Cutting the Cord – Two Years On

cutting-cableTwo years ago I was finally ticked off enough with the continually rising cost of cable TV and cut the cord.

I missed Formula 1, and watching Wimbledon and the US Open was problematic, but overall life was good.

Last week I finally (long overdue) decided to cancel the home phone because the only people using that were telemarketers.

The person I dealt with was (for once) knowledgeable and didn’t try to talk me out of it. Instead he put me on to a deal that included high speed internet (60mbps) AND basic TV channels.  All for a monthly price of just $54!

So, two years after cutting the cord the TV is now back…but now I pay just $54 a month instead of $200.  My wife has been happily watching Wimbledon, I watched F1 practice last night for the first time in 2 years, and we haven’t had a telemarketer call in a week!

What did we learn in the past two years?

Pick the right device.

roku-chromecast-vs-lead

We started by using a Chromecast because they were cheap ($35) and I believed that Google would be able to expand quickly.  To use the Chromecast you need to use an app on a phone or tablet and this caused a lot of frustration.

Want to back up 30 seconds to catch the line you missed in your soap?  Grab your phone…unlock it…open the app (which probably closed)…if it’s an IOS device wait 30 seconds while it reconnects to the chromecast…then press backup…wait while it goes through…now keep pressing because by now you are 2 minutes further than you were when you started.  Arrgh!

It’s not all bad news.  It generally works pretty well if you play things from beginning to end, has a lot of services, and I can redirect the screen from my PC browser or Android tablet on to the big TV screen.

Ultimately though we came across a Groupon to buy a Roku device and now have a much more normal viewing experience.  Easier to navigate, no apps needed, and a normal remote control that reacts instantly.  My advice? go straight for the Roku unless you want to drive your family crazy.

What did we miss?

Some shows were simply too difficult to watch and we stopped.  Big Bang Theory was playable but only after jumping through hoops.  Tennis (US Open and Wimbledon) likewise required much hoop jumping.  And Formula 1 was impossible to watch.  F1 was the biggest thing that I personally missed.

homephoneGet rid of the home phone ASAP!

The home phone cost almost as much as the high speed internet…and no-one used it.  About 6 times a day we would get calls telling us our credit card interest rate could be lower or we had won a cruise.  Why was I paying nearly $40 a month for that? 

As soon as everyone had a cell phone we should have ditched the landline but, instead, we held on to this relic far too long.

Finally there?

Overall, the current setup looks like a good deal.  It took a while for the cable companies to catch up but it looks as though we are now almost at the point I wanted to be 2 years ago and my cable bill is 1/4 of what it was.

I’m off now to watch F1 qualifying for the first time in 2 years:)

 

2 Comments

Filed under Life - or something like it, Technology

The Social Catalyst

Last weekend I spent 4 1/2 days riding about 1,200 miles with about 80 motorcycle friends with Backroads motorcycle magazine.

I say 80 friends because at the end of each day everyone would congregate at the hotel, have a drink and swap stories and it always amazes me how easy it is to talk to anyone in this crowd.  Stick out your hand in introduction and you’ll be chatting like long lost buddies within minutes.

20160527_113952-1

As something of a social observer this was an excellent opportunity to watch a lot of different interactions in a very short space of time, and I started to see a pattern I had never seen before.

Certain people (who I won’t name to avoid embarrassment) have the amazing ability to liven up almost any conversation whenever they join a group.  Within minutes the level of laughter and energy will move up a notch, and the effect lasts long after they have left too.

The characteristics of these social catalysts seem to be equal part a great sense of humor, broad knowledge of a wide variety of subjects, keen observation skills which they use to tease people with, and a certain amount of irreverence where they will happily delve into subjects that polite conversation might steer clear of.

Having noticed it, it was hard not to notice, even when they joined a conversation I was in.

Sadly I don’t count myself as one of these social unicorns.  But maybe I can use these observations to help improve my future social interactions.  Either that or I’m going to end up with a bloody nose.

Leave a comment

Filed under Automobiles and motorcycles, Life - or something like it

Real Managers Know About Trust

bestboss__largeI was reading an interesting post about first jobs and the headline Good Bosses Are Key immediately gave me a flash back to my first “real job”.

I had gone through a year of programming school to which ended with a three month internship at a small company.

I turned up for the first day feeling, frankly, a little cock sure of myself.  That subsided quickly.

My first task was debugging a program used to calculate rent on properties and had been written by a programmer that was no longer with the company. After hours of pouring over the code I not only couldn’t figure out why it was going wrong, I couldn’t even figure out how it could ever have worked at all!

sadwalkI left that first day with my tail between my legs and thinking I had made a huge mistake. But I turned up for work the next day and tried again…and the next…laying out pages of hand written sheets showing variable values.

After a couple of weeks I went to my boss and meekly suggested that the way to solve the problem was to completely rewrite the core calculation routine. I was convinced he would laugh me out of the office.  Instead he asked how long it would take and I told him two weeks.

Put yourself in his shoes.  You have an 18 year old in front of you that you have only known for two weeks.  He’s fresh from college and telling you that the solution to your problem is to completely rewrite the system core which written by an experienced programmer.  What would you do?

My manager looked me in the eye, picked up the phone, called the biggest (and most vocal) client we had and told him we would have a solution in two weeks. Then told me I’d better get started.

Holy Cow!  The game was now truly afoot.

I’ll cut to the chase.  I worked night and day to make that deadline as there was no way I was going to let down the man that just put it all on the line.  We installed the upgrade and…IT WORKED!

I look back on that now and realize that was a formative moment for me.  That was when I made the jump from boy to man, and it has affected my career ever since.  But how many managers today would dare to take such a risk?

Sadly, today, managers are almost totally risk averse.  Failure is not something that is tolerated, and that is leading us to a world where opportunities for growth are giving way to excuses and playing it safe.

Personal growth happens when you step outside your comfort zone and we are punishing people if they do that. In doing so we are stunting the growth of our employees.  

I learned so much from my first boss that I will never be able to adequately repay him.  The company only lasted a few years (there were other bigger issues) but the three years I spent there were some of the happiest and most formative of my life.  All I can say is…MP…Thanks for taking the risk.

126-2669_IMG

MP hanging with my daughter

Leave a comment

Filed under Business, Career, Education

What makes a professional?  

professionalWhat makes a professional?  

I’ve been thinking about this for some time now.

Obviously there’s the simple definition of a person that performs a role and gets paid for it.

But I believe it’s more than that, particularly in today’s world where people can have a “portfolio career” where they perform many roles, some paid and some simply for the love of the work.

There is an implicit understanding that when you hire a professional they have the knowledge and skills necessary to carry out the task.  

But I’m sure you can think of plenty of people who get paid and yet do a shoddy job.  I bet you also know people who do things as a pastime and produce work of the highest caliber. Between these two which one would you say is the professional?  

I’ve read plenty of articles about how be a professional or what professional needs, and yet most of those focus on things such turning up on the time always giving 100% and so on. Those are table stakes.

Many years ago one had to undergo a lengthy apprenticeship before being considered a professional, often not reaching that stage until many years into a career. But in today’s world, where knowledge and experience are often outdated in a very short amount of time, apprenticeships are often a thing of the past.   

The more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that, for me, one of the defining characteristics of a professional is someone who has learned from their mistakes. And the best professionals consistently push the boundaries of their knowledge and experience and use the mistakes inevitably found in new endeavors as a core part of their education.

Anyone can be a professional when everything fits together, people deliver on time, and there are no surprises.

But to be truly worthy of the title “Professional” you need more.  You need to be able to adapt to changing situations.  You need to be able to anticipate problems and solve them before they occur.  And, when finally something does go awry, you have the skills, experience and confidence to work the problem and keep things on track. THAT is what makes a real professional, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re paid to do that or not.

Want to see what a true Professional looks like?  Watch the movie Apollo 13.  NASA was constantly pushing boundaries.  They knew the risks and when things went wrong the Professionals at NASA kept their cool, took what they had and created innovative solutions to get their people home.  

Money?  That has nothing to do with being a professional.  It’s all about attitude and a passion to continually learn.

7 Comments

Filed under Business, Career

DJI Phantom Christmas? Awesome! Now READ THIS!

I posted this last year…but there’s still a lot of good information in there and so I thought I would post again. I have learned a HUGE amount since the original post so please feel free to comment if you have questions that you would like answered.

Houldsworth's Random Ramblings

fc40If you received a DJI Phantom for Christmas, then you are a lucky man…or woman, but I’m betting you’re a man.  

The Phantom’s are amazing machines.  They are great fun, produce really cool video footage and are super easy to fly as long as you have a good GPS signal.

But, before you fly, there are a few things you need to do, and a few things you need to know.  

Not following this advice is, in the opinion of many, the #1 cause of “flyaways”, which is when the thing takes off and is never seen again.  This is usually followed by people blasting DJI on Facebook and then deleting their post when people ask them about home lock.

Most of the details below are from my experience with an FC40.  You may be lucky enough to have a more advanced unit, but the information should be mostly the same.

View original post 209 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Life - or something like it

Drones: One year on

On January 2nd this year I took a flight over my neighbors house using a store bought drone (Phantom FC40) and a GoPro camera that arrived as a Christmas present.  I was very happy with the quadcopter and the footage I took.  Then, about a week later, I sunk the whole kit into a lake never to be seen again.

At the time I was pretty upset with myself – I made a rookie mistake and paid for it badly.  But I also reasoned that since I had enjoyed modifying the FC40 I should try my hand at building drones instead of buying them.

One year later and I’ve come a long way learning everything from soldering to PID tuning (don’t ask).

I eventually built two different copters, a quadcopter and then a hexacopter, although it feels much more than that because each of those has been built, rebuilt and upgraded numerous times.  Here’s a quick comparison:

 

DJI Phantom FC40 F450 Quadcopter F550 Hexacopter
 IMG_1482.JPG  _MG_4923.jpg  20151122_093203.jpg
Transmitter Range  800m 2,000m
 Flight Modes
  • GPS Hold
  • Altitude Hold
  • RTL
  •  GPS Hold (slow and fast)
  • Altitude hold
  • RTL
  • Automatic (programmed)
  • Land
  • Guided (click on moving map)
  • Manual
  • Acrobatic
  • Follow me
  • Circle
  • Mapping
Speed 22mph ~35mph ~55mph
Size 330mm 450mm 550mm
Real Time Telemetry No Yes Yes
Moving map No Yes Yes
Gimbal 2D 2D 3D
Camera Control Manual Manual or Fully Automated Point Of Interest Lock
Flight Time 9 Minutes 18 Minutes 15 Minutes

 

But probably the best way to show the difference is to compare two videos taken one year apart.  The video on the bottom was from a year ago with the Phantom. It took two separate 9 minutes flights and was then edited to keep only the best parts.  The video on the top was taken in one shot, no editing and took less than 3 minutes to complete from take off to the fully automatic landing.

In fact this year’s video even made it into the local news, and you can find the full version here.

I’ve learned a huge amount that past year, gained some great friends and had a blast doing this, particularly as my #1 son and daughter were very involved in the build of both machines.

Where do we go from here?  

The drone market is in a phase now where digital cameras were 10 years ago.  Their capabilities are increasing exponentially while prices are plummeting.  Even with how far I have come even the cheapest DJI Phantom 3 would outperform my hex in almost every way and these can now be had starting at under $700.  Just a year ago something with that capability would have cost nearly three times that amount!

For me to build the equivalent of a Phantom 3 Standard would cost around $450 in parts alone, and that is if I use cheap parts sourced from China that would need a lot of time to set up properly.  

Will I still build?  I think the days of building from scratch are over, it just doesn’t make economic sense anymore.  But I will continue to improve the ones I have as a way to learn and experiment.  There’s also talk of teaching kids how to build them as part of a maker space project and that is something I would really enjoy doing.

In the meantime, if you are thinking of getting someone a drone for Christmas, or have one and need questions answered…fire away!

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Education, Technology

Motorcycles I’ve Owned

2 Comments

December 5, 2015 · 9:35 am