We bought a 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

2021-07-16 Comments off

A 2017 Chevy Bolt EV has replaced my beloved 2005 Saab 92x (aka Saabaru, a Saab badged Subaru WRX) and the best car I’ve ever owned.

When I started researching cars to replace the Saab, we considered buying new and used gas cars, but the market is crazy between supply chain issues and escalating prices. Our newest car is a 2016 Subaru Forester, and we expect to keep it for another 12 years. As we considered EV’s, we feel the landscape will be very, very different in 5-10 years, so we weren’t keen on buying a new car now and we started to look at used EV’s.

In 2014 we leased a Honda Fit EV. It was a Honda special lease program, and we received a free Level 2 charger (we paid for installation). We returned the car because our needs changed and there was no buy-out option for the lease. However, two years with an electric-only car made us EV evangelists (well, maybe I’m the evangelist). For reference, the Honda Fit had a 20 KWh battery, 100 HP, and published range of 80 miles and used a Level 2 charger which we installed in our garage.

Flash forward to 2021. Our EV criteria was a minimum range of 200 miles, a four door hatchback large enough to fit our taller than average family (I’m 6’3″ and 225 lbs.). Looking at used cars, we quickly came to the conclusion that 2017 Chevy Bolt EV’s coming off lease looked like a the best choice for us. We also saw the battery recall putting a dead stop to all resales. At the same time, used Tesla’s were increasing in price and various discounts and promotions for new EV’s were expiring.

One month ownership notes

The Chevy Bolt EV isn’t a Tesla Model 3, but it’s a great EV, a solid car, and a used 2017 Bolt EV Premier is a great value. The batteries and motor are sourced from LG and the balance of the car was designed and assembled by Chevrolet. The controls are familiar, good ergonomics, good visibility, and I particularly like the utility of the car. The rear seats can be folded flat with one hand, and there is a rear storage area behind the rear seats that is covered, but the cover and false floor removed to provide a 12-18″ bin for extra storage. The Premier trim comes with roof rails, and we purchased cross bars for bicycle and roof racks.

 

  • Chevrolet Bolt EV 2017 details
    • 2017 Bolt EV Premier with all features except a sunroof (which we would not use)
    • Premier comes with DC fast charge option (55kW)
    • 27,000 miles
    • Energy Saver A/S SelfSeal 215/50R17
    • Safety features like blind spot detection, front and rear cameras
  • The Good
    • Driver seat adjustment and leg room is great for tall drivers. Leg room and headroom for four is good.
    • Overall ergonomics are solid, and we like the tray between the front seats and door storage.
    • The Bolt EV HP and torque are amazing. It’s just fun to drive.
    • Range is quite good – well over 200 miles with normal driving and less than full charge.
    • 200 HP with no turbo lag and a single speed transmission is addicting, and I’ve been driving a WRX for 16 years.
    • “Single pedal driving” – with the transmission in “Low”, you can use regen braking to bring the car to a complete stop.
    • Safety features, including a wide-angle rear-view mirror option that uses rear cameras.
    • Remote start, auto dimming rear view mirrors, automatic headlights, and other convenience features.
    • Bluetooth is rock solid and in-car calls are much better than our Subaru because the Bolt is so quiet.
  • The not-so-good
    • 2017 model has 2017 tech
      • Android Auto requires a USB cable (versus wireless)
      • Waze beta has issues although Google Maps works as designed.
      • Wireless charging ‘pocket’ too small for Pixel 4XL
    • DC fast charge limited to 55kW, where newer EV’s are as high as 150kW, which limits long road trips.
    • No spare tire, sealant, and air pump, we also have AARP road service.
    • Ride is a bit harsh, mostly due to energy efficient, low profile tires.
    • Front seats are a tight fit, but not bad.
    • The arm rest is an interference fit for me but has a lot of storage and removable tray.

 

 

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Personal Letterhead

2021-07-12 Comments off

With email and other forms of electronic communication, no one may care about writing letters, but I’m starting to write letters to friends and family. I wrote many, many letters in college. Phone calls were pretty expensive in the mid-late 1970’s, and freshman year there were only six phones in our dorm. As we emerge from our COVID induced isolation, I appreciate my network of friends, family, and coworkers who have supported me over the years, and I think a letter is more personal and permanent than email.

Two sites that have influenced me are “Letters of Note” and “Letterheady” (links below, worth a look).

Letterheady
https://www.letterheady.com/about

Letters of Note
https://lettersofnote.com/about/

 

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Today is World Password Day

2021-05-06 Comments off

Tips I’m sharing with family and friends. I use a password manager (LastPass) and MFA for all accounts that have monetary or business value (including Amazon, Google, all accounts that involve money).

Password Recommendations

  1. The smartest choice for all users is to pick unique passwords for every site.
  2. Password managers are ideal for people in the habit of re-using passwords, because:
    1. You only need remember one (strong) master password to access all of your stored credentials.
    2. If you don’t trust password managers and have trouble remembering complex passwords, consider relying instead on password length.
  3. Focus on picking passphrases instead of passwords.
    1. Passphrases are collections of multiple (ideally unrelated) words mushed together.
    2. Add numbers and special characters if required – example: Eat figs daily99!
    3. Passphrases are not only generally more secure, they have the added benefit of being easier to remember.
  4. Enable Multi-factor Authentication (MFA) for all accounts that support it (bank, credit cards, Amazon, Google). 
    1. This approach adds a second step to the sign in process, usually in the form of a confirmation text sent to your phone, a security question, or a token provided by authenticator apps.
    2. MFA provides another layer of security to your password that doesn’t rely on you to remember anything.
  5. Finally, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with writing down your passwords, provided
    1. You do not store them in a file on your computer or taped to your laptop
      AND
    2. Your password notebook is stored somewhere relatively secure – not in a purse or car, but a locked drawer or safe.

 

Reference Links

 

World Password Day 2021: ‘123456’ is still a bad idea
https://www.acronis.com/en-us/blog/posts/world-password-day-2021-123456-still-bad-idea

The Wages of Password Re-use: Your Money or Your Life
https://krebsonsecurity.com/2021/05/the-wages-of-password-re-use-your-money-or-your-life/

 

How to stop robocalls – Jolly Roger Telephone

2021-02-16 Comments off

I wanted to share my experience filtering calls to my 90-year-old mother who has had her phone number for 60 years and appears to be on every scam caller list. Every list. And she felt compelled to answer every call. Every. Call.

First, I switched her phone service from Comcast to Google Voice.  I won’t go into the technical details of the move, but it’s a two step process (Comcast to burner phone, then burner phone to Google Voice). This was my first step to filtering her calls because I believe Comcast customers are being targeted by scammers and I hoped that moving to Google Voice SPAM filtering would offer better control over her calls.

Initially, I moved to Google Voice as part of a cost reduction for my Mom, and it provides ‘spam filtering’ capabilities.  It turned out that the spam filtering wasn’t very good for faked local numbers so after some research, I went with the nuclear option and configured call filtering using Jolly Roger Telephone (link below).

Jolly Roger is *amazing*.  Robots answer the phone and hang up telemarketers and scammers and Mom’s phone never rings.  The record voicemail was 7.5 minutes…

To be honest, Jolly Roger is pretty good, but the Final Solution was to put every ‘good’ caller onto the whitelist and block every other area code in the United States, block all foreign calls and block all toll free calls. The whitelist was more of a challenge. I had a phone history of several months and included her doctors, friends, family, etc.  Jolly Roger includes simple check boxes to block 800 calls, overseas numbers, and similar.  Ultimately, I configured a ‘blacklist’ of prohibited callers using wildcard entries for EVERY AREA CODE in the US except two local area codes.

It seems extreme, but then we just had to deal with faked local numbers, and I had a large list of exchanges that I blocked.

https://jollyrogertelephone.com/

Categories: security Tags:

These are a few of my favorite things

2021-02-15 Comments off

UPDATE – added to the list.

Like everyone else, I’ve been working remotely since March 2020.

Ergonomics is a huge issue for me, and something everyone should consider. In my home office, I have the following setup:

  1. Chair – I have a Staples brand chair, and I upgraded the wheels from a Reading, PA based company
  2. Desks – I have old Steelcase desks that are circa 1960’s (think Mad Men) and I think my father purchased them from RCA at some point. They work well for me, they are deep, lots of storage, and they are very sturdy.
  3. (2) 24″ monitors – for now, 24″ monitors are my sweet spot, your mileage may vary. I recommend getting identical monitors so you don’t hang your mouse as you move from screen to screen which can happen with different resolution monitors and it’s maddening.
  4. Desk mat – think of it as a giant mousepad, but you can put you keyboard and mouse. It covers up any imperfections in the desk surface, and I find it more comfortable in warm weather.
  5. Keyboard – I use a mechanical keyboard. Personal preference, I don’t judge, but I started computing on one of the original IBM PC metal keyboards (which I still have), and I’m a touch typist, and it works for me.
  6. Mouse – Logitech wireless mouse and buy the Unify USB dongle which allows you to switch mice any time you want. I own many wireless mice. MX Revolution, Performance MX, M705 or M720 (battery lasts for *years*).
  7. Headphones – Plantronics. My BIL Mitch gifted me with a headset when he worked for Plantronics “back in the day”, and it continues to be my go-to headset.
  8. Camera – I’m using an old Microsoft HD camera, but any of the Microsoft or Logitech cameras should work. I work with my laptop closed, so I can’t use the built-in camera, and using a USB camera means I can unplug it when it’s not in use. Also, 720p is more than enough resolution for personal and business video conferencing.
  9. Network – this is a huge issue for work-at-home. ISP’s are scare mongering you to upgrade to Gigabit speeds. After analysis, our home subscription is 100 Mbps/6Mbps down/upload speeds. This is more than enough to support two of us working concurrently on video calls while someone is watching Netflix or YouTube TV.
  10. Printer – get a laser printer. Period. They are fast, inexpensive, and toner lasts forever. If you need to print in color, take it to Kinkos, CVS, or similar. After you print your draft in grayscale. I’ve used Brother multi-function laser printers since 2007. Also, get duplex capabilities, it’s easier for scanning, and saves paper when printing. Third party, high-capacity toners is both inexpensive and high quality.
    I have an older model that includes FAX, so the link below is for the equivalent, but without FAX.
  11. USB charging block – for my office I have an Anker six port, 60W USB charger. It’s a monster that can charge six devices at a time and it has a permanent location in my office with every type of charging cable I use already plugged in and fed through a cable organizer to keep things (relatively) neat. I charge lights for my bike, headphones, cell phones, fitness devices, anything and everything that charges with a USB cable.
  12. Password manager – if you don’t already use one, get one. I use LastPass, but 1Password and similar products are quite good. I recommend selecting one that works well with your platform (Windows, Mac), your browsers (Firefox, Microsoft, Chrome, and derivatives), and your phone. Make sure it works well with your phone.
    Import all the passwords from your browsers, then disable password save feature of the browsers.
    Check your accounts for re-used passwords – start with critical accounts like financial services
    Next, review all your accounts and update passwords using the password manager to generate secure, unique passwords.

Reference links

Microsoft LifeCam HD-3000, Retail
https://www.amazon.com/Microsoft-3364820-LifeCam-HD-3000/dp/B008ZVRAQS

CM Storm QuickFire Rapid – Tenkeyless, red switches
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007VDLVD4

Brother MFCL2750DW Monochrome All-in-One Wireless Laser Printer, Duplex Copy & Scan
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0763X6TCW

Home Network description and recommendations
https://paulbegley.com/?p=749

USB Wall Charger, Anker 60W 6 Port USB Charging Station
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00P936188

  

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Home Network Recommendation

2020-11-25 Comments off

Today I received an email from one of our neighbors, actually their son! He’s a gamer, super technical, and after replying, I thought it would be better to document my recommendations here and update based on feedback from Rob and others.

 

First, determine whether you need to replace the cable modem.  Once you know it needs to be replaced, I recommend buying separate devices for each layer of your home network – cable modem, security device, then switch/wireless.  This lets you buy the most cost-effective device with exactly the features and performance you want for each layer of the network.

 

Cable modem

I like the Arris/Motorola cable modems, reference link below for Wirecutter recommendations.  I wouldn’t go crazy.  I have an old ARRIS SURFboard SB6183.  It Just Works.  Also, I have 100Mbps service and it’s not a bottleneck.  It’s DOCSIS 3.0, but if you get a new one, make sure it supports the latest DOCSIS 3.1 standard.  That’s all you need – match the rated performance of your cable modem with your Internet connection speed.  There’s no advantage to getting a 1Gbps cable modem for a 200 Mbps connection.  

 

Security

I use a Meraki security appliance, but only because I got it free through a certification program.  When I replace it, I’ll probably buy a Ubuquiti USG or similar.  You would be appalled at the stuff it blocks and attempted connections I see on a regular basis.  Reference links below and note that you would buy the USG with a Cloud Key for management (detailed in how-to link below).

 

Switch

Get a good, 1Gbps switch with 8 or more ports to connect your laptop and other devices as needed.  Make sure the switch does *not* have a fan, you want everything to use passive cooling and be silent.  Early switches required fans, they all go bad, and they all make too much noise.

 

Wireless

I have a Google WiFi mesh which works well.  I bought three access points, but only need two for our house (two story colonial with a basement).  If you live in an apartment, I would just get a reliable access point and locate it to get the best coverage in the apartment.  Make sure anything you buy supports WPA2/3 and use a complex admin password to secure your AP.

 

Bonus Tip

If you don’t already have a spare Raspberry Pi, buy two or three and configure one to run PiHole. PiHole can provide DNS services, but more important is it is a very effective ad filter for your home network.  You will notice it on your phone immediately and you also benefit from having a local DNS server that you control.  On my network it’s filtering >30% of the DNS queries from our Roku TV to our phones and laptops. I’m using a Model 3B Raspberry Pi and be sure to buy a reliable power supply like the Anker Elite Dual Port 24W ($11 from Amazon!).

 

Reference Links

 

The Best Cable Modem

https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/reviews/best-cable-modem/

 

Ubuquiti USG security gateway – 

https://www.amazon.com/Ubiquiti-Unifi-Security-Gateway-USG/dp/B00LV8YZLK

 

How To: Deploying a Ubiquiti UniFi Home Network including Multiple WiFi Access Points (Part 1) UPDATED

https://freetime.mikeconnelly.com/archives/6241

 

Pi-hole® – Network-wide Ad Blocking

https://pi-hole.net/

 

Dashboard from Paul’s PiHole


Categories: Internet Tags:

YouTube TV and CBS All Access streaming issues using PiHole

2020-11-11 Comments off

UPDATE – there was a widespread two hour (or so) outage for YouTube and YouTube TV when I posted the original article. After further research, there *is* an issue streaming CBS All Access with PiHole active. The work around for this is to whitelist the two FQDN’s below. Once this is in place, content streams normally.

cbsinteractive.hb.omtrdc.net
pubads.g.doubleclick.net

===========
I’m using PiHole to block ads on my home network. I’ll post more about my PiHole setup later, but tonight I realized that “CBS All Access” and YouTube TV apps on our Roku weren’t streaming content with PiHole enabled.

I didn’t have time to narrow down the root cause, but I’ll investigate this over the weekend. I will note the issue probably started last week, but tonight it was a non-starter when we attempted to stream “CBS Sunday Morning”, Jeopardy, and “Chasing Classic Cars” (Motor Trend).

  

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Microsoft Word is the best WordPress desktop app

2020-11-01 Comments off

Obviously I had too much candy on Halloween and coffee today. I decided to start posting my backlog of technical notes to WordPress. Naturally I pulled out my old WordPress tools and none of them worked. Attempts to configure resulted in the apps throwing hands like my youngest daughter.

Result – I remembered posting in Microsoft Word. Since Office 365 is my primary life app, this was an easy choice. It’s super easy to configure for WordPress, I have full control of my editing, and I don’t have to learn the idiosyncrasies of another editor.

Reference link below, and tested with WordPress 5.5.3.

Help with blogging in Word
https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/help-with-blogging-in-word-3ad4ad8d-06a3-441d-99cd-c65e13a3433d

Microsoft Teams administration error – solved!

Comments off

Our engineers ran into an issue attempting to update Microsoft Teams through the Admin Center. The engineers opened a ticket with Microsoft Support, and they hadn’t run into this before and thought it was a proxy error. Well, we are working from home and none of us were using any standard proxy. We also weren’t using a VPN and testing with ‘all the standard browsers’ (Firefox, Chrome, Edge, and a few others). No joy.

We *were* able to connect if we used Fiddler. Which is strange because Fiddler is a proxy, right?

Anyhow, we resolved the issue. Super easy. We manually changed our local system DNS to Google DNS (8.8.8.8). Can’t really explain that one. I’m using PiHole locally, the other engineer was using Comcast. Both our systems are using commercial network gear with no filtering.

Screen shot and error string below for reference.

Hope this helps someone, because when I searched for the string below (in quotes), I got exactly one unique result that wasn’t very helpful.

Error String:
“We can’t get the effective dial plan so the dial plan can’t be tested.”

 

Screen Shot:

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Cord Cutting or AT&T ruined DirecTV and how we fixed the problem

2019-10-13 Comments off

Summary

We have been testing streaming services off and on for the past several years. We were early adopters for various streaming devices (Roku, Chromecast) and many streaming services, including Netflix (DVD, now streaming), Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, Britbox, DirecTV Now, and YouTube TV.

Recently we had our roof replaced. In doing so, our DirecTV dish was removed, and after review, we decided to cancel our DirecTV subscription.

Details

Prior to YouTube TV, other ‘cable replacement’ options that provided local TV as well as the non-network content we wanted were almost unusable from an interface standpoint.

Cable replacement requirements

  1. Roku device support
  2. Local channels, BBC America, and short list of cable stations we like
  3. Usable User Interface – high priority
  4. Cloud DVR capability – minimum of 200 – 300 hours (record Olympics)

Throughout these experiments, DirecTV has been our cable provider of choice. DirecTV offered the content we wanted as well as innovative technology, such as the DirecTiVo. I was able to pick up used DirecTiVo’s for <$50 and upgrade them with large hard drives to get ~300 hours of recording time. This was great because we had three school age daughters and I dedicated one unit to record just about the entire Olympics coverage circa 2004.

5 Very Common Cord Cutting Mistakes & How You Can Avoid Them

https://www.cordcuttersnews.com/5-very-common-cord-cutting-mistakes-how-you-can-avoid-them/

  1. Rushing into cord cutting – before we cut the cord, we used the Roku and at least a dozen streaming services for several years. This was not something new for us, so when the time came, it was easy for us to make a joint decision.
  2. Cord cutting does NOT work like cable – we determined we required a streaming service that provided local channels, some cable channels, and had at least a 200-hour DVR capability, ideally cloud based. YouTube TV has an unlimited DVR capability.
  3. Cost – we tracked costs of cable and streaming services
  4. Content – you can’t have everything. For example, we do NOT care about sports, but we DO care about Olympic coverage, BBC America, and some channels like Hallmark that our family likes to binge during winter holidays.
  5. Robust Internet provider – we aren’t huge fans of Comcast/Xfinity cable, but they have provided a robust, broadband Internet service. They are also the ONLY broadband option in our area. DSL is available, but not broadband. We are half way between two CO’s, and FIOS doesn’t have a contract with our township

Cons – we live in an imperfect world…

  • No Hallmark Channel. I don’t care, but my wife and daughters (who don’t even live with us) are relentlessly nagging campaigning to subscribe to the Hallmark Channel for holiday movies.
  • CBS DVR shows are actually “CBS On Demand” and have commercials that you can’t skip. Also, until the software was upgraded, it didn’t handle the transition to/from commercials properly which caused some shows to hang. Credit to YouTube/CBS for fixing this.
  • Bandwidth to the TCL TV – we have experienced some buffering issues and sluggish interface behavior with Roku TV. This isn’t a show stopper, and I have been making it a “priority device” for Google WiFi. Next step is to configure an Ethernet connection.
  • That’s it! We are very happy with the cord cutting.

Cost

Subscriptions (monthly)
YouTube TV        $49.99
Hulu w/no ads        $11.99
Netflix            $13.85
Total            $75.83

AT&T DirecTV was $96.91 – $102 for two TV’s, the least expensive package available, and DVR with whole home viewing

Hardware

  • Network
    • Internet Provider – Comcast Performance Plus Internet – 200/12 Mbps
      • Testing with lower speed Internet tiers showed the 200 Mbps speed offered double the uplink speed (for VoIP performance) and better overall performance. This is probably overkill, but the difference between <100 Mbps and 200 Mbps was about $10/month.
      • There is no data cap for residents of New Jersey. Other states have a monthly, 1TB data cap.
    • Arris SB6183 Cable Modem
    • Google Mesh Wifi – NLS-1304-25
    • Meraki Security Appliance
    • Meraki 8 Port Switch
  • Video
    • TV – TCL 65R615
      • Roku TV 9.2.x
      • Roku Wireless speakers
    • Panasonic VIERA TC-L42E50 (7 years old)
      • Roku Stick+
    • Visio 32″ 1080i TV
      • Roku 2
  • Voice
    • ObiHai 201 device
    • Google Voice Service
    • Panasonic cordless phones

Reference

DirecTV and TiVo History
https://www.tivopedia.com/directv-and-tivo-history.php

XFINITY Terabyte Internet Data Usage Plan
https://dataplan.xfinity.com/faq/

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