Apple design

This is an Apple Magic Mouse being recharged.  Apple is frequently hailed as a model of design.  This is a poorly designed mouse. 

Image

Backup hardware and software recommendations for family computers

Lots of people ask about backup and disaster recovery for family computers. I use an external USB/eSATA case and Acronis True Image software to image all my friends and family computers. Reference links below for the hardware and software.

The biggest value to me has been flexibility in upgrading drives, decommissioning a system, and migrating to another system. Also, if (and this has NEVER happened) my system were to be compromised, it’s not worth my time and I don’t trust recovery of a compromised system. I will just restore my most recent image and recover my data from the cloud. Also, for people with kids in college, there is one less thing to worry about when they are away at school.

My recommendations:
” Rosewill external USB/eSATA enclosure
” 2TB or larger, fast SATA drive
” Acronis True Image Software

NOTE – Acronis updates its software every year. I have leveraged inexpensive multi-pack upgrades they offer to keep current and install the software on the many family computers…

I like the Rosewill enclosure because it can handle any SATA drive (small SSD to full size SATA) and the cooling fan can be switched on/off as required. I used this enclosure to expand the capacity of my DVR in the past as well as an external and backup drive for my laptops, desktops, and lab equipment.

For backups, I have been using the cheapest 2TB drives I can get and I keep the drives for ~5 years (after that I don’t trust them). Next replacement cycle I might go to 4TB drives.

There are lots of other options, so I included recommendations from The Wirecutter below for portable and external hard drives for reference.

Acronis True Image
https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dsoftware&field-keywords=acronis

3.5 Inch Hard Drive Enclosure to USB 3.0 / eSATA
https://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817182247

The Best External Desktop Hard Drive – Jan 2018
https://thewirecutter.com/reviews/the-best-external-desktop-hard-drive/

The Best Portable Hard Drive – Oct 2017
https://thewirecutter.com/reviews/best-portable-hard-drive/

Browser recommendations – performance and security

This is a post to answer some regular questions I get from friends and family. I’ll update it regularly as required.

First, I use an ad blocker. Sites don’t like you to block ads, but there are so many malicious ads out there that chew up bandwidth, slow my browser, and clutter my screen that I don’t recommend using a browser without an ad blocker.

The ad blocker I recommend is uBlock Origin by Raymond Hill on Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Microsoft Edge browsers.

Browsers I recommend:
” Firefox Quantum – currently the fastest browser I’ve tested and it works on just about every site I use.
” Google Chrome – good general use browser, and any Google sites are optimized for use with Chrome.
” Microsoft Edge – taking a lot of abuse from the tech crowd, but it’s fast, secure, and my only issue is problems with some sites.
” Epic Privacy Browser – based on Chrome, it’s designed to be secure. If you want to make sure you’re secure, this is the browser to use.
” Opera – another solid, fast browser, it has a nice VPN capability if you’re trying to access content that’s blocked based on your geography (example could be BBC content).

Next, I use the beta versions of the Firefox and Chrome browsers. They are very stable, all the add-ons and extensions I have work with the beta releases, and I think they are less vulnerable to exploits if I’m on a ‘not so safe site’. Reference links for both below, they are generally referenced as “dev channels” (as in development).

Next, if you want to make sure your browsing session is as secure as possible, check out the browsers below. Epic Privacy Browser and Opera (built-in VPN).

The Epic browser is particularly secure, but may give you problems on a financial services site or some commercial sites because it’s locked down pretty tight.

Epic Privacy Browser (based on Chrome)
https://www.epicbrowser.com/

Opera
http://www.opera.com/download

Chrome Dev Channel – I think you’re running 64 bit Windows, so pick that Beta Channel download.
https://www.chromium.org/getting-involved/dev-channel

Firefox Dev Channel – download the Beta version
https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/channel/desktop/

Microsoft Edge
https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/microsoft-edge

Ajit Pai (FCC Chairman) is not our friend

We are watching the FCC sell out the consumers it is supposed to protect. Ajit Pai is the head of the FCC. He’s a smart guy, but he is not the friend of the consumer, he’s a former Communication Industry law partner. He’s selling Network Neutrality like he’s on an infomercial (it’s not what he says it is). Now they are proposing “direct to voicemail” calls.

My suggestion is to get a Google Voice account and configure it as the voicemail for your cell phone. It will automatically detect ‘SPAM’ calls and you have the option to block calls (or block all calls…).

Network World – technical background and reference links.

http://www.networkworld.com/article/3199565/security/tell-the-fcc-you-dont-want-robo-voicemail-spammy-direct-to-voicemail-messages.html

Consumers Union statement

FCC urged to protect consumers from unwanted telemarketing and debt collection voicemails

Why do I hate DirecTV Now, let me count the ways

I got an e-mail from AT&T/DirecTV asking me to complete a survey on why I unsubscribed from DirecTV Now.  I spent quite a bit of time crafting a comprehensive answer, only to receive the notice below.  Part of my issue with DirecTV was the poor interface design. I now extend that criticism to the survey.  If you limit my response to 999 characters, why not tell me?  Then I won’t prepare a response that’s 302% larger than you will allow!

NOTE – there were two other text boxes, both limited the number of characters to other, smaller, and random quantities, both with no indication of what the limit would be. 

image

Here is my full response about why I unsubscribed from DirecTV Now:

DirecTV Now was a horrific
experience.  From the user
interface to buffering issues to the user interface (did I already say that,
yes, it’s that bad) to the content.  No type of DVR solution, ‘subscribing’ to channels was OK, but
non-intuitive to use.

 

No CBS channel.  At all.  Yes, I know you
have to negotiate with CBS, but it’s a gaping hole.  I added HBO and got two HBO channels added, which was underwhelming.  Even at $35/month rate it wasn’t worth
the money.  We watched ONE movie
(Deadpool) and the last 20 minutes of the film took almost an hour to watch due
to buffering issues.
 

 

Just so you don’t assume I have a poor Internet
connection, I have 200/10 Mbps (up/downlink speeds) and a commercial grade
firewall and wireless AP (Meraki).  Chemical engineer by degree, working in IT and connected to the Internet
since 1986 (not a typo), Cisco and other certifications.  Let’s just assume the problem is on your end and not my home
network…

 

Streaming from a laptop to a Chromecast was
USELESS.  I stream other content
(YouTube, other) to Chromecast with no issues using the exact same configuration
(laptop, wireless channel, etc).  Streaming from my PHONE (!!!) worked better than the laptop, and I can’t
account for that.  Is the Android
app that much more efficient than streaming from a browser on a
laptop?

 

No Roku support out of the gate.  Roku and beer are gifts from GOD, and you don’t support the Roku.  Seriously? 

 

I took advantage of the free Amazon Fire offer because,
as noted, you don’t support the Roku (aka, Gift From God).  Nice device, but DirecTV sucks at life, so we were ‘less than pleased’
with the experience. We attempted
to watch Deadpool (previous reference) using the Amazon Fire.  Other services worked fine, but not DirecTV Now.

 

And, the user interface sucks.  As an example, I saved ‘favorite’ channels in the guide and selected
Favorites to display. It’s all too
easy to suddenly have every channel displayed.  Next, I can’t seem to pause, continue,
and skip over content (like my DirecTV DVR). Yes, I realize there are device
constraints (but, shall I note, not on the Roku), but you’re not even
trying. Did you pull one of those
“Design this for free and I’ll give you great recommendations” with the
interface design team?  Because it
LOOKS like that’s what you did.

 

I’m doing this all from memory.  It’s like a nightmare where I can still see the screen doing something I
don’t want/like, oh, and the BUFFERING, Oh, the BUFFERING!!!

 

To summarize:

– User interface sucks

– No DVR capability

– No Roku support

– Buffering issues (with long shows?  You tell me)

– No CBS content

– Poor performance with Amazon Fire

– Poor performance with Chromecast

= DirecTV Now Sucks at life

 

That’s the short version of why I unsubscribed from
DirecTV Now.  I’m working furiously
to experiment with OTA TV, a local DVR, and cloud based services.  I’m willing to bet anything I put together will be a better, more
satisfying experience than DirecTV Now.

 

Love,

Paul & Barb

"A safe propane torch for applications around the home"

I get a feed from “Cool Tools” and this caught my eye.  I’m thinking of using it to remove snow or scare the shit out of my neighbors.  Looking for a backpack to hold the propane tank next.

Harbor Freight – Greenwood propane torch
http://www.harborfreight.com/propane-torch-91033.html

Note from Cool Tools:

“I was a small part of a Battle Bots team behind the robot Complete Control that was on Battle Bots recently on ABC. This $20 propane torch was on a robot. It was heralded as — I’m gonna sort of humble brag here — it was heralded as the most effective flame thrower in Battle Bots history because it recorded the first robot kill ever, which was really exciting for us. There’s a Youtube video of it. A minute and a half into the match, we get the robot in the gripper. We grab under the robot, lift them up, and then turn on the flame thrower. It’s a 3,000 degree torch, it’s coming from just a regular propane tank. The brilliance of this Harbor Freight tool is someone engineered it and figured out how to have it properly aspirated … It turns out just with a few little tweaks, including this spark gap generator, it became a robot killer. That was pretty awesome to see.”

HP notes – update BIOS from F10

I got a friends-and-family return-from-lease HP 8100 workstation.  No RAM, no disk, just the basic workstation.  I am trying to install Windows 10, but I’m having issues with the OS install failing.  HP notes point to an out-of-date BIOS.  The challenge is how to update the BIOS when you have no OS installed.

      1. 1. Download the BIOS update (EXE file) from the HP site.
      2. 2. Extract the ISO file from the EXE using 7-Zip.
      3. 3. Burn the ISO to a CD (and put CD in the CD/DVD drive)
      4. 4. Boot the system, press F10, select Update BIOS, point to the CD.
    1. This wasn’t obvious, nor was it documented *anywhere* on the HP site.  Lots of references to pre-2002 HP tools and the like.  I hope someone finds this useful.

Netgear security update

Check your router for a vulnerability by entering the string below into your browser (change [router-address] to the IP address of your router (example: 192.168.1.1)).

http://[router-address]/cgi-bin/;uname$IFS-a

If that page shows anything but an error or an empty page, your router is affected and you need to apply the patch just published by Netgear (link below).

Netgear models impacted by this vulnerability:

R6250

R6400

R6700

R6900

R7000

R7100LG

R7300DST

R7900

R8000

D6220

D6400

http://kb.netgear.com/000036386/CVE-2016-582384

Hiking 

I’ll start to post more about hobbies as well as technology.  

On our Yosemite trip this month, I focused on packing light. I weighed and documented everything I took. This resulted in a much more successful and enjoyable trip. 

New equipment included a new, lightweight sleeping bag, a 10L compression sack,and some lightweight packing sacks. 

Raspberry Pi 3 start kit recommendation

Several people have asked about Raspberry Pi  kits recently.  I’m lazy, so I’ll maintain this list so I can just point people to this link.  Any questions or suggestions, let me know.

Components

1.       Raspberry Pi 3 – get
the latest one, best value for money, WiFi and Bluetooth included

2.       Case for Raspberry
Pi

3.       HDMI to VGA adapter –
lets you connect to older (and cheaper) monitors

4.       USB to PS/2 adapters
– lets you connect to older mice and keyboards

5.       MicroSD card – to
install OS, get an

a.       8GB to 16GB card
recommended

b.       Get multiple cards so
you can have multiple system configurations without reformatting the card each
time.

6.       Power
Supply

a.       1A with MicroUSB
cable

b.       Get multiple power
supplies – spares always good, may require power for HDMI to VGA

 

Sources

Raspberry Pi 3 motherboard

Newark Element14 – sells kits as well as components,
shipping is reasonable, prices comparable to Amazon

http://www.newark.com/raspberry-pi/raspberrypi3-modb-1gb/sbc-raspberry-pi-3-mod-b-1gb-ram/dp/77Y6520

 

Amazon – $35 retail, but $40 with Prime

http://www.amazon.com/Raspberry-Pi-RASP-PI-3-Model-Motherboard/dp/B01CD5VC92

 

Raspberry Pi case – $9

http://www.amazon.com/SB-Components-Clear-Case-Raspberry/dp/B00MQLB1N6

 

HDMI to VGA adapter – $

http://www.amazon.com/Cable-Matters-Active-Adapter-Micro-USB/dp/B00879DM56

 

USB to PS/2 adapter – $2

http://www.amazon.com/SANOXY-USB-PS-2-Adapter/dp/B00007AP2O

 

32GB MicroSD card (Samsung) – $13

http://www.amazon.com/Samsung-EVO-Plus-Adapter-MB-MC32DA/dp/B012DT8OJ4