Chromecast

Over Black Friday I was thinking about getting a TV for my back room. I don’t really watch TV there, but I have the elliptical back there and I haven’t been doing it for a while. One reason may be that I used to have my TV (an old 27″ tube TV) hooked up to my Dish DVR and I could watch recorded shows while I was exercising to keep my mind off of the misery of running in place. When I switched to Xfinity, I didn’t get a 2-TV installation, partly because the TV was so old already. I figured I could hook up a DVD player and play shows that I have bought seasons of over the years: Seinfeld, The Simpsons, Arrested Development, Get Smart, and Everybody Loves Raymond. It would take me a long time to work through those and the nice thing is that each show, since it doesn’t have commercials, is only about 22 minutes, about the same length as my workout. The DVD kind of turned out to be a pain because it takes a while for it to boot and to get the show going. Not terrible, it just wasn’t that great.

Then I got the iPad and I thought maybe I could watch stuff on it, but that wasn’t that great either and there was no secure place to put it to keep it from falling off. And the sound from the iPad isn’t great over the noise of the elliptical. I have a bluetooth thing and hooked it up to a speaker so the iPad could broadcast to the speaker, but that was back to being a pain.

So then I thought I could get a new TV and watch stuff from my Vudu account or the recordings of all of my DVD’s from the PC. Really I only have movies on Vudu and I am not sure why I thought it would be easy for my TV to play files on my computer. My HiSense UHD TV is a smart TV and I don’t think it can do that, though I have a home theater receiver that might be able to. The smart TV only has apps and nobody makes money giving you an app to get free content from your own hard drive. Even with a wifi network and a shared hard drive on that network, it isn’t that easy.
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Back in Black Friday

Last year after Thanksgiving, I did some door busting Black Friday shopping. Black Friday now seems to be mostly Thursday evening. I have been buying more Blu-rays lately and I seem to buy them faster than I can watch them. So I already had about 15 Blu-rays that I have bought and not watched yet. But I have gotten a lot of entertainment out of all of it too. Last year I bought the entire Sopranos box set and I have been watching episodes all year on my commute and just got to season 4 (out of 6 seasons, so about halfway). Also in the last year I upgraded my TV, Blu-ray player, and sound system to play Ultra High Definition disks and bought my first two of those a month or so ago (and watched both of them!).

Some of the stores release their Black Friday ads weeks in advance including Best Buy, Target, and Walmart. Best Buy had the best ad for Blu-ray and UHD disks including a great deal on the Wonder Woman UHD for only $10. I had seen the movie and liked it, but may not have bought it except the UHD’s I have bought so far are a little bit older and don’t benefit as much from UHD since they started out on film. Newer movies are more likely to have actually been recorded and edited in 4K (4K is for theaters while UHD is for home use, but they are basically the same thing).
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Arabia Mountain

Stone Mountain has two smaller siblings, Panola Mountain and Arabia Mountain, all granite outcroppings called monadnocks. I’ve been to Panola a few times, including my most recent trip last year. To get to hike on the mountain itself, you must have a guide. While Panola is nowhere near as large or high as Stone Mountain, the flatter dome and lower traffic mean it is more natural with more solution pits growing blankets of small red flowers called diamorpha. Arabia Mountain, which I visited a few years ago, is smaller still with very little elevation, but less protected than Panola. However the area around Arabia Mountain has grown into an interesting collection of parks with paved bike trails running through it built by PATH. When I got the day off for Veterans Day this year, it was fairly warm, so I thought I would take Bella for a hike. Sweetwater and the Chattahoochee areas are pretty far away, so I thought we could go out to Arabia which also has miles of foot trails. We went to the Davidson Arabia Mountain Nature Center. There were a few cars parked there and we saw a few people on the trail. Part of the trail is over exposed granite where they used to quarry granite (hard to tell; there aren’t giant quarry pits like you would expect), and part was along a bike path, and part on a path along a creek and lake. It made for an interesting 3-mile hike and Bella enjoyed getting to stand in the creek. One offshoot trail was to a gravesite of some former residents of the area.

Yesterday was another decent day, so we drove out to a different spot, the Evans Mill Trailhead, and did a little bit longer hike from there, mostly through the woods, but some along the bike trail, and some through an old farm that I guess is abandoned though there is definitely stuff going on. Even though it was a Saturday and I was expecting it to be more crowded than the trip the previous Friday, we saw no one else on any of the trails until the very end as I was leaving and some people came out with their dogs. We also saw a deer cross the bike trail (Bella really like that but it was pretty far away) and I realized the bike trail is better for spotting wildlife in some ways because you can see a long way up and down the straight and cleared path and also you make a lot less noise walking than in the leaves on the footpaths.

Getting Out of iTunes

Now that I have an Android phone taking the place of my iPod, I wanted to move all of my songs over to it. My CD’s are all ripped to MP3 already, so those came over pretty easily and an MP3 app called Phonograph seemed to handle them pretty well except for some of the double albums for which I needed to edit the tags for the disk number to play songs in the right order instead of playing Track 1 and the other Track 1. Not all players read the Disk tag, but Phonograph seems to. I was able to import a lot of the cover art either through Phonograph or another app that brought in the ones Phonograph didn’t catch.

I also have a lot of singles that I’ve downloaded. Some came from iTunes early on and then I switched to Amazon as much as possible since they let you download MP3’s instead of Apple’s proprietary protected format (.m4p). Eventually Apple switched to a new format (.m4a) which was maybe a little more open. I found out that with any of the m4a files I could convert them to mp3 in iTunes. So that was easy for a few songs I had bought lately including a bunch of songs by Postmodern Jukebox. When I first started buying iTunes, I would put them into a playlist and burn them to CD. I had 8 or so disks of songs. Once the songs were on CD, I could rip them to mp3 format. So most of the early songs I got from iTunes I had already ripped to MP3 and had wisely stored those in a folder of converted iTunes songs.
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Notes for Android

Ever since I had a Palm, I would write stuff down in notes, which Palm called Memos. Memos were very simple, but you could categorize a memo and filter the list of memos by category. No formatting, just a title and the content and a category. I think they were actual txt files, but maybe it was a database. Every time you would sync the Palm, the notes were backed up on your computer. In Palm Desktop you could edit a note and sync it back to the Palm. I ended up with something like 500 notes.

Then the Palms went away and I got an iPod Touch. After much searching (here, here, and here), I found NoteMaster. You couldn’t sync with iTunes because iTunes doesn’t work that way, but notes could sync with Google Drive or DropBox. Also you could password protect a category, so I had a secure category for things like web passwords. Notemaster allowed some very basic formatting which made for nicer looking notes.

Now I am on Android and there is no Notemaster app. So I’m back to looking at dozens of apps and trying to figure out which one can do the pretty basic things I want. It is complicated because some people want To Do lists, some want to scribble a note with their finger, some want to make audio notes, or picture notes. Some people want sticky notes for their desktop. I don’t want any of that.

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Mint SIM

I decided to upgrade my flip phone to a smart phone after many years and went looking for a plan that was cheap, which was the reason I never got a smart phone. There were a few, including some plans for just phone calls and texts, but for a little more I could get a data plan as well. I wound up with a service called Mint SIM. You pay for 3, 6, or 12 months in advance, so it is a prepaid plan, but calls and texts are unlimited and you get 2 GB of data. The price can be as low as $15 per month. For $20 a month you can get a plan with 5 GB of data. 2 GB may be tough to meet, but 5 GB should be more than enough. So we’ll see how it goes and I can upgrade at any time.

Once you sign up, they mail you a SIM card that you put in your phone. They can give you a new phone number or you can port your old number over. Their service runs on the T Mobile network which is actually pretty good in Atlanta, but doesn’t have as much rural coverage as Verizon.

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New Phone

I have had my current flip phone since about 2007, 10 years. I got it used from Susan when she upgraded to a smart phone for work (I had helped her pick it out originally). It has been incredibly durable and reliable and has saved me a bunch of money by never having to upgrade the phone. Since that time I have been part of Jeb’s Verizon Wireless family plan and as phones in his house got broken and needed an emergency upgrade, he could use the free upgrade available for my phone to get a free upgrade on another phone on the plan. I had a Palm that I used as a smart phone (without the phone) until 2010 when I got an iPod Touch, which set off some upgrade issues as I had to abandon my favorite Palm apps to migrate to Apple’s iOS apps. For music I had originally bought the 20 GB Archos Jukebox in 2002, which was a great way to listen to music on the train on the way to and from work. In 2003, Susan gave me an iPod and I have had an iPod ever since. At first the iPod was just for music, but when I got the Touch in 2010 that served double duty as a PDA and a source of music. I had used my last Palm to watch TV shows and even movies ripped from DVD’s by loading them to the memory card and the Touch was even better for that. So for a while I had a phone and Palm (and iPod), then I had the phone and iPod Touch, up to this week.

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Gloriosa Daisy

In May my monthly mailing from Disney Movie Club included a gift: a packet of tiny flower seeds commemorating the re-release of Bambi on blu-ray and DVD. Gloriosa daisy seedsI’m not generally much into gardening, but I like free things and the seeds were worthless if I didn’t plant them in the ground. I pulled weeds from one spot in my front garden and planted some seeds there. I also planted some in two planters I had used last year for some petunias.

Disney's free daisy seeds   Disney daisy seed instructions

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Harmony 650 Remote

Since I got the new home theater set up, I’ve been struggling with the remote control situation. I have 4 devices: TV, cable box, AV receiver, and UHD Blu-ray player. The remote that came with the cable box was not adequate and did not have the 30-second skip, so I wound up getting a used remote for really cheap on Amazon. It controls 3 devices which is pretty good. And it is a JP1 remote like my old learning remotes were, but they don’t seem to make JP1 remotes anymore and most of mine don’t work, plus I don’t have a serial port on any of my computer to connect to the JP1 port. However, the Comcast remote doesn’t have nearly all the features of the JP1 remotes I had, but if you look hard enough it will still do a lot. But it won’t control 4 devices and it won’t learn commands from another remote.

I bought a neat wifi remote so I could use my old iPod as a remote. This thing has infra red emitters and learning, but it is controlled via the wifi network in the house. You use an app to control it and you can have it learn any signal from an existing remote and then create your own keypad on the screen of the iPod (or other device). So I played around with that, but the problem is you have to connect the wifi remote to power all the time and have a line of sight to the equipment it will control. Also there weren’t a lot of options that I could find on making your own remote. And it was a little clunky, sometimes not finding the emitter on the network.
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Denon AVR-X1300W setup

Yesterday morning FedEx delivered the new surround receiver while I was walking the dogs. Even though I needed to be at a wedding in the early afternoon, I figured I had an hour or so to mess around with the new receiver and maybe get it set up. I took it out of the box first and it looked about the same size as my old Onkyo receiver. Also, I wouldn’t be needing my old Blu-ray player, so that left even a little more room on the shelf below the TV, which can’t hurt in something that gets pretty warm. So first I had to disconnect everything from the Onkyo receiver, which is a chore because everything connected into it including 8 speakers. Then I put the new receiver in place and started getting it hooked up.

One decision was whether to use the receiver as an input selector for the TV or as an optional sound source. With my old setup, it was optional and I could play any source through the TV without turning on the receiver. And my new UHD Blu-ray player has an audio output HDMI port that would let me run video and audio directly to the TV whether I was using the receiver or not, so I decided to try that. I still had to connect the cable box to the receiver and then to the TV since the cable box only has one HDMI output but the receiver would generally be left with cable selected which allows the pass through even if the receiver is off.
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