How I cut out cable (or satellite) TV from my life

Two years ago I cut the cord that tethered me to cable tv (well, in the UK this is actually satellite and Sky is the dominant player). Even though I’ve done this (and am saving over £300 a year, I’m still able to continue to watch all the tv shows and movies that I want to.

Shortly after we moved into the apartment in Hackney (London), BT began offering their Infinity broadband service in this area. Infinity broadband is fibre-to-the-cabinet but the “last mile” (~100 meters in my case) is VDSL2. I pay for the “up to 76Mbits/second service”. I don’t see speeds anywhere near that, but it is fast enough to allow me to cut the cord by using legal streaming services and Freeview.

I get a decent selection of traditional TV channels to Freeview, the UK’s digital terrestrial television service. For the pleasure of this service and to fund the BBC, I have to pay the annual TV license fee which is currently £145.5/year (or just over £12/month). I get all the BBC channels in HD, BBC News, ITV, Channel 4, Sky News, and a bunch of other channels that I never watch.

All my other entertainment is consumed via three different devices – Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV Stick, and Chromecast. I use these in conjunction with Unblock-US, a “VPN service”. I put that in quotes because its not really a VPN service, but some sort of DNS redirect. I have it configured on my home router, so any device connected to the wifi gets the benefit. This service costs me CAD$ 50/year or ~£25/year

In addition to this, I pay for Netflix and Hulu in US (which I can access thanks to Unblock-Us) and Amazon Prime in the UK. Together, these three services offer a nearly unending stream of entertainment. Netflix and Hulu each cost US$ 7.99/month or a total of ~£125 a year. Amazon Prime, which costs £79/year gives me access to Prime Instant Video.

Finally, thanks to a friend who is wedded to Comcast, I’m able to access a number of other services including HBO Go, WatchESPN, and Showtime. I do use these occasionally, but certainly not enough to justify paying for their services that do not require a cable tv subscription (HBO Now, Showtime Anytime, etc).

Two years ago, the cheapest Sky TV package that was worth getting was costing me in excess of £60 a month (after promotional periods). This meant I was forking over more than £720 a year to Sky. Having cut the cord, I now pay roughly half (~£375 a year) and I get to choose the entertainment I want. I can use just a fraction of the savings to actually buy movies on iTunes, music on streaming services, and the sports I actually care about.

Apple & Beats

Apple’s potential acquisition of Beats is all everyone can seem to be discussing – on blogs, twitter, and the podcasts I listen to. It is a strange acquisition, and since we know nothing, I like what @siracusa said on a recent episode of ATP about “building your own acquisition”. And just like everyone else, I feel compelled to add my thoughts:

  • Beats is a fashion brand as much as a headphone manufacturer.
  • Apple just a hired Angela Arhendt, the (now) ex-CEO of Burberry. Apparently they’ve also hired the former CEO of Yves St. Laurent, Paul Deneve.
  • One of my first memories of the iPod are the silhouetted, colourful ads. This always Struck me as very fashionable
  • Yes, maybe Steve Jobs would never had executed an acquisition such as this…an established brand with a big consumer mindshare; but this is no longer Steve Jobs’ Apple. And I dare say, he would want Tim Cook to make Apple his own.
  • There is nothing wrong with “Beats by Apple”
  • I’ve generally stayed away from earphones / headphones that cost more than $/£ 40. This is because I’ve been burned by a more expensive pair of in-ear monitors stopping to work after not very long. I generally treat mine pretty badly, because I travel a lot, throw them in pockets, and crumple them up.
  • I would likely buy a pair of Beats by Apple. Especially if it integrated some kind of “quantified-self” sensor.
  • Most of my friend or family circle would not buy a pair of Beats by Apple.
  • I’ve never used the Beats music streaming service. It’s not available in the UK. I do use, am a generally a fan of, Spotify.
  • I don’t know or understand whether Apple would need to renegotiate streaming contracts. But I do understand the benefit of having people who have strong relationships within the music industry. Iovine and Dre will be critical in any future music deals. All business is done based in relationships.
  •  iTunes has been around since 2001. What if, just what if, Apple retired the iTunes brand in favour of Beats? It would be the ultimate canabalisation, quite likely something that only Apple is capable of. iTunes on the Mac needs a huge refresh, it’s become a beast of an application.
  • I do wonder how this acquisition will go down within Apple, culturally. This is probably the biggest risk.

Pub #11: Real Ale Train, Mid Hants Railway

While not technically a pub, the Real Ale Train certainly qualifies for a blog post within the 100 pubs mission. I went on this wonderful train ride last September, so the blog post is long overdue, but I just found the pictures on an old cellphone.

The Real Ale Train is a service offered by the Mid Hants Railways several times a year for £14 pounds and £2 a pint of ale once onboard. The train is about 4-5 carriages long pulled by an old steam locomotive. The carriages themselves are old / restored, with gas lamps.

The experience of sticking my head out a restored steam train on a cool September evening, while sipping local real ales is pretty special. I tried 4 or 5 different ales. Some were better than others, but at £2 a pint, who cares? There was some greasy food on board as well to ensure one can stand an entire night of drinking while being thrown around on a train. I can’t say much else about the beers themselves as it was so long ago, but here are a few of the beers they had on board.

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A Tale of 3 Returns

I purchased 3 items from Amazon UK, all requiring exchanges or returns during their warranty period. This is not a reflection on Amazon, but rather of the manufacturers of the products. Two of the items were earphones, and the third was a Brita water filter that needed it’s meter replaced.

The first earphone, purchased for Reva was made by a Chinese company called SoundMagic. About 7 months in, one channel stopped working. We didn’t think of doing anything with it, until my Phillips buds stopped working about 2 months later. At this point, I checked the warranty information on the SoundMagic website which said to contact the seller directly with proof of purchase. Very convenient, I thought, because who keeps receipts for a £24.99 pair of earphones. But thanks to Amazon and GMail, I had the receipt. I checked the Phillips website, which said to contact their own support, which was of course a 0845 number.

First stop: The Amazon website to try and get replacement SoundMagic buds. On the customer service page was an option to have Amazon call you. I put in my number and a few second later my phone rang. The representative, who sounded like she may have been in Asia, listened patiently to my complaint and offered to send a replacement earphone using one-day shipping for no charge. The only caveat? I had the send back the earphones that ware no longer working. They would even send me a pre-paid label for this. No problem, process the exchange I told the representative. 24 hours later, I had a brand new pair of earphones, but Reva had to go a little out of her way to find a place to drop of the return.

I called Phillips customer service next, and the representative sincerely apologised for the trouble I was facing. After taking the model number for my earphones (for which I originally paid £17.99) and putting me on hold for a few minutes, he came back and offered to replace my broken buds with a plastic model that cost £8.99. Now way, I said, I want something of at least equal value and had in-ear buds. A few more minutes later, he came back and offered a pair that was very similar to mine, but also had iPhone controls. Great, an upgrade…I’ll take it. All I had to do was upload a copy of my receipt. No problem, Amazon had a copy. A few days later, the replacement had been mailed to me. And no need to send back the original, now broken pair.

2 for 2, pretty successful, no? I figured I must try and get the Brita water filter’s meter replaced as well. I checked the Brita website, and was very surprised to find that simply signing up for an account and by putting in the serial number of my existing meter, I could request a replacement. I did so, and got an email saying I’d have a replacement within 10 working days. Nearly 3 weeks later, I still hadn’t received it. I replied to the Brita email asking where my meter was. About 48 hours later, customer service responded saying they’d sent me another one, and that it could take up to 10 working days to arrive. *sigh*. But a few days later the meter had arrived. 3 for 3! Fresh, pure water to go with my upgraded earbuds. And lo, 3 days later the original meter arrived as well. It had taken almost a month, but now I had 2 meters.

My conclusion: it is totally worth the effort to save receipts and be aware of warranties/guarantees offered even for less expensive products. It may take some effort and there may be a few days (or even weeks) where you don’t have use of your product, but eventually you’ll get a replacement for free. I saved over £65 by knowing where I purchased my products, what the warranties were, and doing a little research on how to take advantage of it.

Pub #10: Craft Beer Co, Farringdon, 31 Mar, 2012

Pub 10 is the very fine Craft Beer Co. in Farringdon. This is not a beautiful pub, not a historic pub, but it is a very fine pub. Just look at the row of beer available on tap. And there’s even more variety in the refrigerators lining the walls. This is truly a place for lovers of beer. Their home page says that they were rated the 4th best bar in the world, and for the sheer selection of ales, I must say that it’s a place worth visiting again and again.

This was my 4th visit to Craft Beer Co. and I’ve taken to only trying their beers in 1/2 pint glasses, to allow me to try more. This bar doesn’t have a full menu, unfortunately. The place is usually packed inside and patrons spill out on to the street, which is actually quite enjoyable in the late evenings, in mild weather. I’ve taken a few friends to this bar, and it will continue to be a stop on my London tour, especially if one is a fan of great craft beer.

Pub #9: BrewDog, Camden, 25 Mar, 2012

After a 14 month hiatus, I’m back to on track with blogging about a 100 pubs. It’s not that I’ve not been visiting pubs all this time. I’ve just not been blogging about it. So I have a bit of a backlog of pubs, and the first one of the bat is BrewDog. Scotland’s largest independent brewery is out to break all the rules and judging by their beers, their bars, the media coverage and their Twitter account, they are succeeding.

This was my second visit to BrewDog Camden, and it was a bright, sunny Sunday afternoon. Camden was busy as usual, with people enjoying the fine weather and the eclectic Camden markets and food stalls. But nearly forgotten was the brilliant BrewDog, situated a few minutes from CamdenTown tube, in the opposite direction of the market. 5 of us headed over there, mostly with the intention of trying out various brews. I had 2 beers – the Hardcore IPA, a 9.2% ABV ale in a 2/3rd glass, followed by a 1/2 pint of the Punk IPA.  (Yeah, I’m a bit of an IPA nerd)

This is a somewhat local bar to Islington, and only about 25 minutes away by public transport. I need to make fore frequent visits to BrewDog over this summer and try more of their great ales.