Long Story Short: Death and taxes; cable and Facebook

4/23/18



illustration by JP Thimot

 

Continuously climbing cable cost

Long Story Short readers will recall a November 6 blog post, recounting my adventures in Spectrum Cable land. Throughout the entire five-course serving of misinformation and frustration, there was one thing I learned for certain; Spectrum will convert to one-hundred percent digital in the spring.

 

Despite what the recent weather would suggest, this is spring, and sure enough, on May 8, Spectrum will go digital.

 

What that means for you

If you have satellite TV, or live in a surrounding region where you have other cable options, or reside in Buffalo but have chosen to “cut the cord,” it means nothing. But those of us who have elected for whatever reason to continue receiving Spectrum Cable TV—and have any televisions currently running without a cable converter box—will soon have new reasons to curse our cable bill.

 

My most recent Spectrum invoice came with the following joyous announcement; “We are upgrading your TV service to 100% digital to bring you better picture quality, more channels, and great entertainment options,” all of which is largely untrue. The real reason Spectrum is converting all their signals to digital is so people can no longer steal the service. Yup, that’s right, if your current installation consists of a coaxial cable running out of your neighbor’s window, through your bathroom vent, along the wall, and into your living room, that particular service package will come to an abrupt end on May 8, when you will suddenly be staring at a fifty-inch static rectangle. Of course, you won’t know what happened, because you didn’t read the note on your bill, because you don’t get a bill, because you don’t pay for cable.

 

Cable theft is a crime that affects you, the paying customer. You know how I know this? It says so, right on the Spectrum Cable website. It goes on to say, “Cable theft drives up operating costs, raising the cost of service for you.” So, this upgrade to digital is excellent news, right? Now that every TV set will need a cable converter box that only Spectrum can provide, no one can steal the service, and the cost to us will go down! WE WILL ALL HAVE LOWER CABLE BILLS!

 

Dream on

Actually, what this means, is that every TV in your house will need a cable box to function. Spectrum boxes run $11.75 per month. I currently have one cable box so that I can record shows and watch them when I want, while scanning past commercials. That’s worth $141 dollars per year, plus tax, to me. But my house has four other TVs without cable boxes, so we can watch while cooking, lying in bed, exercising, or sewing.

 

Don’t judge.

 

As of May 8, each of those additional TVs will need a box to work. But wait; Spectrum Cable is going to give me free boxes (for some additional TVs), and they’re going to offer this amazing free service for one, two, or five years, depending on my service package and economic status.  

 

This is like offering free heroin to get you started, but later you pay big to maintain your habit. In my house, that would mean $705 dollars annually in cable boxes, that we would rent to eliminate cable theft, so the cable company can save money they say thieves are currently costing me! Where is my anti-cable-theft savings? 

 

Furthermore, where am I going to put those cable boxes? I have a small flat screen TV attached to my kitchen wall above the table with a sleek cable line running up to it. Do I nail the damn converter to the wall below it? Same with the other rooms.

 

A lower cost solution

For each TV that is currently running without a cable box, users can purchase and set up a streaming device, such as Roku. You will also need a fast internet connection (cha-ching), so you can access whatever cable service you pay for through the online Spectrum app. I’ve tried this, and aside from not being able to record or skip commercials (which I can’t do now anyway without a box), it works well, though there’s a bit of a lag for things to link when hunting for stations. Smart TVs may be able to get the online service without an additional device. Not all streaming devices work, and, for some reason I don’t understand, this fix won’t function if you have the legacy Time Warner Cable package (whatever that is).

 

The takeaway:

Only three things are certain in life: death, taxes, and cable rate increases.

 

 

 The politics of Facebook

Some things are just strange. Take Mark Zuckerberg’s recent testimony before Congress, which—in the wake of Stormy Daniels, James Comey, and Syrian missile strikes—might seem like ancient history by now. What’s so strange about it? It seems that Zuckerberg has managed to do what no one else has—unite the political right and left in mutual disgust.

 

My left-leaning friends blame Zuckerberg for allowing (some say conspiring with) Cambridge Analytica to mine data and use it to help get Donald Trump elected. A couple say Facebook is monitoring them and initiating suspensions for posting anti-right material. One got two thirty-day suspensions for posts he says did not “violate FB’s decency manifesto.” These people are angry at Zuckerberg for restricting their free speech. And where do they vent their wrath? On Facebook.

 

Those are the liberals.

 

Enter Paladino

Last week I get an email from everyone’s favorite ex-school-board member and Trump supporter, Carl Paladino. The former New York gubernatorial candidate cuts and pastes an article titled Zuckerberg Testifies Before Congress, but Ted Cruz Has Brutal Surprise Waiting For Him. Wait, is this the same Ted Cruz who harvested data on millions of unwitting Facebook users through Cambridge Analytica, even before Trump did? Why yes, it is. So, what was Cruz’s brutal surprise, according to the article Paladino sent? Although the email doesn’t include the promised video, apparently Cruz questioned Zuckerberg about Facebook’s “censorship” of conservative social media commentators, Diamond & Silk. Gasp.

 

I replied to Paladino’s email, pointing out that Zuckerberg says the decision to ban Diamond and Silk was an error, and Facebook reached out to apologize and correct the situation. I also called his attention to the fact that Diamond and Silk lied by saying they never heard from Facebook, because emails prove the social media giant contacted them. I asked Paladino if he would send out a correction. No word on that yet.

 

I know what Paladino is thinking: Zuckerberg claims Facebook mistakenly censored Diamond and Silk, but we all know those tech wizards keep close tabs on every one of their nearly two-billion users, and they simply don’t make such mistakes.

 

Well I have a story for you.

 

Enter Ron Ehmke

Ehmke is a writer and noted performance artist, who has of late been taking his work on the road in what he calls The Performance Truck (a Chrysler Town & Country van). On Saturday April 14, he parked the Performance Truck outside the Tri-Main building during Buffalo Arts Studio’s fabulous Trimania fundraising event, where he entertained as many as two visitors at once.

 

I dropped by the Performance Truck with a friend, and we both selected from a menu of performance options. I posted a live Facebook feed of the goings-on, which, in my case (having picked the “adult” performance) involved cutting out some explicit pornographic images to make paper dolls. The next day, I got a message from Facebook saying that my video was removed because it violated their standards, which it clearly did, and I said so in my response to the message. But apparently by responding, I triggered an automatic review process. Hours later, I got another message saying they were in error the first time, and my video doesn’t actually violate their standards—WHICH IT CLEARLY DOES—and it has been restored. However, I can’t find the video anywhere.

 

So, yeah, Facebook makes mistakes.

 

By the way, Facebook is a private business, not a public utility. As such it can censor anything it wants to, for any reason. If it chose to, it could allow only liberal views, like Breitbart only allows alt-right views.

 

Biff Henrich chimes in

Buffalo artist and photographer Biff Henrich, posted the following two-line Facebook message with a view that elicited a number of responses: “I [don’t] know why everyone is upset by Facebook sharing personal data. Why did anyone ever think they weren’t doing that?”

 

We pause here for a brief commercial message targeting readers of Long Story Short, based on data collected about your interests

I urge everyone to check out Henrich’s upcoming exhibition of new work titled, The Structure of Things Part II, at Eleven Twenty Projects, opening Friday May 4, 6-9pm. Today, digital photography is routinely manipulated and tweaked in post-production, so even lousy images are made to look like somebody knew what they were doing. Henrich makes magic inside the camera, by painstakingly planning and setting up optical situations in anticipation of the outcome. His work is always outstanding. 

 

Now back to our regularly scheduled blog

Why does everyone hate Mark Zuckerberg? He’s a smart, hard-working man, who invented a product that billions of people use, becoming wealthy in the process. Isn’t that the American dream? Local guitarist, composer, and graphic designer Don Keller posted an article on Facebook arguing that social media should pay us for our data. To which I respond, they do. My data alone is worth little, but in the aggregate, it’s valuable enough to enable me, and billions like me, to obsess over Facebook all-day long for free. We are paid for our data in service.

 

Personal data is commercially exploited all the time. Whenever you swipe a loyalty card at a store, information is collected on you. I know, because once I called Tops to complain about something, and the man on the phone said I was the kind of customer they want—as he read a list of my purchases. And are you aware that Target knows you’re pregnant before you tell anyone? How do they do it? Data. Every time you use your credit card, data is stored. When you rent a movie or watch something on Netflix, data is stored. When you make an online purchase, data is stored. Your phone knows your location at all times. E-ZPass and road cameras know where you drive. Did you think it was a coincidence that after Googling shoes, you get shoe ads on Facebook?

 

No one is out there studying your personal data and selecting what ads you’ll see. If they did, they wouldn’t send me advertisements for my own art (which has happened more than once). A computer somewhere sorts data and targets ads, including political ones.

 

No sooner do we learn to split the atom than someone creates a bomb

The moment a new form of mass communication is invented, bad guys begin thinking up ways to abuse it. Phone companies have been around longer than Facebook, but auto-dialers still call daily to tell me this might be my last chance to reduce my credit card interest. Why is it surprising that people are thinking up ways to abuse Facebook faster than Zuckerberg and company can prevent them? Okay, Facebook often puts profits ahead of security, but consumers should be aware of what they’re trading to receive the service in the first place.

 

Artist and educator Bruce Adams is a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.

 

 

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