Category Archives: Uncategorized

Back To The Future

Back to the future. When we lived in ‘Tosa, we had Time Warner internet and cable. I wasn’t overly impressed with their customer service so when we moved here, we went with Time Warner Internet but switched to Direct TV for our video. About the same time we got fed up with signal degradation during storms, AT&T Uverse service rolled out and we’ve been satisfied customers ever since.
Recently, we realized that we only watch local news, PBS and stream stuff from Amazon Prime and Hulu. No need for the AT&T channels, lets look at options. My two previous posts talked about my experiments with Over The Air Digital  TV, a Tablo DVR and Roku at each TV to manage the data streaming. I’m happy to report it  works great and called to cancel my TV package. AT&T: “we can do that, but we’ll have to charge you more for Internet. A lot more. And, there will be a data limit”.

Since I’m well aware that Spectrum can provide Internet service at 100MB (vs 18MB that AT&T gives me) with no data limit. And, the price is actually a few bucks cheaper than I’m currently paying for AT&T Internet (before the increase they told me I’d face by dropping TV).

I was happy with Time Warner’s  internet service before and I know Charter/Spectrum (who bought Time Warner) has put a bunch of enhancements into their system. I have no reason to  believe that I won’t be happy with Spectrum Internet service when it gets installed and I will be cancelling my entire AT&T packcage as soon as the Spectrum installer leaves.

The AT&T service rep told me I’d be back. Somehow, I doubt it.

Cutting the Cable (part 2)

So, you may be wondering, what does it take to “cut the cable” and transition to Over The Air Digital TV? Here are some suggestions:

Your starting point is to understand what DTV stations are available in your area. There are many resources available for this. I chose to take advantage of the FCC database:
Note that this isn’t a perfect science. The map says I’ll get a lot of channels with great signal strength. Click on a channel in the list and the map tool will put that channel’s broadcast tower location on the map with a line from your location to the tower. Look along that line to see if there are any big hills in the way. I’m cautiously optimistic that a good antenna will allow me to pull in some of those channels although I’m not expecting the signal strength advertised.

While you’re reviewing the channels that you might get based on the map, note whether stations near you are broadcast on UHF, VHF or both frequency ranges. In general, VHF signals can travel longer distances and get “past” things like hills and valleys. UHF signals can get through smaller openings (e.g. windows) so often penetrate buildings better. Most Digital TV antennas are “dual band” and can receive both VHF and UHF signals. This means, by definition, that compromises were made at design time to accommodate both. If you plan on an outside antenna and aren’t too concerned about size, select one that includes elements for receiving both UHF and VHF signals on separate parts of the antenna. If you’re buying an inside antenna, consider one that’s rated for longer distance, has a built in signal amplifier, etc. They’re slightly more expensive but they’re a one time cost. Consider buying your antenna from a source which accepts returns so you can “trade up” if the first one you buy doesn’t work for you. The first antenna I’m going to try is an indoor antenna: the Winegard FlatWave Amped FL5500A. (I do not get any benefit if you click the link or buy from Amazon). I’ll let you know if/how it works for me.

The next choice you need to make is whether you will be connecting the antenna directly to your TV or if you want to put the signal into some sort of recording/distribution system. Since I want to be able to record shows, I had to find a Digital Video Recorder (DVR) that was capable of recording OTA programming. I chose the Tablo 4-tuner DVR so we can record multiple shows from different channels at the same time. This DVR can “distribute” live or recorded shows to multiple TVs which is also important to me. In order to save recorded shows, the DVR needs USB storage. Hopefully we’ll never run out of room with a 4TB Seagate drive I use these for off-site backups of our home storage server (all my pictures, music and documents). They perform well and I’ve never had any problems with them.

The final step is getting the signal from the DVR to the TVs. Some newer TVs may be capable of communicating with the Tablo DVR directly. Game systems like the Xbox One are also capable of communicating with the Tablo. Since we have three different TVs I would like usage to be consistent across them. That means adding some sort of receiver at each of them. I settled on Roku devices which will also add the ability to watch Netflix and Hulu to our oldest TV and may fix the issues that one of our TVs has with the Hulu library. There are several different models of Roku devices. Although they’re more expensive, I wanted to use the wired network within our house for better performance. I picked the Roku Premier+ 4K/UHD model. This is a case where last year’s model is actually a better fit for me than the current year’s products so I actually save a bit.

There’s one more decision that we can’t make until the pieces arrive and I get them set up. The Tablo DVR has a “channel guide” feature. It allows you to select live programming or schedule recordings from a built-in programming guide. The box includes a free 24 hour rolling window of programming information. If you want to record something further in the future, you need to find the programming information somewhere else and program the record start/stop date and times OR buy a subscription to a 2 week rolling window of programming information. You get a 30 day free trial of the 2 week window and I’m pretty sure I’m going to choose the one-time payment for a lifetime subscription.

You may be asking, why go to all the fuss? Remember I said cable TV is expensive. We have one of the most basic packages available and it costs about $65/month to put it on our 3 TVs (in HD, with whole house DVR). The components I’ve described in this blog aren’t cheap, but they’ll be paid for in about 11 months with the savings from not paying the cable man for TV. If we don’t buy a permanent channel guide subscription, payback drops to about 9.5 months.

Cutting the Cable (part 1)

Like many of you, I’ve been a bit frustrated with the fact that our “cable” bill keeps going up. I’m not going to name my provider since I’ve been generally happy with their service over the years, but now that the kids are gone, the cost of putting the few shows that my wife and I watch on the screen seems outlandish.

Last weekend we were visiting relatives in another city and my Mother-in-law asked me some questions about cutting her cable and switching to Over The Air (OTA) High Definition (HD) TV. I looked at her bill and realized she was paying for all kinds of stuff that she didn’t need. I told her I’d research where her broadcast towers are and make an antenna recommendation.

As we talked about it, I told her that I’ve often thought about it, but really like the “whole house DVR” feature (we have 3 TVs, one in the loft, one in the living room and one in the rec room and periodically play stuff on all of them). Another complicating factor is geography. We live at the edge of the terminal glacier, with hills on 3 sides which block line of sight to the broadcast towers.

However, while I was researching antennas, I discovered that there is a “whole house DVR” setup for cable cutters. An hour worth of research later, the UPS guy will be delivering some “Christmas in June” to our house tomorrow. If it works, my next post will be about the system and my experience putting it together.

As they say on TV, “Stay tuned!”

And, we’re at it again!

The choir of St. Anthony on the Lake Parish, Pewaukee WI USA is off on another adventure. You may recall our previous singing tour of Italy in 2012. After much preparation, our director Laurie Polkus and accompanist Ann Basten-Ruane have decided that they’re willing to be seen in public with us again, this time a little farther east!

We’ll be visiting Prague, Vienna and Salzburg for our concerts, interspersed with tours. We are so lucky to once again have Elisabeth as our guide! When we’re done working, we have a final day of playing in the “Lake Country” in the middle of the Bavarian Alps, high above Garmisch-Partenkirchen where we’ll tour Neuschwanstein and celebrate a successful concert tour with a gala dinner at the Riessersee Hotel Resort before heading to Munich.

The tour itself ends in Munich and a few couples have decided to stay on extra days to explore the area – after all, it will be Oktoberfest!

As I mentioned to my traveling companions, I am quite capable of pretending that I like to sing in order to hang with this fun bunch, drink a little wine and make some (hopefully) fantastic photos!

Do As I Say…

There are a few pieces of wise advice I remember hearing more than a few times from my Dad. Two in particular come to mind this morning:

  • Always use the right tool for the job, and,
  • Do as I say, not as I do

Well, OK, I don’t know if I ever heard you say “Son, use a real edger!” and I can’t say for certain that I ever saw you try to use a string trimmer to edge your driveway or sidewalk. But I know you had a real edger (it was green and black) when we lived on Denton Ave. and I’ve struggled enough trying to use a string trimmer to edge so I gave up a few years ago.

For fathers’ day, my extremely perceptive family picked up on my hints and I got a Black & Decker “edge hog”. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

The right tools for the job!

A half hour in the hot sun and my driveway and patio are edged like a pro would edge them, with the help of the edge hog, my electric tornado and a nice heavy duty extension cord. Thanks for the advice Dad! Your driveway and walk next week?

FTC 16 CFR, part 255 Disclaimer: The Black & Decker “edge  hog” link above is an affiliate link to If you click the link and buy the product from Amazon, I may earn a few cents. I only link to things I use and truly believe are great products, in hope that someone who reads my blog will also find them useful. This is not a significant source of income for me and the few cents I may earn does not in any way influence what I link to.

But It’s A Dry Heat

As mentioned a few entries ago, I’m traveling for work again, this time I’m in Phoenix, AZ. They say the heat is tolerable because it’s a dry heat. Frankly, coming from Wisconsin, temperatures in the 70s to low 80s are tolerable in March, even if it wasn’t dry. This trip I’m lucky to be able to spend a little time with our dear friends Pat and Robin who moved here in retirement when they’re not traveling. They picked me up early Monday morning for a quick hike in the South Mountain Park then got me back to the hotel in time to clean up and get to my first conference session.

The weather was perfect, the companions great and I took a few photos, which you can see here on my Picasa site or here on Google+ I bought a new tool for this hike. If you’ve ever done any hiking with a camera (other than a point and shoot) hanging around your neck, you know it gets heavy and uncomfortable. I found a pair of backpack camera straps on (not an affiliate link, I get nothing if you click through other than the satisfaction of knowing I helped you find a great product) and they work very well! The camera’s weight was borne by the backpack straps on my shoulders and offset by the weight of my hydration backpack. I hardly knew the camera was there.

Pat and Robin are both looking and doing great. I’m happy to say that I was able to keep up with them no problem and never got winded even though my maximum heart rate on the hike hit 174 (average 142, and over 600 calories burned according to my heart rate monitor). About halfway along our hike, Pat asked me if I still enjoyed geocaching. Hey, wake up! I’ve got the app loaded on my phone, let’s see if there are any here. Well, I’ll be darned, GC10KPG Kiwanna City View was about 54 meters away. We all smiled and said “that’s no coincidence, that’s a sign and we’re going geocaching”! It wasn’t a difficult find but I was careful to check all the rock crevices for scorpions and snakes before scrambling to the find. Below is the time/distance/elevation graph of our hike.

This afternoon I gave a presentation on using personal mobile devices in the workplace which went over very well. Tomorrow after the conference, I’m having dinner with Pat and Robin before flying home Thursday.

Until next time, peace be with you!

Its a Matter of Perspective

Last night, Wisconsin got wallopped with a few inches of heavy wet snow. About 30,000 customers of the local utility were out of power. My sister noted that this was the first time in 14 years of living in their current home that the power has gone out, and made the best of it with romantic candles and a toasty warm fire place.

After Matt helped me clear the driveway, I headed out into the yard and beyond with my camera. I had a few objectives, one being to try out a new lens I bought recently. Its a Canon MP-E 65mm macro lens. It is used to take close up (1:1 to 5:1) images. I confirmed that it is impossible to shoot this lens freehand and very difficult to shoot it on a monopod. Next time, I’ll take a tripod.

Ice and snow clinging to trees made a great subject for the new lens. I also wanted to get a bit of exercise, so I walked a stretch of the Ice Age National trail that runs through Hartland. Its a favorite place of mine…one that I should visit more often. Apparently I was the second person who thought it would be a great place to walk today.

Like these photos? You can see more from my morning in my Picasa album or on Google+

Have a perspective you’d like to share? Please leave a comment below, or on my photo album. Thanks, and have a great day!


New and Improved

Some of you may be wondering what happened to the web site. I recently converted the old, hand-coded html site into a WordPress blog format. The posts you see with a date prior to today’s were copied here from my old Blogger site. I’ll leave that up for a while and add a pointer here in case anyone is following it.

Hopefully the easier-to-update site will get more frequent updates. Let me know what you think.