Month: September 2013

RACCOONS IN THE NEWS: Where’s Your Passport?

Woman Eat Box
On the good side, high in fiber!

Let’s all hear it for Meeko, an intrepid raccoon who accidentally got trapped in a shipping container and then went on a intercontinental trip by train and boat from Iowa to England.  She managed the trip by nibbling on cardboard boxes in the container and licking condensation for sustenance.  The people in England, unaccustomed to raccoons, have placed the accidental adventurer in a local zoo, an ape and monkey sanctuary.  Oh no! I hope she gets along with her new roommates better than other raccoons have.

I’ve always lamented the lack of raccoons in zoos here in the United States.  Ooh, lions and meerkats. I wanna’ see something cute!

Source: This is South Wales

  • The Cardboard Box Diet @ Lauren, From Texas (No, she’s not advocating eating cardboard–in fact she specifically says she won’t eat anything that tastes like cardboard, which would logically exclude cardboard itself.  Rather, the titular cardboard box is one that she has full of clothes that currently don’t fit, and are the motivator for losing weight.)
  • Raccoon Survives a Month at Sea by Eating Cardboard @ Buzz60
  • Meeko from Pocahontas @ The Disney Wiki

Mobile Phone Dilemma Revisited

Man on ridiculously huge phone

I listen to the This Week in Tech (TWiT) podcast.  In the most recent episode (September 22, 2013) one of the guest hosts, Brian Brushwood, remarked that even though the subsidized iPhone 5c (16GB model) cost $99 up front, it would end up costing $1,000.  So once again we have tech guys showing their inability to understand money.

Let’s break this down:

  • Up front costs = $99 + $36 activation charge = $135
  • Monthly Charges ( AT&T Nation 450 + 3GB/mo Data Plan) = $70
  • Total Contract Cost = $135 + $70 x 24 months = $1,815
  • Price of iPhone 5c 16GB without a contract = $549

Subtract the retail price from the total contract cost and we get $1,266.  Is all of this attributable to the horrors of being on contract?  Well T-Mobile has an unlimited talk & text + 2.5GB of data plan for $60/mo.  Verizon has a similar no-contract plan for the same price.  So assuming you want somewhere in the range of 2GB+ of data a month your premium for being on contract with AT&T is $10/mo, which adds $240 to the price of that iPhone.  That’s not an insignificant amount of money, but it only totals $789, which is $211 short of Brian’s claim of a $1,000 price tag.

Heck, even if you go with one of the cheaper MVNO‘s, say Airvoice Wireless, you’ll be paying $40 a month … but only getting one gigabyte of data! At least in that case, the $30  discount from AT&T will bring you to a total cost of that colorful iPhone of $1,269 if you’d gone with their contract.  However, that’s not an entirely fair comparison because you are getting less service for that price (2GB of data less.)

So once again, the alarmist claims that a “discounted” phone is anything but are completely unfounded.  Not surprising, since these are tech people; if they understood money they’d be in finance!

Along those lines, I did recently switch to Airvoice Wireless. As I’ve mentioned previously, I really only use about half a gig of data a month so the $60/mo I was paying for the calls and data seemed unnecessary.  It wasn’t a seamless process and required about an hour on the phone (using my Google Voice account through Gmail, thank goodness I had a backup!) to actually get things up and running after a half day of no service.  Which goes back to another of the anti-contract arguments: you lose the ability to jump from one service provider to another without incurring penalties.  I suppose one needs to define “penalty,” because I’ve ported numbers twice now in my life and both times required significant effort on my part to resolve the problems that providers had with the process.  Who wants to go through the anguish of changing phone providers all that often?

Well, I guess tech guys, who I imagine are inherently masochistic.

Dexter 10/1/2006 – 12/13/2009 R.I.P.

I know what you’re thinking “what do you mean 2009? Didn’t Dexter just have its series finale last Sunday?”  Yes, it did, but any fan of the series will admit that ever since the season 4 finale, the end date I’ve noted, the show really hasn’t been worth watching.  Even then, season three–which featured Jimmy Smits–wasn’t all that good.

It wouldn’t be hard to find the fans’ ire over the series finale we received, but it was little more than the culmination of several years worth of increasingly disappointing television given the strong start the series had. 

There’s spoilers below.  But who cares at this point? 

Curiously, many of the failings were things that are sometimes lauded by audiences.  For instance:

  1. A Change in Format: Many people complain if a show seems to fall into a formula.  They complain about it being the same thing week in and week out.  A big hit to the quality of the program came from trying to trying to find this variety, whether or not straying from the norm was intentional.  In the first few seasons, the audience could expect some consistency in that about every week Dexter would find some random serial killer he’d need to identify, hunt, and then kill and there was a villain who would be recurring throughout the season, although they wouldn’t necessarily be identifiable as the villain at the start (such as season 2’s Lila West or 3’s Miguel Prado.)  In season five, we were introduced to a collection of main villains (creatively known as “The Group,”) lead by Jordan Chase, who made up almost all of Dexter’s targets for the season.  This became a problem as it meant we no longer had an interplay between the overarching season plot and the weekly kills but rather a unification of them.  It resulted in things feeling very dragged out.  In fact, there’s an almost season-long subplot involving the character Cira Manzon–who never appeared again, regrettably, because the actress was pretty hot–which had an exceptionally tenuous connection to Dexter’s plot.  Which kind of sums up the role of Dexter’s coworkers in Miami metro for the rest of the series; because the show felt the need to begin tying most of his kills to the season-long plot, which necessarily revolved around Dexter (being the title character and all), and he needed to keep his shenanigans somewhat separate from his job, it meant their roles were mostly superfluous.  Which leads us to the second major problem.
  2. Side Characters:  When they were just amusing asides to Dexter’s work (killing) in the first couple of seasons, Dexter’s host of side characters (basically anyone besides his sister or wife) were tolerable.  After a while, though, they became insufferable diversions.  What was worse was that the writers didn’t even care enough to bother trying to convince the audience that they should care! Throughout seasons five and six the audience endured the courtship and break up of María LaGuerta and Angel Batista, but since it had almost no impact on Dexter we were left wondering why we should care.  During this time we see how LaGuerta caused Deputy Chief Thomas Matthews to resign from the force in disgrace … yet at the start of season eight he was back in charge of Miami Metro without explanation.  In season eight there was an inane subplot involving Vince Masuka and his daughter that had nothing to do with the main plot.  And then there was basically anything that ever had to do with Joey Quinn.  When the show stopped focusing on Dexter learning about potential victims through his work with the police force, the police force became superfluous!
  3. Character Arc: There’s the famous dichotomy of a plot-based vs. character-based story.  Dexter always had an internal struggle in regards to his “cover” life (his affection Rita in the first couple of seasons) and whether he wanted it to be his real life or just the facade.  This whole storyline came to a head in season four when Dexter dealt with Arthur Mitchel, the Trinity Killer (amazingly well played by John Lithgow), who appeared to be successfully live both lives (but that achievement fell apart under examination, as Dexter learned.)  If Dexter was going to reach an epiphany about leading a dual life, it should have occurred in this season.  And it might have, however the death of his wife in the finale probably cast that choice into doubt.  Unfortunately, this meant that for the following four seasons the audience had to put up with the continuing back and forth of Dexter trying to choose between being a serial or giving it up.  It wasn’t character development, it was just a stalled character and that monotony tainted the rest of the series.

So yeah, it really can’t come as a surprise that the series finale was terrible.  It was just the culmination of a program that lasted four seasons too long.

      RACCOONS IN THE MEDIA: Where Do You Plan on Putting That Chainsaw?

      Disturbingly coquettish fan art of Coco by Gaturo

      Cartoon Hangover, an online animated entertainment outlet from Frederator Studios, which produced such series as Fairly Oddparents and Adventure Time (both of which I know are very successful, but I have no interest in watching) recently released a pilot for a new web-series, Doctor Lollipop (or Lollypop, as it’s also listed on their site.)  Now this show, about a Unicorn Doctor in an enchanted forest treating a gluttonous velociraptor would normally not pique my interest, as that accurate description of episode’s plot is gratingly lol so random XD.  It’s the same reason I wasn’t able to get into The Regular Show and refuse to watch Adventure Time.

      Still, when I saw a discussion on a forum about this show and saw a screen capture that included a raccoon, I had to give it a watch.  It’s amusing.  My favorite jokes were the characters’ reactions to Doctor Woodsman.  And the slightly insane raccoon assistant to Dr. Lollipop, named Coco and voiced by Rose McGowan (!), is of course the star of the show, what with her eagerness to break out a chainsaw for an operation (unnecessary violence–or even the implication of it–is always funny in a cartoon.)  Also, I found the term “birdorlies” kind of funny.  So give it a watch! Hopefully there will be more to come.

      Being the Cheapest Person in the World (with the Most Expensive Phone)

      Yes, this stupid thing is real.

      Apple released their magical, amazing, stunning new iPhones this week.  The world was left in awe as not one, but two new models were recently announced. First is the ZOMG SO COLORFULS! 5c, and the sheik, premiere model, the 5s.

      I won’t deny that I kind of want a 5s.  My aged iPhone 4 is feeling so very inadequate these days, although the new coat of paint that iOS 7 provided helps abate that new gadget lust. Of course, I am terminally unemployed, so upgrading to a fancy new phone seems a frivolous choice.  But, let’s say I did decide to throw caution to the wind, what would be the most fiscally responsible means of doing so?  That turns out to be a very controversial matter to delve into.

      If one listens to podcasts or reads around online, there’s no shortage of people touting how the true cost of a discounted (or even “free”) phone from a carrier with a contract (typically two years) is up to 3x more than buying the phone outright.  The problem is these are usually tech people as opposed to accountants or finance specialists.  So while they’re very long on scary language about how you’re wasting your money, they’re somewhat short on providing numbers to support their claims or, if they do, they use incongruous scenarios to jumble figures together.

      So let’s look at some examples.  Let’s say you get an iPhone 5s on contract with AT&T.  You’ll pay $200 for the phone (we’ll ignore taxes in all cases, and we’ll go with the 16GB version) + $35 activation fee + the cheapest plans they offer; 450 minutes/month for $40 and 300MB of data for $20.   Wow. That actually really sucks.  I have a grandfathered 2GB plan for $25, and I’ve rarely hit even 1GB (let alone two!) in the three years I’ve been with AT&T.  Even then, 300MB is pretty weak.  I also have 200 text messages for $5.  But really, between iMessage and Facebook messaging, you don’t really need text messages, right? Although that is eating into your data … crap. Fine. Let’s go with the 3GB data plan for $30/month.  So we’re at $235 up front, and $70 every month for two years.  This comes out to a total of $1,915 for AT&T and a shiny new iPhone 5s.

      Alternatively, you could pay the $650 up front for your contract-free iPhone 5s and then get a nice cheap plan through Straight Talk (although damned if I know whether it’ll work), say the $45/month one (the $30 option has effectively no data plan.)  You also have to pay $7 for the SIM card.  Over that same two years, you’re only paying a total of $1,737.  You’ve saved a sum total of $178 over two years, or $7.42 a month!  Congrats, you can buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks each month.

      Here’s the catch, to save that $178 you spent an additional $422 up front ($657 – $235). This is where the finance aspect of all this comes into play.  Are you familiar with the concept of time value of money?  Basically, it’s that between inflation, interest, and other economic factors money today is worth more than money tomorrow (or further into the future.)  You can arrive at an estimate of the future value of a present sum of money with the following formula:

      Where FV is Future Value, PV is Present Value, i is the interest rate, and n is the number of periods

      So let’s plug in some numbers and see how this all works out.  Our present value is the $422 difference between going with no contract versus being tied down with AT&T.  Assuming a 1.4% annual inflation rate, that takes us from $422 to $410.27 (you subtract the rate from 1 since we’re calculating inflation rather than interest.) So that’s a cool $11.73 you can take off that $178 savings.

      You know, the stock market has been doing well, maybe you’d like to consider the opportunity cost of that $422 …