Mike Bo's Blog!

08.10.2017
MIKE BOTULA
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MikeBo’s Blog! Location: Austin, Texas Area Partly Cloudy 72°F/14°C Roma, Lazio, Italia Sunny 89°F/31°C Cedar Park, Texas Buonagiornata!     Back in August I recounted in my blog how I had cut the apron strings connecting me to my cable TV provider. It was a divorce from a longstanding relationship of (at least) three decades. Since my friends and neighbors on Facebook and other social media sites have texted me with comments, I thought it might be time for a follow-up, so I can answer the musical question: how’s that streaming thing working out for you?     In a word: GREAT! It took me several months and several conversations with the customer service reps from my provider to get it done. For me, cutting cable was more Evolution than Revolution. I did it in steps.      First, I needed to shop around for the necessary add-ons. I was starting with a new big screen Smart HDTV set. A visit to Amazon brought me a high gain indoor TV antenna, which gave me my local Austin, Texas area channels. Then, off to Best Buy where, after discussing my goals with one of their customer service reps, I brought home an Apple TV adaptor, figuring it would synch up better with my IPad and my IPhone. However, other options are: X-Box, Amazon Fire, Google Chromecast, Roku, Android Smart TV among others. The Smart HDTV has a built-in computer, and thus offers an array of streaming apps in addition to my Apple TV. Some of them duplicate the Apple TV apps, but some are unique to my big screen Samsung. After the tedious process of selecting and down loading the apps I wanted, I was ready to give it a try. (Mind you – at this point I still had my cable service connected). I quickly discovered that some apps require a cable TV provider to function. But, most require a subscription but operate independently of cable. After several weeks of tryouts and putting the same streaming apps on my laptop, IPhone and IPad, I called up my provider and started the unraveling process. I cancelled my land line phone service, placed my cable TV service on a vacation hold and took off for Italy for the next month.     Internet streaming has one HUGE advantage! You don’t have to be home to watch TV. The Apple TV component provides the apps and access to your subscriptions just to your TV set.  All other apps and subscriptions can be downloaded directly to your IPhone, IPad or PC or laptop. You can be anywhere in the world and still watch Law and Order. Once I had been assured that my rental apartment in Rome came with WI-FI, I was in business. And that formed the basis of the ultimatum I could give to my cable TV provider when I got home the following month.     Lifestyle changes combined with the ever-increasing costs of staying connected, were my primary reasons for my electronic cost-cutting. My move from California to Texas in late 2015 meant my suburban home no longer needed to care and feed the technology behind four or five rooms with cable boxes and TV sets. My new home was a two-bedroom apartment with a big-screen smart HDTV in the living room and a 30-inch HDTV in the spare room that I use as an office.      As time passed, not only was I dealing with increasing cable TV expenses, but increasing costs of maintaining cell phone service, especially when I was traveling.  Once I settled into my new digs in Texas, I had my cell phone, a land line phone, cable TV and an internet connection all wrapped into a nice big bundle from AT&T with an average monthly cost of about $400 bucks. Once I got rid of my land line and cable TV service, my monthly tab has dropped to less than half of that.     Cable TV providers are extremely loath to lose their customers to streaming of any kind, and AT&T was no exception. So, I decided on taking a gradual approach. In my first call, I cancelled my land line phone service and put my cable subscription on vacation hold. After I got back from Italy, I called them again and asked to cancel my cable TV subscription. Sir, your cable TV service is BUNDLED with your internet service. If you cancel one, we will have to terminate the other, the friendly customer service rep told me. You’re telling me that I can’t have one without the other? I asked. That’s right, he replied.  BUT, we CAN reduce your cable TV subscription down to basic cable. You’ll save about $30 a month. Would that be satisfactory? I decided to retreat from the battlefield and fight another day.     Over the next few months I refined my streaming set-up. I had already subscribed to CBSN for news and Netflix for House of Cards and Narcos. The Apple TV came with ITunes. Now, I added HBO Now, You Tube, IHeart Radio, Comedy Central, PBS, the National Geographic Channel (OK, I had to subscribe to the magazine to evade a cable provider), The Weather Channel, and a few others. Now, some months later, I am still adding channels while subtracting others. The refining process is an ongoing thing, but my choices are my own, and not a cable provider’s take-it-or-leave-it bundle.     With IHeart radio, I can stream music and news from around the world. From my buddy John Stephens’ Paradise FM in Tauranga, New Zealand to my good friend and colleague Hans Laetz’ KBUU-FM in Malibu, California. I can even check to see if they are still playing polkas on my old alma mater WRIV 1390 in my hometown of Riverhead, NY. While I’m writing, I generally listen to Austin’s classical KMFA89. On weekends, it’s jazz on WDNA, Miami. And if a big California story catches my eye I can hear it on KCBS, San Francisco; KBFK, Sacramento or KNX, Los Angeles.     With my indoor antenna I can watch all the local Austin channels, including 4 – count ‘em – FOUR PBS channels through KLRU. PBS Kids (which I leave on for Lola when I go out), KLRU Create, KLRU-Q and the regular KLRU-HD, which is the only PBS channel on local cable. The PBS.org streaming app offers a bonus: unlimited streaming of any PBS program through its Passport Program. All it takes is a minimum donation to PBS, and your donation is tax deductible.      Since I’m a former newsman (TV/Radio reporter 1st class–retired) who capped off a career in broadcast news as a press secretary for Los Angeles County, California and Public Information Officer for the State of California, I’d like to mention the wide variety of news sources available through streaming. PBS does a first-class job starting with the PBS Newshour.  But they also offer BBC World News America, NHK Japan and DW TV Germany. DW TV also has a streaming app and broadcasts news 24/7 in multiple languages. Another example are the apps from the New York Times and Washington Post, just to mention two major newspapers that also publish video products and produce podcasts. Contrary to what you may hear in the political windstorms these days, there is Real News out there if you know where to look for it! Associated Press, Reuters, Al Jazeera. I even have RAI-TV news on my IPad when I want to follow the news and practice my Italian simultaneously.     My Samsung big screen offers Amazon Prime TV through its built-in apps. Since I’m an Amazon Prime customer, the television streaming is included in my annual fee. (Can’t wait for the new season of Bosch, a dandy LA detective series). It’s funny, though. The Amazon app on my Apple TV will only let me shop on Amazon, not watch any of the Amazon TV product. Must be a competition thing.      Just last week, I added CBS All Access to watch the new Star Trek: Discovery and was pleasantly surprised that a subscriber can either stream the shows of their choice or watch CBS on the local CBS affiliate. In my case, that’s KEYE-TV Austin. As good a signal as it pulls out of the ether, my TV antenna is still subject to occasional interference.      The last time I talked to my cable TV provider, I had all my ducks lined up. The customer service rep that I talked to didn’t really put up a struggle. I was prepared to tell him that my cell phone contract was no longer in force and I was prepared to offset some of the cost reductions for my cable TV service with a higher quality internet connection. I was about to tell him that I could cancel everything with AT&T and go with another provider if we couldn’t make a deal. (My mailbox overfloweth with ads and solicitations from Spectrum and other cable and internet providers). By the time we were finished talking, my cable TV service was gone and my internet service had been upgraded.      Now, I pray that the electricity and my internet connect stay up. Onward and Upward! Ciao, MikeBo © Mike Botula 2017 [Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!  (Amazon Books)  MikeBo’s Blog is a subsidiary of www.mikebotula.com.  Mike is on Facebook,  Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus!] Mike’s book is available from Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble Books.
14.08.2017
MIKE BOTULA
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MikeBo's Blog! Soleggiato: 90°F/32°C Roma, Lazio, Italia Partly Sunny & Hot: 100°F/38°C Cedar Park, Texas                     A friend who dies, it’s something of you who dies.  Gustave Flaubert Buonagiornata!     August 14th also fell on a Monday in 1944. Seventy-three years ago today at 4:54 p.m. a torpedo from the U 667 exploded at the stern of my dad’s sister ship, LST 921. The blast broke the ship’s Charlie Botula and LST 920 back, and within the next few minutes, the aft portion of the ship would sink along with half of the crew. My father, Lt. Charles Botula, Jr. watched from the bridge of his ship, LST 920, as a second torpedo cut through the water heading directly toward his ship. Suddenly, a British escort ship, LCI(L) 99 steamed between LST 920 and the oncoming torpedo, and was blown out of the water.        Following an anxiety-filled, but otherwise uneventful voyage across the North Atlantic, LST 920 was in a convoy steaming across the Dover Channel from Milford Haven, Wales on the final leg of its long wartime journey to Falmouth, England. It should have been steaming toward the Pacific, but wartime logistics had suddenly changed and now it was headed for Normandy. Ensign John J. Waters noted in the ship’s log at 16:54 hours that LST 921, sister ship to the LST 920 had been hit by a torpedo. American and British lives would be lost, many sailors would be wounded and many individual acts of heroism would be noted. But, the event itself would merely be recorded in official Allied wartime records and little notice taken until many years later.       My dad told that story to my brother Packy and I over Sunday dinner for years. But, the whatevers nagged at me for decades. Whatever happened to that Nazi U-boat after the attack? Whatever happened to Captain Harry Schultz? Whatever happened to the guys that Ensign Harold Willcox pulled out of the water? Whatever happened to the crew of that British ship? My father’s story and the remaining questions it raised, eventually prompted me to put my journalistic skills to work on a very  personal family story, and in August of 2016, my book LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! was published by Amazon Books. So, my annual tribute to my father’s war-time Das Book! close call is also an opportunity to circulate a reminder about my own contribution to American literature and the history of World War 2. LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! is available in paperback, a Kindle version from Amazon Books, and a print-on-demand paperback edition is available from Barnes and Noble. (You can either order on-line from BarnesandNoble.com or in the store at the Customer Service desk). Readers in Australia and New Zealand can order it from Booktopia.com. Elements of dad’s story also appear prominently on my website: www.MikeBotula.com.       Charlie Botula came home from the Pacific War in December 1945. I remember that moment just as vividly as I remember attending the commissioning of LST 920 in June of 1944. After he came home, the family moved back to Riverhead on New York’s Long Island and we all went on with our lives. Other young veterans came home, too, to build their homes and raise their families. Some of them married their high school sweethearts and started families. A few others brought home their war brides, bashful young women with odd-sounding accents. After a while,  among the returning veterans, there were other people with strange Commissioning- June 17, 1944 accents, DP’s. DP was an acronym for Displaced Person, the official Red Cross designation for people who had lost everything because of the war in Europe. About the time I entered third grade I started making friends with new classmates, who spoke little or no English. We grew up together.       Mary Botula died in April 1961 after a long battle with cancer. Dad survived the war by 20 years, dying just a few days short of his birthday in October 1965. Packy went back to college, got his commission and spent his career in the US Air Force. I went back to Arizona where I was working in radio and went about building my career. In 1966, along with my new wife Donna, we went on to California where we both built careers and raised our two children-Dana Lynne and Michael. Through all my travels, I brought along Charlie Botula’s  family photos, Navy records and letters, and other personal documents. As we moved on with our lives, the memories of dad’s war stories faded somewhat, but I continued to carry them with me.        One evening in 2003, as I surfed the internet I came across a website devoted to World War 2 Don Reed in 1944 Navy veterans. On a whim, and without any expectations, I left a message: My father, Lt. Charles Botula, Jr. served aboard the LST 920 as executive officer from June 1944 until December 1945. I would like to hear from anyone who might have served with him. A few days later I heard from the LST 920’s former communications, officer Don Reed. Mike, I served aboard the LST 920 from its commissioning in June 1944 until it was decommissioned in 1946. I knew your dad very well. Please let me know how we can get in touch.        That brief exchange opened a whole new vista for me on dad’s wartime experiences. The first stop was to meet Reed and talk to him first-hand about my dad and his war-time experiences. So, my son Michael and I drove from my home in Sacramento, California to Alameda across the bay from San Francisco to meet Ensign Reed. Michael never knew his grandfather since dad died in 1965. seven years before my son was born. Over dinner, Reed shared his photos, his recollections and his research about the attack on his convoy in 1944. He too, had survived that experience with many unanswered questions. Next step for me was to reach out to other crew members from both LSTs who had lived through that experience. A letter to the U.S. LST Association brought me a list of ten or so, veterans of the two LSTs who were members.  I wrote to each one of them, asking if they would share their memories.       Their response was heartwarming. Seaman Larry Biggio had started a website dedicated to the U 667 - The Villain crew of LST 920. Biggio and Reed had kept meticulous track of the crew of the LST 920 and of the ship’s timeline throughout the time it was in commission. I relied heavily on their research in writing the book. Radioman Fred Benck and Seaman Joe Wallace wrote accounts of that long ago day. From the ill-fated LST 921 I talked by phone with Master Machinist John Edmonds and Seaman Lloyd Meeker who gave me their accounts of their escape from the engine room of their sinking ship. Captain Harry Schultz’s son Tim, his grandson Robert and nephew Kelly Schultz provided valuable insights and information about the pivotal character in my story. Captain Schultz had disobeyed direct orders to bring the LST 920 about and return to rescue the survivors of the 921 and the British escort vessel. I talked by phone with Engineering Officer Jerry Gerard who was a good friend of my dad’s and served with him.       Other accounts came from Tom Willcox, the son of the heroic Ensign Harold Willcox, who dove repeated into the chilly waters of the Dover Channel to rescue survivors. John Ross, the stepson of Skip and Charles Botula 1945 Seaman Ray Willis contributed some 200 photos from the LST 920’s clandestine darkroom. Photos and memories were also contributed by Robert Waters, son of Ensign John Waters, who witnessed the torpedoing from the bridge and noted it in the ship’s log. I also was able to meet and talk with the Engineering Officer from the LST 921, former Ensign Don Joost, who trained with my father and knew him well. My father and other survivors of that event knew only that they had been attacked by a German U-boat, but nothing beyond that. My father never mentioned over those Sunday war story telling’s, that the German tracked them for several days following the attack, looking for another kill. But, when former Ensign Don Reed guided me to the wartime records in the National Archives, I struck the mother lode of wartime Nazi Navy history.      From the German archival website uboat.net which is dedicated to the wartime German Kriegsmarine, I was able to research the U-boat that carried out the attack, the U-667, from its launching in 1942 at Hamburg, Germany to its encounter with a deadly mine on August 25, 1944. Onward and upward! Ciao, MikeBo © Mike Botula 2017 [Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! writer of  MikeBo’s Blog and producer of the website www.mikebotula.com.  Mike’s book is available from Amazon.com or on-demand at Barnes & Noble.
08.08.2017
MIKE BOTULA
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MikeBo’s Blog! Tuesday August 8, 2017 Soleggiato e caldo a Roma 98°F/37°C Scattered thundershowers 92°F/33°C in Cedar Park, Texas Buongiorno amici miei!      A few days ago my Facebook news feed popped out an item which instantly caught my attention! (SPOILER ALERT: This has NOTHING to do with Donald Trump or politics!) It was the tale of a cable TV customer who was amazed to learn that he could watch his local television channels for FREE if he hooked his TV set up to an ANTENNA. I realized instantly that this poor soul was not of my generation. For, I recall in the dim distant past running home from school, turning on the Emerson black and white TV set in our living room and sitting through a snowy test pattern from one of the New York stations so I could watch Howdy Doody! Since we lived almost 100 miles from New York City, our signal was, should I say, less than crisp!  But after my dad spent $450 on the TV set and another $100 for the outside antenna, at least the test pattern and Howdy Doody and Captain Video were FREE!      But, back to the future. Now I’m looking back at decades of cable television service, back to the primeval era when cable TV was called CATV, or Community Access TV. Now, we all belong to the Online Generation!      Back in the distant past, my first monthly bill for cable TV service was about twenty bucks. Nowadays, by the time I added up all of my electronic necessities like cell phone, house phone, cable TV and internet services I was in thrall to my carrier for an amount approaching the entire defense budget of a banana republic. Something had to give! Either I could continue eating and paying my share of the price for my retirement plan health services, or I could stay in touch with the world and keep blogging about starving to death on Twitter and Facebook. Shortly after I moved to Texas I decided to make some adjustments, but I soon found that cutting the apron strings is not any less a task than a rebellious teenager who is wriggle out of the grasp of a domineering parent.  Here’s how I did it.       First thing to go was my landline. Nearly every call was from a telemarketer. My voicemail in-box was cluttered with charity pitches, solicitations for services or instructions to Press ONE to be connected to a live operator!  I used my home phone only rarely. My home phone was nothing more than a repository for hang-up calls, junk faxes and telemarketers. My carrier was helpless when it came to purging the robocalls. Then, I set out to systematically wean myself of my cable TV service. It turned out to be a lengthy process fraught with finding alternatives and facing constant challenges from my provider.      My first major purchase after I moved to Texas was a big screen, Smart HD TV set. Like all state-of-the-art TVs, it possessed a built-in computer and was internet ready. It also has multiple HDMI inputs for other components, and it also carries a number of apps for news channels and selected entertainment channels for shows and movies and games. The big screen TV replaced my older 30 inch HD TV, which now sits on my desk in my office. After a few months of being tethered to the ATT U-verse, I made my first move – I shed my land line.  At the same time, after Googling indoor TV antennas, I ordered one from Amazon.com, plugged it in, tuned my television set and – Voila! After a lapse of decades, I was again watching local TV channels for FREE! After trying the new antenna out for several weeks and assuring myself that I was on to something, I hopped in my Ranger and drove to Best Buy and returned home with the next element in my grand plan: Apple TV.  I chose Apple TV because of my experience with my personal IPhone and IPad and the MACs I used at work. Now, the little Apple TV box nestles right under my HDTV.  The indoor antenna rests on a stand right alongside.       As a dress rehearsal for my soon-to-be cable-free life, and since I was going to Rome anyway, I called my provider and had my cable TV service put on vacation hold for two months. I could still bail out of my plan if it did not work to my satisfaction.  So, after watching a combination of free and Apple TV for the next two weeks, I hopped on my flight to Rome.  By the time I returned to Texas, I was ready to take the ultimate step. I called my provider to be told that since I had purchased my internet service and my cable TV service in a bundle,  I could not delete cable TV without also cancelling my internet service. So, I chickened out. As a compromise, I reduced my cable TV service down to basic cable,  which saved about $35 a month. So, by losing my telephone and reducing my cable TV service, I was saving almost $100 a month. Not too shabby, I thought. Then the next monthly bill landed in my mail box. I was paying $85 for Basic Cable. That was fewer local channels than I was getting from my indoor antenna. I was going to have to climb the mountain and have a heart-to-heart talk with God herself. The deity of all communications: AT&T! (The reader can, at this point, substitute Verizon or Sprint etc. for my provider, AT&T).      So, on a day of my choosing, I donned my flak jacket and shorts, grabbed a big cup of black coffee, picked up my cell phone and dialed 6-1-1. After duking it out verbally with the computerized greeter, I was over my initial hurdle and chatting with a real live customer service specialist. I started with a pitch about my lifestyle:  I have become a child of the internet, I explained. I’m retired and I travel a lot. My bank and my credit union don’t even have branches in the state where I live. All of my bills are sent to me by email are and are paid on line. All of my deposits are done via wire transfer. If I have a check to deposit, I do it through my IPhone. I have international roaming on my IPhone. Whatever you, as my provider, may lose in cable TV revenues from me will be more than made up for in roaming and data charges. I will even upgrade my internet connection to a higher speed, but I no longer need cable TV service. For what seemed like an eternity, there was silence on the line.      Then a warm, friendly voice was heard. Of course, sir. I will be happy to assist you in revising your plan.  I was just a little taken aback. I had expected far more resistance. And so it was done. No more cable television. The following days I gathered up my cable boxes and remote control devices and took them to the UPS  store for shipment back to the provider.      Going it alone takes a little work. Deciding which show to watch requires  more than a casual glance at the TV Guide, or surfing the directory of your cable TV package. My indoor antenna picks up four  Austin PBS channels. There’s KLRU HD, the main channel; KLRU-Q, which runs programs from the main channel at different times and is heavy on documentaries and drama series; KLRU-Create, which offers cooking, do it yourself, craft and travel features; and PBS Kids, the 24-hour children’s channel. In addition, subscribers to PBS are eligible for the KLRU Passport, which enables live streaming of all PBS shows. Since I’m a long-time PBS subscriber, this upgrade was a no-brainer.  I’m watching Amazon TV through my big screen HDTV app and have the option to view others. But, my Apple TV is the heart of my operation, and I am constantly adding new apps to my collection. (That’s the tedious part: selecting an email address so you can open accounts with an ID and password, and finding a credit card to pay for the individual applications. For music there’s ITunes and IHeart Radio. So far my television mainstays are CBSN for news, Netflix, HBO Now, Amazon TV,  You Tube, the National Geographic Channel and PBS. I must caution the sole internet streamer that some of the apps promoted in the Apple Store are linked to your cable TV service. That’s how I lost the Turner Networks and my ability to watch the SAG Awards or all those great old movies.  But, trust me, it all balances out.     As an old retired newsguy, I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on my former profession and all the ranting about Fake News! Internet access gives the viewer a new, international  perspective on the news. I subscribe to the New York Times and the Washington Post, of course. But one of my cornerstone news sources is the PBS Newshour. PBS also carries BBC America and DW TV, the German news service based in Berlin. They also offer NHK News from Tokyo and several other news programs which I watch to stay current. DW TV and Al Jazeera are also stream-able. There are apps in the Apple Store for both of them. I even subscribe to RAI-TV from Rome. RAI covers my quest for news and enables me to practice my Italian at the same time. CBSN has replaced CNN as my regular hourly news source. So, I am finding that, if you make the effort to connect with new sources of information and entertainment you can broaden your horizons. And, as I write this blog, my IPad and IPhone have lit up with breaking news bulletins from a variety of international sources about the President of South Africa surviving a vote of confidence. I may be living in the heart of Texas, but I’m in touch! Onward and Upward! Ciao, MikeBo © Mike Botula 2017 [Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!  (Amazon Books)  MikeBo’s Blog is a wholly owned subsidiary of his web site www.mikebotula.com , and is linked to Facebook,  Twitter,   LinkedIn and Google Plus!]

LST 920: Charlie Botula's Long, Slow Target!

A welcome addition to your WW2 history collection from MikeBotula.com

My new book is available from Amazon Books! Just go to Books at Amazon.com and enter the title or my name in the SEARCH field. Paperback and Kindle!

 

NEW! The paper back version of the book is now available on-line from Barnes and Noble Books! Just enter Mike Botula in the search window on the Barnes and Noble home page. 

 

DOWN UNDER! LST 920: Charlie Botula's Long, Slow Target! Now available in Australia from  Booktopia.com.au