Archive for July, 2008

DIY Build your own HDTV Antenna

Posted on July 29, 2008. Filed under: Entertainment, Home & Garden, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , |

Please Note:  on July 6, 2009  I posted an updated version of this article which includes the 4 key things every good antenna must have on called The Post DTV Transition Explained Part 2:  How to Build Your Own DIY HDTV Antenna and Save Money

For additional background and information, read the blog posts:

The Post Digital TV Transition Explained Part 1: What’s in it For You? What You Need to Know Now covers why the Digital TV transition happened, how you can benefit, understanding the UHF/VHF channel reassignments, why you might be experiencing reception issues and which DTV option is best for you?

and also How to Recycle An Old Satellite Receiver Set Top Box instead of Buying a Digital Converter Box

Stay tuned and subscribe to the Part 3 of The Post Digital TV Transition Explained, is a work-in-progess that will provide details on how to build an easy, yet very unique,  compact VHF/UHF antenna (i.e.,  low SWR over a very wide band width, high gain, directivity and scalable).  The design is ‘out of the box’ thinking and is very different.

This is the original blog post from last July, 2008:

TV stations are now broadcasting both the analog (VHF) signals and the digital (UHF) signals. In February, 2009 analog will go away. Some of the stations will return to the old channel assignment which will be in the higher VHF range. will give you all the info for the stations, channels and signal ranges in your area. There are also some definitions and good explanations about antenna basics for beginners at HDTVPrimer

My very first post was about switching from cable television to free Digital TV and how I did it. In that post, I mention that I am currently using rabbit ears perched on top of my tv set. I also mention that my father, a true geek in the best sense of the word, has committed to building me a better antenna which I have yet to receive. I think he is contemplating design and packaging for shipping from Massachusetts to California, most likely with some assembly required on my part. He also works full-time as a sales executive in the IT industry, so his free time for his hobbies is limited.

Here is a photograph of one of the antennas my father made that he is currently using at home with a flat panel HDTV. He designed it for the UHF HDTV station spread in the Boston market (e.g. 500 to 650 MHz). He says it works like a champ and receives all the stations in the Boston area at signal levels of between 9 and 10. His house is at sea level, the antenna is indoors on the second floor, and the stations are 24 to 28 air miles away.

The antenna is 18″ long and has 7 elements, the longest being 15″ and it works as well (perhaps slightly better) than a db4 or the double quad he also made. My Dad made this antenna (elements and boom) from 1/2″ x 1/16″ aluminum stock that he bought at a Lowes home center for about $8. Construction is pretty straightforward. He used nylon screws and nuts to isolate and attach the 2 booms together. The elements were fastened to the boom with 4-40 screws and nuts. The piece that looks like a tail at the end of the antenna is called a coupler, which is an impedance transformer to convert from 300 ohms to 75 ohms.

The antenna shown above is based on a rather sophisticated LPDA (Log Periodic Dipole Array) antenna designed by the US government. The selection of design parameters to arrive at the antenna’s exact physical design specs needs to be customized to the task. It requires advanced mathematical calculations that my father used an online JAVA calculator to perform. Unless you’re an engineer or math whiz, it may not be for the novice antenna builder.

By making it longer with more elements, my Dad says it will beat the pants off of anything you can make or buy. It can also be scaled to cover from VHF through UHF. He feels it’s his best effort to date, although he is constantly looking for ways to improve it or “build a better mousetrap.” To that end, my father has been scouring his local area for a discarded or unused Dish TV satellite dish to design an antenna around. This includes checking out the free “swap shed” at his town dump.

If you’re interested in learning how to build your own HD TV antenna and other DIY techie projects, a great resource is the forum on the LumenLab website. There are much simpler yet very functional designs, posted about in the HDTV antenna thread. For example, the double or quad array bow tie antenna (also known as DB2 or DB4) which can retail for $50+. Many of these design implementations could easily be built by the average person and use common everyday items and tools you probably have lying around the house or garage, such as glue guns, wire coat hangers, cardboard, scrap wood, metal screws, washers, and aluminum foil. There is a good video on how to build an HDTV antenna out of wire coat hangers on YouTube worth watching.

Here is an example of a DB4 posted by Squeeto on the LumenLabs forum made from copper wire, synthetic building wood and cheap cooling racks.

You can find my father’s posts there under the member name Serndipity (spelled as such). Also look for posts by Pitman2, along with various designs, modifications, and lots of good advice.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 15 so far ) – free local classifieds and forums for jobs, housing, for sale, personals, services, local community, and events

Posted on July 21, 2008. Filed under: Entertainment, Home & Garden, Travel & Leisure, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

I didn’t make any entries in my blog over the weekend because I was busy with other things, socially as well as home improvement projects. One of the projects involved perusing in my area for free sod leftover from other landscaping projects. Craigslist provides free local classifieds and forums for jobs, housing, for sale, personals, services, local community, and events. It was founded in 1995 by Craig Newmark in the San Francisco Bay area, and given that and the population here, the SFBA Craigslist site is probably one of the largest. It’s been a fantastic resource for me.

I have found jobs and clients on Craig’s List, employees and interns, a seamstress to inexpensively recover some chair cushions ($20 and she even piped the edges), offered short term housing rentals, found garage sales, auctions, advice, and good stuff for cheap or free. Recently, my coffee grinder broke and I was able to get a good used replacement for $1. There is a fee for job posting if you’re an employer.

CraigsList has grown tremendously all over the world. As of September, 2007, Craigslist had established itself in approximately 450 cities in 50 countries. Recently, my sister in southern Maine very excitedly informed me that they finally have a CraigsList site for her area, previously the closest was metro Boston.

Back to the sod. I found two sources within 3 miles of my own home and was able to pick up about 100 square feet of free sod. Cut sod has a pretty short shelf life. My gardeners don’t come until Wednesday, and I am no green thumb, but I looked up “how to DIY” online. It was relatively easy. I worked up a little sweat breaking up the packed down soil to prepare it for the sod and a roll of sod can be rather heavy. I was able to install the 8 rolls on one side of my brick patio area in a little less than an hour, including giving it a good watering. One of the sources had leftover dwarf fescue, the other unknown, but they seem to match pretty well. It’s not as perfect as if I had gone through a professional landscaping service or a single supplier, but it looks so much better than before as you can see from the photos. To complete the job, I probably still need another 150 square feet for the other side of my brick patio. So I will continue to search Craigslist for FREE sod daily.

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Hypermiling and more gas saving tips

Posted on July 18, 2008. Filed under: Travel & Leisure | Tags: , , , , |

From an article that appeared in the Dallas Morning News last week:

Hypermilers are an emerging subculture born of the ability to track gas mileage via a dashboard gauge. Hypermilers use a variety of techniques to maximize fuel efficiency: airing the tires up to or beyond the recommended pressure, forgoing air conditioning, coasting whenever possible (sometimes with the engine off), timing their arrivals at intersections to hit green lights and traveling around 50 mph on the highway.

One hypermiler quoted in the article, has been squeezing 85 to 90 mpg out of his hybrid Insight, a car rated at 53 mpg.

More Gas Saving Tips from the article:

Digital mileage gauge: This device hooks into the vehicle’s computer and gives instant feedback on fuel consumption, allowing drivers to see what practices burn excess fuel. It costs about $150.

Tires: Filling tires to the recommended or maximum pressure can have a big impact on fuel economy. While there is less friction in a highly pressurized tire, it also can make the ride bumpier.

Speed: Varying speeds can be ideal for gas mileage, but driving more than 60 mph always decreases fuel economy substantially. Every 5 mph over 60 mph reduces fuel economy by the equivalent of 30 cents per gallon.

Weight: Keep the car as light as possible. Every 100 pounds off the vehicle can increase fuel economy by 1 percent to 2 percent.

Gas and brake pedals: Only use the pedals when absolutely necessary, which means keeping an eye on the road ahead and planning your drives accordingly. Don’t accelerate toward a stop sign. Coming to a complete stop nets 0 miles per gallon, so setting a pace in a traffic crunch and timing green lights can go a long way toward helping gas mileage.

Sources: and hypermiling expert Wayne Gerdes has a great summary of more gas saving tips:
1. Drive at a moderate speed
2. Drive smoothly
3. Reduce unnecessary drag
4. Don’t use premium fuel if you don’t have to
5. Minimize drivng with a cold engine
6. Keep tires properly inflated
7. Buy tires with lower rolling resistance
8. Avoid idling for long periods

as well as some gas saving myth busters explained (i.e., doing these does not really help you save money or gas):
1. Fill up in the morning
2. Air conditioning vs. open windows
3. Replacing your air filter

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Sign up for GoldStar Events – get discount and free tickets to games, theater, concerts, comedy clubs, and more

Posted on July 17, 2008. Filed under: Entertainment, Low Money Fun, No Money Fun, San Francisco Bay Area, Travel & Leisure, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , |

It’s free to sign up for Goldstar to get email updates and access to first-rate live entertainment tickets at half-price or better in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Washington DC, Boston, Chicago, San Diego, Orange County, San Jose and more!

How does the Goldstar service work?
When you sign up and become a member of Goldstar, you will tell Goldstar what kinds of live entertainment you like and the areas where you live, work and play, or are traveling to, and they’ll deliver dozens (or even hundreds) of half-price offers to comedy, music, theatre, sports, spas and more.

Goldstar will then tell you about event offers that match your preferences. Members get a weekly email summary of events with Goldstar’s special pricing, and if you also sign up for email alerts, you get late-breaking event offers tailored to you.

It doesn’t cost anything to join, and you can do it in just a few seconds. You’ll be getting out to great live entertainment and having a good time with friends and family right away.

To give you an even better idea of how you can save money and do fun things by joining Goldstar, here are some examples of discount events that were included in my most recent email alert for where I live in the San Francisco Bay area:
– Oakland A’s baseball game tickets Full Price: $30.00 Goldstar Price: $16.00
– Giants baseball game tickets Full Price: $26.00 – $27.00 Goldstar Price: $10.00
FREE admission to acts at local comedy clubs instead of full price $12.00 – $17.00
– a local talk by a professor at NASA about Black Holes for $7.50 not $15.00
half price tickets to various plays and concerts at multiple local and regional theater companies and venues.

If you like live entertainment but settle for a movie or DVD more often than you’d like, you might be interested in joining Goldstar Events. Join now for free today by clicking here and you’ll never say you’re bored and there is nothing to do again.

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Free “Into the Wild” Digital Audiobook download –

Posted on July 16, 2008. Filed under: Entertainment, Travel & Leisure, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | is offering a FREE download of the best selling Digital Audiobook Into the Wild which you can listen to on your Apple iPOD, MP3 player, PC, or burn to a CD.

Description of this 1996 non-fiction bestseller written by Jon Krakauer
and narrated by Philip Franklin:

In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter. How McCandless came to die is the unforgettable story of INTO THE WILD.

Into the Wild was recently made into a Major Motion Picture; Directed by Sean Penn, starring Vince Vaughn, Catherine Keener, William Hurt, and Marcia Gay Harden.

This audiobook edition is unabridged and 7 hours and 7 minutes long.

I don’t know how long Borders will offer this audiobook for free, so enjoy!

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Slow down – save cash on gas by driving the speed limit

Posted on July 15, 2008. Filed under: Personal Finance, Travel & Leisure, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

According to an article in the San Jose Mercury News yesterday:

Drive 60 instead of 75 and it’s like shaving prices at the pump by 30 to 35 cents a gallon.

If you drive 12,000 miles a year in a Taurus or Camry that gets 25 mpg, driving 60 instead of 70 results in an annual saving of $250; for pickups, $470; for SUVs, $750.

“I think telling people how much gas is saved at lower speeds would do more to slow people down than a new speed limit,” said traffic reporter Joe McConnell. “You have to somehow make it cool to slow down in the same way it’s cool now to be green.”

Read the full article from the Merc.

Maybe they can develop some Public Service Accouncements to help make it cool to slow down by licensing and changing the lyrics to Sammy Hagar’s biggest classic rock solo hit to “I CAN drive 55″ (or even 65). — BudgetMaven

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far ) – find the cheapest gas in your city

Posted on July 14, 2008. Filed under: Travel & Leisure, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

GasBuddy can help you find cheap gas prices in your city or destination. In the U.S. and Canada, just type in the City, State/Province or zip code and GasBuddy will give you a list of local gas stations, addresses and prices.

It is a network of more than 181+ gas price information websites that help you find low gasoline prices. This group of local websites offers an online method for website visitors to post and view recent retail gasoline prices. All web sites are operated by GasBuddy and has the most comprehensive listings of gas prices anywhere.

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Study finds women don’t save enough for retirement

Posted on July 12, 2008. Filed under: Business, Career & Work, Personal Finance, Retirement, Uncategorized | Tags: , |

Another reason to learn how to live well on a budget…

Study finds women don’t save enough for retirement
By Candice Choi
Associated Press
Article Launched: 07/09/2008 01:37:04 AM PDT

NEW YORK – Women may not earn as much as men or fly up the corporate ladder as quickly, but they get the last laugh since they live longer. Right?

As it turns out, women probably aren’t saving enough to bankroll those extra years in style. They invest more conservatively, start saving later and are more likely to be in and out of the work force, according to a study released today by Hewitt Associates, a human resources consulting firm.

Suddenly, retirement isn’t looking so rosy.

Women live an average of 22 years after retirement compared to 19 years for men, and medical costs are rising, so women will need to save 2 percent more than men every year over 30 years to maintain their standard of living upon retirement, the study found.

The importance of saving didn’t dawn on Jerre Laughlin until she was in her 40s and started working in human resources.

“I was looking at pensions all day and was seeing what happens to employees who don’t save. That’s when reality set in,” said Laughlin, now 63 and a resident of Kansas City, Kan. She’s been playing catch-up since and doesn’t plan to retire until she’s 67.

Laughlin isn’t the only one who’s learning her lesson the hard way. The Hewitt study found women today still do worse by every measure: they start saving later (by two to four years), invest less (7.3 percent vs. 8.1 percent) and are in and out of the workforce more often for family reasons – gaps that can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in missed earnings, raises and benefits. The study looked at the projected retirement levels of nearly 2 million current workers of varying ages at 72 large U.S. companies and used actual employee balances.

“Women tend to be a little more risk averse, more fearful of losing money,” said Alison Borland, an author of the study.

Women’s saving habits haven’t improved significantly over the past several years, either, Borland said.

The study also found a quarter of women didn’t contribute at a high enough level to take advantage of the company match, which is typically 50 cents for every dollar up to 6 percent of pay. On average, women earned $57,000 compared to $84,000 for men.

Yet women will have longer retirements than men by an average of three years. Socking away more now can improve the quality of those extra years.

If a woman who earns $57,000 a year boosts her contribution from 2 percent to 4 percent – an extra $95 a month – she can save an extra $81,000 by the time she retires, according to the study. That doesn’t include her employer’s matching contribution.

Delaying retirement can have a big impact too; every additional year is more time earning and less time sapping savings.

One of the biggest missteps people make is cashing out plans when switching jobs; that wipes out 30 percent or more of the account’s value in taxes and penalties.

Not surprisingly, the study states 90 percent of women were unsure about managing their finances. It also found that more companies are offering investment guidance, however.

Overall, four out of five men and women aren’t saving enough to keep up the same lifestyle after they stop working. Because of inflation and rising medical costs, Hewitt estimates workers will need to replace 126 percent of their salary after retirement to maintain their lifestyle. Both men and women are on track to replace an average of just 67 percent of that amount.

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San Jose Jazz Festival in August – Volunteer and get in FREE

Posted on July 11, 2008. Filed under: Entertainment, Travel & Leisure, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , |

How would you like to hear David Sanborn, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, The Manhattan Transfer or any number of amazing musicians perform live in concert for FREE? Volunteering is a great way to have fun, attend an event you are interested in and get free admission. Some events have formal volunteer programs, some you just need to call and ask. Here is one amazing and very well organized volunteer opportunity coming up in San Jose worth checking out.

19th Comcast San Jose Jazz Festival, presented by Southwest Airlines
8-10 August 2008 Downtown San Jose

“One of the top jazz festival’s in the nation…”-San Jose Mercury News

“Jazz Fest blows away other events…”-Silicon Valley Business Journal

“World class-event”–Oakland Tribune

The Comcast San Jose Jazz Festival represents a unique opportunity to volunteer. Over 88,000 music lovers will converge on the heart of Silicon Valley to enjoy over 1000 musicians on 10 stages performing three days of jazz, blues, salsa, Latin and many other forms of contemporary music.

All volunteers receive a San Jose Jazz T-shirt, drink tickets good for a soda or water, and a wristband that allows free access to the festival on the day of work. There are many great opportunities to volunteer at the festival: at the stages, admission booths, volunteer booths, transportation, membership, recycling program, and others. The shifts are 4 hours, so there is still plenty of time to enjoy the surround sound.

For more information and to download the volunteer application click here

Or contact Theresa Kiernan, Volunteer Coordinator, 408-288-7557 ext. 2322,
fax: 408-288-7598

Visitors who need accomodations for the Jazz Festival can enjoy hotel discounts.

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Frugal Foodies: a cool idea started in the Bay area that could spread

Posted on July 10, 2008. Filed under: Cooking and Eating, Entertainment, San Francisco Bay Area, Travel & Leisure | Tags: , , , , |

I am not a vegetarian and I probably never will be. However, I do have my vegetarian “days” at least a few times a week. Frugal Foodies is a great way to try new cuisines, learn new recipes, meet new and interesting people, and have a four course vegetarian, mostly organic meal for only $8.00! Sort of like a healthy, cheap, epicurean group blind date!

How Frugal Foodies Works:
Each and every week, on several nights and in several locations, about 10-20 people will get together to cook a mostly organic and entirely vegetarian meal, eat, clean-up, and connect with one another. This is not an exclusive club so there will never be the same group of people on any given Tuesday or Wednesday, and that’s a good thing.

Each week, the Frugal Foodies host will buy fresh ingredients for the meal that will be ready for your arrival. The meal that we prepare will always feature four or more dishes but what those dishes are will depend on the particular event’s theme. This is not about gourmet so much as it is learning about good new meals and cooking as a group.

I will be signing up for one of the weekly Wednesday night events in San Jose this month. It’s just going to be hard to decide which one… Thai food, Soul food, breakfast for dinner, red wine tour night, or magical mystery night?

When I asked Frugal Foodies founder Moses Ceaser, about his plans for events beyond the two San Jose and Berkeley locations, he said,
“We’re hoping to grow Frugal Foodies all over, but aren’t quite set up for total global expansion yet. But it’s exciting to now have two locations, and folks are having a good time with it, so I expect lots of further growth.”

Occasionally, Frugal Foodies will also give back with a benefit night for a local non-profit, such as the Greatest Hits themed dinner coming up in Berkeley on Tuesday, July 29th.

I first heard about Frugal Foodies in this recent San Jose Mercury News article:

A la carte: Roommates invite strangers into their home to cook dinner
By Aleta Watson
Mercury News
Article Launched: 06/25/2008 01:31:33 AM PDT

Every Tuesday night for three years, Moses Ceaser has invited a dozen strangers to help cook an inexpensive vegetarian meal in his Berkeley home. He calls the ever-changing group Frugal Foodies.

This month, the concept expanded to downtown San Jose, where a group of housemates has designated Wednesday as Frugal Foodie night. The first event was a pineapple-themed dinner last week that started with a rice casserole and ended with a cake.

“I know no one who arrived at our house to cook,” says Daniel Rodriguez, who shares the bungalow and its big organic garden with Jaclyn Carillo and Melissa Ramirez. “It was great.”

The organizers pick theme, select the recipes and buy the ingredients. The guests divide into teams and share the cooking. The cost is $8.

This week the theme is breakfast foods – fritattas, crepes, French toast, coffee and smoothies. Future themes are still in the works.

Information about the cooking group and how to preregister for dinners can be found at

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