Is a Smart TV smart enough?

With the advent of streaming services it has completely changed the way in which we take in our entertainment. When Netflix launched a streaming service that was separate from it’s traditional DVD mail service, it took off in a way I don’t think anybody really expected it to. Now, with the volume of streaming services out there, the concept of cord cutting is more popular than ever, and cable subscriptions are on the decline, while streaming TV subscriptions, which provide a slightly cheaper, and more flexible alternative to traditional cable and satellite service, are increasing. These alternatives allow you to utilize your service from virtually anywhere in the world, such as Sling TV, Fubo, YouTube TV, Playstation VUE, certain networks are allowing you to stream their content live, or certain programs for free, such as Fox, and ABC, and others are requiring a paid subscription, like CBS All Access. There is also more than just Netflix when it comes to the standard streaming market now, with Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video being major players in this market as well.

With this, however, we have shed the monthly fee that is a cable box, or satellite receiver because we have all of the Applications, but what is the best way for us to access these applications? We started this transition to streaming media with our laptops, and an HDMI cable, and then moving in to our tablets, and phones being supported for these applications. Then along came streaming media sticks, and boxes that were dedicated for TV, and games. The perfect example of early adopters to streaming content on something other than a computer, tablet, or phone are game consoles. The PS3, and Xbox 360 were the first to incorporate this, and then along came the Wii offering Netflix support after. After these, however, we get into something that, while we’ve had them for a while now, are still not necessarily the most perfect device. Smart TV’s. A TV that has, “all” of your streaming applications built into it, and there is no need for a separate box to do anything, because it’s all built in to the one device… or is it?

The concept is great, and it’s what everybody wants when it comes to any category of technology, one device that works for everything, in the age of us carrying around more computing power on our wrist than the spaceshuttle had, why are our TV’s still not able to have absolutely everything we want all in one? That’s actually a relatively simple answer, to me at least. Personalization. Sure, you’ll say licensing of the software and such, but in reality, we could make use of what we have, and make it do just about everything we want, but we all have the OS layout we like. Some people are die hard Roku fans, others Playstation or Fire TV fans, I like the Tivo layout, but find the PS3 was my favorite as a whole. We all have a device that we like to customize, or that works best for us and our needs. Me, I’m kind of in a bind. I got my first Apple device in 2004 (an iPod Mini – oh yeah!), and from day one started importing my CD’s, and building my music collection in iTunes to be able to sync to my iPod, before that I used WinAmp, so a lot of stuff was already ripped, and just had to be imported to iTunes. In 2007 when I got my first apple device that played video’s (iPod Classic – after 11 years, I just laid it to rest this past year), and from there built up my iTunes movie collection – after who knows how many dollars worth of movie & TV season purchases. While the Movies Anywhere application has fixed that for the most part, allowing me to watch my purchased movies on virtually any device, from virtually any application I like that syncs with it, TV show purchases and music streaming become the issue.

The fix for me would be to get an Apple TV, but, do I need another set top box? I already mix and match between the PS4 and the Tivo, both of which are loaded with applications – the issue with Tivo is that they do not update the applications as often as they should… hence using the PS4 in conjunction with it. And then there’s the fact that my TV is also a smart TV… and I have a Chromecast attached as well for the odd app that we want to use with the TV! What good would one more device be?

This is the predicament of the modern era of streaming. Each device has something different and unique that you may want, something that is useful to a point where you can be persuaded to purchase it for the occasional use. The same goes for all of the streaming services. It’s getting to a point where you want the streaming services for the exclusives in a lot of cases, and by the time you’re done with Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, your Amazon Channels or individual network subscriptions so you can watch CBS All Access, HBO Go, or what have you, you’re back to being about even with your cable bill… or even paying slightly more. Oh! And you still need to rely on cable from the aspect of them being your ISP. Is this era of entertainment really better than the last? At least when we had cable, there was one device that would play all of your channels.

How much more fragmented will this streaming entertainment world get?

Smart Home Transition

Being about three months away from Dayton, and four months out until the next contest, with June VHF and Field Day within a couple weeks of each other, I think it may be time to put the radio talk on hold for a little bit – there’s a lot of other stuff going on! What’s on the agenda? Well – this blog is going to go back to more than just radio – with moving into a new house, sure there’s going to be some radio talk, in fact I’ve started to setup a nice shack area (see below), but we’re also (kind of) converting it to a smart home. We talked about it before we moved in, and had decided not to do the whole smart home concept, but as we’re going along and replacing odds and ends like light bulbs and the thermostat, I’m noticing some of these items have nice energy monitoring features that I really like, so I’ve said screw it, and we’re slowly transitioning over to a semi-smart home. The first question to ask was what ecosystem of smart products do we want to go with? What do we use for our control, and hub? Well, a few months ago I had a coupon for Best Buy, and they had just started running all of the specials on the Eco Dot’s, with the 3rd Generation being $24.99 – that plus $10 off? Sure, let’s get an Echo to play with. A few weeks later Christmas shopping, I bought something that allowed me to purchase an Amazon Smart Plug for $5 – well… sure, I’ll try it. Let’s see how useful it is! I had the Christmas lights plugged into it all month, and it was really nice to be able to go, “whoops, I left them on!” and go to the app and turn them off. In the real transition to the smart home setup though, we’ve begun changing out all of the old incandescent light bulbs, and installing Phillips Hue lights, using an Echo Plus as a Hub. The Echo Plus came with a Hue bulb as well – and I had a 30% off coupon for that device as well. So far so good, and we’re up to 8 lights – 7 of which are Alexa controlled, and one using a Hue Dimmer Switch. One thing that I’ve read is that when you’re getting closer to 20 or so bulbs, the hub in the Echo starts to get a little laggy, so moving over to a Hue hub is the way to go then – with that said, I don’t think that we have that many light sockets in the house where that’ll ever be a worry.

There are a bunch of the smart thermostats on the market, but after a lot of research, finding a sale, and holding a store to their Price Match guarantee, I was sold on the Ecobee 3 lite. The beauty of the Ecobee is the lack of having to mess around when you have an older system. The furnace is about 15 years old, which isn’t all that old, but it’s just old enough where it’s lacking some of the extra wires needed for items like the Nest, or Emerson. The Ecobee provides an adapter kit, so thermostats with four wire connections can be adapted to send power from the furnace to the thermostat that would normally be sent via a fifth wire. This thermostat offers all of the same capabilities of the others, such as vacation programming, scheduling, daily settings, etc.., integration with just about any assistant that you would want to use (Don’t think it’s compatible with Cortana, so sorry to the three people that use that), requires no Hub to function, and is about half of the price of others on the market. How can you go wrong?

I think that this is where we’re going to keep it for now, I’m looking into the Wyze Camera’s, they’re one of the highest rated out there right now, an American company, and their products are only $20, and $30 respectively. For that price, it’s worth trying, but for now, I think we’ll hold back at the pseudo smart home status, and finish getting settled for the time being..

New Mobile Incoming; Let’s give Fusion another shot with a more capable radio; and a few months with DMR, and for the everyday user, your mode doesn’t matter

For anybody that operates in their vehicle (where I do about 75% of mine) on repeaters or even FM Simplex on 2m or 440, and is in the market for a new radio, I’ll give you a heads up about a sale from Yaesu right now. The FTM-400XDR, what is their top of the line mobile, is currently on sale for $400 – I just placed my order for one this week, and am excited to see how it’s going to mount in the Patriot. For anyone that doesn’t know, this mobile is (as stated above) a dual band 2m/70cm radio with touch screen, runs FM/C4FM for voice, APRS capability with built in GPS. This radio will be a nice complement to the Icom ID-5100 that is mounted in the car at the moment, allowing operation of two digital modes, as well as APRS capability.

I’m trying to learn the ins and outs of all the different digital modes, at least when it comes to the day to day usage of them, and this will be a bigger step with fusion than the FT-70 HT that I currently use. The FT-70, while it is a durable HT (which has been my experience with Yaesu Radio’s as a whole), reminds me of the early days of D-Star. Each individual function that you would like to perform has to be programmed as a specific memory channel if you want to be able to perform different actions on the radio such as node linking, and not just use a repeater as is. So far from what I’ve gathered in using these modes is that Fusion is about the least capable of the modes, while it’s being pushed the most with cheaper repeater systems to get involved. Direct Callsign linking and talking is something that it lacks that the other modes possess in some form or another – and if it is there, it isn’t anywhere near as simple to use (in true Yaesu fashion) as D-Star and DMR both.

All modes are able of transmitting Location data over their signal, while Fusion and DMR admittedly COULD do more, given that the bandwidth is twice that of D-Star, what more could you really want to do? You have the ability to send GPS data, images even, as well as compressed digital voice in a transmission. That’s enough for the every day user, in fact that’s more than enough.. Even in an emergency scenario, unless you’re going to build a transporter off of that mode, really GPS data, and an image is about all you need.

What are your thoughts on the never ending battle of the modes? What do you use? I’m really excited to delve more into Fusion and DMR over the next few weeks, and see what these all really have to offer!


January VHF 2019: Day 2 and Summary


Day 1 was ended with 16 contacts, only a very few multipliers, and I was just generally in bad shape, but Day 2 was a completely different story. Instead of monkeying around with 6m, I just shrugged it off, the band wasn’t very open, it just wasn’t worth the time. I started off fairly close to home allowing me to get things resettled a bit before hitting my first grid (only 20 mins behind schedule!) – the roads were a mess, but this is why I drive 4×4 vehicles. Plows hated me for the first few hours I was out – I was well out of the realm of where they’d normally plow, but for some reason they decided I was in the way and made me move. I was able to find a new spot and rack up a few more points before we met up for our rover lunch. We quickly make a stop, eat some lunch, hammer out a handful of contacts, and get back on the road to hit our next grids.


After the lunch activity, I headed down to FN12, which for me was a new grid that I do not normally work, and am I glad I did – the majority of the contacts that I made for this entire contest were from that grid! Not to mention that after having given up on 6m, I thought about the fact that I could try and go QRP with my new Yaesu FT-818 by attaching the BNC Duck and the 6m Element to it. I was able to pull off quite a few contacts this way – upwards of 60 miles from my site!


All in all it wasn’t a bad contest, as I was about to pack up I peeked at the temperature gauge ad we were holding steady at -3… which didn’t make hanging out of the car to make those 6m QRP contacts easy! (Pictured is the 818 on the hood, had just made a contact on the other side of Rochester from about 40 miles away) Ending with a score of 24,840 I will say that while it was a dip of about 9400 from my score last January, it was an increase of about 3000 points from June, which I’ll take as a win. There are numerous improvements to make to the rover for this upcoming June, starting with 6m, and then working towards adding microwave equipment. I would like to, at a minimum, be capable of working up to 3456 in June reliably. This contest reminded me a lot of what it’s like climbing an Adirondack Peek in the winter – you’re cold, there are little things you have to pay attention to that don’t even phase you in the summer, you’re incredibly tired by the end and sometimes wait a day to put the equipment away, but it’s always fun to look back on it, and you’re excited to do it again.


My first contest like this was June 2016, I had a mere 2100 points, and I think I only actually worked about 4 hours of time on the radio, and drove for 6. In June 2017, I put in a little more effort, and 6m opened up – happened to work down to DM32 from FN02 with a wire dipole that year! Last January was my first January contest, scoring 34,224 which was a fantastic first year to have. Wasn’t able to get near that score in June, scoring 21,758 in that contest. This June I’m aiming for 50,000, with hopes that I’ll shatter that – new plans in the works, hoping to activate extra grids early in the contest, as well as improve the antenna systems. We’ll see where it goes!



Day 1 of January 2019 Contest

I just would like to say that so far, just about everything that could go wrong has gone wrong… I say just about because there are a few things, mainly things I’d rather not jinx as some equipment is not mine, and I really don’t want to have to tell people that it’s broken.

Issues that arose today were as follows:

  • it wouldn’t be a contest for me if I actually had 6m up and running… in fact, my nice 6m moxon I built disintegrated (note: I even waited to put it up until I was stopped to prevent this very thing from happening)

  • 70cm isn’t tuning

  • I keep finding things I either need to make another jumper cable for, or have the wrong connector on

  • It took 4 trips to Home Depot for me to realize that they didn’t have a long enough 2″ width U-Bolt for the new Roof Rack Mount – so I’m U-Bolted to one crossbar, with paracord tied to the other crossbar, and the actual luggage rack

  • Oh… and need I discuss the weather? I don’t think I should bother because it’s all we’ve heard about on the news for the last week

But, with all that being said, this has simultaneously been one of the more fun, and adventurous contests so far. I was an hour late to getting on the air, wasn’t even in the location I was supposed to be in, or with the group I was supposed to be with, in fact I only have 16 QSO’s in the log, and nothing above 440. Tomorrow is a new day, one that will have a bright and early start to try to hammer out some of these issues before hitting the road. I’d like to at least get 440 back on the air, and if I have time I’ll get the 3 element 6m beam assembled and ready to go.

A Fully Functioning Zumspot; Chinese Radios, and my seemingly unpopular opinion

Listen… We’ve all said some things we regret… I mean, I don’t necessarily regret saying that DMR Sucks, I think I just over reacted at the time because I couldn’t get my Zumspot working. Well, that’s all changed now! Now, this was actually a few months ago now due to the fact that I’ve pretty much been dead (according to my WordPress lack of activity that is) this last few months, but I’ll explain what the issue is for those with Chinese DMR Radio’s such as myself..

For starters, I have truly become a firm believer as of late that buying the cheap, off brand variety of something really isn’t worth it. Sure, it’s cheap right now, and you may not be able to swing buying the quality thing that you want right at this very moment. WAIT. Especially where it comes to technology. Pinch those pennies for a little bit, and just buy the quality item once. I learned this lesson hard with my phone(s) in the last couple of years. I used my iPhone 6 Trade in to get a Moto Z Force. That was supposed to be the top of the line Motorola Phone, if not the top end Android phone when it launched. It was supposed to be the best for any developer, our just someone who wanted better speakers, or a full, optical zoom camera or what have you. With all the cool “mods” that made the phone an awesome modular platform – fun fact, this was one of those many posts that died in draft land – but, a year and a half, three replacements, and a doggedly slow speed being the last straw, I rejoined Apple Land. But I digress… Chinese Radios! They’re still here despite the recent FCC scolding about them not being Part 97 compliant, and people were buying them in bulk for business, preprogrammed on a variety of frequencies, having no clue what they were interfering with. Not only are they still here, they’re still popular. And, to express a seemingly controversial, and unpopular opinion? Good.

It may seem as if I’m contradicting myself here with this, but I guarantee you that it serves a purpose. As a college freshman having just got my ticket, I had pennies to spend on radios compared to what I needed to have for something decent. A Yaesu VX-8 was kind of a pipe dream, and I wasn’t entirely convinced that I would be on enough to make the $400 worth it. So, at the first ham fest I went to in Rochester, NY, over the July 4th weekend, I picked myself up my first radio, the Baofeng UV-5R. And when I bought mine, it was right when the craze was starting to really take off. The radio cost me $70 with the programming cable, an extra battery, speaker mic, and desktop charger, which I thought was pretty cool! I was a broke, going into college kid, and was able to get on the air. My dad gave me an Alinco DR-110 to put in the car, we installed it right where the Tape deck was with very little trouble. It actually seemed like my Malibu was built to have a radio in it somewhere. Not two months later, at another local hamfest, did I have an issue that broke my Baofeng though. I went to unplug the speaker mic, and the audio connection was stuck. I could transmit, but I just couldn’t hear anything unless I had something plugged into the speaker slot. I was able to get it exchanged under warranty, but knew that those radios were not meant to last. I could go into the details of how I sold a few things to buy a radio that was a steal of a deal, to sell that to buy another one, to then sell that to eventually purchase the Kenwood D-74 that I now use, but that’s a story for another time. I’m here to talk about hotspots, and Chinese digital radios.

Two years ago at the Dayton Hamfest, at the Connect Systems booth, I decided, hey, why not. They were selling BFDX DMR handheld radios that they’ve branded the CS-580. If they’ll brand it, it has to be a halfway decent product, and for $110 with the programming cable, I went for it. As far as build quality goes, I cannot complain about this product, it’s a sturdy radio for sure, in fact it reminds me a lot of a Yaesu in the way of how it feels, but without the price tag. That same year I received a DV Mega, that I had just gotten working not two weeks before we left for the hamfest, but since I didn’t have anything in the way of a case, portable display, or battery, I decided to leave it at home. As soon as I got back from the hamfest though, I decided that I was going to give it a shot. I plugged in the hotspot, but there was no TX/RX at all. I tried everything I knew of, but that was that. I called HRO, and they sent it away for repair… and… well, they still have it actually. And, since there’s little to no DMR coverage in our area, away the radio went until I could get my hands on another hotspot to play with it again. This year was that year, the year of the Zumspot! I’m a huge fan of this Hotspot, you cannot get much more plug and play than it is – I was on Fusion immediately, XRF D-Star Reflectors, but the others took some time… someone forgot to change their call sign in the gateway registry, so anything in the D-Plus network took some time to finally get fixed, but that has nothing to do with the hotspot, and was complete operator error. DMR on the other had, that was the tricky one. Why? Well, because of my Chinese radio. They transmit slightly off frequency, so in the settings you have to adjust the sensitivity +/- .400 MHz. I researched this for days, over the span of weeks, I racked my brain around for ever, only to eventually find this fact on a very similar blog post to this one, buried at the bottom of a long rant… kind of like you just did. All in all, after a few months of using it, hopping on a few DMR nets, one during pumpkin patrol even – which was very informative about how NY is one of very few states to partake in this activity, and many operators have no clue what this is – I can say with certainty that I now have a new appreciation for the mode, and that saying that it sucks is a bit of an overstatement. It’s fine, in fact I think that the UI allows more functionality than Fusion does at the moment, but when it comes to the tech, it doesn’t win over D-Star. I’ll keep it as my second favorite for the moment.

Sorry Fusion, you just took a demotion to something that I have to use a Chinese radio for.

Oh, and lastly, to wrap up the Chinese radios discussion, everybody has an opinion on them, but here’s my two cents. Sure, the cheap radios aren’t the greatest, but they’re a means to spark interest. For me, getting that radio and getting on the air was probably one of the most important moments in radio for me. I wanted something so I could hop right on, and I didn’t make much money teaching swim lessons to kids, and lifeguarding. I was also trying to save money for books for my first semester of college. What was available to me? An old, mobile, or HT that may not have even had a tone board, making it useless for local repeaters, and that I’d likely have to repair to get on, or the Baofeng. I chose the latter. While I still have my replacement one for the first one I bought, it’s not my primary radio anymore, I stated above how much I like the D-74, but had I not been able to get on the air for an affordable price, and eventually work my way to something much more functional, and reasonable, I don’t know that I ever would be sitting here now discussing all of this cool stuff, or going from Tech to Extra in a year and a half, and now considering trying to go for licenses from other countries even (yes, I’d like to take a shot at getting a VE3 this summer, since I can technically only operate under the basic privileges anyways). They’re not ideal, and if someone can afford something better they should definitely not buy the Chinese radio, but get one, play around with it, and then pinch the pennies for something better.

January VHF Contest Prep – 2019

Hi Everyone! So my grand plan of writing frequently hasn’t quite panned out as I had posted about – I still have a quite a few posts canned for publishing, I just need to read them over so I don’t sound like a complete dimwit… with that being said, it’s not really in the cards to get to those at the moment, but I thought I would make a quick post about how contest prep has been going!

I’ve been fortunate enough to have a fellow club member assist me with the construction of a luggage rack mount for antennas, in addition I’ll be borrowing a couple antennas, and utilizing a few home built ones as well.. The goal of this? To cut setup time to virtually nothing but getting out of the car to add a few feet to the masts to give more height. This will definitely aid in the addition of more grids this year. In the past two years that I have really gotten into the rover form of contesting, or just contesting in general, I’ve done a few modifications here and there to make operating easier, but overall, I haven’t contributed much to aid my setup times, which would seriously help with the ability to add some more grids. I always go out with the plan of operating from four grids, but usually something happens, and I’m stuck operating only two or three if I’m lucky. This year, I’ll be shooting for five to six, but I’ll be happy if I can at least circle my four. The plan will be to operate three or so hours in a grid, and move on.

In addition, instead of hoping I’m typing the correct call in the dark, I’ve been able to get Roverlog, the software that I have been using on my tiny ASUS Transformer for the last four contests, running within my MacBook!! Meaning that nice illuminated keyboard will be at my disposal finally! In addition to that, I will be running WSJT-X for digital mode operation from the rover… assuming that the rig interface is still functioning well. That is something that I have been unable to test yet, as we’re in the middle of a move, and all the radios just were packed up as I got everything working well.

With any hope, so long as all is functioning properly, and I’m on the air on schedule, I think that this is on pace to be the best score yet in a contest for me, and if not, we’ll see what can be learned from this moving into June. Usually I’m scrambling the day before, but I think at this point I can officially say that even with this being near the bottom of the totem pole as far as current priorities, I’ve put more planning into this than previous years, and I’m incredibly grateful for the big save I’m receiving for getting antennas properly mounted for roving this year. As long as the remainder of this move goes according to plan, we’ll be right on track for the remainder of the contest planning, and ready when it’s go time!

Guess Who’s Back!?

Wow, that was a whirlwind few months… I haven’t posted since July!? Okay – time to change that! What’s changed since July? Well a few things:

1) Apple has revamped a ton of devices, and I’ve been gawking – some dummy not only went back to an iPhone three months before they announced new stuff, but also bought a new iPad a week and a half before they released them

2) I have a new car to design around for the January VHF Contest (if you have setup ideas for a Jeep Patriot, let me know!)

3) I’ve finally gotten DMR functional on my Zumspot

4) Alexa is everywhere

5) I think I’ve finally realized just how ADD I am… more on that below!

Before I went dark for a few months, I had 5 posts canned, and 90% written, just not reviewed and scheduled to post. We’ll get to DMR first, likely tomorrow, after this little catch up post, but each one of these bullet-points will be something that I’m going to touch on over the next couple of weeks. When I last was posting, this was an almost daily blog – we’re going to have to bump that to weekly due to time issues.

For the next week, I’ll be moving into consumer electronics, specifically Smart TV’s, Set Top Boxes (not a term you’ve heard in a while, eh? But it means something different now!), Game Consoles, and other things that the everyday user wants.

Following that I’m going to briefly discuss Alexa, and smart assistants – this could be a part of consumer electronics, but the fact of the matter is that this has branched off into its own platform entirely. Amazon has literally been giving away the devices to get one of these things in your home, and it’s amazing the support of devices out there.

Then we’ll be getting into January, and the VHF contest is a big one for the club I compete with, so I’ll need to rethink the entire rover setup following the purchase of a new car! With any hope there will be some progress by that point, and I’ll have something to post.



Handheld Gaming – What happened?

Who remembers the Gameboy, the PSP, and the… well I guess we don’t have to ask who remembers the Nintendo DS, because it’s still around, and still has decent sales, but still who remembers having a Gameboy and being one of the cool kids? Then the PSP came around, and it was like having full console games in your pocket, and having the ability to store Music, and watch Movies, and have it all right there! Well, admittedly, we don’t have to ask what happened to make this device no longer popular. The advent of the smartphone, and development of games for 100% touch screen inputs, as well as all of the major game developers decided that this was going to be the future of portable gaming, so why not? When Apple released the iPad, and kickstarted the consumer tablet market, it was easy enough to take these games that had been developed for 3.5″ and 4″ screens, smooth the graphics, and blow them up to a 9.7″ screen, and voila! They could sell another copy of the same game! The graphic quality on these games has always been pretty great, however the story lines, and lack of advancement of previously successful franchises such as Doom, Halo, or Call of Duty onto these platforms, and lack of porting of popular MMORPG’s, and lack of processing power and control customization has always been something that would make hardcore gamers shy away from them.

I guess this is me just writing more about my nostalgia for the PSP, and classic portable gaming – I owned two PSP systems, and a little over a year ago, bought the PS Vita, which was the successor the the PSP, and still play it often. When you look at the quality of today’s mobile games industry though, what do you see? Sure, there are a few games that have story to them, such as Infinity Blade, or NOVA, and we even saw one Mass Effect game for mobile too! But compare any of that to the Resistance Fall of Man story and game play style, or the Call of Duty play style, Killzone, Borderlands, Little Big Planet, the list goes on, you just don’t see quite the same style, and it’s difficult to because the devices we’re using simply aren’t designed for games. Being able to play games on them the way we do is just a bonus. Nintendo, however, believes that the tablet market is the future of gaming, so much so that their last two systems have been tablet centric. The Wii U wasn’t the best seller, but it paved the way for the Switch, the tablet based machine that you simply dock to play on the TV, or slip the controllers on the sides. Is this the wave of the future? Will the next Playstation, or Xbox be tablet based? Nintendo has never really had high end focus on GPU and CPU speeds like Microsoft and Sony have, they’ve always gone for the family friendly gaming experiences.

Personally, I miss the classic handheld consoles, but if Sony or Microsoft were to go the way of Nintendo, and design a quality console that is portability focused, I’d give it a shot. I remember waiting and waiting for Microsoft to announce a handheld like the PSP and it never happening, and I’ve owned at least one iteration of every Sony portable. I think that the market still wants it, the Vita, while it’s mainly considered a dead console in the US, it is still very popular in Japan, and if a quality product is provided, and it is marketed properly, we could see a resurgence in the portable market.

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!