Cellular Changes

We recently made some major cellular changes–both with our smartphones and with our cellular provider.  Over the past few years we’ve been paying over $300/month for our 3 phones, which pretty much comes to about $100 per phone.  This is with US Cellular (herein referred to as USC).  We’ve been with them since I can remember–well over 10 years for sure.  I’ve had them since before my dad passed away in 2008, and I can remember having them as early as 2005 (formerly known as Cingular) when my dad got a big “bag phone” for his van.  I believe he went with Cingular because my cousin worked for them and hooked him up with service and a plan.

So, figuring $300+ per month might be a bit much, in January I started looking at options.  This was our situation: We had 3 phones on a family plan sharing 12GB of data per month.  Two of the phones were paid for, the third is fairly new, so we were still making payments on our bill for that one.  So I can understand our bill being slightly higher than normal with an added payment for one phone.  Our issues on this plan: We have struggled several months previously with trying to stay under 12GB of data, but that was basically because Kevin didn’t fully understand what does and doesn’t use cellular data, and how to avoid using it all.  After a few months of close calls and one month of overage we got that under control and he’s been good ever since.  Since then we all started using “3G Watchdog Pro” on all of our phones to set clear limits and monitor our usage closely.  We also have a problem with USC when I’m in Illinois.  And that’s often, for me–I work there.  And I walk there, every weekday, during lunch, and like to play Ingress as I walk.  This only uses a small amount of data, but it’s pretty critical when you’re limited to only 100MB of roaming data per month before overage charges start.  I think this very low limit might have changed at some point in the past year or two though, now that I look into it more, but roughly a couple years ago I hit that roaming limit at least twice.  I was billed for it the first time, called support and explained my situation, and they reversed the charges.  The second time I had to pay the extra changes.  USC’s coverage is horrible in Illinois, even when roaming.  Those commercials that boldly shout that they have coverage “Out here…In the middle of anywhere!”… Total BS, and they now make me angry every time I see one.

Another issue we had was space…the final frontier…seriously though, 16GB or even 32GB today is just not enough.  Apps are aplenty, and many require room for files, whether it’s for their media, files, or other data they like to store, and you also always need space for apps to “cache” data, download music and movies, TV shows, etc., etc.  So all three of us would find ourselves flushing our cache files in Android (did I mention we’re all dedicated Android fanboys?), and trying to find and cleanup anything we can on our phones just to find enough space to install a new update or make our phones start running smoother.

So, with all those concerns I started hunting for options.  After a couple weeks of looking in my spare time, my options didn’t look promising.  With all of the carriers, a 32GB Android phone (Samsung Galaxy S7) seemed like the best choice, which is sad.  Nevermind the Samsung bloatware, the 32GB just isn’t enough.  Sure, you can add a 256GB SD card, and some people even say you can install apps to the SD card (by jumping through some hoops).  Others, however, say that Samsung blocks the ability to install apps to the SD card on the S7 for some reason.  Either way it sounded like a PITA, so kept looking.  I found that there’s an Apple phone with enough memory, but that’s not an option for me.  At all.  Then last week I found that Verizon and Google offer a 128GB Google Pixel phone, which is running Nougat (Android 7–the latest version of Android), so I started looking at carriers and plans.  I finally settled on Verizon and a plan, then ran the numbers–An 8GB/month shared plan which adds 2GB per phone on the plan, so that would be 14GB per month, for $70 for the plan and $20 per month per phone.  That’s a total of $130 per month for 3 new phones, not including the cost of the phones themselves.  Nice!  So then I looked at possibly financing the 3 phones on my bill as well, which came out to about $32 per phone per month.  Added together with the monthly phone bill the total monthly payment comes to around $226… still at least $75 less that what we were current paying!  Add in all the miscellaneous fees and taxes each month as well as full insurance coverage for each phone, and we end up at around $250-$260 per month.  That sounded awesome, so after discussing it with The Warden, we decided it was a go.  Even at $260 per month, it’s still over $40 cheaper than USC, and we’re paying for three phones.  After paying them off–hopefully sooner than the 2 years–our monthly bill will even drop about $96 per month!

An awesome salesman at Verizon named “Jeff” helped me every step of the way with getting this done.  He even provided his direct cell phone #, which I used several times when we had a few snags and questions, and he made it quite an easy and stress-free experience.  All three of us are now on 128GB Google Pixels now, and enjoying them very much.

The first evening, as I started setting up the new phones, I struggled a bit with the new Pixel Launcher, then decided it wasn’t worth it, and went once again, with good old Nova Prime, which has been our launcher of choice for years, and has spanned just about every phone we’ve had.  With that in place, and knowing the interface so well, things progressed much faster from then on.  The Pixel comes with a transfer cable so you can connect it directly to your old phone during the setup process, then it transfers everything–your apps, contacts, and all data–from your old phone and onto the new one!  My 64GB Galaxy S6 was almost full, and it took the most time to transfer…9 minutes!  I was expecting hours!  Granted, some apps still downloaded from the app store, for some reason, but I was still quite impressed.  Sandy and Kevin’s phones were much easier to do, since they use far fewer apps than I do.

The porting of our existing numbers to the new phones was also quite easy, once I got through a snag with Verizon’s website.  As it turns out, you have to have an account already setup on Verizon’s website in order to work with Verizon support.  I guess this is validation that you’re a legitimate customer of theirs.  I hadn’t done that yet, due to issues I had earlier on in the process, which locked my Verizon account before it was even fully setup!  I apparently provided Verizon (Jeff) with a PIN for my account, which was to be used for just this purpose, and totally forgot about it.  As a result, support couldn’t verify me, and asked if I could go to a Verizon store with a valid photo ID to verify my identity, then they could proceed with the porting of our phone numbers to the new phones.  They apologized quite a bit, but I totally understood, and it was my fault I didn’t remember the PIN.  I recalled afterword, once the Verizon store gave me the PIN # I set, that I did give Jeff this PIN # during the ordering process.  At this point the store also did the porting of the three numbers for me with ease, and it was done.  You simply provide them with your account # with your old provider along with your PIN for THAT carrier, and that’s it.  They said it can take up to 4 hours to fully process, then you’ll get a text message on your phone telling you it’s almost done, and you just restart your phone to complete the process.  It took much less than that for us, under two hours, and the first phone–mine, go figure–only took minutes… the text message was there by the time I got from the Verizon store to my house.

More pluses for Verizon:  I’m noticing that Verizon’s website is many times better than US Cellular’s… It’s a lot faster, easier to navigate, and so far it already has less glitches with logins and providing detailed account information I need.  Very nice!  There’s even a handy graphical data widget included with the “My Verizon” app that shows me how much data I have left for the month… Awesome!  And that’s another big thing–APPS… The “bloatware” (a.k.a. crapware) I have always seen come with our cell phones when we first get them–the stuff that eats up a big chunk of that precious little storage space they usually have–is no more!!  There were 3 little apps from Verizon installed–the others were all Google’s suite of apps, and ALL of them are completely uninstallable!  That was a shocker.  Sure, now that we have plenty of space on our phones, NOW we get the benefit of not having any uninstallable, permanent bloatware to have to deal with… Better late than never I guess!  That, and the fact that Verizon seems to have full coverage everywhere I go so far–even in Illinois–are big pluses in my book!  I can even play Ingress or PoGo in Illinois freely now, without worrying about getting hit with overage fees!

So that’s where we’re at right now, enjoying our new phones along with the extra breathing room 128GB gives us.  Verizon also threw in an extra 6GB of “rollover” minutes for our first month too, I just found out, which is really nice, since I have had to use a bunch of extra data I normally wouldn’t use just setting things up again.  I did most of this over Wifi, just to be safe on data usage, but it’s nice to know we have some extra room to start out with anyway.  The new phones are working great, and we’ve even noticed much clearer-sounding conversations when we talk to people on the new phones.  How much of this is the new phones themselves and how much is Verizon we’re not exactly sure, but it’s much better, and that’s just a good thing.  So that’s about it for now.  When and if we have any issues, I’m sure I’ll bitch about it here, so you’ll know.  Stay tuned.

Swimming Silliness

When we go somewhere or do something, I often pull out my phone and just start taking random shots, bursts, and different photo types just to experiment with the options.  While swimming at Woody’s with Kevin and Sandy recently, I took several bursts.  Google did it’s magic later on and sent me these five gems.  Give them time to load, they’re all animated:

Wind up.2gifFrom the shallow end
SwimmingBall throwA drop in the bucket

Leo Laporte & Kanye West

I thought this was pretty amusing: I watch the TWiT network’s This Week in Tech and This Week in Google every week religiously. This week I got a bit behind though, so this morning I was watching last week’s episode of This Week in Google before work to catch up. It was episode #296 – “Smells Like a Pivot”. Anyway, at 1 hr 38 minutes into the episode, Leo Laporte, the host of the show, gets distracted when he gets a notification that Kanye West is now following him on Kong! He goes on to explain what Kong is–a very new social “selfie” app that makes animated GIFs you send to your friends. He says, sarcastically, that now that Kanye is following him, he’s going to retire, he’s done.

So, not knowing what the heck Kong is, I downloaded and installed the app immediately to try it out. It offered to have me follow my friends, so I OK’ed that, but there was only 1 friend that it found–a co-worker of mine. Next it shows the animated selfies from everyone you follow, so there was my co-worker. I long-pressed his photo after I figured out this is how you display a person’s username in Kong, and guess what!? His username is kanyewest! Holy crap! My co-worker was the one who interrupted an episode of This Week In Google! Unbelievable!

I talked to my co-worker at work today and explained what had happened. He hadn’t heard of that podcast, so he downloaded it and watched that section of it, confirming that he, indeed, was the one who did this! He said, when he installed the app and setup his account, he chose kanyewest as his username and there were about 200 people on his “friends” list, Leo included, but most of them weren’t his actual friends. He figured they were still working out the bugs and this was maybe a “suggested list” of users to follow, so he followed them all. Wow, what a small world, hey? What are the odds?

Here’s the link to the episode: Watch from about 1 hr 38 min. in: TWiG Episode 296

Moved to Google Photos

I have recently moved all of my 29,000+ public photos from Flickr to Google Photos.  Google has been making a lot of progress with their photo services recently, including integrating Picasa into Google Photos.  With everything they now offer, and how easy everything just is to use, compared to Flickr and the difficulties I have had trying to stick with them, I decided to move everything.

I made the final decision a couple weeks ago, when I found this site: http://www.flickrtoplus.com/.  It allows you to simply login to Flickr, then to G+, and it lists your albums and you just choose the ones you want to migrate from Flickr to Plus.  It couldn’t have been easier.  I tried a few albums at first, wondering how they can afford to devote all the processing required to to this for everyone for absolutely nothing–no ads on the site, nothing, it simply works.  After a few albums came through just fine, I did a dozen more, then queued up dozens more after that, then the hundreds more after that.  Within a week everything was done!

It uses your “Google Drive” space for storage and allows you to keep your photos at their original size & quality–a huge factor in my decision.  I recently realized that Google will scale down large photos you upload to G+, so that was disappointing, but after looking into it, using Picasa I can upload photos at their original resolution without it re-sizing them, and the flickrtoplus site also gives me the option to migrate them in original size or “large” size, which is smaller.  I chose “original” for everything I migrated, and I always upload my photos full-size.

With how simple Google’s search features work, it’s just so easy to find any photo or album I need now.  And Google Photos even looks simpler than Flickr’s interface, even though there are many more features you don’t see, that Flickr isn’t capable of at all.  There is one thing missing from Google Photos, however, that I liked in Flickr–and that’s “Collections”.  Flickr called its photo albums “Sets” and “Collections” were groups of Sets you could group together, like “Birthdays”, “Vacations”, etc. to keep things more organized.   Google Photos doesn’t offer an option for this, so all of my albums (402 of them right now, to be exact) are shown on one page.  I thought this would make things difficult to locate, but since Google’s search is so fast–and page searching is also so fast (using CTRL-F) I can find anything I need in my albums very quickly.

As far as price and space, it does cost a little more to go with Google than Flickr.  I was paying a flat $24.99 a year for unlimited space on Flickr, which is a really good price, especially for unlimited photos at full-size.  On Google, there’s a limit depending on the plan you choose: $4.99/month for 100GB, $9.99 for 200GB, $19.99 for 400GB, etc.  But–and this is a BIG BUT for me–this space is combined with Gmail, Google Drive, and Photos.  Right now I’m using just over 60GB for everything with all of my 29,000+ photos and everything else, so I could get by with the $4.99 a month, but I’m on the 200GB plan instead, just to have some breathing room for future photos and all of my documents, which are backed up on Google Drive, and my e-mail.  So, for me, that’s $120 per year now, instead of $24.99, but it’s more than just my photos, and I just trust Google more that Flickr.

So that’s that.  I’ve changed the “Photos” link on my site to go to my Google Photos Albums now instead of Flickr, and some time in December my Flickr account will downgrade to a free account.  This will make only 200 of my latest photos available there, the rest will be hidden.  I’ll probably delete my Flickr account at that time anyway, just to avoid people adding comments to the 200 latest photos they can see.

The cesspool that is Facebook…”coming soon to Google+!?”

Yikes!  I just heard that Google is now going to start putting up ads using users’ names and photos to advertise products.  This is what Facebook has been doing, and it’s one of the frustrating problems Kevin has.  He once “liked” that “truthsaboutu” page on Facebook, and ever since then–and even though he UNliked that page long ago–I still see photos that say “Kevin Trottier likes this”, though he doesn’t.  Facebook is so riddled with ads and fake “apps” that get permission to post on your behalf, that I have no idea what’s a real post and what’s an ad any more!  And I’m guessing that’s exactly what they want.  It gives them more views.  So now it sounds like that’s coming to G+.  Nice.  Call me old-fashioned, or just a curmudgeon, but I’d rather be as little a part of it as I can.  I’m staying here.  I go over to Facebook to read my family’s and friends’ posts–and try to decipher what they actually posted, as opposed to what Facebook SAYS they posted–but for posting myself, I’ll be over here.  Just so ya know.   And once G+ starts getting bogged down with ads like that, the same goes there.  There are no ads here, and there never will be.

Unfortunately, sites like this are becoming quite rare on the Internet.  Ad-free sites still exist only because they are paid for only by the site’s author(s) and whatever donations the site might get.  It’s probably very tempting these days to add advertisements to a site, since it’s really very simple to do.  These days there’s no programming required–you just drop a block of code onto your page and it handles everything for you.  Soon the pennies start trickling in and adding up, if your site gets any traffic at all.  I’m out though, as much as I can be.  Let the rest of the web be riddled with banners, popups, and ads ads ads, constantly rotating and flashing, fighting for your attention.

Besides, my site’s not worthy.  I have maybe 5-10 visitors who stop by once in awhile to check up, and a little more whenever I posted a link on Facebook to a new article I posted on my website.  I’m going to stop doing that now too.  I think it makes me look like I endorse Facebook and approve of their practices if I regularly post there.  So here I am, this site’s not going to change much moving forward (unless I change the theme to play around with the look of it), it’ll just have my regular (or irregular, if I get busy) posts, rants, and whatnot from our daily doings, vacations, photos, etc..

And if you want to read another similar site (with no ads and whatever-comes-to-mind posts) — one in particular that I thoroughly enjoy is WilWheaton.net.  Wil Wheaton is a great actor (“that kid from Star Trek The Next Generation”), an excellent writer, and even does an amazing job reading Audible books!  Check out his site and you’ll probably forget you ever read mine.  Dude’s got some skillz!