Over the Verizon…and down rabbit holes…

A coworker likes to say, “It’s never boring”, and around our house, that’s an appropriate phrase. This week we made a radical jump: no more cable television. Yep. Cut the cord…or cable as it were. While we have a few issues with Verizon since we moved back to the states in 2007 (their customer service is deplorable), this one was totally on us.

We haven’t really been watching television, save for a couple of shows, for a long time and to pay the amount of money we were shelling out for a DVR and two set tops boxes and no movie channels was absurd. We DVR’d two shows for everyone (The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family), Once Upon a Time for Drew (though I would watch it with him), NOVA, and a few shows for Andrea that she never seemed to have time to watch. Not worth it at all.

As with many of life’s changes, Andrea makes the decision first…and I more often than not must socialize the concepts for a while before I come around. And when she sets her mind to something, she runs with it. She can spend a couple of long nights researching options and then one day I come home to a small box on the counter containing something even smaller that I have to figure out how to make work for us.

RokuThe magic little device is a Roku streaming player. And little it is, as you can see in the picture. Andrea looked at Apple TV, but we nixed that pretty quick. Too many limitations – content, recurring costs, etc. and it’s wedded to the dreaded iTunes. To be fair, Roku and Apple TV do have a common limitation that I hope someday somebody will figure out: neither can stream from VIDEO_TS folders. DVD content has to be converted into something palatable.

Connecting the Roku is simple. HDMI cable into our receiver, network cable from the router (they do have wireless versions as well.) That’s it. Then you start setting up your channels. They make it pretty painless. Now, some of the Roku channels might require fees – Hulu Plus is one we’re looking into – but the rates per month are fractions of what Verizon was charging us.

How many readers remember television antennas? All but forgotten I’d venture. It probably never occurs to the aluminum foil hat folks worrying about cell phone radiation that they are being bombarded with a constant stream of digital over-the-air broadcasts. But all those local television stations make their content available to anyone with an antenna and a digital decoder.

Before you decide to make the jump, you should check the signal quality your area. Andrea found AntennaWeb.org and saw that we have excellent over-the-air transmissions. Enter your zip code and street address to see what’s available to you.

WinTVHVR950QMore Andrea research and I have another box waiting for me. This time, the content was even smaller.

The Hauppauge Win TV Hybrid TV Stick is a USB television tuner. Connect the antenna (much smaller than those I used to help my father install on houses – like a wireless network antenna on the back of your computer), run a USB extender to your PC, install the drivers and software and voilà, we’ve got local television to supplement our Roku.

The WinTV software found 60 channels coming at us from the Dallas metroplex! A bunch were in languages I don’t understand, so …uncheck those; a few were broadcasting content that does not appeal to me/us…also uncheck, and some were pay services, but we’ve still got 23 to choose from.

We very rarely watched live television, so now I had to turn my computer into a DVR. The Hauppauge software can do that, but it seemed a little clumsy, so I turned to Windows Media Center. I was pleasantly surprised, for I had not used it before. Scan for the tuner, scan for the channels available, pull the program schedules from the internet for those channels, point the software to the right hard drive and set up to record the shows we want. Homemade DVR!

Here’s the rub, though: a 30 minute HD recording stream took up more than 4 Gig of space! That could chew up storage big time. Plus, the Roku can’t stream the native .wtv (Windows Recorded TV show) format. A wonderful app named MCE Buddy not only converts wtv files to usable – and smaller – formats, but it also removes commercials!! It monitors your recording folders for changes and converts on the fly. I was pretty surprised to see that it took the folder I pointed to that stored our streaming files and stored the converted Big Bang Theory episode in the subfolder  I had set aside for that series. Bonus!

Now, there’s still the matter of making the stored content available to the Roku. For that, I use Plex. Running on my computer, I set it up as a channel on the Roku and those DVR’d shows are streamable. I understand that I could make my channel available to others running Plex and they would be able to stream my contents….but not today.

Sidebar: I set up a TED.com channel in our Plex server so we can watch TED Talks on the television. Great stuff.

The last thing to do is figure out a way to stream live television through the Roku. There is a way if we were using Eye TV, but that’s a Mac only app and we only have real computers in our house. Sorry. My bias is showing. Anyway, I haven’t yet found a way to work it with the WinTV tuner.

So, we unplugged ourselves from one corporation and yet plugged in even more to it through our internet connection. BUt we’re saving a bunch by doing so.

Down one hole after another

I promised Andrea that I would provide feedback on her colleague Scott Trent’s book Right: A New Design Perspective. The full subtitle is “A new perspective for business innovation: Right thinking in a left-brain world.” I’m not done reading and reviewing it because like so many times in the past I found myself chasing rabbits and pulling threads. It’s not ADD. It’s just that sometimes I have to check on what I read. And one thing usually leads to another. And another.

As noted last week, I recently finished listening to the Professor Steve Joordens Great Courses lecture series “Memory and the Human Lifespan“. Had I not listened to that or read Maria Konnikova’s Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, I might not have questioned the paradigm of so-called “left-brain” and “right-brain” thinking. I used to say I was a “decidedly left-brained thinker.” How wrong I was…on a couple of fronts.

First, all of my reading has made me realize that I am just as much, if not more of, a … and for the moment, I’ll continue the commonly used metaphor… right brain thinker than a left brainer. Oh, I’m seriously into math, science, engineering, problem solving, geeky things and more, but I confused my inability to see the meanings of art, literature and other artistic endeavors as lacking that right-side gene. Couldn’t be more wrong. I won’t pretend modesty when I say I’ve got a tremendous empathy in the workplace, and as much as I resisted the notion when I was exposed to it last year in my management program, I apparently have a pretty high emotional intelligence …again, in the workplace.

I attribute that primarily to thinking holistically with respect to organizations and of minority positions (see On the need for political correctness) in everything I do. Not always when it comes to individuals and the associated emotional relationships – I have Andrea to thank for almost all of what I’ve learned in that regard – but I recognize that I am better in the workplace than at home. And it turns out a sense of humor stems from that creative side, plus I can be pretty creative in my own bailiwick – witness my Halloween spectacles.

Second, the whole left-brain/right-brain metaphor is not quite true. It appears that there are functional differences, but the idea that emotional and rational, creative and reasoning, thinking are the province of particular hemispheres only is a misconception.

Hemispheric specialization theories seem to have originated with the split-brain observations of Roger Sperry, Mike Gazzaniga and others 50 years ago in which when the corpus callosum of some severely epileptic patients was severed they discovered that the two hemispheres do control some different functions. In a majority of people, but not all, language functions are centered in the left hemisphere. Some types of creativity seem to generate in the right side, while others come more from the left (again, in the majority of people). It’s true that the functions are generally programmed in adults and a trauma (stroke, or injury) can result in loss of functions, but in children who have lost or never had one of the hemispheres, the remaining cortex configures itself to handle all of the functions.

USC researcher Lisa Aziz-Zadeh performed functional MRIs on people while they were performing creative and non-creative tasks which revealed that the left hemisphere fired more during a creative process than it did in a non-creative thought process.

(I know several statements in the last couple of paragraphs have no citations, and I may edit this to add them, but the gentle reader can follow the links below to learn more if so inclined.)

If you want to look into this subject yourself, here are some jumping off points:

That last one was a fortunate find…I’ve added Kurzweil’s site  to my “blogs to follow” bookmarks. And I’ve got his How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed added to my queue.

…on those rabbit holes…

The Kurzweil Accelerating Intelligence led me to William H. Calvin’s book The Throwing Madonna:Essays on the Brain, which I read online…not my favorite way to read in the past, but on my iPad it’s little different than an e-reader, so . Calvin’s chapter 10 in that book is titled “Left Brain, Right Brain: Science or the New Phrenology?” and I imagine you can guess if he thinks it’s science.

Reading Scott Trent’s book led me to another source to check: Jonathan Haidt’s book The Happiness Hypothesis:Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. Trent mentioned it as important in his book and I wanted to understand the context, so… I’m about a third through Haidt and while I have intense respect for his extensive documentation, I’m waiting for the earth-moving revelation. More on that after I finish it.

Trent also mentions Geoffrey West’s theories, something I was familiar with and wanted to follow up on a couple of years ago but never did. Another rabbit hole waiting. And, I’ve got Daniel Kahnemann’s Thinking Fast and Slow set aside temporarily while I work through Trent’s book, because…

… a major theme of his book concerns design and business and I want to read a couple of other books before I give him my feedback:

Alice, please come get your White Rabbit so I can finish a couple of other books first!

Other books of the week

I haven’t read Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea since I was a teen, and I had forgotten how rich the language was. I want to read and (re-read some) Verne and Wells sometime in the future and reading Leagues now reinforces that. Reading it aloud, though, is a challenge.

A slight diversion down the humor aisle last week found Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell. Head shakers. And some quite funny.

Eye- opener of the week

Andrea posted a link to this New York Times article on her Facebook page: “The Extraordinary Science of Junk Food” by Michael Moss. A lot of the article is not surprising to me, but I suspect it would be to the conspiracy theorists who worry about birth certificates and moon landings. Not a conspiracy, but a deliberate course to attract and keep consumers. It’s a long article, but worth the read.

One response to “Over the Verizon…and down rabbit holes…

  1. Pingback: To Plex or not to Plex | Random (and not) Musings

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