Cutting the Cord - Six Years Later

Over 6 years ago, I cut the cord. For the following 3 years, we enjoyed OTA with Tivo, Netflix, YouTube and Hulu, etc... We took advantage of the savings and enjoyed the new TV and equipment we were able to purchase in lieu of paying for cable. After 3 years cable free, we moved and were offered a promotion as a "new customer" and plugged back in.

For the last 3 years, we have been enjoying 50Mbps Internet + Cable TV + DVR from Time Warner Cable here in Raleigh, NC. 

{INSERT FRUSTRATING RANT HERE REGARDING RECENT EXPERIENCE WITH BILL JUMPING TO OVER $150/MO}

I decided to cut the cord again. The day of the issue (yesterday), I cancelled all accounts and all services.

I went to Best Buy on the way home and picked up the following equipment:
Tivo Roamio 1TB OTA $399.99
Mohu Leaf 50 $59.99
Netgear DOCSIS Cable Modem $59.99
Apple TV $89.99 (with Sling TV signup promo)
Total: $609.96

Straight out of my old playbook, I called Earthlink and ordered the latest promotion for 100Mbps internet (currently $39.99/month for 6 months with no contract, up to $49.99 after 6 months). Process was simple and easy. Called with my new cable modem MAC Address and service was activated in minutes.

6 years ago, we were pretty early adopters. I put a significant amount of time into researching how to do this. Granted, I have done it before, I am impressed with the ease of getting this done (literally in a matter of hours we were up and running -- watching a DVR of one of our favorite shows after putting the kids to bed). I want to credit Best Buy having all of the equipment in stock, Earthlink for the ease of placing the internet order.

We are still subscribed to Netflix, so nothing to do there, but wanted to record services and rates:
Tivo Guide $0.00/month (Free for life with Tivo Roamio OTA)
Netflix $9.99/month
SlingTV $25.00/month (Orange+Kids Extra for Disney Junior)
Total: $34.99/month

Total Monthly with Internet: $74.98, $84.98 after 6 months, No contracts

This give us a 9 Month payback on equipment assuming a $150/month alternative and ~$1700 additional savings over then next 3 years.

Overall, I'm impressed with the experience. The Leaf antenna is excellent and installs flat. No issue with signal across major local networks (CBS, ABC, NBC, etc...) Tivo Roamio OTA 1TB is very simple and intuitive (much like previous Tivo experience). Netflix, YouTube, Hulu and other streaming providers are integrated. 

The only thing missing from this setup is SlingTV integration with Tivo Roamio OTA.

Never looking back...

Cloud Security

When talking about Cloud Security, I've found that most are concerned about where cloud data is located and how secure that location is. While this is an important concern, reputable Cloud Service Providers (those obligated to legal, privacy, security and data ownership policies, service level agreements, etc...) have gone to great lengths (and expense) to protect their customers' data (including ensuring they are in certified data center facilities that restrict access, encrypt data, etc...) I believe there is a larger concern... you. Please ask yourself: What am I doing to secure my data? Am I using strong passwords (not one of these)? Am I using different passwords for different services? Is the device that I use to access my data secure, updated and protected? Is the internet connection I'm using secure? 

First off, create strong passwords. Think of a sentence that you can remember and take the first letter of each word in the sentence to form the password.

Second, passwords alone are not good enough. They can be guessed, cracked, hacked or otherwise stolen. The result can lead to access to your accounts (regardless of location). If you use the same password for multiple services, this can be used against you to access to your other accounts.

2-step verification (also knows as 2-step authentication, two-factor authentication or multi-factor authentication) is the idea is that you use a password plus something else to secure access to your account (and your data). This is not necessarily a new idea. Banks have been doing this a long time (mother's maiden name, PIN, etc...) You can now enable two-step verification for some Cloud Services. What makes this unique is that these use your phone (app, SMS or voice call), but some use other more complex methods like printable matrix grids to reference.

Having unique passwords for different sites (and changing them regularly) can be a challenge. There are solutions out there to help with this. My favorite: LastPass. It will save your password in real time and enter it for you for most major sites that you have saved. Make sure you enable two-step verification.

Secure your devices and internet connections. Especially Windows, but I think all operating systems are at risk. Make sure you apply the most recent updates and patches and use anti-virus software. Set operating systems and devices to "auto update" if available. Enable your firewalls and disable sharing. Secure network routers that you own. Avoid using free public internet connections or shared public computers. If you are routinely mobile, get a hotspot. And finally, use a secure internet browser like Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox.

Please take advantage of every opportunity to secure your data in the cloud (and everywhere else for that matter).

More:

Pilot Logbook in the Cloud

Ever since I earned my Private Pilot License, I have been using my Sportys Pilot Logbook that I bought on the same day I finished my introductory flight. I didn't really think about it until the other day; what if I lost my logbook? How do I get back all of my flight logs? Apparently, this is not really a new question. The short answer is, you can't. But you do have some options.

  1. Check with your flight instructors. Hopefully they keep good records of your flights.
  2. Check with your flight school or flight club.
  3. FAA Form 8710. Hopefully you filled this out and duplicated your logbook at the time of your check ride.

After doing some searching, there are a few useful solutions:

  1. Keep your logbook at home. Carry a smaller version to log time after flights.
  2. Make photo copies of your logbook periodically and store in a safe location.
  3. Scan and backup electronically.
  4. Use logbook software.

I decided that I would use Google Drive (and Google Spreadsheets) to develop an cloud-based logbook myself. There were a few pros to this approach:

  1. I could view and updated my logbook from anywhere (on any device). I have an iPhone and iPad that I use for flying anyway.
  2. I could share in real-time with my instructor (or anyone with a Google Account).
  3. I could easily total my time and landings in different aircraft and by category (this is really useful for insurance applications).
  4. I could easily filter to limit the log view.
Screen shot 2013-08-10 at 10.15.14 AM
Screen shot 2013-08-10 at 10.15.14 AM

By using Google Drive and Google Spreadsheets for my logbook, I can now make log entries from the plane and not worry about losing my logs. Now I simply sit down and transfer the electronic logs to my paper logbook when I have time. There are many possibilities here with Google Apps Script and integrations with other apps like Google Maps.

For those interested in making a copy of my Pilot Logbook Template, please feel free. Sorry, I don't have an Excel version, but you can always download as XLS.

iPro Aviator Kneeboard Review

I decided to evaluate the new iPro Aviator iPad Kneeboard. As delivered, the straps are attached around the front. This is a good way to store the kneeboard since it keeps the straps from hanging loose and keeps the front cover closed. The device is made of glass-filled polymer making it seemingly very strong. The cover works as a flip-over writing surface (including a sturdy metal paper clip). Combined with a small loop in the strap for keeping an ink pen; this works as a great backup in the event you need to keep a paper chart or pad. The cover is shorter than the actual height of the iPad (apparently for yoke clearance while in flight -- not really an issue for me). You can also pop off the cover completely with an open hinge (I think I'll leave it on).

The rear of the kneeboard has a molded curved surface for your leg and also includes a flush-mounted "kickstand". You can swing it out for desktop use and I was able to stand it up in portrait or landscape orientation.

Overall, the iPro Aviator kneeboard is very well designed, sturdy and full of great features like the pen loop and backup paper writing surface. I would sacrifice the kickstand and curved back for a lower profile, but overall this is a high quality kneeboard and I recommend this to other pilots looking for a professionally made quality kneeboard for your iPad. ForPilotsOnly.com shipped the device very quickly and it came well packaged and included  simple instructions for use.

Purchase an iPro Aviator online at http://www.forpilotsonly.com.


How to Make an iPad Kneeboard

I decided to make a kneeboard that was similar to my single strap board that I have used for years. I found the Belkin Grip Clear Vue case at Target for $23.99.  The clear rubber is firm enough not to tear and soft enough to cut with an X-Acto knife (barely.) I used 2" wide adhesive Velcro strips (stuck back-to-back) and cut to size.

  1. Measure proper length for Velcro straps and stick back-to-back to make the strap (You could get a regular 2" double sided Velcro strap and eliminate this step)
  2. Lay out the new strap behind the clear case and mark two slits ~2" apart with a Sharpie marker
  3. Cut around the Sharpie guide lines using an X-Acto knife (it was easier to make the longer cuts first)
  4. Insert the Velcro strap loops down as shown

Total investment: ~$30.00.

App Update

After months using the iPad on flights, I decided to try using the iPad full-time. The November release of iOS 4.2 brought multitasking which allowed me to launch apps (like AvCharts and Penultimate) and switch between the 2 without worry of losing where I left off. Penultimate is perfect for clearance and in-flight notes.  You can add new pages, clear pages instantly, undo/redo, erase, etc... There is wrist protection built in and you can even send a page (or entire notebook) to email.  This is perfect for me since I usually write all of my flight details on scrap paper and have to transfer the detail in my logbook. Now, I just send to email which logs the date and all of my flight detail like destinations, landings, flight time, etc...

AvCharts has been out a while, but the ability to save and update hi-res charts is perfect for the iPad.

iPad 3G GPS and ForeFlight

ForeFlight released their moving map and heads-up display today. New in ForeFlight Mobile HD 3.5.1

  • Moving-map, heads up display for iPad with groundspeed, track, altitude, and GPS accuracy
  • Locator icon changes to an aircraft when track available
  • Navlog overlaid on map with ETE, fuel, distance, and headwind component
  • One tap to file a flight plan, look up ATC routes, or reverse the route
  • Favorite routes and recent routes
  • Animated radar and satellite for iPad
  • Visible+infrared composite satellite
  • Airport-level radar and satellite (see cells on or around the airport)
  • Flight plan filing and briefing on the iPad
  • Enter lat/lon values on routes like 32.3N/82.2W
  • Full iPhone OS 4 compatability

Great beta test by ForeFlight co-founder/developer Jason Miller.  Good to see the iPad doesn't implode over 10,000ft.


Aviation Apps and iPad

As a private pilot, I've been using an iPod Touch to run apps for flying starting in 2009.  I have been extremely pleased with the performance and functionality of the iPod Touch, but for me there was only one problem; the display is too small. As soon as I heard about iPad, I knew that I could not wait to get one just to run ForeFlight.  I pre-ordered a 16GB WiFi Apple iPad which arrived April 7, 2010.  I've been using the iPad now for a couple months and have found it to function as promised (in fact, just like a big iPod Touch.)

ForeFlight Mobile 3 HD is the most comprehensive aviation app available right now.  Get aviation weather, AF/D & flight plan filing with maps, TFRs, TAFs and METARs.  At $74.99/year (the most expensive app I have purchased)... it is well worth it.

You can save AF/D and plates/procedures based on location and ForeFlight will notify you when they have expired.  This is an important for me since I have the WiFi version of the iPad which can only be updated when connected to a WiFi internet connection.

With the launch of the iPad 3G, you can now access real-time data when connected to AT&T 3G data network.  I think this would be very helpful for sitting in the plane to check weather, otherwise ForeFlight will let you download entire states to your iPad in the event you cannot connect.

ForeFlight on iTunes

For only $2.99, AvCharts is a newer app that will let you save US approach plates, airport diagrams, STARs, and SIDs.  AvCharts even has a "draw mode" so you can take notes on charts.  AvCharts claims to update 1 day before their expiration.

AvCharts on iTunes

Trade Cable for a New HDTV Media Center

In December 2009, I did some analysis and I found that it was possible to cancel cable and purchase a new TV and media center equipment every 3 years (assuming OTA and internet TV stays free)... so I did. This idea was driven mainly by frustration with the ever-changing Time Warner Cable bill and the fact that we had paid over $480.00 over 5 years for a rented HD DVR box (how much do you think TWC is making renting these boxes?).

Requirements

  • HD TV with DVR
  • Major networks for live events and prime time programming (CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX)
  • Additional programming (like Discovery Channel, National Geographic, Food Network, etc...)
  • High speed internet
  • No installation or equipment rental fees

Budget

  • $100/month (average Time Warner Cable bill)

I decided to go with over-the-air HD for network television (41 channels in Raleigh, NC).  I went through a couple different antennas, but found a good one with Terk.

I went with an amplified Terk for our main TV and a cheaper RCA for the bedroom.  Tivo HD (now Tivo Premiere) with the service plan got us the local guide for OTA programming and DVR.

Samsung 50" 720p Series 4 Plasma (PN50C450) $799.99

Tivo HD +Antenna (Now Tivo Premiere) $299.99

Tivo Service plan $10.75/month ($129.00 annual payment)

Over-the-air high definition "Free" - does anyone know how to calculate how much per taxpayer goes to support free OTA programming?

Terk Omni-directional amplified flat digital antenna $59.99

RCA Basic flat antenna $29.99

Additional Programming

To get traditional "cable" shows like "Dirty Jobs" or "Man vs. Food", I decided to get a Mac Mini.  The Mac Mini consumes low energy, has a very small footprint for our single tier entertainment center and has additional functionality (beyond just internet TV) like iPhoto for slideshows, iTunes for music and DVD.  We also subscribed to Netflix for movies which is available on Tivo and Mac Mini.  We have found that internet TV content is updated and allows us to watch stuff that we would have missed anyway.

Mac Mini $599.99

Monoprice Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter $8.55

Monoprice 3.5mm to RCA $3.40

Netflix (streaming, DVD delivery and Tivo integration) $8.99/month

Hulu.com with Hulu Desktop, TV.com, Boxee Free

High Speed Internet

I tried Clear.com for high speed internet; but it didn't work for me (after a 2 week trial).  I'll save this for a separate post.  Ended up going with Earthlink for cable internet (this is actually served by Time Warner Cable, but I felt better ordering online with Earthlink.)

Earthlink Cable Internet $29.95/month

Summary

Total equipment costs:  $1,801.90

Equipment over 36 months:  $50.05 Total monthly recurring:  $49.69

Approximate total monthly:  $99.74

We watch mostly network TV (CBS, NBC, etc...) so this works well for us.  OTA HDTV is very reliable with a good antenna, but does fall apart some on very windy days.  We've been using this setup for 6 months and OTA HDTV has ~98% availability.

Warriors on the Water - First Class Fishing

I fished the 2010 Warriors on the Water at Jordan Lake on Friday.  I attended the Wednesday night meeting which was very well organized at Sports USA on post at Ft. Bragg.  Anglers and soldiers got a bag full of baits, shirts, hats, glasses and all kinds of  gear.  Soldiers got rods and basically everything they needed to fish in the Friday tournament.  Food was free and I met my soldier co-angler Scott Smith. When I got to New Hope Overlook at Jordan Lake, the Warriors on the Water staff checked you in from the truck then the line formed at the ramp.  While in line, they had coffee, Krispy Kreme doughnuts and sausage biscuits and gave out bags full of water, Gatorade and snacks.  They even had volunteers there to back and park your trailer.

After the national anthem, the US Army Golden Knights Parachute Team jumped from a Twin Otter over the field of 150 boats.

At the end of the day, the weigh-in had a good crowd and they even had volunteers to walk your fish back to the water.  Texas Roadhouse catered BBQ plates for anglers and soldiers.

Overall, this event was one of the most well organized, fun and generally satisfying tournaments I have ever fished.  We had 11lb 5oz on 3 fish, Scott caught a few fish (even a good striper) and overall, we had a good day.  The opportunity to give the soldiers a fun day of fishing is enough for me; Warriors on the Water truly made this a first-class event.