Extreme Home Engineering: How To Build Your Own TiVo

This week: How to build your own TiVo (or, How to never miss an important football game ever again.)

Building your own TiVo—or FreeVo, as some call it—is more than a dream. It's more than a trend. It's the new cool way to stick it to The (TiVo) Man while impressing your friends.

Make and Wired have published detailed how-tos. There are also several online communities like The Green Button that will help guide you through the tricky parts.

TiVo-article1.jpegFor the technology dunces of the world—myself included—I had several friends break down the jargon into simple steps we can all understand.

Your mission: To build your own digital video recorder from mail-order parts.

The payoff: An integrated entertainment system that records TV programs with no monthly fees. You can also build in various wrinkles so that it will record high-def programs and edit out commercials automatically.

Keep reading for your marching orders...


1. A credit card with about $500 working capital on it.

2. A computer with a media operating system. Various versions of Microsoft Media Center, Vista Home Premium, Linux Freevo, etc. will work, too. It's the operating system that's important, not the computer itself; you can even use that old one sitting in your garage. Or you can use your current home computer. But if you go that route, be sure to back up all your music and videos when you install the new media system. You don't want to lose that precious footage of Junior taking his first steps in your quest to record MTV's Spring Break. Depending on how much you plan to record, you may need more hard drive space.

3. Video card: $70 "“ Available in quiet or cheap versions.

4. A dual tuner: $90 "“ This tuner handles both standard- and high-def signals.

5. MCE remote: $30 "“ It seems like an impossible dream, but you're finally going to have ONE remote.

6. Various cables, cords, and adapters as needed. Some people also like to buy a casing to contain hold all these parts and make it somewhat attractive.

7. More relationship savvy than Dr. Phil, since your spouse/life-partner/roommate is going to wonder what the F you're doing to the TV. The best way to play it is to convince said spouse/life-partner/roommate that you're going to all this effort for them. That's what my buddy C.J. did, as he explained:

"You have to consider WAF (wife acceptance factor -- or HAF if it's the wife doing the installation). Always think about ways to make it easier for them. The right remote will make or break your system due to your spouse yelling at you about how to do certain things even if you told them three times in two days. All aspects contribute to WAF: feasibility, silence, beauty and function. Last week I just added a small program that actually skips past commercials of your recorded shows automatically. My wife was shocked when she saw what it did. It's astounding how well it works, no more fast-forwarding and rewinding to get to the right spot. She keeps saying, "˜I just keep feeling the urge to grab the remote and fast forward but it's doing it for me' with a giant smile on her face. That was the best feeling ever."


TiVo-article2.jpeg1. Install the parts (video card, hard drive, tuners) in the computer case. This just means plugging and/or attaching them to the brackets inside the case. Some people will buy a new case to hold all these parts and make a more attractive package to sit under the TV. If you're using a laptop to build your system, you'll definitely want a new case because there isn't room inside for all the stuff you're adding.

2. Install the media operating system on your computer. Once you insert the software CD into the drive, a self-install application will guide you through the steps.

3. Set up the tuners and install the drivers. The tuners are one of the items you just plugged into the case, and the drivers are the software that will run them. Again, a CD will arrive with the tuners, and you just follow its prompts. Once the drivers are installed, the tuners will pop up on screen, a la "Windows has detected new hardware."

4. Configure your media settings (timers, programs you want to record, etc.) At this point, you still have the keyboard attached to the computer, which makes setting up your preferences much easier. The first time you open up your media operating system is kinda like when you open up Microsoft Word for the first time on a computer: it asks you all kinds of questions about how you plan to use it.

5. Program your remote. No different from programming a new remote under any other circumstances. If you're using Microsoft Media Center, it can set up your remote for you.

6. Connect your computer to the TV. A matter of connecting the cables.

7. Sit back and enjoy. You've just conquered the Everest of home entertainment, my friend.


Chris Weber is an occasional contributor to His last article was on indigenous alcoholic treats.

Yes, You Can Put Your Christmas Decorations Up Now—and Should, According to Psychologists

We all know at least one of those people who's already placing an angel on top of his or her Christmas tree while everyone else on the block still has paper ghosts stuck to their windows and a rotting pumpkin on the stoop. Maybe it’s your neighbor; maybe it’s you. Jolliness aside, these early decorators tend to get a bad rap. For some people, the holidays provide more stress than splendor, so the sight of that first plastic reindeer on a neighbor's roof isn't exactly a welcome one.

But according to two psychoanalysts, these eager decorators aren’t eccentric—they’re simply happier. Psychoanalyst Steve McKeown told UNILAD:

“Although there could be a number of symptomatic reasons why someone would want to obsessively put up decorations early, most commonly for nostalgic reasons either to relive the magic or to compensate for past neglect.

In a world full of stress and anxiety people like to associate to things that make them happy and Christmas decorations evoke those strong feelings of the childhood.

Decorations are simply an anchor or pathway to those old childhood magical emotions of excitement. So putting up those Christmas decorations early extend the excitement!”

Amy Morin, another psychoanalyst, linked Christmas decorations with the pleasures of childhood, telling the site: “The holiday season stirs up a sense of nostalgia. Nostalgia helps link people to their personal past and it helps people understand their identity. For many, putting up Christmas decorations early is a way for them to reconnect with their childhoods.”

She also explained that these nostalgic memories can help remind people of spending the holidays with loved ones who have since passed away. As Morin remarked, “Decorating early may help them feel more connected with that individual.”

And that neighbor of yours who has already been decorated since Halloween? Well, according to a study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, homes that have been warmly decorated for the holidays make the residents appear more “friendly and cohesive” compared to non-decorated homes when observed by strangers. Basically, a little wreath can go a long way.

So if you want to hang those stockings before you’ve digested your Thanksgiving dinner, go ahead. You might just find yourself happier for it.

11 Black Friday Purchases That Aren't Always The Best Deal

Black Friday can bring out some of the best deals of the year (along with the worst in-store behavior), but that doesn't mean every advertised price is worth splurging on. While many shoppers are eager to save a few dollars and kickstart the holiday shopping season, some purchases are better left waiting for at least a few weeks (or longer).


Display of outdoor furniture.
Photo by Isaac Benhesed on Unsplash

Black Friday is often the best time to scope out deals on large purchases—except for furniture. That's because newer furniture models and styles often appear in showrooms in February. According to Kurt Knutsson, a consumer technology expert, the best furniture deals can be found in January, and later on in July and August. If you're aiming for outdoor patio sets, expect to find knockout prices when outdoor furniture is discounted and put on clearance closer to Labor Day.


A display of tools.

Unless you're shopping for a specific tool as a Christmas gift, it's often better to wait until warmer weather rolls around to catch great deals. While some big-name brands offer Black Friday discounts, the best tool deals roll around in late spring and early summer, just in time for Memorial Day and Father's Day.


A stack of bed linens.

Sheet and bedding sets are often used as doorbuster items for Black Friday sales, but that doesn't mean you should splurge now. Instead, wait for annual linen sales—called white sales—to pop up after New Year's. Back in January of 1878, department store operator John Wanamaker held the first white sale as a way to push bedding inventory out of his stores. Since then, retailers have offered these top-of-the-year sales and January remains the best time to buy sheets, comforters, and other cozy bed linens.


Rows of holiday gnomes.

If you are planning to snag a new Christmas tree, lights, or other festive décor, it's likely worth making due with what you have and snapping up new items after December 25. After the holidays, retailers are looking to quickly move out holiday items to make way for spring inventory, so ornaments, trees, yard inflatables, and other items often drastically drop in price, offering better deals than before the holidays. If you truly can't wait, the better option is shopping as close to Christmas as possible, when stores try to reduce their Christmas stock before resorting to clearance prices.


Child choosing a toy car.

Unless you're shopping for a very specific gift that's likely to sell out before the holidays, Black Friday toy deals often aren't the best time to fill your cart at toy stores. Stores often begin dropping toy prices two weeks before Christmas, meaning there's nothing wrong with saving all your shopping (and gift wrapping) until the last minute.


Rows of rings.

Holiday jewelry commercials can be pretty persuasive when it comes to giving diamonds and gold as gifts. But, savvy shoppers can often get the best deals on baubles come spring and summer—prices tend to be at their highest between Christmas and Valentine's Day thanks to engagements and holiday gift-giving. But come March, prices begin to drop through the end of summer as jewelers see fewer purchases, making it worth passing up Black Friday deals.


Searching for flights online.

While it's worth looking at plane ticket deals on Black Friday, it's not always the best idea to whip out your credit card. Despite some sales, the best time to purchase a flight is still between three weeks and three and a half months out. Some hotel sites will offer big deals after Thanksgiving and on Cyber Monday, but it doesn't mean you should spring for next year's vacation just yet. The best travel and accommodation deals often pop up in January and February when travel numbers are down.


Gift basket against a blue background.

Fancy fruit, meat and cheese, and snack baskets are easy gifts for friends and family (or yourself, let's be honest), but they shouldn't be snagged on Black Friday. And because baskets are jam-packed full of perishables, you likely won't want to buy them a month away from the big day anyway. But traditionally, you'll spend less cheddar if you wait to make those purchases in December.


Rack of women's winter clothing.
Photo by Hannah Morgan on Unsplash.

Buying clothing out of season is usually a big money saver, and winter clothes are no exception. Although some brands push big discounts online and in-store, the best savings on coats, gloves, and other winter accessories can still be found right before Black Friday—pre-Thanksgiving apparel markdowns can hit nearly 30 percent off—and after the holidays.


Group of hands holding smartphones.

While blowout tech sales are often reserved for Cyber Monday, retailers will try to pull you in-store with big electronics discounts on Black Friday. But, not all of them are really the best deals. The price for new iPhones, for example, may not budge much (if at all) the day after Thanksgiving. If you're in the market for a new phone, the best option might be waiting at least a few more weeks as prices on older models drop. Or, you can wait for bundle deals that crop up during December, where you pay standard retail price but receive free accessories or gift cards along with your new phone.


Row of hanging kitchen knives and utensils.

Black Friday is a great shopping day for cooking enthusiasts—at least for those who are picky about their kitchen appliances. Name-brand tools and appliances often see good sales, since stores drop prices upwards of 40 to 50 percent to move through more inventory. But that doesn't mean all slow cookers, coffee makers, and utensil prices are the best deals. Many stores advertise no-name kitchen items that are often cheaply made and cheaply priced. Purchasing these lower-grade items can be a waste of money, even on Black Friday, since chances are you may be stuck looking for a replacement next year. And while shoppers love to find deals, the whole point of America's unofficial shopping holiday is to save money on products you truly want (and love).


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