Thursday, January 22, 2009

DTV Conversion Day postponement?

June 12th looks like the new deadline for DTV conversion, says the NASDAQ newswire.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Rockefeller, D-W.V., and committee ranking Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas said their staffs are drafting a few changes to Rockefeller's proposal to postpone the digital switch until June 12.
In the House, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., has introduced his own bill that would put off the digital TV transition until June 12. Waxman's bill also would extend the expiration date for all outstanding or not-yet-issued converter box coupons to Sept. 15. People who previously ordered coupons and didn't redeem them would be allowed to reapply.{snip}

Monday, January 12, 2009

Numbers to ignore: 506 or 062 Costa Rican robocalls

This company, representing themselves as "CardMember Services", but really in San José or Heredia in Costa Rica, calls with a robocall opening and a request to press 1 or 2. Pressing 2, as their prompt suggests to remove the called number, does not work; we keep getting calls on all our numbers.

Sometimes, caller ID drops the first digit of international calls, so you get "062" (not a valid country code at present).

The call is blandly phrased, purportedly about "our credit card balance" so someone unaware might think it was legitimate, but they fish for credit card information in order to switch us to another company.

Pressing 1 goes to an agent who always insists, in violation of the law, we need to re-register yearly. Asking that agent to put us on their Do Not Call list results in a hangup.

On the last call, I was told their offices are in Spokane WA. Unfortunately, the state-owned Grupo ICE or Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad and its subsidiary RACSA own all telephone switches, so trying to peel information away from a Banana Republic ministry is less than fruitful.

(data from Vonage call log)
Jan 12, 2009 at 01:09 PM using 506 2 209 9729
Dec 12, 2008 at 02:05 PM using 506 2 205 8435
Nov 06, 2008 at 12:05 PM using 506 2 234 659
Sep 08, 2008 at 05:15 PM using 506 2 272 4154
Jul 23, 2008 at 06:29 PM using 506 2 200 9870

KGW's Parent Company pushes for more Digital Conversion coupons

The Wall Street Journal reports Belo, the owners of KGW (Channel 8 in the old analog system) is pushing for more converter coupons. Meanwhile, police-fire-public safety folks want the frequencies which conversion to digital TV will give them, and they're lobbying for no delay in Conversion Day.

Clear about the Internet

Clearwire AKA 'Clear' opened up Metro Portland as its second city where individuals and businesses can get high speed wireless internet at reasonable cost, and after a cost analysis, we took the plunge.

The home service pricing below includes $5/mo to rent a Clear-only special 'modem.' You can buy instead of rent, but since hardware gets cheaper, we figured we'd rent at first... besides, if there's a failure, they're responsible for the 'modem' if they own it.

$25/mo provides up to 768 kbps down, 128 kbps up.
$35/mo provides up to 3,000 kbps down, 384 kbps up.
$35/mo provides up to 6,000 kbps down, 512 kbps up.

There's no $35 sign-up fee if you obligate for 2 years of service instead of month-to-month, and there's a seven day 'remorse' period for cancellation. There's also mobile service and business service, both spendier than home service.

The hookup took 5 minutes; plug in power, let it find the signal (two towers within a mile from Oatfield Hill), then unplug the DSL 'modem' and plug the ethernet cable from the DSL 'modem' into the back of the Clear box, then power cycle the WiFi router/switch. Did not have to make ANY changes in the settings of the WiFi router/switch. reported an average around 5,400 kbps down, 400 kbps up, which is not too shabby at all, better than advertised and better than the mean of 1,204 down, 588 up which $55/mo. DSL provides.

We'll still keep our landline, as we're belt+suspenders when it comes to calling 9-1-1, but the Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) line is probably going over to Clear when they're ready to start offering voice service, depending on the entire feature set once they're ready to talk about their $25 VOIP package. The salesrep in their Clackamas Promenade store, John L., knew his product, wasn't pushy, and was easy to deal with. He was able to show me the tower location and calculate whether it would work OK based on my street address, and said the metro area had been mapped with drive testers, street-by-street, to make sure those estimates were accurate.

Their other stores are at 1512 N.E. Broadway, the Uptown Shopping Center and 1233 N.W. Lovejoy, and they sell through oodles of dealers, e.g., Grate Computers in NoPo, Agility Computers in Gresham, Budget Computers in Beaverton, Gadget Guyz in Vancouver as well as numerous others.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Is your TV digital ready? And, no more converter discount coupons.

This National Association of Broadcasters web page allows you to enter the make and model of your TV set to find if it's digital-ready.

And, OBTW, it's official; the Feds have run out of converter coupons, says the NY Times. Yesterday's blog post reviewing the less-spendy converter boxes seems to have been a good idea.

Don't overlook post Number One on the Tele-Apocalypse which gives you a very simple flowchart to show what to do.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Questions and Answers about Digital TV Converters

Q: I need an explanation in another language. Where can I find that?

Q: When does conversion happen?
A: It happens Tuesday, February 17th, by Federal law.

Q: Why?
A: Digital channels can fit closer together without interfering, so the Federal government can sell the old frequencies to use for police, fire, public service, and new cellular data services. Sometimes, reception quality improves even on older analog-only sets using converters. There are other advantages to television stations; they can split their channels into sub-channels and have multiple signals with different programming.

Q: What does a converter do?
A: All converters receive the digital signals from new transmitters and convert the signals to analog so they can be used with older TVs and VCRs.

Q: Are all the stations ready now?
A: Most stations have digital signals, plus analog signals, now. The digital signals are now on different channels to avoid interfering with analog channels. Some major stations will switch on February 17th. Some small stations will stay on analog channels, but only small channels and small transmitters. Here's a chart which shows channels now and after for Portland.

Q: Do I need a converter if I have an HDTV set or a Digital-Ready Set?
A: No.

Q: Do I need a converter if I have cable TV?
A: If you use cable TV, you don't need a converter. The cable system handles conversion for you.

Q: Do I need a converter if I have satellite TV?
A: If you use satellite TV, you don't need a converter. The satellite system handles conversion for you.

Q: Do I need a converter if my building has a community or shared antenna?
A: Maybe, so check with your building management to ask if they will be doing the digital-to-analog conversion for you.

Q: I use 'rabbit ears' or an indoor antenna now. Do I need an outdoor antenna for the converter?
A: Maybe. My next blog post on this subject will explain how to estimate if you do. Many indoor antennas will work well in the Portland Metro area, especially if you can see Council Crest from home. There is no 'digital' antenna; the same antenna design works for digital as analog, but you may need a better antenna because your favorite stations are changing to UHF from VHF (like our ABC and CBS affiliates) or because digital requires a better quality of signal; snow now equals problems later.

Q: I use an outdoor antenna now. Do I need to change it?
A: Maybe, see above.

Q: What are the rules for the converter coupon program?
A: You must buy a converter on the NTIA approved list after getting a coupon. explains more and lists a phone number.

Q: Must I have a coupon to get a converter?
A: No. If you don't use a coupon, you can buy whatever converter you wish.

Q: How much does the coupon get me?
A $40 credit on the spot from participating dealers.

Q: Are all converters $40?
A: No, some have extra features and are as spendy as $300.

Q: Which converter boxes are NTIA-approved?
A: They're listed at - see the next item.

Q: What are the NTIA-approved converters available for sale nowadays? What makes and model numbers can be bought with coupons?
A: Here's a list. * = Manufacturer says it has Analog Pass-Through.

AccessHD: DTA1020D, DTA1020U, DTA1010D, DTA1010U, DTA1020AD *, DTA1030D *, DTA1050D *, DTA1080D *, DTA1080U *
Airlink101: ATVC102 *, ATVC101
Alpha Digital: AT2016
AMTC: AT2001
Apex: DT1001, DT250 *, DT502 *, DTA250A *
Artec: T3A, T3AP *, T3AP Pro *, T3APro
Cadence: DTVC-9
CASTi: CAX-03 *
Channel Master: CM-7000
Cleartech: CT DCB100A *
Coby: DTV-102 *
ComponexX: CX-900A *
Coship: N9900T, N9901T *, N9988T
Craig: CVD506 *, CVD508 *
Digital Steam: DSP6500C *, DSP7500T, DSP7700P *, DSP7700T *, DTX9900, DTX9900D, DTX9950 *, DX8700 *
Dish Network: DTVPal Plus *, DTVPal *, TR-40CRA *
GE: 22729, 22730, 23333 *, 23334 *
Goodmind: DTA1000, DTA1100 *
Gridlink: GLT-200
iNet Access: SSR 1921 *
Insignia: NS-DXA1, NS-DXA1-APT * (Note: A BestBuy house brand)
Kingbox: K8V1
Lasonic: LTA-260
Magnavox: TB-100MG9 *, TB100MW9, TB100MW9A *, TB110MW9 *, TB110MW9A *
MaxMedia: LuTRO *
Memorex: MVCB1000 *
MicroGEM: MG2000
Philco: TB100HH9 *, TB150HH9 *
RCA: DTA 800B, DTA800B1 *, DTA809 *, STB7766G1 *
Sansonic: FT300A
Spica: AT 2018 *
Sunkey: SK-801ATSC *
Tivax: STB-T8 *, STB-T9
Venturer: STB7766G
Winegard: RCDT09A *, RC-DT09
Zenith: DTT900, DTT901 *
Zentech: DF2000, EZTV DF2000L *
Zinwell: ZAT-857, ZAT-950A *, ZAT-970, ZAT-970A *

Q: What are important features?
A: You may find some of these important:
1) Analog Pass-Through, so you can easily switch to low-power channels which can still transmit analog after 2/17, and to switch to stations which won't go digital before 2/17 if you install before then.
2) An improved Electronic Program Guide (EPG), so you can search for programs you want and find the channel they're on now, as well as find program details.
3) Resistance to interference from VCR, DVD player, and other electronics.
4) Remote control to let you switch in and out of 'letterbox' mode.
5) Complete with a coaxial cable from converter to TV, a 'balun' adapter from flat antenna wire to the cable TV-stype "F" connector on the back of the converter, and a video+stereo cable to attach to a VCR or TV video and audio in sockets.
6) A longer warranty with local or very fast exchange if it fails. However, buying an 'extended' warranty is not recommended, for most electronic devices, if they're going to fail, fail soon after installation.

Q: What are the converters with the best reviews?
A: Here's what I found in a search for reviews I thought were worthwhile reading.

The DIGITAL STREAM DTX9900 remembers channels you scanned for before and was sharper than brand-name competitors.

The DISH NETWORK TR40-CRA is $40, hass Analog Pass-Through, and was liked for its advanced EPG (Electronic Program Guide).

The INSIGNIA NS-DXA1 was essentially the same than the DIGITAL STREAM DTX9900.

The MICROGEM MG2000 was small but sharp.

The MAGNAVOX TB100MW9;lst is a basic converter with good resistance to interference and is only $25.

The PHILCO TB100HH9 is a simple converter with pass-through.

The RCA DTA-800;lst has good reception, respectable video quality, and a basic EPG.

The RCA DTA-800B1 adds its own remote control for analog pass-through switching.

The TIVAX STB-T9 was praised for its clarity and an improved Electronic Program Guide which shows details abou each show, not just the bare listings.

Other reviews are found at

My next post on this topic is an explanation of how anyone mechanically handy with a few hand tools can make Do-It-Yourself antennas from recycled or inexpensive materials that rival the reception from spendy store-bought antennas.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Best Hospitals in Metro Portland - None of them in Clackamas Co.

A Wall Street Journal article on rating hospitals led me to which, as per the WSJ, is
... from the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund (and) compares care at 4,500* hospitals nationwide, using data from Medicare's Hospital Compare Web site and the federal government's Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey.

So, here's the ranking, using all rating measures, scoring two As, seven Bs, one C and one Incomplete.

Grade A
  • 93.6% Providence St Vincent <-- Ranked 373rd/2,052 hospitals nationwide scored in the top 10% *
  • 93.0% Providence Portland
Grade B
  • 89.3% Kaiser Sunnyside
  • 88.9% Adventist
  • 86.9% OHSU
  • 85.4% Legacy Good Samaritan
  • 83.7% Legacy Meridian Park
  • 82.5% Tuality Community
  • 81.8% Legacy Emanuel

Grade C
  • 77.7% Willamette Falls

Grade Incomplete
  • Providence Milwaukie - despite having 77 beds, they could not, or did not, report 30 or more outcomes, so their data is incomplete.

You may not care about some of the measures... if you're going under the knife for knee surgery, you may not care if the staff if friendly. I do, but you can roll your own stats by going to and selecting your own things to rate by.

Now, here's more data. Click below to see all the graphs for all the above hospitals, trimmed and then concatenated, far sharper than the thumbnailed graphic would indicate.

* Obviously, there's a LOT of non-reporting going on, since the total count of hospitals is nowhere near the actual number of hospitals in the country. Why? Reporting is still voluntary. Ask your state legislator why.)

What to do about Digital TV conversion?

Update: Reuters says a shortage of discount coupons is likely. Get yours now! Sorry, converter coupons are not available. Folks who ask now are waitlisted with no promise they'll get coupons, says the NY Times.


Thanks to The Consumerist blog for this diagram.

If your set is NOT digital-ready, then you will need to buy a converter IF and only if you don't have satellite or cable. Call 888-DTV-2009 or go to and provide your name and address to get $40-off coupons. Move fast, as coupons could run out.

Many Portland-area channels will change their channel numbers. Click on the chart below to see it enlarged and sharper.

Since the list above shows every VHF station in Metro Portland will also have a UHF channel, you can go UHF-only, and therefore a VHF antenna isn't needed.

Below, please find a model antenna made for less than $10 in materials. Specifics on antenna design will follow over the next few days.