There has been a recent torrent of releases of streaming TV services by companies both expected and unexpected.  Since they mostly provide a free 2-4 week trial, I've signed up for all of them! Here's what I found.

Sling TV

I've been signed up for Sling TV for a while now. Sling was a good service for getting me the channels that I could not get ofer-the-air.  The antenna in my bedroom is connected to a device that can stream TV throughout my home network.  Supplemented with Sling TV's live TV from a handful of channels, things didn't seem like I was missing cable TV so much.

Sling's major downside is that they are missing key local channels.  For whatever reason, I can only receive 2 of the 3 major networks via Sling, and the one that's missing is the one that my antenna can't pick up due to this stupid Philadelphia-area VHF/UHF issue.  I simply can't get channel 6 over the air.  Nonetheless, since I primarily was using this to supplement my antenna, I most often use Sling to watch SyFy and CNN.

Sling also doesn't provide DVR functionality for TV shows that you want to "record" for later viewing. This is handy for when you don't really want to sit in front of the TV while the show is airing, something that I would do very rarely anyway.

Sling TV runs on my Apple TV, iPhone, Roku, and XBox One.  There is no smart TV app for Sling on my LG TV.  You can watch Sling TV on the computer pretty easily, which is good for travel.

YouTube TV

YouTube TV was the first to market in the new "streaming local channels" marketplace.  I signed up immediately.

YouTube TV has all of my local channels.  It's possible to DVR any show, and YouTube TV surprisingly surfaced old airings of shows that I told it I like.  For example, I told it that I wanted to "record" Elementary, and old episodes from the current season (those that have aired in teh past few months) appeared in my saved show list.  Pretty neat.

YouTube TV wins the UI contest hands-down.  When you navigate the interface, the live video from the channel highlighted in the listing appears behind the description of the show.  The audio plays as well.  This is pretty darn awesome.  It is actually better than normal TV, because you get a preview of the actual thing you want to watch.  For this reason alone YouTube TV stands out as one of the top contenders for best streaming service.

Channel availability is great on YouTube TV, and it seems like they intend to add new channels to the offering over time.  While I was glad to have Fox News added to my list of available channels, YouTube TV curiously omits CNN, which I was relying on Sling heavily for.

YouTube TV has some weird device restrictions currently.  It's very nice on the computer, but the only streaming device they support is Chromecast, which basically means I have to throw the TV to the Chromecast input, then use my phone to send the video to the TV. There is no app for my smart TV.  I do not like this, and have never really liked that Chromecast ties up my phone while I watch TV.  I can watch it on the iPhone and iPad, which is nice, and has the same clever interface as the computer.

Hulu TV

I was surprised when Hulu added streaming live local TV to their offering.  As an existing Hulu customer, primarily to fill in gaps that Netflix leaves with cable network shows, it was a pretty easy sell to add live TV to the plan.

Unfortunately, Hulu continues their complete disregard for sensible user experience when presenting their TV solution.  It's nearly impossible to manipulate their TV interface.  I found myself lost and frustrated several times while getting started, and this is simply not something you want when you're replacing a very simple TV experience.  Compared to YouTube TV, Hulu looks like something a fledgeling web consultant would throw together in a weekend - full of glitzy gradients and blipping menus, but lacking completely in the ability to actually use the interface.

Hulu has a DVR feature that is available for extra cost.  This strikes me as pretty weird, considering that all of the other services basically provide at least a limited version of this for free.

Hulu has all of the channel offerings of YouTube TV, plus CNN.  And since that's primarily what I was using Sling for, this makes it attractive in one particular way over YouTube TV.  Enough to overlook the poor interface?  Well...

The nail in the Hulu TV coffin is their device availability.  It initially looked attractive because my LG TV has a Hulu app built in.  But not every Hulu app is being upgraded to support the streaming TV experience.  To get Hulu TV in my livingroom, I'd have to use my XBox.  This is not too bad except...  There is no computer interface to Hulu TV.  Yeah, what?  Moving on...

Playstation Vue

You know, I want to hate Sony.  I don't know why.  I've resisted buying a PS4, and when I got one it was actually pretty slick.  I've resisted signing up for the Playstation Network, but when I did, I got a lot of nice benefits.  So why should I hate Playstation Vue, Sony's TV streaming service?

Vue is available on the PS4, the computer, iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV.  There is no LG TV app for Vue, but that's ok, since it's pretty easy to get to from the PS4 menu.

Playstation Vue has all of the channels I want on their basic arrangement.  They offer several enhanced packages that include movie and sports stations, which might eventually be interesting.  But primarily, I get all of the local stations, plus SyFy, CNN, Fox News, AMC, TNT, and USA.  This is a very good standard offering of channels, and covers everything that the other services provide.

The interface isn't as good as YouTube TV's but it is better (hard not to be) than Hulu.  There are some clumsy menus for setting favorite channels, and Vue provides some DVR functionality, which is also nice.

I was pleasantly surprised by the feature offering for the price, and I'm very likely to stick with Playstation Vue for my live TV streaming needs.

It has been over a year since my last blog post was published, and yes, this does feel a bit like a confession.

I have a handful of new habits I'm trying out.  Maybe blogging again will stick.  I think there may be a change coming that will facilitate this, but I'm not yet ready to say what that is.

I wish I had more time to go into some of the topics in my head in detail, but for now suffice with a list:

  • Note taking on the computer - Apps to use, which ones work, why, and what I'd really like instead.
  • Lessons learned while building Brewfest - How the new site is designed and built, and why WordPress code simply no longer factors into my life.
  • Building constant insanity - A continuous process of always surprising others and expanding my horizons.
  • Re-learning to solve problems - Using the ToC Thinking Process to solve problems, by first figuring out how to use the ToC Thinking Process.
  • The diet, again - A new strategy for getting fit, this time setting a long-term goal and putting money into it.

It'd probably also be worthwhile to bring the site up-to-date, both from the CMS standpoint (poor, ignored Habari) and from the perspective that much has happened since I bothered to write last.  It was recently pointed out to me that this blog is deep; there are 2500+ posts in here ranging back to 1998, and it's primarily long-form.  It seems kind of a shame to let it languish, although, having some target in mind to accomplish seems like a better idea than just randomly deciding to post something every so often for no reason.  Maybe I'll come up with that target soon - I'm still working that out.

Well, I signed up to coach Riley's soccer team this spring.  It's been fun so far, but the same issue I dealt with every season in the past seems to be rearing its head again -- how to do substitutions.

Every season, I think that I would like to concentrate more on the live game than having to deal with the substitutions, and if I could have someone else take care of that task, I'd have less on my mind during the game that I'd be able to participate/encourage/coach the players more.  Alas, I have not been able to accomplish that.  Still, I have spent a lot more effort this season trying to keep my head off of the bench and in the game.

When you've got parents instructing their own kids from the sidelines, kids on the bench begging to go back in at positions that they can't play (after 7 seasons of coaching, I swear that any player that asks to play at striker has no business doing it), and a live ball in the game, trying to keep track of who's at what position and who's been subbed where is a living nightmare.  It's absolutely the worst part of coaching soccer, in my opinion.

I used to use this app called Soccer Dad, which is pretty neat, but isn't always the easiest to use on the field.  It actually does a lot that would be great if I could concentrate on only that instead of that and the game, like keeping track of scores and assists, and tracking time played along with substitution data, and aggregating it for the whole season.

My main problems with Soccer Dad are not obvious.  You'd think the drag-n-drop features of the app would be easy on the field, but they're not.  To access who is subbing where is a bit of a chore.  If you want to work the game a little different than the app expects, it can resist what data you're entering, which is not what you want while everyone's screaming and the opponent has the ball.

With 14 players playing 9v9, there's just no way to juggle 5 kids on the bench without some kind of aid.  And so, as is typical with me, I've come up with a design solution.

I want a way to do a number of very basic things, and so I have this list of requirements:

  • The entire plan must fit on a 3×5 card.
  • It should be easy to start a new game with starting positions.
  • It should be obvious what players play well in what positions so that they can be subbed into the correct place.
  • There should be a way to indicate alternate starting positions in case some intended starting players don't show up.
  • It should be possible to see at a glance which player is currently in a particular position.
  • It should be possible to see at a glance what position a player is currently playing.
  • The card should indicate the frequency with which a player is subbed so that they don't spend a lot of time on the bench.
  • The card should be fully operable with a pen/pencil.
  • There should be room on the card for parent phone numbers in case of an emergency.

I want to be able to run the entire game from a single card, and not have to think too hard about where a player can best play or who they can sub for (based on their time on the field).

Initially, I created a card with a simple grid.  Players were listed down the left side, and I wrote in their positions in the grid boxes.  This proved inconvenient, because you couldn't tell at a glance who was in a particular position.  As I subbed in players, I couldn't update the card fast enough to keep it accurate, and the whole thing became useless before the end of the first half. There was also no obvious way to keep track of how many times a player subbed, or where a player on the bench best fit into the game, and thinking about these things cost me precious time in the game.  (Seriously, I've missed many major plays because I had to mentally negotiate which player to put in where.)

My current iteration is a bit more thought through.  Instead of a freeform position entry, I've created a full grid with the positions as labels across the top.  Since we play 9v9, we usually set up as 3-3-2, so there are only 2 defenders and the goalie.  There will be cases in the future where we'll need to play 3-2-3, so I'll probably need to update the design a bit, but I'll save that until after we've tested this design.

Each player and position cell has six sub-cells.  This is merely to keep things organized as the game progresses.  In those cells, I write in an "O" to represent the player playing that position.  When the player leaves that position, I cross off the "O" with an "X".  If a player is on the bench, they get an "O" in the "B" column.

To set up the game, I simply put an "O" in the first box of every green cell.  These are the marked starting positions for the game.  If one of those players doesn't show for the game, I can cross off their row, and replace their position with one of the players from the bench.  This is done by playing the benched player in the green outlined cell instead of the bench.  This may take a little mental work, only because the missing player may not have a specific benched player that replaces him.

When the game is in play, I can scan down the "B" column for who is on the bench, then across to the positions that are colored in purple.  These are positions that the player has shown competency in.  I can see which players in those positions need relief or hadn't yet been subbed out by seeing how many marks were made in their row.

Before our throw-ins, when I need to decide who from the bench is going in where, I can set this all up by writing in the "X"s and "O"s for where I want players to go, then tell them who they're going in for and at what position.

My only concern right now is playtesting this design.  I'm anxious to have a non-rain day to try it out.  I'm a bit worried that having to make four marks in different places on the sheet might be too much to do during the game, but I'm hoping that the ease I'm expecting this to enable when figuring out substitutions will be worth that time.

Owning a house is fraught with endless repair and improvement work.  Last year we had a new paver stone walkway installed from the driveway to the front porch.  We've had to replace appliances, paint 2-story high rooms, repair holes in drywall, fix broken hanging ceilings, replace sink faucets, rewire switches and lights... the work is endless.

I hear friends and coworkers tell me how they're constantly fixing and upgrading things.  They build whole new walls in their house, or repair kitchen fascia, or any number of construction projects of wood, glass, or plastic that leave me wondering a simple yet mind-boggling question:  Where did you learn to do this?

Sure, anything these days is as simple as looking it up on the internet and following some instructions you find there.  But, at least for me, there is a wide chasm between the simple instructions I find online to the actual production of a finished project.  I'll frequently find what I feel are simple instructions for a particular project, only to end up at the hardware store staring at fifteen different kinds of raw materials, each with their own specific purpose, none of which were indicated in particular in my instructions.

For example, over the weekend, I planted a couple of posts in the back yard with the intent of hanging some garden wire for my hop vines to grow across.  I knew from when we built the raised-bed garden that good wood for this would be cedar, since it's naturally resistant to bugs, and didn't have the preservative chemicals in it that would ruin my plants.  Beyond that, I didn't really know much of anything.

Berta kept telling me to get cement.  I don't know anything about cement.  I've seen my dad pour cement into post holes to set them, but we'd had a wheelbarrow for mixing the cement, and had a lot of holes to fill, and a lot of stone, too.  I don't know what mixture of stone to cement is required, or even if stone is necessary for my small project.  Would I need a wheelbarrow, or could I mix it in the hole somehow?  When I arrived at the cement aisle in Lowes, there were ten different kinds of cement, and none of them gave a good indication of what particular use they were good for, nor any mention of the tools required for their use.

I suppose I could look all of this stuff up.  Yes, in fact there is a video on the Quikrete website explaining how to do exactly what I need to get done.  I guess I should have looked there first?  How would I even know what to look for, though?  And this is a topic that I've even seen someone else do.  How am I expected to know these things?  And how did the people that seem to know how to do this without having to look things up learn them?

I'm guessing this is at least similar to how I can do computer things that people ask without having to look up a ton of stuff.  Nonetheless, in some ways I feel more helpless without the knowledge of home repair than about computers.  I mean, everyone has a home (to some extent).  You should know how to do some basic home repair.  I get excited when I replace a kitchen faucet, and it seems like that should be basic knowledge.

I'd like to learn how to appropriately, effectively, and quickly run wiring through my walls.  That would solve a lot of my problems, and could actually save me some money.  I guess I'll have to look this up.

I've got a project with my scroll saw that I'm anxious to start and get some practice using it.  This should be fun.  Now I just need to learn where and how to buy wood.  And saw blades.  And how to stain wood.  Sigh.

Riley and I recently visited the Franklin Institute with Pack 32 as part of a "camp-in" event.  We packed our sleeping bags and camping mattresses, and rolled up to the Franklin, ready for some science.

We arrived quite a bit early so that we could have dinner outside of the museum.  We took an Uber to a ramen place I know, since Riley loves ramen.  We both had a bowl of utterly unreal ramen -- There's nothing like real ramen, not the dried kind you get in the little orange bags.  We both opted for the hard boiled egg. It was super tasty.

After dealing with some taxi weirdness getting back to the Franklin (the Uber we requested got pulled over by the cops on the way to pick us up!), we met up with some scouts near the big statue of Ben Franklin, and headed with our gear to our "camp site" in the Earth Science exhibit.

In the camp-in, each group is assigned an exhibit in the museum in which they make camp.  You simply spread out your bag on the floor and you're set up.  No tents!  The Earth Science exhibit we were in talked all about global warming, earthquakes, and erosion.  We camped down in the erosion section, which had a padded rubber floor since there was a water trough.  It was the only padded floor I saw anywhere in the museum, so we had a good pick!

After we were set up, we went to a presentation about sports science, where a scientist gave some demonstrations about why warming up is important and how it affects your body if you don't warm up before doing sports.  Several of the scouts in Riley's den assisted the show.

After the show, we headed to the observatory, where we got to look through the big telescopes on the roof of the museum.  This is a special treat since you can't ordinarily use the telescopes during the museum's open hours (since it's daylight).  Unfortunately, there was a lot of light pollution, and only a few stars were visible.  It's almost a shame to have these big telescopes in a location that has such poor visibility.  Nonetheless, it was neat to be able to look through them.

We spent some time in the sports science exhibit.  Many of the other scouts were interested in the sports exhibit, and that's it.  I think that our scouts do not get as much exposure to awesome science as Riley, because he quickly (in comparison) became bored of trying to run faster or jump higher than everyone else over and over, and wanted to see other exhibits.  So from here, we parted with the rest of the pack to check out some of the other cool exhibits in the museum.

We spent a lot of time in Ben's Lab, where there were physics experiments and optical illusions.  That is always a fun place in the museum.  We played with some experiments with light, which were really neat.

It was then time to re-join the pack for our planetarium show.  I think at some point while we were in Ben's Lab, the rest of the pack decided to order in pizza, but we were ok since we'd already had ramen.  But as a result, the rest of the pack showed up just before the show started and got different seats, whereas Riley and I got to lay down dead-center, which was pretty cool.  The show was narrated by Neil Degrasse Tyson, although I can't even tell you now what it was about.  Some pretty generic space content, is what I suspect.

After the planetarium, we all had to head to bed.  We were worried that some of the lights on the displays wouldn't be off, but they were all eventually turned off by some custodians.  The floor was not too uncomfortable, but some of the other scout dads snore pretty loudly, and it was hard to stay asleep.  One of the other scouts was sleeping opposite me from Riley and kept rolling over and slapping me all night.  He also kept asking me where the bathroom was when I was trying to sleep.  This made me irritable at night, and groggy in the morning.

When we got up, we headed to breakfast in the cafeteria.  There was cereal and muffins and fruit and coffee.  We ate a bit and then went to the new Brain exhibit that the Franklin has.  The Brain exhibit was pretty neat, and the experiments there were all interesting.  I think this was Riley and my favorite exhibit of the weekend.

After we were done with the exhibits, Riley and I stopped by the gift shop to look around. I bought a Franklin sweatshirt and Riley got a glass prism.

In the end, it was a fun trip, and something I've always wanted to do has now been crossed off my list.