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Archive for November, 2013

authorphotoHeidilly Ho-Ho-Ho, friends and neighbors!  Welcome back.  Thanks for stopping by.  I hope I didn’t pull you away from reading your copy of Cast Adrift.  You have ordered your copy, haven’t you?

For those of you who follow me on Facebook, you’re well aware of my long-standing, festering, and oft bordering-on-violent love/hate relationship with our local cable company.  For the sixteen years I’ve lived in South Carolina, they have been like a fulminating case of jock itch every month when I had to pay that outrageous bill for the bizillion channel bundle package; the cheapest package I could get that had the Military channel and internet.  Ninety-five percent of those channels we’ve never watched or even cared to watch.  What’s worse is that these so-called bundle packages are always offered for a limited time only and, after Uncle Sam takes his cut, and a whole bunch of unidentifiable added charges, amounts to significantly more than the price you were quoted when you signed on with them in blood and the promise of your first born.  After six months or a year, the length of the agreement, we’d get a ji-normous bill that would cause our sphincters to pucker up because our “deal” had expired.  Then you have to go back through the hassle of renegotiation, threats to go with Dish Network or Direct TV, and on and on.

What’s a demented, evil genius to do?

In my ongoing quest to “Sock it to the Man!,” I spent hours upon hours scouring the dark, outer fringe of the internet and lurking in alleys and under bridges, talking to shady characters about alternative, and possibly even nefarious, means to elicit cable via some questionable back door method without doling out an arm and a leg each month.  The punch line here is that the answer was right there in the cobwebbed recesses of my warped mind all along.  It was tucked in the box with all the memories of my childhood home and almost every other house in the country right up through the nineteen-seventies.

Over-the-air antennas! *smacking my head*

Who among you, (the over fifty set, I mean) doesn’t remember the big old TV antenna mounted to a mast on the roof, or the rabbit ears on top of the old, Buick-sized tube set with tin foil on the retractable metal antennae to garner just a few more dB of signal?  I remember fondly Dad’s constant bellows to move the antenna “a little to the left” (and to get him another beer) while he was watching a ball game so he could see a less pixelated (we called it snow back then) view of one of Carl Yastrzemski’s unbelievable shags in left field.  Ah, good times.

Guess what?  OTA (Over-The-Air) antennas are baaaa-aacccckkkkk!!!  And they’re better than ever!

After a few trials and tribulations, mainly due to my never ending, dumb-assed penchant to believe a lot of what I read on the internet if the perpetrator of said bullshit sounds even vaguely authoritative, I now have an antenna mounted in an obscure area of my attic, out of the way, that pulls in 23 crisp, clear channels in vivid, vibrant HD!  The best part is, of those 23 channels, there are twenty that we’ll probably actually watch.  We now have all four networks, four PBS stations, (I love PBS.  I’m a documentary junkie) three retro channels, a couple of news channels and a few various and sundry others that really look promising.

The three I’ll probably never watch are:

  1. The Test Pattern Channel, (although I swear I saw Jimi Hendrix swapping bullshit stories with Mark Twain on that very same channel back in the seventies one Saturday night after a rather close call with the bong water).
  2. The Country Music Video Channel, (*shiver*).
  3. The Baptist Gospel Channel.  That same sweating fella jumping up and down, pounding his fists and spouting fire and brimstone has been trying to get me to send him a donation to save my soul for long enough, thank you very much.

And they’re all free and completely legal to view!!  There goes my gangster rep.  My bad boy persona is no more.

For the not-so paltry sum of $140 a month, I was getting my internet and over two-hundred channels from the evil cable company and, after brainstorming with the lovely Brenda, realized that we only watched three or four of those channels.  What’s more, with the exception of TCM, (which has gone down hill of late with more and more air time dedicated to silent movies and foreign films), the other three come in over the air.  Brenda is probably the easiest woman in the world to please (obviously; she’s with me).  Give her Judge Judy, Judge Ralph, Judge Hermoine, Judge Reinhold and all the other judges, with a few Jerry Springer-esque shows thrown in for a change of pace, and The Voice, and she’s happier than Sandra Bullock’s thong.

Now, before you go bending coat hangars into antenna’s, or running down to the local Radio Shack to pick up that behemoth antenna capable of picking up the Rover’s transmissions from Mars, let me share a little of what I’ve learned to hopefully start those of you who might be considering cutting the cable out on a good foot.  It isn’t exactly for the faint of heart.

For starters, I, unfortunately, couldn’t completely disassociate myself from the cable company.  Multinational conglomerates are like a mother-in-law: in as much as you ‘d like to drive a stake through her heart and bury her vampire-ass in the back yard, she’s always there, gnawing on your last nerve.  I still need internet: my lifeline to the world.  Hence the continued, albeit greatly reduced, umbilicus to the cable company.

There aren’t a whole lot of options for gaining internet access other than very expensive satellite internet or, Heaven forbid, the phone commie’s antiquated dial up or  DSL.  Dial up isn’t even an option and, from my experience, DSL is light years behind broadband in speed and quality.  Besides, I gave the phone company the big kiss-off on an earlier “Sock it to the Man” quest, so I don’t even have phone lines running to my house any more.  I know, I should be medicated; but that’s another blog.

I actually had an almost pleasant conversation with the cable company this morning.  This was round two.  I lost round one when I tried to renegotiate the contract that just expired and was told that there was nothing they could do.  That wasn’t such a pleasant conversation and was, in effect, the catalyst that got me on the OTA kick.

Today, when I asked them to discontinue my TV subscription, new offers were flying like dandruff at a redneck picnic.  The representative was as sweet as she could be as she dropped the bomb that the $29.99 per month deal they were advertising for internet-only wasn’t available to me because I was a current customer.  Taking into consideration that my contract with them expired last month, am I really a current customer?  Hmmm?  And why wasn’t New customers only listed on their advertisement? The bastards!

Anyway, I managed to get a free modem and guaranteed $39.99 a month internet service for one year.  After twelve months it’s going to go up to $54.99.  Ya, right!  We’ll just see about that in a year.  That date is marked in red on the calendar as Armageddon!  Verizon’s FiOS might just be in our neighborhood by then.  The only downfall with changing internet providers will be going through my creditors websites, places I buy from, etc. to change my email address. Oh, the trials and tribulations of the internet age.

Aside from uploading books to publishers, chronic research, bill paying and Facebooking, we also have a subscription for Netflix which, as most of you know, requires an internet connection.

Those dirty cable Nazi’s have you coming or going.

Now, even with the added cost of Netflix, our home entertainment bill has gone from the projected $160 per month that I was told my cable bill was going to increase to after the cable company completes their all-digital upgrade in January, to $47.98:  and we get to pick and choose what movies we want to watch whenever we want to watch them.  That’s roughly $112 a month savings which will be much better spent on beer and cigars!

Not too shabby!

But alas, there are a few more expenses that have to be considered when cutting the cable.  Some of them can be pretty steep depending on your existing TV situation.  Of course, as always, Bad Luck Schleprock here suffered the wrath.  I’d like to think I took one for the team to soften the blow for the rest of you.  That’s just the kind of guy I am.

The first stop for the prospective cable cutter is a website called TVfool.com.  This is actually a pretty amazing site.  You simply type in your address, choose a few options and it actually shows you on a satellite map/image (an actual satellite picture of your house in which, when I zoomed in completely, I saw myself in the shower!  Egad!!).  You’ll also get the following important information:

  1. All the transmitters (stations) you’ll be able to access, their distance from your house and their signal strength.
  2. What direction they’re in in proximity to your house with lines radiating from your house to the transmitters, (for properly mounting and pointing your antenna).
  3. How high to mount your antenna, and whether you can use a set top antenna, attic mount or whether you’ll actually need to mount your antenna on the roof with a mast.
  4. Which type of antenna (directional, multi-directional etc.) is best suited for your situation, and a whole host of other valuable information to help you do it right the first time.

Unfortunately, I also went to a third-rate forum for addicted, rabid, cable cutters (probably while I was enjoying a few malty beverages) and was sucked in by their never ending mantra that you have to mount your antenna outside to get the best reception.  Until that point, I was definitely decided on mounting it in the attic.  Outside probably is the better option, but it also comes with its’ own added problems that have to be taken into consideration such as grounding, weather, impediments, aesthetics, etc.

After mounting a bracket on my roof, (four new screw holes in a fairly new roof!) giving myself a near heart attack during the two hours it took me to drive an eight-foot long ground rod into the concrete-equivalent turf  we have in South Carolina with a rather weighty sledge hammer, running a solid #10 wire from the antenna bracket to the grounding rod and hooking everything up, I found that the dense wall of 30 foot Leland Cypress trees running the length of my property line posed too much of a force field for any earthly signal to penetrate.

Meanwhile, back in the attic!

So I mounted the antenna in the attic where I should have mounted it in the first place and ran all new RG6 coaxial cable throughout the house because, frankly, the cheap stuff I’d installed during a mad rush to get the cable piped through the house in a hurry when I moved in wasn’t exactly conducive to excellent signal transmission.  I wanted to clean up the old mess and start fresh and neat.  I also bought and installed a signal amplifier because I have four TV’s in the house, with the potential for five should both guest rooms ever be in use simultaneously, and I wanted to be certain that I got the best signal possible to all points.

Costs to this point:  Antenna=RCA ANT751-$39.99.  Signal amplifier=PCT 4-port=$21.99.  500 foot roll of RG6 coaxial cable and assorted ends and fittings=$50.

Not too bad, you say?  What’s $111.98, right?  I’ll save just that on the reduced cable company bill in one month, right?

Not so much!

Realizing that we’d need a means to access Netflix, and possibly other movie channels, I went online, yet again, searching for wireless streaming video boxes.  I don’t want my laptop or desk top connected to my TV, and I don’t like watching movies on my computer.  After some exhaustive research, and reading a great many reviews, I settled on Roku 3 boxes. They’re normally a little pricey at $99 each, but I stumbled on two of them, brand new in the box with free shipping, on eBay for $67 each.  Add to that my sister Kellie’s assurance that they were using Roku boxes and loved them, and I was sold.

The tab has now reached $245.98.  Still not too bad, right?  So it’ll take a little over two months of the reduced cable bill to make up the costs and start realizing some savings.  Pretty cool!

Not so fast!

One of the little known caveats with getting free HD, digital signals over the air is that all the TV’s you intend on actually getting a picture on must be digital HD TV’s.

Only two of my TV’s were digital HD and, as is always the case with my luck, the one digital HD TV in my office didn’t even have any HDMI ports on it!  This made the Roku 3 boxes I’d just bought useless with that TV. The Roku 3 is the latest and greatest Roku box, but it can only be connected to the TV via an HDMI port.  The Roku 2 and older versions have the option of connecting via RCA jacks.

I would have sworn in a court of law that that damn TV had an HDMI port?!  Yet another of my frequent Alzheimer’s moments.  Thankfully, the Blu Ray player in my office is Netflix capable via an Ethernet connection to my wireless router, so that TV was salvageable.

Online again, scouring the electronics stores for TV sales, I finally found the best prices for what I wanted at Sam’s Club.  Two digital HD TV’s (a 32″ for the living room and a 24″ for the bedroom) with HDMI inputs for right about $400 for the pair.

We’re rolling now!  We’re over $600 out of pocket, and I wasted a weekend installing the outdoor antenna that wasn’t, but believe it or not, everything is finally complete.  It’s going to take about six months to realize any savings from the conversion, but it was the shove I needed to get rid of the thousand pound behemoth TV we had in the living room and move into the 21st century.  I bought it over fifteen years ago, but it still has a beautiful, albeit non-HD, picture.  It’ll take a crane to get it in the truck.  I’ll be donating the two TV’s I replaced to a local charity thrift shop so I’ll at least get that charitable warm, fuzzy one gets when doing something nice to help ease the pain in my wallet.

But wait?  The math still doesn’t add up?  Four TV’s on the antenna, but only three streaming video boxes?

“Dear future guests: if you’re not fond of network TV or PBS, there are massive book cases in the living room overflowing with books on numerous subjects and interests.  Feel free to chose one and broaden your horizons!”

In other words, this cash ship has sailed.  Mission accomplished.  Should a great deal come along on another Roku box, I’ll get right on it.  Until then, dear guests, read a book!  It’s Christmas and daddy’s broke!

This is our first day un-tethered from the cable company teat, so I’ll reserve any hooping and hollering until we’ve had a chance to really kick the tires and take her for a full test drive.  So far, though, the picture I’m getting on all four TV’s is far superior to the picture I was getting with cable.

In summation, if you’re a died-in-the-wool, rabid sports fanatic, cutting the cable might not be the right move for you.  While there was nothing but football games on the networks while I was tuning in the channels earlier, there’s no ESPN.  I did notice some sports channels available via the Roku channels, but I believe they’re pay-for subscriptions and probably not as extensive in content as the numerous ESPN’s.

If you’ve got a Jones for any of the HBO series programming, (I’m sure going to miss Boardwalk Empire) cutting the cable might not be for you.  HBO series aren’t even available on Netflix or Hulu:  yet!  I’ll just wait til the older season box sets hit the bargain DVD bin at Walmart.

However, if you’re like we are and, with a few exceptions, use the TV for news and as background noise while Brenda does her Sudoku puzzles and I my writing and web surfing, cutting the cable may be a very good option for you.

And, if you’re still getting your TV through an older set, or if you took advantage of the coupons a few years back and got one of those free government digital-to-analog converter boxes, you might want to start replacing your TV’s now.  They’re probably on their last leg anyway and it’s much easier on the wallet to replace them one at a time.

Yesterday the phone company, today the cable company, tomorrow the power company and. a week from next Tuesday, the world!!  Bwahahahahahahah!!!!!!!  Think big.

In closing, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all of you the very merriest of Christmas’s and a bright, prosperous and happy 2014 filled with much love, good health and never ending smiles.

Until next time, thanks for reading.

Buono Fortuna!

Brian

Cast Adrift coverAnd don’t forget to order your copy of my latest book, Cast Adrift, the sequel to The Paramedic available here:  

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