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Upcoming EventsWednesday JANUARY 27, 2016 Meeting in the Library
8:45 AM Set up your computer
9:00 AM Lesson
10:00 AM One on One help
Cutting the Cable? Alternatives to Cable and Satellite TV
by Ira Wilsker
Over the recent holidays, I spent some time with one of my daughters who is a Dallas area resident; early in 2015 she intentionally "cut the cable" service that she had subscribed to for several years, replacing the cable feed with an internet feed and an inexpensive digital TV antenna. By her own accounting, she is saving over $100 a month in cable fees, but believes that she is not missing much on cable, but instead has a much larger selection of channels to choose from. Last week, while at a professional meeting, one of my compatriots was talking about the "smart TV" which his family bought itself as a Christmas present, but has no idea about how to use it, other than connect it to his existing satellite box. Last year, I purchased an inexpensive Google Chromecast and a similarly priced Amazon Fire TV Stick, which were each very easy to plug into my flat screen TVs. To join the 21st century, I also now have a large screen smart TV internally running the Roku smart TV system.
At the already mentioned professional meeting last week, we tangentially spent about 20 minutes talking about smart TVs and cable cutting, and apparently there is potentially a great deal of interest in the subject. The decision to cut the cable or satellite service is a strictly personal decision which should incorporate cost considerations as well as channel availability.
As you have likely seen advertised on several of the local TV channels, there is an abundance of relatively low cost digital so-called HD TV antennas which have a common coax connection which connects directly to a modern TV. Locally, using a $10 indoor digital antenna, with no monthly fees (free), I get a good quality signal from all of the mainstream local TV stations and networks, as well as several other less known, but still entertaining TV stations; people living farther from the TV transmitters may need a better, more powerful or amplified antenna (around $40) to get good signal. While helping my Dallas area daughter replace the cable feed on her guest bedroom flat screen TV with another $10 digital antenna, I was amazed to see how many Dallas area stations that were available. In addition to the major networks of CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, and others, there were also about 50 other lesser known stations that had a decent digital signal which we picked up from her house, all without a monthly fee. The process was simple; simply set up the antenna as instructed (near a window is often a good choice), and connect its attached cable to the coax connector on the back of the TV. Using the TV's remote control, go to the menu, select "Antenna", and then allow the TV to scan for channels; within a few minutes, her guest bedroom TV had about 50 free TV channels with all of the major network shows and news being freely available.
If going to the "Free TV" option of using an antenna, we could obviously not access the popular cable and satellite exclusive channels such as CNN, FOX News, AMC, History Channel, HBO, and others, but technology has provided us with some reasonably priced alternatives to the cable and satellite provided stations, many of which are now becoming available on these alternative devices. The basic versions of these alternative devices typically sell in the $25 to $50 range with more sophisticated units available at higher prices. These devices plug directly into an available HDMI port on the back of the TV, and require a good broadband internet connection which can be Wi-Fi or in some cases wired Ethernet. Newer TVs immediately recognize these devices as input much the same way that they would have recognized a cable or satellite connection. If the internet connection of the device is via Wi-Fi (the most commonly used method of connection), all the user has to do is enter his Wi-Fi password, and instantly countless new channels appear. Using either the included remote control, or a smart phone or tablet app as a remote control, exploring what may potentially be over a thousand new TV channels may be a daunting, but pleasing task.
I have experimented with three of the several available TV devices, specifically a Google Chromecast, an Amazon Fire TV Stick, and a Roku device, but have not yet tried the new Apple TV device. While each of the devices accesses some proprietary content, almost all of them access popular services such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, YouTube, and other media sources, as well as a huge selection of interactive games; be aware that channels such as Netflix and Hulu Plus have a monthly subscription fee typically starting at about $8 per month, for almost unlimited access; users who have an Amazon Prime account (typically $99 per year) can access tens of thousands of free movies and TV shows, as well as get free shipping and several other "Prime" services from Amazon under that subscription. All of them offer a huge selection of both free and paid full length movies, TV shows, interactive gaming, and other content, as well as provide the interface to stream Netflix, Hulu, and other media sources directly to the TV without having to connect to a computer. All of these devices have a search capability along with an easy to comprehend menu system to assist in locating desired content.
Many of the major domestic and international news services offer free access to live and recorded news broadcasts; several financial news services also offer free access to their live broadcasts. There are thousands of independent TV stations, both domestic and international, and of every genre', that stream free to these devices. The number and availability of these channels is increasing at a rapid rate; I subscribe to the free email newsletter from one of these companies, Roku, which always includes a listing of the newly added free and paid channels. In the January 9, 2016, newsletter from Roku (RokuGuide.com Weekly Update), 31 new channels were added in the previous week alone. In an earlier weekly guide, it said that over a thousand new channels were added to the Roku streaming service in 2015, many of them totally free, but some requiring a nominal subscription. Not unique in the industry, the competitive products from Amazon, Google, Apple, and lesser known third party device makers are adding new channels, both free and paid, at about the same rate. Many of the premium cable movie services, such as HBO, are now available on an "a' la carte" subscription basis on most of the streaming services.
The basic streaming devices themselves are somewhat similar in size and cost, with more powerful and sophisticated devices available at higher prices. The first device that I purchased for about $25 was a Google Chromecast, which was about the size and shape of a common USB flash drive with a rounded end, but had an HDMI plug on the end instead of a USB sized plug. The newer version of the Chromecast device is more "lollipop" shaped, has increased capabilities, available in several colors, and retails for $35. The total installation was plugging the Chromecast into an empty HDMI port on the back of the TV, and plugging in the included power adapter, and my Toshiba flat screen immediately identified the Chromecast device. Selecting the Chromecast from the "Source" menu using the Toshiba remote control, displayed the setup for the Chromecast. I entered my Gmail address and password (Google uses a single sign on for all of its services), and the password for my Wi-Fi, and I was connected. A simple menu displayed all of the available choices. I downloaded the Chromecast app to my smart phone, and used it as my remote control. Google describes Chromecast as, "Unlimited entertainment on a big screen. Chromecast works with the apps you love, like Netflix, YouTube, Google Play, Pandora, and thousands more. Choose from over 200,000 movies and TV shows, 30 million songs, sports events, and games." The Chromecast being my first venture into the realm of the "Smart TV" was very impressive.
Several months after purchasing the Chromecast, Amazon announced a competing product, the "Fire TV Stick", with an introductory price of only $19 (now about $35). Since I already had an Amazon Prime account in order to get free shipping on my Amazon purchases, users of the Fire TV Stick with a Prime account also get instant free access to thousands of free movies and TV shows, as well as other content. according to Amazon, "Fire TV Stick connects your HDTV to a world of online entertainment. With a huge selection of movies and TV episodes, voice search that actually works, and exclusive features like ASAP and Prime Music, Fire TV Stick is an easy way to enjoy Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, HBO NOW, low-cost movie rentals, live and on-demand sports, music, photos, games, and more. ... With over 3,000 channels, apps, and games, Amazon Fire TV Stick gives you access to all your favorite subscriptions and streaming services. Watch over 250,000 TV episodes and movies, including live TV. Kick back with sports, news, music, and games." Also about the size of a common USB flash drive, with an HDMI plug on the end instead of a USB plug, the Amazon Fire TV Stick also included a dedicated remote control. As with the Chromecast, there is a free app for smart phones and tablets that is a fully functional remote control for the Fire TV Stick, plus the app also provides for real voice control, allowing the remote control to function on the user's voice to search for content. Installing and configuring the Fire TV Stick took under two minutes, simply plugging it into an HDMI port, connecting the power supply, using the TV remote to select the Fire TV Stick as an input (it showed up by name on the Toshiba TV screen), entering my Wi-Fi password, and entering my Amazon account information allowed for instant access to Amazon's extensive free and paid library.
My latest addition is from Roku, and is very similar in size, cost, and functionality as the other devices. Installation was similar to the other devices, very fast and easy. I did have to create a Roku account through the device, or the account can be created online. The quality and selection of content under Roku is excellent, with thousands of channels of content, both free and paid, including movies, TV shows, news, weather, games, and other content. There is no monthly fee to use Roku, but some of the content does have a rental fee (mostly recent movies), or a monthly subscription fee, much the same as the other devices.
My daughter in Dallas uses an over-the-air digital HDTV antenna, as well as a Chromecast, to access her digital content. She chose to subscribe to Netflix for about $8 per month. She has a separate fiber optic broadband internet connection, which she would have regardless of her entertainment needs, as she uses that fast broadband internet access for her job. Between the free local TV stations for news and weather, as well as the few network TV shows that she likes, and Netflix and other extensive content on her Chromecast, she claims to actually have more channels available than she previously had on her far more expensive cable service. She claims that even with her inexpensive Netflix subscription, she is saving well over $100 per month compared to her prior cable service. She is one of the millions of cable and satellite users who have "cut the cable", and taken advantage of the new technologies that compete with cable and satellite TV services. This is very parallel to the millions of former hardwired telephone subscribers who cut the wire, and now use cost effective digital or wireless services rather than the often more expensive hardwired phone service.
With our rapidly changing technological environment, I wonder what we would "cut" next, as new technologies become available. We live in interesting times.
Digital Photography Tips & Tricks
By Spike Smith, Digital Photo SIG Leader, North Texas PC Users Group, www.ntpcug.org/, intro (at) tx.rr.com
Avoid the “Let me do it for you,” as the perpetrators of these schemes cannot see what you see; simply because they are not you. This series is to avoid the pitfalls of following arbitrary sequences that will be messy to overcome later.
Bear in mind that every camera maker has a suggested routine. Every photo editor has a suggested routine. Every operating system has their application systems. These are not permanent and do change when marketing decides to kick out the old and try something else. Remember, the application that recognizes photo images first attempts to prevent any other systems from their capture. The suggestions in this paper are to provide a “first” system that will last a lifetime.
My attempt for keeping a main file in sequence allows easy file search by date. This gives permanent and track able ongoing archiving. This does not prevent using special purpose systems for special purposes, temporary, or otherwise – providing I put my master copies away before aggressive systems get there first.
Your point-and-shoot-cameras work like cell phone cameras. They tend to be: fast, easy, and correct most of the time. They are designed to do this for you so you have little to do aside from aiming. Operators can frame images and if there is no zoom the operator merely moves forward or back. If settings are required, compromises are made automatically that fit most situations for a decent picture.
A step further up the camera hierarchy allows operator to begin making a few decisions which in turn allow for a higher percentage of keepers.
When we increase the capabilities as with more advanced cameras, they all maintain the feature of selecting the option that will in effect let me do it for you. This is important for quick shots as required and making candid images. Heavens forbid! Don’t allow this to rob you from being creative.
Saving Photo Files
When we save our digital camera files, it sounds like a simple thing to do. Yes it is. However, there are serious pitfalls that can occur and we should learn to avoid these.
Back when Kodak made point and shoot cameras that they said anyone can operate it. Yep, those Brownie film cameras had few knobs to turn. Was it simple? No, because it was new and using it must first be learned. Most difficult was getting a roll of film and using rewind spools. You advanced film to ‘ready’ by looking into a tiny window and search (forward only) and wind while looking at different sets of markers on film transport which could be for different cameras. You normally would look for sunlight to know if there was enough to use.
Yes, it was simple providing all conditions were within tolerance and you realized that errors you make can become seriously destructive.
Now for the digital world today, we have simple plug in cards from silver dollar size down to most popular dime sized. These cards are fairly rugged but electrical contacts are vulnerable and must not be handled or get wet.
Most all cameras presently handle the size called SD. These come in many megabit sizes and unless you are making videos you are likely buying these too large. Too large? If you thought bigger is better (in bits and bytes) and smaller is better in physical camera size – you just need to exercise more knowledge than what is presented in marketing brochures.
Let’s say that if you shoot video, you will need to size cards for allowing a minimum of 15 minutes run time. For this application, more is better. However don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Video, enough for two to four story segments is fine. We will always keep spares on hand in addition to planned usage.
When we are shooting stills only, you should not try to put several segments of a story on one card. I carry a spare card always. I do not put too much data on one card as if it fails, as you can imagine, you have lost many shots possibly permanently. I try to restrict these cards to 100 images and after every shoot I copy these to my permanent archive. What is in my permanent archive is exactly what was captured with no modifications. I store them in groups of 100 and ten groups in a bundle. When these originals become modified, they are flagged and also are sent to my backup disks.
Now about too many files on one disk – you readily understand that if a disk fails it will take 100 files or more away from you. Other reasoning for limiting disk size is its usage has to do with performance. Many situations like sports, candids, HDR, and groups we want speed between successive shots.
The cameras computer total speed is slowed when it has many more items to sort through. We can speed up our processing time when we limit the sorting and comparing it must perform. The larger number of features the camera system must search can increase speed and decrease time required for preparing for the next shot.
A main problem that occurs on occasion may lead to a disaster. This can be caused by removing the card before the camera’s computer has fully processed its last tasks concerning this use. Therefore, allow your camera time to process files before removing cards. Likewise, when placing your photo card in your computer you must give it time to finish its tasks before removing the card. Follow these operating system procedures:
REMEMBER when you reinsert the photo image card, you turn off the computer power switch first!
When a photo card type CF or SD and your data is archived you should prepare your card for re-use by reformatting it in the camera for which it is to be used. Do not use the computer operating system for formatting and follow the camera manual instructions. Reset the beginning file number for the follow up number next in line for remaining your sequence. As a convenience for tracking files I maintain a main archive file called Images and then place the resulting files into subfolders with name of camera in use i.e.: 70D, 20D, Alan60D,Z990, etc.
You must use caution while building projects using similar file numbers as your computer and several application programs are not nearly as smart as you. They often select an abbreviated term for files when they should not.
: Canon will use the same sequence numbering out of separate folders. The tendency may be to not differentiate between files like 70D IMG_0201-800.jpg and 20D_0201-
Please be on the lookout for shortcuts your application programs and operating systems take that destroy the ability for selecting proper folders for a file. When we search we often find similar sequence numbering intermixed in libraries and other supposedly helpful methods for handling our valuable data.
My FUJI camera provides me with a file sequence of DSCF0015.jpg and other persons may send you their file which they may identify as DSCF0015.jpg.
Put yourself in charge
When you purchase a USB thumb drive it is often non-generic. It may have some simple applications to make them more useful; to allow several choices (which may get your system into trouble); automatically start applications which usurp your desires and start unwanted applications. It is always better when it is you making the decision; how to display your files.
You may choose to format and add your USB drive’s applications differently from those used from general use. Often when you use one of your general usage drives they may work and also when using “Open with Internet Browser” is selected.
For photo and images, you may wish to open with a specific application program in mind. For instance, I create a permanent tag for specific USB plug-ins that are used for CorelDraw only. Use your preferences.
The naughty thing that destroys our ability to maintain control of our photo systems are those sneaky devils that have lookout programs searching for photo downloads. You may have your thumb drive set to accept whichever device you chose or allow you to ‘open with’ and feel comfortable. Along comes sneaky and redirects everything with photo likeness to their system (without your permission). When I find a drive like this I will attempt to remove any undesirable applications. Sometimes it takes a reformat unless they are deeply rooted against your freedom. Then try reformatting. If this fails eliminating intruder I use a special tool called a hammer. I smash the drive to smithereens and remember who I obtained it from to prevent a reoccurrence.
Sometimes your drive gets affected with misdirection info from applications (by the thousands) that sneak in through the Internet.
A word of caution for the Libraries.
If library use is selected for photos the Microsoft system will load each and every file into it whether downloaded or created internally. This can amass a larger mess of files than you can undo or comprehend. Also, when the operating system believes it is confused it goes to the library and guarantees mass confusion. Be sure you understand what Library will do to you and for you before committing to this application.
Hello there! It is your data. Protect it!
My comments are generally provided to allow members to create better pictures, enjoy their systems, avoid problems, solve problems, and not to scare the beginner’s off. Use information at your discretion and please share any photography comments beneficial to others.
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