All posts for the month September, 2014

5-in-1 remote white

5-in-1 X10 remote

Logitech Harmony remotes are a bit pricey, though worth it if your system has more than 2 or 3 devices. Ours does double duty: in our complex home theater environment, and in the bedroom (see the just-previous post for details).

But a universal learning remote like this $10 one can do the job quite well if you don’t have a separate sound system. The major caveat is that you will probably need to program some of the buttons in a non-intuitive, spouse-unfriendly way.

My wife uses a standard cable remote for TV/cable in the den (yes, we still have cable, to date).  I prefer to have all devices and controls on this single remote.

My X10 Universal 5-in-1 Learning Remote controls the den TV, cable box, DVD/VCR combo, Roku box, plus all X10 devices in the house. (X10 commands are sent via RF, all others by IR.)

I had to teach it some of the cable buttons, like Page Up, Page Down, Guide, Info, A, Last, DVR List, Live, and the 7-seconds-back button. My choice of buttons to repurpose is basically arbitrary (though I made up a few mnemonics to help me).

(2/26/2015 update: we have cut the cord, so the cable buttons now control a TiVo. Details in the post, Teaching TiVo to the X10 universal remote.)

The VCR/DVD player had to be handled as 2 separate devices (I use the SAT button to select the DVD side). The Eject function, I taught to the B button, and a couple of other functions had to be learned on the C and D buttons. When we use the player (infrequently in these days of streaming media), I usually need a refresher from my notes.

When you select X10 (home automation), all buttons are fixed and cannot learn other functions.

I even found a way to include the Roku controls, making it a 6-in-1:

When TV is selected, most of the buttons are needed for the TV, except ENT, A,B,C,D and the transport buttons (REW, PLAY, PAUSE, etc.)

However, if you turn the remote to the right by 45 degress, the A-B-C-D buttons can form a set of screen navigation arrows for Roku. ENT becomes the OK/Enter button, and REW, FF, PLAY, PAUSE can become the Roku version of themselves. Since there is no way to record with the Roku, the REC button can be the Home button. Use the Learn button to make it so.

Beats reaching for another remote.

Turn off the decorative lights on the patio before going to bed? Turn on a bedroom light? No problem, the remote can do it with X10 automation.

I can remember which buttons are repurposed from frequent use, and I did document the changes, but it would be cruel and unusual to ask a normal person to use the remote this way.

So it’s best for the poor (or at least budget-minded) man with a good memory.

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L to R, top: Roku, digital TV converter, remote A/B switch. Bottom: Harmony remote, manual A/B, X10 receiver.

This is our bedroom TV, fed since 2002 by a cable box at a charge of $8.50/month, which works out to over $1200(?!) for those years.

Here’s how I replaced the cable box using set-top boxes with one-time-only costs.

In the middle on top is a Mediasonic HW-150PVR HomeWorx Digital TV Converter Box with PVR (about $35). This provides HD as well as SD digital content. If you have a newer TV, it’s built-in.

The PVR (DVR) part functions, but was just too primitive for WAF (wife acceptance factor) in the den, so the box was demoted to the bedroom, where it works just fine.

We use a flat, square, amplified HDTV indoor antenna. You may not find an amplified antenna necessary. There is a noticeable, though not huge difference.

I found a location for the antenna where all the good stations have decent signal strength. You must experiment. If it doesn’t work well enough for you, an attic or outdoor antenna may be needed.

Broadcast TV might well be, and probably should be totally adequate for your bedroom, but we have other content available.

The leftmost set-top box is a Roku, which lets us take advantage of our Netflix, Amazon Video, and Hulu subscriptions, as well as all our local content on the free Plex channel. On this old TV, we have Roku on channel 91, an equivalent of L1 or L2 line-ins on “newer” sets.

Since we still have a cable subscription (though only one converter box/DVR in the den), we can still get the old analog stations by hooking up to the cable outlet without a converter box. We see channels 2-63, pretty much the basic and extended cable of the 1990s, (now called “Essentials”; what were once luxuries are now necessities?) Together with broadcast TV, especially the new digital subchannels, we have a full complement of channels available in the bedroom.

On the right-hand side, to switch between broadcast TV and analog cable, we have a remote control A/B switch for 75 ohm coax cable. The cost was less than $10, amazingly. I use one in our theater room, too.

I described the funky little UFO box on the far right in a previous post about our workout room TV. Since we use it infrequently in the bedroom, the manual A/B switch is adequate for it.

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Harmony “soft” buttons

It would be highly impractical to keep a bagful of remotes at the bedside to operate all this. I was able to shoehorn all these functions into the same Logitech Harmony 890 remote I use in the much more complex theater room.

I created the blue screen-labelled “soft” buttons to do important functions that could not be logically assigned to the other buttons: power on/off for the TV and converter box, remote A/B switching, special Roku buttons, and TV auto-shutoff timer setup. The buttons needed for changing channels, navigating the Roku and converter box, etc., are assigned to the “hard” buttons.

Sounds complicated (I did make a chart of the buttons for my wife), but it seems fairly natural to us both now.

(9/29: Bought a Logitech Harmony 650 for $34 on eBay to have a dedicated remote for this TV. Big improvement.)

She can again watch Mrs. Bucket or Basil Fawlty on our own Plex channel Sunday nights, which endeared the arrangement to her.

Another monthly charge eliminated.

While conversing with Sir Paul’s cousin the other day at KWGS, the topic of cheap cell phone plans came up.

I modestly mentioned my Tracfone deal that comes in at just under $7/month. But he topped me.

T-Mobile has a “Pay as you go” plan that costs $3/month. To even consider this plan, you should be highly reserved both of speech and text.

You get 30 minutes/month. Should you need extra time, you can buy a $10 refill card (good for 3 months) and use that credit at the rate of $0.10/min for calls or $0.10/text.

You may bring your own phone as long as it is unlocked, GSM-capable, and with a SIM card slot.

(Most if not all Tracfone-purchased phones, like mine, are locked to that carrier with no way to jailbreak them, due to custom firmware. TracFone may unlock the phone for you if it meets the somewhat stringent criteria on this page: Tracfone Wireless, Inc. Unlocking Policy.)

I also found a highly similar “Pay as you go” plan with PagePlus Cellular. Walgreen’s is one place to buy in Tulsa.

When my Tracfone time approaches expiration at the end of this year, I will look into the two deals a bit more.

Prisoner MainPicture

Starring Patrick McGoohan

This is the day Scotland elected to remain in the UK.

While doing my volunteer job at the Hardesty Library, I came across 4 DVDs of the British spy-fi series,The Prisoner (1967), starring series creator, Patrick McGoohan, and checked them out. I’ve been looking for them.

McGoohan was born in the US, but soon thereafter, his family returned to their home in the Border Region of Ireland. Seven years after that, they moved to Sheffield, England.

I have corresponded online in the last year with a British helicopter pilot who did some of the second unit work on The Prisoner. He also worked on the 007 film, You Only Live Twice, specifically, landing inside the fake volcanic cone that served as the villain’s HQ, which he said was pretty hairy. (He had been something of a real-life 007 himself, serving On Her Majesty’s Royal Navy in the Special Boat Service, the special forces unit.)

My other volunteer job today was stuffing envelopes for KWGS’ upcoming pledge drive. I understand the concept of a quilting bee now. Keep your hands busy with a task, and conversation flows freely. A very “radio” mode of communication.

Left-handedness was one topic touched upon. My brother Alan is a left-handed bassist. I realized I had something in common with one of the other regular volunteers. He also has a close relative, a cousin, who is a left-handed bassist.

The volunteer’s last name is McCartney, and he is from Liverpool.

Small world.

Be seeing you.


Ricky Gervais and Jerry Seinfeld

My brother Alan just turned me on to a new prong (maybe just a tine) in the attack on exorbitant cable bills: Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Seinfeld’s new web series is also viewable on Crackle, a (currently) free Roku channel.

This ultimate “show about nothing” is really about all sorts of things, like Sarah Jessica Parker’s mother who had “splitting” headaches, not regular ones, possibly from being in a state of enragement 9 hours/day.

It’s about Jon Stewart’s prom night, which involved his sick cat, his AMC Gremlin, and the bags of lime he used to counterweight it.

It’s about how much Sarah Silverman’s head looks like a sock puppet.

It’s about 20 minutes long, including product placement for Acura.

Jerry tells Sarah Jessica Parker a story about the 1969 one-season-wonder NBC series starring Michael Parks and his Harley Sportster, then came BRONSON (featured on TTM).

Crackle is following in Netflix’, Amazon’s and Hulu’s footsteps by commissioning original content. It put them back on my map, as I had previously looked at the channel, and then bumped it off so I would have a number of channels divisible by 3 (that way, the Roku channel display looks nicer).

All 3 episodes I’ve seen so far are worth watching, and up there on my new “Workaholics”-defined guffaw scale. TulsaTV says 3 thumbs up.

(Crackle has much more to offer these days; this Digital Landing post explains: Crackle free movies and television shows)