OpInionAteD - Menno Aartsen Rants and Raves - November 25, 2022

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Friday, November 25: Flu shot in the rain

Keywords: NAS, flu vaccination, cancer, laptop reconfigure, Fire TV stick
Awright, flu shot done. I tried to find a pharmacy where they offered that close to home, but, like last year, would have had to go downtown or into the suburbs, and then, of course, my own supermarket, which is more of a warehouse, Fred Meyer, close, too, turned out to have stock of the flu shot I needed - the over-65's shot. So I went this afternoon, and shopped at the same time. Five minute drive - well, it would have been, if the bridge hadn't been open. Even so, I guess I've found a new favourite pharmacy (most of my medication comes mail order, anyway).

I hate to say this to you, but there's no thing as "cancer free", after a bout with cancer. Or "cured". Or any of that shit. It is important to understand that all it takes is one single cancerous cell, and you can be in trouble. I get quarterly blood tests and semi-annual checkups by an endocrinologist not because I am cured (though technically, I am). I get those because I am in remission, but always at risk, and to go, as a well known person and "cancer survivor", on national television and proclaim "you've been cured and/or are cancer free" is folly. If you could be cured and cancer free you would not need medical followups for the rest of your life. Right?

The full transfer of all my archives and backups to the new NAS drive is finally done. Checking, it turns out that took just under 5 terabytes, out of the 8.11 TB space available, or 60%, so I am well pleased I bought a big enough NAS. As my backups update, they'll release additional disk space, so I don't need to worry about the disks filling up any more, and with more than 3 spare terabytes I don't have to worry about losing a disk. As I have my files duplicated on the two laptops, I can now start thinning out one of them, which will clear out more backup space, over time - with the data duplicated twice, I can throttle back a bit, but it was important to have everything saved - both laptops now (finally) have a full backup on the NAS, and I can restore either using an AIS boot disk over my network. Way to go. I can now re-install the broadcast TV recording software I took off, and see what there is on the old Windows Media package I can still record. I know that all of the Star Trek iterations are paid subscriptions now, as far as the Firestick is concerned, so I can see what's still being broadcast free-to-air, for as long as I can still use Windows 8.1 Pro, which is nearing the end of its Microsoft support. Etc., there's always something one wants...

Finally some rain. It's been bone dry, for months, so we either get some rain, or a really snowy winter, which I don't really want. My thyroid medication plays havoc with my internal heating system, which doesn't really help, and I still do not want to go to the gym because of COVID considerations. Though the temperatures are up a bit, so maybe I'll take a walk when the next sunny afternoon comes around. Ah - next couple days, no rain in the forecast. I'll believe it when I see it.

I am slowly warming to this Amazon Fire TV stick I bought, although using a combination of screen scrolling and Alexa voice commands seems to work best. There is so much programming available that Alexa lets you find stuff you'd have no idea is available, since some of the channels you simply may have never heard of, and so have no way of finding. Even then, a lot of these buttons have content I have little or no knowledge of, so you have to spend time sampling their content. I found a movie version of Battlestar Galactica, with content from the series, but other stuff as well, and I had no idea that existed, or who even ever broadcast it, if indeed they did. Ah, there you go - found "Sherlock". Wonders will never cease.

Saturday, November 19: Cold and busy

Keywords: weather station, NAS backup, Amazon TV Firestick, WiFi, Swedish Medical, GP, English TV
weather stationThe contraption to the left is a wireless battery driven weather station, this to replace one I've had for six or seven years, which does not work all that well any more. The most important aspect was the outdoor sensor, which lives in my SUV, which is parked in the street, and does not always report in properly. So I found this one on Amazon, which isn't just cheap and cheerful, its outdoor sensor has a huge range, which means I know what the temperature in my car is, and even more importantly, that the car is still outside. Works well, especially if you consider it only cost $14, and doesn't just receive when close to a window, it reads the outdoor sensor wherever I put it in the apartment. Not as colourful and fancy as the old one, but it's better, and runs on batteries, rather than external power (hence the B/W LCD, I assume).

So that's it. I've finished the NAS AIS backup of my HP2570, all that remains is completing the backup of the 2560, which, over WiFi, takes a little longer. The data load on the 2570 is about a terabyte, which is a lot, and it is never quick to back up. By late September, I had installed the new NAS array, configured it, but by that time it was clear I needed to do a couple of other jobs, notably replacing my WiFi router, and get a new Hotspot from T-Mobile. Both had been malfunctioning, so I had to replace them and redesign my network, this due to the NAS drive having two-channel Ethernet bridging capabilities. Every time you buy new equipment, it seems that needs you to replace 30% of everything else to get it to work optimally, like using a spare router to get the new T-Mobile Hotspot to run at high speed over multiple channels. Etcetera etcetera. But it all got done and is working a treat, at this point. I think this may well be one of the fastest networks I've ever had, this despite the fact that the backbone is a wireless bridge, not something I was ever in favour of, but you live and learn..

Cold, then. Mostly sunny days, it does warm up, but by nightfall the temperature dips way down. Not a major issue, but I would like to walk a little more. Past few days, I've spent more time fixing things - the car needed service, there was shopping, doctor visits, lab tests, but I did not get "out and about" much beyond that. I have actually started exploring the Amazon Fire TV stick, which, as it turns out, has humongous number of free channels, there is hardly a point in watching British ITV series "Midsomer Murders" on my laptop, when the Firestick provides every episode ever written, for free. Same with UK "Law & Order", I do like the British series, as I have those via my browser using a (paid) proxy, but much of what that gives me, other than the BBC News, I get via the Firestick, again, for free. And I haven't even explored a fifth of what that offers...

Annoyingly, my doctor's office now has a unit that follows up to make sure patients get followups. Problem is that the folks that send the reminders aren't part of the doctor's office, and write emails that read as if they come from the physician. So I responded to the followup, made an appointment, only to discover, when checking in, that I had had a recent checkup, and that the doctor's office had no idea they were reminding me of an unnecessary visit, it really makes me wonder if Swedish is now trying to make extra money by making unnecessary appointments. I canceled right there, thanks to kind helpful staff, and got the bill waived and my copay refunded.

Friday, November 11: Winter is definitely on the way

Keywords: freezing, low humidity, NAS backup, Amazon TV Firestick, WiFi, vagrants, homeless
We've gone to near freezing in a relatively short period of time, but this week it is raining a lot, which is very good news for Mother Nature, we've had one of the driest summers on record. At any rate, my heat pumps are chugging away, keeping the place nice and toasty, In the very early morning I kick in the electric baseboard heaters by the living room windows so I can have coffee and watch some TV without the heat pump noise. After my shower and early morning building round, I switch to the living room heat pump, The baseboard heaters are great, but expensive to run. It's how they built homes and apartments in the 'sixties...

ultrasonic humidifierIn the interim, the colder weather is playing havoc with the homeless, unusually, I found a vagrant in our community room yesterday, who wouldn't leave. It's always a problem, as you don't necessarily know whether someone you don't know is a new tenant, or a visitor, or a new carer, but in this case, none of the above. She became quite belligerent when I asked who she was, what she was doing here, and told her she had to leave when she wouldn't answer my questions, and that meant we had to get Seattle police to remove her. After all that, she managed to get back in the building, was removed again, and spent a couple of hours harassing tenants on the ground floor, screaming, knocking on windows, etc. Eventually, she gave up, it's been a couple of years since we last had an intruder in the building.

I am still backing up, BTW, the longer I used these laptops, the larger my data load gets, I keep putting larger disks in... AIS Backup is brilliant, but as it converts every single file on my laptops into ZIP archives, it takes forever. What with 8+ terabytes of storage on the NAS, I hope I can do this once now, and then leave well enough alone, that is, do my daily incrementals, but won't have to move the main backup archives. Largely, my data is there twice anyway, as I have my data fully duplicated across my laptops, but have the older files on the HP2560, as well. I can do that now as I have a 4 terabyte SSD in the 2560, which took quite a bit of engineering the BIOS, to get that running properly. Snd now that that is complete, backing that lot up the the NAS is another job altogether. But I got it all settled, and do a chunk of backup every day, while the 2570 now has a completely new SSD, the older one having lost some capacity. Lot of work, almost done, easily took a month and a half, believe it or not, but I've been able to get rid of all of the smaller backups and backup-drives. Considering the big NAS array only cost $199 (plus maybe $40 each for the four 3.5 inch 3 terabyte drives), not a bad deal...

I bought Amazon's Firestick (officially: Fire TV Stick 4K) a year ago, but never much used it. I bought the 4K version, since I have a TV set with 4K/UHD monitor and Dolby Digital audio capability, but never much used it, save for watching the news, it isn't my "main display", so to speak. Part of the reason I didn't use it is that the Firestick, which uses WiFi to connect to the world, will only work with a broadcast SSID, and I try, for security reasons, to turn all of my SSIDs off. But recently, I realized my Windows 10 laptop has Hotspot capability, and that I can turn off and on at will, with one mouse click, so that the SSID is unique to this laptop, and is only broadcast when I turn the Hotspot on - with my main Hotspot, it's always on or always off, no choices.

In the meantime, temps got down to overnight freezing, and I didn't feel my usual chipper self this morning. When I checked my temperature and things, routine now, what with COVID, everything seemed normal - checking my weather station, though, I noticed the humidity in the apartment was down to nearly 20%, half the value it showed a couple of days ago. No wonder my skin is itchy and I have some nasal discomfort. Time to get the humidifiers out, I bought two ultrasonic "cool mist" units last year, they'll get the humidity back up to where I am comfortable again. They worked well, no deposits in the water tanks (I use filtered water, of course), very little mold in the base, easy to clean and store for the winter. One unit was not enough for the apartment, but two, did the trick, they get refilled once a day. The weather went straight to winter, I guess...

Monday, November 7: Elections and more WiFi

Keywords: politics, elections, agression, WiFi security, SSID, HotSpot signal, T-Mobile
I am truly amazed at the amount of agression and mis-information embedded in political campaigns. Even the barrage of negative and misleading political advertising in our local Washington State elections is truly horrendous, and it is actually getting more vitriolic by the day, as the mid-terms approach. I am having a hard time believing anybody actually takes this stuff seriously, but apparently, folks do.

Nuff said, on that score, I'd rather get back to my files and archives and computer stuff. There's only one niggly bit, I can't get my Blackberry to provide WiFi calling unless I hang it directly off the Hotspot, but at least I have managed to turn off all of the SSIDs, the WiFi identifiers. If there is one thing I hate it is a network that broadcasts its identifiers (though anyone with the right software can scan them). I've now even managed to turn off the Hotspot's SSIDs, without losing the connection with the Linksys WiFi bridge, locked at 5GHz. And after doing all that, I find that both the bridge and the Hotspot run at higher speeds, something I can not explain.

Actually, I think I can explain the Hotspot "anomalies". Last night, the T-Mobile service for my cellphones failed, and that was still the case this morning, so I called the trouble folks, who confirmed a network outage on the celltower nearest to me, but then I told the agent my Hotspot (T-Mobile's 4G service as well) was still functioning normally. I had noticed that Hotspot now had a stronger signal - 5 bars, rather than the 3/4 it normally shows. The agent told me the Hotspot must have switched to a new celltower, slightly further away, but providing 5G service. Why the Hotspot switched I shall never know, but it stayed with the stronger signal, and in the interim, about two hours after my call, the 4G service for the phones came back (4G LTE, to be precise). And the somewhat erratic WiFi calling on my Blackberry works better too, that's how I talked to TMO even though my cell service was down. I am also able to run my Amazon Firestick TV dongle off the "at will" WiFi in one of my laptops, so I don't have to have an SSID being broadcast (the Firestick won't work otherwise). Confused? I know I am, but all is working smoothly now, so all's well that ends well, mehopes..

That's annoying: retiring for the night, I dropped my 9mm on the bed, and somehow it tore the duvet cover, not quite sure how, there aren't any sharp edges on the gun I am aware of. Entirely my own fault, then, but I am not going to repair the cover, and instead spent $70 on a replacement. Amazon does have cheaper ones, but they're made of "microfiber", whatever that is, probably some kind of polyester, and cotton is much better for my skin. Ah yes, and microfiber isn't biodegradable, and can be flammable. Definitely stick to cotton, which is what my dermatologist wants me to do, anyway

Tuesday, November 1: Fall is here

Keywords: SSD, spares, fall, rotator cuff, desk, tray table
tray tableLast but not least, with the two new SSDs running smoothly in the HP Notebooks, I moved the used 2TB ADATA SSD that is now spare to my Toshiba Satellite - it took two tries to back that up, and "liberate" the Intel SSD, but it worked. I didn't even know if it would recognize a large disk, but it did, so I have a spare laptop, should I need one - unlikely, but it's working.

The weather definitely has taken a turn for the worse - it's been raining for a couple of days, and that's supposed to go on for the rest of the week. We can do with the water, it's been dry for monts, unusually for the Puget Sound - part of the reason for the incessant wildfires is the lack of precipitation. Not a lot anybody can do about that, the grass was still dead a couple of days ago, fingers crossed. Our intrepid lawnmowers don't help, of course, but they get paid by the hour, so don't deserve complaints, they work hard, and work a lot.

I noticed there are now three Teslas parked in front of the apartment building next door, apart from all of the other Teslas in the neighbourhood, this is becoming an increasingly affluent area. Curiously, I see fewer and fewer Bimmers and Mercs and things - SUVs and pickups, yes, but fewer foreign sedans, with the exception of Volkswagens.

I had "problems", if that's what you can call them, with the rotator cuffs in both shoulder joints. My rheumatologist prescribed physical therapy, I've just not gotten around to doing that, and I have not been doing some of the exercises I should be doing, either. Having said that, I do stretch the joints in the shower, in the morning, and I have just realized my keyboard position (I spend a fair amount of time behind the computer) may be wrong, as well. The table I sit at may be just too high for my shoulders, and I never realized until I replaced my desk chair with one that turned out to be lower, and I developed more pain. Possible, then, that my shoulder joints got too much strain from my sitting position.

Amazon delivered the new adjustable tray table this morning, and so I've been using my Bluetooth keyboard in a new position, with hopefully less strain on my shoulders, all day. That moved my screens, as well, so we will see. Thinking about it, the rotator cuff injuries may be caused by my repeated moves, these past few years, which I did, by myself, with my SUV, which entailed some quite heavy loads, first from Lynnwood to Kenmore, with some of my stuff going into storage in Edmonds, and then everything from Kenmore and Edmonds to Magnolia. In hindsight, I may well have done my shoulders in doing that, I recall having a couple of shoulder injuries during the moves. Just never put two and two together, until now. Yes, the chair and the tray table ended up turquoise, for some reason, really don't know why, but I think that looks good. Different, but good ;)

Saturday, October 29: Updating, replacing, health

Keywords: reconfiguring Windows, large disks, silicon drives, autumn, walking, COVID
Endocrinology testsI am still amazed that my older HP2560 laptop is running like a bat out of hell, now that I finally have that huge (4TB) SSD working in it, I spent weeks trying to figure out how to clone the load I had in there. After the clone, I reconfigured the Windows 8.1 I have running in it, fine tuned things a bit, and between all that and the faster CPU I installed in it last year the thing seems to run faster than the newer, faster, more advanced HP2570 I have - the 2560 doesn't even have USB3. What with the massive hard disk, I can use this for storage and recording - once I finish the backup I am running, I will reinstall the recording software (I've got the media package running again, with a newer broadcast TV receiver), and then should be able to rebuild my broadcast off-air library. Super. I just need to finish the massive (1.8 terabyte) backup...

It is getting colder and colder, I had used my computer activities as an excuse not to go for my walks (that and the lack of sunshine..), but now that I have more or less finished revamping both laptops, I really need to get "my skates on" again.. Get the warm stuff and winter jackets out, etc. Blah, but it has to be done. The pic above right is my quarterly blood draw, endocrinology and rheumatology, just to make sure my medication is "on target", as they say..

I've spent way too much money replacing aging things - the ADATA SSD was a good example, with a 92% life expectancy it didn't immediately need replacing, but having said that, two older conventional drives have intermittently malfunctioned, and that really means I should discard them, I've lost some data on one of them. The 12 terabyte ZyXEL NAS array I bought is getting the loads from these older drives, I never fully realized a RAID 5 array can lose one of its four drives without losing any data (it has 8 usable terabytes out of its administrative 12TB capacity), and I have another 3 terabyte drive as a spare for that.

What with the rain, the cold, several days of computer disk replacement (drive cloning can take 8 hours, and you have to sit there and make sure there aren't error messages) and some other stuff, I turns out I didn't do my walks for a whole entire week. That's bad, thankfully I managed the past few days (2 sweaters, leather jacket, gloves..), I just need to keep that up, may have to head back to the gym when the weather gets colder. Don't like the idea, because of COVID, but I don't do well in the cold, either - and it is something I need to be wary of, my sister tells me she has, after coming through the entire pandemic unscathed, recently contracted COVID when she started traveling again. She's fine, but even so, it is still out there.

Wednesday, October 26: Home stuff and cloning disks

Keywords: autumn, cold, Macrium, drive cloning, Fanxiang, SSD, drive deterioration, Windows 10 Pro
2PM - got up at my usual 6:30AM, but have been doing chores and household stuff since my shower. Don't know how I get so busy with reasonably meaningless stuff - there's always something, and I didn't even do laundry today. Usually, I run a wash three days a week, linen, underwear, this week it was my jeans collection added. That way I only use one of the two machines, early morning in the building laundry room, and the other washing machine is available for other tenants. Though I normally do laundry at 7:30 AM, around that time there's only one other person using the laundry, same way I do.

Today was particularly hectic - the weather turned downright cold (it was 80s only a couple of days ago), so it was definitely the right moment to change the filters in my heat pumps, and reset the wireless thermostats from cooling to heating. It's been raining, intermittently, good news, we've not had any precipitation to speak of for months. Wet enough for me not to go for my daily walk..

I've started up the new (free) version of the Macrium Reflect drive clone utility – I had used version 7.0 to install the 4 terabyte ADATA SSD in my HP2560 laptop, then realized the 2 terabyte version in my HP2570 was indicating a measurable lifetime reduction, so decided to “freshen” that up. Installing a brand new 2TB Fanxiang SSD, I learned that you do not have to initialize or format a new drive for cloning at all, for as long as the computer can “see” the drive, Macrium will use it. You can check this with Windows' Disk Manager, just don't let it do anything, and simply cancel out after you've checked. I am sitting here waiting for Macrium to finish cloning my original drive, after which I can physically install the new drive. One advantage of my HP laptops is that they have a secondary external eSATA port, for which I have a cable, and that lets me create a secondary bootable disk, which often cannot be done on a USB drive caddy.

As the “used” 2TB ADATA SSD will be relegated to spare, I think I may pop that into my Toshiba laptop, which is equally “spare”. I've got a Windows 10 Pro install on there which I only maintain to make sure I have an extra Windows license, should I need one, and moving that to the ADATA drive will mean I can discard the old Intel SSD that's now in there. With only 160GB, it is pretty much obsolete – funnily enough it came originally out of my HP2560, where it ran Windows 7. Seems like a long time ago. I must say that old 2560 is now, with the new 4TB ADATA, blisteringly fast, especially since I updated the CPU in that machine.

Thursday, October 20: Routers and faster WiFi

Keywords: ZyXEL NAS, HP, Adata SSD, Windows 8 Pro, Windows 10 Pro, ASUS, T-Mobile, Victure
I can't believe I spent a good two weeks trying to get software to work with my HP laptops, both in terms of backing them up, and in terms of restoring the disk load on one of them, all this in combination with my new NAS array, and how to do a restore from my network. The older HP, a 2560 business notebook, had a failing hard disk, a 2 terabyte Seagate FireCuda hybrid (part silicon, part mechanical) drive that never worked very well. The silicon/winchester combo has, I think, a problem exchanging and moving data between the media. The one thing I couldn't figure out was how to copy that drive to a new drive, and maintain bootability. Try as i might, I could not get backing up and subsequent restoring to work, in Windows 8.1 nor with one of the backup applications I have.

Long story short, and without boring the knickers off off you, I eventually managed to get the data off the bad Seagate (most backup software fails when it discovers bad sectors on the from: drive) and finally found cloning software that let me clone the repaired from: drive to the brilliant 4TB ADATA SSD I couldn't get to properly format. Eventually, a free version of the excellent Macrium software did the trick, and over two days helped me create a bootable very fast very large SSD, which the older HP BIOS was able to access and use. I won't bore you with the rest of it, but the 2560 is now fully functional, the large SSD has made it quite fast, and I even managed my Microsoft Media Server under Windows 8.1 Pro to run again. The 2560, with the new SSD, actually doesn't run as hot as it used to, so I am well pleased. Couple more reinstalls and I'll be happy as a clam, especially the lower running temperature is unexpectedly pleasing.

Victure WiFiI have replaced my secondary router as well - it was a T-Mobile branded ASUS WiFi router, which worked well, but it would occasionally "drop" both WiFi channels, for no obvious reasons. Additionally, it was "special" T-Mobile technology, and there was never a firmware update. It was intended to provide Ethernet connectivity from T-Mobile cellphones, but those now all have Hotspot capability, something you have to pay extra for, and so the ASUS functionality was no longer used. I recently decided to look for a cheap replacement, and found a "Victure" (no, me neither) high speed WiFi router with gigabit ports that ended up to be just what the doctor ordered, at a "massive" $33.06, tax included. I got it to support the dual LAN trunking my new NAS array is capable of, and the WiFi ports are pretty amazing, at 300/300 megabits per second, at least that's what my laptops come in at, that's a first for me. I managed to get it to log in without accessing some obscure Chinese (as in, .cn) website, so I am quite happy. Amazing, how many of these products, my ZyXEL NAS drive, my Linksys router, and this Victure contraption, al insist on contacting their manufacturers wen you first activate them, and presumably report your data to them. I hate that, none of their business, and I usually spend a bit of time bypassing that data collection capability, not always easily - Victure in China took the cake, in reporting the router's master login and password directly to its manufacturer in Shenzen, or it would not even activate...

Sunday, October 9: Repairs and Fixes

Keywords: Housing Authority, ZyXEL NAS, RAID 5, Ethernet, tcp/ip, ASUS router, AIS Backup, link aggregation, trunking
elevator landing 2nd floorThe Housing Authority finally fixed my bathroom ceiling - it was all a bit squirelly, there was a fire in the roof space above the apartment above me, but in order to fully rebuild that, they had to replace the bath upstairs, and the drain for that could only be installed through my bathroom ceiling. Then, it took two months for a painter to come and fix the resultant hole, and re-paint. But it got done, and the painter unexpectedly paid me a compliment about the good and tidy shape my apartment is in, which was sort of unusual. I must admit I managed not to clutter the place up, having been used to living in two and three bedroom homes I realized early on I had to make sure not to bring too much stuff, to keep the place manageable. And I guess the painter inadvertently confirmed I have been successful. Many of my neighbours, here in this seniors building, ended up retiring here, but not getting rid of much of the stuff they'd really never need again - like everybody seems to have a sofa, even though they rarely sit on them (besides, slouching is really bad for the back..) Anyway, it's done and dusted, and the apartment is airtight again. They do come and fix stuff, so complain I really can't. That's the second floor elevator landing, BTW, the light was just particularly pretty this morning, "the '60s view".

In the interim, I've just about finished backing up the "secondary" laptop to my new network storage, which takes time. AIS Backup is set up to create ZIP archives, and that over Ethernet, it all takes time, especially considering I have some 1.4 terabytes sitting on that laptop, and I have programmed the backup software to use no more than 35% of processor capacity, so we don't get overheating symptoms, and so far, so good, it is (after a week) just about done.

You may recall I discovered this RAID array is capable of trunking and link aggregation, using its two Ethernet ports. Not knowing this, I had installed the unit with two separate links, and that is how it has been running. So after the "big backup" it was time to get the link aggregation going, not even knowing if that would work on my ASUS / T-Mobile router. But it was smooth as a baby's bottom, I activated the double link on the NAS drive with a single manual IP address (one IP address and one MAC address for two ports, who knew?), gave it the router's IP as gateway, and the NAS array and the ASUS router did the rest, automagically. That meant, of course, that the secondary laptop now had the IP address I gave it before, that no longer exists, but I managed to rehome it on the single link, sharing the IP. Cool, and almost painless..

The remaining issue is that I'd like to move the load of the older laptop onto the large (4 TB) SSD I am not using for backup any more, something I have so far not managed to do. I can restore that machine from the NAS array now, which is pretty cool, and run quick daily backups, but I'd like to move a lot of my data to this laptop, from where it will automagically will back up to the NAS array. Getting closer, but not quite there yet. Maybe tomorrow... right now I am trying to clone the older laptop's drive. ADATA, who made the 4TB SSD I have, now have a cloning facility in their utility software. We shall see..

Sunday, October 2: Backing up and testing

Keywords: ZyXEL NAS, RAID 5, Linksys, wireless bridge, WiFi 5, dual band WiFi, AIS Backup, link aggregation
I have to tell you that the network I've now built, with the new T-Mobile Hotspot router and the new ZyXEL network drive, is probably the best I've had in years, at least since I lived in Virginia all by my lonesome. After I moved to the Seattle area, I've lived in rentals and shared the internet, and even though I had manager access, housemates tended not to understand how to manage their phones and laptop connectivity, and the carrier routers and WiFi were always two technologies behind. NAS arrayNow living in my own apartment, with a dedicated latest 4G LTE dual-band Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) Hotspot, but this time combined with a dedicated Linksys router providing a 5GB dual band WiFi bridge, has really helped with speed and reliability. A classic - I had the Linksys router for a while, but never knew what its WiFi bridging capabilities were. No more USB (other than for charging)....

Something I realized a few days ago, when I went over the NAS manual again, is that this four drive ZyXEL is capable of port trunking and link aggregation, as it has two Ethernet ports, which can work together over a single router, and this improves throughput. The smaller ZyXEL I used before does not have that capability, so I hadn't really looked at it when installing the new unit. At this point, I am in the middle of backing up both of my laptops to the NAS, using my trusty AIS Backup application, so I won't be able to activate the trunking and load bearing until that's finished, and then I will need to first test the AIS restore-over-Ethernet capability, which I have used before, using AIS boot disks. So I'll let you know when I get to that, as the 1.4 terabyte backup from my HP 2560 is taking its sweet time. But after that, I will no longer need to back up to external drives (well, the NAS array is external too, of course), which will make backup management much easier. Patience *smile*.. At least I know now I can simultaneously back up both laptops, without much loss of performance.

Having said that, I am discovering RAID 5 with 4 drives is meticulous, reliable but slow. It is probably partly my own fault, since I did not activate link aggregation when I set up this box (didn't even know I could, or how to), and once I finish running the main backup turning on link aggregation will probably speed things up a bit, but that is not something I am too worried about. I have tested AIS Backup Recovery, and that works, though - I managed to activate an FTP routine I didn't even know was available on the NAS box by default. I can run that from an AIS DVD, which will talk to the laptop's native Ethernet, without my having to do anything fancy, but I'll probably need to activate link aggregation before both my systems will "play ball". There are currently two IP addresses that show on my router, and I should really only use one for both built in LANs, with both laptops. No rush with that, though, as I said, finish the main backup first, then do a ROBOCOPY from one laptop to the other, then swap out the secondary 2 terabyte disk for a 4 terabyte SSD I now have spare. Plenty to do still..

Saturday, September 24: Network drive done!

Keywords: ZyXEL NAS, RAID 5, terabytes
unpack deskWhile I had owned a number of NAS drives, they were always two-disk arrays, which are fast, reliable (though not fault tolerant) and were affordable. The larger arrays were simply too expensive, and I've always "made do" by backing up my computers separately, as well as storing their data on a network drive. At this point in time, however, backing up the amount of data I have amassed just takes too much time, so when I came across a NAS solution that is both larger and cheaper I decided to "go that way". My new four drive array, which I can partly populate with 3 TB drives I already have, will end up with four 3TB drives, with a functional fault tolerant load of just over 8 TB (stripe + parity, for the cognoscenti). That's brilliant, I'll be able to store all of my data on the new device, and only have to separately back up two laptops, once a week or so, with AIS Backup keeping incremental images on the NAS array all by itself. Once all that is done and working properly, I can probably sell the original ZyXEL 2-bay drive. Bought in 2017, that cost me just under $500, and has done very well, though once I moved out of my Lynnwood digs, in early 2019, I no longer managed the LAN. It ended up in storage until recently, only ever saw a couple of years of service, and its disk drives have now moved to the four bay array I just bought.

I must say I am mightily impressed with the ZyXEL NAS drives, both the old and the new - the new, 4 bay, version is mostly smooth as a baby's bottom. It is a little slow by comparison, but that is because of the amount of redundance built into the system. It has so much security, striping and parity provisions that it ends up with 8.11 usable terabytes (out of 12), while it takes a little while for all four of the drives to spin up and load their caches, once the box has gone to "sleep". That means the drives will last, and there is little or no chance of overheating (there is a massive but noiseless variable speed fan that runs 24/7 in the back of the box). At this point, I have transferred most of my archived data, which boils down to 2.10 TB, leaving me plenty of "spare space", and I need to start consolidating some of the stuff on my two laptops, which is pretty much duplicated, a job I need to finish, and then I can start removing data on my primary laptop that I don't need there, after I replace the 2 TB hybrid drive in the secondary laptop with a 4 TB SSD I no longer need for backing up. Five days' work so far, including three for the NAS and two for the network install, and probably another week to follow...

Having copied my one terabyte backup to the NAS drive, next thing down will be to try and run an incremental on the new backup location, check if I've done all that right, and take it from there. Tomorrow :)

Sunday, September 18: End of summer, indoors network fun

Keywords: Franklin T10, T-Mobile Hotspot, streaming,5GHz bridge, ZyXEL NAS, RAID
T-Mobile WiFi HotspotTrue, there wasn't much to write about, the past couple of months, but at the same time there is so much I don't write about in principle, like neighbours, stuff, I don't like to get negative, get personal, or go off on people, and what with the continuing COVID scare I am still not going to the gym, or out in general, the risk is still significant. Couple days ago I got an invitation from the Seattle Visitng Nurse Association to come get my third (Pfizer) booster, so I went and did that, thankfully with fewer side effects than the previous (Moderna) two. And in the interim, summer is taking a back seat, the heat is down, and the temperatures are falling, though it is still plenty sunny and I get my afternoon walks in "as normal". I've had some heating going for the past couple of days, but that may well be a consequence of the chills that come with the COVID booster...

On a completely different note, I've had to replace my Franklin Wi-Fi Hotspot, after a number of access failures, but much to my delight T-Mobile decided to send me the new 4G/LTE Franklin T10, rather than the T9 I had. As it turns out, the T10 has better bandwidth, and particularly better 5GHz coverage, and I am fairly over the moon with that. At the $14.95 old-geezer-subsidy rate Connectall charges, you can't go wrong. That's $14.95/month, unlimited (really) data, and no deposit or security, while the Hotspot is a full blown router, with 15 5.0/2.4 GHz Wi-Fi ports, and one NDIS USB 2.0 connector, rather than Ethernet.

What I "discovered", you see, is that using a Linksys router I've had for a while, I am able to bridge the 5GHz trunk from the Hotspot onto my wired Ethernet, and that works a lot better than I had expected. Better, and faster. I had done that before, to my then landlord's Comcast Wi-Fi router, but that had not worked well. The Linksys always gave me a bit of a headache - it is set up so you're forced to activate it using an online Linksys-provided internet account, and I don't like having to provide my details and network data to manufacturers. Other brands don't make a big deal of this, but Linksys actively tries to hide all "offline" capabilities. I eventually figured out a way around it, but that means you have to figure out your own Ethernet settings, and once that's done you have to try and talk the thing into creating an Ethernet/WiFi "bridge" with the Hotspot. This involves programming, as well as sitting around for ten minutes while it tries to establish the trunk, and I don't have that much patience, and the device does not talk back to you.

So far so good - while the "new and improved" internet connection is the important part, since my new network layout - hotspot, network bridge, terminating router - lets me do things I haven't been able to for a while, I dug up my NAS device (NAS = network attached storage), since I ought to be able to connect that to both my laptops using my repurposed T-Mobile ASUS router. I hadn't used my NAS, which has two hard disks under RAID 0, for quite a while - two-drive NAS devices let you store things via your LAN with great speed, and are accessible from multiple computers and other devices.

Since I moved to Seattle, I've been using multiple drives for storage and backup, since I no longer had a local area network, but as I've now managed to put a "proper" internetted home network in again, I decided I'd splash out for a large redundant RAID array. Much to my delight, Amazon had a larger ZyXEL on sale, a four drive array, for about half the price of their two drive unit (which I have), and that meant I could set up a lot of secure storage, and consolidate the various drives I currently use.

Not too shabby, then, and all caused by having to get a new hotspot, and digging up my existing network equipment. I should get the new NAS enclosure shortly, and two more drives I need to make that work, so I'll give you an update pretty soon..

Thursday, July 28: Heat, and then some

Keywords: A/C, Edgestar, Franklin Hotspot, T-Mobile WiFi, streaming, rugby, blogging, TV dongle
kitchen viewThe heat has finally gotten here, the Pacific Northwest is broiling to the point that the Housing Authority has authorized to keep the Community Room's A/C on, and is providing bottled water. As far as my apartment is concerned, my heat pumps keep it all very manageable. Temperatures are up to the point subsidized portable A/C units are available to folks with low incomes, something that indicates global warming is catching up with the general population, this is an area where traditionally few people had A/C, but that is changing rapidly. I got lucky, I suppose - I'd had air conditioning on the East Coast as far back as when I lived in New York City, but when I applied for a subsidized apartment here in Seattle, the first thing I did, even before the application had been approved, was invest in a couple of reconditioned portable heat pumps, more or less "just in case" - buying them in winter meant I got them cheap. I knew that once I had a lease and needed to buy furniture and things and move and my rent would almost double, I would not be able to afford A/C units, as well. I rarely run both of my (14,000 BTU) units at the same time, but we've reached that stage now, at least until next week. The picture here is one of the testers I took with my reprogrammed Nikon, but for illustration, one of the heat pumps is left in the picture, that's the one I crank up to keep the place cool at night, when I turn the one in the bedroom off, too close to my bed to sleep.

You may recall I got a T-Mobile WiFi Hotspot via the wonderful interconnection.org folks, and that this occasionally "hiccups". Then, last week, I found these WiFi routers at Amazon, heavily discounted, so I just ordered a spare, and then when it gets here I'll see if I can get it to work with my existing subscription. It is exactly the same unit T-Mobile sells, down to the branding, so the idea of having a spare, rather than having to request a replacement, is brilliant. Yes, I may get a 5G unit when they get cheaper, but for now, the 4G LTE version does just fine, I can stream UK and US TV without problems.The router interconnects my laptops and a couple of cellphones, as well, so I should be OK.

Eh? Ireland won the series from the All Blacks, in New Zealand, of all places? The mind boggles. A lot of sports going on, anyway - from the Tour de France and Women's International Soccer to various cricket tournaments.. I've not followed much of it, I like sports live, but some of it isn't a television sport, in my book.

I've not been blogging very actively - I mostly need to catch up with the broadcast TV I do on my "other" laptop, and I gradually lost most of those facilities, and have not gotten around to putting that back together - if I even can. Microsoft is in process of discontinuing Windows 8 and 8.1, and that effectively means the half life of my Windows Media Center is nigh. It isn't an issue, and I may be able to find a Windows 10 source of broadcast TV, I have another dongle, but even Windows 10 isn't going to last, assuming I can find a fuctioning load, which I should have on disk somewhere. The "other" laptop was designed for Windows 7, and so may only be of limited use, it does not even natively have USB3 ports. We shall see, I like futzing, but I may well rely more on the faster, more advanced HP 2570p I use much of the time.

Thursday, July 14: Nikon, decoration

Keywords: Camera, backlight, wall ornaments, apartment, storage, sleep methodology
magnoliabedroomI hadn't used my Nikon in quite a while, and when I finally did I really couldn't get the focus right, I'd had problems with my external flash before. Part of the problem was that I just didn't use it enough to get the controls straight, until today, when I got annoyed to the point I took some time to figure out where I went wrong. There are rather a lot of settings, and my former prowess seems to have stayed the other side of age 70. Anyway, long story short, I finally managed to take a new picture of my bedroom, with the sun streaming in, but with the flash working right, as you can see on the left here. I wanted a well lit shot with light streaming in the window but the black sheets properly lit, and I guess I finally managed to get the camera to behave, I hadn't noticed the screw-on battery compartment was a bit on the loose side. New rechargeable flash batteries seem to have helped too, because the wide angle setting of my main lens is 17mm, I have to bounce the flash to "fill" the shot properly. Finally worked that out, today. On "auto", too *smile*.

And no, if you were wondering, I don't do pictures on walls. Never much did, anyway, but as I did away with books and bookcases, pictures and paintings went the way of the dodo too. I must say I like plain white walls, and what visual aspects I have consists mostly of screens, which have moving pictures on them, insofar as they do. No TV in the bedroom, either, I understand watching TV or a screen before bed impairs the sleep pattern, so I've taken to reading a physical book before bed, which the medical profession says makes for better sleep.

I am quite pleased with the way the apartment has turned out - plenty of space, no clutter, plenty of storage, I've done reasonably well. And no, that's not a small bedroom, it is a huge bed - the absolute largest I could get at Amazon, in fact. The kitchen is uncluttered, and my corner of the building is generally quiet. Having the corner space means I have only one neighbour - well, none, at this point, as the neighbours passed away / moved out, and no new tenants have yet materialized. Even then, the Housing Association still has to do the mandatory refurbishment, so that will be a while. Currently my upstairs neighbour, who had a fire in her apartment, is storing some of her stuff there. In many ways, I realized I used my big house in Virginia more as a storage space than as anything else, and having to get rid of the clutter before moving to Seattle was, in hindsight, a godsend. The pawn shop in Virginia paid for the Uhaul and the gas, so to speak... ;)

Thursday, July 7: Exercise, routers

Keywords: walking, heart rate, heat pump, A/C, T-Mobile, Franklin router
heart rate monitorWhile I am (for COVID reasons) still not going to the gym, I walk as much as I can, meaning I try and get a solid half hour walk in around my neighbourhood, every day. That's the medical recommendation - half an hour of brisk walking, and I wear a heart monitor when I exercise, so I have a statistical overview of my efforts, and just maintaining a spreadsheet keeps me on my toes. I have lost well over 15 lbs since giving up alcohol, by the way, something I hadn't even anticipated. The HRM (heart rate monitor, pic top left), however, didn't always work, and I found that the mobile phone I normally carry interferes with the phone that I have the monitoring app installed on, so I now just carry the monitoring app, and I get perfect readings. It is known that multiple devices with Bluetooth and WiFi will interfere with each other, so that solution was easy.

Much to my surprise, swapping the heat pumps led to one "finicky" unit running better - I recall I bought that reconditioned, and it always had a problem starting a heating cycle when the ambient temperature got up to 65, but as of yesterday, when I moved it, it is working fine. It is the unit that is a bit noisy, but as it sits in my bedroom, and I don't use it at night, that's no issue. I had been all over the internet to see if I could find a replacement, but it does not now look that that's necessary. I noticed that exactly the same heat pump is available with a different brand name, no idea why that is, but at least I can get a replacement if I need one (and have 600 spare $$s).

In the interim, the T-Mobile T-9 Franklin Hotspot continues to malfunction, and I still cannot figure out why. Just as I was about to turn in, last night, it lost its WiFi, but the hardwired connection (NDIS over USB) kept working. I powered down the laptop, and sure enough, by the time I got up the internet service wasn't working at all, hardwire or otherwise. I was planning to call the service folks again, even though it was Sunday, but after futzing a little bit, which included removing the VPN DNS addresses, and manually resetting the router, it all came back. I still have to talk to the support folks, and see if they can send me a replacement, something is squirrelly, I've had four unexplainable internet failures in three weeks, but for now, things seem OK.

Thursday, June 30: A/C on, Hotspot fixed

Keywords: heat pumps, A/C filters, Mobile Citizen, T-Mobile
Edgestar heat pumpIt is time for some more maintenance - swapping my heat pumps, which helps clear out any debris that might have gotten into the hoses, and because one of the heat pumps is noisier than the other, I am better off with that sitting in the bedroom (where I don't run a heat pump at night). Mustn't forget to replace the A/C filters next month, those cut-to-size filters I get at Amazon, wich have a "sticky" layer on one surface, are a godsend. The initial heat wave over, it's best to do some of this stuff now, before summer hits for real, probably in a few days' time. For those of you who are thinking about getting portable air conditioners, get dual hose heat pumps, because the single hose variety will suck air you've just cooled or heated out of the room, and use it to power the heat exchanger. I mean, it works, but that is hardly efficient - my heat pumps are dual hose, so any air the compressor needs it gets from outside. I had a single hose unit, a few years ago, and decided it wasn't terribly efficient, so I sold it, and replaced it with a dual hose unit, which heats as well as cools, and gets its exchange air from outside. It is a little more expensive, but it works very well. Interestingly, summers are getting hotter in the Pacific Northwest, and one charity, which provides energy subsidies to those less well off, has now begun to provide free portable A/C units to the poor, those that qualify for energy support already.

I only just noticed I hadn't done any walking for most of the week, but spent much of my time fixing my laptop network and the network interface - my T-Mobile Hotspot had conked out repeatedly, for no clear reason, and I didn't get it working again until I spent some time on the phone with the folks at Mobile Citizen (mobilecitizen.org), which provides technical support for the retiree discount internet service I lease from Interconnection (interconnection.org). They talked me through a full reset of the Mobile Hotspot, something I eventually figured out how to do myself, when I understood some of the settings in the wireless router just did not work right. The Hotspot provides wired (NDIS over USB) as well as multiple WiFi services, and for as long as I am not trying to do fancy stuff this works just fine. The only "problem" was that Mobile Citizen replaced the Sprint Coolpad they had originally issued with a T-Mobile Franklin T-9 hotspot, more or less without warning, and so I didn't really have a chance to experiment with the new settings, not helped by Mobile Citizen stating it was a 5G device, when in fact it supports only 4G LTE.

Mobile Citizen was very helpful, though no solution was immediately found, a Sprint (now part of T-Mobile) customer support agent spent well over an hour on the phone with me, and then opened a trouble ticket with T-Mobile for me, to be actioned the next day. After a huge amount of troubleshooting, as he was on the phone with T-Mobile technical support, I turned off my VPN, which directs my internet to dedicated DNS servers, this is how I access some European services. Once I had all of the networking on my laptop looking at default services (= T-Mobile's default DNS), Internet service came back, though I had to reboot both the Hotspot and the laptop to get it to actually work. A short while later, normal Internet access came back, and after I finished up with the support person, I reprogrammed my network stack to access the VPN, and somehow, magically, that worked. I don't really know how I got it to misfire, this has happened a couple of times over the past week, but at least I now have some kind of solution that works.

Sunday, June 26: Summer's Here!

Keywords: HP laptop, solid state drive, eSATA, backup, weather, COVID, King County Health, car maintenance, Durango
Durango outsideWhat with Summer arriving, I've done the necessary car maintenance, or rather, had the various mechanics do it, the last job was topping up (myself) the refrigerant in the A/C in my trusty old Dodge, in the pic top left. It was more a quick check the A/C was OK, it did not need a lot of refrigerant, literally a top up, so I can be pleased with the maintenance I had done previously. The A/C, additionally, comes on whenever I use the defroster, which means it runs in winter, occasionally, especially in cold and rainy weather, it isn't just "hot weather apparatus". But it's fine, checked the oil and other fluids, tires, I needed to top up the oil a few weeks ago, after the oil change, once it had run it wanted another half quart, I added some 10W40 High Mileage oil, always a good idea in an old V-8 in summer, it normally wants 5W30, next will be the air filter, and that will be it. It is doing well for an old car, fingers crossed, I could not afford to replace it.

The weather is improving, here in Seattle - today, for the first time this year, the forecast calls for 74 degrees, and we'll take summer from there, I guess. I've just replaced my A/C filters, so I'll be able to run the cooling cycle in my heat pumps as necessary. Having said that, we're waiting for the sun to put in an appearance - hopefully, once FedEx delivers my refrigerated medication shipment, I'll be able to do my daily walk, it is frustrating not to be able to go to the gym due to COVID. People do go and work out, but I just don't yet want to take the risk, considering the COVID statistics in King County. The COVID "hit rate" has been going up slowly (that's number of cases as well as deaths) since April, so now is not a good time to experiment with exposure risk. Having said that, I can take my daily walks, much like I used to in Lynnwood, before I got my gym membership.

So I had two external eSATA cables, with USB power, and at some point I could not get the (external) drives they were intended for to work any more. Turns out the cables (both!) simply died, I ordered another to test (with Amazon, you can just return something you don't want / need), and that worked just fine. Not only that, running a backup over eSATA (one internal, one external) is blisteringly fast using SSDs, something I didn't know. It is kind of important to do these backups - one of them, using AIS Backup, failed, I have no idea why, and I have to do it all over again. But since I can run the Microsoft backup over SSD/eSATA really fast now, it isn't that much of an issue. I just need to grab a Windows recovery DVD and test that I can talk to the 4TB backup SSD over eSATA. Should be OK, but one never knows for sure unless it's been tried, right? I just received the second eSATA converter cable I ordered, and that works fine, too. What it boils down to is that I can largely dispense with the USB connectors, and at least use large 2 to 4 TB) disks on eSATA. USB3 is supposedly fast, but the USB ports all share the system's bandwidth, where the eSATA ports (two internal, two external) get locked down on the system bus, where nothing can interfere with it. I've tried the backup drive on eSATA, more or less for the first time, and that runs swimmingly fast, from the look of it faster than USB3. Since I lost a partial backup on USB3, the other day, it looks like backing up via eSATA is the more sensible solution, especially since my HP 2560 only has USB2, but it does have eSATA, and because I have docking stations for both HP's, they both have three eSATA ports, one of which is internal. The drawback of eSATA is that the drives have to have a separate power supply, either a USB port, or an external 5VDC power unit.

Friday, June 10: Drive swaps

Keywords: HP laptop, solid state drive, Google mail, POP and IMAP, video broadcast recordings, SSD transfer rates
The "worksurface" you're looking at is actually my 6x6 foot dining-table-cum-desk - I figured that I could clear the table quickly enough to use it for entertaining, serving dinner, as the computers I use are smaller "business notebooks", and the larger screen is a lightweight Sceptre LCD monitor, easy to move and remove, and only used as a computer monitor, connected to the docked HP laptop on the left. Having both a smaller desk and a smaller dining table in the same room didn't seem the best way to go. Of course, I have no family close, and no kids, so my furnishing needs are different from those of my neighbours - I don't have a settee either, mostly because slouching would really do a number on my lower back, damaged as it is from a vehicle accident in the 1970's.

Magnolia deskThe reason I have two mobile phones is simply that I believe in spares, one of these not only has my old East Coast number, but receives my emails, duplicating what comes in on the laptop. The other is my "home phone", I use that for my local calls, and there are some duplicate apps that are important to me, like banking and VOIP. That way, if one of my handsets fails, I don't lose the stuff I need, which is mostly both on a laptop and the primary handset. The phone I carry on my hip has navigation and my health app, which I use to monitor heart rate and other health functions. Not all apps agree with each other, so having all you need on one handset is generally asking for trouble.

Google has now disabled both POP mail and IMAP, if used from third party applications, which is really annoying, I am no longer able to retrieve Gmail using my standard mail application. While that still works with my own domain, I am going to have to stop using Google mail - and I do not really understand why IMAP works with Android phones, but not with Windows laptops. Does not make sense.

In the meantime, I've decided to swap my video broadcast drive, which is getting old, with the 4TB SSD, which is more or less new. Not being electro-mechanical, the SSD should last a long time, and I have the ADATA diagnostic software needed to monitor the drive. Of course, the very night I began moving almost 2TB of TV programming to the SSD, there was a power glitch - the drives came back, but the transfer rate more than halved, so I am going to have to try that again.

One day later, and I did manage to copy most of the broadcast video - I have a sneaking suspicion the old hard drive just has a hard time keeping up with the 4TB SSD, which isn't just a lot faster than the "regular" drive, but, using an older eSATA interface, which runs at 1.5GB/s, while the external eSATA SSD rates at 3GB/s, while the internal drive, which does the buffering, runs at 6GB/s. Anyway, this is done, and the old 2TB external ia in storage, though I will likely retire it, drives don't last forever. Something I like about the "big" SSD is that I can check its state using the diagnostic software ADATA has made available, though there is some diagnostic software for the older drives, too.

Wednesday, June 1: Banks and phones

Keywords: HP laptop, solid state drive, international bank accounts, price increases
HP 2570p business laptopWhile I had intended to move the 4 terabyte SSD to the older HP laptop, necessary it isn't, and when I tried to format the "big" SSD all I ended up with was a repeated access failure. So I eventually gave up - the 2560 with Windows 8.1 Pro now has a 2TB hybrid drive - part SSD, part conventional - while the 2570 with Windows 10 Pro has a 2TB SSD. Both run fine, for as long as I have patience booting, they both have a significant load of data on them, and I need to give them the time to get running propperly, with all of the Intel drivers loaded and running. Cutting corners is not in the program, nor is it really necessary, I have an Intel "Rapid Storage" app that autostarts and helps check drive runtime parameters.

Then, I needed to replace one mobile phone, got the new SIM card installed and working, removed the SIM card I had used for testing, and called T-Mobile again to see if I could additionally turn the spare phone off and save myself some money. Much to my surprise, that was possible, and the assistant helping me do all this told me I can switch to an "Unlimited 55+" calling plan that saves me an additional $50 per month. As I had used the older Blackberry only for navigation, and I have Google Maps on my new phone, I am pretty well set. So now everything is working, I am saving some money, and I've got a decent new phone with facial and fingertip recognition, which is convenient.

I had not been able to access my European bank account through its webpage, this since November of last year, I'd spoken to folks in their office, but nobody ever managed to turn it back on. From when they started with two step verification, I just couldn't get their system to call me for verification, which is what its security depends on. Then, yesterday, I can't even remember why I tried again, but it suddenly worked. Whether this has anything to do with my new phone I don't know, but I have access. It isn't an account I use every day, but I like being able to check balances and stuff, if I do not access periodically they send me nastigrams about data security. Having spoken to the bank again, I've managed to turn on the mobile bank app as well, so I can now access my account both on the web and on the mobile, meaning I have a backup access method if one does not work, as has happened before. European banks aren't as "astute" technologically as American banks are, honest. As I use a relatively slow WiFi Hotspot, this isn't luxury, if the interface is slow bank access can be problematical, but one out of two usually works. Occasionally, I have to switch off WiFi and revert to 4G LTE on one of my handsets, as the Hotspot isn't particularly fast, and is shared by several mobile devices and two laptops.

On the financial front, I am for now doing OK, though the price increases are not making my life easier. To all intents and purposes, the war in Ukraine has effectively halved my savings, which weren't huge to begin with. Just keeping my fingers crossed I am not going to run into big medical bills or unexpected car expenses. I don't know where I'd be without my HUD subsidy - when I got the lease on this apartment I had no idea the Fed would be subsidizing my utilities, and not until the next year did I realize I actually get some money out of that deal every year. Not too shabby...

Friday, May 27: Fixing systems

Keywords: Windows 8.1, HP laptop, EPG123, Android Blu, endocrinologist, walking, exercise
street viewI spent the better part of a week fixing all sorts of technical things. My Windows broadcast recorder stopped working, twice - it runs under Windows 8.1, on a dedicated HP laptop, but the Electronic Program Guide I use, together with something called Schedules Direct, wouldn't work for a week, and I could not figure out what was wrong. Then, after I reinstalled the app, it came back up, only to die again a couple of days ago. This is all shareware, so there is little support online, but I followed what instructions I had, and this morning everything appears back to normal, "normal" meaning I am able to copy the recorded TV programming to the external disk I have hanging off my other HP laptop. ready for playback, which I usually do in the evenings.

I've now got the new mobile working reasonably well, and I think that between the Blu handset and my trusty Android Blackberry, I can likely dispense with my third mobile, equally an Android Blackberry, but an older one, which is slowly dying. As I don't need that unit any more (I used to use it for navigation with a Nokia app, but it just isn't reliable any more) - when I receive my new SIM card, and install it, I'll just switch to Google Maps on the Blackberry, where my phonebook lives anyway.

Then, of course, more doctor stuff, where I find my endocrinologist agreeing wholeheartedly that going to the gym, at this point, is not a safe idea. He and his entire family have just had a bout with COVID-19, and I guess the statistics in King County (Seattle and environs) don't look really good, at this point in time. On top of that, my thyroid hormone level is all out of whack, very likely a consequence of my quitting alcohol, which has so far caused me to lose a good 10 lbs of weight, which negatively affects my hormone level. So I am back to adjusting thyroid hormone medication level, which ususally takes a couple of months before I can see some results. All in all, the alcohol abstinence has medical consequences - apart from the thyroid hormones, I have more energy walking, and my heart rate is down, something I noe because I wear a monitor when going for a walk. All of that takes some getting used to, though none of it surprised my endocrinologist, while my rheumatologist stated my liver enzymes were "back to normal". Cool, I guess....

I am glad I walked today - that's becoming more and more of a habit again - it was overcast, but didn't start raining until just now, several hours after I got back. Condition is much improved, so I really cannot complain. Top left is just a view down the street, my building in the middle, I took this mostly because the sky was so pretty, it is getting to be spring, most days have a modicum of sun, heating is mostly off. Tomorrow I'll talk to T-Mobile and get them to activate my new SIM card, they didn't want me to install it unless they had me on the phone with a technician. Letchaknow....

Monday, May 23: Another dying phone

Keywords: Stars & Stripes, T-Mobile, cellphone, apartment
Stars & StripesLast year, the Stars & Stripes in front of our building was torn to shreds by a storm, but we never got a replacement, so the other day I bought a replacement myself, this time three sizes larger (5x8 foot) than the "residential" version we had. It actually looks great on the existing pole, see for yourself, and it wasn't blisteringly expensive. Somehow the main wing, complete with flag, looks better now, don't you think?

Hopefully, I'll have a new mobile phone in a couple of days - my main "home" phone is not behaving itself, I have a sneaking suspicion Google turned off some of its Android functionality for being "out of date", I am not getting incoming calls I can actually answer. This isn't a big deal, I mostly use my Blackberry mobile, but it would be nice if I had a fully functional "home" phone. Once it's here, I have to get T-Mobile to give me a new SIM card, but that shouldn't be a big deal.

I suppose I can be happy with the way the apartment now looks - one table, no cupboards, no sideboards, tidy cabinets, nothing on the walls, the fewer dark objects in a well lit space, the better it is. Kind of funky and well purposed.

All in all, the place is getting pretty tidy, I have leftover space I am not using, so I definitely uncluttered. If I want to throw a party or bring some guests over there is a community room downstairs I can requisition, complete with everything and kitchen and dishwasher, so, all told, this isn't a bad place at all.

T-Mobile kindly sent me a new SIM card free of charge, should get here in a few days. In the interim, I've taken the SIM card from my older Blackberry, which happens to be the same format my new phone takes, so I could try and install some of the apps I will need on there. Much to my surprise, this relatively cheap Blu handset is quite sophisticated - fingerprint sensor, facial recognition, and a VoIP app I use does much better on the Blu than on my Blackberry, I tested this earlier with my sister in The Netherlands. The only AP I am going to lose is CarooPro, which monitors my engine and records driving video, and that I kluged, it should not have been working for a long time, the manufacturer long since went out of business. I'll see if I can find a replacement in the Android app store.

Sunday, May 15: Creature Comforts

Keywords: cravings, bedroom, California King, liver test, Cuisinart, FedEx
bedroomI deliberately didn't put lots of furniture in my bedroom, all I really wanted was a California King bed, complete with a new double layered California King mattress, and a storage chest as a night stand - closet is behind me, the clothes you see are jeans, airing after laundry, behind the louver drapes is a black drop shade, so I can sleep in a dark room, not bothered by the neighbours and street lights, or the sun, even in the morning. The reason for the oversized bed was medical - I'd been sleeping in smaller beds for several years, but really wanted a bed that will let me stretch all over the place, which is very beneficial in dealing with my arthritis condition. And that worked, especially since this mattress has a top layer of memory foam, which is firm and does not "impress", especially since I rotate and air the mattress once a week. The memory foam and the new duvet are, together, a bit warm, but in summer, at least, there is the air conditioning, so it is not an issue.

Much to my surprise, after a blood test, just two weeks after I stopped drinking alcohol, my rheumatologist emails me that my liver enzymes, which were significantly elevated, are "completely back to normal". That's very good news, especially since I did not know whether or not I had stopped in time to prevent permanent liver damage. Not only that, I am saving more than $70 a week. And I am losing weight. All good, IOW. I just have to make sure I never get anywhere near an alcoholic drink again, because I know I will fall off the wagon. But good news, and I should thank my rheumatologist, who kept nagging me for well over a year.

My new Cuisinart 3-in-1 Microwave / Oven /Airfryer broke, I'd only had that since January, but much to my surprise, when I called Cuisinart they immediately offered a warranty replacement, even cross-shipping it so I can use the new unit's packaging to return the broken one. The replacement is covered by the existing three year warranty, so I cannot complain. Superb service, I must say, hopefully the replacement is of better quality. The unit is relatively small, and fits well on my sideboard, my old Sharp oven had really reached the end of its life, I'd had that since I lived in Virginia. The Cuisinart certainly is a better fit in my small kitchen.

Most of the shipping of things I've ordered over the internet no longer needs me to be home for delivery, considering there is a lobby / mailroom downstairs, but FedEx often breaks the rules. They were supposed to deliver a parcel yesterday, and eventually sent me an email stating "You weren't home". This is bull, when I know I have to let a delivery driver access the building I stay home, not the first time a FedEx contract driver does that. Supposed to be delivered today, so we'll see - I am expecting that Cuisinart oven today, as well, via UPS, so I will be here. Much of the rest of the time shipments are either Amazon or the Postal Service, and those are more or less automatic. So we'll see.

Sunday, May 8: Repairs and injuries

Keywords: 2nd booster shot, COVID-19, oil change, power outage, cravings, ramen noodles
noodle soupNo real reason to post a picture of a bowl of ramen noodles, other than that I had not eaten them for quite a while, and sort of "redeveloped" a taste for them. Having said that, I am adding some condiments, these days, like spicy thick soy sauce and spicy salsa, and then slowly nuke 'em to perfection. Very pleasant. I had stopped eating ramen noodles because of the salt content, but as I don't eat anything salty (I don't even have the stuff in the house!) I figure I can allow this one sin, once a day. Cheap, an' all - $0.99 for a bowl @ Fred Meyer.

After giving it some thought, I went and got my second COVID booster shot today. The CDC guidance on 2nd boosters is a bit iffy, especially the bit where you might not want the second booster if you might want a third, when it is offered. I'll see when that happens, but at my age, and with my medical history, I thought it best to get the second booster. Walgreens gave me a quick appointment, and that went off without a hitch, so we'll see tonight if there are any side effects - not that that worries me too much..

Other than that, I realized a couple of days ago I had skipped an oil change, at least I think I did, so I got that taken care of today, with expensive high mileage oil. I hadn't had any problems, but better safe than sorry, even if it did set me back $101, which is a lot for an oil change. Mind you, Jiffy Lube did a great job, took maybe ten minutes, and I didn't even have to get out of my car, all new to me. For safety's sake, I'll do another in 3,000 miles, usually I take longer between oil changes, but I do need the old girl, and forgetting an oil change scared me.

Now, I'll go and nurse my sore shoulders - one, the right one, I hurt doing stuff on the car, and the left, which took the COVID booster this morning, is beginning to hurt too, more or less as expected. Blah ;)

As if that wasn't enough, on Wednesday I am sitting in a dark apartment, with a power failure affecting much of Magnolia. Thankfully, I have some battery based UPS units, so I have some ways of having light where needed, a clock that keep running, and a laptop that is usable, all with spare batteries. The battery powered T-Mobile WiFi Hotspot helps too, it'll power itself from a USB port on the laptop too. I had not expected to need the power units, but I am glad I got them, this is the second major power outage I am subjected to. It wasn't too bad - didn't run out of battry power, and the powe failure lasted only from just after 7pm to around 8:30, good show Seattle City Light.

Al in all I can't complain, and I can't say I've had much in the way of withdrawal or cravings. It looks like alcoholism, to some extent, is less to do with the chemical dependence, and more with the habits one develops in order to be able to imbibe much of the day. I am partly excluding the chemical dependence as I've always been able to stop, at night, and not develop cravings overnight, different from nicotine dependency, where a heavy smoker will wake up during the night and have a cigarette. In my case, I would get up and go downstairs and check email and have a smoke, I never smoked in bed, that can really set your house on fire. But it is the habit forming that is an important factor, I would do whatever I needed to do that involved driving or going places, shopping, or meeting people, and would not hit the booze until I had finished my activities, and was home, without the need to go anywhere. The probem then became that I was not able to stop drinking until I went to bed - strange, that, I have no idea how that habit developed. Anyway, it is largely behind me, I just hope my liver is improving, and I can change my habit to be totally independent from the time of day.

Monday, May 2nd: Booze Off

Keywords: alcohol abstinence, Ukraine, Magnolia, Spring
Magnolia neighborhoodIt may be the overdose of information coming out of the Ukrainian theatre of war, but the longer this lasts, the less I understand it. To some extent, the Western media I inhale are probably overdoing the amount and diversity of information, but what Putin wants with Ukraine is completely beyond me. The death toll, civilian and military, is already beyond horrendous, and nobody seems inclined to even try to stop the buildup. That puzzles me more than I can tell you.

Yes. I am in my second week of alcohol abstinence, I can't say I've felt much of an effect, other than that I do not doze off in the afternoon, and have more energy. It'll be interesting to see how I pass the nights, but then I never drank during the night, or, indeed, in the early morning, I hope there isn't a change there. Hopefully the weather will stay amenable, I've started walking again. Curiously (but maybe because this is week one) I have practically no cravings, but then I never drank myself into a stupor. I do notice that I am getting more active, as in, working on the car, setting up my next COVID booster shot, of course, the improving weather helps.

It is clear I have to "remodel" my life, having drunk so much for so long, it has only been for the past few days I've managed to do some car maintenance, which I had been more or less neglecting for a while. Especially the move to a single apartment in a part of town were I didn't know anybody was, well, different. From when I moved to Washington State I have lived in shared accomodation, and that came with a socialized limit on alcohol intake. But from when I moved into an apartment I could basically go crazy with the drink - excepting, that I needed to not imbibe when I needed to go somewhere, drive, that sort of thing. I don't drink and drive, because that eventually gets you into real trouble.

I still have a habit of doing alcohol-free stuff in the morning, so I can do stuff I have to be compos mentis for before I hit the bottle. And I am still not driving places in the afternoon, having planned my activities around alcohol for so long. All, of course, now obsolete habits, but there you are.

The picture above is just a bit of Magnolia, captured on my (now) daily walk. I am still not comfortable going back to the gym, perhaps in a few weeks' time, after tomorrow's COVID booster starts working. So far, so good, all tests come back negative, and this even though by now a few people in my building have contracted COVID. But the weather is majorly improving, and my health monitors show progress.

Monday, April 25: Fire and change

Keywords: Seattle Fire Dept, Windows 8.1, Windows Media Manager, broadcast recording, building fire, quit drinking
Seattle Fire DeptI can't quite figure out why the Windows Media Manager on my Windows 8.1 laptop is working again - it stopped, I couldn't access it, and then yesterday it began scheduled recording again. All I can do is make sure I don't change any settings at all, and keep an eye on the EPG123 application, which retrieves broadcast programming for the Windows application. All I use it for is the recording-to-disk of broadcast TV, so for as long as I have it working there isn't a need to futz with it, the only other purpose for the 2560p HP is maintaining backups. I had wanted to move my 4TB SD drive there, but as that seems to break some software, I'll leave it. No need.

When I looked out my window, first thing in the morning, and saw a giant ladder truck with flashing lights right outside my window, I knew we had an issue. The Seattle FD fire trucks in the picture above were for real, a few days ago, there was an electrical fault in the crawlspace above my upstairs neighbour's bathroom, and this being an apartment building, and the fire less than accessible, Seattle Fire pulled out all the stops - and that does not include the various trucks behind me, as I took this shot from the intersection, to the left is my building - you can click on the picture and see a larger version. Seattle Fire did a terrific job, pulled out half a ton of smouldering insulation from the roofspace. I got lucky, no smoke, no damage, even though SFD virtually demolished the apartment above me. And no, the firemen you see in the picture were not waiting for the bus....

What I am hoping to do is stop drinking alcohol, I got another nastygram from my rheumatologist, it is simply time. I had tried to get treatment through my primary care provider, but she never came up with anything, and I probably should have connected with my health insurance sooner. So I am hoping to empty the bottles, after all, I quit smoking cold turkey in 2010, and that worked without a hitch. So this one, which should help my health and save me money, should work too. Wish me luck and perseverance.

Friday, April 8: Everything seems to work...

Keywords: 4G LTE, T-Mobile, Franklin T9, colonoscopy, hotspot bandwidth, spare equipment, Tru coffee brewer, Senseo pods, Spectre 4K monitor, Fire stick 4K
TRU pod brewerDefinitely wobbly, this morning, after my colonoscopy. Not that there was anything wrong, but a pretty strong anaesthesia, with some extra oxygen, and I am, of course, 74. But friend and neighbour P. dropped me off at 7:15am, and picked me up again around 10. Thanks :)

Thankfully the apartment smelt fresh - I had left an air conditioner running, not a luxury after spending 10 hours in one apartment with induced diarrhea, due to the bowel prep, and that was not fresh, especially if you consider I didn't shower this morning. But it all worked out surprisingly well, and the doctor was an artisan - no cramping, no more diarrhea, one of the better ones. Come back in three years :( she said - still some polyps, possibly larger because I postponed the colonoscopy due to the COVID risk involved, but no alarm bells.

It is, thankfully, getting close to Spring, most days are sunny, with the odd shower and an overcast day in between. I've still got the heating on, but not at night, with the duvet and memory foam mattress that would be overkill. All I want now is for the daytime temperatures to "up" to where I can take my walks again, and I think the COVID spread is pretty much down to where I can hit the gym again. That would be so cool!

So I recommend having spares. This morning my coffee maker (a Tru device bought on Ebay in 2018 that takes coffee pods) packed up, made horrible noises that meant the compressor was dying, and I was able to grab the spare from my spares cabinet and make a fresh coffee. I'd bought those because there are few machines that take those Dutch paper based filter pods, common in Europe under the Senseo brand, but here in the US, no more. Turns out a vendor on Ebay still has plenty of those Tru Senseo "knockoffs", so I just bought another one, I had kind of expected they would no longer be around. I bought a "regular" espresso machine on Amazon, so I am covered both ways, for, all told, $100 or so. Especially with my favourite La Llave fine ground dark espresso roast it is much like espresso con crema. So I'll see whan the new machines arrive, I'll be able to chuck the second 2018 machine, and should be covered for the next few years, that is, if the cheap Yabano "full" espresso machine is as good as it looks. Umm, actually, I'll continue using the 2018 TRU machine I now use, and store the "new" Tru for future use. No need to chuck a working coffeemaker, and at some point these folks on Ebay will run out of stock, always assuming these Tru people stopped making that particuklar machine years ago. I've never seen one anywhere, except from this one Ebay seller.

The other "spare" I've repurposed is the 4K Spectre TV set / monitor, which had been sitting in a closet - I bought it for its 4K capability, but at the time had no 4K video source. With a new APC UPS mains feed I've been able to connect the Amazon 4K Fire TV stick to the 4K Spectre set, and finally have 4K streaming broadcast TV with a gazillion channels. I don't know how it manages to pull 4K out of my Hotspot, but it does, and it looks great. Clever blokes, them Amazons. My other Spectre screen is full HD, which is what my HP laptops will provide, brilliant for regular broadcast TV. But the colour rendition and resolution of the 4K set off the Fire stick are truly stunning, I am watching some BBC series as I write this. Skin colour is amazing, honestly.

Monday, March 28: Springlike

Keywords: 4G LTE, T-Mobile, Franklin T9, colonoscopy, hotspot bandwidth
Here in Washington State, many COVID restrictions have been dropped - in my building, no more masks, no more social distancing, though masks are still required in some stores, health care, long-term care and correctional facilities, and please like airports and airplanes where Federal requirements mandate them. I take a swab test once a week, just to be on the safe side, I actually postponed my colonoscopy twice, "out of an abundance of caution" until the testing requirements were scaled back.

I am having a hard time believing this is the end of the pandemic, if only because China and some European countries are showing outbreaks again. Not here in the USA, so far, but there really isn't a reason why COVID-19 won't spread again. We'll just have to keep our fingers crossed, and keep an eye on the CDC statistics. Just don't count on "getting lucky", for now.

While not looking forward to next week's colonoscopy, it has to be done, and if it's good enough for Joe Biden, who had one recently, it should be good enough for me. Last time around, the physician couldn't evacuate the excess air, and I was in agony for a day or so, I just hope this time things go better. I've gotten some of these "Depend" things, just in case the bowel prep gets a bit "hefty". Never has before, but better safe than sorry.

In the interim, I figured out what the problem was with the Franklin T9 hotspot / router, which turned out to be caused by a bandwidth limitation set by the manufacturer, which nobody told the users about. All it needed was to set the bandwidth to "unlimited" (doesn't mention that anywhere in the instructions) and things are fine, and the service as provided by Interconnection.org is truly unlimited. It also has a higher WiFi bandwidth, so I am happy all told, with a strong (80 - 90%) signal strength, better than the Coolpad. I am glad I have that sorted, especially since the support team told me I was wrong, even though I could see the router function had stopped working - the Hotspot is both a wireless terminal and a wireless router, with one port hardwired to a USB3 port @ 425 Mbps. As it turn out, while I had to shell out an additional $14.95 to get the new router, the monthly charnge is unchaged, $11.95, so after sorting out the problems I am defnitely happy, especialy considering the TMO device is more stable, a little faster, and has better reception. So there :)

Wednesday, March 23: Definitely No 5G, they said

Keywords: 4G LTE, COVID-19 test, T-Mobile, Franklin T9, airfryer, Cuisinart, Firestick, 2021 tax return
COVID19 testBoth the Fed and the State government are now making COVID self tests available - one (thankfully negative) you see to the left. They're free, and delivered speedily by Amazon, and one can re-order. I never had any symptoms, so hadn't had myself tested, but now that I have a supply I do this every week, considering we no longer have to mask and keep our distance.

While, as I mentioned, my new T-Mobile Franklin T9 Hotspot isn't a 5G device, it is more capable than the cheaper Sprint Coolpad it replaces. Its WiFi is faster, and yesterday, when I used my 4K HDTV Firestick with it for the first time, I noticed Alexa voice actually works with it - that certainly wasn't the case when it ran over the Coolpad. I am not necessarily an Alexa voice afficionado, I do not want to provide Amazon with "inside" data on myself, but it is nice to actually have it working reliably. I've got to where I can reboot it every day, I don't like an internet host sitting on my network with one "forever" IP address - call me paranoid.

If you're into data security, make sure you change your network interface, IP addresses, etc., on a daily basis - if a miscreant finds your IP and network segment, chances are that if they can't find you the next day, they'll move on to someone else. One thing the Coolpad wouldn't let me do, and the T-Mobile device does, is stop broadcasting the SSID. Yes, there are tools they can use, but making it as hard as possible to detect you is the name of the game. As I said, if it is too much work they'll move on to someone else who does not make it hard...

I've not eaten French fries for many years, but having discovered air-frying I am afraid I am indulging. Especially since I threw out my old Sharp multi-oven, and replaced it with a smaller Cuisinart multi-oven with an airfryer basket, which can do convection, broiling, microwave, and airfrying, if desired all at the same time, fries are the ticket. And (I swear) I lose weight. The Cuisinart basket actually gets rid of some of the fat producers build into the frozen fries (yes, they do).

Now, I need to get to my 2021 tax return. I normally have that done earlier in the year, but I have been procrastinating, and this does have to get to the IRS by mid-April. I actually ran into a snag when doing multiple accounts, and I think I was just being stupid, and haven't "cycled back", as they say. So there.
The time machine through Saturday March 19, 2022, with linkbacks to October, 2008, is here

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