Hack of the Month #1 Expanding Storage Space on a DVR

First, a little about how we watch TV in the house. We don’t watch anything live. We DVR it. But, when you have a Comcast High Definition DVR, the small storage space (usually about 150 or 180 GB’s) only allows about 30 HD hour long shows. I still haven’t watched the last three episodes or 24 or Lost, and we have almost the whole season of Damages to watch. I also watch Rescue Me in bunches, usually 3 or 4 episodes at a shot. So as a result, my DVR usually shows about 85% full. The problem with this is that I started having shows not get recorded because there was no space left on the hard drive on the DVR. The following are directions on how to expand your storage space of a Comcast Scientific Atlantic 8830 HD DVR. YMMV, but most other cable/FIOS boxes work the same way.

The Back of the Box

On the back of the SA 8830 box, you’ll see a few USB ports, a firewire port, and a SATA port. Depending on your cable company, most of these ports are turned off, but in Comcast’s case, the SATA (Serial ATA) port is turned on. Originally, Comcast wanted to sell/rent external HD to plug into this port, but they haven’t done this yet, probably due to the fact that this may cause more service calls.

Inside of the Box

Well, not really inside of the box, but close enough. For all practical purposes, your DVR is a computer running a small version of Linux (an open source operating system) with a hard drive and the DVR software. Our goal is to increase the available hard drive space. Once we complete the steps below, the software will pick which drive (internal or external) to write to. As far as the box is concerned, both drives are the same

What We Need

Here are the items we need

  1. External Hard Drive with a SATA connection (Depending on the model, you may find this referred to as eSTATA)
  2. SATA cord. If you buy this in a package this cord will come with the hard drive
  3. Power.
  1. Remove the power cord from your DVR (just like you are resetting it)
  2. Power up the external hard drive
  3. Using the SATA cable, connect the SATA port on the back of the DVR to the external hard drive
  4. Plug the DVR back in and power it up
  5. When the software for the DVR starts up, it should find the external hard drive and it will ask you if you want to format the hard drive. Answer yes and let it format.
  6. Click the MYDVR button on the remote and check the available space. If you don’t see any increase in space, you’ll need to repeat steps 1 and 4 again. When I did mine, I had to repeat the steps twice.
  7. Enjoy your extra space. In my case I bought a 500 GB external drive, and my percentage full went from 86% to 15%.

You can purchase this type of drive from Western Digital and they are marketing as DVR extenders. They run about $120-$150. OR you can buy an External Hard Drive (I bought mine on ebay for about $52). The Western Digital is warranted for this and they have a handy 800 number in case you get stuck. Another caveat, once you’ve done this, if 1) your DVR fails or 2) your external hard drive fails, you’re out of luck. The DVR will assign a code when formatting the hard drive that will only allow the hard drive to be read from this particular DVR. So I can’t take the external hard drive to another DVR

  1. Can I just record the stuff on the DVR and take it to my computer and burn DVD’s with it? NO. The method of encryption is such that it needs the DVR that it was originally formatted with to work
  2. I have a USB to SATA converter cable and a USB external hard drive. Will this work? Maybe. The thing to remember is that the data throughput via SATA is a lot faster than USB. If it would work, I’d think you’d see a lot of stuttering and video and audio lag. The SATA external cable is as fast as an internal hard drive
  3. Can I just replace the Internal Hard Drive on the DVR? Maybe..I’ve heard though, that Comcast, when you turn the box in, will check the internals of the DVR. They have coated the inside of the box with a dye that will pick up the oil that may be on your fingers when doing this. I’ve heard of people who wore nursing gloves and replaced the hard drive that way. But, is it worth the headache when a valid solution only costs you $52
  4. Can I get the parts from NewEgg and make my own? Yes, but it’s almost as cheap to do it this way.

Leave ideas for next month’s Hack of The Month in the comments


Mark H


The 8% Pay Cut

In the interest of full disclosure, my wife and I work for the State of Delaware. Me as a computer geek and my wife as a Correctional Officer. Yesterday, we got an email basically stating that we were going to lose 8% of our salary due to the extreme budget shortfall the State is facing this year. Here’s how it will affect me:

  • My wife and I will lose 8% of our salary (around 7000 per year)
  • My wife and I will now have to pay for our health care (probably around 200 a month for a annual cost of 2400)
  • My part-time job as computer instructor at Polytech Adult Education, already down because of the economy, will also suffer an 8% pay cut (around 400 per year)

So, do I think it’s fair? For the first bullet, I’d say yes. Although the 8% might be a bit much, doing it across the board at least touches everyone.

Losing my double state share? (That’s when if both employees work for the State don’t pay for health insurance) NO. Although this has been the target of Ron Williams of the News Journal forever, just because you’re annoyed at some State legislator whose spouse also works for the state, don’t take it out on me 🙂

My Polytech loss? NO. When I teach a class at Polytech, it is considered an enrichment class and the classes I teach, when they make, create income for PolyTech.

So what am I going to do about it?

  1. Get interviewed by the News Journal J JL Miller called me this morning and we discussed this.
  2. Although I have resisted repairing computers part time for a while, I got my business license to repair computers. Even got a website http://woodyscomputers.net
  3. You think I shopped with coupons before, you ain’t seen nothing yet J
  4. Decide on how to best cover health care for 4 year old niece who we have legal guardianship of. My son is autistic and is covered under Medicaid, so I don’t have to worry about health care for him. A possibility may include suing for child support from my nieces biological father

Honestly, we’ll be OK. I’m just not sure how some single parents who work for the State (and I talked to one of them yesterday and she was in tears) will be able to make it.

One other thing. Although I think this sucks J I give the Governor a huge amount of credit for making a decision that NO ONE likes. Hopefully this action will buy him some time and next year we won’t be in this same mess

Top Ten Movies of All Time Part3

We are now in the second half of these posts. I felt like taking a break from my couponing posts, but I’ll get another one of those out tomorrow (probably)

7) Apollo 13

This is a movie that I watch on cable all of the time, and just like most of my favorites, I’ll watch it the whole way through. In a weird sort of way, I consider this the ultimate guys film. All of the stars, save one, are guys. The space program at the time was constituted of nothing but guys. My favorite parts of the film?

  • All of the Mission control scenes. Ed Harris gives a wonderful performance, and when they safely land, he makes it OK for all of the guys in the audience to cry.
  • When the engineers have to fix the C02 scrubbing apparatus with very little parts. “We’ve got to make this go into this, with nothing but this!” The geeky side of me goes nuts during this scene
  • When Gary Sinies’s character gives back the flashlight while trying to work the reentry procedure saying, ” They don’t have this flashlight up there. Don’t give me anything they don’t have up there”

Not as fond of the space stuff in this film, but it’s not that distracting.

8) The Dark Knight

Best comic book movie ever!!! And for now, the best reason to get a blue-ray player. The first 15 minutes in this film (the bank robbery) was filmed in IMAX and is just stunning on a Blue Ray player and HDTV. Although I liked most of the performances in this film, the one you know that will resonate will be the late Heath Ledger’s performance. I liked the first Tim Burton Batman (with Jack Nicholson as the Joker) but, honestly, we’re not even talking in the same ballpark here. Ledger has created a character that I hope is never played again that I’ll remember forever. I’ve got to give some props to the director, Chris Nolan. I’ve watched most of his films, and I’ve not seen one I’ve not liked yet.

9) Monty Python’s The Holy Grail

Funniest movie ever! I remember watching this as a teenager every time in came on WHYY late nights (either Friday or Sat) nights. We’d stop playing D&D or Kingmaker and sit through this whole thing. “And there was great rejoicing” The only thing that could be added would be more nudity J

Next part I’ll disclose my three way tie for 10th place on my list and touch on a few movies that just quite didn’t make the cut.


Coupon Man Part2

As promised, I’ll cover some coupon basics in this post. What I think would be useful: A Glossary of terms generally used to couponing

  • OOP-Out Of Pocket. Usually used to show what was purchased with what it cost you in cash to buy the items in question
  • IP—Internet Printable coupon. There various ways to get these. Coupons.com, the manufacturers website, smartsource.com, etc. Generally, you need to install the coupon printer. You generally have a limit per computer on printing coupons. Usually, if it’s a real good coupon, I’ll print 2, my wife will print 2, and I’ll get on my son’s computer and print 2 also
  • B1G1 or B0G0—Buy one (or two) and get one (or two or three) free.
  • Peelies—These are coupons that the manufacturer puts on the item itself. You peel them off and present them to the cashier
  • Stacking coupons—The practice of using a store coupon (mostly CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid) and a manufacturers coupon on an item.
  • Coupon Doubling—When the store doubles the coupon’s value.
  • Overage—When the coupon value (when doubled) exceeds the price of the item. Depending on the POS system at the store, you can consider this cash back (although you’ll never actually receive the cash back)
  • CATALINA—This is the practice of receiving a coupon on your next visit if you buy X dollars or x number of items. I’ll cover this in detail next post
  • Rolling CATALINA—This is the practice of taking my $10 CATALINA and using it to purchase items to receive another CATALINA. Very advanced. This is how you get hundreds of dollars worth of stuff for 20 bucks or so.

So, let’s look at something (usually covered in Marketing 101 in college) that factors into understanding how to use coupons wisely.

The Push-Pull marketing strategy.

With the PP marketing strategy, the manufacturer looks to pull you into the store. They do this by lowering their price at certain grocery stores, thereby the specials you see at the grocery store. Additionally they look to push you into the store. This is generally done via coupons and advertisements. They do not usually happen the same week!
What the manufacturer hopes is that when the coupon comes for Frosted Flakes, I’ll buy it that week and 2 weeks later, when the store puts it on sale, I’ll buy it then also. Of course I don’t do it that way, but a lot of people do.

Using B0G0 to get a great deal

4 days ago, I got the following items at Safeway for $3.32

  1. 5 Betty Crocker cake mixes
  2. 5 Betty Crocker frostings
  3. 5 Betty Crocker cookie mixes
  4. Potato Bread for the wife

How? The Betty Crocker items were all Buy 2 get 3 free. With a B0G0, you can use coupons for all of the items, even the free items. SO. Shelf price of $1.89 for all of the Betty Crocker stuff. At that point that gives us 11.34 for the items. I have 10 coupons for the frostings and the cookie mixes. Safeway doubles non-IP coupons so I had 5 non-IP coupons that were doubled, 1 peelie, and 4 IP coupons. The potato bread was 1.79 so basically I got all of the cake mixes, etc for 1.50.

OK, so the cake mixes, etc may not be the most healthy things to buy. BUT When I show you the CATALINA possibilities, you may change you mind a bit.

Coupon Man Part 1

(To be sung to the Sunshine band tune Boogie Man)

The fine folks at Delaware Liberal have been discussing this so I thought I’d let you all in on another one of my interests. Being Frugal! (Actually, I’m just a cheap bastard, but I’m OK with it). Even before the economy hit the dumper, I’ve been doing couponing. Now with the economy the way it is, I no longer get strange looks while I’m going grocery shopping (with my rather large coupon notebook). I get “hey can you help get me started with the coupons” when they see the amount of stuff I get for next to nothing. Let me tell you how I did on my last side trip to Target. I bought the following items for $3.42

  • 4 rolls on Bounty Paper towels
  • 3 pouches of Friskies cat treats
  • 4 cans of Purina 1 dog food
  • 3 cans of friskies cat food

I’d say a pretty good haul for a place I drive by on my way home from work. How?

  1. Bounty on sale for 99c per roll 2 coupons for $1 off of 2
  2. 3 1.50 coupons on the cat treats
  3. 4 free coupons for the dog food
  4. 3 free coupons for the cat food

So to entice you even more

Stuff I Always Get For FREE (And I MEAN ALWAYS) AND Sometimes Get paid

  • Toothpaste
    • Walgreen’s regular price for regular Colgate 4.6 oz .99 Dollar coupons of Colgate Adult toothpaste found at least every other week
    • Kmart periodically runs double coupons up to 2 dollars. Generally, they have $2 coupons on the Crest ProHealth toothpaste. I save my Crest coupons until Kmart runs the double deal
    • Acme doubles coupons, so when they have toothpaste on sale, if I have a 50 or 75 cent coupon, I may get the overage. Overage is when the coupon (doubled or not) is higher than the price of the item. Some stores (Acme) process the coupon as issued creating a moneymaker. Some stores will manually change the coupon to match the price, some won’t. Most of this depends on the cashier or the store’s POS system.
  • Check Mix, Bugles, Cherrios Snack Mix
    • I get lots of coupons for the above. At least every 6 weeks Acme runs them at 1 dollar a piece. My coupons range from 55 to 75 cents making these items free
  • Cookie Mixes (Betty Crocker)
    • More doubled coupon madness at Acme. The thing to consider is that you have to wait until they go on sale and then stock up on them.
  • Pert Plus Shampoo
    • This one is usually a little more work, but either Walgreens or Rite Aid will offer a coupon for 1.50 off of Pert Plus. Both of those stores allows you to combine a store coupon with a manufacturers coupon. This will generally bring the price down to zero. I probably have 6 bottles of this shampoo in my closet.
  • Gillette Men’s Body Wash
    • Generally, the coupon inserts will have $2 coupons. When Kmart does their double coupon magic, this Body Wash is free!
  • Suave Body Wash/Shampoo
    • Generally an Acme purchase. They’ll either run a special or have a clearance on a particular fragrance. With the double coupon, usually free. I also have used this for Kmart when they are running a special
  • Frozen vegetables
    • A little more work. But someone has them on sale at some point in time, and when they do, I swoop in and stockpile everything I have good coupons for

Tomorrow, I’ll cover some general coupon basics (and tell about stuff I get reallllllyyyy cheap). But I want to point out, that I do purchase other things that cost money. I just don’t pay for things I don’t need to.

My Top Ten Films of All Time (Part 2)

For this installment of my list, I’m going to ignore some of my rules for picking my favorite movies. For the most part, I consider movies that I’ve watched multiple times. Additionally, I consider how well the movie has aged over time. One reason you don’t see any of the Star Wars films here is I don’t think that they have aged well. When I watch them now, I barely even like them.

4) The Matrix

Notice that I’ve not included any of the sequels. In fact the reason that this film is here and not a bit higher on my list is the fact that I consider both sequels (and I really hate Matrix Reloaded) to be very average at best. But the original, the best science fiction film ever. The groundbreaking special effects alone are worth the price of admission

5) Seven

Breaking rule #1 here. I’ve only seen this movie once. I find the movie so unsettling (and not because of the gore/blood) that I’ll never watch it again, but I thought it was a fine piece of filmmaking.

6) Angel Heart

Breaking rule # 2 here. I watched this movie a few times , but I haven’t seen it recently. I remember reading a review of this one and the quote from the reviewer goes something along the lines of ” The first Âľ of this movie is the finest film ever”. I’d agree. I’ve added this movie to my Blockbuster Queue, but I’m not sure how it has aged. Additionally, once you know the twist, can this movie still be effective? I’m not sure. All I know is that when I first saw this movie, for the first hour and a half I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. If you did like this movie, I’d also recommend Jacobs Ladder.

Next post, I’ll cover my 7-9 movies

My Top Ten Films of All Time (Part 1)

My Top Ten Films of All Time (Part 1)

I thought about this one night and thought I’d throw my thoughts out there on what I consider to be my favorite films of all time. You’ll probably notice a larger number of SCI/FI films on here. Another consideration I make in compiling this list is how many times I’ve watched the films in question. You know how it goes, you’re channel surfing and up pops up a movie that you love (and may even have the DVD to) and you still watch it.

1 Casablanca

For me, all film discussions start and end with this movie. There is not one minute in this film I don’t love. Ask me for my favorite scene and I’d say “the whole movie”. Additionally, the movie extras on the HD-DVD disk are great. I could even listen to Roger Ebert’s commentary (and in it, his love for the movie really shines through) and enjoy this movie. This is also a movie I hope they never attempt to remake.

2 The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

OK, a little about me. You know the comic book guy in The Simpsons? That’s me. Peter Jackson (director) filmed what I thought was the most unfilmable books I have ever read. And he made me love his vision. Did he miss a few things? Yes. But his film captured the essence of the three books perfectly.

The Best Scenes from the three

  • Borimor’s protracted scene in which he dies trying to protect the Hobbits
  • When Gandalf bails out the whole crew in The Two Towers near the end of the film
  • When all of the crowd assembled joins the King in bowing before the Hobbits in the third installment

Was the ending in The Return of the King too long? Sure. But I was with the whole theater in which I saw ROTK in crying my eyes out for about the last 20 minutes of the movie. First, because of the beauty of the scene (and if you’ve ever imagined something in a book and finally see it on screen even better than you imagined it, you know what I’m talking about) and second, because our lives were not going to be run on when the next LOTR was coming out.


3 The Godfather (1 and 2)

Really not much I could add to one of the most run movies on cable. Better writers than me have waxed poetically on this movie. Although oddly enough, I don’t own this movie on either DVD or Blu-Ray.