geared to be an all-in-one box as described by Xbox exec Don Mattrick.  Sitting next to the this all-in-one box was a new Kinect sensor, as well as the newly designed controller.  I watched the live stream (well as much as I could) and while it didn’t provide a ton of helpful information, there was some.

What was Covered:

What was showed off was voice control – with the unit being powered on by a user simply saying “Xbox on.”  Using voice, the controller, or gesture commands with the Kinect sensor, the user can easily switch between the Xbox Live UI and Live TV.  The UI itself is is very Windows 8 in the sense that there’s tiles for a lot of things on the interface.  This isn’t really that surprising considering that with Windows 8 Microsoft was pushing a lot of their services and devices into a connected ecosystem, shoving Xbox under that umbrella as well.  Part of that is pretty sweet connectivity, with special software designed to be able to connect between a Windows OS as well as the Xbox interface.  It also seems that Microsoft  has learned from their HD-DVD missteps with the 360, giving the One an optical drive that supports Blu-ray discs.  The unit handles games, internet and web apps, Skype functionality as well as live TV.  That seems pretty close to the “all-in-one” description that Mattrick was talking about, adding that it must be “simple, instant, and complete.”  I guess “complete” also means that the system can pick up and measure your heartbeat while you exercise.

There was also some description on the controller, designed with improved ergonomics and a new D-pad, designed with gamers helping to make it better for gamers.

As for the rest of the livestream itself, there was a big to-do about the partnership between Xbox and EA, showing off a bunch of games from EA Sports including FIFA, UFC, Madden and FIFA, all to be released over the next year.  The EA montage came with the unveiling of EA Ignite, an engine designed “specifically to help us blur the line between the real and the virtual,” according to Andrew Wilson.

The Xbox folks also announced that there would be 15 exclusive titles for the Xbox One over the year, showing one of them (presumably) as Quantum Break, which appeared to focus around a kid with superpowers.  Claiming that they’re investing more in a bunch of studios around the world to create original content, they say that these 15 exclusives will cover 8 different and brand new franchises.

Next came some celebrity guests from different areas of entertainment.  Steven Spielberg joined via teleconference to talk about a new Halo live action television show, broadcast as “premium television” through the Xbox One.  I for one don’t really care, but if that’s you’re thing, well there you go.  Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL, also stopped by on screen talking about the partnership between Xbox and the NFL: “You’re going to change the football in a way that is so dramatic.”

They closed out the livestream with a preview of Call of Duty: Ghosts, focusing a great deal on the fact that the game has dogs in it, at which point my stream started flipping out, but it seemed like they revealed very little information on it as well as other games for that matter.  I guess they’re saving it all of e3.

Funny sidenote about the stream flipping out – I lost the stream 3-4 times through the whole proceedings, one of them being just as they were talking about how they have 300,000 servers to support Xbox Live.  Unfortunately none of them allowed to get through 15 minutes of stream without crashing.
Oh right – machine specs:

  • Processor: Custom AMD chip, 8-core GPU, DirectX 11.1, 32MB ESRAM (28nm chip for those interested in fabrication)
  • Memory: 8GB RAM (DD3)
  • Storage: 500GB internal hard drive
  • Audio/Video: 1080p and 4K support, can do 7.1 surround
  • Connectivity: HDMI 1.4 output/passthrough, USB 3.0, WiFi Drect
What Wasn’t:

While they kept saying that the Xbox One was connected, they didn’t explicitly address fans’ concerns about “always on.”  I had to get intel from other sources who had a more hands on experience with the One for that.  According to Wired, the One will not be always on as was heavily rumored.  Which begs the question, how did THIS WHOLE NONSENSE even occur in the first place?  I don’t know.  I guess folks can get a little nuts in the twitterverse.  But I found out some other things too:

While it may not be always on, game discs will all have to be downloaded to the console’s internal hard drive (which makes me really worry about only a 500GB hard drive).  But once the data is on said hard drive, the user can play it whenever he or she chooses, and it will be connected to their XBL gamertag.  But if that disc is used with a different account, the person holding that second account has the option of paying a fee to install it to his or her hard drive and play.  Without that download though, play with just the disc and not copying anything to the hard drive is restricted.  According to Wired, Microsoft didn’t have an answer as to if or even how this policy would potentially be altered for the used games market or players that rent games.

As far as the “always” on rumors?  Yes and no.  Game developers making games for the One have access to use Microsoft’s Azure cloud services platform to bump some of the game tasks to the cloud.  In this case yes you would require an internet connection.  If a game in question does not actually utilize Azure, then no, you will not need a connection.  I have no basis to make a prediction on what percentage of Xbox One games will utilize Azure, but my guess is that Microsoft is really going to try and push it.

So there it is in a nutshell kids.  I’ll keep my eye out for further details to keep you in the know.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Doctor Who and Football - Why It's Time We Grew Up and Get Along

Those who know me know I refer to my field of interests as multiclassing.  I enjoy sporting events as well as comic cons.  I like talking about the merits of strategy in sports as much as I do strategies for Final Fantasy boss fights.  I even enjoy arguing about the greatness of sports players as well as the greatness of all of the different Doctors.  I think it’s good to be a well rounded sort of guy that way.

I naturally then subscribe to a host of different things on social media, and some of them are Doctor Who related (I even tried lobbying BBC to make me the brown doctor to no avail).  So last month I saw what I considered to be a nice and funny post listing similarities between a Doctor Who Convention and the Super Bowl (that’s American Football for our ex-US friends) and found it wonderful.  These were the points, according to the post, listed that both types events provided:

  • Lots of fans traveling from all over to gather together and celebrate something that they love watching on TV
  • Sometimes they dress up as their favorite characters
  • A good place to make friends and have fun
  • Usually you come home with lots of merchandise and souvenirs
  • If you’re lucky, you might even get to meet one of the stars and get an autograph
How great is that?  Sports and traditional geekery coming together to recognize the similarities between everyone.  And you know me kids, I like bringing people together.  I’ve even written on the topic of how we’re all the same, like how fantasy football and World of Warcraft share a lot.  So this post made me really happy.

Until, that is, I started reading the comments.  I know, I know, I should have just applied the YouTube comments rule and ignored them but once I started getting into them, I had a big problem reading some of them that were dripping in what can only be described as the old-school “geek vs sports” mentality.  Something struck me as odd though – opposite of traditional convention, the venom was coming from the geeks to be hurled at the sports fans on the page.  Unsolicited, and with a vengeance.  Dozens of people posted about how these events could not possibly be the same because “football is for losers,” or that sci fi / doctor fans are “much smarter people,” or that football doesn’t “require thought” and fans of sports are somehow dumber.  The vast majority of what I’ll call “partisan” commentary was against sports fans.  I only spotted a couple actually insulting sci-fi fans, and those “insults” really didn’t get much harsher than “it’s not real.”


A fandom and community that might have been used to judgment over their lifetime is now slinging the judgment at others?  And I might add, in an unsolicited manner?  It was rough getting through it and feeling like these folks were trying to recreate a version of high school were the stereotypical geeks had the social upper hand.  Or that maybe they were slinging this venom because that’s what their fandom dictates they do.  Either way, it really upset me.  For those who claim that Doctor who is about acceptance and people being themselves, they sure didn’t play the part.  So why are traditional geeks, one of the groups I do identify with, taking this route?  Are these the same people that reveled in Simon Pegg’s recent definition of “geek” that can now be found all over the internet?  Are we so “open and accepting” to shun everyone that doesn’t identify with us?  It’s spooky, and I don’t like it.

And I’m going to be the one to say it - all this reverse judging? Not ok guys. "Ew, dumb jock" and "Ugh, stupid nerd" ended in high school. Fans of both express their fandom, and the stereotype that sports fans have the IQ of a walnut is just as over-generalized as the one about nerds living in a basement doing their thing with anime/sci-fi/computers 24/7. If you're a "nerd" judging others then you've become the very people who pestered you when you were/are young, if that’s your motivation here.

Both events and both "camps" have community as a big part of their fandom, and conversations on "who was the greatest running back/wide receiver" happen just as frequently as "who was the best doctor/companion."
Now I think I have a unique perspective here.  I’m a big geek in the traditional sense.  I’m wearing a Green Lantern t-shirt typing this right now.  I have this Saturday’s Doctor Who episode set to record because I’m not going to be around.  I spend my downtime gaming.  I launched my Final Fantasy career with the original on the NES when I was 8.  On the other hand, I love football, and I do my best to watch every Eagles game during the season, regardless of how they’re doing.  I try to get out and play golf as often as I can when the weather’s nice.  Back in high school I did quiz bowl and debate after my advanced programming classes, but still played Ultimate Frisbee after school and was friends with the guys on the football team.  You can say I have a foot in both camps as it were, and I do understand both sides of the coin.

Which is why I say to everyone, with love, that it’s time to grow the hell up.  I understand that everyone is passionate about what they love and develop fierce loyalties.  And we gravitate to people who share those passions and find a sense of community.  But why does that mean that every other community is somehow inferior or less intelligent or somehow worse than yours?  I just don’t get it, not these days anyway.  According to these Whovian purists, has my INT stat taken a hit because I have a mind for sports as well?
According to my social media feeds, yeah.  And that’s sad.  I can guarantee you that once football season starts and posts/tweets about the NFL start ramping up in a couple months, so will the tweets and posts from those who feel intellectually superior, making damn sure that you know they’re too intellectually superior to watch sports.  You will also, however, find that the reverse is not true at all.  How do I know?  because I've seen it every season since I've been on Twitter.

So are there really fan-based geek outcasts anymore?  The folks I play fantasy football with are the same people who I used to raid with.  “Sports geeks” as I call some of my friends know every stat and every event, both major and minor, in their arena of sports interests.  They’re also some of the sharpest minds I’ve met.

So back to what I was talking about before in regards to Simon Pegg’s geek redefinition:
“Being a geek is all about being honest about what you enjoy and not being afraid to demonstrate that affection. It means never having to play it cool about how much you like something. It’s basically a license to proudly emote on a somewhat childish level rather than behave like a supposed adult. Being a geek is extremely liberating.”

Is there anyone here that disagrees?   He put into words how I’ve always felt.  And there’s a place and room for a lot of different types of folks at my table.

To those who feel like the negative facebook commenters, did I betray you?  Have I gone astray from your fierce Whovian fandom?  Then in the words of the Doctor himself:

Please, point a gun at me if it helps you relax. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

May 4th - The Great Star Wars Derby 2013

This past weekend included the fourth of May, which is generally considered to be Star Wars day to the geek kingdom. To those not hip to 'Wars, you may be wondering why there's a connection between an arbitrary date and an epic saga loved my many.  To those people, "May the fourth be with you."

You pickin' up what I'm puttin' down?  Excellent.

May 4th was also a big day in Louisville, Kentucky with the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby.  I lived in Louisville for a few years when I was a kid, and derby time was always fun - not only on race day and every having fun at parties but the weeklong festival that led up to it.  One of my favorite parts of the derby (and all the other races that are run at Churchill Downs) is the nutty and sometimes outright ridiculous names of the horses.  A horse named Orb won the whole thing this year, but was followed by Golden Soul and Palace Malice.  Other horses had some great names too, like Normandy Invasion, Overanalyze and Will Take Charge.

So given that these two days coincide, I decided to come up with names for horses throughout the day that could potentially run in a Star Wars themed Kentucky Derby.  You know, just for fun.  Eventually some other people started playing along, giving us a huge stable of named horses.  Since there were 20 horses in the race this year, I picked my favorite 20 for the Star Wars Derby (in no particular order, and you can see the whole list on twitter using the hashtag #starwarsderby).  They'll be loading into the gate as follows:

  • Hell Hoth No Fury
  • 12 Parsecs to Kessel
  • Alderaan Places
  • Ackbar's Warning
  • Gone Baby Qui-Gon
  • Dr. Kyle and Mr. Katarn
  • Biggs' Mustache Comb
  • Lando Milk and Honey
  • AT-AT The Wire
  • Buns of Steel
  • This Is Not The Horse You're Looking For
  • The Phantom Mare
  • Adventure and Excitement
  • Lando's Triple Cross
  • Don't Tell Me The Odds 
  • Disturbing Lack of Faith
  • Wedge Can't Hang
  • I Know
  • Oo Tee Dee
  • May the Horse Be With You
  • He's My Brother
  • Star Orb A New Hope
  • Lando's Colt 45
And they're off!  Hell Hoth No Fury charges ahead of the field out of the gate followed by 12 Parsecs to Kessel with a good run, The Phantom Mare running almost unseen moving towards the inside rail.  This is not the Horse your Looking For trying to make a move to the outside, looking for Lando Milk and Honey and Alderaan Places in the middle of the pack.  Coming up on the turn Oo Tee Dee happily squeals his way into the inside, leaving Don't Tell Me the Odds and Biggs' Mustache Comb sifting through slings of mud.  On the backstretch is He's My Brother side by side with Buns of Steel, catching up to Hell Hoth No Fury who is still ahead by 2 lengths.  Ackbar's Warning staying cautiously steady towards the middle, Gone Baby Qui-Gon and Dr. Kyle and Mr. Katarn split to the outside.  Wedge Can't Hang looks to be losing his steam, overtaken by Star Orb A New Hope who squarely takes 4th position in the series.  Approaching the turn I Know turns on the juice, leaving Adventure and Excitement in his wake, sluggish like he just came out of a Carbonite bath.  May the Horse Be With You tries to make a move and Lando's Colt 45 takes a shot but gets sloppy and blows the turn wide to the outside.  Lando's Triple Cross takes advantage of the situation and finishes the turn at number 5 ahead of Disturbing Lack of Faith coming to the home stretch, AND DOWN THE STRETCH THEY COME!  AT-AT The Wire charges ahead on the outside against Hell Hoth No Fury, closing to within one length.  AT-AT The Wire and Hell Hoth No Fury are neck and neck, but what's this?  Ackbar's Warning goes to the whip and makes a charge, speeding to the front of the pack!  It was a trap!  It was a trap!  Ackbar's Warning on the straight and narrow cutting between AT-AT The Wire and Hell Hoth No Fury, closing the gap at a good clip, overtaking them before the line and Ackbar's Warning takes the race!  Ackbar's Warning wins, with Hell Hoth No Fury with the Place and AT-AT The Line for Show.

Phew, what an exciting race - see you kids when this happens again in 2019.

thanks to the folks that participated: @GreyAreaPodcast, @BigMikeyOcho, @neophiyte, @Mitzula, @TheRoyLRumble and @armstrongda