Living with Tivo HD on the fringe – some final notes.

About a month ago, I decided to dump our cable television service and go terrestrial with the help of a Tivo HD. I gave myself one month to work out the kinks before the new T.V. season started, so we did not miss a beat. Actual time took me two weeks of, probably annoying, focus; Christi was probably sick of me being on the roof, on the cell phone, with me asking her “What is the signal strength now?”

Well, the project was an overwhelming success.

We are about 60 miles, as the crow flies, from most of the transmitters from which we are receiving signal. Florida, being so flat, allows for good reception 98% of the time, but the atmosphere is a fickle mistress. Fog, rain and, on clear starry nights, other T.V. stations can interfere with your enjoyment of the vast wasteland. This can be slightly annoying at times, but it is manageable.

Another thing I wish I had some foreknowledge of, before this excursion, was that signal splitters and VHF/UHF – splitter/combiners will kill certain signals! I learned to only use amplified splitters. And, I realized a stupid splitter/combiner and 2 antennas (one for VHF, one for UHF) was causing more interference than just the UHF antenna alone. And the lone UHF antenna was picking up the VHF NBC channel just fine. Oh, well. (Update: You can also over-amplify signals. Hint to fix: hook up an analog television. If you see ghosting on most the channels and you have more than 2 amplifiers in your chain, try taking one out.)

Few minor notes on the Tivo itself having never owned one before: 1) The interface is great, thought a little slow in response. 2) The menus are MOSTLY intuitive. Except the “Find Programs” -> “Season Pass Manager.” That should be under a sub-category of “Found Programs,” or should be its own menu at the top – it’s certainly important enough. And then there is the “Music , Photos, Products and More” menu. “More?” I’ll take three.

Beyond this minor nitpicking, the Tivo HD is a great terrestrial receiver, beating the crap out of my old Samsung SIR-T151; amazing what 5 years, in what seems to be a pretty static technology (over the air hi-def), can bring in terms of signal reception and tuning. And since the capture of the Hi-Def signal is unprocessed on the Tivo, it always looks great.

And now on to the future…

I was disappointed as heck to find out that TivoToGo (the ability to get your computer and Tivos to play together) was hobbled in the Series 3 Tivos. The EFF article “Who killed ‘TivoToGo’” lays out the reasons. But, thanks to the rumor mill, there is hope: “TTG (TiVoToGo) & MRV (Multi-Room Viewing) To Be Enabled On The Series 3 & TiVo HD In November!” I can’t wait. This looks to be yet another enhancement to the already great device that is the Tivo HD.

Done. Now, what can I brick?
http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=apriglianoorg-20&o=1&p=8&l=as4&m=amazon&f=ifr&ref=ss_til&asins=B0036OR910

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May 15, 2007 – A Wedding Photo

I love this photo of Christel and me.
Bullet points as to “why?”

– First day of being married to my wife.
– It is in San Fransisco (notice the bridge).
– The staging has gone awry.
– Silly, happy and giddy.
– We still are.

Grand Central and Gizmo – First Impressions

Recently, I ranted. Realizing that I have been on this constant cycle of new contracts for cell phone service for apparently no good reason. I got miffed.

I’m over it.

But my actions mentioned at the end of the article have forked. Through Grand Central I have discovered Gizmo. You see, back in February, Grand Central added support for Gizmo, replacing my need to have a Skype-in number. Kind of cool. I am sure Grand Central/Google sees the need to bring up a service that competes against Skype’s dominance.

Gizmo Project A Free phone for Your Computer Looking in to Gizmo, it seems like a pretty reasonable service in as far as costs. It is 1.9 cents per minute in the U.S. for calls that are pre-purchased in $10 and $20 chunks. You can also buy yourself a Gizmo Call in number for about $35 per year, but the free Grand Central number obviates that need.

And then there is the SIP hardware that has been flying under my radar because I have been so “Skype-centric” in my thinking. Linksys has put out what is call a Wireless-G IP which is available for $139 at Amazon, which works with Wi-Fi. This product has the obvious advantage of being able to get into your Wi-Fi access point directly and allows you walk away from your computer (or home if you have an open access point available).

Now, for some real juice. If you did not have to have a cell phone, here is what you can possibly do now to live completely off your Internet connection for phone service. FOR FREE.

For Free? If I was in college now, this would be brilliant…

1. Get a Grand Central Number (right now, it is not that easy, but can be done at grandcentralinvite.com.)
2. Get Gizmo and attach it to Grand Central.
3. Get a copy of VOIPstunt which allows you to make outbound 1/2 hour calls in the states for free. (Update: VOIPstunt gives you 300 minutes per week of free calls, taken in 30 minute chunks. Or, better stated, 10 calls total.) Update: I do not even like the idea of VoIPStunt. Forget it.

Now of course, all of this depends on the “generosity” of the companies involved. They may get greedy and stop, or realize that their business model doesn’t work and stop, or just stop. You will then have to find other alternatives. But right now, this would work, for incoming and outgoing calls.

A Contract Sickness – There is a problem in the American Cell Phone Industry

I’m calling you to scream: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Take a good look at the following photo. This is a shot of all the phones my wife and myself have collected and used over the last three years.

If you are a crunchy granola, “save the earth,” carbon footprint counter, this is pretty sick. I am not and it is pretty sickening to me.

Two of these phones have been collected from when AT&T switched to Cingular (which is now AT&T again. Never understood that.) But each phone represents a new lock-in, or extension to a, contract that has been signed by Christel or myself in the last 4 years. For me, it started with the first contract and the first phone. I needed a cell carrier and AT&T seemed like the obvious choice for this area because of the good coverage. So I signed up. Yippee! Free phone? Worked OK. I’m happy.

Then AT&T Cellular was swallowed by Cingular. And If I wanted to save $10 per month over my old AT&T contract, Cingular would send me a new phone and re-up my contract. Fine. I liked the $10 per month savings and since I was already in, what does the new contract matter? Right? My lovely bride, who already had the same notion, jumps on the same deal. Another new contract and she saves 10 bucks per month and gets a new phone.

So we were then up to 5 phones. Two of them were actually in use. Three were not. One phone that Christi had from an old AT&T contract is so old that it doesn’t take SIM cards – this makes default trash. Not very granola.

But there was the yelp some time last year of “Oh, look” while seeing an ad in the paper. “We could get new Razrs for $50 off.” Sounds like a great deal. So we got the Razrs, and again extended the contract so we could get the $50 off per phone. At this point in the story, I have nothing to complain about. It was was the spirit of “want” that got the best of me. I blame only my stupidity and lack of forethought on getting the Razrs.

Now we are up to 7 phones, and again, only two of them are in use.

Since we were engaged (and now totally, like, married), why don’t we see if we can combine phone bills? Yes, we can. And save about $10 per month. But, another re-upped contract must be signed to seal that deal. So, now, we have a little over one year left on this contract.

All along the way, it was AT&T’s efforts to keep us locked in a contract with “switching networks” and “better phones” that kept me on the sharecropping farm, selling my soul to the company store.

And I am so mother-effing done with this shit.

If you have been dealing with cell carriers for 5 years or more and have this gaggle of phones sitting in a drawer somewhere, call it quits when you get the chance.

This is a sickness. It needs to stop. And if we just quietly and compliantly re-up the contracts, for new phones, and, like me, get an extra $10.00 in savings per month on occasion, while not looking for alternatives, this cycle of phones filling up the landfills and good people being bilked out of good money for less than stellar service will just continue.

So I started playing. And thinking. If you have ever unlocked a cell phone the following is old hat for you. But for the rest of you, go to www.peters1.dk. This guy rocks! Using this site, I was able to unlock 3 of the Nokia phones in the picture. I was able to take the SIM card out of my Razr and put them in the unlocked phones. And they worked. I got better stinking signal on the older phones!

Then I got really indignant. I am able to use the older phones just fine. So, why the hell did I have to get a new phone (and a new contract) when they went from AT&T to Cingular. I could have just kept the old phone. I am sure there is some good, corporate, B.S. reason, but then they would not have a new contract. Right? Sickness, I say.

Now I have three old, unlocked phones. I have reverted one of them as my main phone because I never did like the Razr’s reception. Come rain or shine, I have to be out on the back porch to use the Razr.

I feel it is time for cell phone service providers to start competing based solely on service and price. At least they will have to with me – one angry little man with a blog.

Over the next couple months I am going to attack stupidity with indignity, with the following 4 steps…

Step 1 – Wait, patiently, for my Grand Central sign up to come online. “One phone number to rule them all.”

Step 2 – Get a Skype-in number. I already have Skype-out. You need both, and it is cheap.

Step 3 – Get a pre-paid SIM card for the U.S (these links are NOT recommendations – Caveat Emptor). The SIMs are out there. Note: In Europe, SIMs flow like water from a faucet. In America, not so much. But they are out there from T-Mobile, AT&T, and others. But they really don’t want you to know that.

Step 4 – Attach all numbers under the Grand Central number and start handing out the Grand Central number only. When a call comes in, both services will ring. I will pick up Skype first whenever possible, then the cell.

Need a new SIM card? Fine – I’ll get one. Get a new number? Fine – plug it into Grand Central. No more contracts.

And if I have done my calculations correctly, this should cost about $27 per month for 2 phones as apposed to the $80 we are paying now.

Assholes.

Aprigliano’s favorite kitchen tech

A couple weeks back, I came up with the brilliant idea to go through my kitchen and share the items with which I am most pleased. When I was done, there was a thread going through all the items, revealing to me my obsessions with coffee and, to a lesser extent, yogurt. I want absolutely nothing to get between me and a cup of coffee when I desire one. And I refuse to pour off a cup of “brown crayon water” and suffer the experience of drinking garbage (like what was served at my old job) all for a touch of caffeinated inspiration.

And I really like yogurt.

What follows is the list of items that have made day-to-day living just a little more enjoyable. If you want to try any of them, I have linked to their product pages on Amazon.com. They vary in price, but none are more than $70 (U.S.).

The Magic Bullet
Regardless of the utterly cheezeball infomercial that this baby has pushing it into ubiquity, the Magic Bullet is very cool. I use it for grinding coffee beans, making smoothies, milkshakes, and other quick, small blending jobs. Notice I said “blending” – the infomercial features “chopping.” “Chopping” is an interesting concept. I can “puree” not “chop.” I have yet to meet somebody who can get this mini-blender to “chop.” But, the concept of flipping the blade down on a cup, blending and then taking the blade off and having it already to go in the cup you drink out of is, let’s face it, pretty friggin’ ingenious.

Senseo
When podcasting was fresh and new, I listened to Adam Curry’s “Daily Source Code” quite often. And you didn’t have to listen long before Mr. Curry would burp loudly and then say “Ahhh, Senseo.” This is actually pretty brilliant marking to a crass person such as me. I wanted one. And Christi, hearing the call, bought me one two Christmases ago, and it has been used at least 2 times per day since. It makes a excellent cup of coffee with its coffee pods.

But, since I am currently not “working,” the cost of Senseo pods is slightly nagging since I drink so much coffee. $0.38 U.S. per cup is a bit much for home-made coffee (yes, but I still love you Starbucks.) Here is the breakdown – $3.50 for 18 pods times 2 pods per cup of coffee equals $0.38 per cup. My father-in-law, Don, or “The Don,” was in an experimental mode and he purchased some…

Eco-Pads
Eco-Pads are refillable, reusable pods for the Senseo; you just add the coffee. So you get to pick your own coffee beans, grind it and make it. It is not as clean as the Senseo pods, but it brings down the cost per cup to about $0.07. And I have become quite the miser since I am not “raking it in” like I used to. 31¢ is 31¢. Thanks Don.

Bodum Chambord 8-Cup Coffee Press
Again with the coffee. Seeing the pattern yet? But this Bodum Coffee Press is great for when you are making coffee for more than one. And the flavor of the coffee takes on a different quality when you are not making it espresso-style in the Senseo or through an automatic drip maker. Come to think of it, I don’t even use my automatic drip any more. Coffee presses, besides making coffee well, are just so zen, quiet and, oh, so “French.”

The Euro Cuisine Yogurt Maker
… a wedding gift and well worth the $30. If you are a heavy yogurt eater, it does bring down the overall cost of yogurt, so then you can buy some yummy organic milk to prepare your yogurt. The quality of the milk DOES matter quite a bit. This yogurt maker has been the domain of the lady of the house, but, the quality of product you get from this yogurt maker with some basic steps is pretty amazing. Good for the belly.

Feel free to throw me some suggestions if you have any – I love kitchen tech.

Bricking the WRT54G

There is nothing like the freedom you get when you want to experiment with a device and you have a spare device in case things go horribly wrong. A few years back, I blindly went forward and tried to upgrade the firmware on my Apex 600-A DVD player. Long story short – I turned a $170 DVD player into a paperweight. I then threw good money after bad, and purchased a $120 Apex 3201 DVD player, and then GINGERLY upgraded the player’s and DVD drive’s firmware just to get this player to play a DVD without jittering. Hello, I am a dork.

So recently I have had a bug in my head about getting some QoS (“Quality of Service” or “packet shaping” or “traffic shaping” or “whatever”) working on my Linksys WRT54G wireless router for the purpose of not having to worry about using Skype while other events are happening on the network, because Skype gets first priority (Read: Anti Net-Neutrality for the home). The WRT54G’s built in firmware has a QoS piece that works only with attached devices and not with wireless devices – I guess Linksys/Cisco thinks that a $50 off the shelf device would compete with their professional devices that cost thousands. And lucky me an extra fell from the sky into my lap.

Now, again, “two” is very liberating. I could try some freely available “hacked” firmware, without worry.

A very promising firmware I tried was OpenWrt (more background here) but I only wanted to spend 3 hours or so on this project. OpenWrt’s interface was too unfamiliar and pretty darn deep. I would need a real time commitment to do it justice, but I will come back to OpenWrt later to really give it a workout.

I tried a couple Sveasoft versions from here (but good Lord the the controversy of this page, so don’t click the link). I settled on the last Alchemy version. The newer version, Talisman (or hacked “Freeman”), was a configuration nightmare, waiting 2 to 3 minutes for any slight change to update.

Sigh. Sveasoft’s Alchemy sucked. Buggy. Interface crashes. And there was a noticeable slowdown in the wi-fi connection. I was better off where I began.

Along the way, I bricked my original router. The power light was flashing constantly and could not be accessed. I did remember reading somehow using TFTP can bring it back to life. I found some really good instructions on the resuscitation. I learned 2 things (ala Stan Marsh): that there is a built in TFTP program in Windows XP and that they really did make the WRT54G idiot-proof, or, in this case, me-proof.

So, I ended up just putting the firmware that was already on the device back on the device. QoS will go something like this around here…


John: “Christi, are you downloading anything? I’m gonna Skype Mike.”

Christi: “Nope, but you are downloading that perfectly legal video program using the bittorrent?”

John: “Yes, I should pause the downloading of the aforementioned legal program before using Skype.”


We really do talk like that. I use the word “aforementioned” all the time. Really.

Free movies with Bittorrent (and it’s legal)

I was rummaging around the above board, all legal Bittorent site where you can rent or purchase downloaded movies (even recent, good ones) and I clicked the “Free Movies” link. Ok – the free movies are not exactly top notch, but they are… there. Some are really out there. And it may give you something to watch until the new TV season starts. Or not.

I am now off to enjoy Return of the Kung Fu Dragon.