– Ben Martens


The Grand Tour

the-grand-tour-33I don’t watch a lot of British television, but Top Gear is one of my favorite TV shows of all time. If you’ve never seen it before, pick out any of the reboot episodes (2002-2015) which corresponds to series 1 through 22. Some of my favorites are the Top Gear Polar Special, or Season 8 Episode 6 where they go camping in RV trailers. But basically anything that includes James May, Richard Hammond and Jeremy Clarkson is great.

Last year there was a big hubub and the BBC dropped them and replaced them with other hosts starting with series 23. I haven’t seen those new hosts and frankly I don’t really care to. The show was about the 3 people, not the cars or the channel it was on.

Amazon was smart enough to realize that and picked up those same three hosts for a “new” show on Amazon Prime called The Grand Tour. It promises to be everything we loved about Top Gear but without the constraints of the BBC execs. I have very high hopes for this and I won’t have to wait much longer because it comes out on Friday!


justifieddrawThis one is a quickie but if you’re in the market for a new TV show to fill your screen, give Justified a shot. Ken and Logan recommended it to me and I’m sucked in. It really kicks into high gear toward the end of the first season and in the second season. I don’t know how it ends but I’ll know before too much longer.

If you’re a fan of Cordkillers, note that they have started covering the show in their “Spoilerin’ Time” episodes.

My new method of watching TV shows is to wait until they’re over, find them on Amazone Prime Instant Video or Netflix and then binge watch them. It’s a lot nicer than recording them all on TV and waiting for them to be doled out one by one.

Parks And Recreation Review

luckyboycanoeI finished watching all seven seasons of Parks and Recreation. This show came out a few years after The Office and I skipped it because the promos made it look like a knock off of The Office. After watching the whole show, I suppose there are a lot of similarites in the styile and the content matter, but I have to say that Parks and Rec is superior. While there are loveable characters in both, the cast of Parks and Rec is stronger and the story line held up better. Chris Pratt and Nick Offerman were incredible throughout.

Trivia: The series finale features Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) paddling the “Lucky Boy” canoe across a lake. He actually built that canoe himself. In fact, all of the shots of him in his woodshop were actually his woodshop and he built many of the props for the show. The canoe was one of two big canoe projects. He kept one for himself and the Lucky Boy was recently delivered to his friend Jimmy Diresta. Jimmy is a woodworker as well and now has a successful YouTube channel that I enjoy and he’s also host of the Making It podcast which I recommend if you like to make stuff.

Parks and Rec gets two thumbs up from me. It’s easy to flip on, chuckle, and burn through a few episodes. It was available for free to Prime members but now you need a Hulu subscription to watch it (assuming you don’t want to pay ~$25/season to buy it.)

Hulu Plus Review

huluplusI was happily enjoying all the Parks and Recreation episodes (great show!) on Amazon Prime Instant Video when suddenly that stopped being available as part of Prime. I was about halfway through the fifth of seven seasons. What to do?

I didn’t really love it enough to pay ~$25/season to watch the rest of it, but it was available as part of Hulu Plus for only ~$10/month. I found a coupon for a two week trial instead of the normal one week and fired it up.

It was my first experience with Hulu Plus, and, while it was nice that it worked on all my devices (Amazon Fire TV, Xbox360, Xbox One, and Windows Phone), I wasn’t impressed. First of all, the ads are annoying. Yes, it’s less than normal TV, but I don’t watch ads in normal TV because I DVR it. Here I’m forced to sit through a small selection of commercials over and over again. They do have a new price tier that lets you get rid of commercials for a few extra bucks. That would definitely be worth it.

The commercials were annoying but I knew I could pay money to get rid of them when the trial was up so it wasn’t horrible. What really annoyed me was the failure to remember not only where I was in an episode when I stopped watching but even what episode I was watching. I switched from device to device regularly and it seemed like it worked properly only about half the time. The other half of the time I’d have to flip through all of the episodes, figure out which one I was on, and then fast forward through the episode until I got to the point where I stopped before.

In a world where we are talking about 4K high dynamic range content coming soon, Hulu still streams their content in stereo like it’s 1950. Where’s the 5.1 that every other streaming service offers?

And finally, when I watched from a desktop PC, the video would stutter every few seconds. This PC is a beast and it easily handles YouTube, Netflix or Amazon Instant Video. Why does Hulu have to stink?

Hulu was around before Netflix or Amazon Instant Video and what do they have to show for themselves? It’s the same story they’ve always had: it’s almost something awesome, but it’s still not there yet.

I cancelled my subscription before the trial ran out. Thanks for letting me watch Parks and Rec.


FireflySay the word “Firefly” around a sci-fi geek and they’ll get all giddy and sad at the same time. The show only ran for one season (14 episodes) back in 2002 but it has a huge following. The show isn’t super high budget, but it’s plenty to be entertaining. It unabashedly mashes the western genre together with sci-fi and the result is great. The premise is that humans have been expanding across the galaxy and the outer planets were settled with basically people and some livestock. The show follows some a crew on a ship that takes whatever transport jobs they can find whether or not they skirt the edge of the law.

It’s all available for free on Amazon Instant Video if you have a Prime subscription. I finally watched the show and loved it, but now, like other fans, I’m disappointed that it’s over and there are no more available!

Wall Mount

Lots of kids are injured every year from falling TVs. The number is increasing rapidly as people have moved from big heavy CRTs to light LCD TVs. The best number I could find was 12,000/year back in 2011. That’s not a huge number. There are plenty of riskier things to worry about first, but wall mounting the TV is something I’ve wanted to do anyway so this was a good excuse.

I picked up one of the more popular models from Monoprice for only $37. And I know some of you are content to leave your cables dangling down the walls, but that would drive me nuts in my own house. Running them through the wall is pretty simple with a kit like this for $40 from Amazon. It complies with code by splitting the box for the power and the low voltage cables.

Installation was pretty quick and simple: find two studs, drill the holes, and attach the mount to the wall. The laser level was a big help for this. That’s a paper bag you see taped to the wall to catch some of the dust.

wallmount1Next I used the included templates to trace out the holes for the power extension kit and cut holes in the drywall. Yes, I could have just added a new outlet here, but doing it this way means that I can connect this outlet to my battery backup and add some extra protection for the TV.wallmount2The final step was attaching the mounting brackets to the back of the TV, removing the old base, and then hanging it on the wall. The mount pulls out pretty far from the wall so that the TV can swivel 90 degrees in each direction (nice if we are watching from the kitchen), and it also tilts in the other two directions. My mount is really level, but the 5 degrees of tilt would help you correct most mistakes.wallmount3I’m very happy with how this all turned out. It was pretty cheap and only took about 2 hours to finish. If you’re comfortable wiring an outlet and operating a drill, this is something you can accomplish. Just make sure you’re in the center of those studs! I used a stud finder and then pounded a small nail in multiple times across the entire face of the stud to find both edges. It’s all covered by the mount anyway so the extra holes don’t matter (and they are easily patched if needed.)

I’m still debating if this is a little too high. There’s plenty of adjustment in the mount that screws to the back of the TV so I might lower it just a bit.