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Gadgets

Goodbye Comcast TV

I grew up with an antenna on top of our house. We could get some channels from Chicago in addition to the local channels so we had a pretty good selection. But I still remember going to college and having CABLE TV. I was in awe of ESPN. I’ve had cable ever since then, but since Elijah was born our TV watching has gone way down and most of it is via Netflix or Amazon Prime. So last week I took the plunge and totally canceled my TV service.

It wasn’t quite that simple though because we host football parties at our house so I need some way to watch local broadcast stations. I went to antennaweb.org and picked up one of the antennas that they recommended for my location. I mounted it up in the rafters of my garage pointing the direction recommended on the site. The picture looks beautiful! Unfortunately, some of the channels have small glitches every few minutes. But I’m still going for it.

Our cable TV plus 150Mbps internet was $82/month. When the annual contract ended, it jumped up to $98. I really didn’t want to sign another contract that included TV since I’ve been thinking about canceling for so long, but I don’t mind signing a contract for internet since there aren’t many other options around here. I did drop our speed down to 60Mbps to save even more money. I signed a contract that locks in the price at $45/month including fees, etc for 2 years. So even if we go back to cable TV in four or five months, I’ll still come out ahead with the hardware that I purchased for the antenna solution.

And here’s a breakdown of that hardware…

That tuner purchase was a surprise. I forgot that the InfiniTV card in my Media Center PC doesn’t have an ATSC tuner built in (that’s the over-the-air signal format.) Thankfully I was able to find the older model of the HD Homerun for a pretty cheap price. It hooked up just fine to the Media Center PC. I also played around with the DVR/Live TV features of Plex but I was frustrated that I couldn’t watch a show while it was recording. I’m sure that will come along eventually though. Once it does, then I can ditch the separate PC I have just for running Media Center.

So what happens if we’re having a football party and the signal is too glitchy? Thankfully, there are plenty of online cable providers that I can flip on in just a few minutes. In my area, most of the Seahawks games are on FOX and only DirectTV Now and Comcast Instant TV currently have my local FOX affiliate. So I can sign up with them and be back in the action very easily. The Comcast offering is interesting because it’s only $18/month and includes all the local channels that I’m interested in. The Cloud DVR from the Comcast service was a mess to figure out, but I finally realized that you can only schedule recordings from the Roku app. I think that’s due to a patent war that they lost with Tivo which made them remove any kind of browser or phone DVR scheduling. I get why it is like that, but they are definitely not forthcoming about that limitation.

Yada yada yada, now I’m saving ~$50/month and it feels great!

Dash Cams for the F150 and Escape

Whenever I hear about dash cams, I think about people in eastern Europe or Russia recording meteors and crazy crashes (the audio of some of those videos is probably NSFW.) But then I was at a party for one of Elijah’s classmates and a King County detective was talking about how he was installing dash cams in his car and his wife’s car. Huh? It turns out that there are groups of people who travel around the country basically putting you in a situation where you have no choice but to rear end them. With no evidence, the person in the rear is generally at fault because hey, you should have stopped. He said that Seattle is swamped with this stuff right now.

It’s highly unlikely that will ever happen to me, but you know how much I already enjoy doing timelapse video, especially on road trips so having a camera mounted nicely in the car was appealing. The fact that it might come in handy some day for insurance purposes was enough to push me over the edge.

I started with my truck and was lucky enough to find a video showing the camera I wanted being installed in a truck very similar to mine. It was super handy to see where the fuse box was, how to get the various pieces of molding off, etc. Here’s what I ordered:

While Dad was visiting, we got it all installed in my 2016 F150 without too much hassle and it has been working well. You can check the Amazon page to see samples of the video quality, but it’s plenty good for what I want. The camera itself works nicely and is low profile, especially compared to some of the other big suction cup versions. The wire exits the camera and is hidden all the way down to the fuse box so there isn’t anything dangling down or plugged into my cigarette lighter.

It went well so I decided to install the same setup in our 2013 Escape. The only difference was that the Escape used mini fuses instead of the micro fuses that the truck uses. Installation there was a little more tricky because of the goofy shape of the plastic around the rear view mirror, but I found a good spot for it and was able to run the wire down to the fuse box under the glove box. I can get free access to the Chilton’s website via our library and that came in handy for figuring out how to remove a couple pieces of trim. I also stumbled across a YouTube channel devoted to the 2013 Escape which will come in handy in the future.

I’m excited to go on a road trip and use this instead of the hacky/messy/annoying GoPro setup that I used to use. With the 64GB card, I could record 11 hours of 1080p video or even more than that if I use the timelapse mode in the camera.

In other countries, insurance companies offer discounts for dash cams, but that hasn’t been popularized here yet. Even without the discount, I do wonder if/when car manufacturers are going to build these in. It’s not a big stretch to imagine this as part of your rear view mirror mount or maybe even using some of the parking cameras that are already installed.

OBDII Trip Reports

OBDII is the standard for the diagnostics plug that is somewhere around the drivers side footwell of your car. For many years I’ve enjoyed having a ScanGauge in my car, and then for my birthday this year, Tyla got me an Automatic OBDII reader. That has been plugged into my truck for a few months, happily uploading data to the cloud.

I finally got around to playing with their API. I wrote an app that runs twice a day on my computer. It calls their API and pulls down any recent trips that I’ve made. It looks for a few places that I’ve labeled (Home, Work, Safeway, etc) and looks for trips that start and end in a named place. If it finds one, it looks how that trip ranks in terms of fuel usage and time. Then I get an email showing me my “score”. It’s a fun way to see if my fast trip to work really was my fastest trip ever, or how that extra bad stop and go traffic affected my fuel usage.

The email is pretty simple right now. I keep thinking that I’ll make it fancier with some charts, additional stats, etc but so far this has been good enough. I think the next thing that I will add as I get more data is a breakdown to show the score for all time, the current month, the day of the week, etc.

IsoTunes Pro Review

I enjoy using my shop time to catch up on podcasts, YouTube and Netflix. But obviously when I’m running loud equipment, I have hearing protection in and I can’t hear the show. I finally splurged and got the IsoTunes Pro bluetooth earplug headphones. They connect wireless to either my phone or a bluetooth transmitter hooked to my TV.

They do a good job of canceling out shop noise and I can easily hear whatever audio source I have selected. The downside is that I’ve been spoiled with the custom ear plugs I got back when Tyla worked at the hearing clinic. They just slide right into my ear and I don’t have to mess with squishing foam and getting it fit into my ears. That’s not a huge drawback though and I still use the IsoTunes a lot.

XFinity For Roku

Earlier this year, Comcast launched an app for Roku, but I only just got around to installing it. It’s still in beta so you won’t get a full feature set, but it’s still an interesting move for the company.

Previously, if you have Comcast service and you want to add another TV in your house, you had to pony up $10/month or more for another box that sits with that TV. Ouch. Now they are offering you alternatives to that extra monthly bill.

For quite a while they’ve allowed you to stream to a browser window or a phone app. The main limitation there is that you have to be on your home network for it to work, but this has still given me a way to have football on out in the shop. I just connect my laptop to the TV and I’m good to go.

The Roku app makes this even easier. You can pick up a basic Roku for ~$30-40 if you don’t have one already. The XFinity app is free and voila, now you’ve got live TV via the Roku without an extra monthly fee. If you have their Cloud DVR service then  you can access those shows through the Roku interface. (Note that I haven’t tested that since we don’t have the Cloud DVR service.) The only downer for me right now is that I only get standard definition on most of the channels. That doesn’t happen for everyone and it should change when the app is out of beta.

This feels like a direct response to the rise in popularity of non-traditional TV services like DirectTV Now, YouTube TV, Sling TV, Playstation Vue, etc. Compared to those services, Comcast is coming at it from the other side (moving from traditional cable to internet) but it’s good to see them making moves in that direction.