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Cutting The Cable

May 21, 2009

It was march of last year (2008) and I had changed jobs and was moving into a new apartment. The apartment was a small one bedroom but well layed out and brand new (I like new). My new job meant that I’d be working from home so the place where my entertainment center would be going in the new place was suddenly the home office. My TV was a 12 year old 25″ tube TV. All the control buttons were gone off the front and the remote was begining to no longer work not to mention, the entertainment system wasn’t going to work if I moved to a flat screen TV anyway so it wasn’t hard to part with either in the subsequent garage sale. 

In addition to losing the space for my TV I had already decided to drop cable (in my case satellite) when I moved because being glued to the TV all day would be too much of a temptation when working from home 24/7. I’m the type of person who will channel surf until they find something even if they aren’t super interested in it, and there goes the whole day. 

But just because I was cutting the cable didn’t mean I was giving up my shows that I was really interested in. Three things online had made it possible to make this shift rather painless… 1. ABC.com, 2. Hulu.com, 3. iTunes. With the introduction of full episodes online of practically all my favorite shows it assured me that I would be able to see them, I just had to wait a day (or in some cases 8 days-House!) The 24 hour delay was well worth the cash I was saving. My DSL bill was half of just my cable bill and now it essentially provided both and with far fewer commercials than I’d lived with before. 

I travel a lot with my new job and so iTunes is great as well for when I need to watch last nights episode of Grey’s and be on a plane to Portland all at the same time. 

With half of my living room now a home office and my powermac and 23″ cinema display right there  in the room I in effect had a 23″ HD TV sitting right there. At night I would simply swivel the monitor and speakers to face my couch and I was there! I got a USB IR sensor so that I could control the mac with my Apple remote while sitting on the couch. It wasn’t a bad set up to say the least.

The best thing about not having cable has been that I spend less time watching TV just to fill time and more time doing other things like work and pursuing creative endeavors. 

When I moved from Longview to Nashville I got a 2 bedroom apartment so I could have an office that wasn’t right in the middle of my living space. However this meant that my “TV” just got religated to the other room. I spent several months watching all my shows on my laptop. During that time I found an insane deal on a 32″ JVC LCD but I only used it for watching DVD’s, all my shows were still showing on my laptop (generally sitting on the coffee table so I could still sit on the couch). 

Then it was Oscar time and was trying to figure out how I was going to watch it live. I knew they would have it the next day online but live broadcasts are only worth watching if you know half the country is watching with you. To watch the next day would be pointless because I’d already know the results. So I scampered off to Walmart of all places and picked up a $30 amplified digital antenna. There it was ABC in all its HD glory. It was great! Not to mention that now, if I was home and could remember, I could watch my shows in real time and on my TV instead of my laptop. 

The final piece of the puzzle came a couple weeks ago when I finally got around to purchasing a Mac mini to connect to my TV. That was the absolute point of no return for me. I will never have cable again and I don’t miss it.

If you want to find out how I set up my Mac mini in the living room check out my previous post here.

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Cable Free: The Mac mini and Me

May 17, 2009

The Mac mini vs. the AppleTV

Many have asked why did you decide to go with a Mac mini instead of an AppleTV. The answer is simple really, dvd and the internet. 

I’m not as hostile to commercials as some especially the ones during online shows because there is usually just one per commerical break. I can deal with it and in exchange the content is free (not a bad trade). The second is that I have amassed a decent collection of films and TV shows on DVD (I’m a sucker for the $5 bin in Walmart –bought two more tonight) AppleTV is really only good at one thing- facilitating the purchase and display of content from the iTunes store. For me I only purchase TV and movies from iTunes if I need it to be portable (say if I’m going to be on a plane). So in the end the Mac mini is the better choice for me because it can function just like an AppleTV plus surf the web and display content from ABC.com and Hulu and lastly, it has a DVD player. 

The System

Mac mini 1.83Ghz Combo Drive 80gig HD

RCA Multi-Directional Flat Amplified Antenna

32″ JVC LCD TV

1/8″ Jack to RCA Audio Cable

DVI to HDMI Cable

iPodtouch with AirMouse App

My set up is pretty straight forward but it was not without some trial and error. I googled my heart out looking for someone to explain how to set one up but all anybody ever wanted to talk about was the part of the system where you get a tuner card so you can record live TV, I needed the step before that. Hopefully this post will help all those who come after me.>> 

I started out going DVI to S-Video into the TV, but no matter how I set up the display preferences the image didn’t fill the screen. I had substantial black bars on the left and right sides of the screen. The resolution was pretty low too. Only 1024 x 768 so it made the screen a bit grainy and hard to read. While discussing this with a collegue in the office we decided this was probably a limitation of the S-Video and I decided to try a DVI to HDMI cable and see if the results were any better. I expected it to be a bit better but the difference was dramatic! I was displaying in a wide format at 1920 x 1080 however it still wasn’t edge to edge. In fact the black was now on all 4 sides. Puzzled I clicked over to the Options pane in Display preferences and ticked the box for Overscan. When I did this on the S-Video connection it resulted in the loss of the Menu Bar and the Dock (not useful). However with DVI to HDMI this worked like a charm. It cut off all but a sliver of the Menu bar but I can still mouse up to it and click and the menus drop down so its still functional. The Dock is resting comfortably on the bottom bezel of the screen as it should be.

Eventually I’d like to switch from the analog audio cable to Optical Audio but since I don’t have a surround sound system and am simply relying on the built in speakers on the TV I don’t think I’d notice a difference.

Its All About Control

The Mac mini unlike the AppleTV is designed to be controlled with a mouse and keyboard. I originally had decided to go with a wireless keyboard and mouse that would live under my coffee table. I wasn’t keen on that solution nor the amount of batteries that would be used to keep them functional. Then I stumbled upon AirMouse. It is an iPhone/iPodtouch app ($5.99) that is literally a trackpad and a keyboard. It connects to the Mac mini over the wifi network in the house and it works flawlessly. There’s no lag time and becuase its Wifi instead of IR it even works through walls. With this app I can command my Mac mini while sitting comfortably on my couch. 

The Missing Link

The one component to this system is software and hardware that will imbue DVR capabilities on my Mac mini. I haven’t really had a chance to research the various offerings on the market and considering that the season finales have now all played I don’t consider it much of an issue. Perhaps by the fall I’ll feel the need to add that piece to the system. Right now I’m plenty happy with watching it live via my antenna or catching it the next day on the web. 

Cutting the Cable

If you’ve been toying with the idea of cutting the the cable on your TV service there has never been a better time to do so. In the next post I’m going to talk about my journey from the cable to the mini. 

Update

Was just on the phone with a new friend who told me about a software called Plex that is media center software for OS X. I’m going to check it out this week and see how it goes.

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5DaysInMay Starts Today

May 1, 2009

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Join Me and Shawn Wood to give people clean water for life. What will it cost you?

Drinking only water for the next 5 days and then donate the money you saved to Water Missions International.

Check out these stats from Shawn Wood’s blog:

The average American drinks 420 ounces of canned soft drinks a week.
My average friend goes to Starbucks 3 times a week.
I drink at least one fountain drink every day.

What does that cost for 5 Days?

30 cans of soda = $15.00
3 trips to Starbucks = $10.00
5 fountain drink = $8.75

$43.75 could give 5 people clean drinking water for the rest of their lives.

What if we all did it?
Drank Water to Give Water?
What if for 5 days we could get 600 of our friends to join in?
That would mean an entire community of 3000 people would have clean drinking water for the rest of their lives.

Visit 5DaysInMay and join us to save lives.

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Connecting The Dots

May 1, 2009

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Today I spoke at a Nashville area AIGA local conference called Connecting The Dots. About 80 – 100 designers, marketers and publishers turned out to learn about new techniques in direct marketing that integrates print with web and mobile strategies. I spent my session discussing the importance of eye catching imagery as an integral part of creating design that gets noticed and rises above the noise. It was a great time. Learning and networking was experienced by all. We’re thinking about taking the show on the road. What do you think? Does this sound like something you’d be interested in? Also, if your a designer you should seriously consider checking out the AIGA. They’ve been around for about 100 years and are a great professional association for designers.

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Preparing For Lean Times

February 13, 2009

The one constant in freelance work is that it isn’t. Sometimes you have so much work to do you can’t possibly finish it all and then there are the times when you have no jobs on the horizon. 

Recession is happening all over the country. Layoffs are rampant and budgets are being slashed and slashed again. Most of the time one of the first things to go will be the part of the budget out of which a freelancer is paid. Its the new web design, the new mailer or promo video that clients decide to hold off on for a while. Those things seen as not integral to the bottom line, otherwise known as the stuff most freelancers make their money doing, is what gets cut first. 

If you make your money as a freelancer you need to be proactive. If these times haven’t hit you yet…they are coming. So how do you “recession proof” yourself/your business so that you don’t go under if times get lean?

First off, if you’re in debt, get out as fast as you can. Debt is a noose around your neck and it will hang you. There are lots of places around that will teach you how to get out of debt, its hard and it requires discipline but its so worth it in the end. There are way more benefits to being debt free than there are in whatever you bought that got you there. Once you are debt free you’re half way there. Here are some tips to keep you that way, even in the rough times. 

1. Save up 3-6 months income. Put it away and don’t touch it. It isn’t your slush fund for a new guitar, computer, or lens. Its insurance for when jobs stop rolling in. Most people with steady employment need only a couple months but because freelancing is much more unpredictable, you need more. 

2. Live on less than your making now because tomorrow you might be making less. If you start by not living at your max you have less of a chance of becoming overextended. 

3. Set up an emergencies fund of $1000 or so, that way if something breaks down, falls apart, or burns up you won’t go reaching for your credit card. Having a good cushion of cash between you and disaster has a way of keeping disaster at bay. (Dave Ramsey calls it Murphy)

4. Diversify. Work for more than one client, surely they won’t all stop calling at once. This will help insure that your cash flow dwindles slowing instead of shutting off all at once.

Finally, if you have spare cash floating around consider investing it in a business different than your own or starting that new venture you’ve been kicking around but didn’t have the time to pursue. 

You can weather the lean times if you are proactive and prepare. Don’t be caught in the cold without your coat!

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Motivation

January 26, 2009

When you are a freelancer there is no one looking over your shoulder. There’s no big brother keeping your nose to the grind stone. There is only you, and the millions of distractions swirling around you. This is even more compounded if you work from your home. It can be really hard to get started or keep at it when there are so many other things you could be doing. Andy Ihnatko posted a quote on Twitter today that is worth repeating: “Tip for freelancers: if a typical day is practically the same as being home from work sick with the flu, you’re definitely doing it wrong.”

How many of you have had days like that, where you didn’t get out of your pajamas and you sat on the couch and watched movies? I know I have. Those days once in a while can be good but when they extend on for multiple days and impede your productivity they are a problem. Laziness is an easy rut to fall into and its a pretty difficult one to climb out of. It requires retraining yourself, breaking bad habits and replacing them with good ones. Its not easy and it takes time. Like dieting or training for a marathon it’s about discipline. Getting motivated and staying motivated take effort. It begins with a choice, a choice that you will have to make over and over again on a weekly, daily, and even hourly basis. It isn’t easy and you won’t always feel like it, that’s why its a choice. The rewards of that choice are not always instant. Sometimes the payoff is weeks, months, or years down the road. You can’t be focused on the now, be motivated by the future, the long run. Short term pain reaps long term rewards.

Get motivated!

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Consistency

December 5, 2008

A couple months ago I moved from Texas to Nashville (Franklin, TN to be precise) and I took on another job in addition to working for iStock and freelancing. It’s the busy time for me at iStock and with the move and learning a new job, its been a whirlwind of a couple of months. There’s so much I still haven’t had a chance to do yet like get new license plates and drivers license. I still have boxes that aren’t unpacked (avoidance works for me on this particular issue).

One of the main things I’m doing at my new job is blogging, only you won’t know its me cause I’m a ghost blogger for the owner of the company. This process has taught me a lot about being consistent with a blog.It feels really good to have a schedule I try to keep and I think in the long run it will pay off. Here at Creative Fray I’ve been anything but consistent. It makes me mad at myself because I don’t take the time to update it like I should. I have things to say but I never seem to nail my butt to the chair and pound them out. Its a discipline issue that I’ve been working on via another life avenue but I’ve far from conquered. Soon I’m going to start applying here what I’ve learned there and also what I’ve learned working on the ghost blog.

Over at the ghost blog I’ve written close to 30 posts and have several more in the works. There are about 20 in the cue, approved and ready to go. 10 have been published. I’m pretty proud of them (its killing me not to link to them but that would blow the whole ghost part of ghost blogging). This process has taught me a lot about the writing process and I can’t wait to learn more and apply all that I’m learning. (“On Writing Well” is going on the plane with me to Vegas this weekend).

Anyway, consistency isn’t something you have to do when its just something you do for yourself but if you want to build a following consistency is a must. How consistent are you on your blog? Do you think it makes a difference? What keeps you going/motivated/on task/etc?