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Cord Cutting or AT&T ruined DirecTV and how we fixed the problem

October 13, 2019 Comments off

Summary

We have been testing streaming services off and on for the past several years. We were early adopters for various streaming devices (Roku, Chromecast) and many streaming services, including Netflix (DVD, now streaming), Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, Britbox, DirecTV Now, and YouTube TV.

Recently we had our roof replaced. In doing so, our DirecTV dish was removed, and after review, we decided to cancel our DirecTV subscription.

 

Details

Prior to YouTube TV, other ‘cable replacement’ options that provided local TV as well as the non-network content we wanted were almost unusable from an interface standpoint.

 

Cable replacement requirements

  1. Roku device support
  2. Local channels, BBC America, and short list of cable stations we like
  3. Usable User Interface – high priority
  4. Cloud DVR capability – minimum of 200 – 300 hours (record Olympics)

 

Throughout these experiments, DirecTV has been our cable provider of choice. DirecTV offered the content we wanted as well as innovative technology, such as the DirecTiVo. I was able to pick up used DirecTiVo’s for <$50 and upgrade them with large hard drives to get ~300 hours of recording time. This was great because we had three school age daughters and I dedicated one unit to record just about the entire Olympics coverage circa 2004.

 

5 Very Common Cord Cutting Mistakes & How You Can Avoid Them

https://www.cordcuttersnews.com/5-very-common-cord-cutting-mistakes-how-you-can-avoid-them/

 

  1. Rushing into cord cutting – before we cut the cord, we used the Roku and at least a dozen streaming services for several years. This was not something new for us, so when the time came, it was easy for us to make a joint decision.
  2. Cord cutting does NOT work like cable – we determined we required a streaming service that provided local channels, some cable channels, and had at least a 200-hour DVR capability, ideally cloud based. YouTube TV has an unlimited DVR capability.
  3. Cost – we tracked costs of cable and streaming services
  4. Content – you can’t have everything. For example, we do NOT care about sports, but we DO care about Olympic coverage, BBC America, and some channels like Hallmark that our family likes to binge during winter holidays.
  5. Robust Internet provider – we aren’t huge fans of Comcast/Xfinity cable, but they have provided a robust, broadband Internet service. They are also the ONLY broadband option in our area. DSL is available, but not broadband. We are half way between two CO’s, and FIOS doesn’t have a contract with our township

 

Cons – we live in an imperfect world…

  • No Hallmark Channel. I don’t care, but my wife and daughters (who don’t even live with us) are campaigning relentlessly nagging to subscribe to the Hallmark Channel for holiday movies.
  • CBS DVR shows are actually “CBS On Demand” and have commercials that you can’t skip. Also, until the software was upgraded, it didn’t handle the transition to/from commercials properly which caused some shows to hang. Credit to YouTube/CBS for fixing this.
  • Bandwidth to the TCL TV – we have experienced some buffering issues and sluggish interface behavior with Roku TV. This isn’t a show stopper, and I have been making it a “priority device” for Google WiFi. Next step is to configure an Ethernet connection.
  • That’s it! We are very happy with the cord cutting.

 

 

Cost

Subscriptions (monthly)

YouTube TV        $49.99

Hulu w/no ads        $11.99

Netflix            $13.85

Total            $75.83

 

AT&T DirecTV was $96.91 – $102 for two TV’s, the least expensive package available, and DVR with whole home viewing

 

 

Hardware

  • Network
    • Internet Provider – Comcast Performance Plus Internet – 200/12 Mbps
      • Testing with lower speed Internet tiers showed the 200 Mbps speed offered double the uplink speed (for VoIP performance) and better overall performance. This is probably overkill, but the difference between <100 Mbps and 200 Mbps was about $10/month.
      • There is no data cap for residents of New Jersey. Other states have a monthly, 1TB data cap.
    • Arris SB6183 Cable Modem
    • Google Mesh Wifi – NLS-1304-25
    • Meraki Security Appliance
    • Meraki 8 Port Switch
  • Video
    • TV – TCL 65R615
      • Roku TV 9.2.x
      • Roku Wireless speakers
    • Panasonic VIERA TC-L42E50 (7 years old)
      • Roku Stick+
    • Visio 32″ 1080i TV
      • Roku 2
  • Voice
    • ObiHai 201 device
    • Google Voice Service
    • Panasonic cordless phones

 

 

Reference

DirecTV and TiVo History

https://www.tivopedia.com/directv-and-tivo-history.php

 

XFINITY Terabyte Internet Data Usage Plan

https://dataplan.xfinity.com/faq/

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Mueller Report

April 18, 2019 Comments off

Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election Volume I of II Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller, III

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Venmo security concerns

August 29, 2018 Comments off

I haven’t reviewed Venmo security in a long time.  Originally I took a look when my middle daughter was looking for an electronic payment service to sort out payments to roommates and friends in college.  At that time (2010?), Venmo appeared to be one of the best options.

That has changed – By default, all peer-to-peer Venmo transactions are public (except transaction amount).  Wired article, “Public By Default”, Hang Do Thi Duc’s site walks through the problem and example API output links are below.

I’m not sure what to recommend to replace Venmo, but I’m going to do a lot of testing over the weekend and post some recommendations.

Click here to see the last 100 transactions posted to Venmo (seriously).
https://venmo.com/api/v5/public?limit=100

It’s Time to Stop Sending Money on Venmo
https://www.wired.com/story/venmo-alternatives/

Public By Default
https://publicbydefault.fyi/

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Backup hardware and software recommendations for family computers

March 8, 2018 No comments

Lots of people ask about backup and disaster recovery for family computers. I use an external USB/eSATA case and Acronis True Image software to image all my friends and family computers. Reference links below for the hardware and software.

The biggest value to me has been flexibility in upgrading drives, decommissioning a system, and migrating to another system. Also, if (and this has NEVER happened) my system were to be compromised, it’s not worth my time and I don’t trust recovery of a compromised system. I will just restore my most recent image and recover my data from the cloud. Also, for people with kids in college, there is one less thing to worry about when they are away at school.

My recommendations:
” Rosewill external USB/eSATA enclosure
” 2TB or larger, fast SATA drive
” Acronis True Image Software

NOTE – Acronis updates its software every year. I have leveraged inexpensive multi-pack upgrades they offer to keep current and install the software on the many family computers…

I like the Rosewill enclosure because it can handle any SATA drive (small SSD to full size SATA) and the cooling fan can be switched on/off as required. I used this enclosure to expand the capacity of my DVR in the past as well as an external and backup drive for my laptops, desktops, and lab equipment.

For backups, I have been using the cheapest 2TB drives I can get and I keep the drives for ~5 years (after that I don’t trust them). Next replacement cycle I might go to 4TB drives.

There are lots of other options, so I included recommendations from The Wirecutter below for portable and external hard drives for reference.

Acronis True Image
https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dsoftware&field-keywords=acronis

3.5 Inch Hard Drive Enclosure to USB 3.0 / eSATA
https://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817182247

The Best External Desktop Hard Drive – Jan 2018
https://thewirecutter.com/reviews/the-best-external-desktop-hard-drive/

The Best Portable Hard Drive – Oct 2017
https://thewirecutter.com/reviews/best-portable-hard-drive/

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Browser recommendations – performance and security

January 28, 2018 No comments

This is a post to answer some regular questions I get from friends and family. I’ll update it regularly as required.

First, I use an ad blocker. Sites don’t like you to block ads, but there are so many malicious ads out there that chew up bandwidth, slow my browser, and clutter my screen that I don’t recommend using a browser without an ad blocker.

The ad blocker I recommend is uBlock Origin by Raymond Hill on Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Microsoft Edge browsers.

Browsers I recommend:
” Firefox Quantum – currently the fastest browser I’ve tested and it works on just about every site I use.
” Google Chrome – good general use browser, and any Google sites are optimized for use with Chrome.
” Microsoft Edge – taking a lot of abuse from the tech crowd, but it’s fast, secure, and my only issue is problems with some sites.
” Epic Privacy Browser – based on Chrome, it’s designed to be secure. If you want to make sure you’re secure, this is the browser to use.
” Opera – another solid, fast browser, it has a nice VPN capability if you’re trying to access content that’s blocked based on your geography (example could be BBC content).

Next, I use the beta versions of the Firefox and Chrome browsers. They are very stable, all the add-ons and extensions I have work with the beta releases, and I think they are less vulnerable to exploits if I’m on a ‘not so safe site’. Reference links for both below, they are generally referenced as “dev channels” (as in development).

Next, if you want to make sure your browsing session is as secure as possible, check out the browsers below. Epic Privacy Browser and Opera (built-in VPN).

The Epic browser is particularly secure, but may give you problems on a financial services site or some commercial sites because it’s locked down pretty tight.

Epic Privacy Browser (based on Chrome)
https://www.epicbrowser.com/

Opera
http://www.opera.com/download

Chrome Dev Channel – I think you’re running 64 bit Windows, so pick that Beta Channel download.
https://www.chromium.org/getting-involved/dev-channel

Firefox Dev Channel – download the Beta version
https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/channel/desktop/

Microsoft Edge
https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/microsoft-edge

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Ajit Pai (FCC Chairman) is not our friend

June 4, 2017 Comments off

We are watching the FCC sell out the consumers it is supposed to protect. Ajit Pai is the head of the FCC. He’s a smart guy, but he is not the friend of the consumer, he’s a former Communication Industry law partner. He’s selling Network Neutrality like he’s on an infomercial (it’s not what he says it is). Now they are proposing “direct to voicemail” calls.

My suggestion is to get a Google Voice account and configure it as the voicemail for your cell phone. It will automatically detect ‘SPAM’ calls and you have the option to block calls (or block all calls…).

Network World – technical background and reference links.

http://www.networkworld.com/article/3199565/security/tell-the-fcc-you-dont-want-robo-voicemail-spammy-direct-to-voicemail-messages.html

Consumers Union statement

https://consumersunion.org/news/fcc-urged-to-protect-consumers-from-unwanted-telemarketing-and-debt-collection-voicemails/

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Hiking 

August 29, 2016 Comments off

I’ll start to post more about hobbies as well as technology.  

On our Yosemite trip this month, I focused on packing light. I weighed and documented everything I took. This resulted in a much more successful and enjoyable trip. 

New equipment included a new, lightweight sleeping bag, a 10L compression sack,and some lightweight packing sacks. 

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Raspberry Pi-Hole

April 12, 2016 Comments off

I was trying to optimize my home network and determined using a local DNS server significantly  improved our internet experience.  I did the testing with my home server, but it’s a beast (six cores, 32GB RAM, and 4-6TB storage).  Since I have a spare Raspberry Pi B+, I figured I would use it.

Researching further, I found the Pi-Hole Project (http://pi-hole.net/).  Not only does it provide a local DNS server, but it integrates ad filtering!  It works quite well, and didn’t take any technical skills to provision.

  1. Install Raspbian build on Raspberry Pi – reference link below
  2. Run this command from the shell (command line): curl -L install.pi-hole.net | bash
  3. Configure your computers/devices to use the Pi as their DNS server – I configured my wireless gateway to point to the Raspberry Pi so all my systems automatically use it. 

    NOTE – setup your gateway to use an external DNS as a secondary to avoid issues

Reference Links

Raspbian image downloads
https://www.raspberrypi.org/downloads/raspbian/

Pi-Hole Project
http://pi-hole.net/

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Edit Word Normal.dot template

Comments off

How to open the Normal template in any version of Word

  1. To edit the normal template in any version of Word on any Windows operating system do the following:
  2. Open Word.
  3. Open the vba Editor by Pressing Alt+F11 together.
  4. At the bottom of the vba Editor window is something called the Immediate window. (Press Ctrl+G to activate this window if you don’t see it.) Click in that Immediate window.
  5. Type the following (or copy it from here and paste it):
  6. application.NormalTemplate.OpenAsDocument
  7. Press Enter
  8. Close the vba editor
  9. You are now editing the normal.dot or normal.dotm template.
  10. Make the appropriate changes and save.

The next time you open a new document, it will have the defaults you saved in the template.

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Raspberry Pi-Hole

January 15, 2016 Comments off

I was trying to optimize my home network and determined using a local DNS server significantly  improved our internet experience.  I did the testing with my home server, but it’s a beast (six cores, 32GB RAM, and 4-6TB storage).  Since I have a spare Raspberry Pi B+, I figured I would use it.

Researching further, I found the Pi-Hole Project (http://pi-hole.net/).  Not only does it provide a local DNS server, but it integrates ad filtering!  It works quite well, and didn’t take any technical skills to provision.

  1. Install Raspbian build on Raspberry Pi – reference link below
  2. Run this command from the shell (command line): curl -L install.pi-hole.net | bash
  3. Configure your computers/devices to use the Pi as their DNS server – I configured my wireless gateway to point to the Raspberry Pi so all my systems automatically use it. 

    NOTE – setup your gateway to use an external DNS as a secondary to avoid issues

Reference Links
Raspbian image downloads
https://www.raspberrypi.org/downloads/raspbian/

Pi-Hole Project
http://pi-hole.net/

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