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Everything stated on this site is, of course, MY opinion / statement / thought, unless specifically stated otherwise. You knew that.

 

PLEASE NOTE: I'm *slowly* combining my blogs into this single site. If you are looking for Lotus Notes content from my old site, please EMAIL me at: jrlitton at gmail dot com and tell me the link or the content you were seeking. I will try to email you the content within a day.

- Joe

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Monday
Dec192016

We've Cut the Cord

For quite some time, we've been paying US$194 per month to the local cable company for TV and Internet services. It's the same exact amount each month (to be precise, it's been $193.92. We also have an Amazon Prime membership which includes some video streaming, but I don't include that in the total, since we'd signed up with Prime early on - before they included any media. And we subscribe to Netflix, so that adds $10.69 (including tax) to the monthly bill. So our total for connection and content has been $204.61.

That is WAY too much! I've loosely explored cord-cutting (dropping Cable TV) in the past, but I finally decided that we needed to get this expense reduced appreciably.

Many friends and family shared ideas and experiences, and the Internet provided far too many choices regarding just how one might do this.

Our requirements:

  • Be able to watch local broadcast channels - the local affiliates of the big networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, PBS)

  • Be able to record shows from those channels

  • Be able to watch English Premier football (soccer)

  • Have access to a number of cable channels that we enjoy (e.g., HGTV, DIY, Comedy Central, Travel Channel, etc)

  • Ideally be able to record some of the streaming content from those cable channels

  • Access to HBO

  • Fairly easy to use. For us, this means some type of system where I can write up a little cheat sheet - a card I'd print about the size of an index card - to indicate how to watch or record which type of content

 

I'm not going to list everything we researched. A quick web search will give you more than you probably have time to read. For us, the system we've implemented is comprised of the following pieces:

The above are one-time purchases. Monthly costs are:

  • Broadband Internet service - 100Mbps, with wifi. ($64)
    Once I configure our own wifi I'll drop that little bit of the service, and the rate will be $60/month

  • DirecTVNow - 100 channels plus HBO ($43 - including tax)
    This is the various cable channels we like, including the NBC channels that show English Premier League. As a bonus for us - since AT&T is our mobile service provider - we can stream any of the content on our phones for zero data charge.

  • Netflix ($10.69)

So the bottom line:

  • We were paying $206.61 per month

  • We'll now pay $113.69 per month (soon as I configure our own wifi)

  • SAVINGS: $92.92 per month. That's not quite my dream of saving $100/month, but pretty dang close!

The one-time purchases total at $440. WIth monthly savings of $92, that means that in just under 5 months, the savings will have covered the cost of the new bits, and thereafter we save $92 per month.

Additional details:

  • The HD antenna is mounted in a window in an upstairs bedroom (we live in an attached home - 8 townhomes per building. The bedroom that we use as a fitness room had the best reception). This antenna brings in High Definition broadcasts from the local network affiliates. I drilled a hole through the exterior wood-frame wall of the bedroom upstairs, bored a hole through the masonry wall downstairs, and then routed a coax cable from inside the bedroom, out the wall, along the ceiling, down the exterior wall, and into the living area to hook to the TV. I already had the tools to put the ends on a coax cable, the hammer drill to bore through the stucco and cement block, various caulk and fasteners, etc. If one did not have those tools, it would have been a very challenging task.

  • PlayOn TV was a one-time lifetime license. The software is Windows only, and requires a PC with a quad processor and enough disk space to store recordings. My main PC has a peppy CPU, 32GB of RAM, 1TB hard drive internal, and multiple external, so that's no worries. I've set up a few shows to record automatically (Big Bang Theory, Daily Show with Trevor Noah, etc), and that works quite well. We can manage the recordings from an app on our Android phones (I assume they have iOS apps as well), and can stream to the TV via Chromecast (we already had the Chromecast)

  • TiVo has multiple models, and multiple competitors. The Roamio works with the HD antenna, also works similar to a Roku for managing streamed content from Amazon, Netflix, etc), and the $350 price we paid include lifetime TiVo guide subscription, so it is truly a one-time payment.

  • DirecTVNow can be accessed on PC, Tablet, or phone. It does not work on our Chromebooks, and I've complained to them about that. It's $35 for 100 channels. HBO is $5/month (as is Showtime if one wanted that). This is an introductory offer, since the streaming version of the product has not been around more than a couple of months; "full" price will be $60 I believe. They say that those who sign on for the intro deal will keep the lower pricing. They also say that they'll have Roku compatibility very soon; that'd be nice, as we currently stream via Chromecast, and direct ethernet connection from router to Roku and then HDMI to TV would be ideal. And they're supposed to offer a DVR feature sometime in 2017 -- which I interpret to mean by 31st Dec 2017 :)

The TiVo remote also controls TV power, and allows us to control the volume (via our Yamaha amplifier). But we do still need to use the Yamaha remote to switch among HDMI feeds (TiVo, Chromecast, Roku, DVD player). It's not absolutely ideal but still pretty easy.

In our case, we typically only watch TV in the main room. We don't have a TV In the bedroom, and the TV in the "Dungeon" (the upstairs exercise room) is used mainly to play workout DVDs. But I will hook up another Chromecast to that one so that I can watch football (soccer) matches whilst running on the treadmill. Others will have different needs, their own preferred solution, their own budget. But at present, I am extremely happy to have made the decision and cut the cord!

Pics:
That white rectangle in the top left of the window is the HD antenna. I do still need to fasten the antenna cable to the window well and do a few other finishing bits.

 The box on the bottom right with the green light is the TiVo Roamio.

Here's the antenna cable (coax extension) out the upstairs wall and along the roof...

 

And now ...time to pour a beverage and kick back :)

 

Friday
Feb052016

In search of the perfect smartwatch

Oh, and I'm possibly getting back to blogging :)

I currently own and use several wrist-worn devices, including (left to right) 3 watches: a Pebble, a Mio Alpha, and a Polar -- and my Fitbit Flex:

This is rather ridiculous. The Pebble is my daily wear watch, as it displays the time, and offers notifications from various phone apps (caller id, text messages, Facebook, etc.). The Mio watch is a fantastic heart rate monitor for running and biking - but is terrible for weighlifting and HIIT workouts (Hi-Intensity Interval Training). So for non-running workouts, I have a chest strap heart monitor that works in conjunction with the Polar watch.

The Fitbit Flex is very simple; the "display" is just 5 dots. The more dots that display, the closer I am to my daily goal of 10,000 steps. And I love the vibrating alarm that will wake me without disturbing my wife. There's also quite a bit that I can track via a phone app (or web app). But even after the years that I've had the Fitbit, I still struggle to master just how to properly activate it to see my progress; it requires some magical sequence of just the right tap-tap-tapping - and perhaps burning some sage or something. I rely more on the phone app to view / manage Fitbit data and functions.

And so, even though each of these has value in its own right, I wonder if technology has yet reached the point where I can find my ideal watch / fitness band. My requirements (in particular order):

  • Android compatible. I am not at all an Apple fan, and will only consider something from Apple if it interfaces flawlessly with Android and does not require me to have any manner of Apple account or iTunes, etc.
  • Displays the time
  • Allows me to change the watchfaces at will. I prefer an analog clockface most often, but at night prefer a digital display
  • Backlight
  • Audible and vibrating notifications, with the ability to manage those the same as I do on the phone. For example, I'd want the morning alarm to be vibrating only. Most notifications, if active, should be silent and without vibration, but I'd want calls / texts from certain Contacts to be able to alert me with an audible tone and/or vibration
  • Step-tracker
  • Caller ID
  • Mic and speaker. Yes, I want the Dick Tracy watch phone :) And I want to be able to say, "OK Google, send a text to so-and-so", and speak my message
  • Reliable heart rate monitor for running, walking, resting, and HIIT workouts
  • Ability to view / manage data via phone app and via web app
  • Battery that lasts at least a day (if quick-charge is available), or a battery that needs only infrequent changing.
  • Water resistant. Water proof would be nice, but I mostly just want something that is sweat proof, and can handle being out in a Florida tropical rainstorm.

Nice to have would be GPS, compatibility with Runtastic, and some manner of social networking (I really like the Fitbit community features).

SO ... I'll be doing my own research of course, but I am eager to hear from others. Anyone have any rave reviews to share - or any horror stories?

Saturday
Jan032015

Best heart rate monitor for running: MIO ALPHA

I've been using heart rate monitors for years when working out. Until purchasing the Mio ALPHA almost 6 months ago, a chest strap was always part of the solution. The problem was that the chest strap - regardless of the brand / model (various Timex and Polar and perhaps other) would always give out within 6 months or less. This was not a case of the battery needing replacement, as I'd typically have to change the battery more often than that. The strap was, I think, basically killed by my profuse and corrosive sweat :)

Aside from the hassle of having to replace the straps, I hated wearing the chest strap on long runs (which is when I most wanted the heart monitor to function). I'd constantly have to be adjusting the strap, and sometimes they seemed to just get too soaked or otherwise decide to stop transmitting to the watch.

Then my geek buddy Stephen Wissel told me about the Mio. Stephen (a German in Singapore) rides his bike. A LOT! And he'd been using a MIO for a while. This device has been glorious for me. It requires no chest strap, instead magically detecting one's pulse using LEDs and an "electro-optical cell". OK, I don't really understand how it works, but I find it very comfortable, I no longer hassle with chest straps, the watch is easy to recharge (every couple of weeks for me, although I could probably let it go longer between charges), and for my monthly half marathon races, it has performed flawlessly.

My only complaint is that when I'm doing weight-lifting or HIIT workouts, it doesn't seem able to keep detecting my pulse. I think there's too much wrist movement. Experimentation with location and snugness of the watch has still not yielded the desired results. But that's OK. I mainly use the watch to let me know when I need to slow down a little in order to make through a long run without running out of gas!

At the end of each workout, I can review the duration of the workout, the average heartrate, and the amount of time during which I was exercising within my desired range. I then enter those stats into a spreadsheet where I track my workouts. Yeah ...kinda geeky.

Friday
Jan102014

Washer Repair: $170 for the part. At least saved paying a service fee.

Yup, constant party here. Friday night, so took a little time out to fix the washer. It's a Maytag Model MAH5500BWW , a front loading machine that has been great for 10-15 years (we're not sure just when we invested in high quality laundry gear). But early this week it started getting wonky. The signal (the beep of selectable volume and tone that can be set to sound when a load of wash is done) started having a mind of its own. It would randomly sound different tones when we were running the washer, and then started doing it even when the machine was turned off - as long as it was plugged in. It didn't matter if we turned the signal off; it would come back on in mere moments.

These machines are quite modular. The downside of that is that when something like this goes wrong, one must replace a large (spendy) component. The upside is that this means that the repair is quick and easy. SO... I ordered a new Touchpad and Control Panel from RepairClinic.com http://www.repairclinic.com/PartDetail/Touchpad-and-Control-Panel/22003238/824620 

Yes, it was US$163 plus shipping, but they sent it right away, it arrived today, and as the pictures show, the repair was, indeed, fast and simple. We've got a load of laundry running now with zero problems :)

Here's the patient before surgery. YES, I disconnected it from power before mucking with it.

Using a little mirror, I was able to locate the 4 small Phillips screws holding the plastic housing to the base, and the 2 smaller hex head screws holding a metal panel to the rear. All 6 had to be removed.

With the screws removed, the Touchpad could be pushed back to free it from the base, and then tilted forward to rest on top of the washer.

After removing 4 more Phillips screws, and unplugging the modular connector ribbon, the Control Board could be separated from the Touchpad / Control Panel. 

Then it was just a matter of attaching the Control Board to the new Panel, reattaching the ribbon cable, fitting the new Panel back onto the base, screwing the metal plate (2 small hex screws) into the rear of the base, and screwing the 4 Phillips screws back into the top of the base. Plugged it in and it's working like a champ again :)


Monday
Oct282013

Survived the 10-miler. Registered for half marathon

This pic is me crossing the finish line of the Disney Tower of Terror 10-mile race on Sat 05Oct2013. Well, it was actually Sun 06Oct, since the blasted thing didn't start until 10pm, and I got stuck in the last group, which didn't start until about 10:30pm (past my normal bedtime). I averaged just under 10.5 minutes per mile, which I consider pretty good - especially given that the last grouping included a number of folks who were there to walk the course, and that meant I had to often pass people (walking 3 or 4 or 5 abreast ...ugh) ...often having to detour onto the shoulder of the road to do so.

Fortunately, I've been training part of the time doing a minimalist style of running, which has me striking the ground with the front or front and middle of the foot, rather than my more common heel strike (which is sort of like a Hulk Smash! to one's body). So in addition to being easier on the joints, the front-foot strike allows the foot and ankle to more easily adjust to oddities in the ground. Oddities like little holes, rocks, etc ...the things one might (and does) encounter when running off the pavement when it is dark outside.

I'd like to say that I ran the whole thing without stopping. But at mile 4 I really had to pee, and there were no lines at the portable toilets, so I took a quick relief break. It's amazing how much clearer one's focus becomes after such a quick stop :) ...and I likewise walked a few steps at each of the water stations where I drank a little. I tried, but just could not drink from a cup while running. A water bottle is no problem, but a cup? Nope. So there were several little walk breaks.

Overall, however, I felt pretty good afterwards. Until a day or so later. OMG, the front quads remembered that run for a couple of days! But most runners (and other sports enthusiasts) have poor memories or otherwise view through blinders when considering further activities. And so I am now registered to push a little harder. I've registered for a half marathon (13.1 miles) here in Tampa in Feb. Among the several good things about that: the run is in the morning - daylight!, the run is in Feb - cool temps!, the run is here in Tampa - no hotel fee!

I gave myself a brief time off, and then got started training. The training program is the "Ultimate 13.1" program (US$25) from Run the Edge. Most training schedules focus strictly on distance; run x miles on a given day. This program focuses on duration of each workout, and varies the speeds and combinations quite a bit, along with emphasizing the importance of cross training. So... hopefully in Feb I'll have a pic to post from completion of my first half marathon :)