It’s that time of year, when the broadcast TV industry showcases their latest wares and we the general public get to play a massive game of “hot or not”. Inevitably there will some winners, many losers, and some shows that fall in the middle.
In our household, the annual event ends in new series that get a coveted spot on the PVR for one of either myself, Jodie, or sometimes both of us to watch. Those that end up currying favour with only one of us go into the “when Pete’s on a plane” rotation. My coworker Paul insisted, I say again insisted, that I post the ongoing results to the blog. Hover over the thumbs for short commentary.
You’ll note some shows that are missing, and they’re likely in one of these “not a chance we’re gonna watch that” categories:
- Anything to do with vampires (there are a few)
- Spinoff of something that we don’t watch
- Premium cable only (we cut the cable years ago)
I recently updated the smoke alarms in our house. Because I’m me, I did all the research to figure out the most up to date recommendations on type and coverage for the home. We ended up with several First Alert Dual Sensor smoke alarms throughout the house.
These alarms came with a neat feature that allows you to shut off false alarms using any infrared remote control you might have lying around the house. Useful I thought for burnt toast and whatnot.
Well the fun began that night, as we were watching TV one of the alarms kept going off. After several false alarms I just took it down and removed the battery, with plans to exchange it.
The fun continued a few days later, as the alarm would go off in the laundry room when we turned on the lights. What the heck?
This was now too much to be a coincidence, so I hit the internet to do some research.
Remember that neat feature that lets you use a remote to turn off false alarms? Turns out it also lets you test the alarm via infrared remote. And you know what else generates infrared signals that can trigger the test function? Compact fluorescent light bulbs, yep those twisty CFL bulbs that are by law replacing every light bulb in your house.
Legally-required smoke alarms that are incompatible with legally-required light bulbs. That, my friends, is what we call a conundrum.
How to fix it
In order to stop this annoying false alarm, you need to disable the IR sensor on the smoke alarm. This won’t affect the ability to detect smoke, it will simply turn off the IR remote control features. It’s pretty easy to do:
- Open the battery door (disconnect the battery)
- Hold down the test button on the alarm
- Close the battery door while still holding the test button
- You will hear a chirp, and can let go of the test button
You’ll need to do this every time you replace the batteries, because it will reset back to normal when you pull out the battery.
It appears that there is a widespread issue causing certain channels to have no guide data in Windows Media Center. The ball is pretty clearly in Microsoft’s court, but as far as I can tell there are no more players on team Media Center so I expect this one to take a while to fix.
Like me, many Canadians set up Media Center using a nearby US zip code to enable all of the high-definition TV features. Unfortunately it seems that the zip code closest to Toronto has been particularly hard hit by this bug.
I’ve updated my Media Center hack to help work around this issue by running a single batch file. Full updated instructions and zip file are located at the Windows Experts wiki here.
Essentially, this will supplement your buggy US listings with additional listings from Canadian cable and satellite providers. Canadian providers tend to carry lots of US stations as well, so this may also be a decent workaround for some of our friends to the south.
Early reports from users at Digital Home Canada indicate that this workaround has been successful for everyone who has implemented it.
Finally, I’ve logged the bug with Microsoft (click here). Please vote it up and mark “I can too” stating that you are able to reproduce the bug as well. This might help to speed up the official fix.
After a nice deep snowfall, I took the kids out tobogganing yesterday. Finding a decent toboggan hill in Milton is a tough mission, but there are a few around.
I’ll share our tobogganing spots, and point you to a toboggan hill database where you can both look up some hills or add some of your own.
Best In Milton – Lowville Park
Okay, it’s more *near* Milton than in it but it’s the best hill we’ve got. Steep, an okay size, easy to get to and park. On the down side it tends to be busy and if there’s not much snow, bumpy from all the brush. Watch out for trees near the bottom, although I think they’ve started to put hay bales there now for safety.
Best Nearby: Food Basics
Near the corner of Laurier and Ontario, there is a park with a decent hill. Mid-grade slope and plenty wide. Parking is available in the Food Basics parking lot.
Most Popular: Sixteen-Mile Creek
People flock to the hill near Commercial and Laurier, a very wide spot with lots of room for everyone. It is a steep but pretty short slope. People park on the road, but I’d rather see you park at the highschool or in the parking lot of Rad Brothers (near Derry & Ontario).
Hidden Gem: Livingston Park
I stumbled across the hill at Livingston Park during a summer cleanup with my daughter’s Girl Guides troop. We went to visit it yesterday, and there was nobody at the hill with pristine powder. It’s not a very steep slope, but a decent size for young kids. Parking is available at the end of Margaret Street.
I’ve added all these slopes to TobogganHills.com. Are there any hills you can share?
This past weekend, we held our 5th Annual Near BBQ in our back yard. This started as an excuse to get some use out of my smoker and has grown into a pretty big event where I add in some new southern food element each year. Several people asked me for recipes, so here we go…
Smoked Jalapeno Poppers (ABTs)
- 8oz brick of cream cheese, room temperature
- 8oz shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 tsp BBQ rub
- 15 Jalapeno Peppers
- Pound of bacon, thinly sliced
Realistically, you’ll end up using as much of the ingredients as you need to fill the peppers you bought. I generally buy more raw ingredients than I think I’ll need and mix it up as needed during prep.
- Slice the jalapenos in half and remove all seeds and white ribs (remember to wear gloves to protect from the heat!)
- Combine equal parts cream cheese and shredded cheddar
- Add BBQ rub to the cheese mixture and mix by hand
- Put cheese mixture into a ziploc bag and snip the corner
- Squeeze the ziploc bag to pipe the cheese mixture into the jalapeno halves
- Wrap each jalapeno half in a slice of bacon. Try to keep the bacon as thin as possible, which may mean trimming excess with scissors.
- Sprinkle lightly with more BBQ rub
- Cook on the smoker at around 250 degrees for about two hours. Alternatively these can be cooked on the grill but use indirect heat or you’ll end up with a nasty grease fire.
Honey Chipotle BBQ Sauce
- 2 cups ketchup
- 1 cup cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons worchestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons BBQ rub
- 4 canned chipotle peppers, chopped
- 1/2 cup honey
- Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan, save one chipotle pepper
- Heat and simmer for about ten minutes
- Adjust the spiciness to your preference by adding honey and/or the remaining chipotle pepper. The adobo sauce that the peppers are canned in is also great tasting if you want a bit more spice!
- Mix ingredients with a stick blender to ensure that any large chunks are chopped small enough that they won’t clog your sauce bottle.
- Cool and pour into a sauce bottle (I get mine at the local restaurant supply store)
Slushy Machine Margarita Mix
- 2 cans Minute Maid limeade concentrate
- 1 can Minute Maid lemonade concentrate
- 6 oz lime juice
- 2 litres of water
- 1/4 cup of simple syrup (or sugar dissolved in warm water)
- Combine all ingredients except for Tequila in the slushy machine
- Allow the machine to mix and freeze the virgin mix
- Add one shot of tequila to the bottom of a cup and dispense the slush on top. Mix.
Smoked Pulled Pork
My pulled pork recipe comes pretty much directly from a hobbyist site called the Virtual Weber Bullet, where there is an amazingly detailed overview of how to make it. You’ll of course need a smoker and I have recommended the Weber Smokey Mountain (WSM) to many of my friends. This fan site makes it very easy to get started with the WSM. Here’s the recipe: http://www.virtualweberbullet.com/pork4.html
Credits (recipe starters)
I didn’t invent these recipes, most I adapted from those posted on the internet. Sources below.
I am not a sports fanatic, but a long-running tradition in my house is the annual dusting off of the deep fryer to nosh on some home-made wings, take in a great game of football and enjoy some even better commercials.
No offense to your Super Bowl party, but the Super Bowl is just better at my house. Yes, the deep fryer adds a certain “I don’t know what”, but the real star is the antenna. My cheap little antenna lets my guests watch the Super Bowl the way it was meant to be seen, in full high definition glory with the proper big-budget commercials to entertain us between plays.
The typical Canadian Super Bowl experience works like this:
- Local cable company gets the HD feed from the US
- They remove the US commercials and insert (usually unfunny) Canadian ads
- They compress the picture quality so they can jam more channels onto your cable
- You get a sub-par Super Bowl experience
In previous years you *might* have gotten away with tuning into the US high definition channel on cable, but not this year. With all of Canada now digital, the cable networks are required by law to show you the Canadianized broadcast regardless of which channel you tune.
Don’t Panic. There is time to correct this injustice before everyone shows up to your house for the big game and finds out how you allowed the cable company deprive them all of the full Super Bowl experience. I’ll tell you how.
For starters, you’ll need a high definition television. Every HDTV sold since 2007 includes an over-the-air HD tuner.
Next, you’ll need to be within broadcasting distance of an NBC affiliate. You can check your specific address at TVFool and see if NBC is on the list but if you’re in the Toronto, Montreal, or Windsor areas then the answer is likely yes.
Finally, you’ll need an antenna. If you’re handy, then you can build your own with just some wire and a couple parts you can get at Home Depot. If you’re like me however (handy with the wings but less so with the home improvements) then you’ll want to buy an antenna. Given that time is short, I’d recommend stopping by Save and Replay in Mississauga to get a good antenna which will cost you about $50. I cannot recommend any of the antennas you’re likely to find at Best Buy or Walmart.
Plug the antenna into your TV, point it in the general direction of the United States, and you should be able to enjoy the Super Bowl as it was intended.
If you’re feeling extra ambitious, you can install the antenna in the attic for even better reception.
Enjoy the Super Bowl!
This is the conclusion of a blog series on cutting the cable in Canada.
Back in the spring, I began to look at options for cutting the cable in Canada, including IPTV, Apple iTunes, Netflix, TV Websites, Boxee, and a brief look to see if the grass is any greener south of the border.
The ground rules were as follows:
- My family must accept the solution, this is not a geeks-only endeavour
- The content creators must be compensated, no stealing from the artists
- The quality must generally match what I get today, which means high definition
- Costs must fit within our existing budget, I’m only allowed to spend what I save elsewhere
I’ll admit that after the initial review I got somewhat dismayed because the conclusion was leaning to “not possible in Canada”. The biggest sticking point was content for my kids, six and eight year old girls who enjoy watching Teletoon and some other kid-oriented cable channels on a little TV in the basement. I decided to throw in the towel. Cable had won.
However, this summer my cable provider gave me an extra push by removing all of the kids channels from their analog tier which meant that cartoons would no longer work on the little TV downstairs without additional investment. This was the time to strike!
After a bit of trial and error, I did end up with a solution that works for my family and we are now 100% free of cable in our household. Here’s what the Near household looks like:
Over-The-Air High Definition Everywhere
A small antenna in the attic drives the majority of what we watch in the house. I ran the coax cable from my antenna down into my basement, literally unplugged the cable feed from the road and instead plugged the antenna into the splitter, and now every room in the house how has HD antenna. Plug in an HDTV, and about 35 channels come in crystal-clear.
So now I had all the TVs in the house running free and legal live TV, but what I really wanted to do is record that TV to a PVR so I can watch it anywhere in the house. To do this, I activated the free Windows Media Center program that comes with Windows 7 to turn my Windows PC into a fully functional PVR. I plugged my antenna into an HDHomerun tuner, which allowed my Windows PC to record two HDTV channels at the same time. To get everything working in the Toronto area, I simply told Media Center that I live in the United States at Zipcode 14174 (for other areas of Canada the setup is a bit more involved).
The steps above turn the PC into a PVR that’s quite frankly better than any PVR from the cable company. When you have both an XBox 360 and a Windows Media Center PC in the same house, it turns the XBox into a PVR too! Microsoft calls this a Media Center Extender, I have three extenders in my house which means that every TV in the house is a high definition PVR.
For The Kids
Surprisingly, there is very little content on broadcast television for kids these days. However, kids programming is an area where Netflix really shines. I picked up an Apple TV 2 for about one hundred dollars and plugged it in to the TV in the basement. I taught my eight-year old how to use it in about ten minutes, my six-year old still needs a bit of help getting it going.
Netflix is now the kids’ primary source of content, and since they’re using my account I can monitor everything that they watch.
So there we have it, Cable TV has been completely replaced in our household! Flush with an extra $60 per month in cash, I find myself a bit more liberal with the entertainment dollar. I spent an extra $30 to buy simple.tv, which takes everything from my PVR and syncs it to my iPod for business trips. I bought the entire Scooby Doo box set for about $60 and added it to our DVD collection. We rent HD movies on the XBox for family movie nights. My daughter watches Netflix in her room on an iPod Touch. Overall I’m spending less and getting more for my entertainment dollar. I count that as a win!
Is it right for you?
This setup works well for my family, but there’s one key difference between my house and most other Canadian households… we don’t really care too much about live sports. I get all the games I care about including the Stanley Cup, Superbowl (with US commercials!), World Series, and the Olympics. However if you spend most of your time on TSN or Sportsnet then what I’ve done probably won’t work for you. I am not aware of any legal way to get those live sports other than cable or satellite.
Where to get more information:
The Digital Home Canada forums are a great place to ask questions and dig in to some more options for cutting the cable.
The Shopping List:
While I would recommend doing a little research to see what’s best for you, I know the reality is that many will just want to know what I’ve got so they can go buy the same thing. Here’s the full list of what is involved in my setup.
- Channel Master 4221 Antenna ($50)
- Kitztech Preamp KT-100VG-COAX ($60)
- RG6 Bulk Coax Cable, cut to length at Home Depot
Windows Media Center PVR
- Any Windows 7 PC
- HDHomerun Tuner ($140)
Media Center Extenders
- Xbox 360 ($200)
- Linksys DMA-2100 (discontinued, find on Kijiji or eBay)
- Linksys DMA-2200 (discontinued, find on Kijiji or eBay)