Monthly Archives: December 2013

Cutting Down a Beauty

Growing up in New Jersey, my family often bought a Christmas Tree out of the parking lot of some Chinese restaurant or department store.  Two Guys comes to mind, an early precursor to the Wal-Mart concept.

I recall a few years we had an artificial tree, and Mom just wasn’t happy with that.  Just as much work to decorate and “no smell”.  No needles didn’t seem to impress her enough to prefer the artificial over the real tree, though.  Plus our cat preferred the real one too.

One year we decided to go to a tree farm, in Cranberry, NJ.  I was pretty little at the time but I recall we went rather late in the day and selecting a tree and getting it cut was an ordeal.  But I think at least someone cut it for us and tied it to our car!

For many years I either had no tree, or an artificial one.  Live trees are often wrapped with a netting and you can’t tell what you’re going to get when you buy them out of a parking lot.

Fortunately in New England there are many tree farms, where you traditionally go sometime after Labor Day and before mid October to “Tag” the tree.  Often a family will bring their kids and decorate the tree to a degree.  It’s a very ritualistic event, very joyful and the family adopts the tree and even gets emotionally attached to it, while it’s still alive and planted in the ground.

Usually after Thanksgiving, you return to pick up your tree.  You hand in your ticket, pay for it, you’re given a wheelbarrow and a saw and you proceed to the field to try and find your tree, and then cut it down.

It’s a bit sad to cut such a majestic beauty, and at the same time you can’t wait til you’ve severed the last wood fiber from the trunk!

Plunk it into your cart and wheel it away.  A friendly burly young man then gives it a fresh even cut, wraps it for you, and enthusiastically offers to put it in your car for you.  Shake his hand and give him a few bucks for a beer.

You’re now on your way!  Sap dripping on your shoulder.  Prayers for an insect free tree.

Get the tree home, argue over “where is the front?” with your loved ones, twist your fingers til they ache with those tight screws on the tree stand.  Now you’re ready for alcohol, but hey, the tree gets an aspirin?  That is supposedly an unfounded unnecessary thing.  Mythbusters has tried all sorts of tips to extend a tree’s life and keeping it well watered was the only thing one really has to do.

Once you’ve got it standing nice and straight and tall, leave it the hell alone.  Let it rest.  Keep kitty away from it.  Then put the lights on it, then the ornaments, then some tinsel or garland, the tree skirt, and the tree topper, and you’re all ready for presents to be delivered by Santa.

It’s helpful to have a giant bag for the tree once the Holidays are over and you’re going to take it down.  Ocean State Job Lot here in MA is a great place to get the bags.  You just lay it on the floor, lower the tree stump into the bag, lift it over and you’ll greatly reduce the loose needles from falling all over your floor.

You should really plant another tree in place of the one you are now putting on the curb, the dumpster, down a hill.  Burning the tree will produce methane and CO2 and cause global warming.

You just can’t win!

Happy Holidays!

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OK Tivo… What Now?

Around this time of year I am reminded that my Tivo subscription is up for renewal.

This leads to a series of questions I ask myself and ultimately I take the lazy way out, not wanting to undo my way of doing things:

– If I leave and then come back, I’ll have to set it up again and get the device ID and wireless settings, and grant permissions, etc.  Phooey!

– Other than recording shows, what am I getting out of having a Tivo?

– My DVD player has links to all those WiFi enabled services, if not more.  Why should I keep the Tivo?

– I don’t have the time to watch all the stuff I record, and, watching on a mobile device is not my style.

Some of my favorite things about having Tivo would include:

– Oh Snap!  I’m sitting in a restaurant in another state and forgot that some show I wanted to see is airing this weekend.  I can use my mobile phone to bring up my account and set a recording.

– I was aware of RealPlayer and RealNetworks for ages, but ignorant of the Rhapsody app.  Once I tried it and saw beyond the initial 30 seconds only limit, and sound quality limitations of the initial website version, the standalone app sounded so much better.  To have the mobile app version and the Tivo version (which sounds superb hooked up to a stereo system) offers so many more luxuries over Pandora, LastFM, Sony Music Unlimited.  The down side is the Rhapsody interface on Tivo is really pretty slow and hasn’t been updated in years.

– I like the ability to search for YouTube videos on my Tivo, even if the most current interface is pretty awful.

– Finally, Comcast’s video-on-demand seamlessly integrates with Tivo.  The caveat of one-way communication cablecards didn’t seem to be a problem after all, as one morning the feature just suddenly showed up on my existing Tivo menu!

I am on my 3rd Tivo.  The initial product was because the place I was living at the time was a condo complex that opted to not go with a cable provider for its residents, so we had a shared DirecTV antennae and I had to purchase a little box to get more channels than what came in my montly homeowner’s fee.  I discovered if I were to get a Tivo, it would eliminate the need for extra hardware.  The device was not HD and I did not own an HDTV, so when the next generation came out, I upgraded.

I discovered the included hard drive wasn’t big enough and I got an external “MyDVR Expander” drive for it, but this hardware did not always work correctly and it slowed the performance down and caused pixilation.  I’d power cycle the devices every now and then and maintain the drive space by eliminating the deleted shows.  This grew tiresome though.

When the next generation device came out, it allowed the use of Cablecards and could record multiple shows at once.  A larger included hard drive eliminated the need for an external one.  My biggest gripe would be how Comcast handles the fees for having a Cablecard, as they charge for the card and the cost to pump the service to the number of tuners in the device.  Just simply having the card (A multistream card, one card) because my Tivo has two tuners, I am being charged a two-card rate and two “A/O” (additional outlet) fees.  I have called Comcast several times to dispute the charges as they conflict with some printed materials I was given in a Comcast service center, but to no avail, this setup definitely costs more than just having a cable box or a cable company provided DVR.

Then we must mention the Tivo subscription service.  You can pay for a product lifetime subscription (about $500 currently) but being I have replaced my Tivo three times since 2005, this option does not make sense.  Monthly the Tivo service is about $15, and takes care of the TV schedule updates which are necessary for the recordings to actually occur.  Promo annual subscriptions used to run $99 but it’s upward of $129 last time I checked.

Probably the main features Tivo is known for (recommending shows, automatically recording things if you “thumbs up” a certain type of program, ability to rewind live shows (well, you are watching a buffer of what actually just aired), these are pretty much the main features.

The latest generation Tivo (Roamio, Roamio Plus, Roamio Pro) has the ability to record even more shows (up to 6 simultaneous shows), a faster processor for faster interface response, larger hard drives (3TB which could potentially record 500+ hours worth of HD programming), and the ability to stream shows to mobile devices or watch a Tivo recorded show in another room on another Tivo (with purchase of additional hardware).  The last feature used to be available with MoCA (Multimedia over Cable Alliance) network protocol, but the latest way, via WiFi and the Tivo Minis seems to be much easier, even if it does require additional hardware.

In the end I guess you have to ask yourself how much TV do you watch.  I tend to like the ability to pause and rewind TV, in case I’m in another room and want to review something that just broadcast.  I use the Season Pass feature to record an entire series of a favorite show.  The Tivo brand and brand image has grown to be one of friendliness and a companion to your tele, but whether it is right for you can only be discovered if you actually were to try it.