Dreams of a DVR

‘Cord Cutter Curious’ part 4.

While going about the business of “replacing” our incredibly expensive TV service with antennas, the wife asked that we keep the capability to record the shows she loves. Fortunately, they are on major networks available on the antenna.

In the interest of being geeky and maintaining marital bliss on a budget, I did a lot of research.

My first move was to buy a simple `over the air` (OTA) tuner with software capable of acting like a digital video recorder (dvr). An iView Premium Digital Converter (3500STBII).

The principle is simple enough. It’s a black box controlled by a remote that connects to an antenna in line with a TV. If you’re old enough then you remember how old fashioned VHS recorders were set up. With the tv on a certain channel (3 or 4) then your box would display from the tuner box whether it was broadcasts or operating menus with your remote.

The model I chose was arbitrary, but I wouldn`t recommend it. The menus are not intuitive, controls without the remote are limited and video playback is played back in a horrendous format that is much smaller than our screen format.

To play back video, you can use the set top box or you can pull the USB stick out and plug it directly into the USB port of a tv or media center. In fact, the playback from the set top box was so poor, I did that very thing and was astonished at the quality of the playback. Vivid picture and colors.

I set this up to auto record on the timeslots where her shows normally air. No, unlike a full featured DVR it can not record just new episodes or first run episodes. You pick a timeslot to record a channel and it records that timeslot on that channel. If something completely different is aired, that gets recorded. Nothing fancy. Ultimately, after a few months this failed and the recordings we mere clips of a few seconds.

I believe it’s a handling of the recorded memory problem, but frankly it was more problematic to try troubleshooting extensively. So I abandoned that effort.

Now for more homework and a whole lot of time. I wanted something more full featured. I own a Raspberry Pi 1, 2, 3B and 4 and was aware there might be a way with their help. The ideal would be to set up one as a PVR with a USB tuner that could record shows with the help of the freely available enhanced program guide (EPG). The recorded shows would also be available for replay through some of the key TV`s through our home network directly or via a device like a ROKU.

We’ll cover that more in the future. Tune in again for another Cord Cutter Curious installment.

Spaghetti Strands – pt 3

This is Part 3 of the ‘Cord Cutter Curious’ series.

Having found an antenna placement sweet spot, the next move was to arrange for antenna connection to the living room TV. This clearly would require more thought and effort.

For that I spent time at the top of a ladder examining the different coax runs with the attic light bulb across the dusty insulation.

I was able to find a coax that ran from the living room near our TV, through the exterior wall, toward our garage around the multitude of service access boxes. From those boxes there were multiple runs of coax that clearly ran into the attic ultimately ending up in that spaghetti pile in the attic.

The idea was to mate the coax run from the living room with one of the attic coax runs and then connect it to another attic antenna.

After noodling the options, it became clear that I would need a little more than just a keen eye to unravel this. Checking online I wanted an inexpensive means of signal tracing and making my own coax.

A little online searching and I found a Klein Tools Coax tester kit and a kit for making coax cables (cutter, stripper, ferrules and crimper).

The tester kit included four color coded mail end points. I needed double sided female connectors to use when testing loose cables with the end points. The way it worked is you attached the color coded pieces on one end and apply the tester to another loose end (like in my spaghetti pile). The tester shows which color is on the far end and then you should mark that cord to remember where it terminates. In my case, I used painters tape with magic marker designating the far end from the attic.

After setting up the test end points, what I discovered is the majority of our upstairs bedrooms all had useable coax legs leading to the attic and meet at a few splitters. And I found one leg running down to the gathering of garage boxes. I also had some loose ends I could not identify their end point. This tester saved me hours of running back and forth with trial and error guess work.

I happened to have a diy fractal TV antenna that I mounted in the attic. I attached the cable that ran to the outside of the garage to the balun.

While outside the garage I found a cable running from the living room to the garage termination box as well. I attached that to the cable running to the diy antenna. The living room leg I attached to my living room tv.

The signal was phenomenal.

And that established the basis for my antenna feeds. I may set up more, but for now, that’s where I’ve started.

“Cord Cutter Curious” Beginning

Part 2 of the “Cord Cutter Curious” series. Let’s start with an assessment of what I have to work with.

I live in Florida within 30 miles of the TV signal source. You can check for yourself what distance and direction your signal source might come from using TVFool. This will give you an approximate direction signals will come to your location and at what height your antenna will receive the best signal.

I have a two story house that has coax pre-run to several rooms left over from cable network providers and from original construction in the late 90’s. The house will allow me to elevate the TV antenna as high as possible to provide better reception of those signals susceptible to line of sight interference. An outside pole antenna is a bad idea in Florida hurricane season since they easily become flying projectiles and have to be replaced. With that I decided on either an indoor antenna or an attic antenna.

My first goal was experiment with the antenna’s I have on hand (a Mohu Leaf and a home made fractal antenna) to determine a high elevation spot inside the house with the best reception possible.

I started by simply trying a Mohu Leaf tucked behind a TV upstairs. It was used to bypass the annual disputes between service provider and broadcaster. The reception was pretty good with some channels in the lower range reception coming in borderline and inconsistent. The lower channels were the primary channels we wanted because they covered NBC, ABC, Fox and CBS. The ones that seemed to always be in dispute with the cable companies.

I then checked out my attic, which amounts to a narrow crawl space since the roof has a low pitch. There was a spaghetti pile of coax with various splitters sitting on top of the insulation. Fortunately most of it was within reach of the attic access. It didn’t take long using the cable tug method to figure out which coax ran into my master bedroom. Weirdly enough, there were a few.

And why is that? From the cable guys I talked too (I went through “cable guy” training classes during my corporate time. That’s another story for another day) it’s easier and cost effective to run a new leg of good cable rather than fix what exists or pull out the old cable. So I removed what I saw as obvious excess cables from the attic to reduce confusion.

The “cable guy” training also gave me enough confidence to know what’s feasible and what should be avoided entirely.

I moved the Mohu Leaf into the attic and secured it to one of the highest rafters near the roof line oriented in a westerly direction. It only took two push pins through holes in the Mohu Leaf. That was an easy mounting job. After connecting it to one of the coax with a double ended female connector and a coax from the wall to the back of the TV I tested the TV.

The reception was excellent. The additional six feet in elevation into the attic was exactly what we needed. Now when our TV service provider lost our local affiliates due to disagreements, the plan was to simply switch to the TV input on our TV and there we go. But with a change to cancel cable, this would prove far more important. That was just the first TV and the first minor step.

More to come. Stay tuned.

Cord Cutting in My Future

For the past several years, I was lucky enough to have an employer provided TV discount that was incredibly generous for broadcasts services for less than $4o a month. This included premiums like HBO and NFL games.

That changed when I was laid off in September of 2020. The services jumped to more than $150 a month with no premium channels. That would mean the yearly expense would jump to $1800 a year. I’m also aware that my experience is not unique.

And with Covid lockdowns creating a questionable work future, saving on monthly expenses is important.

I’ve been ‘cord cutter curious’ for at least ten years. I treated it like a useful little hobby. Especially when my TV service went through periods of being unreliable. I’ve made my own fractal antennas. I’ve installed inexpensive, but very effective TV antennas in my attic. I’ve played around with various ROKU models over the years and some of the free services they provide. I bought a very inexpensive OTA DVR that I’ve dusted off and started to use again. I’ve cobbled together OTA tuners with vga monitors and speakers as makeshift TV’s.

Now I need to examine this hobby more in depth. I need to replace the TV service with far less expensive options. Some specific goals to consider.

1- I want to have TV services available on each of our current TV’s for free or as near to free as possible.

2- It has to be useable by the untrained. If it’s not straightforward for my wife or the teen child in our house, it’s not worthwhile.

3- DVR functionality. I want to be able to record or replay episodes on demand. The wife and child are ‘General Hospital’ fans.

4- DVR functionality. Preferably, I want the replay to be available on multiple TV’s, like through wifi replay direct to a ROKU or TV.

5- Access to NFL games if possible. The child is a Seahawks fan and we live in Florida. This would be a good nice to have, not a must.

A summary of where I already am with things: I have older ROKU’s, old DVD smart players, a few chromecasts, a variety of smart TV’s and dumb TV’s, a mish mash of pre-existing coax running through the house, coax tools for attaching ferrules allowing me to make custom lengths of coax, a little electrical and cabling experience, two already installed attic tv antennas, and a few different Raspberry Pi’s that may help play into the picture.

Services I already have: Netflix, Amazon Prime and occasionally shared access with other services with family members.

So, this is the start of my “Cord Cutter Curious” Series. Stay tuned.

Back in the Saddle

I struggled over the past year and a half with losing my ability to run. Exacerbated by depression I finally got help. So I wanted to get back in shape, whatever that meant, I had to find a new way. It’s been slow going and developing to put together something meaningful, challenging and enjoyable.

I checked out what I wanted and my options. I’m very fortunate that I live near a public park with a trail with work out stations that runs along a canal. I have a decent bike and that seemed a simple start.

I started off with riding my bike on the trail. I set a round trip of around 4 miles and started biking at least three or more days week. It was nice to see the splash of mullet or watch the dorsal fins of a pod of dolphin or sea birds swooping in for smaller fish.

Along the route I noticed the park had a pull up station. In part of my running life, I would run and perform calisthenics. So the next step was obvious.

I added a stop at the pull up station on every bike ride. I go for as many pull ups as I can, then I attach a heavy strong elastic band and do a few assisted pull ups.

Then I noticed several land marks along my route. Sidewalks, bridges, and railings. So I began adding in stops at each of the landmarks for push ups. Then spider man push ups. Then dive bomber push ups. And glute bridges. And hanging ab lifts. And whatever else I can think of that I feel I need to work on.

It’s evolving and likely to continue to evolve. For now, it looks like this. I bike a little over a mile to the pull-up station. I switch as quickly as possible to minimize rest and do pull-ups until I can’t anymore. Then I perform some assisted pull-ups until my arms begin to fail. Then I quick change back to the bike and continue on to my first landmark of several landmarks along a two mile ride. At each landmark I quickly pump out a set of 10 reps of either pushups, dive bombers, spider man push ups, or glute bridges. By this time, I’ve looped back to the pull up station. Sometimes I throw in a set of lunges or one leg squats with around there. Or I’ll just ride it back home.

This progression and evolution of working out without running has been such a relief. I’ve come to accept that I will never complete a marathon. Or win runs in my age group any more. But, this work out routine definitely provides me a more comprehensive work out. And I’ve reduced my body fat by 2% and increased my shoulders by two inches. I feel so much better. So thankful for the new mental head space that made this possible.

And now for something completely different….

Games and video games. Yes, that’s what I said. Video games.

First let’s look at what purpose they serve. Their primary purpose is to entertain.

But the most critical thing for me was the element of learning from safe mistakes.

Yes, they provided a window into the real world games of adulthood. Yes, I played soldier as a kid (think Call of Duty with a heavy layer of imagination and endless lives). Yes, I played against dragons and saved damsels in my Disney-esque imagination. Yes, I later evolved into playing bigger picture war games, role playing games and board games. Yes, I did marathons of video games in combat, space or apocalyptic wastelands.

Why does it matter? Because it gave me a healthy, creative and constructive outlet that taught me a few things. Like; whatever you do in life, try to figure out the odds behind a risk or decision if you want to figure out how to win. I died countless times and anguished over each death, but each time I did, I learned there was a better way. And I approached real life in the same way.

And that ultimately, helped steer me in the direction of where my future would take me. It steered me toward a twenty one year career with the military reserves. It steered me to a degree I earned with no student loans and served me well enough to get hired on with a fortune 100 company. It steered me in navigating 31 years of corporate life with 21 of those years spent under the expectation of layoffs. All this aided by the basic idea of figuring out the odds, projecting outcomes and working the long games as best I could.

This was a very simplistic overview of a simple principle. But it has served me well.

Getting My Head Straight

Mental health. Some people think it’s a taboo subject. But in this forum, it’s a big part of our experience.

I needed help recently. I no longer could enjoy a run life and that led to a spiral of negative thought droning on about wanting to run and knowing that it was not the right thing. I couldn’t sleep well, maybe 6 hours, not straight through and frequently not restful. Progressively, I felt like I just couldn’t get out of my head.

I was getting more and more edgy, but kept trying to deal with it alone. It was oppressive. Like waking up with morning brain fog and just never getting out of it all day long.

The final straw came when my wife made comments over a few days about how edgy I was. I think it took her off guard when I agreed and said I was calling my doctor.

And I’m thankful I did. By simply going through some detailed discussions about what was going on with me he gave me a prescription.

I felt a change in 24 hours. I was very reluctant to acknowledge it because I wasn’t sure if it was a placebo affect or not. And that was my mindset for several days. After a week, I discussed with the wife and we both agreed, the prescription was doing what was needed.

My quality of life is immensely improved. I was able to come out of my funk and get out of my own way. I was able to refocus on several aspects of my life. And finally started a new work out routine, but that’s another post.

Over Four Years Sober

Four years of sobriety

In July of this year I achieved four years of sobriety.

Honestly, once I got past the first year it wasn’t that difficult. I had one instance where a server gave me an alcoholic drink in 2019. I took a few sips and it just didn’t taste right. It was nasty. Once I realized the mistake there was no temptation for the alcohol at all.

I didn’t freak out on the staff or wonder if I needed to start all over with the sober clock. It was an honest mistake. It didn’t lead me to drinking so I wasn’t going to punish myself emotionally.

The occasion slipped quietly by, but when I realized it, I really did enjoy a quiet smile to myself. It felt good inside.

Yep, Run Life is Over

I followed up a few times with my surgeon, who had followed up with the rest of his firm. No one was willing to operate on my situation.

Quick recap. My primary issue is that I suffer a ganglion cyst at the tibial-fibular head on my left leg. It grows into a lump that protrudes noticeably. Internally it impinges on a nerve bundle. The pain radiates from my knee down to my ankle. They won’t operate on it. And they won’t repeatedly drain it, I’m told for fear of infections. And that the surgery may not address the underlying problem.

And then there is the complex torn miniscus. I don’t suffer much discomfort from this. But the surgeons are more than willing to operate on that. But it wouldn’t allow me to run. I would lose what little cushion I have with the miniscus and I’m told it would amplify the progression of ostearthritis. Which I’m told I have.

The final straw, at six foot and two hundred pounds, I’m apparently not a good candidate. Frustrating. They prefer far lighter petite individuals.

So, there it is. Find some other way to stay fit. Disappointing and frustrating.

MS Surface Pro 7 – Casting Desktop?

Another thing in the evolution of learning things about the Microsoft Surface Pro 7, how can anyone cast their desktop? Support isn’t clear. They only point to casting with Windows Media Player like there is no other reason to cast. That is not something useful for a slide presentation.

Anyone out there have a clue?