Time Marches On

So it’s Sunday morning again, and I’m futzing around on my laptop, aimlessly, as is my wont.

I thought I should mention Twitterrific again, as it now seems to be 100% officially dead. So I guess I should remove it from my iPhone and iPad and give up on Twitter completely now. I’d been holding out some hope that Elon would reverse course and turn the API access back on, but I guess not. Sigh.

I was also looking around at the “on this day” links on the sidebar of my blog, and noticed this one, originally linking to the website that my brother Pat and his wife Heather set up. Heather gave up the domain name for that, heatherandpatrick.com, a long time ago, after Patrick passed away. But, just for yuks, I decided to see what, if anything was at that domain now. Turns out that another Heather and Patrick are using it as a website for their upcoming wedding! That’s kind of nice. (Certainly better than the domain squatters who had been sitting on it every other time I’ve gotten curious about it over the years.) Anyway, they seem like a lovely couple, and I hope they have a great wedding!

On a completely different subject, I just got a notification that TiVo is turning off their suggestions feature. Kind of sad to see this going away, though I hadn’t used it much since I dropped back to the Broadcast Basic cable plan. This news got me curious about what alternative are out there to watch broadcast TV, rather than cable + TiVo, for me. First, it looks like I would still have no luck with an antenna. AntennaWeb still indicates that I’d need a major-league outdoor antenna to pick up anything from here. So that’s out. And some of the streaming services like Hulu + Live TV include the major broadcast networks, but that costs $70/month, which is way more than Broadcast Basic is costing me. So I guess I’m sticking with minimal cable + TiVo for now, even though TiVo seems to be in a slow death spiral, and my cable provider’s support for CableCARD is probably dicey at this point.

The Giants lost to the Eagles last night, so my interest in football for this year is mostly done, though I might watch the rest of the playoffs and the SuperBowl anyway. I really got interested in football this season, and that was kind of a surprise to me, since I’ve been losing interest gradually for quite some time now. I guess it was mostly the Giants doing well that kept me interested? Maybe also that, this season, football seemed to be just about football. There was almost no talk about politics or racism or COVID or brain injuries or anything. I realize that all those things are still going on, but I could watch a football game and pretend that it wasn’t for a few hours? Or at least not think about any of it? It was a nice escape. (And yes, the Damar Hamlin thing was a sudden jolt of reality, but he seems to be doing reasonably well, so that’s good.)

Speaking of escapism, I started watching Star Trek: Discovery season 4 yesterday. I signed up for Paramount+ a little more than six months ago, largely so I could watch all the new Star Trek shows, and I still haven’t watched a lot of it. I’ve mostly just been using Paramount+ to watch Inside the NFL lately. I need to catch up on both Discovery and Picard. Maybe now that the Giants are out of the playoffs, I can catch up on all my sci-fi TV.

Old Media

I went down a rabbit hole over the weekend, and I thought it might be fun to write up some notes on it. I had decided that I wanted to watch Magnificent Butcher, a Sammo Hung movie from 1979. I have it on DVD, so I pulled it out of my random DVD pile and stuck it in my Xbox.

The Xbox appeared to boot up, but I couldn’t get anything to show on the screen, and I couldn’t eject the DVD. Long story short, I eventually got the DVD out and the XBox working, but it was stuck in 640×480 resolution. I eventually got it back to normal 4K resolution, but that’s another long story.

So back to the Sammo Hung DVD: I decided that this might be a good excuse to experiment once again with DVD ripping, and watching ripped DVDs on my Apple TV. I have HandBrake installed on my PC, with libdvdcss, but I haven’t used it in a long time. Well, it still works, and I ripped the DVD with no problems.

Next issue: how to watch it on the Apple TV. First, I decided to hook up an external USB drive to my new router. My old router supported an external USB drive too, but I tried it once and found it to be slow and unreliable. So I thought I’d give the new one a try and see if it was better. Well, it was. I hooked up an old 500 GB SSD, formatted as NTFS. The router recognized it, no problem. It automatically exposed it via Samba. I had no trouble accesssing it from my Mac or PC. And it’s pretty fast! So I copied the .mp4 file for the movie up to it, along with a few other random .mp4 files I had on my PC.

Next, I had to decide how to access that shared drive from the Apple TV. I already had VLC installed on the device, so I tried that. It connected to the Samba share, no problem, and let me watch the movie. So I guess I have a pretty good way of watching random .mp4 files on my Apple TV now.

So maybe I should go buy Ladyhawke from Rifftrax and watch that! I’ve been tempted to buy videos from Rifftrax before, but I’ve always held off, since I didn’t have a simple way to watch them on my TV.

I also remembered that I’d copied a few Akira Kurosawa movies from my TiVo to my MacBook several years ago (2016, apparently), via cTiVo. I gave one of those a try, and it works with VLC on the Apple TV too, so now I can copy those files over to the drive and watch them from Apple TV.

And that got me curious about whether or not cTiVo would work on my current MacBook. Well, it does. It was updated earlier this year, and should keep working for a while longer, though I guess it’s on its last legs.

So now I’m copying a few more Kurosawa movies up to my Mac, and I’ll copy those over to the drive tomorrow, so I can have a little Kurasawa marathon at some point in the future. (Of course, there’s no reason I can’t watch the ones that are still on the TiVo, on the TiVo, but…)

I also took an old scratched DVD that wouldn’t play on my Xbox and ripped it on my PC. It didn’t give me any errors, though that doesn’t guarantee that the .mp4 is perfect. I’ll try watching that soon, I think. (The movie is Syriana, and I’ve had the DVD for years, and just never got around to replacing it. So now I can finally watch it! Probably!)

As an alternative to VLC, I’ve considered Infuse, which is probably better, or at least prettier. And of course there’s Plex, which I’ve tried before, and was just too much of a hassle.

Looking at the Plex web site right now, they seem to be de-emphasizing their original purpose as a way to stream your own media, and are now touting the ability to watch free live TV via their app. Most of what they have seems like the same kind of stuff you can get via Pluto, so I’m not sure why anyone would be too excited about it. But OK.

So, anyway, I now seem to have a relatively hassle-free way to watch .mp4 files on my Apple TV. I don’t think I’m going to go on a bender, ripping a bunch of my old DVDs, but I may take some of the more questionable ones and rip those. (Maybe some more old Kung Fu movies that might be a little scratched up.)

almost cord-cutting

I’ve been thinking about canceling my cable TV service for quite a while now. But I can never quite talk myself into it. I finally managed to at least convince myself to drop back from the “Optimum Value” package to the “Broadcast Basic” package, and I called and took care of that today. The math on my cable bill is complicated, but the change should save me somewhere between $50 and $70 per month.

Broadcast Basic is the tier that just gets you broadcast channels, plus News 12. And at this point, that’s about 90% of my cable TV viewing. I’ll also watch stuff on TCM, BBCA, and SyFy occasionally, but not that often. Not enough to justify $50 or $70 every month.

I was pleasantly surprised that Optimum didn’t make me work too hard to do this. They didn’t try to get me to keep the old package, or put me on hold, or disconnect me or anything. All told, it took about 15 minutes.

For streaming video, I’m now paying for Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Disney+, and Apple TV+. So there’s plenty to watch there. Of course, I’m also tempted to sign up for Paramount+, for the Star Trek stuff, and HBO Max, for the DC stuff, but I’m not too tempted.

The boiling frog

I’ve been thinking about the boiling frog metaphor a lot lately, both with regards to small things and big things. This blog post is going to be about some (relatively) small things. (And also, a bit, about the sunk cost fallacy.)

My cable bill this month had a notice of a rate increase, starting next month. It’s a pretty big increase, both on my TV service and my internet service. But there’s also a note that says that existing customers won’t see their rate increase by more than $14.50. The wording on this was a bit hard to parse. It said “rate” and not “bill” so it wasn’t clear if it meant that no individual charge would go up by more than $14.50, or if the total increase wouldn’t be more than $14.50. I called to ask about it, and of course it’s the former. So it should be two $14.50 increases, plus a handful of fee increases, mostly in the $1 to $2 range. So my overall bill should go up by maybe $35. If they’d actually done the full rate increase all at once, my bill would be going up by more than $60, and that would likely have moved me to (finally) drop my cable TV subscription. But the $35 increase isn’t necessarily going to push me to do anything rash. Every time I think about dropping cable, I remember that I’ve got a TiVo which would become useless if I drop cable. But I bought that back in 2015, so I’ve certainly got my money’s worth out of it, and I shouldn’t worry about that particular sunk cost.

There’s some talk about the new rates on the DSLReports forums. Nobody’s happy about it, but for folks like me that only have one option for internet and TV, there’s not much you can do about it. I have no other option for internet, so I just have to pay whatever they charge and live with it. And I don’t think I’m ready to drop cable TV entirely, but I’m considering dropping back to Optimum’s “Broadcast Basic” package which is $25/month and just gets you the broadcast channels and a few others.

I did briefly consider dropping cable entirely and recycling the TiVo, but I still can’t talk myself into it. And, heck, I should really stop watching television entirely, since it’s probably going to give me Alzheimer’s. (I may be oversimplifying those study results. Still, it’s probably not good for me.)

Relating to boiling the frog, but not to anything else above: Boil the Frog is a neat service that generates a Spotify playlist linking any two artists together, in a (nearly) seamless way. I tried some random artists and got some interesting lists. The one linking Jimi Hendrix to Boards of Canada is nice.

Cable TV shenanigans

About a month ago, I blogged about how my cable TV provider was discontinuing my old plan and moving me to a new one. That’s happened, so I now have BBC America, Disney XD, and a few other channels that I’ll probably never watch. For the first year of the new plan, it should have been slightly cheaper than my old plan, so I was OK with that.

For a while now, Cablevision has been tacking on a “surcharge” of $6 per month for “sports and broadcast TV.” This is basically just a way for them to raise prices without saying that they’re raising prices. Well, this month, they announced that they’re splitting the surcharge into two separate surcharges, a $5 sports surcharge, and a $4 broadcast TV surcharge. As silly as the original surcharge was, splitting it into two separate charges is even sillier. And, while it’s not a huge price increase, it does wipe out the price difference between my old plan and the new plan, so I’m now paying about $1 more per month than I was previously.

Ever since Altice bought Cablevision, I’ve been wondering what kind of changes they’d make. It looks like they’re taking the path of eliminating legacy plans and bumping up prices a bit, while taking some steps to avoid losing customers (like the promotional pricing they gave me for the first year). So, I’d say they’re still better than most of the other cable companies out there, but that’s not saying much. Cable TV prices keep rising at a rate higher than inflation, and I don’t think that situation is going to get any better, as the industry continues to consolidate into a few very large companies.

This is all pushing me even further towards cord-cutting, though I’ve decided that I won’t do that until at least a year from now, when my second year of TiVo service is up, and my promotional pricing from the cable company expires. The NY Times recently published an interesting guide to cord-cutting, with advice based on your viewing habits.

On the cable TV side of things, I think that cord-cutting will, at some point, exert enough pressure to keep prices in check. Even without that pressure, TV service isn’t a necessity, so there’s that. I’m worried about the internet service side of this thing though. High-speed internet service is becoming more of a necessity, especially for people like me. The tendency for prices to go up while service quality goes down, when one company has a monopoly in a given area, is well-documented. For now, I’m quite grateful that I live in an area where Cablevision/Altice has to compete with Verizon, so there’s at least some incentive for both companies to provide good service at a not-too-ridiculous price.

Cable TV

A few days after blogging about how I was likely to keep paying for TiVo and cable TV, I got a letter in the mail from my cable company. I’ve been on an old, discontinued, plan for years. They’re finally dropping that plan and forcing me to change to a new one. To start off, they’re giving me a slightly better plan at a slightly lower cost, with Starz thrown in for free, so that’s good. But after a year, that offer ends, and I’d presumably have to start paying the regular price for that plan, and I’d lose Starz. So I’m not sure what I’ll do a year from now. Next October may be finally time to drop cable entirely.

In the meantime, though, my new plan includes BBC America and Disney XD, which weren’t on my old plan. This means that I can watch stuff like Doctor Who, Dirk Gently, and Orphan Black on BBCA. And I can catch Star Wars Rebels and maybe the new Milo Murphy’s Law (with Weird Al!) on Disney XD. So that’s pretty cool.

TiVo Bolt, second year

Evernote just reminded me that my free year of TiVo service is just about up, so I need to decide if I want to pay $150 for a second year, or trade in my TiVo Bolt for something else.

I bought the Bolt about a year ago. The first year’s service was free. After that, it’s $150 per year. That seems a little steep, considering it’s mostly just paying for the TV guide service. After a year with the Bolt, though, I don’t think I’d ever want to go back to the cable company DVR. It’s just so much better.

I might also consider ditching the Bolt in favor of the Bolt+, which is a pretty nice upgrade, but totally unnecessary for me. It’s got a larger hard drive, but I’ve never run out of room on the Bolt’s drive. And it’s got six tuners instead of four, but I’ve never needed to use more than two or three tuners at a time.

I’m not particularly worried about TiVo getting bought out by Rovi. That happened almost six months ago, and there have been no issues with the service since then. It looks to me like that went smoothly and TiVo is continuing to function as always. So I’ll stick with the Bolt and let them charge me $150 for a second year.

I’ve also thought about ditching cable TV entirely, of course, but there’s still enough interesting on to make it worthwhile. I am, though, thinking about dropping Netflix. They raised prices last year for new members, but held the price down for existing members for a year. I just got the notice that my year is up, and my price will go up to $10 per month. With the new TV season starting up, I probably don’t need Netflix right now anyway, though I was looking forward to Luke Cage. There is also some other good stuff coming to Netflix this month, but I don’t think I really need it. I heard someone on a podcast mention recently that they subscribe to Netflix only during the summer months, and cancel it in the fall. That might not be a bad plan. Cancel Netflix, then resubscribe when Agents of SHIELD, The Flash, and Supergirl go into reruns. (Speaking of which, I need to remember to check my TiVo OnePass for Supergirl and see if it’s still valid, since the show has switched networks!)

cTiVo follow-up

When I got home from work today, the three movies I’d queued up to transfer from my TiVo and re-encode were all on my hard drive, apparently fully transferred. I started the process at around 7:30 am, I think, and it looks like it finished up just after 11 am, so I guess that’s not too bad for three long movies. I think the bulk of the time is the encoding process, not the actual transfer, though I’m not sure about that. I set it to encode for viewing on the Apple TV, which seemed like a good idea. There are a bunch of other settings, but I didn’t spend much time trying to figure them out.

So, bottom line, I think cTiVo is probably a pretty good tool for getting stuff off the TiVo, whenever I want to do that.

I had actually wanted to finish watching Stray Dog tonight, but there was a “Girls Night Out” event going on in Somerville tonight, and apparently “girls” like loud, blaring dance music, so quietly watching a foreign movie wasn’t really in the cards. Instead, I took a walk to the mall and grabbed a burger. Then, when I got back and found that the loud music was still going on, I watched an episode of The Flash with my headphones on, cranked up loud enough to drown out BeyoncĂ©’s “Single Ladies.”


When I got my TiVo Bolt, I spent a little bit of time figuring out how I could offload shows from the TiVo to one of my computers. There used to be an official program from TiVo, but they discontinued that several years ago. I’d heard a bit about cTiVo for the Mac and PyTiVo for Mac/PC/Linux, but after taking a quick look, I decided that they were both probably too complicated to deal with at the time.

Back in March, TCM had a little Kurosawa marathon, and I recorded five movies from that. And, of course, then I just left them on the TiVo and never got around to watching them. This week, they started showing in the “going away soon” list, so I decided I should watch them, and maybe also look into offloading them from the TiVo.

So I went and looked into cTiVo again. It turns out that it’s actually really easy to install it and connect it to your TiVo. I’m having mixed success with it though. I set it to transfer Stray Dog and Seven Samurai last night. It copied Seven Samurai fine, but it only copied the first hour of Stray Dog for some reason. So I’m transferring Stray Dog again. It’s taking quite a long time to transfer and encode files, and I’m a little unclear as to whether it’s the transferring and/or the encoding that’s the issue. Well, either way, I’m going to leave it transferring some stuff while I’m at work, and see what it looks like after I get home.

Rovi Buys TiVo

A company named Rovi just bought TiVo. This wasn’t unexpected, and hopefully won’t affect my TiVo Bolt, which is a really great DVR and streaming media box. I hope the combined company does well. I don’t think this deal will affect the TiVo hardware or service at all, at least in the near future.

I think that, if I ever have to give up my TiVo, I’ll probably take that as my cue to give up on cable TV altogether.