Mourning Leonard Nimoy

Posted by TechyDad on March 4, 2015 under Geeky Pursuits, Life

Leonard_Nimoy_(5774458356)Unless you just beamed back to Earth you know that, last week, Leonard Nimoy passed away at the age of 83.  Nimoy played many roles during his life, but he will be best remembered as Mr. Spock – the half-human/half-Vulcan science officer and first officer serving under Captain Kirk on the USS Enterprise.  As Spock, Leonard played a character who was both apart from humanity and part of it.  Someone who observed human traits from afar and dealt them himself.

I was first introduced to Star Trek in middle school by a friend of mine.  (The same friend who would later help me overcome some severe bullying by talking to the bullies and getting them to stop.)  While I enjoyed both the original series and The Next Generation sequel series, I identified the most with two characters.  In Next Generation, it was Data – the android who couldn’t feel emotions himself but tried his best to understand them.  In the original series, though, I most identified with Spock.  As Scott Kurtz put it: "I was an introverted math obsessed child who felt completely out of place among my friends.  Mister Spock is my spirit animal."  He was having a character in his comic strip describe herself, but he might as well have been describing me.

At the time, I didn’t know anything about Asperger’s Syndrome.  I didn’t know why I was the way I was.  All I knew about Autism was gleaned from the movie Rain Man which meant I thought it meant you talked kind of funny and could count popsicle sticks when they were dropped on the floor.  Still, I knew there was something different about me.  I didn’t "get" social situations like other people seemed to.  I felt both apart from society and drawn to it.  I couldn’t stand the spotlight yet craved to be in it.  It was all too easy to imagine myself as Mister Spock observing the interactions of humans as they went about their daily business, trying to find a logical reason for it all.  Somehow, not being part of it all seemed slightly less painful when I was purposefully acting as an observer.

Yes, Kirk was the man in charge.  Scotty could rig anything to work in half the time he claimed it would take.  Bones was cantankerous but an excellent doctor.  However, it was Mister Spock whom I felt the closest to.  None of that would have been possible had it not been for Leonard Nimoy’s wonderful acting.  He brought lift to a beloved character and embraced it even after Star Trek left the air.

The original Star Trek was always supposed to be an optimistic view of the future.  A beacon of hope.  Leonard Nimoy’s acting certainly helped to give me hope during a dark time.

Farewell, Mr. Nimoy.  You lived long and prospered.  May your memory endure for generations to come via the characters you brought to life.

NOTE: The photo of Leonard Nimoy above is by Gage Skidmore and is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

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The Time For Cable Cord Cutting Has Arrived

Posted by TechyDad on March 3, 2015 under Television

I’ve written a lot over the years about coming close to cutting the cable cord.  We’ve come close many times but pulled back from the brink.  Now, however, is different.  We’ve made the decision and will give up cable TV at the end of this week.  Soon, we will embark on a new journey as cord cutters.

First, a little history, though.

The cord has been on the chopping block since 2009.  At that time, I concluded that cutting the cable wouldn’t save us enough money.  Online video at the time was tempting, but just didn’t offer enough for the price.  One year later, I reevaluated cord cutting.  Then, the conclusion was that Netflix and our local library were serving us well, but still not well enough to switch.  (Perhaps in a moment of prescience, I declared: “I’d probably be safe to declare that we won’t cut it [cable] in the next year, but I wouldn’t be as sure about the next 3 – 5 years.”  Four and a half years later, and the cord is being cut.)

Two years ago, we moved closer than ever to cutting the cord.  Even though I figured that we would save a lot of money every month, the lure of cable TV content was too strong.  That, plus Time Warner Cable cut us a good deal.  As the deal was good for two years, this pushed the cable cutting decision out to this year.

And so we come back to the present day.

We received a note from Time Warner Cable letting us know that our current deal was expiring.  Replacing it would be a new deal that would cost us over $20 more for the same content.  Normally, this would be where we would tell them we wanted a better deal and they would provide one.  Instead, they held firm.  This *WAS* the better deal.  One representative even told us that the retail price of our package would be about $190 a month.  Just because you set a price for something doesn’t mean it’s worth that, though.  I’ve done my research and know just what we watch, what we can do without, and what it would cost to keep up with shows that we want to keep up with.

For quite awhile, I had been compiling a spreadsheet of the shows we watch, where we could get them online, and how much it all would cost versus cable TV.  They tended to fall within five different categories.

OTA/Hulu Plus

These shows were available for free if we hooked up an antenna.  Of course, cutting cable also means ditching our DVR so we would be stuck with tuning in when the station said to tune in.  If we were up with a sick kid when The Big Bang Theory was on, we could kiss that airing goodbye.  Luckily, most networks post their shows online and Hulu Plus could give us convenient access to these.  This way, if my kids want to watch the latest episode of The Flash, they don’t need to stay up past their bedtime.  We can just stream it a few days later.

Netflix

Many shows are already on Netflix.  Often, this might mean being a season behind everyone else, but for many shows I can live with that.  Plus, we already subscribe to Netflix’ streaming video service so we’re good to go here.

Amazon VOD

For some shows, Hulu and Netflix aren’t an option either due to availability or my impatience to see the latest episode.  For many of these, buying the individual episodes from Amazon VOD is the path we’ll take.  Shows cost $2.99 an episode or $2.84 if you buy the whole season.  However, this pricing is for HD quality.  HD doesn’t matter that much to us.  Yes, we still have a standard definition set in the living room.  We’re keeping it until it dies.  Even when it does, we’ll likely replace it with a 32″ HDTV, not a huge big screen TV.  The standard definition content that Amazon offers should be good enough.  For the SD version of the episodes, we’d be paying only $1.99 or $1.89 if we bought the whole season.

DVD

Most shows are released on DVD after they have their season ends on TV.  For many shows, buying the DVD or Blu-Ray of the show just isn’t worth it over Amazon VOD or waiting for the show to appear on Netflix.  For other shows, buying the DVDs can actually be cheaper.  Take Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, for example.  This Nickelodeon show has my boys hooked on turtle power and me constantly reliving my childhood years when I was hooked on the original TMNT cartoon.  There are 26 episodes in each season of TMNT.  On Amazon VOD, this would cost $49.14.  However, the show releases three or four DVDs per season.  The total to buy the DVDs is only around $35.  This means we can save about $14 by getting the DVDs instead of by buying the episodes individually.  Yes, we need to wait longer (in this case, about five months), but for shows that we don’t have a pressing need to see immediately, this is a nice option.

Skip

Watching cable TV is a lot like trying to get a small drink out of a fire hose.  You’ll get your small drink – along with a ton of other water that you really didn’t need.  When it comes down to it, there will be shows that we won’t care about after the cable TV cord is cut.  These shows will fade out for us, perhaps replaced by new shows available online and perhaps briefly brought back when we discover DVDs of them in our local library.  When it comes down to it, we have many options for video entertainment.  Cable TV is but one of many choices.  We could watch some purely online shows (like Tabletop from Geek and Sundry on YouTube), we could play some WiiU, or we could play with some fun apps on our tablets/smartphones (e.g. Minecraft).  This doesn’t even get into the non-video entertainment we can engage in such as tabletop gaming, playing with toys (a favorite of JSL who loves thinking up plotlines with his figures), or reading books.  In the end, there is plenty to occupy the time freed up by ditching some cable TV shows.

So what will we save in the end?  This is hard to say as we don’t know exactly how many Amazon VOD shows and DVDs we’ll buy.  My best estimate, though says we’ll save $23 a month after paying for Hulu Plus, Amazon VOD, and DVDs.  (I don’t count Netflix or Amazon Prime as we pay for those already and would have continued with them even had we kept cable.)  Now, this might not seem like much, but at this point it’s more the principle than the money.  We’re sick of paying more and more each month while the cable companies get more powerful.  There’s not much we can do about their ISP monopolies – our only ISP choice is Time Warner Cable and we can’t get rid of Internet – but we can opt to break free of the cable companies as much as possible and cut the cable cord.  I’ll definitely blog about our cable cord cutting experiences in the future – highs and lows.

Have you cut the cable cord?  If so, how did it go?  If not, have you considered it?

NOTE: The “No Cable TV” image above was made by combining HDTV by jgm104 and No-sign by skotan.  Both images are available from OpenClipArt.org.

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So Much Geeking Out So Little Time

Posted by TechyDad on February 27, 2015 under Geeky Pursuits, Parenting

Anonymous-sandglassThere are so many geeky activities I want to engage in with my kids.  There are a half dozen TV shows ranging from Doctor Who to The Flash to Star Wars Rebels that I’d love to watch with them.  There are still so many perler bead projects to start or complete.  JSL has recently expressed interest in story writing so I’d love to have a "story writing time" with him where we sit down, write a story for a period of time, and then read each other our stories.  I want to play some more Munchkin and maybe even Settlers of Catan with NHL.  NHL and I also need to finish reading the last Harry Potter book so we can watch the movie together.  (JSL is reading book 2 with B.)  Then, there are the Minecraft worlds we can create and explore.

There’s only one problem:  Time.

There never seems to be enough time to do all the things I want to do with them.  Between my work, their school, and must-do chores/errands, our weeks seem to fly by with too few hours spent geeking out.  Even when we have an hour or two of downtime, the boys seem more interested in playing on their own or watching TV shows they like instead of engaging in activities with me.

I almost feel like we should schedule weekly Geek Nights where we all sit together and do one geeky activity together as a family.  More and more I want to seize the day and enjoy every moment with them.  It won’t be long before they are grown up and spending time geeking out with dad won’t be on the agenda at all.

How do you find time to geek out with your kids?

NOTE: The "Sandglass" image above is by Anonymous and is available via OpenClipArt.org.

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Mother Nature Is Just Messing With Us Now

Posted by TechyDad on February 23, 2015 under Snow, Winter

After weeks of frigid cold, of ice dams forming on our roofs, of high winds that cut right through you, and of piles upon piles of snow, we finally got some relief.  That’s right, we went above freezing.  True, it still was in the low 30’s, but the temperature and sun were a good combination.  I was actually able to walk outside without a hat and gloves.  The ice dams on the roof began to melt.  They are still there, but they’ve diminished somewhat.  I was also able to go onto our slippery ice rink of a driveway and chop off a good portion of the ice.  A few more days of this and we should be recovered nicely.

temperature_change

Oh, wait.  Tomorrow’s high is in single digits again.

At this point, I’m convinced that Mother Nature isn’t a kindly lady.  She’s a real b… er, piece of work.  She’s tormented us all winter long with piles of snow and frigid cold.  We’ve almost gotten used to it so she gave us one day to help us to remember what warmth is.  Just one day.  Then she’s yanking it away to give us more bitter cold.

I keep looking in the long term forecast and seeing 30’s and 40’s just one week ahead.  It seems close, but just out of reach.  Still, it gives me hope that we’ll warm up soon.  Then, as the days pass, those warm temperatures get replaced by much colder ones.

warm_temps

At this point, I’ll take any sign that spring is on it’s way.

passover_aisle

Wait, the Passover aisles are being stocked in the supermarkets already?!!!  Any sign but that one!

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The Family That Minecrafts Together

Posted by TechyDad on February 17, 2015 under Games, Smartphone/Tablet Apps, Video Games

About a month ago, JSL came home from a play-date proclaiming that he loved Minecraft.    We had intended on introducing his older brother to the game at some point figuring that he’d enjoy the building aspect.  We didn’t expect his brother to fall in love with it first.  Still, we purchased Minecraft: Pocket Edition to put on their tablets and off they went building.  After doing some research, I even set up a PocketMine server so we could all play in the same world.  (After doing this, I realized that we could just pop into each other’s worlds while we were all on the same Wi-Fi network. ) I also downloaded some maps for the boys to start them off with some creations to build on.

After awhile, I began to get curious about just what they saw in Minecraft so I installed the game and got a theme park map installed.  Soon, I was having fun on the pre-made rollercoasters.  The boys quickly jumped into my world and we all ran around in-game trying out coaster after coaster.

As I tired of simply riding what others had built, I decided to see how easy it was to build coasters.  I started to build my own coaster and was hooked.  I made a "Coaster To The Sky."  It went up as far as Minecraft would allow me to build – just about touching the clouds – and then raced down.

To_The_Clouds_Coaster

Every time I thought I was done, I got another idea to add to it.  Eventually, I had the cart end up dropping into a deep pit where it landed in a room floored with cake.

cake-room

JSL tired of trying to build rollercoasters and asked me to install a castle map that he had found.  As he played, I jumped into his game and looked around.  When he told me that the castle was off-limits for my building, I walked into the lake and began to dig.  Eventually, I was able to build a cavern underground that was dry.  I improved on my new underground lair, but tired of the water constantly threatening to flood my land.  So I blocked off the entrance, dug a tunnel to another, drier, section, and expanded my underground operation.  At this point, I have stairs, a bedroom, a dining room, and a few spare rooms whose purpose I haven’t decided upon yet.

Bedroom

dining_room

Even in Minecraft, JSL is a bed invader.  He decided to come into my area and lay down on my virtual bed.

JSL-lounging-on-my-bed

The only downside to Minecrafting underground?  Heading to bed immediately afterwards and feeling seriously claustrophobic.  Every time I closed my eyes, all I could see were the dark stone walls of Minecraft’s underground surrounding me with no way out.  I felt boxed in which doesn’t help a good night’s sleep.  In the future, I need to remember to stop playing long enough for the trapped feeling to pass.  (I’ve since made my rooms larger to avoid any future in-game claustrophobia.)

Now that the boys and I are hooked on Minecraft, we can play and build together often.  There’s only one thing missing: We need to get B hooked on Minecraft also!

Are you or your kids hooked on Minecraft?  If so, what’s the coolest thing you or they have built in the game?

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