Out with the Old

I often use DVDs for watching videos. To me, the quality is as good as anything streaming. But it has an added benefit: I don’t have to deal with commercials or “buffering” issues. My local library has a really good DVD collection. I use the library for those “watch once” movies. When I find a movie I expect to repeatedly watch, I buy it on DVD. This way, I don’t have to visit the library the next time I want to watch it. (I’m still on the Library’s waiting list for the Barbie movie. I’m expecting it to be a fun movie, but one of those “watch once” videos. I suspect it won’t be like Firefly or Rogue One, which I bought on DVD. I watch those movies at least once a year.)

As another benefit, DVDs often include lots of extra features that you won’t find on most streaming services. If you want to see all of the funny outtakes from Monsters Inc., or hear the director’s commentary about Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “Hush” episode (my personal favorite), then you really need the DVD.

My DVD player, the one that’s hooked up to the TV, broke last week. It wasn’t that it couldn’t play anything. Rather, the video card in it died. The HDMI connector didn’t work, the S-Video didn’t work, and the RCA connectors for red, green, and blue only worked for red and green.

I was really on the fence about whether to get a replacement DVD player or just stream everything from my home media server. (My Synology RAID includes a Plex media server that streams to my Roku.) Among other things, Netflix recently decided to stop their DVD-by-mail rental service. (Before streaming, Netflix began with mail-order DVD rentals.) This was followed weeks later by Best Buy announcing an end to DVD and Blu-ray. Even my newest computers came without DVD players. (Want to install media? Use a USB drive.)

Just as we all moved from vinyl records to CDs and then MP3s, it looks like the age of the DVD is over. And this is when I decided to replace my DVD player. I guess I bought one of the last dedicated DVD movie players.

My replacement DVD player is physically smaller that my old one (a fraction the size) and only cost a few dollars. It supports HDMI and the RCA yellow/red/white connectors. My old DVD player also supported USB and cable TV inputs, and it could record to DVD-RW media. But I hadn’t used those features in decades. The replacement is just a DVD player, and that’s fine for my needs.

You’d have to wait but you could hear it on the AM radio

It’s not just DVDs that are going away. A few months ago, it was announced that automakers want to remove AM from the radio players. The technical reason is that electric vehicles generate a lot of radio frequency (RF) noise that interferes with the AM radio reception. Shielding the radio from the RF noise would increase the vehicle costs.

The proponents for keeping AM radio have pretty weak arguments. They point out that it’s really easy to set up an AM transmitter and if there’s ever a big emergency, then AM radio will work when all else fails. However, if you really want to help in an emergency, then get your amateur radio license. When there are big disasters, likes earthquakes, hurricanes, and wars, the ham radio operators are usually the first people to get the word out.

I’m not sure how I feel about AM radio going away. I own an antique radio (a 1930 Grigsby-Grunow Majestic 131 lowboy). Normally, it only receives two stations: religion and religion+sports. I built a tiny AM radio transmitter that plugs into the headset port on my computer. It’s very low power and has a range of a few feet. Using this, I can stream music from my computer to the old radio over an AM signal. However, other than running my very tiny AM station for my antique radio, I haven’t used AM in decades. When driving across country, I might scan the FM stations but I never switch to AM.

Yes, a collect call for Mrs. Floyd from Mister Floyd. Will you accept the charges?

Another thing that is going away are landline phones. The plain old telephone service (POTS) is a relic. In 2019, the FCC lifted regulations requiring carriers to provide POTS/landline support. And earlier this year, AT&T (one of the three remaining baby bells) decided to drop landline support.

Today, almost everyone uses cellphones. This simplifies connectivity for most carriers and metro areas. In particular, the carriers don’t have to run copper wires to every house; they just put up more cell towers. However, if you’re in very rural areas (like driving through Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, or the Dakotas), then there are large swaths of land without cell coverage. A landline used to be the only option, but that option is going away.

Personally, I moved my landline phone number to a mobile service years ago. However, I use a ‘base station’ to connect to the service. In my office, there’s an actual phone with a handset on my desk. The phone plugs into the base station which bridges to the cell service. When an incoming cellular call comes in, the base station makes my phone ring. I do this because I find a real phone handset easier to use than a regular cellphone.

Of course, there is a downside. The base station can’t receive text messages. In fact, none of my phones have text messaging enabled. For me, this is more about costs. For most carriers, text messaging requires a data service, and cellular data services are both slow and expensive. On top of this, there are apps on my phone that cannot be disabled and will happily use any network connectivity. This means that they will run up my data usage even if I don’t want them to. Rather than fighting with them, I just don’t have a data plan. Unless I’m on my home or office WiFi, my phone can’t go online — and I’m happier this way.

Can you hear me now?

Unfortunately, having a phone with a data plan is becoming mandatory.
Restaurants have stopped handing out pagers for people waiting to be seated. Instead, they want your cellphone number. This way, they can text you when your table is ready. I’ve gotten lots of blank stares when I’ve said, “I don’t have a cellphone.” (Well, I do, but I don’t have text messaging. And even if I did, the paranoid security freak in me doesn’t want to give out my number.)

One of my webcams is inaccessible from anything except a cellphone. I have no idea why (other than the vendor wanting to track my cellphone usage).

Want to buy food or drink on an airplane? Lots of airlines have gone cardless. You register with your cellphone and then purchase airplane snacks with your phone. Of course, I (1) refuse to install their app due to privacy issues, and (2) don’t have a data plan for registering the app. My choices are to starve or (more often) carry food onto the plane.

Rental car places just assume that you know your car’s parking spot because they texted it to you. But if you don’t receive text messages, well, hold on while they get a supervisor.

My bank recently forcefully enabled two-factor authentication. The good news is that 2FA is more secure. The bad news is that they kept trying to send a text message to my landline (no texts) phone number. When speaking with their tech support, it literally never occurred to them that someone would do online banking without SMS support.

Home Sweet Home

It’s not just me. One of my friends recently bought a house. This turned out to be much more complicated than he expected:
The real estate company was completely confused by the fact that he didn’t receive text messages about his closing papers. They sent it to a phone number that doesn’t have text messages.

Instead of texting, they emailed him links to the ownership documents. Some of their links only worked with Chrome. He almost exclusively uses Firefox.

They were surprised that he couldn’t just sign the papers on his touch screen or with a mouse. He only has a laptop and it has one of those eraser-nub mice in the middle of the keyboard. No touch screen, no mouse, no trackpad. Remember hearing about the old old days when illiterate people could sign using an “X”? That’s how he bought a house.
It’s not that my friend is super paranoid like me. He’s just at that age where he doesn’t want to upgrade unless it’s absolutely required. Most of the time, upgrading means a learning curve and it’s not worth the inconvenience. And in this case, buying a house shouldn’t require a new computer plus a new cellphone with a data plan.

Coming Soon?

When I check out at the store, the cashiers always ask for an email address or phone number. “Is it required?” “Uh, no.” But if I say ‘no thank you’, then they enter in something anyway. (Like the store’s phone number?) It may not be required, but they cannot complete the transaction without entering something.

Of course, all of this makes me wonder about the gap between the haves and have nots. If you’re poor, homeless, or simply can’t afford a phone, then you are locked out of lots of things. Without a cellphone, the simple tasks that we take for granted, like using a bank account or buying something from a store, becomes a serious hardship. Moreover, having a cellphone isn’t free. If you’re on a poverty-level fixed income, then the phone is often one of the first things to go.

I’m fine with using new technology for convenience. However, companies need a plan for users who don’t have (or don’t want) the new technology. There’s more of us than you might think.