Cord cut, now what?

In August 2011 Jamie and I cut the cord. It has been almost a year since this "dramatic" move. Even after clarifying points from the original post, I still get plenty of quizzical looks and probing questions regarding our decision so I figured another post was in order.

Early on it became apparent that it would be nice to have basic television available.
Since June 12, 2009, full-power television stations nationwide have been broadcasting in a digital format. (
Meaning that basic television from ABC, FOX, NBC, CBS, etc. is available in High Definition. To receive these stations we purchased a digital antenna. After some research including checking the DTV Reception Maps I determined the Terk HDTV Indoor Amplified HD Antenna to be sufficient for our needs.

In our home this antenna gets great reception. The antenna is primarily used to watch news broadcasts and the Today Show. It has also come in handy for the occasional sports broadcast. The quality is as clear if not clearer than the basic stations provided on cable and renders at 1080i.

Between Netflix, Hulu Plus, PandoraAmazon Instant Video, Redbox and Apple TV we have access to plenty of content. We pay subscription fees for Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Pandora, but at $8.55, $7.99 and $3.00 the total cost of $19.54 is nominal. Amazon Instant Video, Redbox and Apple TV gives us access to current run television and movies we cannot access via our streaming services. How much each costs depends on how many movies or shows we rent/buy in a given month.

Service How we use it
Netflix Movies, documentaries and previous season TV shows
Hulu Plus Current run TV shows
Pandora Streaming a huge selection of music
Amazon Purchase current run TV shows and rent the occasional movie
Redbox Rent new release movies
Apple TV (iTunes) Rent movies
Hulu Plus covers many of the current run shows which we like to watch. However, there are a few shows which are not available. Thankfully, both ABC and NBC offer iPad applications from which most of their current content is available. Unfortunately, neither FOX nor CBS offer similar applications. This is not a huge deal as we don't watch many current run CBS or FOX shows.

Many shows which are not available via a dedicated app are available from the web. Via Apple AirPlay we can easily stream content from our iPads to our Apple TV. Meaning that anything we can watch on our iPads we can watch on our televisions. With AirPlay being added to the latest Mac OS X revision we will be able to watch anything on the internet on our Apple TV.

There are a few shows that are only available to us via purchase. Right now we are buying content from Amazon Instant Video. We pay for How I Met Your Mother, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, In Plain Sight (for obvious reasons) and Mad Men. That said all of the past seasons for these shows were recently added to Netflix so we may reevaluate how imperative it is for us to watch the current season.

Aside from what we can purchase, Amazon Instant Video continues to increase in value. The service is quickly adding many free options for Amazon Prime subscribers. If you are not familiar, Amazon Prime is a subscription service which allows you to receive Amazon orders in two days, borrow one free Kindle book a month, and stream an ever increasing library of free media content. Since the question of price is already in your mind Amazon Prime only costs $6.67 a month, but you pay for it via an upfront fee of $79.99.

Without the ease of cable stations sports are still difficult to consume, but if I really cared I could purchase streaming passes for all of the professional sports leagues. College sports are still the most difficult to watch with via streaming. However, I still maintain an Xbox Live subscription (got a great deal for a year's subscription at Christmas time) and use it to watch some college basketball. In fact, a few non-conference Lobo basketball games were streamable via ESPN3 on the Xbox. Even better in two instances the games were shown in HD whereas the local Comcast feed was not. When we cannot stream a Lobo game we listen to it on the radio, go to a friends house, sports bar or skip it. Outside of Lobo basketball sports are not a huge deal to us so our inability to easily consume sports content is inconsequential.

Even with all of that said slowly but surely it seems that sports are becoming more convenient to stream: the 2012 Super Bowl was streamed live for the first time and we are watching the 2012 Tour De France via the NBC iPad app. The app provides all kinds of statistics and information about the riders. While not perfect at $14.99 it's still a pittance to pay when compared to a full blown cable subscription.

While reading this you may not have picked up on the number of devices that we use to consume streaming content: That number stands at seven devices:

  • Xbox
  • Apple TV
  • iPad / iPhone
  • Roku
  • Antenna
  • Computer
  • Blu-ray Player

The way we consume content varies between devices and is not always the same even on the same device. To Microsoft's credit they continue to add apps and services to the Xbox which make it our go to device for streaming. The variety of ways to watch TV is not a huge deal but does require consideration each time you want to watch a program. With cutting the cord there is no "turn on, tune in, drop out." Even with the minor inconveniences we are still incredibly satisfied with our decision.


We use a variety of devices and mechanisms to watch television. It can be inconvenient and is rarely consistent. Cutting the cord has definitely worked for us, but is not for everyone.

Cord Cutting Rejoinder

My post on Cutting the Cord was intended to clarify just what exactly my wife and I are doing for media entertainment since we are no longer paying for cable TV service. The post netted some great responses!

Brandon pointed out that you can purchase a Tour de France subscription for $19. In Brandon's opinion:
The [Tour de France] streaming is better than the TV coverage. Has lots more data (Speed, Heart Rate, Power Output, GPS tracker etc...)
Hooking a computer up to a TV to watch the race will not be a problem. In fact I'm thinking of building a home theater PC (HTPC) to run Boxee software and stream web only content to my television. Which will largely depending on how well using a Roku only works out once fall shows return.

Adam was curious if the cost for internet access had increased as a result of cord cutting. The short answer is no. The long answer-- I have long paid Comcast for additional internet bandwidth. My internet cost was around $67.95 regardless of my television subscription. The discount for "bundling" TV and internet is a few dollars. Interestingly when I canceled my TV service the Comcast customer service representative was kind enough to give me a yearlong internet price discount at $49.95 including my speed boost. So to clarify I did not include my internet cost because the price was barely affected by canceling TV service. Sure it'll be cheaper for a year, but will reset to where it had been before whether I have cable TV or not.

Several friends have pointed out the Comcast data threshold of 250 gigabytes. The 250 gigabyte bandwidth cap is an arbitrary restriction that Comcast established in October of 2008. According to Comcast most users only utilize 5 to 6 gigabytes a month. In 2008 Comcast provided the following statistics on consumption activities:

  • Send 50 million emails (at 0.05 KB/email)
  • Download 62,500 songs (at 4 MB/song)
  • Download 125 standard-definition movies (at 2 GB/movie)
  • Upload 25,000 hi-resolution digital photos (at 10 MB/photo)
The August 2011 edition of Wired included the article What Bandwidth Caps Would Mean for Internet Gluttons using an infographic to explain bandwidth consumption:

For perspective the Full Lord of the Rings Trilogy is 11 hours and 23 minutes. More importantly in most cases Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon only stream in 720p, which is still HD just not 1080p. So streaming a 22-minute HD television show eats 0.42 gigabytes and a 44-minute show 0.84 gigabytes. Watching the typical feature film in HD would require roughly 2.5 gigabytes. Further, not all of the content we stream is in HD (MacGyver anyone) so these numbers are even lower.

Since cutting the cord we are averaging 4 - 5 gigabytes a day. At that rate I will consume roughly 135 gigabytes a month. At this point the 250 gigabyte cap is not overly limiting, but I will keep an eye on my consumption because if we exceed the limit for two months in a six month period Comcast will cut our cord. Given our current consumption patterns I am not worried about that happening.

Please keep the questions and comments coming. It has been interesting learning what others are doing to the cord, as well as having people question my setup. We continue to be pleased with our decision.

Cutting the Cord

As of Monday, August 22nd, 2011 my wife and I are no longer cable television subscribers. For both of us this is the first time in our lifetimes that we have not had cable television in our home. While this sounds like a dramatic change in reality it will not be that much different from when we had cable.

For the last six months I have been talking about canceling cable with anyone who will listen. I spent the six months before that pondering how I would do so. Like a true geek I inundated myself with information on the topic, devising various configuration options. Not wanting to fall into analysis paralysis I pulled the trigger in April and purchased a Roku XD for $79.99.

For those unfamiliar with Roku let me provide a bit of background. Roku is a consumer electronics company which Netflix selected in 2007 to build an exclusive device for their streaming video service. Netflix then decided it would be better served to release a plethora of Netflix Ready Devices instead of offering only a single device. Undeterred Roku released their initial device as a platform making it easy for other providers to deliver content to the device. This shift was the right move for both companies as Netflix streaming is ubiquitous and Roku offers over 300 "channels." There have been several hardware iterations since the initial release, the most recent being the new Roku 2 models unveiled at the end of July.

With shiny new hardware in hand we began to stream Netflix instant videos and Pandora to our television via the Roku. This was not a huge change as previously we had both of these services available to us on our Samsung Blu-ray player. The Roku offered a better user experience so it replaced that function of the Blu-ray player, but was not yet a cable TV replacement.

In May Hulu offered a free month of Hulu Plus to anyone with a dot edu email address. A Carnegie Mellon graduate student at the time I took them up on their offer. Hulu Plus offers not just a handful of episodes but full current seasons which can be streamed to a variety of devices, my Roku included. While Hulu Plus does not feature every show we watch in prime time it covers the majority of them.

The combination of content offered from Netflix and Hulu Plus made me begin to believe it would be possible to cut the cord. But we were still missing shows which were not available on either service. Lacking services to provide access to content I began to examine what it would cost to purchase shows à la carte from Amazon Instant Video. Amazingly Amazon provided options for purchasing most of the shows missing from Hulu Plus. The cost for individual shows feels a bit overpriced but is not egregious. Amazon does offer season passes to most shows which provides a discount over the individual price.

My wife and I have different tastes in TV shows, but here's what we are watching and where are we watching it:

  • Hulu Plus
    • Castle
    • Biggest Loser
    • Cougar Town
    • Modern Family
    • 30 Rock
    • Parks and Recreation
    • Office
    • Glee
    • Secret Life of the American Teenager
    • Saturday Night Live
    • Body of Proof
  • Amazon
    • Breaking Bad
    • How I Met Your Mother
    • Mad Men
    • Psych
    • Dexter
    • The Killing
    • The Walking Dead
  • Hulu Web
    • Covert Affairs
    • White Collar
    • Burn Notice
    • Community
  • Web
    • Gossip Girl
    • Project Runway
Of the shows we "care" about only The Middle and The Big Bang Theory are not available. Which is ironic because The Middle is about a family who would never think of streaming their television content and The Big Bang Theory is about geeks who most certainly would.

With entertainment television mostly covered sports are the only piece missing. I do not watch a lot of sports, but do closely follow Lobo Men's Basketball. Sadly The Mountain does not provide a streaming option so cutting the cord will cost me my ability to watch Lobo games at home. I have already had several invites to watch games at friends houses, can turn on the radio and there are always sports bars. Next summer I will have to determine if there is a way to easily stream the Tour de France. Beyond cycling and Lobo basketball-- ESPN3 HD content can be streamed via my Xbox Live subscription. If I cared to pay for MLB, UFC or the NHL I could stream them to the Roku. If I owned a PlayStation 3 I could subscribe and then stream the NFL Ticket. Point is if sports are your thing there are options though I am finding for college sports they might be a bit more limited.

So what's the bottom line? How much is this shift saving me? Let me break things down:

Service Monthly Cost
Hulu Plus $7.99
Pandora One $3.00
Netflix Streaming $8.55
Amazon Instant Video $30.00 est.
Xbox Live $9.99

I am not convinced we will be purchasing all of the shows I've listed from Amazon Instant Video so the $30.00 estimate should go way down. Jamie and I just had twin girls so we do not have the time for television that we used to. My guess is that because of our limited time available, back seasons of shows we have not seen will suffice to keep us entertained. Unless we really need to see a show near when it aired, I can see us waiting for the price to go down or become available on Hulu or Netflix. Additionally, I am not convinced I need ESPN3 or that I will have time to enjoy Xbox Live so we might be eliminating that cost as well.

Bottom line we were paying a little over $100 a month for cable television. With a full package of Amazon Streaming and Xbox Live our monthly cost would be $59.53. Cut Xbox Live or a percentage of the shows we are willing to pay Amazon for and that number drops perceptibly. My guess is our actual monthly total for television entertainment will be closer to $30 or $40.

The simple fact that I am in control of what shows I want to pay for, rather than having them prescribed to me as a bundle from my cable provider is what I am most excited about. If a show becomes uninteresting I stop paying for it immediately saving not only money but time.

Carnegie Mellon Practicum Project

Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley approaches teaching through learn by doing. This approach emphasizes group work in simulated real world situations in all courses. As a capstone course students partake in a practicum which “offers an educational opportunity for students to work for corporate clients doing real-time work, under the guidance of faculty.”

For my capstone course at I am working on the GeoCam Project. From the GeoCam blog:
The GeoCam Project aims to build a network of citizen disaster responders out of people helping people every day.
Google funds the project and the team works at the NASA Ames Research Center. The project will put me out of my comfort zone as it relies upon languages, frameworks, and platforms I do not have much experience with. I am excited to begin work on the project and will be documenting some of my experiences here.

Ask and You Shall Receive

I am in the process of preparing a presentation on Stack Overflow for the Sandia .NET User Group. In simple terms Stack Overflow is a programming question and answer site that's free. If you have not heard of it you are either not a programmer or have not been standing near me when I am singing the site's praises.

I will link to the presentation when I have it prepared, but for now I wanted to thank Jeff Atwood and Emily Yacus at Stack Overflow for being so cool as to provide me with t-shirts and stickers to handout after my presentation.

Thanks again guys and keep up the great work!

Setting Up Android Development Environment

Setting up an Android development environment is not a terribly hard task, but there are several steps involved. Before I document those steps a note about the hardware I used for my forays into Android development.
Development Machine Specs
  • Windows 7 64 bit
  • Processor: Intel Core  Duo T9800 @ 2.93GHz 2.94GHz
  • RAM: 4.00 GB
Android Platforms
  • Motorola Droid
  • HTC Incredible
The following steps are merely the ones that I used to develop Proximity Alerter and are definitely not the only options for setting up an Android development environment. Accounting for download and installation time the following steps should take less than 2 hours.
  1. Step 1 - Android SDK & Components
  2. Step 2 - Phone Drivers
  3. Step 3 - Setup Android Devices for Debugging
    • On the device, go to the home screen, press MENU, select Applications > Development, then check all three options
  4. Step 4 - Setup MOTODEV Studio (a fully contained Eclipse plug-in) for Android
    • Download and install MOTODEV Studio for Android (might require account creation)
    • Start MOTODEV Studio for Android, create a new workspace
    • Select: "Use an existing SDK from the file system" and point MOTODEV Studio to the location where you installed the Android SDK
At this point your Android development environment is setup and ready for the obligatory Hello, World.

Android Application Ideas

I have spent the month of June recovering from a lot of travel and catching up on work. Thus far it has been an outstanding summer filled with a lot of learning. We started a new project at work which is stretching my capabilities and providing excellent learning opportunities.

In addition to work I've spent the last six weeks in a Smartphone Application Development course. The course focused on developing applications for the Android Platform. The course was taught by Ted Selker who pushed us to come up with innovative project ideas. I had some of my own but polled my social graph for additional ideas.

The best ideas are below
Service Disabler
An application that is location aware turning off features depending on location. This would have practical use for the government as even government owned portable electronic devices have restrictions inside of limited areas. This idea could be extended to the consumer market to turn off specified features/notifications when at particular locations i.e. I am at/near my desk I don't need to be notified of Twitter mentions.
Bicycle cadence measurements
Bicycle cadence measurements. This measurement could be obtained by listening for the "swoosh" of a bicycle pedal using a Bluetooth headset or by calculating a virtual cadence using the accelerometer. In either case as a cyclist I am interested in this application because I presently have no option like it.
Photo Geo-tagging
A photo geotagging application. The application would communicate with your service of choice (Flickr, Picasa, etc.) and update previously uploaded photographs with a prior recorded geotagged location. The application would be smart enough to ignore photographs where it was not on at the time of the picture being taken. This would be useful for photographers who already carry additional devices to provide similar utility.
Grocery Food Item Locations
An application that provides the location of food items based on a specified grocery list. I.e. cereal can be found on aisle 3 and produce in this section of the store. This application would provide the details of where to go in the store to get all of the items on a list and provide suggestions for available coupons. To make this truly work would require the eventual buy in from multiple grocers as keeping store layout information up to date would be difficult.
Exposure Calculator
An exposure calculator for pinhole photography. Capturing light values and displaying flash calculations to photographers. This would be of value as photographers already carry additional devices to provide such calculations.
Advanced Phone Locker
Provide the ability to lock the phone with more than a simple pin or connect the dots unlock mechanism. This application would use multiple sensors to unlock the phone. It’d be interesting to allow for audible, location, gesture, and accelerometer based unlocking. A user could create a profile combining up to two unlocking mechanisms.
Some of these are more cute than useful. I ultimately chose to write the Service Disabler application though it morphed into Proximity Alerter.