My Cutting Cable TV guide

1) What kind of TV do you have? Most importantly, what type of connections do you have on the back of your TV.  For most of you, you will find any/some of the following:

  1. HDMI (best and most common on TVs < 5 years old)
  2. DVI (good and common on TVs <10 years old without HDMI)
  3. Component (Red/White/Yellow/Green/Blue. Common on HD tv’s)
  4. RCA (Red/White/Yellow, common on TV’s before HD)
  5. S-Video (Yellow circular plug, somewhat common on TV’s before HD)
  6. Coaxial / SCART (Basically standard on all TV’s in the last 25 years).
An HDMI connector will look like this:           A DVI connector and cord will look like this:   dvi_d_socket 111dvi dvi                 2) What are you going to connect to the TV? You have a wide range of devices you can connect to your TV.  First, and probably easiest, is an old computer that you might have lying around, such as a laptop you no longer need or a desktop. Find a place for it behind the television and connect it via the HDMI or DVI ports. Other options include what are known as “streaming devices”. Apple TV is an example of a streaming device, as is the Roku and Western Digital Live devices. These connect to your home network and then to the net to bring you content from all over the world. I personally prefer a Mac Mini as it gives me more options for content to watch. If you do opt for an old computer, you should consider buying a wireless keyboard and a mouse, or more preferably a trackpad. Why a trackpad? It looks better on your couch and it doesn’t get as thrown around / beat up as a mouse. And as strange as it sounds, there is a great deal of content that is “over the air” for free. You should consider attaching an antenna to your TV to pull in a number of free signals from the major networks, PBS, and the independent channels in your area. Because cable companies compress the quality of the HD signal over their lines, you may found that HD over the air is actually clearer than what you were getting with cable.  To see what signals you can get over the air, check out the broadcasters Antenna Web site and input your details.  3) What are you going to watch? This is where it gets fun, and this is also where you start to make a change in your viewing habits. With a standard TV, you can turn it on and just leave it running, flipping channels as you feel like it seeking out some content. But when you make the switch to Internet TV, you find yourself watching only “what you want to watch” rather than having television on as an ambient background noise. Sure you can put on a stream and have it run all day, but generally you’ll find yourself turning it on and off as needed. You can start by getting some sort of media management program. You can use iTunes to download and rent movie and TV shows, or you can look into some other media management tools like Plex or the open source XBMC. You can also use your web browser and look through sites like:
  • Netflix
  • Hulu
  • Amazon Video
  • ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox
  • A&E, Discovery, History Channel, etc.
For live television, you can find streams on many of the websites for television stations, but you can also look at streaming specific apps like Livestation and LiveStream, but also sites like JustinTV and UStreamTV. There are also what are known as peer-to-peer streaming apps, some of which have content that is not copyright safe but still stuff you would like to watch.  PPTV and Sopcast are examples of these programs. 4) Going International There are literally dozens of channels from around the world that have streaming content available, such as the BBC iPlayer and the ABC (Australia) Player. However, many of these are geographically restricted to people who have an IP address in that country. To get around this, you need a VPN or DNS redirection service. While there are a few you can find for free, if you really want higher quality, you should consider paying for a service like  This gives you a VPN to over 65 countries and can open up a whole world of content no matter where you are living. For example here in Hong Kong I’m streaming BBC 1 ‘Breakfast’ as I type this article.   Screen Shot 2013-05-24 at 3.14.04 PM     Read more about my adventures with IPTV as a replacement for cable by searching here. Read about cutting cable and going fully online for your television.  ]]>

Elegant Hydroponic solutions.

Hong Kong Hackerspace DimSumLabs I gave a quick two-minute presentation on some of the more ‘elegant’ solutions for hydroponic growing that I had found. With a wife who would literally kill me if I was to install a “bunch of tubes” of PVC in the house, I’ve been on the lookout for something more consumer friendly and visually appealing.  It’s actually been a bit surprising how little is really out there, and nice to see some DIY projects starting to recognize the need for something a bit prettier than PVC. The first thing I found was an Ikea hack called Eliooo. There are several different varieties using standard off the shelf Ikea products, primarily the TROFAST system. ikea1 ikea2               I like this solution as it falls within my price point (next to free) but doesn’t look like a bunch of tubes.  I also have a number of TROFAST lying around the house (kids’ toy boxes). I may end up building the one with rolling casters as that would suit my small house well and I could move it in and out of the sunlight as needed. At a bit higher end, there is this Urban Cultivator project.This looks more like something I’d put in my kitchen (if I had the space) or a product I’d like to build myself. I’ve actually talked to a few home appliance manufacturers in China about repurposing a ‘dorm fridge’ or a ‘wine fridge’ as a hydroponic facility.  Urban Cultivator actually makes a home and kitchen version, which is pretty impressive. kc-ex2 cultivator cc-front                       One of the nice things about this unit is that it has a built in computer system to handle most of the growing process.  You can see it in action in the video from the company.   The final, and probably most impressive unit, comes from the prototype department at Philips, which is both a good and a bad thing. It’s good in the sense that the big boys are seriously looking at home hydroponic solutions, and that they have put some serious thought and design effort into building something incredibly beautiful, but it’s bad news in the sense that it’s from Philips. Something this cool and impressive will never come from a big behemoth company that will have 100s of employees and bean counters fighting for some way to kill the project instead of a few dozen pushing it. Still, it’s nice to look at:   biosphere]]>

5 ways to simplify your life

1) Stop getting dressed. Steve Jobs, William F. Buckley, Larry Ellison, Bill Gates, and a massive number of bankers and lawyers.  What do they have in common? They all, basically, wear the same thing everyday. Steve Jobs was famous for his turtlenecks and jeans, and bankers and lawyers are always in charcoal grey with white shirts and a colored tie. Of course it isn’t the exact same item they are wearing day-in-day-out, but they are wearing ‘something’ that means they no longer have to worry about what they wear everyday. They can literally grab the first thing that comes out of the closet and put it on, ending the ‘decision’ period of what to wear, what to wear that goes on daily. Even if you spend only a minute a day deciding what to wear, you are wasting six hours a year. You can even take it a bit further. If you find something you like, or that is not very important, such as underwear or socks, consider buying in bulk.  I have 30 pairs of black socks and 20 pairs of white socks, all the same. I have not matched socks in over 10 years.  Why? Because every sock matches every other.   I have 30 pairs of underwear.  I have 6 pairs of khaki pants and 6 pairs of black pants. I have two pairs of dress shoes (identical). I just don’t care, and no one really notices. The reality is that unless you are working in the fashion industry, the vast majority of people wouldn’t notice if you wore the same thing daily, unless it started to smell. [caption id="attachment_4458" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Black and white socks (and wicked exposure problem with the camera) Black and white socks (and wicked exposure problem with the camera)[/caption]   2) Automate as much as possible. Amazon Prime is one of the greatest inventions in history. Why? Because it allows for ‘subscriptions’ of many day-to-day items that we use. It is ridiculous to buy at a retail store any of the following:  soap, shampoo, razors, shaving cream, q-tips, toilet paper, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, sponges, dishwasher soap, laundry detergent, and many other household items. Why? Because the chances are you are ‘done’ deciding what brand to buy. You are set in your choices for these items and buying them is simply a matter of grabbing them and putting them in the cart, or maybe shopping around slightly to find a better price. You are not shopping–you are simply engaged in the logistical operation of getting certain goods to your house. Automate this. Automate and NEVER think about this again. Have a delivery of these items brought to you every week. The time you will save will be significant, but you will also avoid the “emergency shampoo”. In the course of a year, there will come a day when you need to make an emergency purchase of any of the above items. You have a meeting and you are out of toothpaste, or shampoo or whatever. This necessitates a run to the store, parking in the lot, walking in the store, buying something, and then driving back home again to take care of whatever it was. This can be quite a long time, and you’ll probably spend more than a dollar or two just on gas. Automate the simple things. Get them out of your hair now and don’t think about it anymore. 3) Compartmentalize your media. Consuming media can lead to a state of media gluttony–overloaded and overstressed. If you are a media junkie, the new tools of the Internet allow you far too much access to far too much interesting content. This can consume your preciously needed free time. But if you step back, you start to realize very little of the consumption is ‘active’–it’s more passive and becomes very habit forming. Like eating french fires because they are there when you order a Big Mac, not because you really wanted them. The TV is on with noise, the radio, the net, email, messengers, etc.  These ambient media sources come in and out of your day to life causing tremendous stress. One of the best things you can do is to cut cable tv.  Get rid of the 1000s of channels you don’t need so you find yourself focusing on the ones you really want. Turn off e-mail notifications.  Use email rules to filter so much of the noise out before it arrives. Consider subscribing in paper to a newspaper instead of reading online (and getting distracted). This was probably the toughest for me. I haven’t mastered it by any stretch. 4) Move to work, or work to you. Commuting sucks. You probably think of the time spent getting to work as the actual time spent in your car, but the true ‘door-to-door’ time can actually be quite a bit longer. Waits in the parking garage, the time it takes to go down three escalators in the subway. Long commutes–heck any commute becomes this block of time in which you can do nothing but travel to and from your job. The time spent commuting is one of the biggest financial and time wastes of your life. Moving closer to work, or working from home if that is an option, saves weeks per year. Weeks per year. Commuting can be one of the most expensive taxes you pay, not only in money on your transit but in the time wasted. Sometimes this requires a career change, but the reality is that very few of us are in such specialized professions that there is “no other option”. 5) Declutter and Centralize Have you ever looked for your keys? Your glasses? Your wallet? This is wasted time. Have a centralized location for things you need every day. Glasses, keys, wallet, phone and any other item that is a ‘must-have’ every day you head out. There is no need for paper for a vast majority of items. One of the best things I did was buy a sheet-fed automatic scanner to process receipts, letters, Christmas Cards, bills,–whatever comes across my desk and clogs things up. This is what I bought Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 Scanner for PC and Mac (PA03656-B005)  I now scan basically everything and minimize the paper shuffle going on my desk.  Take a look around your room.  Anything you have not touched in the last 60 days should go to a place where it is not visible. Sorted into a closet or put away so as not to clutter your brain.  Items you haven’t used in 12 months should be pitched. This goes not only for computer parts lying around that you are afraid to throw away, but clothes as well (getting back to the first point on my list).     Anyway, these are just a few random thoughts.  What are your tips?  ]]>