Cord Cutting – Over The Air TV Requires A Good Antenna and Research

I was talking with a Neighbor in front of a different neighbor’s driveway one dog walk before the sunrise and it turns out we’re both working to cut the cable TV expenses out.  Broadcast TV since the conversion to Digital is movie quality and stable.  A Major improvement over the bad old days of square TVs and low resolution unstable and foggy pictures.

I dove into this and found some quirks, some challenges, and ended up going with the flow.

TVFool.com Plot for Zip Code 33305

Basically if you have a “flat screen” TV that is 20 inches or larger, and it is “recent”, you already have most of what you need.

There are always “However”s.  That caught me in the end.

It starts with a TV that has all the hardware I need except an Antenna.

For me, it ends with a geography and geometry lesson.  You just have to research where your transmitters are and if you are shaded by a mountain or a hill, you are stuck.

I even had the antenna, and when I tested it out I got good enough results to try more.  I will keep this simple, and an “Ongoing Discussion” so we can Divide and Conquer.

I had an old square antenna that I got at a computer show, remember those?  It wasn’t any big deal but it did have the wires built in and had a handy signal amplifier that actually helped.

Plug that into the back of the TV Set and go into settings and tell it to find all the channels.  I got all the major broadcast networks, including some secondary channels that I actually enjoy.  Old Movies, extra content in Spanish which helps my education efforts, and some things that had me scratching my head dismissively.

Come on, do we really need two copies of everything?  Do we even need “Religious Shouter” TV at all?

The two copies saved me, literally.

Florida is flat as a pancake.  South of the I-4 interstate, it is flatter than Kansas.  There is nothing between me and Titusville High School but some construction and bridges.  That is about 200 miles.

The terrain being that flat is great for Radio and TV since there really isn’t anything to stop a signal.

However.

I am sitting between Miami and West Palm Beach.  That means I have both sets of channels split between the two cities.  It isn’t on a straight line, so I have choices to make.

I could go with an Omnidirectional antenna since I am only 30 miles to the WFLX West Palm Beach transmitters.  Or I could gang two antennas together and point one there and the other at Miami.

I went Omnidirectional.  It’s screwed into a 2×4 in my attic.  I now get Fox 29 in WPB crystal clear, but the closer WSVN in Miami is still fighting me and I won’t win that one.

It should have clued me in sooner but I’m stubborn.

I went back to the websites and one of them has access to all the information for the transmitters.

Here is where the geometry comes in.

WPB is at 350 degrees on the compass.  About 11 o’clock.  30 miles West Northwest.

MIA is west of due south at 203 degrees, about 6:30 o’clock. 14 miles West Southwest.

I couldn’t understand why I could get West Palm Beach in Movie Quality when Miami would get blocky and break up if I could get it at all.

It wasn’t all Miami channels, looking at the map and the charts it was only the one specific transmitter for me that was unusable.

On TVFool.com you put in your zip code, or your address, and it will plot on a map where everything is.  There is also long spreadsheet of all of your channels and angles and distances.  That was the proof I needed.

It turns out that when I plot any channels that were out of one specific transmitter, they goright through Downtown Fort Lauderdale.  When the transmitters were built “Back In The Day”, the dinosaurs roamed the earth in the 1940s, Downtown Fort Lauderdale was just a blip.  Since then there have been high rise apartments, towers of offices, and government buildings built up.  If you look at it from an airplane it forms a wall of buildings that is sprawling east-west along Broward Blvd, east from Andrews.

That’s what stopped my signal.  One of those lines that TVFool.com plotted goes right through the Broward County Courthouse that was “recently” built.

It effectively blocks me from watching half of the channels out of Miami.  It’s entirely possible that some of the other channels is going through a gap in the buildings.  Some day for a laugh, I’ll put my USB TV Stick in the car and drive to the west side and see if I can watch WSVN from the laptop.  I bet I can!

That reminded me of the story of the first Cable TV System where someone stuck an antenna on a mountaintop and ran it down into the valley so that the people there could watch TV.

My mountaintop is Downtown Fort Lauderdale, and I have to be happy with watching West Palm Beach since I am only a little more than two miles North of Downtown.

The moral of this story is that your equipment may be excellent but someone may build a tower between you and your Simpsons reruns.

Since I can’t live without The Simpsons, I get my fix out of Channel 29 in West Palm Beach.

We’re good.  We get crystal clear tv from there, 30 miles away.  Where when I try to watch Channel 7 or Channel 10, it’s impossible.

I’m not moving but I wonder if it isn’t time to change my area code to somewhere really random

I have been through this before.

My phone number has 8 of 9 numbers either repeating or in sequence. It is a popular one to use.

That’s the problem. More people than I are using it.

I end up going through “fusillades” of wrong numbers.

If you are presented with a form that wants you to fill in name, address, and phone number, and it is a legitimate use, you enter your own correct information.

But you want to sign up for a discount card and you don’t want the company of the day calling you and emailing you and harassing you for a measly dollar off coupon what do you do?

Many people use my phone number.

Mind you, sometimes I never hear it.

The last really big problem ended up with my blocking every single car dealer in South Florida. Some clown, and I have stronger names for those people, used my number on an intake form at a car dealership.

I don’t know, maybe they were giving away a set of CDs or some such nonsense that this person really wanted.

Good luck getting that number removed.

Over the span of about 2 weeks I had to have had about 100 phone calls from multiple people at specific dealers talking to a potential customer about what great deals they have.

Except.

That wasn’t me, it was my phone, and I am quite happy with my Classic-Car-Almost-Antique 2002 Jeep Wrangler.

I’d be a fool to give that car up.

It has the 4 Liter inline six cylinder motor for crying out loud.

Designed by AMC for crying out loud!

For crying out loud!
Why would I want some junky Volkswagen? (aren’t they all? Dieselgate anyone?)

Every time I got a call, I’d block the number.

I installed Mr Number to do the heavy lifting for me.

I block any “Unknown” or “Spam Suspected” calls.

Area Code 732 is blocked completely.
Ok, that last one is because it’s chock full of Indian Recruiters from Edison NJ. I have zero connections in that area code. If you are a recruiter, be from where I am at, or be from where the company is at, and have a signed contract to represent that company.

Anyway…

I get a wrong number about twice a day since the US is so abysmal in protecting the rights of customers. I guess a Congressman has to allow us to be abused because they are being paid by the lobbyists to allow them to spam people.

The other day, coming back from the park and a workout, they struck.

I was stuck in traffic waiting for the light and construction at Federal Highway and Commercial Blvd in Fort Lauderdale. My phone rang.

Random person identified with a name I didn’t know.

I did what I do with “Rand-o’s” I picked up and said nothing.

Neither did they.

They tried back three times.

In FIVE minutes.

After that it was someone else. BangBangBangBang.

Today it was someone asking about real estate in Sarasota. Then they texted me with the same question.

“When can I talk to you about property in the Sarasota Florida Area?”

I texted back “Never. Someone gave you my wrong number so they could sign up for a give away”.

People, don’t ever do that. Almost all numbers in the US in most urbanized areas are used. You are only shifting your problem onto someone else.

So I’m debating where I want my phone to live.

Not me, just the phone number.

Somewhere I have never been, and never intend to be.

Idaho? Rural Montana? Some terrible place like Mississippi?

Mississippi is the place in the US that almost everyone can look down at due to the obvious things like low scores on education, civil rights, and economy. And more!

Think of Norfolk UK and all those jokes about the people there.

So I am debating.

I have had this number here in Fort Lauderdale since 2003. I got it when we decided we were going to move here, and we did three years later. Family and friends have this number.

So having some weirdly random area code like an area in a rural area means I have to give it out, explain it isn’t local because “Reasons”, and then block any calls from that area code. If I do that, the robocallers won’t get through and it will be quiet again.

I hear that Mobile Alabama can be nice in the winter, but Alabama? It’s only one state better than Mississippi!
At least I would be able to drive home from the park and not be asked to buy a condo in Sarasota, no matter how nice it would be there.

Windows 10 New Feature – You Are Sharing Windows Updates Files With Others

There are a lot of things that I am uncomfortable with in the new Windows 10. 

Oh sure, it’s shiny! and new! and free!

But wait, haven’t you heard the old line “If you aren’t the customer, you are the product”?

Microsoft is using that logic on your new free version of Windows 10 Home.

With all the privacy holes that Microsoft created with Windows 10 I really do feel like I’m watching the movie 1984 where the TVs are watching you – and can never be turned off.

Same thing with the book Fahrenheit 451, but I never saw a movie version of the book that did it justice.

You made the choice to go to Windows 10 because Windows 8.1 bleah.  I know, I said the same thing about 8 and 8.1 but I am not at this time going to windows 10 unless I can figure out how to make myself comfortable with it.

I’ll let the bugs get worked out, let the hackers figure out how to stop Cortana from watching over my shoulder, and so forth.  Maybe when the free year is up, I may take advantage of the Free! Windows 10! Upgrade!

But honestly, probably not.   This is being written from Linux and frankly it does everything I need and about twice as fast as Windows 8.1 ever did – on the same machine.  Yes, you can do both.  I am, but if you are an “end user” or “Mom just surfs the web” user, you probably won’t.

Never mind all that.  You made your choice.  Here’s what is happening.

With “old” windows you got windows updates directly from the mothership – Microsoft.  It would go out in the middle of the night, download patches, restart your computer, and you wouldn’t really know what all happened.

Every so often it would glitch and you’d have to talk to your neighbor’s 13 year old who “lives in the basement” to get it fixed, and you’d go back on your way after tossing him a $20.

Now Windows 10 Home goes out, grabs the updates from something called a torrent.  Basically it’s like the old Napster was – grab things from who ever has a piece of it.

Mind you, Torrents can be amazing things.   I grabbed my copy of Debian Linux using a torrent.

But.

Here is why you don’t want that happening.

It can either slow your computer down (especially if you have an older one) or it can easily slow down your network connection. 

Windows Updates now looks on your network for other computers that have Windows 10 and will grab what it needs to assemble the Update, then send it to whoever requests it.

Yeah, I thought it was a bit odd, perhaps heavy handed, too.

So if you made the jump and are happy with Windows 10, Great, but here is how to stop that behavior.

Go to the not-actually-very-obvious Settings Updates and Security Advanced options Choose how you download updates Get updates from more than one place.

Your choices are:

  1. Off. Your computer calls home to Microsoft, and gets updates only from there.
  2. PCs on my local network. WUDO (Windows Update) will “torrent-share” files, but only between computers on your own LAN.
  3. PCs on my local network and on the internet. You’ll potentially get files from, and offer file uploads to, computers anywhere in the world. 

The best one for you at home will be the second selection – PC’s On My Local Network.   It saves you from having all of your PCs using your connection to talk to Microsoft for their updates.

This was adapted from this article at the rather excellent site:

Naked Security from Sophos.

Sophos is well worth an occasional read or a like on Facebook if that’s your sort of thing.

Firefox Now Blocks Flash As Default Until Next Version Of Flash

If you are using Firefox, I have a question:  Is your browser acting up on you?

What happened is that Mozilla pushed through a well intentioned update.  It now blocks Flash as a default, and while you can turn it on if you like through the settings, I’m thinking I got into a chain of weirdness here that ended up with my having to do some tweaks.

Flash is that piece of software who has its origins back before the dawn of time, or rather 1999 or so that serves up videos, games, and the worst of all features of the modern web, advertisements.

You’ve got it on your computer unless you took steps to avoid having it.  I’d be willing to bet on it.  If I lost that particular bet go outside and enjoy the great outdoors since you Win One Internetz you 733t D00D!

For the rest of us, Flash is a bit of an annoyance.  Use is something you may not have thought about, an it’s starting to fade away.  Personally, I won’t miss it but I do keep it up to date and protect myself by only allowing it to run when I tell it to.

Back to that Flash thing.  I am now getting a black stripe at the top of my browser when Flash wants to be activated on any specific website.  In my case, that is exactly how I want it to act.  I want it to nag me when I hit a webpage that wants to use Flash so I know if I’m about to get a virus.

The reality is that when Facebook’s head of security, that time sink of a website that mines what you are doing to serve it back to the advertisers that are paying for the site, says that it is Time For Flash To Die, you are witnessing the beginning of the end of an era.

In my own specific case, it locked my Firefox into “Safe Mode” and refused to let me out.  I had to “Refresh” the browser which meant I lost all my configurations and settings.  It took me the better part of an hour to get them back.  I also lost “Adblock Edge” and am having to retrain myself on something called uBlock Origin which is nowhere near as user friendly as the one I was using.

In order to re-enable Flash, and I do not recommend you turn it on for everyone but leave it nag you when it wants to be on:

Go to your Plug In Check Page
Click the scary “Update Now” button

The midsized scary red button will open a webpage for you to download the latest version of Flash, Manually.  Make certain that you clear the check box for their latest crapware download of McAfee Security software.

In my own opinion, there really isn’t any reason to download anything from McAfee but that’s my opinion.

Once you have done the install, it will force you to restart your browser.

Bad form, Adobe, Bad form.  Then again, it’s always been this bad form so we are used to it by now.

So after you restart the browser, Windows Update had a fix for Flash as well.  After applying that update, and a final reboot, the resulting “about:addons” page that allows you to activate or disable your addons was no longer scary red.

The Plugin Status page still had the scary red big button, but the update now button was green and happy.

Lather, Rinse, and Repeat as necessary for all your computers.  Every IT person will be going through this sort of thought process for a bit, or have someone do it for them.

Police Use Selfie To Return Phone and the Importance of ICE

Being That Guy who is out walking his dog at stupid hours of the morning, I see a lot of weirdness.

Oh sure, I live in a tourist town in South Florida.  That could be redundant in itself, but its true. 

So I see a lot of weirdness.  Wait, I said that once already.

Some of that weirdness is best that I keep to myself.  Let me just say I see what you do out there and Shame.  Trust me some of that is truly bizarre. 

Luckily, most of what happens here is people from outside coming in and enjoying things a bit too much and therefore creating problems.

You lot party a bit too hearty.  No, really you do.  Have a little moderation.  A little goes a long way.  You wander down our streets using the wall to steady yourself.  Even my dog sees it and he is smart enough to know when to stay away.

So as you use that wall to steady yourself, you reach into your pocket for your keys.   What you were going to do with those keys scare me, but you have dropped them instead.

This is where I come in handy.  You see, I have found more sets of keys than I care to count.  I do tend to find a lot of things and since City Hall is on my normal walk, I tend to leave things there.  Just ask the Police Department. 

Really.  It gets to be a bit repetitious.  Keep a better handle on things.

So when the Police Department gets them they ask me where I found it and I tell them.  They also ask me a lot of random questions about myself that makes me think that it would be a lot easier if I just left your things sitting where I saw them in the grass next to that shoe.

This story doesn’t seem to be that impaired. 

It also has the benefit of some really great Aussie Sense Of Humour.  Love the way the Australians think, even if they are upside down.

They don’t like that joke either, but hey…

You see a lady lost her phone.  It was found by someone in Albury, New South Wales, Australia.  They took it to the police department, being good people who do that sort of thing.  Lo and Behold they were able to get into the phone.  There was no passcode.  I am assuming they couldn’t find the person’s own personal information but they were able to get onto her Facebook software and post a selfie.

Of the police.  Told her that she should come and get her phone because it’s safe.  They also said that she should use a passcode to lock the phone. 

Of course if there was a passcode and no personal information on the phone, the police would just have to hope that this person came to them and asked.  Small bit of circular logic.

What I do is I have a passcode, however I also have some ICE on the phone. 

ICE stands for “In Case Of Emergency”.  All the first responders know to look for that sort of information, although it is a bit vague where they look for it. 

I made it easy.  On my lock screen in Android, you can go into the settings and personalize it.  I added a message “ICE 954-xxx-xxxx”.  Yes, a phone number, No, you may not have it.

Someone presses the button to check to see if they can get in to the phone and if they’re honest, I’ll get my phone back. 

Honest people do still exist.

So add a little ICE to your phone if you can, I can’t tell you if your shiny iPhone has this feature or not.  You could always use the Find My iPhone Feature, and Android has a similar service, but this is easy.

It also might make things easier if you need a wall to hold yourself up.

What is Foistware or Crapware, and Simple Tips To Avoid It

With five different operating systems running here on far too many computers, I see it all the time.

I’m That Guy.  I’ll say it this way:  Yes, I can fix your computer, but I won’t do it for free.  I’m done with that free stuff.

On the other hand, I hear this too many times.  Someone went out and got a new computer because it’s too slow.

The “new-to-me” computer I am using to write this on is a 5 year old.  It’s running Windows 8.1 and it’s running it quite well.  The one I do most of my professional work on is a 7 year old beast running Linux or/and Windows 7.  My file server is a 12 year old laptop running Windows 7.  That runs well too.  Laptops consume less power and space and do the same job as that beast of a desktop I used to love to build back in the day.

You say “Sure, but you know how to make it go faster”.

Yep.  It’s simple.  I don’t allow software foisted on me.  Crapware.  Foistware.

I was giving someone an old computer once who was staying for a few days.  Recently.  The day after he got the computer he had two pieces of Foistware already installed.

He got it when he went to install Skype.  I guess he wanted to be spied on, but he also wanted to talk to people in his family that was scattered all over the globe.  So I told him to go find the download and install.

Wrong person to do that to.  He went to a “Partnered Download Site” I was told.  Red lights and fire engine sirens went off in my head.  He ended up with a toolbar on the browser and a redirected home page.  I growled at him, fixed it, then sent him on his way.

Two very simple rules to avoid this kind of garbage.

First, make certain you are going to the software vendor’s approved site for downloads.  That means it’s going to require you, and not someone else, to do the research for you.  Skype is pretty simple, it’s a Microsoft product, so go to Microsoft to find it.  That takes care of the honest software producers.

Second, always, and I do mean ALWAYS, when you are installing the software use the Advanced install.  When you are installing, actually read the page that is presented.  Don’t simply click “Next”.  That’s how you get the crap installed in the first place.  That helps to take care of most of the dishonest software producers.

You don’t ever need a toolbar on your browser.  If you get one, remove it through your control panel’s “Programs and Features” list of programs.  There are way too many programs to list here, but you will then be able to remove the “feature” by double clicking on the name of the program.  Other more evil toolbars are actually more like a virus, and you will need to do research on how to get rid of them. 

If it truly is a virus, it gets much more complex, but here’s one way of fixing all that garbage.

That is the same place you can go to when you find yourself with a program needs to be removed, such as anything is riding along and doing “useful” things like presenting you with ads or anything by McAfee.

Why do I mention McAfee specifically?  Adobe Flash.  If you aren’t careful, when you do a security update for them, you will end up with the helpfully named “McAfee Security Scan Plus”. 

You don’t need it.  More “Foistware”.  All this “Foistware” slows you down.  You can get rid of it, or you could get a new PC and start over.  One requires less time than the other.  Since many computer stores that you can actually visit have a nasty habit of trying to upsell you to a more expensive model, you should try to delay that particular task as long as possible.

Basically be careful and watch what you’re doing.  It is, after all, your computer.  Just because a particular NEW! and shiny piece of software is “suggested” to you by something you actually want, doesn’t mean that you need the blasted thing.

In return, you may be able to skip a new computer next year.

How great would that be?  An extra couple hundred bucks in your pocket?  Or Pounds, or Euro?

You’ll thank me later.

Weirded Out By Your Neighbor’s Drone? Create a NoFlyZone.org

I’m amused at this and haven’t decided whether to put my address in the database or not.

What the website noflyzone.org does is ask your name and address and email address and it will look it up and create a “Geofence”.

While I’m not too happy about having my email address used, I have a gmail account for that sort of thing, it seems pretty simple.

The theory behind it is as well, but of course, it will only protect you from the honest neighbor.  Dishonest folks will bypass that sort of thing, or at least they can at this point.

What happens is that a Drone has software to guide it.  You can’t go over a certain height.  You can’t fly over an airport.  You can’t fly over a military base.

That sort of thing.

How does it do that?  There is a database of excluded areas in the software that lets your shiny little toy go up and spy on the neighbors.

Now to be fair, there are good uses for these things.  Exploring your own property, taking footage of a festival, and other public events.

Here’s little Johnny’s little league practice from 40 feet up!  Ok, here’s little Johnny’s little league practice until that pop fly took the drone out.

Anyway, it all looks at the GPS data, the same data that your phone tells you to turn down that blue road on the map that is really a river, and says that this particular area is not allowed.

The theory is great, but if you have someone who is frustrated by the limitations, there’s nothing to say that they can’t take the time to reverse engineer the database, select all the data, and hit the delete key.

Oops, no more limitations.

So like I said, it’s just for the honest, like you and me.

Well, maybe you.  I don’t have a drone.  Although I can think of some amazing video to be shot like the fireworks display that got videoed a while back up in West Palm Beach from the middle of the display.

And if you didn’t get anything else out of my blather, have a look at the video.  It’s truly beautiful and gives you even more Ooohs and Aaahs than a normal fireworks display!

Like the video says, make sure you watch it in HD!