September 29, 2013

Killing Off Cable

Scrolling back through my blog posts, I see I have failed to document my recent explorations in the land of "mass media trends". Although my 50-something life is 2-3 decades away from the 20-somethings that have pioneered this movement, I've joined the ranks of those who have cut the cable.

Of course, being me, it was a gradual process. I toyed with the idea a few years back - had an old analog CRT television that I've owned for 25+ years, so I picked up a digital converter and tried to see what I could get over the air. At that time, and with that technology, the answer was "not much" - so I returned the converter and stayed connected. However, somewhere along the line I realized I was spending blocks of time on the couch watching reality show reruns (Pawn Stars, American Pickers, and Storage Wars were faves) and that was just stupid, so I downgraded my cable to the lifeline or tier - a handful of broadcast channels, TBS, the weather channel, and NECN. And that seemed to work fine - I missed a few things (Rachel Maddow,  Daily Show) but I survived.

A few months back, in a fit of late winter pique, I did a little retail therapy, and bought an inexpensive LCD digital television. While I was there, I decided to pick up a digital antenna, and the combination of reasonable channel selection and the superior HDTV picture made me rethink the cable decision. Specifically, to get HDTV I'd have to upgrade my cable plan to something more expensive (uh, no) and I realized that I got almost everything over the air (plus a few) that I was getting from lifeline.

So I disconnected the cable boxes (I had a converter for a seldom used small TV down in the office) and kept them in a box, just in case I had recriminations. A few weeks later, when Comcast (in their wisdom, and abetted no doubt by efficiencies in the US Postal Service) gifted me with no fewer than four (4) bundle offers on the same day, I decided to take the boxes back and kill off cable entirely.

In the ensuring days, I've been relatively happy with over the air broadcast, although my inability to capture WTNH 8 (ABC affiliate out of New Haven) was causing some angst (Grey's Anatomy is my one primetime vice). So this last week I bought a 100' of CATV cable and ran the indoor antenna (through the house) to the second floor and pointed it south. And voila - WTNH-8 came in (along with a few other lower power stations). I've since run the antenna cable through the basement and outside, and am awaiting a better exterior antenna (designed to mount inconspicuously and with an amplifier which might work even better)

So, here's what I get on my television, over the air and for free:

3.1 - WFSB 3 / CBS
3.3 - Mostly weather / some news

8.1 - WTNH 8 / ABC
8.2 - Bounce TV (african-american)

18 - Four spanish language stations

20.1 - WCCT / CW
20.2 - This TV (movies and reruns)

24.1 - CPTV Main
24.2 - CPTV4U
24.3 - CPTVS (mostly local sports)

26.1 - ION
26.2 - qubo (kids)
26.3 - ION Life

30.1 - WVIT 30 / NBC
30.1 - COZI (movies and reruns)

59.1- WCTX (MYTV-9) - sketchy reception

61.1 - Fox 61
61.2 - Antenna TV (movies and reruns, think Nick at Night)

More content, actually, then the lifeline cable I was buying - the only thing I really miss is NECN which was a decent substitute for CNN / MSNBC mostly.

What makes it work for me is my Roku Box, which gives me high quality shows via several services. Netflix (long time subscriber, via Roku and iPad), PBS (like having a public television DVR, amazing), Hulu Plus (I stopped subscribing but might sign up again if I find some broadcast shows I like). That, plus the ABC and NBC iPad apps (to catch things I've missed) and my media life is doing fine.

September 20, 2013

The Gun and Ammunition Tax

This one came to me in the shower this morning. Listening to NPR's coverage of the most recent mass shooting, along with discussiosn about the disbursement of funds to victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.

Clearly, the gun lobby is not about to change - we're stuck with guns, we're stuck with ammunition.

So, let's treat guns and ammo like we do other problematic social issues (alcohol, cigarettes).  Specifically, I propose we develop a financial compensation package for victims of gun violence. A fixed benefit to the victims of, or survivors of fatal shootings, to be determined by some arbitrator. So, $1M for a fatality (for instance), with various lower values for different levels of incapacitation. We take the "external" cost of gun ownership, and internalize it.

The fund for these benefits will be generated by a tax on firearms and ammunition, based on historical data and trends in violence, and assessed on an annual basis. And there would be exceptions - no benefit if one is wounded in the commission of a crime, no benefit for stupid or risky behavior (including suicide, accidental shootings, or family members accessing an unsecured firearm) - the benefit goes to innocent victims only.

You want a lower gun tax? Then work to reduce violence, through education, through background checks, through internal policing in the gun world, through better mental health services.

And no, we are not going to come take your guns. But we will make sure the social cost of easy access to firearms accrues to the folks who demand and enjoy the easy access.

September 16, 2013

Kirtan No More

I last played Kirtan with Shankara / West Hartford Yoga back in December 2012. It was my last with the group. We had some internal group dynamic stuff going on (the percussionists left the ensemble immediately after that kirtan) and I also had some personal stuff going on - was not 100% happy with the direction of the group (I'm not a big fan of guru-worship, and the altars were getting higher and higher) and I was finding myself so emotionally and spiritually drained following a kirtan that I was physically wrecked for 2-3 days following.

Bottom line: I was giving a lot more than I was receiving, I was becoming resentful of that, and I was not really that invested in the whole thing. It was time to step back. I left on good terms, and have volunteered to set-up and run the sound system for upcoming kirtan events.

Shankara has gathered a new group of musicians, and is getting ready for a Kirtan on October 12. You can keep track of the group on Facebook, here.

It was way back in 2007 that I stepped shyly to Shankara and mentioned that I played guitar "just in case you need someone" - we've had a long and fruitful musical relationship, and it re-awakened my own musical passion that eventually evolved to coming back to the bass and joining the Guinea Pigs. But it was time to move on. Hopefully, Shankara has benefited with renewed energy and ideas from his new ensemble. I'm still trying to figure out what is next in my life - and stepping back from kirtan was one place I'm "making space" for something new.....

September 15, 2013

Home Improvement - Entryway Edition

 Inspired by Falcon Ridge (and our annual quest for both rain and sun protection), I envisioned a square canvas panel to be used as a shade on the porch, tied to the railing. Did not find that available (I am sure I could have one made) but I did find some screening / shading material made by Coolaroo.   It's basically a roll of woven PVC material (6' x 15') for not a lot of bucks ($35 on Amazon) - they also make sails, window shades, etc.

My first trial used the Coolaroo "butterfly clips" (little plastic clamps with holes for cording) which was effective but a little trash looking (the fabric stretched). So I went and bought some thin wooden strips (1/2" x 1") and made a light frame, to which I wrapped and stapled the fabric. 

And, voila. 

Took on a few ascetic projects over the past few weeks, might as well document 'em.

First, I replaced an aging front porch lamp. I tend to have it on nightly from dusk to midnight (it's on a timer) to enable me to find my way inside as well as give the "one resident with a busy life" condo a bit more of a lived in feel.

But over the summer, I noticed that it was pretty bright on the side of the building next door (apartments) and when the wind was blowing and the flag was flapping, was probably kind of annoying to the residents. Not that I have any particular fondness for the folks next door. And the neighbor most affected tends to smoke out the window and leave a hug pile of ugly cigarette butts that do not get cleaned up in seasons when the grass is not being tended to. So replacing the light "for the neighbors" was a good exercise in "metta".

I picked up a "dark skies" model at Lowe's that directs the light downward - and set out for a quick swap out. But home repair rarely goes as planned. here's the box, as found. You may notice: 
  • Interior box used outside
  • Roofing nails used to affix the box (and as a ground stud)
  • Aluminum nails + copper wire + moisture = corrosion 
  • No insulation on wiring
  • No waterproofing or gasketing
  • Clear indication of insects living in there

So first step was to completely replace the box. I ended up with a proper external box, mounted it with anchor bolts, and caulked up both the wireway hole and the back of the box. Then I used gasket material (and caulk, being an engineer, I like both a belt and suspenders) to seal the fixture. Here's the result:

Bonus points, the same CFL bulb, directed downward, is a lot brighter and aestheticially pleasing than with the old fixture. And the light / shadow cast on the building next door is a lot less instrusive.

I doubt they will even notice, but I feel better about myself and my impact on the world.  
My second project involved shading the front porch. My condo is kind of quirky, four units, one building, and the entrance to the two end units are on the side of the building. So my "front door" actually faces the apartment building next door, to the west. So the afternoon sun can get pretty annoying (heat and brightness) in the living room through the screen door, and since I choose not to open the first floor windows (for security) there's not a lot of air. In addition, the folks in the apartment next door can look right in with the door open. 

September 10, 2013

Durable Goods

The last time I purchased a canister vacuum cleaner was 1983. I was fresh out of school and with my sears charge card in hand I stocked up on the essentials, including a Kenmore vacuum with a power adapter. It's gone with me through 3 apartments, two houses, and a condo. The power adapter died long ago, the metal extension has disappeared, and the hose is mostly duct tape (and not easily or cheaply replaced).

It's survival all these years is probably a combination of Kenmore quality and my own rather lax standards in terms of cleaning, although it has cleaned up after 4 or 5 dogs over the years. 

I've only used it for the stairs in recent years, and 1980's tech is no longer light (or perhaps my 50 year old arms and shoulders are less amenable to hauling it up and down) So tonight I decided to pick up something new.

First stop PC Richard's, where I looked at what was there (quite a bit) and waited around for someone to wait on me (nobody came) so I wandered over to Target (not much, and what they had was not really that good quality) and Best Buy (too pricey for my tastes).

So back to PC Richard's where a gentleman showed up to sell me a vacuum. They had some really decent prices on larger units (similar to my old one, with a power adapter) but, remembering that I only use it for stairs, I opted for a  Dirt Devil FeatherLite Cyclonic Canister Vacuum which was priced at $99 (totally cool with that) - but when it came time to ring it up, it was on sale for $60.

It's a pretty decent unit, 10 Amp motor, bagless dust canister, HEPA filter. I doubt it will last 30 years like my old one did. But I paid a lot more (in 1980's dollars) for that old guy. And besides, I'm not 100% sure I have 30 years left myself.....

Cleaned the stairs tonight, both sets. Works like a champ!

And the old soldier - off to a Craigslist Free Stuff listing. Someone can probably make use of it, for parts or for a basement or something.

September 08, 2013

Young, Folk, and Talented

Spent most of the day, yesterday at The 2013 CT Folk Festival down at Edgerton Park in New Haven.

Amongst the singer-songwriters and the bluegrass (not my fave, but whatever) were two young bands that truly impressed.

I've seen Poor Old Shine a bit - at Falcon Ridge mostly - so it was delightful to find myself seated and attentive through a full set. One can not help but be infected by their spirit of fun. The three main players gather around a central mic and just howl harmonies at each other in a way that is intimate and casual - you see women do that sort of thing (thinking Red Molly or Boxcar Lilies) but the Poor Old Shine dudes are totally comfortable sharing personal space. One of our party called it a bit of a "bromance" as the guys are having so much fun together and with the music, and are not afraid of being vulnerable and supportive. Love them!

Poor Old Shine gets bonus points for  dragging up the most eclectic pile of instruments onto a local stage ever. The basic line-up - drums, stand-up bass, guitar, mandolin, and banjo - is supplemented by an accordian, a pump organ (!), a glockenspiel (!!), and a singing saw (!!!). I suspect if somebody tossed a cat up on stage they'd figure out a way to get music out of it. Oh wait, already been done.

Kaia from Little Ugly (another local band that fits in with the title of this post) highly recommended opening act Goodnight Blue Moon as "up and coming, the next big thing" and so I found myself a seat right at 11 am for their set, and was not disappointed. I really enjoyed their music both live and bought their CD.

It's so much fun watching these "young 'uns" playing in the folk / americana / indie genre with so much talent, so little pretense.