Sunday, May 15, 2016

Disney Trip Wins

It's been a week since we got back from our Florida trip and it was a really great trip, and the drive worked out fantastically with the wireless router and some planning ahead.  The kids were such troopers and so good. So just some observations and things learned along the way:

  1. If you are driving and have kids and are looking to keep them occupied for all those hours, and they have tablets, maybe this will help.  
    1. Set up a local wireless network in the car.  In my prior post, I bought a $10 travel router with a USB slot.
    2. For another $20 or $30 I got a 64GB microSD card and had a USB adapter for that already.
    3. The format of the card might make a difference. For me it had to be NTFS, not FAT32 or some other format.
    4. I used a program called MakeMKV to pull the kids movies off DVD
    5. I  then used a program called Handbrake to convert to mp4
    6. This seems like a lot of work, but it wasn't too bad. The DVDs did have to be done one at a time but Handbrake will queue up everything in a folder so you can convert to mp4 in a batch.  May take awhile but on your computer you can start it and check in on it until it's done
    7. The kids have android tablets and I used ES File Explorer to make the connection, the instructions in the travel router recommended this although the password to the router had a typo. Had to hit their website to figure that one out.
    8. It takes time to set up so test it but this was an absolute winner and didn't require any data plan. Basically your wireless network in the car is projecting a shared storage, no internet.
  2. At Disney, T-Rex was so loud and so painful and the food was meh. It caused us to rethink all of our dinner arrangements because it took so much time and that is the most valuable thing there. We canceled them all and either ate on the fly or at the resort. This ended up being a great decision.
  3. Want to save some money? Get a CapitalOne rewards card and start saving points. They have a feature called expense eraser, which wipes out certain travel related expenses. I wiped out ~$300 in Hilton hotel room charges for our overnights on the way down and up. Had I had enough points I could have wiped out the room charges at Pop Century.  Really good information to know for the future.
    1. Now if I could only figure out how to pay my mortgage every month via credit card so I could get points for that....
  4. If you're at Disney, plan one day to get away and go to Kennedy. Its totally changed and the Space Shuttle Atlantis is mind blowing.  However it's not a cheap day anymore. Wow, serious money now but holy crap was it awesome. Highlight of the trip for me!!
  5. At Pop Century: Kids meals for adults.  Get the drinks, and the snacks, and the portions are not HUGE and the price is so much more reasonable.  
Thanks Nan and Pop!!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Vacation planning, cord cutting and hard drive fun

With the beginning of April we're less than a month now from taking the kids to Disney for their first trip and we've started the planning. Finding the overnight drive hotels came together easy enough and I'll book those soon enough. Florence SC on the way down, Emporia VA on the way home.  The basic criteria being a room right around $100-$125 per night, an indoor pool and free breakfast.

I figure after being cooped up in the car for hours that pool will be absolutely necessary to give the kids a chance to unwind and burn off energy. The hot tub will be good for us.  Free breakfast gets us back on the road and removes a complication.

The hours in the car really concern me, so yesterday I bought this little guy:

I figure if this works the way i think it does, I'll load up a Micro SD card or two with kids shows/movies and they can watch what they want on their tablets via streaming wi-fi in the car.  Internet not required! :)  That, a reem of paper and crayons and their tablet games and we should hopefully be good.

So cord cutting... it's on hold, I just don't think the reality of our family viewing situation will support it right now. But I'm also encouraged by some reading and research I've been doing and just general over knowledge gleaning from friends on Facebook.  To wit: Playstation Vue and Sling TV.

My feeling is that in some way Tivo will either adopt one of these as a partner or will come out with their own comparable service. In the world of DVR its almost taken as far as it can go, but with a high speed internet connection there is no reason that the Tivo couldn't just pull in it's own programming, ala cable, via the internet like those two options I just mentioned.  So I think I'm going to wait and see a bit.  Vue should really push this along.  They even have B1G Network and YES. Comcast has to be shitting themselves and I hope they are.

Finally, with the harddrive. I got this cool sucker that let's me plug in a SATA drive like an external USB.

Works like a champ except the transfer rate is soooooooooo slow. I never saw something like that before with a hard drive, and its definitely the old drive, not the new toy so I've just been letting it do its thing for days now and it's slowly copying over many GB of data to my new hard drive and my rebuilt, working like a super champ, new Windows 10 installation.  I also found some back-ups on another external drive that give me much relief so almost nothing on that external drive I'm really very concerned about losing now.  I guess I wasn't as clueless as I thought with backing up. That said, I added the really important stuff to my dropbox account so it'll now live forever!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Sometimes, you just gotta deal

Yesterday I had this grand plan that I would wake up, get the house entertainment reorganized and rewired so when the HDTV antenna showed up I'd be ready to hook it up and give it a shot but sometimes stuff happens.  For me, it was a hard drive failing in my main PC which is a real problem since its my media server.

Took me most of the morning to figure out it was the hard drive, I had thought it was the beta Windows 10 Pro insider OS I was running, it's not like I've never had a hard drive fail before and that is usually a catastrophic failure. Makes a loud screechy noise, or a click-click-click noise.  This one... its like it was tired and sometimes would boot to the operating system and sometimes not.

So eventually, after repeated attempts to restore the OS failing to complete, I broke open the case and yanked the drive out with the intention of trying a replacement but all my extra hard drives from past PCs were the older SCSI hard drives and I needed a SATA for this machine.  Damn, nothing easy.

Then I recalled that I had this TB extra Tivo expansion hard drive that is incompatible with my new Tivo and just collecting dust.  I broke that baby open and bingo, just the hard drive type I needed.

So next step... complete reinstall of Windows 10, with no more experimental software either, but when I downloaded Windows 10 I realized I didn't have a valid key and no way I was paying for a new one.  Back to my pile of software, found an old copy of Windows 7 with a key, popped that on the drive, reinstalled the network adapter driver, got the PC on the internet and within moments there was Microsoft prompting me to upgrade to Windows 10.  Ha! Victory.

So in a way I came out ahead here because the new drive is much quieter and energy efficient than the old drive, cleaner since the old drive went through multiple OS upgrades over time which junked it up and everything I needed in the short run installed on it without any issues once I got past a few driver issues and now my media center is basically being reestablished and I'll spend the next couple days slowly reinstalling software on it as needed.

I'm thankful the old drive didn't outright die as I do have some unbacked up media on it that I want to try to recover.  For $20 off amazon I got an external usb case I can just plug that into and hopefully can recover it. Find that out some time tomorrow.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Been a long while... Cutting the Cable Cord

Its hard to believe how much time flies and that I hadn't made a blog entry since 2010!  A lot has happened since then. I think 2 kids for sure has distracted me away from it.

So just to start off, again, today's blog entry is about gearing up to cut the cord with cable.  Currently I spend ~$170 a month on cable TV and Internet combined.  That is an insane amount of money for the value we get from it I think. With the 2 aforementioned kids we basically watch children's programming almost exclusively.

So for starters, I bought this:

Its a highly rated, attic mount HDTV antenna, because that works for me, I'm not about to get out a ladder and climb up on my roof to put up an antenna, so if this doesn't work the experiment stops right there, but I think it has a possibility of pulling in all of the local big network stations.  How did I find that out?

Right here:
TV Fool

This is a pretty cool site and I entered my address and it calculated what I should be able to pull in so I'm cautiously optimistic.

I have some other things going for me that make this doable too.

I have a Tivo Roamio here and the house is wired up to share that signal among four TVs.  The Roamio has an OTA more so I'll switch to that while keeping the cable card active for maybe a month to see if this works out.

The Roamio has the ability to stream a number of provider's content, and we're already an Amazon Prime member so that is one big provider right there already and we pull a ton of children's programming in with that already.  I figure adding Netflix and Hulu for everything else and I'm in business.

So how does this break down cost wise.

$170 - Cable and Internet

~$50 for Internet
Amazon Prime - I paid $79 for when I signed up but taking advantage of an offer with Amex I would have done anyway, I got a year free. That would be $99/year otherwise.
$10/month - Netflix
$8/month - HULU

That's $68/month for the next year since my Amazon promotional starts April 1 and I get almost all the programming I need. I could add HBO Go for $15 and still be way ahead but probably don't need it.

Another thing about the Tivo, I have a PLEX account so I have a big library of Movies and old TV shows, using my PLEX account I can now share my content with the Roamio or on any of my internet connected devices. That's ~$40/year.  If I end up loving it, I can buy out the lifetime membership when I renew for $139. Which is the kind of thing I'd do.

All that leaves really as a gap is live sports. There are almost no good streaming live sports providers and none who have a hook directly into Tivo so far as I can tell.  That may change with Yahoo since Yahoo is signing a contract with the NHL.  If that means I can watch NJ Devil games I will.

For my Rutgers sports, I can buy those direct on BTN2GO and watch on the laptop or hook that up to the TV so that is a solve.

All that leaves is Yankees games. That is the really tough one, no answer for YES Network, none at all. But the Yankees are always national games on weekends or on ESPN.  Which will have to be good enough.