Is it Finally Time to Cut the Cord?

Let’s face it, you often tell yourself this will be the month you really buckle down and do the research, ask your Millenial friends and finally decide to make the jump and cut cable TV out of your life. And why shouldn’t you? according to Leichtman Research Group the average amount American families paid for cable TV was $103 per month in 2016. That is a lot of money, cable TV is expensive. But if you are will to do the homework, invest in a few gadgets and tolerate a few extra cords running through your home, you can cut you monthly bill down to reasonable monthly fee. Below I have listed what I see the steps to walk through be to help with your decision making. But we warned, this might make your head spin a bit.

Step 1: Do Review your TV Watching Habits

Do an audit of your TV watching habits and decide what programming you need to have. Chances are you’re paying for a cable bundle that has 100 channels you don’t watch. There is a handy tool on Untangle.tv that will walk you through that process.

Step 2: Buy an HDTV antenna. In 2006 the FCC required that broadcasters start sending out their signals over the ince 2007, local TV stations have been broadcasting digital signals so crisp that the reception is better than that of cable TV. Plus, despite all the hype about shows on niche networks, 19 of the top 20 TV shows in 2016 aired on over-the-air broadcast networks. That’s why Step 1 is to buy an antenna. These are not like the old rabbit ears from you cabin in the woods or your grandfather’s house. These modern looking digital TV antennas can be small and unobtrusive, and some are even designed to blend in with your home’s décor. The selection at Amazon is pretty good, and you can get a good one for around $30.

Step 3: Get a decent Internet deal. A decent web service package that can support a standard cord-cutting set-up requires a speed of at least 10 Mbps for each TV. Fortunately, you can get these speeds from most providers like Spectrum (TWC), Charter, Comcast, Fios (Verizon). But call your local suppliers and see what kind of promotional deals they are running. They all know about the cord-cutting trend and are hedging with services packages to accommodate cord-cutters. Also be on the lookout for fees that aren’t included in the base rate. The website BroadbandNow reveals most service providers’ introductory plans and prices, and any additional fees. Also, service providers will want to lease you a router, but it likely will make more sense for you to buy one of your own.

Step 4: Connect with an HDMI cord. A cheap and easy way to watch Internet shows on your TV is by connecting your laptop to your television set with an HDMI cord. You are essentially using your TV as a giant computer screen, but HDMI allows for quality images, so you should not lose much detail for programming you stream. You can buy these cables at MonoPrice.com for under $6.

Step 5: Consult cord-cutting websites. There are many websites that will take your TV watching habits and recommend a set-up for you based on the information you give them, including your ZIP code. Untangle.tv one of them, but they also sell antennaes, so that is ther angle. Some other tools can be found at JustWatch.com and Fan.tv .

Step 6: Check if you have a Smart TV. If you bought your television after 2009, there’s a good chance it can already stream television shows via the Internet. Most modern TVs are equipped with “Internet-ready” technology and apps like Hulu and Netflix included in the hardware. With all of the talk about streaming “boxes” and “sticks,” it’s easy to overlook the technology you already have.

Step 7: Check your Blu-ray player and game console. If your television isn’t pre-loaded with Internet apps, you may have an external device that is. Many Blu-ray players can stream shows and cost as little as $50. Alternatively, recent editions of gaming systems such as PlayStation, Wii and Xbox ($250-plus) can also stream videos.

Step 8: Consider buying a player. If you do need to buy an external device, use the websites in Step 4 to help you decide which one to buy, based on what shows you want to watch, because no one player offers access to everything.

• Amazon Fire ($40-$90) Supports many media services.

• Apple TV ($199) integrates with other Apple devices.

• Google Chromecast ($70) Watch YouTube videos and more on your TV.

• Roku ($30-$110) Easy to use and offers lots of apps.

• TiVo Bolt ($400, plus $15 a month) For those who cannot live without it

8. Add streaming services. Your final step is to add the streaming services that actually provide the shows you like, based on what you learned in Step 4. These can be divided into three categories: mainstays, live and premium.

Other Providers: The key sources for programming that most cord-cutters turn to.

Amazon Prime ($99 a year) Free shows, original programming, on demand.

Hulu ($8 a month) offers ABC, Fox, NBC, Comedy Central & Syfy

Netflix ($8-$12 a month) Stream movies and original programming

Sling TV ($20 a month) includes 30 plus , no contract

YouTube TV ($35 a month) Stream programming

Premium: Just like premium channels on cable.

HBO Now ($15 a month) is available on nearly every device.

Showtime ($11 a month) is available on most devices.

 

How to Recycle Computers, Cables, Keyboards and More

Computers -- and their accessories -- have become like cars: As soon as you buy one, it seems to become obsolete because there's already a newer, better and faster model. The question is not only whether you should upgrade frequently, but more important, what to do with your old computer, printer, monitor, keyboard or modem. And then there are those expensive printer cartridges, and what to do with them when the ink runs out is another vital question.

Unfortunately, in the past, most old computers and their accessories have ended up in landfills. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that in 2005, discarded electronics amounted to 1.9 to 2.2 million tons in the United States -- and the overwhelming majority ended up in landfills. Globally, the volume of electronics discarded has ballooned recently, with the environmental group Greenpeace estimating it amounts to 20 to 50 million tons generated each year.

"It's wrong to just throw your old computer in the trash," says Devon Diaz, a professional engineer who serves as CEO of Ease E-Waste, a California-certified and EPA compliant e-waste recycler. "There is lead in the circuit board and metals and other things that just don't break down in a landfill." There's also the possibility that some of these substances will leech into the groundwater supply.

Safe Disposal of Toxic Dangers

Before you decide to upgrade and trash your old PC or laptop or any peripherals, consider this list of products and the hazardous materials inside and how best to dispose of them -- for your and the planet’s sake:

1. Toner cartridge
The danger: The main ingredient of the black toner is a pigment commonly called “carbon black” -- the general term used to describe the commercial powder form of carbon, according to Lauren Ornelas, campaign director for the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC), a non-profit environmental group in San Jose, Calif., that focuses on the high-tech industry. “Inhalation is the primary exposure pathway, and acute exposure may lead to respiratory tract irritation,” Ornelas says. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified carbon black as a class 2B carcinogen, possibly carcinogenic to humans. Little information exists on the hazards of colored toners, Ornelas says. Some reports indicate that such toners (cyan, yellow and magenta) contain heavy metals.

What to do: Many of these cartridges can be recycled. Some office supply chains offer rebates if you return an empty cartridge. You can also contact the manufacturer or check on their web site, because some companies, such as Lexmark, will recycle the cartridges.

2. Ink-jet cartridge
The danger: The big question with a printer ink cartridge is: What is in the contents of the ink? Some people have allergic reactions to ink. In general, if all the ink has been used up, the cartridge can be disposed of safely, according to the California Integrated Waste Management Board.

What to do: There are many places that now accept ink cartridges for recycling -- some stores will pay you and some schools or charities collect cartridges for fundraising -- so you can avoid any risk of leftover ink seeping from a cartridge into the earth. Some manufacturers, such as HP through its Planet Partners program, include an envelope for you to return the used cartridge to them for recycling.

3. Computer monitor
The danger: The monitor is one of the worst computer components to stick in a landfill, particularly the older and bigger cathode ray tube monitors, which are similar to TV sets in their makeup. “Each monitor or TV has a minimum of three to eight pounds of lead, a known neurotoxin and carcinogen,” Ornelas says. These monitors often have such toxic materials as mercury, cadmium and chromium, all of which are hazardous to the environment, according to the EPA. Flame-retardant materials used in the plastic also contain bromide, which in high dosages can cause neurological damage. "There's nothing nice about a computer monitor," adds Diaz, although some components can be recycled.

What to do: If your old monitor is still working, it can still be used. Check with local schools or charities to see if they accept donations. Some computer makers, such as Apple, will accept your old monitor back for recycling if you buy a new one. The SVTC web site lists manufacturers with take-back programs. The group is also a member of the Electronic Takeback Campaign, which lists responsible recyclers on its web site. Greenpeace also found recently that there is a market for recycled computers abroad.

4. Computer CPU
The danger: The computer's central processing unit, or CPU, contains another mix of toxic substances, including cadmium in semiconductor chips and mercury in switches on the printed circuit boards. Printed circuit boards also contain lead. If ingested, cadmium can damage your kidneys; mercury can cause neurological damage; and lead can disrupt brain neurotransmitters. And that's not all. Beryllium, a lightweight metal, is typically found in the motherboard. Ornelas says, "It has been classified as a human carcinogen, as exposure from it can cause lung cancer."

What to do: Make sure, first, that you can't get more life out of your CPU by adding memory or hard-drive space. Like a monitor, this piece of equipment may be of use to a charity or school before it ends up in the trash. If you donate this item, make sure you remove all personal data from the computer first. Major computer makes, such as Dell and Gateway, have programs to help you dispose of this e-waste. As with computer monitors, check out organizations such as SVTC or the Electronic Takeback Campaign for responsible recyclers.

5. Cables
The danger: A recent study by Greenpeace reported that polyvinyl chloride (PVC) was found in 44 percent of all plastic coating of internal wires and external cables that the group tested. When incinerated, the group says, these release dioxins, which are known to increase the likelihood of cancer. Phthalates, which the EPA has found can cause damage to the liver and testes from long-term exposure, were found in the power cables supplied with laptops examined by Greenpeace.

What to do: Many of these cables have value to recyclers because of copper wires inside. To find a list of responsible recyclers, consult SVTC, the Electronic Takeback Campaign, or the EPA has a list on its eCycling web site where you can find groups that accept computer components for recycling or reuse.

6. Keyboard, mouse, modem or printers
The danger: A keyboard, mouse or printer is typically made of plastic with a little circuit board in it. While these aren't worth a whole lot to recyclers, Diaz says, they are definitely something that you want to keep out of landfills, especially printers. “They're nothing but big hunks of plastic and steel,” Diaz says. Modems and networking equipment are also made of plastics and circuit boards -- so they contain a bit of all the bad things in those materials, like lead solder on the chips.

What to do: While these items don't contain a lot of valuable metals or other substances for recyclers, some responsible recyclers can get the solder off the circuit boards and reuse this material, Diaz says. In addition to the SVTC, the Electronic Takeback Campaign and the EPA, try Free Geek, an organization that lists other organizations that push for more electronics recycling, for names of responsible recyclers.

7. Laptop battery
The danger: Many older laptops used rechargeable nickel-cadmium (NiCa) batteries, which contain hazardous cadmium. Newer laptops, fortunately, are relying on newer types of batteries (nickel-metal hydride and lithium ion), which are not as hazardous.

What to do: A lot of these old batteries are recyclable, Diaz says. “You can take the casing off and there are other good materials that can be refurbished and reused.” Check out the web site of the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corp., a nonprofit that collects used rechargeable batteries -- including all three types listed above -- to find a drop-off site near you.

The Reward of Properly Disposing of Electronics
If you’re feeling daunted by the toxic dangers, here’s the good news: A recent study funded by Greenpeace found that there is an eager market for used or recycled computers and other goods abroad. In the end, the extra effort to recycle these electronics -- or their parts -- is worth it for your family and the planet. Otherwise, e-waste that ends up at the dump will have a lasting negative impact, Diaz says: “They'll be there for years and years and years.”

Share Family Memories in an Online Photo Book

A birthday. A holiday. A special vacation. Your child’s latest growth spurt. Around the year, you probably have photo moments that you’d love to share with friends and relatives that you don't get to see all the time. A great way to do that is to take the digital photos you've been accumulating all year and organize them into a custom photo book.

You may already be familiar with sites like Shutterfly, Photobucket or the Kodak Gallery. These web sites let you store your valuable photos while enabling you and your friends to view and print them. A photo book takes this idea a step further. Using premade templates, you can easily create an album with headlines, captions, themed graphics and other elements (such as scanned art or collages). You can then order professionally printed copies as gifts or for your own use.

Explore photo book ideas
Photo books aren't just for the holidays or special occasions -- they're a great way to organize all kinds of digital photos. Here are a few more ideas:

  • Document your baby's first years with photos, cartoons and other design elements
  • Involve the whole family and compile a vacation scrapbook -- combining photos, scanned-in mementos (such as tickets and brochures) and written comments
  • Create an "art book" for each of your children, where they can showcase their drawings, paintings, writing and other creative work
  • Use family photos to make a heritage book. Ask parents and grandparents to tell the stories that go with the pictures
  • Create a cookbook featuring your favorite meals and recipes. Include photos of the cooking process -- and of everyone enjoying the finished product

Get started
Creation of your photo book will go more smoothly if you take these steps first:

Keep a journal During times like vacations, pregnancies or weddings, take notes. Your journal can provide the material for your photo book's text.

Select photos Store photos together in a file on your computer in the order in which you'd like to see them in the finished photo book. That way, you won't have to search through hundreds of images while you're trying to create your photo book.

Edit your photos For instance, using photo editing software, you can crop, rotate or flip images, change them to black-and-white or sepia tones or create special effects.

Get creative Use a scanner to capture printed materials, or use your computer's paint or word processing program to create splashy headlines, custom artwork and cut-and-paste collages.

Online photo sites make it easy to create specialized photo books for a wide variety of uses. These books help you get more enjoyment out of your digital photos, and make it easier to share that enjoyment with others.