Bella

After Austin died I knew I would get a new dog eventually. I feel like Rosa would be happier with another dog around, but we had a couple of weeks of great quality time. She hadn’t been going for walks as much and has slowed down some in the meantime. I figured I would start looking soon and Eric’s girlfriend even asked if she could tag along and help out when I visited shelters. Austin came from Paws, so I planned to go there first. I could also go to Lifeline here in Avondale which is where Rosa came from. Also, a person on Nextdoor posts about graduates of the Canine Cellmates program where prisoners work with dogs rescued from the pound before the dogs are made available for adoption. Adult dogs are a little harder to place, so that would be fine with me. Usually if they have lived at a shelter for any amount of time they are pretty much housebroken.

Bella's picture from the shelter's website

Bella’s picture from the shelter’s website


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New TV

I bought a high definition TV in 2003 and it has worked about the same ever since I got it. However the rest of the world has moved on. HDMI cables are now the standard way to connect cable boxes and DVD players to TVs, but mine had an earlier version called DVI. I was able to use cables with HDMI at one end for the DVD player and a DVI connector at the other end for the TV, but DVI doesn’t carry sound, so I had to carry the audio signal separately. Fortunately the TV had a ton of input jacks on the back. While I don’t think it matters much, the TV was only capable of a 1080i picture, but 1080p is now common, including from my Blu-ray player. Lately, the cost of Ultra High Definition TV’s has come down (way below what I got my TV for) and I started thinking about upgrading. In the end I decided that the technology was still developing and I should wait since my old TV was working fine. Until Sunday night.
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Headphone Amplifier

Lately I have been buying a lot of Blu-ray movies as well as some DVD’s so that I could watch movies on the train on the way to and from work. Some of the Blu-rays come with a Digital HD copy that I can download to my tablet, otherwise I can rip DVD’s to watch. The problem is that the volume over headphones on the tablet isn’t that loud. I have to turn the volume all the way up and I still can’t always make everything out when there is a lot of noise on the train. One possible solution would be to use a battery-powered headphone amplifier. Typically these are used for driving bigger headphones that require more power than earbuds, but it should work in my situation as well when the source just needs to be louder. Ten years ago I wrote about a type of headphone amplifier called a CMoy amplifier after its inventor, Chu Moy, who apparently passed away last year. I don’t hear as much about these anymore, but you can still find homemade ones here and there. One guy stopped making them, but now sells the parts as a do-it-yourself kit. His design is powered by two 9-volt batteries and gets pretty good reviews. At $20 for the kit, it is cheaper than ones that are already made and in a mint tin for $35. I have a few empty Altoids tins that I was saving for something like this, which I think is key because it seems likely I will mess at least one of them up trying to get the four holes in exactly the right places and the right size. So I went ahead and ordered a kit, picked up some batteries at Walgreens, and got the kit today.

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Disney Movie Club, Part 2

I think my first go around with the Disney Movie Club worked pretty well. I wound up getting 9 Blu-ray movies for $90 total and with the Disney Movie Reward points from those plus some others I got two more Blu-ray movies free: Tarzan and Hunchback of Notre Dame, two movies towards the end of the Disney Renaissance of the 1990s. I also learned I could have played it a little better by buying pre-orders or feature titles instead of full priced commitment selections, since they usually sell those for $5 less. That would have brought my total down to $80 after paying for both commitment titles. If you want to join, click the link below and then make sure you enter the promo code 50503 at the top of the page to get the best deal:

I would like to do it again because it is such a good deal, and I started a list of movies I would like to get, but I could never get the 6 or 7 titles for the enrollment (5 movies for a dollar plus 1 for $11.95 that counts as a commitment, and an optional 7th movie for $8.95, leaving 2 more commitments to buy at full price later). Before I cancelled my membership last year, they started taking pre-orders for Pinocchio, which hasn’t been available for years and the new release would be a “Signature Edition” which includes Blu-ray, DVD, and a Digital HD version, along with extra content, I would think. The first Signature Edition they did was Snow White, which I bought in the first round and enjoyed. The second was Beauty and the Beast, but I already had a really good version of that one on DVD that also included an unfinished draft preview of the movie that was shown at a film festival to raves from critics. Beauty and the Beast went on to become one of the only animated movies ever nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture (later they put animated movies in a separate category). So I would like to have gotten Pinocchio, which surprised me by rising to the top of the list I made of most acclaimed Disney movies, but I thought I would wait. Typically when a movie is first released on DVD, the movie club has it available as a pre-order that puts it in your hands by the day of the release, then it is available for purchase for club members (sometimes as a feature title which may or may not include a discount, and sometimes as part of a double feature with another movie with some kind of discount), but usually takes three months before it shows up as an enrollment choice. With Pinocchio being a re-release I am not sure how long it will take for it to become an enrollment choice, but I am assuming three months. Meanwhile, Moana was released to theaters and was pretty good, so I wouldn’t mind owning that when it comes out on Blu-ray, and Rogue One turned out to be really good too, so I would like to get that when it is released (both in March), but if Rogue One is like The Force Awakens, it would never be available as an enrollment title. Therefore if I was going to have to get Rogue One as a commitment purchase I kind of needed to sign up before its March release in order to get the $5 discount (plus they would throw in a lithograph, of dubious value, but because it exists why wouldn’t I want that for free?). However, Pinocchio probably won’t be an enrollment choice until April, so if I want to get that, maybe it needs to be my other commitment title that I could pre-order and get a discount and lithograph.
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New Old iPad

For Christmas, Mom got a new iPad Air 2 and gave me her old iPad 2 she has been using for the last four years. Available for as little as $349, the iPad Air 2 is a great deal right now compared to the latest iPad Pro 9.7″ model for $499, but that is still more than I paid for my new HP laptop. I got a smaller Nexus 7 around the same time she got the iPad 2 and I eventually got an Asus Transformer which is a 10″ Windows tablet with a detachable keyboard. Unlike my iPod touch which I use all the time, I never have made much use of the tablets. The Nexus is a nice size for reading magazines and even watching videos, but kind of small for web browsing.

From top to bottom, iPod touch 6G, Nexus 7, Asus Transformer, iPad 2

From top to bottom, iPod touch 6G, Nexus 7, Asus Transformer, iPad 2

The Asus is kind of big to carry around (does not fit in a coat pocket like the Nexus) and it basically takes the same Windows screen you might see on a 15″ laptop and shrinks it down to 10″, making it hard to read. Now that I am buying some Blu-ray disks, a lot of them come with digital versions, so I have been thinking I could use the tablets for watching movies and TV episodes. The Asus, since it has iTunes, can be used to download and watch videos from iTunes and has a bigger, higher resolution screen. I bought a 64 GB micro SD card to increase its storage capacity (32 GB built in). But the glossy screen of the Asus makes it a little harder to see while on the train even when I make sure it does not dim while on battery power. Also the headphone volume is not high enough to overcome train noise all the time. The Nexus works a lot better for watching videos, but again I have to max out the volume and it still isn’t loud enough. While the Nexus has Vudu and Google Play videos available along with whatever I have been ripping from DVD’s, I don’t think it has a way to watch iTunes videos, which isn’t that bad since the only videos I have exclusively on iTunes are my Disney and Pixar movies.
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Xfinity Setup

I got my Comcast Xfinity cable TV service a couple of weeks ago. The TV package is pretty stripped down, but includes maybe 10 decent cable channels plus broadcast. With Dish I had a DVR and had added an external 2 terabyte hard drive to store more recordings, so I wanted to do the same with the new box if possible. But first, there were some interface challenges with Comcast. Dish had a pretty good interface. You could set up custom channel lists, so that when you went to the program guide, you would see only the channels you wanted and as you changed channels up and down, it stayed within that list until you changed to a different list. Xfinity doesn’t seem to have that, but you can get to a list of favorites with a couple of clicks, just not as convenient as just one click. Also it isn’t as easy to scroll through channels in the guide since it stops at an ad every 4 channels. Since I don’t get 95% of the channels, why would they have the guide force me to scroll through all of those? Even if I use channel up and down, I have to go through all of the channels. It’s a terrible interface.
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Digital HD

After joining and then leaving the Disney Movie Club, I wound up with a bunch of Blu-ray disks. Many of them included a DVD disk as well so that you could share with friends who don’t have Blu-ray or to convince you to buy the Blu-ray disk even though you don’t have a player yet. Blu-ray does not seem to have caught on as well as DVD’s originally did, maybe because people don’t feel like buying disks and players anymore when they can stream over Netflix, Roku, Chromecast, or whatever to their TV, computer, phone, or tablet. Good technology, bad timing. And Blu-ray has branched off so that now there are 3D Blu-ray disk which should play in a conventional Blu-ray player (though not in 3D) and Ultra HD 4K which requires a special UHD player. Neither of those seems all that popular, although probably most of the highest grossing movies are filmed in 3D. People maybe don’t want to wear the glasses at home or something.

Three Blu-rays, one that includes Digital HD download, one with DVD, and one with both.

Three Blu-rays, one that includes Digital HD download, one with DVD, and one with both.

Anyway, in addition to the DVD disk, many of the Blu-rays include a digital copy or “Digital HD” as stated on the cover (many are Blu-ray only, no DVD or Digital HD copy). Sometimes there isn’t a digital HD copy and sometimes not a DVD. But lately, it seems the digital copy is being included more and more often (and the DVD less and less: Pixar is re-releasing movies on Blu-ray that used to include Blu-ray and DVD disks and now including the Blu-ray and Digital HD only).

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Door Busting

I don’t think I’ve ever lined up outside a store on Black Friday to be the first to get some amazing deal, called door busters, but I certainly don’t mind going a little later in the day. I used to go to Best Buy all the time, but I realize it was mostly just to get cheap DVD’s. Most of the DVD’s I own were less than $10. I don’t know that many people even buy DVD’s anymore and I haven’t been to Best Buy in a while. But this year I did a membership with Disney Movie Club and that got me shopping for movies again, this time for Blu-ray DVD’s which are in HD (DVD’s actually have pretty poor resolution at 480p, whereas a Blu-ray is 1080p). The Disney thing has worked out pretty well and I have collected points from those purchase and gotten a couple of free movies at Disney Movie Rewards. In the past week or so they offered a $5 off coupon that could be used in stores for only 250 points. 100 points is worth about a dollar, so that’s a good deal. I planned to combine the coupon with a Black Friday deal (or two) to get Zootopia and/or Finding Dory for pretty cheap. The Black Friday ads were published weeks ago, so I knew I could get Dory at Target for $10 and Zootopia at Best Buy for $8 (before the coupon). Would I be able to get both? I figured I would purchase one coupon and that way if Target or Best Buy ran out, I wouldn’t be stuck with a coupon that expires at the end of the year. But since Target and Best Buy are across the highway from each other and I didn’t want to make two trips just to save 250 points, I ultimately bought another coupon and headed to Target, not on Black Friday, but Thanksgiving night, albeit still a few hours after the doors had opened.
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Parking

I have been hearing about a new development coming that would be built where the Avondale stations south parking lot is now located. The problem with that is that is where I have parked every day for the last 20 years. I can go to the north lot, which will probably be even more crowded now, or go to Kensington.

parking

Dumping Dish

As I was writing my last entry about Ultra HD televisions, one of the considerations was whether I would have fast enough internet to stream UHD content. It takes at least 25 Mbps, which is right about what I am getting from Xfinity right now for the introductory price of $20 per month. The non-intro price is $60 per month, which is crazy since Google Fiber will charge $50 for 100 Mbps service (the problem being Google Fiber isn’t available yet at my house). I checked AT&T Uverse, but their rates are even worse and they pretty much require you to bundle cable television, which I don’t want to do. When I throw in Uverse cable and internet plus their ridiculous extra fees for modem rental (I bought a modem for Comcast for about $40) and HD television, it was still more than I am paying now. So no thanks. I have had Dish for many years and they seem to be the cheapest cable I can find, even though their prices have creeped up to about $55 per month, including HD and a DVR to record shows and skip commercials. Plus I bought an external hard drive and have stored hundreds of hours of shows on it that I have yet to watch including the last couple of seasons of Hawaii Five O, all the episodes ever of Blacklist (never watched one episode), most episodes of Twilight Zone from a SyFy marathon, including the rarely shown season of hour-long shows, and tons of movies and Game of Thrones episodes from free weekends of HBO (I watched a couple of episodes of Game of Thrones and decided it was too dark for my tastes).
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