An Unsolicited Endorsement

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I’ve tried many feed readers (a.k.a. RSS aggregators). The best of the bunch, so far, is NewsBlur (newsblur.com). The things I like about it:

It’s web-based rather than a stand-alone program.

A free subscription allows for 64 feeds, which is a generous number. (I currently have 42 feeds, most of them blogs.)

The layout is clean. The default layout is three panes: feeds (sources) on the left; links (with summaries) in the center, grouped by feed; link content (e.g., a blog post) on the right, with images and internal links displayed in web-page format.

Unread left-pane links are highlighted in bold. They’re automatically “read” as the user scrolls through them, and the content automatically displays in the right pane as the user scrolls through them.

I’m not sure how long “read” links remain available, but I began to scroll through the links of a prolific blog and finally quit when I was 8 days into the past.

It’s easy to open a link in a new tab for viewing at full size, thought the right-pane views are good for short articles.

I’m sure there are other worthwhile features. But I’ve only been using NewsBlur for a few days and haven’t had time to fully explore and exploit its design.

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Cutting the Cord

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If you haven’t already cut the cord (i.e., rid yourself of cable or satellite TV service), you’ve probably dreamed of doing it. I just cut the cord, and it makes me feel good all over.

Cable companies had it good for a long time — armed as they were with government-granted monopolies on access to channels that can’t be captured by an antenna. Enter satellite TV providers, whose offerings helped to keep cable companies in check, but who maximized profits by adopting the same bundling strategy as cable companies.

Then along came internet-based alternatives, centered on smart TVs, streaming devices like Roku, and streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Video. A lot of consumers — like me — can watch just about anything they want to watch, and at a much lower cost, by switching to streaming devices and services. The missing ingredient is usually access to local TV broadcasts of news and weather.

That’s where the antenna comes in, in particular, an indoor antenna that doesn’t require roof-climbing and still delivers a sharp signal. Specifically, this antenna: ClearStream Eclipse Indoor HDTV Antenna with Sure Grip Technology – 25 Mile Range, for which I paid $39.99. (There are also amplified versions if you live more than 25 miles from a transmission tower or your line of sight is obstructed by terrain or tall buildings.) The high ratings at Amazon.com pushed me toward the ClearStream; this review at The WireCutter convinced me.

And I wasn’t disappointed — quite the opposite, in fact. Within 15 minutes after opening the package, I had crystal-clear reception of 32 channels (only four of which are of use to me). Most of the time was taken up by programming my TV for local channels, which as a long-time cable/satellite TV customer victim, I hadn’t done before. Installation might have taken longer if I’d had to move the antenna around to get better reception, but I didn’t have to do that. I placed it where I thought it would get a strong signal, and it did.

I enjoyed my new freedom from satellite TV for a few days — watching local news and weather via my antenna and watching House of Cards on Netflix streaming video. Then I called DirecTV this morning to cancel my satellite TV service. Bwa-ha-ha-ha!

The writing is on the wall for cable and satellite TV providers. And they’ve begun to move in the direction of customized service. AT&T U-verse, for example, has a local-channels-only option — but if you can get what you need with an easy-to-install $40 antenna, why pay a $199 installation fee and about $30 for monthly service? Cable companies have similar “basic” options, but the one offered in my area by Time-Warner cost almost $40 a month the last time I looked at it.

Yes, cable and satellite TV companies are beginning to offer consumers greater flexibility in choosing from among the thousands of channels on offer. And that will help the companies stay in business for a while. There are a lot of consumers who just don’t want to spend the time and effort it takes to save hundreds or thousands of dollars a year. They’d rather keep on doing what they’re doing.  So cable and satellite TV companies will survive for another decade or two on sucker business. Then they’ll go the way of the CRT television set — into the dustbin of history.

And I have done my little bit to help make it happen.

Microsoft: The Windows-10 Nazis

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If your PC runs Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, you may wind up with Windows 10, whether or not you want it. And if you don’t have it by now, you probably don’t want it for good reasons.

Last August, I upgraded my PC from Windows 7 to Windows 10, just to see what all the fuss was about. Here’s what I learned from that experience:

  • It adds no functionality that’s of use to me — and I’m a heavy PC user (but not a gamer or developer).
  • It took a lot of tweaking of my privacy settings to ensure that I wasn’t sharing information that I don’t want to share (e.g., passwords).
  • Settings in general are harder to navigate than the settings in Windows 7, where Control Panel is configured much as it was in earlier versions of Windows.
  • In some instances Windows 10 doesn’t believe that I’m the administrator of my own PC, and won’t allow me to move certain files directly from one location to another. There’s a work-around, but it’s time-consuming and inconvenient.

There’s more, but the bottom line is that I learned enough about Windows 10 that I chose not to install it on my wife’s PC. And I recommended to others that they not bother.

Then I learned that if a Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 PC is set up to download and install Windows updates automatically, it will become a Windows 10 PC — like it or not. Yes, there’s a way to reverse the “upgrade,” but why should anyone have to undo what they didn’t choose to do in the first place?

I’m sure that Microsoft’s arrogant action is legally justified by the fine print in the license that almost no one reads when they buy and install a computer. But it’s the kind of action that leads people to seek out alternatives. Alternatives are already at hand (e.g., Mac, Linux, Chrome), and more will surface when the blood of Windows is in the water.

You’d think that Microsoft would have learned a lesson from the precipitous decline in the use of Internet Explorer relative to other web browsers, the rise of alternatives to Microsoft Office, and stiffer competition in other software markets.

It may be a long time before Windows is no longer the dominant operating system for PCs, but its dominance will end if Microsoft doesn’t stop acting like it owns the market. It doesn’t.