spectrum/charter and disney/espn

Customer support troubles

This has not been a good week for Spectrum/Charter and ESPN. I’ve been having trouble for months getting CW (ch 11) to come in on my cable box. After unsuccessfully troubleshooting over the phone, they advised me to bring in the box and exchange it. I had a lot on the DVR and don’t watch CW often. (one show I think) And it does work when watching the show on demand so I’ve been doing that. All the other channels I watch come in just fine.

Monday (the first day of the US Open) I learned ESPN has the same problem. Ok then. Time to say goodbye to what is on the DVR because I definitely want to watch live tennis. I brought the box to the Spectrum store and explained the problem. They asked when ESPN last came in. Eleven and a half months ago :). CW was more recently. They were out of boxes but getting more in the next day so they advised me to come back.

I plugged the box back in figuring I’d watch some DVR stuff. All the channels came in including CW and ESPN. So the problem was a lose coaxial cable. This should be in the phone troubleshooting checklist.

Charter/Disney dispute

On Thursday night, I was watching tennis on ESPN(2) and it suddenly went out due to the Disney/Charter lack of carriage agreement. Since I was out all day Friday and going to the US Open in person Friday night, I figured I’d wait until Saturday to deal with this.

Attempt number one – EPSN+

I paid $10 for a month of ESPN+. You can watch all the outer court matches but not the ones on Armstrong/Ashe. I’ll probably watch some of these since I paid for it. (ex: when show courts are on break), but this doesn’t solve my problem. I really want to watch ESPN

edit: I saw on social media that you can contact espn+ support and get your money back. I did this on website chat. It took about 10 minutes of waiting in the queue and then about 5 mins of chatting. They were nice about it. I guess this happens a lot. Or at least a lot this week at a time Disney/ESPN wish to be seen as the good guys!

Attempt number two – YouTube TV

YouTube TV has a 21 day free trial. Which includes ESPN and ESPN 2. I set that up on my TV and am now watching ESPN.

YouTube TV is cheaper than cable. But I’m not a fan of telling Google everything I watch. I’m ok with them knowing I like tennis. They know that anyway. My US Open tickets are in my gmail. So YouTubeTV meets my requirements for the week.

Ten year anniversary of a contract dispute affecting the US Open

Back in 2013, when the US Open had some matches on CBS, I also couldn’t watch the USOpen using paid tv. Conveniently, CBS is free network TV so I pulled out my old antenna then and was fine.

Microsoft and open book certs

Microsoft announced that they will be making some exams open book. You can only use Microsoft Learn (not a search engine) and the Technical Q&A is disabled. There’s a few more restrictions:

  • You will have access to everything in the learn.microsoft.com domain except Q&A and your profile.
  • Extra time will not be added.
  • The exam timer will continue as you search Learn for whatever information you need.
  • This resource is only available on role-based exams, not fundamentals.
  • This resource will be available in the same languages in which the exam is available.

My take

I really like this. I took one certification exam that was open book – the TOGAF part 2. In that exam, you are given a PDF of the TOGAF documentation. It was super helpful as you didn’t have to memorize. You did have to be good (and fast) at looking things up. That makes it important to practice looking things up in the docs.

I think Microsoft Learn is the same. Learning how to look things up fast is a useful skill. I also like that they aren’t allowing it on the fundamental exams. That was like TOGAF part 1. You proved you learned the concepts in part 1 and then got to use the docs in part 2.

Good job Microsoft! This allows testing concepts rather than facts and trivia.

What if Oracle did this

I think it would be nice if Oracle allowed use of the JavaDoc during the exam. You’d still have to learn all the concepts, be good at identifying compiler errors, the output of code etc. But you could look something up if you forgot an API.

taking a free microsoft cert for fun

Microsoft did a promotion this year where you could take a certification exam for free. I took the PL-400: Power Platform Developer exam. My goal was not to pass the exam (and I didn’t). I had three goals

  • Gain a cursory understanding of Power Platform
  • See how Microsoft does certifications
  • Take an exam in an exam center (the last exam I took was an “at home” one so it has been two years since I’ve been in an exam center.). And related: practice taking an exam in an exam setting (the last exam I took was last year; since the next exam I take is likely to be the Java 21 cert, good to practice test taking skills).

I met all of my goals.

How I (didn’t) study

The Microsoft Learn Cloud Skills Challenge had you do a bunch of online modules. I skimmed each one and watched a few of the videos. I did not do any labs. Each module ends with 3-4 multiple choice review questions. I got 0-4 correct on each. I did not take notes. (Remember the goal was a cursory understanding.) I then went on vacation and gave two presentations on completely unrelated topics. So anything that stuck in my head from this was subconscious.

The morning of the exam, I took two 50 question free practice exams from Microsoft….

Free practice tests

I think you can take as many as you want although at some point, you will run out of unique questions. On my second practice test, I was able to identify 20 questions I saw in the first practice test and 28 questions that were new to me. (Yes, I know this doesn’t add up to 50; the other two I don’t remember if I saw.) That’s a pretty good question pool for free.

You can choose whether to check your answer after each question of the practice test. Either way, you get to see all the questions and answers at the end. I choose to check after each one as the purpose of the practice test for me was to load/re-load some info into my head. I did notice that report at the end showing all the questions you answered was not in the same order as I got the questions. (I forgot to check the answers for two and wrote down their numbers to check at the end.)

I got 44% on the first attempt and 54% on the second. (Most, if not all, of my improvement was remembering the answers to the questions both practice exams had in common)

There’s a major caveat with the practice tests. All of them are multiple choice questions. Some are radio buttons and some choose two/three. But none are the “specialized” question types that features heavily on the actual exam.

The exam center

I had been to this exam center before (pre-2020). There’s no drama. You sign some stuff, they take your picture and you putt your stuff in a locker. They hold the key, but let you keep your id/charge card. (I don’t bring my phone with me; so there’s nothing valuable in the locker; just a little cash). I don’t think I’d like this arrangement if I had to bring my phone. But I can walk to the center, so no need for a phone.

Today, I was offered earplugs because there is some construction in the building. I declined; I’m used to noise where I live. The construction was audible, but not loud. They also have headphones which you can use. I didn’t use those either, but they were in arms reach if I changed my mind.

I had to move the monitor closer to me. It started about twice arms length. Too far to read. This was a self service operation.

After the exam, I was handed a printout with my score and other info. In theory, it showed my performance on each section, but that part didn’t print. I was also able to see my score on the computer when I submitted my final answers.

The agreement

You agree to a bunch of the usual stuff about not cheating. You also explicitly agree not to use AI to cheat. I wonder how one would. You already can’t use other windows/devices.

The actual exam

The exam started with 10 survey questions. Six were about your skill level with each of the exam objectives. I wrote novice for all of them. They also asked why you were taking the cert.

Then my real exam began. I was given 100 minutes across all sections. It was divided into three sections. i didn’t know in advance that was going to happen. You can’t switch between sections. Once you submit a section, the answers are locked in.

The first section was a five question case study. There was a lot of reading and switching of tabs for the case study. The idea is you got requirements and constraints and then answered questions in that context. You could switch between the case study text and questions as much as you wanted before submitting the section. While I did not know this format existed on the exam, I enjoyed it.

The second section was a seven question case study. Again a lot of reading. Same idea, different scenario.

The third question was 42 “multiple choice” questions. Of those questions, the last three described a short example and you had to say yes/no for whether each of the three questions gave a solution. For these three questions, you could not mark them as for review/go back and forth. They were single look and done. You could review the other 39 questions as much as you wanted; even after doing the special three.

The practice tests were not representative of the format of the real exam. (The sandbox you can look at is closer so make sure to try that!). Of my 39 “multiple choice” questions, I had

  • 12 single answer/radio button questions
  • 3 multiple answer checkbox questions with two correct answers
  • 2 multiple answer checkbox questions with three correct answers
  • 8 drag and drop questions – you got a few items and had to place them in boxes answering questions; each item could be used zero, one or more time
  • 6 algorithm type questions where you chose the right steps from a list *and* ordered them
  • 8 questions were there were multiple parts to answer – either yes/no or a pull down with three options for each one

Note that not all questions have the same weight! For the checkboxes with 2-3 answers, each correct answer is worth one point; same as the radio buttons.

Why I did better than I expected

I think there were three causes

  • Testing taking strategy – I suspect some strategy on the “more than one point” questions raised my score.
  • Some questions you could answer (or at least narrow the pool of correct answers) from knowledge of other systems. For example, I know when to use a queue, webhook, etc
  • It’s not a percentage. It’s a scaled score based on factors unknown :).

Even with all of that, i’m surprised how close I got to 700.

My thoughts

I like how Microsoft did the exam. it was a fun format and the questions didn’t feel theoretical. I think they did a good job testing knowledge of the topic.