Catbell 2014-09-08 15.22.28

Albert’s X10 doorbell

Albert on stump 2014-03-24 17.28.11

Albert on a stump

Our neighbor’s cat, Albert, likes to drop by periodically. Since we aren’t always near our patio door, we could miss some of his visits, as he is too gentlemanly to meow loudly in this circumstance. (He is named after Al’s Formal Wear, being a “tuxedo” cat.)

Since we already have X10 home automation, I rigged up a doorbell for him by duct-taping a motion detector to a half-brick.

When he walks onto our deck, the motion detector sends a radio signal to the transceiver plugged into the wall. The transceiver converts the radio signal into the equivalent X10 over-the-house-wiring signal. A chime module “hears” it, then sounds, so we can go out and pet him or usher him in, as he wishes.

Last week, my mom said that she wanted a smartphone so she could take good pictures and be able to talk on the phone, too. Upon cross-examination by me and my brother, it was determined that she did not wish to post the photos on Facebook, just show them to her friends on a relatively large screen.

A new smartphone is going to cost a fair amount out of pocket, then you have a phone plan starting at $25/month absolute minimum. That’s a lot to pay for a glorified camera.

I had a money-saving idea for her: buy an Android 7″ tablet for about $50. It has a built-in camera and a larger screen than any smartphone on the market. Then she could get a tiny pay-as-you-go phone for about $7/month, like the one I recently ordered from Tracfone.

She reiterated that she really wanted to have just one device to take pictures and talk and text, but didn’t want to pay a smartphone price. Maybe by now you can guess the brilliant (IMO) suggestion I made:

Buy the tablet and the cheap phone. Then duct-tape the phone to the back of the tablet, and you’re good.

To read about other constructions of equal quality and taste, read this classic page, Redneck Neighbor.

2014-09-05 15.45.53

Linksys router piggybacked on my eBay cable modem

As you recall, I ordered a used cable modem to replace the one the cable company wanted to repossess or charge $6.99/mo for, due to my cancellation of their phone service in favor of the Ooma internet phone.

The $15 Linksys cable modem from eBay came in today. As you can see, it matches the wireless router I have had for years. It is on the DOCSIS 2.0 standard, same as the old modem.

I burned some minutes on my new pay-as-you-go cell phone to talk with tech support at the cable company. Gave him the new modem’s hardware address and serial number. He registered the modem in their database. A change was required in the Windows Vista PC to let it automatically find their DNS servers, and a couple of power off/ons of the devices, but eventually it worked.

Nothing needed to be changed in the old router once I hooked it back up. I did need to give the PC a fixed IP address again, so the X10 Commander server and Plex Media Server could work as before.

Well, they just don’t make it easy, do they? In fairness, it could have been a lot harder. Their website was helpful, as was tech support. It’s just that the pricing and service structure is carefully calibrated to funnel you toward more services, more dollars and more dependency.

Of course it can be daunting to mess around with this stuff. But my mission is to cut the cable bill, at least as much as is spousally feasible.

I returned the cable company’s modem to their store. Made a ‘border run’ on the way home to celebrate.


FUD Prequel: Hold the phone!
The (Cable) Empire Strikes Back with FUD
FUD II: The Modeming

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.)



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)


I do have a large hand, but this phone is small.

My wife bequeathed her previous smartphone to me, no service plan active.

I added the Google Voice app, making it a free wifi texting phone. I also rooted it, and use it to control home automation, and various home theater devices, to be detailed later. It can even administer this website! I love it.

But all I need when out of wifi range is an occasional/emergency cell phone to fit easily into my pocket or running belt.

I recently cast a jaundiced eye toward my two year old cell phone deal. I was on a Net10 200 minutes plan costing $17/month. I had so many minutes accumulated I could have talked continuously for days. But apparently, I didn’t have that much to say.

Tracfone offers a MOTOGO EX431G for $10. Very thin and small with a keyboard. Using their Pay As You Go plan, the cost comes to about $7/month. I kept my previous cell phone number at no charge.

Clark Howard would be proud. (Later note: but not as proud as he would be of Sir Paul’s cousin.)

From CBS Moneywatch: Living with a smartphone — and no cellular plan