DIY: Cord-Cutting Q&A

Monday, May 08
7:00pm – 8:00pm
Hardesty Regional Library (east of S Memorial Dr on E 93rd St)
Oak Meeting Room

Rising TV costs getting you down? Mike Ransom, blogger on the topic of cord cutting, will help you learn about alternatives.

Ransom will discuss the pros and cons of over-the-air antenna TV and Internet streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Sling TV, and other ways you can “cut the cord” to cable or satellite and still enjoy your favorite programs. Bring your questions. Register online or call 918-549-7323.

I am also a weekly volunteer at Hardesty. Hope to see you there!

Raspberry Pi TV Time Machine

I just saw this cool little TV Time Machine project for the Raspberry Pi:

“For the innards, Wellington used a cannibalised thrift store Dell monitor, hooking it up to a Raspberry Pi 2 and some second-hand speakers. After the addition of Adafruit’s video looper code to loop free content downloaded from the Internet Archive, plus some 3D-printed channel and volume knobs, the TV Time Machine was complete.”

However, we already have a TV Time Machine that can play anything available on our TiVo Roamio OTA (over-the-air):

Broadcast television today is a retro paradise: MeTV, Antenna TV, GRIT, Comet, Heroes & Icons, GetTV, COZI, etc.

The TiVo also can provide DVR recordings, any show we have on Plex, anything on Netflix or Amazon.

Our TV Time Machine in action:

We run the HDMI output of our TiVo to our big TV in the den.

But a composite output is available as well.

I connected an X10 video sender unit to this output with an RCA cable (red, white, and yellow plugs).

Whatever is playing on TiVo in the den is transmitted via the sender to the video receiver unit in the guest room, which is attached to the 1983 TV set by a standard TV coax cable.

The den TV doesn’t need to be on.

[Above left: video sender unit in den; above right: video receiver unit in the guest room. The little curved rod is an IR extender, not needed here. It can be folded down.]

Control the den TiVo remotely from the guest room with the free TiVo phone app:

I try to keep the sender off when not in use because it jams part of the crowded 2.4 GHz band used by older wifi routers; see previous post Conflict between Wifi, X10 video sender.

The X10 receiver can be on all the time. The old TV is always set on channel 3.

(Video sender/receiver pair in the TTM aStore)

Since these devices are analog, the picture looks especially good on an old analog TV.

Next up: “Police Squad!”… IN COLOR

We have all 6 “Police Squad!” and all 49 “The Outer Limits” episodes on Plex.

Apple VP Phil Schiller shilling the iPad Pro

(From Daily Dot, 3/21/2016: Apple exec says using a 5-year-old PC is ‘sad’)

Phil Schiller, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing, took the stage in Cupertino, California, to explain some of the new features and specs on the new iPad Pro.

Between showing off a new display and camera, Schiller also took some digs at Windows and PC users, specifically calling out those users who are on computers more than five years old.

Schiller said that 600 million people are using PCs that are over five years old. “This is really sad,” he said.

The audience in Cupertino laughed and applauded, but many of those watching the livestream did not.

I don’t applaud the VP’s statement either.

Mindless pursuit of the latest consumer goods can be detrimental to your financial health.

Default retention and expansion of expensive cable/satellite services also can be.

My feelings and thoughts about money were crystallized by a book I read in 1992: “Your Money Or Your Life” by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin.

The book’s thesis is that achieving Financial Independence (FI) is a feasible and a highly desirable goal.

Also, you can consider money as something you receive in exchange for your “Life Energy”.

In view of the fact that you have a finite amount of life energy, it makes sense to consider whether each prospective purchase is worth the life energy you would expend to pay for it.

Every unnecessary, unfulfilling purchase you make delays the arrival of FI for you.

(It also clutters up your living space; my favorite book on this topic: “Not For Packrats Only“.)

The book, at least as originally written, supposed that we dislike our jobs and want to be free of them.

"The Bow-Wow Affair"

Kuryakin and colleague

(As the great Russian philosopher Illya Kuryakin once said when asked by colleague Napoleon Solo if he was free for an assignment: “No man is free who works for a living. But I’m available.”)

I had been working at American Airlines as a realtime programmer for over three years by 1992, and was still thrilled to be doing what I was doing. So I didn’t agree with that supposition at all, then.

However, 20+ years, a spin-off, an outsourcing, an acquisition, a boomerang, and an overall deterioration of corporate culture later, the job’s luster significantly diminished for me.

At that point, I was glad I had been diligently putting the book’s general philosophy into practice all that time.

The book’s specific financial advice was lacking. I didn’t invest in 30-year Treasury bonds as it recommended.

That was because I had previously read the book, “A Random Walk Down Wall Street”.

Though I participated in an investment club in the mid-1990s, the main thing I learned was that I didn’t want to be spending my time researching stocks.

“Random Walk” had already revealed to me that a monkey throwing darts at a newspaper stock listing outperforms professional investment advice over time.

Besides, a monkey charges only peanuts for his services.

Buying and holding index funds (a way to automate the monkey) and not attempting to outguess the market is an easy, low drama way to invest.

(Being mindlessly on autopilot in this realm is not such a bad thing once you have set a general course, as over-attention can lead to taking financial actions at the wrong times.)

My computer setup in its entirety cost less than the cheapest iPad on the screen behind the Apple VP (skip the following if it bores you).

As part of TCC’s Wavebreak Cloud Computing program, I was issued a now-8-year-old dual-core Dell laptop for free. It was upgraded first to Windows 7, then to Windows 10 at no cost. I am typing on it at this moment.

My mom (who had loaned me the “Your Money Or Your Life” book) unloaded a now-7-year-old weak Celeron processor-powered desktop Windows 7 PC on me when she switched to a laptop. I realized I could use the built-in Windows Media Center software and a USB TV tuner to turn it into a PVR (personal video recorder) for the media room. It has since been upgraded for free to Windows 10 as well. It runs headless (no monitor).

Our newest PC is a 5-year-old PC bought used from a friend, who bought it at an estate sale. Of the four, this is the only one with significant CPU power (quad-core i5). It does all the heavy transcoding of DVR’d broadcast TV for the free Emby server software, which streams to smartphones or Rokus. It quickly converts DVDs to .mkv files usable in Plex or Emby. Likewise, it was upgraded from Windows 7 to 10 at no cost. It also runs headless.

The oldest is about 11 years old. It also has a weak Celeron CPU, is still on Windows Vista, and won’t be upgraded. It still has some use as a Plex and print server. With monitor and free VNC software, it serves as a window into the desktop environments of the two headless home theater PCs. It was the most expensive of the lot!

I also have three Linux-based Raspberry Pi computers costing $35 each.

I strap one of my wife’s cast-off Android smartphones to my arm as a music player while running and working out. Another one, I use as a wifi-only smartphone around the house and other wifi-enabled hangouts.

When I retired early, I found that I did miss one aspect of my old job: some of the actual work, researching and solving computer problems, and writing about them. Cord-cutting has given me opportunities to do both.

I’ve had a lot of fun doing it, not the least aspect of which is the large savings of “Life Energy” on cable TV.

So, Mr. Apple VP, I will take your opinion of old computers “under advisement”, and “going forward”, will most likely ignore it.


You do not need PCs at all to cut the cord. A TV and an antenna can completely suffice.

Maybe add a Roku box for Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, etc., if the TV isn’t “smart”.

Maybe add TiVo (and leave off the Roku) if you want an onscreen program guide and DVR.

That’s all you need to start saving a lot of “Life Energy”.

PIXEL, the new desktop for the Raspbian OS, on the media room screen.

Browsing the previous post on the Cord-Cutting Blog.

Browsing the previous post on the Cord-Cutting Blog.

Just yesterday, a new desktop environment for the Raspberry Pi computer’s Windows-style Raspbian operating system was released:

Introducing PIXEL (from the Pi Blog)

PIXEL makes big-screen browsing an even better experience, not least by the addition of Chromium (Wikipedia link), a minimalist version of the Google Chrome browser.

With my wireless mouse and keyboard, it’s a way to browse on a large scale from the comfort of the Laz-E-Boy.

I followed the directions to upgrade the Raspbian image I had on microSD card via command line entries on a system terminal. (Click icon at the top of the desktop to get a terminal.)

If you are starting fresh, you can download the entire image. (By the way, I just made this blog edit while in Chromium on our big screen.)

I also like a new feature, RealVNC (Wikipedia link). I am able to look at and manipulate the desktop of any of our Windows PCs.

Another fun feature for the media room. Did I mention PIXEL is free to download?

Read all about it at the above link.

Update, 11/17/2016: PIXEL is the perfect way to play free Tulsa Library Hoopla music and free Amazon Prime music in the media room. But I found that the Amazon site with all its Javascript imposes a heavy CPU load which can cause overheating of the Pi. No other activity, including video, has ever made the little thermometer icon show up! Read more in the footnote on the Amazon Music post.

(Click to enlarge)TrekScrn2TrekScrn3

Sequence: 3 layers of menu (Click screenshots to enlarge.)

I started with a nearly useless Android tablet, but after gaining root access, ended with a highly usable one.

It now sports a stylish Star Trek user interface inspired by the current movies, just in time for Star Trek’s 50th anniversary.

My wife’s 2012 Google Nexus 7 tablet had become increasingly sluggish almost from the git-go. My various efforts to improve its performance for her were not lasting.

This model has proven problematic for many users, due to its relatively weak processor, limited memory, and a few other cost-related shortcomings.

A couple of years ago, she moved on to an iPhone for business, and an iPad for fun. As usual, I inherited the cast-off Nexus 7 and her old phone, a Samsung Galaxy Note II.

I didn’t put much more effort into trying to rehabilitate the Nexus 7, since the Note II was doing everything I needed as a wifi-only smartphone.

But now I could really use a tablet as a portable TV screen to watch “Morning Joe” in our Tiki room, recently equipped with an LED reading lamp beside the futon sofa bed.

A few ways a tablet can become a TV:

Run the Emby app to stream our own live and recorded broadcast TV, and the Plex app to stream our TV/movie/music library.

Watch free streaming cable news channels (including msnbc, CNBC, CNN, and Fox News) with the free Puffin browser.

Pony up for the CBS All Access app. An app-exclusive season of Big Brother is coming up hard on the heels of the current broadcast season this month, and 24/7 BB live streams are available now. A new Star Trek series will be shown only on the CBS app next January.

(See previous posts Watch live local TV anywhere via Emby app and Use Chromecast to watch online cable news.)

As poorly as the tablet was working by now, there wasn’t much to lose. So I decided to “root” it.

Getting root access to your Android device allows you to alter system applications and settings, run special apps, and do other things a normal Android user can’t.

I had rooted one phone previously, my wife’s even older Motorola Electrify. (I still use this smaller smartphone with an armband to listen to my recordings of KWGS’ weekend music programs while running and working out.)

It was somewhat a white-knuckle experience, because it is possible to “brick” the device if you aren’t careful or don’t know what you are doing (and I didn’t entirely).


Don’t brick Picard!

(From the all-time great Star Trek NextGen two-parter, “Best of Both Worlds”)

Mr. Data attempted to use a neural link to Locutus/Picard to attain root access to the Borg collective in order to shut down their power and defense subsystems. He failed.

But fortunately, he WAS able to plant a sleep command, since the Borg regeneration subsystem had a lower level of security.

I found a YouTube with a step-by-step procedure for the 2012 Nexus 7 on Android operating system 5.1.1 (“Lollipop”), to which I had previously upgraded in yet another failed attempt to speed up the lagging tablet.

It went fairly smoothly this time, thanks to the video. Of course, not everything went exactly according to plan, but I was able to get through the process. I added my own comments for the benefit of future readers.

After attaining root access, I installed apps to exploit the root capabilities:

3C Toolbox allowed me to reduce lag by optimizing read-ahead cache size for the I/O Scheduler. It also enabled automatically running File System Trimmer (fstrim) at boot time, which improves performance by trimming blocks of storage not in use by the file system. This is useful for solid-state drives and thinly-provisioned storage, which definitely describes the Nexus 7.

With DisableService, I was able to turn off a number of unneeded, always-running processes of the tablet (e.g., Bluetooth, Google+, Google Hangouts, Google Play Newsstand, and parts of the massive Google Play Services), saving memory and processing power.

Greenify identifies and hibernates resource-consuming apps it (e.g., Facebook) while letting them function minimally (e.g., letting notifications through). This is similar to what the Apple iOS does.

Not only was the tablet downright snappy after all this, but battery life was considerably extended.

Finally, I found a fantastically detailed, modifiable, and functional Trek theme for the tablet: TREK ✦ Total Launcher Theme. Every action has a fun little Trek sound. Warning: setting it up takes sticking with it.

(For other fun Trek-related gadgets, see the TTM aStore Star Trek pages.)

mikecompcrop2I was in front of the set on September 8, 1966 for the first broadcast episode, “The Man Trap”.

Fifty years later, I watched it again on MeTV’s “Super Sci-Fi Saturday Night”, this time, armed with slick future Trek tech to control theater room devices, and mood lighting (via the X10 Commander app).

I would have been thrilled to hear all about that back in 1967, when my computers (and I) looked like this–>

(from Boing Boing, “Origins of Cyberspace auction: brainiac memories“)

Also see previous post Sci-fi Saturday fun in the theater room.