We renewed our contract with Verizon and upgraded to the FiOS Gigabit plan

We’ve been out of contract with Verizon for their FiOS service for maybe two years now. Every time I went online to check their plans, any renewal would require me to increase my monthly spend for TV-internet-phone service another $30 a month. For the same service I have now! Are you crazy? Why should I do that?

We were content to run with this until recently, when Verizon threatened to take away our HBO and Showtime. Surprisingly for my lovely low-maintenance wife, this was a bridge to far for her, and told me to renew our contract. I renewed it online, and agreed to pay the extra amount. However, we looked at the budget and decided to bump up the broadband speeds from 75/75 Mbps to 150/150 Mbps for the nominal increase. This would require a truck roll — a Verizon tech had to come out to replace our BPON Optical Network Terminal (ONT) on the outside of our house, with a GPON ONT, which would be able to handle the increased speeds.

Due to a rescheduled meeting, I had to try to move around a bunch of doctor’s appointments, and the Verizon truck roll and install planned for Tues afternoon. I called up to reschedule, and the representative worked with to not only reschedule the install for Sunday morning, but:

  • Kept the same phone and TV plan
  • Upgraded to the Gigabit Internet broadband tier (up to 940 Mbps up and down)
  • Free Samsung Chrombook
  • Savings in monthly fees in what I recently signed up for — net increase of about $9 from what we were paying out of contract.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a good deal. We would also be required to get one of their Quantum routers, so we’re renting that for now. What I was worried about was whether the Verizon tech would do the required steps for us to achieve that level of speed. For most speeds, your existing coaxial cable can support enough throughput for both the TV signal and broadband internet. At a certain level, you max out on being able to do that. Verizon could install the new terminal and router, but you have a bottleneck as soon as you hit the coaxial cable. Would Verizon wire the outside, then leave it to the customer to figure out how to resolve the run Cat6 Ethernet cable in the house for me?

Happy to say, I spoke to the tech when he arrived Sunday morning, and yes, he would be running Cat6 cable for me through my basement ceiling. Awesome, but in hindsight, I should have asked him to help me run additional cable while he was at it. I tried hinting, but he wasn’t going for it. Overall, the tech (Greg) was very knowledgeable and professional. Within two hours, the job was done.

Unfortunately, the backend at Verizon wasn’t updated yet, so we didn’t see upgraded speeds until late Monday afternoon. So far, it’s been useful for uploading videos. I’m still exploring the benefits of gigabit-level speeds. I checked this 2017 article from Digital Trend on”5 things to do before upgrading to Gigabit internet” and I’ve completed most of them recently, including hard-wiring four rooms for gigabit ethernet. Still need to redo the connections for some of the wires, and need to fish network cable through the basement ceiling for devices down there.
We’re almost there. Next year, I’d like to see us invest in a 4K TV, and these speeds would be very helpful when streaming 4K media.

In any case, check out the speeds below. Really interesting!

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Landscape lighting refresh project – Phase 2

Phase 2 is halfway done. The kids and I went out in the hear this afternoon to add a new line of landscape lights to the side of the house. We added two wall wash lights and a spotlight on a small tree. We finally have some proper lighting on that side of the house. Woohoo.

Phase 3 is patio lights and the other side of the house. Where it’s dark and there are wolves.

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Landscape lighting refresh project – Phase 1

For four years, I have been vexed by landscape lighting. The original owner had this mix of older style lights dotting the front and back yard. Some worked, a bunch didn’t, and there no lights where I wanted them. I also couldn’t understand the arcane timers on the power packs governing when they all turned on and off. The backyard patio lights that didn’t function at all bothered me the most, but the whole setup was annoying. 

I’ve called a number of companies for quotes, but they have all told me labor and parts would be in the ballpark of $6,000. I mean, really? I’ve tried to enlist friends to help me, but they’re all too busy for manual labor of that magnitude at my house. 

Screw it. Let’s just do it. They sell this stuff at the improvement stores. Anybody should be able to learn it and do it. I draft my son Joshua to help me figure it out, go to the store with me to select and purchase the parts, and to help me install.

Phase 1 – pathway lights. 

We went to Lowe’s on Saturday evening to select & buy new modern pathway lights (Josh’s style selection), wall wash lights, 14 AWG gauge low voltage landscape wiring, some flood lights for trees. We opted for Lowe’s Portofino line. I wanted to get a headstart Saturday, but it got late by the time we got home and it was so bloomin’ hot outside. We had spent all day in the heat and sun washing cars for a charity event at church, so I said we would try to get the front yard done on Sunday. Total cost of parts so far = $750.

It took me over two hours to get everything outside, start planning the layout, measure, confirm we had the right wiring gauge, to find and rip out all of the old equipment and buried wiring. I didn’t budget the extra time it would take to prune bushes in order to get to everything, to remove all the old wiring buried under soil and roots. I even found an old unused ring of landscaping wiring around some small trees that connected one single spotlight. I considered keeping it, but they were all the wrong gauge, and who knows what wasn’t damaged somewhere? I wanted a fresh start by unskilled labor. 😉

By 1PM, I removed mostly everything legacy, but it was hot as Hell. I took a lunch break to cool off. The kids came home from church, and I enlisted them to help out with burying wiring, assembling lighting fixtures, placing them, testing, and cleaning up after. I had to make two pit stops in the early evening to TWO different area Lowe’s stores to buy 5 more pathway lights so we could space them all between 6-8 feet apart.

I also installed one out of two new Kichler power packs. We had working power packs, but this had a higher 200w capacity, and had a digital clock. Oooh aaaah.

Around 8PM, we finished phase 1. Success! We left them on manual for now until I have time to figure out proper times, or to install the optional photo light sensor. We ran out of time to install the 2nd power pack, or to run the 2nd line (under and around the pathway for wall wash lights), or the 3rd line (around the side of the house for lights to shine on small trees or the side wall.) 

My objective is to complete phase 2 and 3 by Wednesday July 4th. We have some extended family guests coming over for lunch/dinner. It’s not required, but it’s better to set deadlines. Otherwise this may take another four years. 

Phases 4 will be to install new working backyard patio lighting. It’s pretty dark out there, so I’d like to finish these soon after. I don’t know if I’ll be able run low voltage lighting around the entire patio area, or if solar lighting is better and cheaper. I’ve used them in the past but they’re always getting damaged (wires cut or run over) by landscape crews. I’d also like to hang up string lights. I might go with landscape lights, string lights, or both.

Phase 5 will be to replace the existing backyard lighting that does work, but it’s not a good layout. Lower priority. 

I’m hoping we get an early dismissal from work Tuesday afternoon, and have Wednesday morning available to work on these other areas this week.

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Josh and I helped out at the church car wash to support this year’s youth mission trip

As part of the St. Barnabas Episcopal Church youth group, for the first time, Joshua is going on this year’s youth mission trip in mid-July. They will be traveling to Harrisburg, PA, with other youth to clean, build, etc. To support each mission trip, there are a few fundraising events each year. We helped out on the car wash at the church parking lot, and even brought along Josh’s friend Noah from his Boy Scout Troop to help.

We got there at 9 AM to help set up and learn how to work at the various stations. We had a steady stream of cars come in throughout the day, and we had a break for pizza midday. A number of companies in the area donated gift cards and food to help support the event. Overall, we raised over $700 for the trip. Pretty big success.

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Family over for Friday night dinner at our house

My sister and her family came over for dinner Friday night. We were in a mad rush before they showed up trying to get ready – installing new tiki torches, getting the grill ready, prepping dinner, etc. Even had to go to Home Depot 3x to get a propane tank. What a day, what a week.

It all worked out in the end. We grilled up chicken & brats, and roasted brussel sprouts & potatoes. We played a little badminton, played a lot of freeze tag, and everyone tried to keep cool.

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Watch out, his wit and hands are dangerous weapons – our son Joshua earned his 1st degree black belt in Taekwondo

We have some big news. Our 13 year old son Joshua earned his 1st degree black belt in Taekwondo on Sunday! The kids have been attending CMB Karate for a few years now, and they have have been progressing through the ranks. There was white, yellow, blue, purple, and brown, including some degrees within some of the ranks. I forget when they started – I’ll have to ask my wife.
In any case, Josh has been practicing for, I think, about months now. The testing took place over two days. On Saturday afternoon, Josh went in to demonstrate some of his forms. On Sunday morning, he and many other students demonstrated the rest of their self-defense forms, weapons forms, sparring techniques, and gave their memorized speech on what being a black belt (and karate in general) meant to them.

Big day for sure. We finished up after noon, then we went to a local Chinese restaurant for lunch. In the evening, I went biking, then we grilled up mini steaks for dinner.

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We had a busy Saturday – black belt testing (day 1), a birthday party, the gym, and a high school graduation party

Ooof, Saturday was busy. 

  1. In the morning, the kids had karate classes. 
  2. I also had to catch up on paying bills.
  3. Took the kids to get a quick slice of pizza before Josh began part 1 of testing for his 1st level black belt.
  4. With the large number of kids testing this month, the head of the karate school had students come in on Saturday afternoon for the 1st half of testing, then Sunday morning for the 2nd half (and hopefully passing.) Josh did well during part 1.
  5. We ran to get a birthday gift and card, for a party at 3 pm.
  6. I went to the gym for a pretty good 45 minute run on the treadmill. 
  7. The kids walked down the street for a birthday party. 
  8. I came back, picked up the kids, then we got cleaned up and drove up to Rockland county in NYS for my cousin’s daughter high school graduation party. I can’t believe Marissa was so young and somehow 18 years flew by.

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    Annual beach day after the end of the school year

    We took Friday off for the annual beach day at Point Pleasant. As I’ve been told, this is the 6th trip now in a row. Hang out at Point Pleasant on the first Friday after the school year ends. Last year was my first first time. Like last year, it was overcast, but cooler and windy with impending showers. If it rained, we planned to hang out somewhere indoors like the aquarium or the arcade.

    I had a few meetings Friday morning (starting at 6:30 am) and Nums also had work to finish up. We got on the road after 10 am, but we made good time down there. Unfortunately it was still cool, cloudy, and windy. One other family made it it out sometime later.

    Lily was the only one of us brave enough to jump into the water. For the most part, we hung out at the beach drinking and watching the kids. Oh, and also watching these three young women (exact age undetermined) spend a good 60 mins each posing for the camera holding a drink and trying to look carefree, fun, and glamorous. I mean, a lot of posing, primping, adjusting, angling, etc. Who knew sitting at the beach could be so much work?

    We had lunch on Jenkinson’s Boardwalk, went back out for another three hours, but then finally said it was time to go home. After we got home, we showered, watched some old Star Trek episodes, and went out to dinner for Korean cuisine at Soonja’s Cafe in Princeton. Fantastic food. Really hit the spot.

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    I’m liking my new Polar A370 – it’s useful and helping me to reach my goals

    My wife was kind and thoughtful enough to give me an activity tracker for Father’s Day. Truth be told, I’ve been looking into the benefits of finally purchasing one. It’s taken a long time for me to come around, but I’m enjoying the benefits after only a few days.

    In the past two months, I’ve been feeling frustrated with myself healthwise. Here I have been biking on the weekends and running at the gym, and my weight has been consistent. No pounds melting off. Still big-boned. I didn’t want to go back to tracking all of my caloric intake and exercise, because it’s a bit of a pain day in and day out, but I don’t have a choice anymore. I’m eating more than I think, and it’s undoing all of the miles I’m running and riding.

    I also believe I need to eat healthier. My doctor has been gently encouraging me annually to work on eating healthier. In the past when I tracked calories, I worried only about the quantity of calories, and not the quality of the food. I didn’t try to eat nuts, vegetables, or fruits. I didn’t care too much about the nutritional value of what I was eating. Cholesterol levels or the kinds of fats I was eating weren’t things I worried about.

    Blame on the ignorance of the young.

    I’m not going vegan or going extreme. I want to be healthier following a more holistic process. More activity of varied types this year. More time dedicated to working out. Better quality food. More variety of foods – not just red meat.

    For tracking my activity, I’ve been considering an activity tracker. I’ve been asking around for what people are using. What they like and what they don’t like. I preferred something that worked with my existing Polar H10 so I could see all my data in one place. I like accuracy. I wanted mult-use. I wanted a screen that gave me good information.

    For Father’s Day, my wife gave me the Polar A370 tracker. It doesn’t just track my step count or tracks my heart rate. It integrates and pairs with my Polar H10 so whether I’m running, biking, or doing other stuff, I’ve got all of my activities recorded with some confidence in the accuracy of the metrics. The data gets consolidated in the Polar Flow app. Any exercise I record also gets pulled into the My Fitness Pal app where I am tracking my food intake.

    It’s taking some adjustment to wearing a watch of sorts on my wrist again after all these years. I like leaving my phone in the gym locker now, pairing my heart rate monitor (on a chest strap) to the A370 and still tracking my exercise routine. That’s pretty cool. I wish it had built-in GPS, as the connected GPS where you use your phone is a little spotty. Also, I can’t simultaneously connect to my phone for GPS and connect to my Polar H10 strap. It’s one or the other when I’m biking.

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    Happy Father’s Day!

    Happy Father’s Day! It was a busy weekend to be sure. I was home Friday (sick/working) but after I wrapped up my last call around 5:15 PM, I went out for a solo bike ride. I was tired after a long week, but somehow rode 26 miles around the area. Unexpected but happy to accomplish that.

    We spent Saturday cleaning out the garage and bringing out all our backyard patio furniture. We also purchased and set up a proper badminton / volleyball net.

    I was up super early on Sunday morning for a 20 mile group bike ride with some guys in the neighborhood at 7 AM. I’ve ridden 46 miles in the past 48 hours. Good for me.

    I got home around 9, then cleaned myself up. Before church, the kids made me a thoughtful card, and Nums gave me a Polar A370 activity tracker. I’ve been considering using an activity tracker for a while, but I was still working out the use cases.

    (Btw, I’m wearing Lily’s fedora that she wore at Kaiya’s Bat Mitzvah last month.)

    We went to church in the morning for the service and a “Dads and Grads” lunch. We went to Bonefish Grill in Lawrenceville for a Father’s Day family lunch. Nice lunch. Sitting across from my wife, I noticed that she is rather beautiful. 

    In the afternoon, we did some shopping at Trader Joe’s and Lowe’s. We played badminton with our new set, and I potentially fixed some loose stone stairs in our patio (fingers crossed!) Later in the early evening, the kids went biking with their friends, and the two of us went for a walk around the neighborhood. 

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