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All posts for the month August, 2014

nofudAs you may recall from a week ago, I received a portentous letter from the cable company. It said that if I did not accept back their phone service, I would need to return my current modem and buy a new modem from them, or else rent one from them at $6.99/mo.

In addition, their website advised, “…some modems that have been purchased from a second hand vendor, such as online auctions, garage sales, pawn shops, may not work on (our) High Speed Internet service.”

All this, I had termed an instance of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt), induced by the prospect of removing a complicated working product and attempting to replace it.

Since then, I have talked with tech support on the phone. The tech told me that if you buy the modem from them, you can hook it up, then call them, and they will  “zap it” into working order. If in the future you have a problem requiring a trip to your house, and the tech finds third party equipment on the line such as might be purchased on eBay, that you would almost certainly be charged for a service call.

He added that their prices are competitive, so it really wouldn’t be worth it to save a few bucks by purchasing a modem online. Later browsing on Amazon confirmed this statement to be true for a new modem, slightly less so for the combo modem/router units they offer.

So which modem to select?

From their website: “DOCSIS 2.0: These older generation devices will work with (the bottom two tiers of internet service), although DOCSIS 3.0 (8 x 4) equipment is recommended for all packages due to the network efficiencies it provides.”

In theory, we could use one, since we use the next-to-bottom tier. They have a list of DOCSIS 2.0 modems that will work on the lower tiers, though “not recommended”. A second-hand or refurbished model should suffice, IF the cable company will work with it.

Again from their website: “DOCSIS 3.0: The current industry standard of DOCSIS, and works with all Internet packages. Many DOCSIS 3.0 devices are also IPv6 compliant.”

The IPv6 standard will ultimately replace the current standard, as the latter is running out of Internet addresses, so perhaps this could be a valid concern at some point.

Also recommended on the site is a DOCSIS 3.0 WiFi modem which “combines a cable modem, router and wireless access point in a single device”.

This may well be convenient, but also would make it potentially more difficult in the future to change providers.

Yesterday, I visited one of their stores. The helpful specialist gave me the model number of the modem carried in stock, Arris SB6182. Price: $89. Amazon price for the Motorola SB6180: $90. (The SB6182 is the successor to the SB6180. The Arris was manufactured by Motorola as of last year, according to this post).

I must admit to a slight bit of beFUDdlement at this point about the best course to take. Should I attempt to use a refurbished DOCSIS 2.0 modem, or just go with a new DOCSIS 3.0?

(Update: The modem currently provided to us by the cable company is an Arris TM402P, which is DOCSIS 2.0. It is doing all we need. So I ordered a used DOCSIS 2.0 Linksys BEFCMU10v3 cable modem on eBay for $15, due to arrive next Friday. ‘FUD III: The Conclusion’ to follow after attempted installation.)

Snapshot 2 (8-27-2014 12-29 PM)

Mike@TTM & Janna Clark of FOX23 at Leake Park

Today, I created a YouTube video of the interview I did with FOX23 investigative reporter Janna Clark about our neighborhood Leake Park pond going green, but not in a good way. (Incidentally, the park was named for James C. Leake, longtime owner of KTUL, Channel 8.)

The making of the video offers an opportunity to introduce two cord-cutting topics, Windows Media Center, and the Raspberry Pi computer.

My mom recently acquired a laptop computer and had no further use for her Windows 7 machine. I thought I might be able to use it, so she gave it to me. How right I was. Thanks, Mom!

Windows 7 includes Windows Media Server software for free. This allows you to attach an antenna to a USB TV tuner, which plugs into the computer. You can then watch local stations on the computer, use an interactive program guide, and even record shows with WMC’s DVR capability. You can also plug the computer directly into your TV’s HDMI input for viewing. Sadly, my mom’s low-end PC did not have an HDMI jack. Yes, you can add an HDMI card (and a tuner card, for that matter), but I found another way.

That way was the Raspberry Pi computer, already hooked into our entertainment system as a way to stream music from other computers in the house. The Grace Digital Radio I had previously used for the purpose was pitiful, forgetting its network credentials at the drop of a hat and causing eye strain, trying to read its tiny LEDs from across the room.

But the Pi, a $35 card with a CPU plus a GPU chip for graphics, did a much better job at its music task. I had noted that it could support live TV, videos and movies as well, but didn’t have the incentive to look into it until I got that whopping cable bill last spring.

(More about the Raspberry Pi in the TTM Amazon Store)

First, I had tried Tvheadend, the minimal streaming server software included with the Raspberry Pi’s operating system, Raspbmc. I didn’t have much luck, possibly due to extreme ignorance and lack of experience, or an incompatible tuner (though I think it was the former).

That’s where the Windows 7 computer came in. I installed free ServerWMC software to let Windows Media Center talk to Raspbmc (I had seen that as an option within the menus). I connected the Win7 with the Pi via a gigabit Ethernet switch I already had. Things started going well. I was able to select channels, watch broadcast programming, and set the DVR function via the Raspbmc interface on the big screen.

I also use a smartphone app, My Media Center, to look at the guide and set up recordings, just like the cable company’s product.

There is much more to say about all this, but the upshot is that I was able to DVR the FOX23 News, and edit the resulting perfect HD file into a YouTube video that is as good as anything on FOX23’s website. Of course, I got permission.

Here it is:

cindyotto2

The “8’s The Place” girl on our private network

At left: our vintage 1980s TV, playing a classic “8’s The Place” promo, brainchild of Carl Bartholomew, aka Uncle Zeb.

(See 26 minutes of Zeb’s promos on the TTM YouTube Channel.)

A brief explanation of how this was done will serve as an introduction to several future cord-cutting topics.

Zeb created a DVD of these promos for friends. I used a piece of software called MakeMKV to repackage the video files on the DVD into a “container” format, .mkv. So now I have a file called “8’s The Place Promos.mkv”.

If you have a new smart TV, this file is directly playable from a USB drive. However, all our TVs are mentally challenged to various degrees. The one shown above is completely witless.


Roku makes an inexpensive little box that hooks up to your TV, allowing you to watch internet channels including Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu Plus (subscription required) as well as YouTube, Crackle, and a host of other free channels. We have three Rokus.

One of the free Roku channels is Plex. It enables you to see and play audio and video files residing on your home computers, via your home network. Download free Plex Media Server software on each computer, then point it to the folders with your audio/video content. The Roku boxes can then present your movies, TV shows and music through your TV, using a very simple remote control.


"Certain Prophecies" spaceshipFrom “Science Fiction Movies” by Philip Strick:

“In the charming Hungarian short film, ‘Certain Prophecies’ (1968), a flying saucer the size of a powder-compact releases its mouse-like astronauts (Tau and Rho) on to a café table, where they gaze in horror at the ruins of mankind — the fish bones, the ashtrays, the crystal towers still glowing with dregs of wine (‘This was the source of their energy’). As they return to the recesses of space, they pass a gaping waiter, and their startled radio message flashes across the galaxy. ‘Our predictions were correct. Mankind has vanished from the Earth. And the Gods have returned once more.'”

 

Back to our workout room TV (above): it’s used by my wife to watch “General Hospital” episodes recorded on the DVR in the den.

The den TV uses an X10 sender to transmit its video output to the workout room TV, which has an X10 receiver (both devices resemble the little UFO in the film, “Certain Prophecies”, at right).

Any DVRed program in the den can be selected, viewed, rewound, or fast forwarded from the workout room, courtesy of the built-in InfraRed Extender.

The den TV must be prepped (VIDEO1, SPEAKERS OFF & FIXED AUDIO OUT), but the slight hassle is worth it for my wife. She is then able to watch her shows from the kitchen or the bedroom (both TVs have X10 receivers).

The quality is about as good as analog cable, but with an old tube TV, you can’t tell the difference, anyway. In fact, older analog sets do a better job than newer digital ones for this purpose.


But the “8’s The Place” video isn’t on the DVR, it’s a video file on a PC. So how did I get it onto the old TV?

I switched to VIDEO2 on the den TV, which selects the Roku box. Then I played the Zeb video on the Roku’s Plex Channel, and it was transmitted to the workout room.

More about these devices in the TTM Amazon Store.

They’re kludgy, but they get the job done for now.

fud

Aka FUD

You may recall that I broke the “bundle” by terminating phone service and using an Ooma ‘Voice over Internet’ box.

I received this letter yesterday:

“Dear valued customer,

“Thank you for being a customer of (local cable co.) When you previously subscribed to both (our) Digital Telephone and High Speed Internet, (we) provided you complimentary use of a combined Internet & Telephone Modem. We appreciate that you are continuing your (our) High Speed Internet service. However, (we) regularly charge a standard monthly Modem rental fee of $6.99 for (our) Internet equipment when telephone service is no longer included. Because your Digital Telephone is no longer active, a $6.99 monthly Modem rental fee will begin to appear on your bill after 30 days from this notice unless you take other action before then.

“We want you to be familiar with the other equipment options offered by (us):

  • For as little as $10 a month, you can reactivate (our) Digital Telephone service and continue using your existing Modem without a rental fee while ensuring you have the reliability and security of (our) Digital Telephone.
  • As an alternate option, you can purchase or rent ($6.99/Mo.) a wireless Internet Modem from (us) and return your combined Internet & Telephone Modem at (our) nearest store.

“We are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause. Contact us at 1-877-xxx-xxxx, or visit (our) Solutions Store to reactivate (our) Digital Telephone or discuss equipment options.”

Sounds like they REALLY want to keep that phone business.

Another unmentioned option: provide your own modem. You might presume that if you acquire a modem to meet their requirements (list available online), and use their helpful installation guide (available online), you would be in good shape.

However, there is this:

“Not all equipment sold by (us) is available in every market (of ours). Check with your local market to find out what equipment is available. Also, some modems that have been purchased from a second hand vendor, such as online auctions, garage sales, pawn shops, may not work on the (our) High Speed Internet service.”

I plan to call their tech support and investigate this FUD-inducing (Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt) statement.

I said cord-cutting would be an odyssey, didn’t I?

(to be continued)

Escape – slip away

Just spotted a new broadcast TV channel: Escape, at 23.3. According to Wikipedia:

“Escape will mainly feature a mix of theatrically released feature films focusing on the crime drama and mystery genres, as well as off-network reality-based crime re-enactment series.”

“Body Heat” and “Romeo Is Bleeding” get the channel off to a good start. A welcome addition.