Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Fun with TV Antennas

Now that I been liberated from Comcast cable TV, I have to buy a TV antenna to receive over the air TV programs.  Since I watch ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS stations only,I was hoping an indoor antenna would do the job.

My house is about 35 miles north of the TV transmitting tower, I thought almost any indoor antenna would do, but this was not the case.

Mohu Leaf Paper-Thin Indoor HDTV Antenna - Made in USA
Mohu Leaf Antenna
 The first indoor antenna I tried was Mohu Leaf Paper-thin indoor antenna, $40.  My TV is located in family room on the first floor.  I hung this paper-thin antenna on the wall above the TV but couldn't receive one of the network station.  I moved the antenna around but couldn't receive all 3 network stations at the same location.  This was very disappointing because the antenna was very unobtrusive in the family room.  This antenna worked fine in the second floor bed room TV, so I kept it in my bedroom.  I guess the antenna at higher location really help.
RCA ANT1650F Flat Digital Amplified Indoor TV Antenna
Amplified Indoor Antenna

Because there is a house just South of my house blocking the direct path to the TV transmitting tower, I thought an amplified antenna would help, so I bought the RCA amplified indoor antenna at Walmart for $60.  Well, this amplified antenna didn't improve network station reception.  I reasoned the house next door blocking the signal and there was nothing for the antenna to amplify.

RCA UHF/VHF/Digital Indoor Antenna
RCA Basic VHF UHF Antenna
I recalled I had very good luck with a RCA rabbit ear antenna years ago, so I bought a RCA basic VHF UHF antenna at Walmart for $10.  I was surprised it works so well, it pulls in all 3 network stations, PBS, and other local channels.  However, couple of channels would cut in and out if the weather is too windy.  While I am fairly happy with this RCA basic antenna, I want an antenna with more stable reception performance.  I decided to install an outdoor TV antenna.

From what I read, an outdoor antenna should be installed on top of the roof to get the best reception. However with my extreme poor vision, I won't  risk my life getting on top of my roof.  instead I install a 3-foot pole on a fence post near the Comcast cable junction box, then I mounted an antenna on top of the pole.
Eagle Aspen EASDTV2BUHF Directv Approved 2-Bay UHF Outdoor Antenna
Eagle Aspen UHF Outdoor Antenna
Like indoor antenna, there were wide range of performance and price with outdoor antenna.  Since my house is relatively close to the transmitting tower, I chose one with lowest price.I found this Eagle Aspen UHF antenna had many good review at Amazon so I bought one for $15.  For testing purpose, I just hung the antenna on the wall outside of my house.  The antenna pull in all the channels that I could get with the cheap RCA antenna plus couple more channels.  

I did encounter couple of quality issues with this UHF antenna.  After I connected the coaxial cable to the antenna's connector, the connector holder was broken apart when I pushed the connector in the holder.  I fixed this by holding the coaxial connector in place with a loop of electrical tape because I didn't want to bother with the effort of exchanging it.  Then I found out the antenna mounting U bolt was also defective making it impossible to mount this antenna to the pole. I had no choice but to exchange for a different one.  The new one was in good condition and I was able to mount the antenna without any problem.  This antenna was made in China with cheap material, not sure how long it would last in the hash Colorado outdoor weather. 
Finished Project

The  photo above shown the finished project.  In additional to the antenna, I also had to install grounding wire to comply with the electrical code.  As a side note, I installed the outdoor antenna mostly by touch.  Anyway I felt I accomplished something. 

I also have an Apple TV media streaming box for watching other stuff like YouTube.  I really like Apple TV because of the Voice Over feature.  I am also looking into getting TVPad or Moonbox for watching live Hong Kong programs.

I found the info in the following websites very helpful with my project.

TV Fool  Find the TV transmitter in your area

HDTV Primer  Everything you want to know about antenna

Monday, December 8, 2014

Bye Bye Comcast Cable TV

I finally get rid of Comcast cable TV to offset the continue internet service price increases.  Beside why pay Comcast for the channels when I could get them free over the air?

My total monthly Comcast bill was around $68 at the beginning of the year.  The performance internet was $49.99 and basic cable TV was $25, with few dollars of package credit for total of $68.  Then I noticed price increased in August, then again in September and my total monthly bill increased to around $85.  When I questioned the price hike, I was told I no longer had the package credit.  At that point, I said I want to terminate the cable TV service in order to save $25, but was told this would not the case.  Getting rid of cable TV would increase my internet price to $69.99.  Looks like they get you either way.  No wonder so many people hate this company.

So I complained to the Comcast's We_Can_Help department.  Someone call me back next day.  I told the person that I am not happy with the price increase and I want to terminate the cable TV service without penalty.  Unlike the people I deal with on the toll free line, he was more helpful.   He gave me a promotional Blast internet price of $54.99 for 12 months and terminated my cable TV service.  He even gave me $20 credit on the October bill plus sending me a prepaid box to return the TV adapters. 

I am happy getting rid the cable TV, next year when our city offer Giga bit internet service I plan to get rid of the Comcast internet service too.  From what I read in the local news, many people were jump in joy for having alternate internet service provider. 

I can't wait to say the final good bye to Comcast.

You might interested in my TV antenna post.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Telesensory Genie Pro Desktop CCTV

Mfg: Telesensory
Model: GEP-3
Description: Genie Pro Desktop Auto-focus CCTV
Price: around $2,500 (new)
Telesensory Genie Pro Desktop CCTV with X-Y table
Major features of this CCTV
  • Manual or auto-focus
  • Magnification up to 60X
  • X-Y table
  • 12 front ground/back ground combinations in text mode.
  • Adjustable contrast  
  • PC and CCTV share one monitor
  • Vertical or horizontal split screen modes  
  • SVGA interface for TV hookup
I found a used one listed in an university surplus equipment store for only $80.  A used one sold in ebay usually priced around  $500 to $1,000.  The listing said the CCTV was used by a retired staff and the equipment was in working order.  I was a bit concern about its condition because the price was so low, but I took the chance and bought it.   I glad I did, because the CCTV was in perfect working condition.

A desktop CCTV is a good low vision tool if you need to read a lot of printed material.   It is great for reading pill bottles, food packages, and writing check.  I like this model because it doesn't come with a monitor.  Instead it has a computer input to let you share your PC monitor with this CCTV, this arrangement enables split screen mode. 

Front view
The right two round knobs have combined functions of controlling position of high light marks, size and type of split screen.  The left knob is the front ground/back ground color selector.  The large round knob is the manual focusing knob.  The flip switch is the power switch.
Rear view
At the rear of the CCTV are connectors for PC, monitor, TV, and optional foot switch.    A monitor can be placed on top of the CCTV.
Text mode, white text on black
When view text, you have 12 front ground/back ground color combinations.   I like the white text on black the best.  The two horizontal lines are markers, their size and position are adjustable.
Horizontal split screen
The size and position as well as color combination are adjustable.   In this photo, the CCTV is the bottom of the screen while the PC is the top of the screen.  I use this mode to balance my checkbook.  I would read the bank statement on the bottom half of the screen and run the Quicken on the top half of the screen. 
Vertical split screen
In this photo, the CCTV is the left side of the screen while the PC is the right side of the screen.
My other low vision aids

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sharp R-21LC Microwave, Blind Friendly

Mfg: Sharp
Model: R-21LCF
Description: Commercial medium duty microwave oven, 1000 Watts, 1 Cu FT.
Price: $265
User manual and more info

One of the bad thing of me having low vision is I can't see well enough to operate appliance with flat control panel.  The button labels on many flat panels are too small and/or have poor contrast, and I can't find the correct button to push by feel.  So when my Panasonic microwave oven died last month, I went searching for a microwave oven with mechanical buttons or with control knob.  Well, no luch finding a microwave with mechanical button, but I found this easy to use Sharp microwave oven.

The Sharp R-21LCF is very simple to operate.  It only has one large knob to set the cooking time and no LCD display.  There is no power level button, no pop corn button, no defrost button, etc.  This is just fine because I only use the microwave to reheat foods.

The timer marking on the dial is backlighted but the numbers are too small for me to read.  But fear not, the knob has tactile feedback, so I just count the number of clicks to set the cooking time.  For example, 10 clicks equal 2 minutes.  To stop the microwave, just open the door, this would reset the timer back to zero.

There is no turn table with this microwave but the food seem to be reheated evenly.  Without the turn table, clean up is easy.I found the interior light too dim to be useful for me. 

The drawing below is the knob dial.  I count the number of clicks to set the cooking time, each click corresponds to a markng on the dial.   For example:
  • 5 clicks = 50 seconds
  • 12 clicks = 2.5 minutes
  • 16 clicks = 4 minutes

Update 7/21/2017
The microwave oven die after 3 uears and 3 months, soom after the 3 years warranty priod.   The reason I paid high dollar for this commercial microwave oven was hoping it would last much longer than 3 years.  We only use the oven at most 30 minutes per day, it is very disappointing it die under such light usage.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

GW Micro Portable CCTV Review

I borrowed this portable CCTV for some tests to see if this is something I would like to add to my low vision tool.

Mfg: GW Micro
Model #: P430
Description: SenseView Portable CCTV
Note: This is a discontinued product, but you might find an used one on eBay for about $100.  Price new few years ago was around $700.

Specification Summary:
  • Screen size: 4.3 inch LCD
  • Magnification levels: 4x to 22x
  • Brightness levels: 4
  • Color mode: 6
  • Snapshot: 1 image.  The captured image can't be saved or transferred to a PC.   The image would be lost when you turn off the device.
  • Battery life: about 4 hours on a full charge

The portable CCTV package also includes AC adapter, hand strap, soft carrying pouch, and user guide.

I tested this portable CCTV with the following common tasks:

Reading the label on a pill bottle

This is a two-hand operation.  I used one hand to hold the portable CCTV and the other hand hold the pill bottle against the camera lens.  To read the whole label, I had to rotate the pill bottle back and fore and up and down.  If I want to change any control, I would need a third hand.  If I move the bottle just bit away from the camera lens, the label would be out of focus and not readable.  I think my handheld 5x magnifying glass can do the same task almost as well.
     Pill bottle label. Normal color.
      Pill bottle label.  Reversed color.

Reading Books

The portable CCTV is not suitable to read softcover books at all and just barely usable for hardcover books.  The problem is that you can only see couple of words at a time at its lowest magnification level and can only see few letters at a higher magnification level. However, this device did a great job of showing phone numbers in a phone book at a higher magnification level.  In all cases, the words near the book spine were out of focus. 

Writing check

Forget about it, I couldn't use this thing to help me to see in order to write anything.  As soon as I lift this device off the checkbook or any paper, everything is out of focus.

What it good for

The only thing that this device can do well is reading something flat like a bill, a newspaper or a restaurant menu, etc.  I had to slide this device across the page slowly otherwise I would lost track between the end of one line and the beginning of next line.  The brightness control and various color modes are also helpful in some situations.


Since this is a portable CCTV, I took it to grocery shopping.  There is no belt clip on the carry pouch so I had to put it in my jacket packet.  To use it, I have to pull the device out of the carrying pouch, put the pouch back in the pocket.  To read a label, I had to tell my guide dog to sit and stay in order to free my other hand so I can hold the package against the camera lens.  To change control, I either put the package back or need a third hand.  It was fairly easy to read the label on cardboard boxes but need some work to read the label on plastic packages, bottles and cans.I have to remember to use the hand strap  just so I don't accidently drop this expensive  device.  I think this is way too much hassle for this task.

My take

 This is a good example of an expensive widget that don't do much better than a much cheaper and simpler tool.  I did like the reverse color mode.  Unless you really need a high magnification device with different color mode, just use a handheld magnifying glass.

   This 5X magnifying glass with LED works as almost as well at much cheaper price.

Friday, February 21, 2014

My Experience with Acupuncture Treatment

Recently I read couple of books on alternative medicine, see book titles below.

Both books basically said alternative medicine don’t offer any real benefit, any perceived benefit is purely a placebo effect.  I was especially interested in the section on acupuncture and herbal medicine because I had some personal experiences on both.  Following were three different conditions that I have treated with acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine with mixed result.


My first experience I had with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) was in mid-1990.  I was taking couple of medication to control my high blood pressure.   While the medication worked fairly well but I really hated the side effects.   I happen to read an article about TCM and its effectiveness on high blood pressure.  Even though I was very skeptical about how the Chi, a.k.a life energy, would affect one's health, I gave TCM a try just in case it really works.

During the first session the TCM doctor took my pulse on the wrist, looked at my tongue and declared me I had kidney deficiency, which would affect my blood pressure.  .  The TCM doctor didn’t even check my blood pressure or ask what medication I was taking.  She prescribed acupuncture, cupping, and Chinese herbal medicine to treat my kidney deficiency.  When I ask her how soon would I see improvement, she just said everyone is different, and I might take many acupuncture sessions to see improvement. 

During the first session, I had about two dozens of needles placed all over my body front and back.  Couple of needles was connected to some sort of electronic device for electric stimulation.  I also had cupping done on the back of my body.  At the end of the session I was given a bottle of pills for kidney health.   I was told not to take my medication and the Chinese herbal pill at the same time. 

I went for three more acupuncture and cupping sessions.  I had a very accurate blood pressure monitor at home and I didn’t see much change in my reading between sessions.  When I question the result, she just said TCM treatment is very gentle and may take long time to work for some people and told me keep coming for the treatment.  She also said I have to have faith in acupuncture in order for it to work.  What the heck? Is TCM a religion?

I decided not to continue with TCM treatment after four sessions because I didn’t see any tangible result for my money.  Who know, TCM might work for me in few more sessions but it is getting too costly for me.  Beside my medication and exercise regiment seem to control my blood pressure fairly well at much lower cost.

Tinnitus and Vertigo

In early 2000, I began to have ringing in my ear, a condition known as tinnitus.  I also experienced fullness in the ear, which often time caused vertigo attack.  The vertigo attack could happen at anytime with little warning.  The severity of the vertigo attack could very mild, which only cause slight sense of losing balance to very severe, which I couldn’t even stand up. 

To make the story short, an ENT specialist treated me for the first few months without any success.  The vertigo was getting worst and I missed many work days.  Some thime I couldn’t even get out of bed because I had the sensation of everything spin around me.  I had a MRI on my head and ear and everything were normal.  I tried few medications and had no relief from the vertigo.  The ENT thought I might have meniere's disease but he need to do more tests to confirm it.  By then I was sick and tire of all the tests and medications.  I had the feeling the doctor had no clue on what’s wrong with my ear. 

Out of desperation,  I went to see a TCM doctor for help.  This is a different TCM doctor, he was a MD as well as TCM doctor.  After he checked my blood pressure, took my pulse, and looked at my tongue, he said I have kidney deficiency.  He said acupuncture and Chinese medicine should help my condition.  He also said I should see improvement in about 10 treatments.

I noticed some improvement with tinnitus after the first acupuncture treatment.   I had two treatments per week.  I had about dozen of needles in my body at each acupuncture session.  Couple of needles were attached to an electronics device.  After six treatments, my innitus was completely gone.  I haven’t had any major vertigo attack for years.  I still have very mild dizziness once in a long while.  So, if this is a placebo effect, I like it and money well spent.  However, I don't think my cure had anything to do with acupuncture, but rather  probably  coincident with unexplained remission, there still a lot we don't know about our body.  The doctor might be just lucky to hit a nerve to turn off my problems.  The next person who sought this treatment might not be that lucky.

    Over Active Bladder

Last year, I start having over active bladder issue.  After trying five different medications, I finally found one that was somewhat helpful but I don’t really like the side effects.  So I gave TCM another try.

The TCM doctor who treated my tinnitus and vertigo had moved to another city and I found another TCM doctor who said one of her specialty was treating bladder issue.  On my first visit, she took my pulse and looked at my tongue and declared me I had kidney deficiency,  what the heck?  BTW, as part of medical exam, my kidneys were checked by my urologist and they were normal.  I did some checking, it seem that kidney deficiency got blamed for  many ailments.

I had four acupuncture treatments with this doctor and had no improvement at all.  In all four acupuncture sessions, she placed couple needles at my lower abdominal area, my ankles, and wrists.  The needles at my abdominal were hooked up to electrodes.  I had strong contraction with my bladder when the electrodes were on and had very strong urge to pee.  I thought that was good sign because my bladder was reacting to the acupuncture but it didn’t really improve my situation after treatments.   The doctor urged me to try few more sessions but I decided to stop because I don’t think it would help. 

My bladder problem was later determined caused by enlarged prostate and was treated with GreenLight laser surgery.  I talk about the surgery in this later blog post.

Would I try acupuncture treatment on retinitis Pigmentosa?  Probably not but I keep the option open. The challenge is to find a local acupuncturist who know how to treat RP.   I had mentioned to the last two TCM doctors that I have RP, but they just gave me a questioning look.  Apparently they never heard of RP let alone knowing how to treat it.  Anyway, if the next TCM doctor I find say my RP is due to kidney deficiency, I probably just walk out.   

 Couple of small studies seem to suggest acupuncture might help RP.  See my blog post on RP treatment.


If you have access to BARD, you can download the following 2 books.  They are very informative about alternative medicine.

  • Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine.  By Edzard Ernst and Simon Singh.  Book Review
  • Do You Believe In Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine.  By Paul Offit, MD.      Book Review




Saturday, February 15, 2014

Our Valentine's day

See what you can look for after years of marriage.

Me: feel like go out for lunch?  It is Valentine’s day today.
Wife: sure if you want to.
Me: it is really up to you, do you feel like driving?
Wife: I don’t mind driving, where do you want to eat?
Me: How about some Dim Sum?
Wife: fine, if this is what you like.
Me: well, you can choose too, is Dim Sum OK with you?
Wife: it is OK, lets go.
After 30 minutes of driving, we arrived at our favor Dim Sum restaurant.  The waiter put us in the usual corner booth because it has larger space under the table for my guide dog.

We ordered some shrimp dumpling, chicken feet, and couple other Dim Sum dishes.  We set about half  the dishes aside to take home when my wife wanted to order something from the menu.

Wife: lets order something special from the menu.
Me: sure.
Wife: what do you like to eat?
Me:  we both liked that chicken in XO sauces last time we we were here, do you want to have that again?
Wife: not this time, I want to try something new.
Me: OK, you have the menu, I let you pick.
Wife: do you want to see the menu?
Me: I wish I could, why don’t you  read out few choices to me?
Wife: oops, I forgot you can’t see, ha ha.

After few minutes, she was still reading the menu, I ate a dumpling that that we suppose to bring home.

Wife: this ox tails in red wine sauces sounds interesting, do you want to try it?
Me:  sounds good, I just hope they can cook the ox tail as tasty as you did few days ago.
Wife: oh, I forgot we just had ox tail for dinner not long ago, let me pick something else, beside it is kind of pricey.
Me:  don’t worry about the price, just pick something you like.  Remember uncle Sam gave me few more dollars in my SS disability check this year.
Wife:  you sure?  I don’t want to spend your medication money.
Me: no problem,  enjoy it while we still have teeth.

 Few more minutes pass, I ate couple more take home dim sum.

Wide:  you like Kung Po Chicken?
Me: sure, but I thought you want something new? We had that many time already.
Wife: oh, yeh. I forgot, let me look again.
Me: Kung Po chicken is fine, it this is what you want, I am hungery.
Wife: Ok, just give me few more minutes to look at the menu again.

 In the mean time, I ate all the rest take home dumplings.

Wife:  I can’t decide, there are too many choices.  Do you want the see the menu…oops,
I forgot.  Big laugh and knocked over the teacup with the menu.  Guide dog Muddy licked the tea from the floor.

Me:  no problem, take your time.  I am full already and I can’t eat any more.
Wife: I can’t finished the dish by myself, if you don’t want to eat, I don’t want to order anymore.
Me: you can always eat half and take the other half home.
Wife: no.  Lets go home, I am hungry.
Me: do you want to buy some thing to bring home?
Wife: no, I can eat the leftover dinner  from last night.
Me:  ok, this is cheap date.
Wife: I thought you said money is no problem.
Me: well, it is always nice to stick to the budget….and more boring exchanges with the wife.

 I hope you had a more romantic time.






Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Work, work, work

  The following story in part helped me to decide retire early.  I was hoping to work few more years to build up my retirement fund but I was having daily headache and eyestrain from looking at the computer monitor all day long.  I finally decided my well being is more important than money.

Work, Work, Work
Author: unknown

A long time ago, there was an Emperor  who told his horseman  that if he could ride on his horse and cover as much land area as he likes, then the Emperor would give him the area of land he has covered.
Sure enough, the horseman quickly jumped onto his horse and rode as fast as possible to cover as much land area as he could.  He kept on riding and riding, whipping the horse  to go as fast as possible. When he was hungry or tired, he did not stop because he wanted to cover as much area as possible.
Came to a point when he had covered a substantial area and he was exhausted  and was  dying. Then he asked himself,  "Why did I push myself so hard to cover so much land area? Now I am dying  and I only need a very small area to bury  myself."
The above story is similar with the journey of our Life. We push very hard everyday to make more  money, to gain power and  recognition. We neglect our health, time with our family  and to appreciate the surrounding beauty and the hobbies we love.
One day when we look back, we will realize that we don't really need that much, but then we cannot turn back time  for what we have missed. 
Life is not about making money, acquiring power or recognition. Life is definitely not about work! Work is only necessary to keep us living so as to enjoy the beauty  and pleasures of life. Life is a balance of Work and Play, Family and Personal time. You have to decide how you want to balance your Life. Define your priorities, realize what you are able to compromise but always let some of your decisions be based on your instincts.  Happiness  is the meaning and the purpose of Life, the whole aim of human existence.

So, take it easy, do what you want to do and appreciate nature. Life is fragile, Life is short. Do not take Life for granted. Live a balanced  lifestyle and enjoy Life!