Archive for the 'House' Category


DTV Update

When I wrote about the Digital TV converters I bought, I figured I was buying them as a backup if we chose to abandoned cable.  After proving that the converter worked with our spare TV, I was ready to mothball it.  But before doing so, I was curious to see how the picture looked in simple A/B test with the cable TV running into our house.  I hooked one of the converters up to our main TV, got a makeshift antenna to pick up most of the local channels, and then switched back and forth between the over-the-air broadcast and the cable TV versions of the channel.

Result:  the DTV converter offers some real benefits.  Most importantly, the picture quality of the DTV signal is much better than the cable version, at least on our old Phillips TV.  The colors are better and the subtle snow/interference in the CATV signal is all but gone in DTV.  The other advantage is the variable picture sizing, which includes letter box as an option.  Many programs now assume a 16:9 format and are quite annoying to watch at 4:3 with the sides lopped off.  The DTV converter I have offers about 5 different views and works really well.  One important note is the the CM7000 is one of the few converters that offers SVHS out, which is a superior connection compared to composite.

End Result: my experiment led to the purchase of a cheap ($20) video switcher, and I now have the DTV box as part of the entertainment center.  Cable is the default connection, but when we’re watching shows on broadcast channels, we can easily switch over to DTV and get much better viewing experience.

dtvAfter my rant about the slow take up of digital TV, I feel obliged to tell you that I just took delivery of two DTV boxes.  We don’t need them immediately as we have basic cable running to both of our TVs (which are both old and would need the DTV boxes).  In fact, until about 2 months ago I had no intention of getting any coupons or boxes.

It was only until I thought about just how little TV we watch did the DTV idea get into my head.  If really cheap cable goes away which it probably will, I have zero appetite to pay a lot for full cable or satellite.  We have no plans to upgrade TVs.  Broadcast will serve us just fine if need be.  So I went to the site, applied for and received my coupons, and then bought two converters on Amazon.

Today the wonderfully retro, Bulgarian made “Channel Master” showed up.  It complements the rabbit ears well.  I set up our spare TV to try out the box and I must say, I’m impressed.  The setup was a cinch, the picture is good, and some of the extra local channels are a nice addition (like a constant local news/weather loop).

So my recommendation is that if you have an older TV running on cable, it’s probably worth getting a coupon while they’re available and picking up a box just in case.


Heed NOAA weather warnings


A few minutes ago I heard the blaring of the weather radio and was alerted to the first tornado watch of the season.  It was a good reminder that severe weather is upon us, and I encourage you to get a good weather radio, or upgrade to one of the modern versions if need be.

6a377220eca020bb78e08010lNew weather radios are pretty sophisticated.  I have ours set to turn on for just certain alerts, and only when they’re affecting our county.  The alarm is really loud when it goes off, and a text displays accompanies the announcer.  It has a normal radio and alarm clock too, so it completely replaced the bedside clock.  Throughout the year we turn it on every morning just to get the weather forecast, so it’s useful beyond severe weather.  Last year I picked up the Midland model shown here for $50 on Amazon.

Late last summer I realized a big advantage of the radio over other warning methods: time.  It was night, around 10pm, and I was up watching TV.  I heard the alarm go off and scurried to the bedroom to check it.  “Tornado Watch”.  Since Angela was already in bed, I brought the radio downstairs with me and continued watching TV.  About 30 minutes later, the alarm turned on again, this time with a “Tornado Warning” message.  I went upstairs and convinced Angela she really should get up, and we should go in the basement.  We did, and sat there for a few minutes.  After about 5 minutes, the local tornado sirens started blaring outside.

Ultimately the tornado did not touch down, but what if it had and we didn’t have the radio?  Would we have heard the outdoor sirens, and would that 5 minute delay have been too much?  I’m convinced that these radios are essential in every house, and I encourage you to considered getting one as we head into spring.


Another color of Green

Last week, Angela and I were leaving to run some errands and the garage door stubbornly would not close.  I got out of the car and tried again from inside the garage, but all I could get was some whirring and then flashing flights.  “Great”, I thought, figuring this would be yet another in the long list of annoyingly expensive house repairs.

I pulled the opener apart and saw that the main gear had cracked in half, and other gears were very worn.  I went online to research options and found that new openers are not cheap, nor was getting a guy out to do anything about this.  I dug deeper and learned that there is a service kit available for our unit, which comes with most of the wear items for a number of models.  Price: $25.  Much better!  I ordered it Monday, and we spent the rest of the week rearranging our enter/exit routine to deal with manually working the garage door.

On Friday the kit arrived, and yesterday I attempted to install it.  Success!  It did take about 2 1/2 hours and had me disassemble practically the whole opener, just like the reviews cautioned, but it wasn’t terribly difficult.  Anyone with basic hand tools and the patience to read detailed instructions could make the repairs.  It was definitely a more satisfying ending watching the door go up and down, as opposed to writing out a check!

Afterward I felt good not just for completing a little DIY and saving $275, but mainly because all I had to throw away were a few broken gears and some hardware.  I hate the constant stream of trash that’s generated by all of our non-serviceable wares, and not having to throw out our a otherwise good garage door opener (made in 1996) made my day.

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