Sunday, February 9, 2014

At 15

I am not going to lie, I am proud of my kids...I think they are awesome.  They can both infuriate and amaze me every single day.  I would not trade them for anything.

One of my beautiful children has a birthday today.  Below is a poem she wrote.

At 15
Morning breezes blowing through my hair
Window down with my parents right there
On my way to prison school
To meet all the hateful fools
Deciding which ones will play
Deciding which ones will go away
I try to focus on my hard school work
But usually can’t because of a jerk
Off to art and music class with all my friends
The only classes I wish would never end
The joy of music flowing through my ears
Brings along smiles, laughs, memories and cheers
Learning a new beautiful song
Trying intently play along
Challenges with finding new ways to draw
Trying to perfect a painting without a flaw
The pencil dances along various lines
Creating a masterpiece of brand new kinds
Finally packing up and walking home
Imagining my own world where I can roam
Cars honk, People shout
Sirens wail all about
Even though some people are mean
It's still a joy to be fifteen
--Ellie Bolt 2014
What can I say?  I love it.  I hope she keeps working on it and continues to improve.  Happy birthday Ellie....

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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Cutting The Cord -- Update January 2014

It has been a few months since cutting the cable TV cord.  In this post I will update what we have encountered so far.

If you read the last post (here), you are probably aware that we got rid of cable TV a few months ago.  I really thought the kids were going to have a tough time with it.  To my surprise, they have not had any issues at all.  They have become much more adjusted to going out and finding their entertainment online and not just mindlessly flipping through channels.  They are on YouTube learning how to do new things such as making rubber band bracelets.  They are on NFL.COM watching weekly reports. Of course, they continue to watch Netflix and Amazon Prime. With those options, they are not missing their latest shows. I am so proud of them for learning new ways to entertain themselves.

If you read the last post about future bandwidth concerns (here), you would know that we were way over the supposed limit of 250GB.  I am happy to say that we have not received any letters or any communication from Comcast about our bandwidth usage.  I assume that one day it will be coming, but it has not yet.

Since my last post, I made a few adjustments. On my streaming devices, Netflix has two options for login.  Everyone can login as me or login as "Kids". Basically this just shows the stuff that is watched most by both users.  I noticed on that I could change my streaming settings based on the login.  I set the kids login to stream at a slightly lower quality than what it was a month ago.  The difference was dramatic!.  We have even had several snow days and "freezing" days off of school. Below is our bandwidth usage  for January according to Comcast:

Comcast January 2014

What does this tell us?  First, my kids are huge bandwidth hogs!!!  I guess I have about 3 times as many kids as a "normal" family, so I should get three times the allotted bandwidth.  Come on Comcast, how about raising a large family's bandwidth limit???  Since I have three times the kids, maybe I should be allotted 750 GB?  Sounds good to me!  What it really tells me is that adjusting the Netflix quality setting for the kids login drastically reduced our bandwidth. It was almost 400 GB the month before and we are under our limit with this test.  Is this necessary?  Not yet, but I know what I can do if it does become necessary.

So what lies next?  We can build several projects from this cutting the cord subject.  I plan on monitoring my own bandwidth stats and comparing them to Comcast.  I may use my new Raspberry Pi for this, I am not sure yet.  I am also still working on the Geek's Garage post about setting up all of this in technical detail, but honestly, that is a lower priority right now unless I get some requests. Maybe I will compile a link list of what I used.  I am not sure.  There are so many other things we are going to work on.  The kids are asking if we can get back into learning Python.  We are also going to be taking a look at learning HTML5 and using the LAMP system on the Pi.  Our nerdery will be taking on new levels!  I have also been reading a lot about how kids learn and how schools affect them. I am so fascinated with this subject right now and reading all kinds of things about it.  I will post on it at a later date.  Of course, we continue to play in our BFL every weekend. #whywelovefootball

The Big Game is on as I finish typing this....Omaha, Omaha....Go Peyton!

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

2013 Photo Review and The Famous Nose Picking Gorilla!

I keep forgetting to post some of my photographs that I have been working on over the last year...  I do regularly post some on Google+ and Twitter.  I need to keep doing it here also.  Here are some of my favorites of the last year:

The Sheriff's Residence, Noblesville, IN

Washington Park Lighthouse,  Michigan City, IN

Along with Photoshop I have been using Photomatix.  I really love the tonal contrast touches.

And here is my favorite over the last year.  I wanted to come up with something creative for Nick's Junior football picture.  Here are the results:

Nick Bolt 2013, Noblesville High School
Get it?  Bolt.....Lightning?  It was very fun.  And who can resist my nose picking gorilla picture captured at the Cincinnati Zoo?  I love this zoo. You should visit. Which reminds me, what do you find in a clean nose????? Fingerprints!   Next show at eleven!

Nose Picking Gorilla, Cincinnati Zoo

Please, no use of the photos without permission.  Also, I am still looking for an editor for my first ebook. Please contact me if you are interested...

If you are interested in the details of these photographs, you can check out the original posts. Here is a link to the Google+ posts:

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BFL -- The Bolt Football League.  Below is picture of the boys closing out 2013 at Forest Park.  I guess the NFL is my second favorite league!   This is why we love football.  Every weekend, me covering a guy that is 30 years younger than me. Good times!  I cannot believe the athletic skills these guys have obtained!  Beats sitting on the couch any day...

  Forest Park 2013  #whywelovefootball 


I have been researching saving money on college costs... I will be posting more on that and also some additional information about cutting the cable TV cord.    I am also looking for a good editor for my first ebook.  If you know someone, please contact me.

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Cutting the Cord --- Done!

We finally did it!!!   We finally cut the cable TV cord.  I could not be happier.  If my family of eight can do it, you guys can do it too. You know what? The kids do not miss it much either. At least not nearly as much as I thought they would.

I will attempt to outline all of the details that we did along the way.  This will help to show you how our entertainments needs are met without cable TV.

Let me warn you, this is one of my longer posts.  Go get a cup of coffee and have a nice drink while you read this.  Also I have some affiliate links to products on Amazon.  If you decide to cut the cord and buy some of these products from Amazon, it will help keep these posts going and send my kids to college if you use my referral kinks. :)

First, we built our entertainment services while we still had cable TV.  This is very important.  This gave everyone time to adjust and learn how to use the new devices. Most importantly, we got the kids used to using the alternative services before we cut the cord.  We purchased a couple of Rokus and the kids already had XBOX360s.  These devices act as our front ends for streaming services.  Since I am a nerd, we use XBMC on a couple of TVs also, but this would not be a good solution for the non-nerdy person yet.  You have to be able to improvise and love to tinker if using XBMC.  There will be more on XBMC over at the Geek's Garage.

Second, there is no way around it, you have to still have a high speed internet connection. We were paying about $170 per month on the "bundled" Comcast deal.  Once I cancelled everything else, my internet connection is about $64 per month.  That is well over $100 per month savings on the Comcast bill.  Sure, I am spending a little more money on streaming services and possibly higher bandwidth rates or what I like to call the "nerd fee", but we will get to that later.  But this is still a significant savings and we get to watch what we want to watch, when we want to watch it.  Say that ten times over and over!

There is third very important item you will need to get used to.   The days of picking up the remote and just mindlessly flipping through channels are gone.  They are never coming back if you cut the cord (other than over the air broadcasts).  You have to do some work now. You must seek out your entertainment and plan a little better.  Channel flipping is so Y2K! Streaming services don't have channels.  Sure the Roku tries to create channels, but it is not the same. You have to get used to the user interface change of streaming services.  The only real way to do this is to experience this yourself.  Don't get me wrong, the Roku is very easy to use, after all my lovely little five year old can use it blindfolded!

So what do we use for entertainment?  First, the streaming services.... We use Netflix and Amazon for the all of the kids shows.  Sure, I will buy the latest episodes of their shows from Amazon, it is still massively less expensive than the cable TV bill.    So for those keeping a running cost total, we pay $9.00 per month for Netflix, get many free shows because we are Amazon Prime members (about $7.00 per month), and then we buy about six episodes per month on average at $2.00 per episode. We also subscribed to Hulu Plus at $8.00 per month, although I am not sure we will keep this, more on that later.  So the total streaming services per month are about $36 per month.  I have to admit we kind of splurge to get to that amount.  You could make this even cheaper if you wanted.

By the way, a quick plug for Amazon Prime.  We have been Amazon Prime members for a couple of years now.  It is one of the best things we have done. We now make many less trips to the store which saves us money in the long run.  The convenience is the real selling point of Amazon Prime.  I highly recommend that you look into it.

We also use offline movie rentals such as Redbox, but we used those while we had Cable TV so I don't think it is fair to add those in the cost.  We also had Netflix before cutting the cord too, but I still think it is important to include that as our cable TV like entertainment cost.  Honestly with what I am about to describe below, I don't think that Hulu Plus is really worth the $8.00 per month.  I can DVR most of that stuff over the air.  Your mileage with Hulu Plus may vary.  It is nice if you want an easy solution to catch up on the latest TV shows, but I am still not convinced it is worth the cost.  Also, it plays advertisements during playback. I am not a fan of that at $8.00 per month!

We also added an over the air antenna like this one (here).  It picks up all of our local channels and then some.  Just use a site like to find out what stations you can pick up. I know our Antenna is very directional, so you have to have it pointed the right way to pick up channels. I also installed an HDHomeRun in the basement and added it to our local area network.  This gives us two HD tuners available for Live TV DVR like functionality.  This is where I use Windows 7 Media Center on an older PC along with XBMC to provide the DVR functionality and total media center entertainment.  I won't get too technical here, but I will make a post at the Geek's Garage that details the technical setup.  Let me tell you, sports look and sound much better over the air than they do through cable TV.

Let me just say, I don't hate Comcast.  I love the internet service that they provide.  I do hate all the other services.  I can't stand things being forced on me and I felt like the other services were forced on me.  I would gladly pay for the channels I want to watch, but the industry is just not there yet, so I will have to do it my way until it comes around.  Since I am streaming so much over my Internet connection, I believe the Internet Provider's next move will be to start charging us for bandwidth.  Don't believe me?  If you have Comcast, log into your account and check.  They are tracking your bandwidth usage.  Here is a sample of mine:

Can you tell we cut the cord in November?!?  And that the kids are out of school for part of December? My kids still watched a lot of shows on Netflix before we cut the cord, but they really ramped it up in November.  My five year old will play an episode of Kickin' It like it is a radio station in the background.  Over and over and over I see Jack, Milton, Jerry, Kim, and Rudy in her favorite episode over and over.  Not to mention, my older kids have iPads (provided by their school) and they will sit upstairs in their rooms and stream their favorite TV shows. Now I know I need to watch what she and the rest of the kids are doing. You know I will admit, it is not all my kids, we like to watch an occasional movie now and again and catch up on our shows via online streams.  That is the way it is going.

Now for the bad news, there is currently a 250 GB limit per month.  Mine says my limit has been suspended.  That translates to they are not shutting me down, yet. This is where the so called "nerd fee" will come into play. I have read online that they are testing this in the Southern states and right now it looks like the pricing limit is set to 300 GB at default and $10 per month for every 50 GB that you go over.  This of course is all rumor, no one nows what they are really going to do until they do it.  I will update more when I get notified.  Maybe I need to adjust the Netflix quality as a test?  We will see...

Tired of paying the high cost of pay TV?  Do your part to change an industry.  Develop your cord cutting strategy and get moving!

More updates to come as things develop.

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Monday, January 6, 2014

Where Have We Been??

Where have I been?  Well, I have been having fun at work being an early adopter of network fabric technology.  I even get a nice trip to Avaya Technology Forum and to Interop this year to sit on a panel....but you guys don't care about that.  Although, you guys may care about our new family adventures.

We have also been embarking on learning the Python Language.  I found out after many trials and errors that the younger kids just were not interested in this yet.  I am not completely giving up yet, I will revisit this in the near future when I have some more creative ideas.  Here is a picture from our Python Class....

Notice my lovely little Ellie with her hat on and her head down.  She did not want to participate.  She does not want to be labeled as a nerd.  I keep trying to tell her that it is not a bad thing, but you know teenagers.  I wish I could put her into contact with some female role model coders, but I can't force her to like it.  I think if she gave it a chance she could see the creative side of it and may like it better.  Good news is Nick is really good at it.  He has such great attention to detail, it fascinates me.  I will bring up tech savvy kids, not matter what!

Also the boys and I have created a new venture....

Introducing the BFL!!!!!!

That stands for Bolt Football League for those of you people that are not football fans.

Almost everyday that I have a day off, we head to our local wonderfully beautiful park called Forest Park and play some very intense touch football.  Right now it is just me and my four boys.   (My youngest son Sammy is all time offense to make teams even) I have to say it is crazy fun and is doing wonders in making me feel better physically.

Yesterday we were heading out to play a game during the recent snowpocalypse.  When we drove into the park I was so taken aback by the beauty of the scene, the photographer in me had to stop and take a few shots.  Below is what we saw when we pulled in....

I knew the day was going to be great when this scene greeted us.   We had a great game in the snow.  I only ended up on the ground a half dozen or so times and was still able to walk off the field.  The boys did a great job and Sammy (my 2nd grader) caught yet another touchdown pass.  I am proud of the way these kids are developing their athletic skills while we are all having fun.  I could not ask for more...Well, except for more time with them, but you can't have it all!

When it gets a little warmer outside, I am going to ask Ellie to come and take some pictures to document this for us.  I will post when I have more...

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