Fermented/Preserved Foods – What I’ve done, and what’s next

When you think of fermentation, what’s the first thing that you think of? Do you think of traditional beverages such as Beer and Wine, or distilled beverages like Whiskey or Vodka? Or do you gravitate towards foods, and think more along the lines of Sauerkraut or Kimchi? Preserved foods? The process of fermenting is kind of crazy, we use microbial life that wants to help us, and boost our immune systems to take our food and beverage, and preserve it to keep out the other microbial life that wants to kill us. We’re the battleground for a microbial war!!! There of course are the other methods of curing, such as jerky, or canning things to make pickles, or spiced peaches… but I’m talking about Fermenting! Activating yeasts/bacteria that are naturally occurring, or added to a product to create something entirely different!

About two years ago I started making fermented beverages for the first time. I started with an attempt at making a non-alcoholic ginger beer actually, as I wanted to make a homemade, carbonated beverage, without the alcohol content. The first batch came out okay actually, however at this point in time I wan’t utilizing an airlock to let off the pressure, and had to,”burp” the container a few times a day to let off the pressure. If you don’t do this, you’re going to have a mess on your hands as things will get a wee explosive. This was an okay process, however I did forget one day, and all of the bent in portions of the 3L jug I used decided to push out due to pressure. The end product was okay, a little lacking in ginger, but pretty tasty! After this attempt, I bought an airlock, and tried it again, and it worked quite well! From there, I thought it would be a good time to try brewing beer! Why not? At this point I’ve gotten a basic understanding of the fermentation process down, lets go for it! I was reading recipes, and just had no clue what the terms were, “mash,” “sparge,” wait… why is it just saying @30 mins? What am I doing at 30 mins? 30 mins into what? And you can read the full directions, but unless you get yourself a little background on the process, you can get a little lost, even in a fairly basic process. So, I continued to do my reading, finally understood that a mash was just your ingredients holding at a certain temperature for a duration of time – fundamentally it’s the exact same concept as steeping tea. You keep the leaves, or grain in this case, submerged in hot water until a desired flavor is achieved, a sparge was running water through your grain after the mash (which isn’t even a necessary step if you’re extract brewing), and then the boil is when you bring your wort up to a boil for a duration of time, and add your hops and other desired flavors. Man, why did I think it was complicated? First batch was mediocre at best. Actually the first batch I made molded because I added my yeast when the wort was still too hot, and killed it, but the second batch was not great. Was a good beer to cook with because all of the flavors transferred nicely to foods, it just wasn’t the greatest drinking beer.

Another, increasingly popular, fermented beverage is actually derived from tea, Kombucha. I have had very little success in making it, but am in the process of trying again as I enjoy this drink, but it’s quite expensive to buy, ranging from $3-7 for a single serving. The process is fairly straight forward, take a colony of yeast, and healthy bacteria – called a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast), and place it in with a pH balanced sweet tea, and let it sit around 70 degrees or so. The pH is balanced by the addition of vinegar, and sugar to the tea, making an ideal environment for the SCOBY to work on fermenting the tea. Now, because this beverage is fermented, it can leave a very small trace of alcohol – usually no higher than 0.5% on the high end – meaning that anybody that has a sensitivity or allergy to alcohol in any form should probably refrain from consumption, however the concentration is small enough that there is nothing to worry about for the average person. One of the major manufacturers of retail kombucha faced a lawsuit in regards to alcohol content. The hardest part about this is that once it’s put together, it’s a waiting game, there’s nothing you can do to it to help it from turning, you just need to hope that it was done right in the first place.

While I am attempting another batch of Kombucha at the moment, I also am working on a small batch of Sauerkraut at the same time! That’s one of the cool things about fermenting, and preserving, it only takes up a little bit of space, and is minimal overall work!

“Does this insurance cover stupidity?”

If you read my post about smartwatches, and noticed that I really liked my Samsung Gear Fit 2, and had no intentions of getting rid of it anytime soon, you’ll get a chuckle out of this. On the Saturday preceding the holiday weekend, I was enjoying a day at the lake with my family, and decided that I wanted to go swimming off the boat (you already know where this is going), so I threw a life-jacket on, made sure my pockets were empty, and decided to leave my watch on, because hey, I went water skiing with it last year, how could a simple dive off the boat be worse than hitting the water straight on at 25mph? Well, I jumped in, and there it went… right to the bottom of Seneca Lake. When I purchased that fitness tracker/watch last January, however, I purchased the 2 year replacement plan on it, because I know that I can be accident prone – gotta love Best Buy! When I was at the register, I asked, “Does this insurance plan cover stupidity? The odds are that I’m going to do something majorly stupid if it breaks this.” And the cashier said, “oh yeah, it’ll cover anything!” Well… some dummy forgot to read the fine print about needing to bring in at least some piece of the device that broke in order to be able to cash in on that insurance plan. The day after I lost it, I went into Best Buy with my receipt, and the box, and told them the story of the 47 8×10 colored glossy photographs with circles and arrows (forgive my Alice’s Restaurant), and while they got a chuckle, they said that they couldn’t do anything about it.

Now, I am back to the old school, analog watch, and you know what? I’ve actually missed that to some extent. As you can tell, I enjoy tech and all, but I don’t always need to be connected to everything, in fact, I prefer to not be from time to time..

Pitfalls of Blogs – What’s coming down the pipe

Ah, and we’re back to the old pitfall of blog posting – being busy with other things, and having places you want to go tend to take over, and the posts fall behind. In a week or so I will hopefully be back at it though! More gadgets, events, and more to discuss!

For those in the Greater Rochester/Buffalo Area, keep in mind that the Batavia Hamfest is coming up on Saturday, July 21st, held at the Alexander Fire Hall from 6am to Noon!

Smartwatches – 4 years, 3 devices, 1 verdict

When it comes to wearables, everyone seems to have their own flavor of the day. It seems like every major phone manufacturer has at least dipped their toes in the wearable market based on the saturation of them out there. Sure, Apple Watch, Samsung Gear, Fit Bit (insert model), and Garmin Vivofit are the most popular brands, but they’re not the only ones. There are tons of knockoff, cheaply made, somewhat effective wearables out there, and sure, if you just want to see if you’d even wear it, get one of those $15 ones at Dollar General and give it a run! Or pick yourself up the $60 Fit Bit if all you want is the activity tracker. They all have their purpose, and each watch has their own niche. These are the three that I have used, and the verdict that I draw from them. They all served a similar purpose, however they all did it in pretty different ways, and had numerous different interface concepts, so this truly will come down to personal preference.

Device 1

In July, 2014, which was still in the earlier phase of the smartwatch craze, I purchased a smartwatch from a kickstarter company, Pebble, and to this day regret getting rid of it somewhat. At the time I was running a Moto Droid that was a few years old (due to shattering my iPhone 5, and not having the means to replace it at the time), and with Android, the Pebble Smartwatch was fully functional, and amazingly affordable. It had an e-ink display, which lended quite well to battery life, it would go up to 8 days on a single charge typically. Sure, it didn’t have all of the functionality that the modern watches do with heart rate sensors, and activity tracking, however you could pause, and play music, view your notifications, and even utilize the buttons as a keypad, and reply to text messages! When I went back to iOS however, the functionality dwindled down to being able to pause and play music, as well as viewing notifications. Well in April, 2015, Apple unveiled something pretty cool that I had my eye on, the Apple Watch, and I couldn’t seem to take my eyes off it now that I was back on iOS for a phone. Given that I purchased the watch for $200, being able to sell it for $150 after getting a year and a half of use out of it was a pretty great deal, so I did that, pooled that $150 with some other random cash I had been saving, marched myself to best buy, and purchased an Apple Watch.

Device 2

Do you run iOS? How about OS X? Well, then you chose right if you picked an Apple Watch as your wearable, just as I did after shedding my Pebble Steel. The Apple Watch from the moment I took it out of the box was pretty awesome, their pairing sequence was scanning some weird, flashy looking code, connecting via bluetooth, and then it was good to go. The app support was much higher than that of the Pebble that I owned before it, and rightly so, given the OLED display, touch interface, WiFi connectivity, and the fact that Apple clamps down on app developers that are trying to produce for the device, and makes sure that it’s legit. This thing even has Instagram on it, if you want to scroll that on the 38mm or 42mm display. It allows full functionality with your phone, from replying to texts via handwriting recognition, voice recognition, or canned replies, taking phone calls, storing music, and more! The workout features on the series 1 that I had left much to be desired, however they were steadily improving upon those, and I did notices a pretty substantial improvement with the implementation of WatchOS2. BUT! The caveat is that it only works with devices running iOS, which leads me to how I wound up with my third, and current, device. With Apple not really releasing anything new, and having “gotten rid” of the home button with the iPhone 7, I thought that it might be time to try something new. I was crazy about the concept of the Moto Z, and the modular platform smartphone, so I traded in my steadily decaying iPhone 6, and picked one of those up. The only issue after purchase (that I found out someone had discovered a work around to a little further down the line) was that my watch no longer worked! I wiped it, and attempted to pair it with the new phone, and while the bluetooth would pair, nothing would work. Had I not wiped it, I would have been able to at least use it as a sleek looking watch, however, I did, and the deed was done, so I decided, why not trade this puppy in, and try out another type of smartwatch designed to run on my fancy new Android Phone… that would only last a little more than a year with three replacements.

Device 3

Do you want an activity tracker that has just a few more little features built into it than the standard Fit Bit? How about something that runs well with Android? You want music storage, canned text replies, emoticon responses, GPS Tracking, emergency calling? Well than the Samsung Gear Fit is a great way to go. The Samsung Gear Fit 2, which I’ve been using it for a little over a year and a half now is a pretty great device. Admittedly I’ve been spending the whole last year and a half waiting for the surprise of having my wrist explode, but so far so good! It has great fundamental activity tracking features built into it, I get pretty heavy into biking from time to time, and having the built in GPS for tracking my route, as well as the ability to hold a button and tap for an emergency call is pretty essential. In addition, it offers standard workouts such as running, treadmill, weights, rowing, and an other workout functionality if you’re doing a few things and just want it to keep tracking you all through it. These are admittedly all features that the Apple Watch had, and didn’t seem new to me, however given that the Gear Fit was designed to be a fitness tracker, I did find them to be much more accurate, and useful even indoors. During the initial couple of months I used the device, I found the S-Health App quite cool, especially with its integration of measurements of water, and coffee intake right from the watch screen. I used them religiously for about a month, and suddenly realized its not worth it. I’m sure there are people out there that find that stuff quite important, but it’s not high on my priority list. For the price of this little device, you really can’t go wrong for how much of a punch it packs, however given that I’m now back on iOS, it’s only slightly more useful than my Pebble was, and that’s simply due to the difference in the Watch’s OS, and design.

Verdict

As with a lot, the preference is purely subjective.. First of all, what device do you own? Are you an Android user, or an iOS user? What is your primary use for this device, activity tracking, or do you want major functionality? These are only three devices, and out of these devices, one has been purchased by a rival company, and discontinued, and two have undergone major updates. The Pebble, though acquired by Fit Bit and discontinued, added activity tracking features and many more aspects to it before it was discontinued, and is still available for purchase via Amazon. To me, for the price, they’re a perfect device. The Apple Watch is the way to go, if you’re running an iPhone that is. It’ll likely be what I switch back to when this Gear Fit dies out on me, simply because I’ve gone back to iOS, and may as well go all in again. The Gear Fit, if you’re looking for a sightly more functional activity tracker, is what I would recommend. It’s priced at the same point as the Fit Bit, however it does offer more functionality with an Android phone than the average activity tracker, and for $120, they’re priced to move!

Small Spaces, Small Antennas

I know a few hams that are in smaller apartment spaces, and let me start by saying, I fully sympathize. Out of the last three apartments that I’ve been in, I was lucky this time around, there is an attic crawlspace access panel that is easily accessible to me which allows for storage, and easy hanging of antennas. Before I was in apartments, I was in dorm rooms for a bit, and that was difficult. I made up a 2m/440 jpole to get on the air locally, it was matched using 300 ohm TV Twin Lead, and performed quite well. I’d simply tuck it in the corner of the room out of sight, and run a piece of coax to my mobile rig. In addition to that I had a 440 moxon antenna that I would place in the window. That would allow me to work clear into Toronto from Niagara Falls with no issue. I then built a 2m moxon that I would use for both 2m, and 440, as it had an SWR of less than 1.5:1 on 440. The 2m Moxon that I built in the dorms is still the antenna that I will take for my rover station from time to time… when I don’t quite feel like messing with the 14 element beam. (The rover redesign will be coming this year, and will be ready for January, stay tuned.) The moxon is a very small antenna, with quite a lot of gain, it’s a simple beam, with only two elements, a Driven, and a reflector, and when you’re limited on space is the way to go!

The two apartments I was in before the one I’m in now were not great at all. The first one was a two story townhouse rental, and while the space was great, it really didn’t lend well to putting any type of antenna out. I did, however, get creative with it.I started by putting a small stake into the ground, and clamped a 3/8 mount to that to get on HF, however that was pretty much laying on the ground, and I feared someone grabbing that while I was transmitting, so that came to an end quickly. After that, I would occasionally clamp some ham-sticks to the window for my HF usage, and strung a dipole antenna across the bedroom for 10m, however none of those were great solutions. Both are functional however. It was even worse though the following year. Basement level, concrete walled apartment. It was a pretty nice place, but absolutely no space for anything. On occasion I would setup a tripod, and my hitch mount for masts, run a feedline in though the window, and I would be able to try to get on 10m. I would run ham-sticks the same way, but that wound up similar to roving – always setting up and breaking down every time I wanted to get on the radio.

You probably started this thinking that I had a real solution, but I don’t… at least not for HF. In fact, I’m still going to tell you that your best bet is a small dipole or hamsticks strung outside, and if you’re not in a place where they’re okay with you leaving them out there, I would suggest pulling the rover setup situation – it’s good practice for if you ever want to get into that, but in addition, it really doesn’t take that long, as long as you have the ability to do it. For common repeater use, however, my solution is a little different. If you’re adamant on being able to just talk on repeaters, I suggest digital. Get yourself a small, DV hotspot – see Zumspot post – and get on digital voice! If the apartment is just in too big of a hole to get into any local coverage repeaters, you can link it up to your nearest digital repeater, and bam! You’re on the air! And better yet, if you’re in a yank to be able to chat all around the world, DV provides that with the linking functionality! Link to a repeater on the other side of the world, and have a conversation!It’s not the ideal solution, but it does get you on the air!

Field Day 2018 is here and gone – W2RCX Club Wrapup

It’s the largest contest of the year! The one with the most activity in North America at least. Though it being a contest isn’t what it’s all about. Field Day is meant to be an exercise in emergency preparation, and it’s a great exercise in communication, cooperation, and knowing what you can do in a pinch. In the last 4 years, we in Genesee County, NY have resurrected a club. While we have a small membership, we all meet the third Friday of each month and discuss amateur radio related events, and topics. Of course our meeting in June, which was a week before Field Day, was related to preparations we were making to ensure that we were ready to be on the air at 2pm kickoff of Amateur Radio’s biggest day in our neck of the woods.

Our station setup was at the Genesee Community College in Batavia, NY. Great vantage point for VHF/UHF communications (which never fully got on the air), as well as plenty of trees for us to run our dipoles, and couple of beams that we had. We operated as 3A, and we had our VHF station as well, in the night hours/wee hours of the morning, our transmitters went from utilizing all bands possible, to two of us being on the air, one running 40m CW, and myself running 80m Voice. At 2:30am, I was working my way through a pileup on 80m Voice, which is a little different for me. I don’t usually call CQ at night, I usually Search and Pounce, but with that being said I thought about how many other people out there are doing the same thing… somebody out there has to be the one calling!

Our setup was pretty much the same as last year, however working with the new location had a few perks – last year being our first as the “new” club, we were in search for a spot for a while, however we were able to use the Genesee County Fairgrounds, which worked great! Up until Saturday evening, when the racetrack nearby started up, and suddenly everyone had to slap on headphones. We had three motorhomes on site, two of which ran stations, one running an Icom IC-7100, and the other running a Yaesu FT-991. In addition, there were two large tents (one is on the other side of the GMC motorhome), one of which also had a 991 setup, and the other contained our VHF station running an Icom IC-9100. In the middle of the site (under the orange popup) was our little Honda generator which was more than enough to power all of the stations with no problem. For HF antennas we ran an 80m OCF, and a 40m Dipole, as well as a RadioWavz Scout, which is good on 10-40. For VHF, we ran a stack of Moxons for 6/2/220, and for 440/900 we had a few beams, however I won’t go into detail for those, as we never got VHF on the air beyond 6m.

img_1227

We were able to achieve a couple of bonuses, the first being contacts off of an alternative power source, which we were able to do using a solar charged battery. The second was by making a satellite contact, we were unable to get the initial contact on AO-92, however an hour after that attempt we were able to make a contact on AO-91 (video to come later, still needs to be taken off camera).

All in all we stepped up our game from last year, I haven’t compared our overall contact difference, but I believe that we were able to improve upon last year for sure. We had a few new licensees that we were able to get on the air with, and allow them to experience more than 10m on HF. In addition, though it was nothing like the VHF contest, we did have a small 6m opening to the South, and intermittently to the West, on Sunday morning, allowing us to work Kansas, Nebraska, Florida, Alabama, and Georgia. I am a little bitter about how many stations simply flocked to 50.313, and solely used FT-8. With how open that band was – in and out, yes, but still open – there should have been more activity than there was.

We stepped up our game from last year, there are some improvements to be made going into next year in regards to station setup, software we want to run, etc., so I guess that means it’s time to start prepping for next year!

Quick note!

In case you haven’t noticed, all of these posts have been scheduled.. Some of them were written days in advance, and scheduled to be posted at 5pm the next day. I’ve been a bit busy prepping for Field Day this weekend, so while I have a bunch of half written posts, none have been reviewed, and none are slated to be posted this weekend. There will be live streams from our Field Day operation to my YouTube channel here. While you’re there, check out the video put together from my rover station in the VHF contest!

73!

Digital Radio Modes – DMR Sucks, and I’m going to complain about Fusion… but I like it more than DMR.

Anybody who has done anything on Amateur Radio bands lately, especially on HF and 6m, has noticed the sheer quiet that is the voice section. It’s the novelty of the FT-8 that still hasn’t worn off. We’ve had some pretty poor conditions as of late due to the poor sunspot cycle, but this month we’ve had some really nice openings all things considered. 6m (if you read my contest article) you’ll note that I continually seem to have issues getting to work. The January contest, and this past June specifically, but other instances as well. If you’re not into HF or SSB work, and you traditionally stay on HT’s, and Mobile rigs using repeaters, you’re likely sticking around FM, or one of the hodgepodge of current digital modes. I touched on this briefly in my previous article on the Zumspot Hotspot for Digital Radio. What you likely took away from that was that I thought it was a great hotspot for any mode, what I didn’t touch on was configuration… to which end has led me to virtually give up on DMR.

In 2017 at the Dayton Hamfest (first year in Xenia), I picked up a CS-580 DMR Handheld. Sure, it works fine simplex, but after a year, two hotspots, and only having one repeater in a reasonable distance from me, I’ve given up on the mode. I have made on, very brief QSO on the NA Talk Group, and that’s about it. It’s not incredibly difficult, however configuring DMR for hotspot use just isn’t entertaining to me, neither is DMR. Fusion (C4FM), and D-Star I can get behind. Fusion has its perks – it retains virtually the same bandwidth as an FM communication, and allows data to be added on as a transmission as well, GPS location, photographs, and text callsign are some examples. There is probably more that I’m missing, but in all honesty, I’m not an expert. I’m an amateur, and that’s the point. But where Fusion retains that bandwidth, D-Star shrinks it down to a fraction of the bandwidth, and allows a lot of the same data to be transmit. In reality, they’re quite similar technologies, both prevalent in the amateur community, especially with the rebates that Icom and Yaesu have been offering on their radios over the last couple of years.

For amateur purposes, I see both having benefits, and I’ve had people that are all in with both modes try to convince me of each ones advantages, and while I like Fusion and all, there are just a couple of things I can’t get past when it comes to the radios more than anything else:

1) Fusion IS proprietary… everyone claims D-Star is, but if it were, Kenwood would not have the D-74, and would be on its way down the drain, because in my mind, them adopting that mode is what has kept them a notable name in the ham market. The proprietary nature of the mode is kind of a turn off here, because Yaesu menus are not the easiest to navigate, especially their more intricate radio’s. While I own an FT-70, and it’s fairly straight forward, I still had to break open the manual to figure out how to access the menu, which I don’t like.

2) It’s a digital mode. I’m using a digital repeater. Both myself, and the station I am making contact with are communicating digitally. Why in the world is my radio switching from digital to FM when all I did was drive underneath a noisy power line? Thankfully this isn’t the norm on all radios anymore, at was the AMS mode, or Automatic Mode Select that would toggle the radio between digital and analog based on the incoming signal. All in all, it isn’t an awful feature… it’s just a bad feature that nobody really wants.

3) Lastly, no matter what Yaesu tells you about how great the infrastructure, and linking capabilities are, they’re lying to you. Repeater communication is always like a party line, but when you add in the concept of having no other linking option to a larger party line, it just becomes a headache. Fusion allows you the capability of linking to specific “rooms,” yes, just like your old chat room on AOL. They’re hosted nodes that you talk over using the digital mode, however this is the only linking capability that is there.

From a sheer usability standpoint, D-Star is the clear winner here. It allows direct repeater linking – yes, I, in WNY, could link to your local repeater in England, and we can carry on a conversation. Or better yet, I can enter your callsign, and talk direct to you! There’s a little more to it than that, but the ability is there. We’re only hogging up one party line in that case, not 3 (both local repeaters, and the reflector). Sure, the nodes/reflectors are available in D-Star, but it isn’t my only option as with both Fusion, and DMR. It’s really about personal preference in the end, but all in all, you can’t do too much with Fusion, and I want to play with this stuff! It’s a hobby for a reason, right?

 

Internet killed the RadioShack – Well… and our lack of wanting to actually do anything

First of all – I hope you sang the beginning of that title, and didn’t read it, I sat for a few minutes trying to title this in a way that could be sung to this tune. Secondly, who here likes to online shop? I’m going to guess that just about every single one of the two of you reading said, “Yeah!” enthusiastically. Who doesn’t? It’s so easy you don’t even have to get dressed! You can be eating, or drinking something, and about the only thing you have to worry about slobbing on is your keyboard and mouse! Fantastic! But for the electronics industry, it hasn’t been that great. Remember Circuit City? CompUSA? Media Play? Even Best Buy isn’t quite what it used to be, building noticeably smaller stores every time they open a new one. The fact of the matter is that nobody likes to venture out and socialize anymore when they purchase stuff, they know that just about every piece of merchandise that they buy online, whether it be clothes, electronics, toys, games, it can just about all be returned in 30 days for a full refund… who hasn’t taken advantage of that at one time or another?

Now, it’s not just for convenience sake, a few months ago I purchased a Tivo Bolt. I actually went to the store to buy it! I went into best buy, walked to the shelf where I knew they were keeping them, and they were sold out. I asked an employee if they had anymore, they told me that they were out, and I’d have to order it online! I went in that day because I’m impatient, and wanted it that day to try out! Inventory maintenance gets a lot easier when you’re operating an online business as well, when you’re shipping directly from the warehouse, or from a distribution hub of some kind, you don’t have to worry too much. If you’re doing a lot of online business, keep a bulk inventory and call it done. Sure, when it comes time to tracking the product it may be difficult, but when it comes to fulfilling orders you’ll always have plenty on hand. Online stores also open up the ability for you to bring on other products that may not be popular in areas where your stores are, however they may be popular elsewhere – in another area where people know of your store, but cannot necessarily make it there easily. You now have the ability to diversify product offerings, without having to potentially remove a cash cow from the shelf.

RadioShack was the last local go to for electronic mix and match parts. Sure, a PL-259 connector cost $4, the reducers cost $2, and they barely held a connection, but if you needed one in a pinch, they were there. Now if you need something like that, you can hope that the Walmart near you still carries CB equipment, SOMETIMES you can find a stray “patch” cord (likely RG-58, and it’s 50-100′) but that’s about it. That’s because not only the proclivity for online shopping has become so domineering, and electronic projects, and hobbies have become more and more about buying, and less about building from scratch. If you read my previous posts about the contest, building a functional antenna for radio is easy (Unless you’re me, and it’s 6m)! Setting up a raspberry pi is easy! Building a computer (as long as you can match parts) is fairly easy too! Why do we all have this aversion to building stuff? Now – I’m not going to 100% blame the demise of of Radio Shack on online shopping, the last one I was in before they all sold off to Sprint/closed, I had asked about getting a few SO-239 connectors, and he pointed me toward the HDMI cables. In addition, they really, for a while, scaled back their electronic parts section, and focused too much on cellphones, TV’s, and computer cables. They lost the makers.

Where was I going with this? Well, it’s simple really. While we all like to sit in our little nooks on our devices shopping for other devices, and parts (for the few of us left out there who like projects), what we have done is slowly choked the retail market. We’re all guilty of it. Retail spaces for just about everything are facing their demise, just look at Toys R’ Us and how they’re closing all of their stores, and they’re not the only ones. Over time we’ll definitely learn to appreciate retail space more, the ability to see what we’re buying before we buy it, but for now, we’ll have to watch it get worse before it gets better.

 

Cord Cutting – Why Haven’t You, what are your options?

If you’re getting some amazing bundle deal, having cable or satellite makes sense I guess, but in the golden age of streaming where you have options that cost as little as $20/mo, and you can pick your channels, why would you still have cable? There are thousands of channels out there, but think about it, how many of them do you actually watch? And moreover, how often are you still using your cable box in reality? A few months ago, I discontinued receiving Cable TV, and realized a few things:

  1. It was never being used. I was so excited when that cable box arrived, all the channels we’d now get… and after 2 months, it hand been turned on to watch the 30 min looping news channel. The fact of the matter is that with busy schedules, and without the ability to DVR shows, it was being utilized maybe twice a week for something other than the local news.
  2. Cable Companies lie. By removing TV from my account, I was supposed to be saving right around $25/month, when in reality, I was saving $5, and now had to buy my own router… not that the last part was a problem.
  3. No longer having Cable TV coming in improved the consistency of my internet speed. Given, this could be a coincidence given that they were making infrastructure improvements at the same time, but I would hazard a guess that it wasn’t the only thing that contributed to that. There are no longer two carriers along that incoming line being put through a splitter, it’s now a single signal for internet alone.

Upon canceling cable however this pushed me to a new device, a Tivo Bolt. The $200 device doesn’t come with a hefty price tag, however the $15/mo subscription fee (or the fee a little over $500 for lifetime) makes you think sometimes that you may have just been better off keeping cable. The device, however, is well worth the cost. Not only does it allow you to DVR your shows (we still have an amplified antenna and get a dozen or so channels OTA), but you can also stream your recordings to your smartphone (iOS and Android both), but when you search for something to record, it will search the built in apps, and tell you what streaming services it is available on for you to watch from, or differentiate between streaming vs buying in the case of Amazon and Vudu. Yes, this device also works with cable via the renting of a cable card from your provider if cable is still your thing. This device is perfect for the cord cutter though, allowing you to work between apps with no problem. It also features Pandora Radio, and YouTube, but no Spotify.

With all of the various TV Streaming services out there though, it can get a dicey. The concept of being solely reliant on an ISP to be able to watch TV can give cause for hesitation for sure. The foolproof way to have everything the way you want it though, would be to switch over to one, and cut the cord. With TV Providers such as DirecTV, Dish Network, Spectrum, XFinity, and others getting upwards of $80/mo for basic TV access, and then having to pay a surcharge, or additional fee for access to your local channels, it’s obscene! We don’t need TV that badly that it’s worth paying those fees! There are other options out there from places such as Sling TV (a-la-carte options), PS Vue, YouTube TV, as a few examples. Most of which allow you to access everything from any device you’d like. You even have the option of managing from your phone, and, “casting” to your TV. Now the major providers are getting into this market as well, there’s the DirecTV Now, and Spectrum Choice as a couple examples as well, where the package for TV is $35/mo, and $21.99/mo respectively. The major providers are realizing that less and less people actually want over 1000 channels with nothing on them.

In short, to you, I’d highly recommend cutting that cord, switching over to a $20-$35 streaming TV service, getting a DVR, and an OTA antenna if you don’t want to be reliant on streaming for even the local channels. With that you’ll get all your local, big network channels without a crazy fee, and then your cable ones are a fraction of the cost, and you get what you want. If you don’t care so much about being reliant on an ISP for even the local channels, most of the streaming services offer those as well, in fact working with the local areas is why it takes a little while for the services to roll out in different areas. Just so you know, most of the streaming providers also offer DVR capability as well, so you can really skip the Set Top Box if you want.