Home Life on the Road

Un-Cutting the Cord

Tab, Jeep, Paramotor...  What more did I need?

Tab, Jeep, Paramotor… What more did I need?

Today is my seventh Nomadiversary – seven years since I cut the cord and left traditional fixed-location life behind.

Over the years, I’ve often been asked “Why?” – what inspired me to hit the road to head out to see the world with only a ridiculously small Tab Clamshell and a little Jeep Liberty to call home.

Why leave behind an awesome San Francisco penthouse apartment with a million dollar panoramic view?

Up until now, I’ve been reluctant, and even slightly embarrassed, to admit the real reason…

I’d run out of things to watch.

My Panasonic 34" CRT - One Of The Heaviest TV's Ever Made!

My Panasonic 34″ CRT – One of the heaviest TV’s ever!

You see – I had long been a media junky. I had a killer surround sound audio system, a thumping subwoofer, and a 34″ widescreen Panasonic HDTV – one of the largest and heaviest CRT’s ever produced.

I was one of the very first to have a TiVo, and was also an early Dish network subscriber.

I even had a laser disc player!

But – this was the days before widespread HDTV broadcast, or Blu-Ray. There wasn’t anything on TV that would do my beautiful television justice, and I was running out of exciting movies in my Netflix queue.

If anything, the super-sharp HD screen just made most shows look worse.

So instead of enjoyably watching TV, I’d stare out my window watching the fog spill over Twin Peaks. Sure – that was natural HD, but it was the same show every day.

Traffic, city lights, fog…  Repeat.

View out my San Francisco bedroom window. High-def, but the same show every day...

View of fog spilling over Twin Peaks out my San Francisco bedroom window. High-def, but the same show every day…

I was getting bored.

Changing the channel had lost its appeal, but changing locations opened up entire new avenues of adventure!

I thought for certain I’d soon be tuning into Alaska, and Baja, and far-away exotic countries! The world would be mine!

And it was…

The one thing I hadn’t realized though was that changing locations might not be quiet as easy as changing stations. Seven years have passed, and I still haven’t made it to Alaska. Or into Mexico. Or across any oceans.

And meanwhile…  TV has blossomed!

Channels are in HD now, and there are so many more of them to choose from!!! And there is even video on demand – you don’t even need to wait for a show to come on any more!

"Winter is Coming!"

“Winter is Coming!” – Season 3 premier 3/31/13!

For family health reasons and to be near loved ones, we’ve stopped for a while to live in a trailer park near the beach in Florida. And one afternoon two weeks ago, it dawned on us that for the first time in seven years cable TV is an option!

Having become hooked on the first two seasons of “Game of Thrones” on Blu-Ray, we’ve been fretting over having to wait another year to watch season three – so when we saw the cables dangling overhead we jumped at the chance to sign up for Bright House Cable, and HBO!

Now, not only do we get 26 channels of HBO, plus HBO on Demand…  We have so many other channels to surf as well! So much glorious content to consume – we will never be bored again!!!

The local Bright House channel lineup is actually 17 pages, and the channels range from 1 (TV Japan) to 1991 (TV Japan HD), with so many other options in between that it is hard to even get an accurate count!

Page 17 of our local channel guide...

Page 17 (!!) of our local channel guide…

I decided to surf through from one end to another, and it actually took me 41 minutes and 29 seconds (really!) to flip through and see everything that is on, not stopping once to actually watch anything.

Of course – it takes anywhere between 3-7 seconds just to change a channel, so most of the time spent “surfing” is actually staring at a black screen. And it seems that most of the “channels” are actually ones that we don’t subscribe to – with a screen prompting to call to activate, or to click to spend $$$ to add the appropriate “pack” or pay-per-view experience.

Sometimes randomly premium channels refuse to tune in. Fortunately there are plenty of other HBO channels to try...

Sometimes at random premium channels refuse to tune in. Fortunately there are plenty of other HBO channels to try…

There is no way to opt-out of seeing all these unsubscribed channels, and I imagine the cat falling asleep on the remote could turn into quite an expensive adventure if she ends up clicking on one of the $25/mo Asian channels!

Some of the channels that we DO subscribe to also don’t come in – occasionally popping up a “Currently Unavailable” alert. The cable installer said we had a “perfect signal”, so I can only assume that a flock of space birds is interfering with the channel’s satellite.

But still – of the channels that do come in…  A lot of them are in English!  And a slight majority of them are not shopping networks, or Jesus, or music jukeboxes, or one of a gazillion sports channels!

There is so much to watch – it is like a treasure hunt to find it! If you think of it like an Easter Egg hunt, you can probably avoid throwing your remote across the room in frustration.

Wait… This isn’t glorious. This is torture!

Browsing the tiny cable guide is like reading a foreign language newspaper - through a keyhole.

Browsing the tiny cable guide is like reading a foreign language newspaper – through a keyhole.

Of course – rather than surf, you can use the on-screen guide – which helpfully shows you just one hour’s worth of programming on five channels at a time – using only a tiny fraction of the screen. It is like trying to read a newspaper through a hole the size of a penny.

And of course, you can’t filter out the channels you don’t get, the languages you don’t speak, or the type of programming you have no interest in.

You can’t even disable the non-HD channels, even the ones that have HD versions. I imagine this is just in case you ever feel like the picture is too sharp and clear, and you want to watch the low-res version of a show instead…

There is some basic browsing and searching menus, but the user interface would have felt primitive to interact with back in the 90’s. In fact – I think that might be when the cable box software was written. At least being so old, that should mean that they’ve shaken all the bugs out – right?

Ancient-Cable-Box

The cable box was manufactured 12/22/2004. In tech years, that might as well be the 1960’s…  Vintage bus = good, vintage tech = BAD!

Well – our first cable box installed by Bright House had a habit of locking up every night. So they sent an installer back out to replace it, but the second one he brought was actually DOA.

He didn’t have a third in his truck, so he “upgraded” us to the more advanced “Whole House DVR” model, which featured the exact same ancient and slow low-res UI, but a slightly bigger hard drive for recording programs.

Score!

Recording programs on the DVR is nice – we’ve been using it to watch the new season of The Voice, and love being able to fast forward through commercials.

But… Programming the DVR is a royal pain, since the program guide only looks forward two days ahead. If you want to schedule a recording further out, tough. (CORRECTION: The guide goes out a week, but it takes a while to download it all and when I first tested I could only scroll out two days. But the UI is so poor that it hardly matters in the end…)

And if you set up a “series recording” to record all episodes, the DVR might choose to record the SD version instead of HD. You know, just in case you might prefer a low-res and fuzzy picture… (It mostly gets it right, but with one series recording I tested the low-res version did get picked. Why even show the non-HD options?!!?)

You can program the DVR to record remotely via the web, but beware accidentally recording an SD version...

You can program the DVR to record remotely via the web, but beware accidentally recording an SD version…

Because the DVR programming limitations, we accidentally missed out on recording a show Cherie enjoys following last week – Grey’s Anatomy. But no worries – Bright House has an awesome “Look Back” feature that lets you catch up on a lot of Prime Time shows from the past week that you might have missed, on demand.

Sure once you start playing an episode you can’t pause, rewind, or fast-forward it – but at least we had Grey’s Anatomy in HD with only a little bit of futzing with the non-intuitive UI.

The ABC iPad app blows the cable TV experience out of the water. And it is free.

The ABC iPad app blows the cable TV experience out of the water. And it is free.

Until… Three quarters of the way into the show, the cable box decided to spontaneously reboot – a process which takes over five minutes. Gotta love that old rock-solid software these boxes are running.

And of course, starting the episode again via “Look Back” would have required Cherie to watch the entire thing through from the beginning since fast-forward is blocked.

Seriously?!?

Did they even do any usability testing!?!?

BTW – watching Grey’s Anatomy or The Voice on our iPad via the nework’s native iPad apps have only a few minutes of un-skipable commercials that you have to sit through, and you can fast-forward the episode. But via the cable box, nearly 20 minutes of commercials were mandated.

Yet these app’s are free, and we are paying handsomely for cable TV?!?

Overall…

Despite all the frustrations and limitations, there actually is some good stuff to be found surfing around on Bright House. I found some shows that featured some exotic remote places, in HD! I bet if I look long enough I can find something filmed in Alaska, or Baja! And maybe I’ll end up learning a new language in the process as I surf past so many Spanish stations!

But seriously…

I can hardly believe it – the experience of cable TV today is actually worse than it was seven years ago when I hit the road!!! It is so bad, I can hardly fathom how so many people actually continue to put up with it.

How much would you pay for a cable plan that lets you opt out of shopping channels? Act now, and we'll throw in an obsolete Android phone! Operators are standing by!

How much would you pay for a cable plan that lets you opt out of shopping channels? Act now, and we’ll throw in an obsolete Android phone! Operators are standing by!

Technology has leapfrogged these ancient cable boxes, allowing most our desired content to be streamed – if only we had a consistent source of sufficient bandwidth to power it all.

HBO’s “HBO Go” app and streaming experience is incredible – if only they would sell it directly instead of cable companies forcing their hand to only offering the feature to cable subscribers. We’d pay for this in a heartbeat if we could, especially if it integrated with our Apple TV box.

It is not the price of cable TV packages that is the problem. I would happily pay MORE for a service that gave me a few dozen channels that I actually cared about, a great UI, fabulous search and discovery, easy access to on-demand shows, and DVR recording without ridiculous playback restrictions.

And most importantly, a service which kept the rest of the crap HIDDEN and out of site.

500 channels is not 10x better than 50 channels, it is 10x worse!

I should be able to flip through all the channels I care about in time to return to catch a show I spotted – impossible if it takes 41 minutes to get back around!

Apple TV is a tease of what we hope is to come. If only this had live programming, and "apps" instead of channels...

The current Apple TV is a tease of what we hope is to come. If only this had live programming, and a wide range of “apps” acting as channels…

No wonder so many people are hoping for Apple to step in and do to television what they did to phones – the current situation is a horrible plodding mess.

It is a real shame too – we are actually currently in a golden age of television content.

Shows like Game of Thrones, Mad Men, True Blood, Dexter – these are some of the best things ever made for television.

Even network shows like The Voice, Grey’s Anatomy, and Big Bang Theory are our guilty pleasures.

There is a lot of incredibly great stuff out there. If only it didn’t come wrapped in such a crappy package.

There are other ways to get HBO shows, and even if we do have to wait another year for the next season of Game of Thrones to hit Blu-Ray – well, waiting is better than dealing with such a craptastic experience as this taste of cable has given us.

I think I need to grab some scissors and cut this damn cord again, ASAP!

*snip*

An honest cable ad: <direct link>

Good bye Bright House – we’ll keep your zippy semi-reliable cable internet while we’re here (it drops for a minute or two every hour or two – making streaming video feel a bit glitchy), but we’re going to be passing on the TV ‘experience’ you provide.

These nomads are too spoiled by knowing what life is like ‘out there’ – we aren’t ready to return to the couch just yet, no matter how many channels of pretty HD you tempt us with.

Here’s to starting my 8th year on the road!

Memory Lane:

  • Sixth Nomadiversary – Reminiscing about all the changes over the years.
  • Fifth Nomadiversary – Giving up nomadism and buying a condo (not!) in the Virgin Islands.
  • Fourth Nomadiversary – Discovering the secret prize that comes inside every box of wine.
  • Third Nomadiversary – Camped on a beach near Malibu, watching dolphins frolic.
  • Second Nomadiversary – Working with Cherie to custom design our Oliver, moving up from a trailer ideal for one to one made for two.
  • First Nomadiversary – Preparing to set out with Cherie, reminiscing about my first very eventful year on the road.
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14 Comments - Still Plenty of Room for Yours!

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  1. Cable $ucks, which is why we got rid of it, and changed to DirecTv, in our house, 10 years ago, and upgraded to HD last summer. We’re in our motor home aboot 6mo/year (dry camping aboot 3 of those). We’ve had DirecTv w/east coast/west coast feeds for 7 years now, and WOULD NOT give it up! We just recently added an HD tri pod dish and DVR, w/an auto Winegard roof top unit to come this summer. Cost is not an issue for us, because we love our tv shows so much! Good luck w/your travels. Robbie and Martha

  2. Thanks for the great information. We need to get with the program and check out Game of Thrones to find out what all the buzz is about!

  3. Congrats on your 7-yr Technomadiversary! Ah, those old cable TV boxes, what a trip down memory lane– incredible that they still use such lame technology! I guess my Dish receivers have really spoiled me– I can’t imagine watching TV anymore without favorite lists, DVRing a season of shows with 1 click, or fast-fwd jumping thru commercials, or instant replaying of Live TV.

    But, I totally agree about the content offerings being 98% dreadful and only about 2% entertaining.

    Can’t wait for a cool new solution to let us pick and choose programs we want, download them when we have access to abundant fast WiFi, and watch later when we’re out in the boonies! iTunes comes pretty close to meeting all those needs right now (if they could just get a few more content offerings with less wait, and offer some streaming capabilities to be able to “preview” something longer to see if it’d be worthwhile to fully buy/download).

  4. I have to pipe up here. Yes, Cable TV sucks. There.
    We went without TV in the normal sense for the 3+ years we were in Vienna. With the exception of perhaps watching coverage of the “Opera Ball” live, we certainly didn’t miss much. (Well, the Canada/US hockey game and the World Cup are two more exceptions, now that I think on it)
    Since coming back home, we’ve been reminded just how tedious it can be to watch a program with all the gobs of advertising thrown in. I couldn’t wait to hook up our media player so we could continue watching “Dexter”. (insert the latest series you may be watching)
    SO much more enjoyable just to watch from one end to the other.
    Some series that we didn’t particularly care for when shown on TV (interspersed with ads of course) we then found tolerable or enjoyable as media files. It makes such a difference. Who knew?

  5. I can relate to this! We constantly go back and forth on keeping DirectTV. We have the service and have cut back to the *absolute* minimum package, but most of the time we feel it’s not worth it. I negotiated a 3-month free trail of HBO which we enjoyed for the first week of the first month after which we realized it’s mostly re-runs until the next new month….and that alone for $16/mo???! Maybe this will be the year we finally cut it off completely 🙂
    Nina

    • I agree that the HBO broadcast channels feel like mostly reruns – but the HBO Go app (and website) is fabulous. It lets you watch every episode of every season of all the HBO shows, plus gives access to a ton of movies on demand too. I’d happily subscribe just to HBO Go, and would ditch the “channels” if we could.

  6. I absolutely loathe those cable boxes. We only had basic cable that came with our condo, so no digital guide box. Every time I was house-sitting at a place that had that, it would be all I could do to keep from chucking the thing in the pool.

    The Hopper DVR from Dish is pretty good in solving a few of the niggling issues: you can make 4 separate favorite channel lists, scrolling through menus is as instantaneous as you can press the buttons, and something else I liked but can’t remember.

    But of course, then you’d have to have Dish, and it mostly sucks 😀

    • I have heard a lot of great things about Dish’s Hopper – it seems to be the current pinnacle of set-top-box technology. I think it also allows for recorded shows to be transferred to iPads for offline viewing too – another great feature. And of course the “Hopper” name refers to its ability to auto-skip commercials in prime time shows.

      No wonder some of the big media companies are trying to sue it out of existence!

  7. Laserdisc! I had a fairly large collection up until a year ago when my player broke. Now that I have everything on DVD/Blu-Ray/AppleTV, I couldn’t justify buying a replacement player and the space needed for all the discs.

    I feel the same way about the UI. I haven’t had cable or satellite for years. When I go to other people’s houses to watch football and such, I get frustrated trying to navigate. My friends are entertained by this because I’m a professional tech geek, using $500k cameras on a daily basis, but I can’t figure out something they use everyday.

    • Good UI, even on very complicated things, is a joy to use.

      And bad UI, even on simple things, generates frustration.

      Once you start to get spoiled by good stuff, patience with putting up with the bad tends to plummet.

      TiVo showed how good TV UI could be over a decade ago. It shocks me that almost everything still has yet to rise to the level of TiVo 1.0.

  8. Regarding the periods of black time with changing channels, make sure your cable box settings for picture resolution match your TV setting. When I set both of mine to 720p the channel changing lag was eliminated.

  9. Congrats on your anniversary! I can’t help you with your desired HD Alaska content, but do hope to highlight some interesting, out of the way places on our Alaska trip starting in two weeks with our 19′ FG trailer.

  10. Hehe, our motorhome has an old automatic (as in I press the button to move the dish in small increments until I am pointed at the right satellite because it’s broken) Dish 300 satellite on the roof. It is capable of pointing at one satellite so it gets some of the channels. We’re going to upgrade to a tripod with a super dish (which points at 3 satellites at once) so we can consume all channels without repointing. That + a dish dvr is going to be a way cheaper way to consume all of our media than trying to download it over wireless internet. Our dish bill even after all the discounts ran out is only $60 (including the expanded basic cable like TNT, TBS, etc). Cable has always been more expensive but it used to offer the benefit of allowing you to use an analog tv without paying for a box. Don’t know if that is still the case. We loooooves our tv… our precious 😉

    • Cherie’s folks have Dish – and we are actually tempted to add a tripod system for our bus as an “extra outlet” to their install, assuming we decided we even want to try and keep access to live channels.

      And whether or not we get added as an extra outlet, we can just buy them HBO – giving us access to HBO when we are over there, and to HBO Go via their account.

      It seems that Dish is light years ahead of Bright House when it comes to user interface. I had Dish back in 1996, and I think Dish’s UI from back then is roughly comparable to where Bright House is today. Gads!

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