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July 23, 2014: Finishing stuff

Keywords: Android, Samsung Galaxy, Durango, Caroo Pro, Sony Vaio, Tivo, UW
Open Vaio All-In-One Hmm. Next day. Weedwhacker fixed, hot water tank drained and its air intake fixed - no idea the insulation was obstructing that. Put a 500GB Western Digital drive in the Vaio, not the one I intended, it turned out there was a 5" drive in the thing, and I did not feel like getting a upsize caddy for the 2.5" drive I had available. Impatient. So I ripped the drive out of the Tivo enclosure I wasn't using for the Tivo anyway, and that works fine, actually very silent and seems to run at the same response time as the old one. Having said that, the Tivo won't boot off the new drive, so I bought drive creation software off the internet, but now I have a hard time getting the software to talk to the Linux drive designators. That shouldn't be a major issue, but I've never run UNIX on this Lenovo, so... maybe I'll disassemble the Vaio again, put the Tivo drive in there, and see if I can get that to act like a UNIX box. The Lenovo, with its SATA ports and other "stuff", is a headache in that respect. The Vaio, whose architecture is simpler, could be easier. Fingers crossed. You can see its innards on the picture here, not really easy to open up, but what the hey, I think the Tivo is not broken, just something went wrong with the original drive - which, on a Tivo, runs 24/7, in this case since 2009, and its cooling isn't brilliant. More to follow..

I have been using the CaroProo Android application for a while now, to record car engine performance via an OBDII Bluetooth dongle, while recording dahscam video at the same time. Last year, that went sour when their update would no longer provide legible MPG - in their quest to add functionality for high end Galaxys, CaroProo ruined their app for lower end Galaxys. They provided me with an older version of the software that works well - obviously, auto-update is off... Recently, they released a new version that did everything correctly, so I was really pleased. But then, occasionally, my Galaxy handset, which normally functions as my vahicle locator in case of theft, would drain its battery overnight - normally, it uses only 10% of battery or so, in 24 hours on standby. So, I investigatered. Turns out that CaroProo - even the older version - autostarts, even if you have autostart turned off in its menu. And the new version does something in your phone that eats battery. People in their Facebook forum complain about battery drain already, but as it turns out that combines with "standby" battery drain when there should not be any. I've now told Google, and the developers say they'll fix it. It is a real problem with applications, many run and collect data when they should not. #asinine

I am using a few apps for various different purposes, on various different handsets, under various different operating systems. In doing that, it has increasingly become unclear to me why anybody would consider "BYOD" schemes. A mobile phone is not a reliable computing environment, you have little or no control over what various applications do, the majority of application developers mine personal information they have no need to use, etc. It is truly amazing - the very first thing the LinkedIn app does is import your entire address book, without asking, and run that against its own database. While that brings up all of the LinkedIn IDs for your contacts, LinkedIn copies it into its cloud, and uses your contacts to make connection suggestions to other members, without any kind of permission. And that is just one app. Just don't think there are reputable companies any more, whether LinkedIn or Comcast, the majority will help themselves to information they've not asked permission to use.

So anyway. Finally, I've got the pesky Device Manager error message in Windows 7 64 on my Vaio gone, although it is unclear to me why it keeps "happening". I know it is an Intel motherboard driver, but why the driver for this board doesn't clear the error, and the driver for another Vaio will... Last time I cleared it I took no notes, then when I reinstalled the system I couldn't remember what to do, and this time it took me something like six months to (intermittently) troubleshoot it. Owell, it's fixed. I don't know how long this 2009 Vaio will still last, it is running fine, but I think I do need to take it to pieces and blow out its innards, which isn't easy, but I've seen it done once before, even have some shots from when a service technician swapped out its motherboard. While I am in there, I may even swap out the 320GB hard disk for a 500 I have lying around - and, if I can, replace the dead motherboard battery.

I must say I find the little T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy Exhibit 4G I have in the car an ideal piece of gear, serving as it does as a vehicle locator when I am not using it to monitor the engine while playing dashcam. Ideal, in that running it costs me $10 a month, in my T-Mobile package deal, and the thing itself only cost $125. I am unlikely to ever use it for anything else, considering the amount of information Google gets out of your using an Android device. Think about it - Google knows your address book, lock stock and barrel, and it knows when you go visit which friend - if you go to Denver, CO, call up a local GPS map, and you call your local friends there, Google knows where you are, and who you are with, maybe even which restaurant y'all are having lunch at, what hotel you're staying at, or that you're with your in-laws - and please understand Google knows they're your in-laws. I don't know about you, but that is a bit much to exchange for a phone you actually have to pay for. This doesn't help you, it provides Google with marketing data they don't pay you for. I think it is crazy. Read about the Facebook experiment with posting emotions and you can see how far these folks think they can go - especially considering they don't have a good understanding of what they're doing.

So I am going to try and put together some lectures, now that I have found the University of Washington has an "experimental college" that anyone can teach at. I've been wanting to teach, but I don't have the academic credentials. My landlord mentioned the Experimental College to me, the other day, I had no idea that existed. No requirements, put it together, go through an approval, for the most part for UW to establish it does not compete with what they're offering, and Bob's your uncle. This is, for me, a very good exercise. I realized that, in order to submit an outline, I simply have to write and exercise the entire lecture - and I do want to do this as a class, I don't know that an audience is best served by listening without participation. That, in turn, means I have to do all of the research, in anticipation of what questions might be asked. That is a good body of work - and I just realized I should have someone look over the paper - thankfully I have some excellent scientists among my circle of friends and former colleagues.

High Intensity LED bulbs Last but not least, I finished adjusting the new air intake on my Durango, and as luck would have it, we're in the midddle of a heatwave, here in the Northwest. I am emphasizing this because this entire saga began with me coming cross-continent in a heatwave, in a badly overheating Durango. It took me a while to figure out what the problems were, but I think I can safely say the work I did on it last summer, combined with the rest of the maintenance I did this year, certainly fixed the overheating, and as it turns out the cold air intake I installed gave me that extra little bit of power that really makes the engine "happy and smooth". Running the car with the A/C on high, in 90s temperatures, the engine not only doesn't run hot, with the A/C condensor fan kicked in the coolant temperature actually comes down, and the compressor cycles - IOW, the heat exchanger is getting plenty of cooling, even in high heat and full sun. That makes me really happy. An engine with more power will generate less heat for the same work effort, and that is clearly the case here. The coolant temperature is visibly lower, when driving around in the summer heat, even to the point the auxiliary electrical fan, which kicks in when the A/C comes on, as well as when the coolant temperature gets above 120° Fahrenheit, has not been needed, in regular urban driving.

It isn't just because I have been thinking about heading South, to warmer climes, but simply because I've learned so much about the types of engine, and about the multitude of remedies that can be applied when things aren't broken. I mean, the A/C compressor was broken, but after replacement the engine needed a lot of other TLC, and it was, in the final analysis, not hugely expensive, if you just ignore the amount of time I spent. One thing I could not do was test my fixes in the heat, and Mother Nature has now solved that problem handily - actually, I can do some more testing, because this heatwave will continue into next week, and I have plenty of mountains here to do some driving in thin air, it'll be in the 100's in the foothills, inland... So, cool, pardon the pun.

June 21, 2014: Everything works if you want it to

Keywords: Blackberry, Z10, CarDav, Red Dwarf, Android, Google, Powertrain Control Module
Wotabitch. Once I had the Blackberry Z10 all installed and behaving itself (which means automatic connection to my laptop over the internet, even remotely, I am psyched) I found that when I tried to sync in my Blackberry Playbook, it wiped out my Google Contacts. As in, permanently, Google replicated an empty database into its own using CarDav. Asinine. And try as I might - I have my full contacts database in the Z10, copied from my Torch 9810 - I couldn't get the Z10 to replicate back to Google.

The T-Mobile Blackberry support folks in Albuquerque, NM, were beyond helpful, spending hours on the phone with me trying to find solutions, eventually turning BIS back on for another mobile number, which let me try to put the Torch back online, the new Blackberry 10 series does not use BIS. But even that did not work, Google would not synchronize into its database, whatever I tried. Eventually, one of the support people suggested something I really didn't want to get into, fixing a 917 record comma delimited backup file, which Google wouldn't "eat" either. And, of course, thank you T-Mobile, I found one large record I'd put in the phone so I could have my passwords in one place where nobody would look, a record that had only a note, and that was the problem. So now the Google database is back in place, although I am still testing whether I can now replicate to it, and I'll have to then go in and fix some stuff the Blackberry screwed up. Jeez. I would have never thought you could spend as much time fixing things in mobile phones as you do in PCs and laptops.

Ahhh... "Yes, Prime Minister" is back on the Beeb. Heaven. And.... OMG... is this true? Red Dwarf!!!

I cannot believe locating your Android phone via Android Devicemanager using Microsoft Internet Explorer is no longer possible. This can't have been what the gummint had in mind when it said we'd encourage competiton. Especially where Google just said it would install a "kill switch" in Android. It is there. Today. Google just has disabled it for many users, because they want you to use Chrome. It's not something we have not seen before, but please don't make announcements that make no sense. Google is no longer your everyman search engine.

Before BIS gets turned off again, I guess I'd better try to synchronize my Contacts database to the Playbook again, since I am, for now, able to replicate the Torch back to Google. Hop - this time it works. WTF.... I'll never really know how that database got wiped. And I haven't been able to restore it to full functionality where Google is concerned, I may have to manually go through the 917 or so records. $%^##*!!. Owell. At least I had a backup or two. As always. Now - better back up the Playbook....

Wallander... So how do the Scandinavians suddenly make such superb television? I would have to think it is the technological abilities we've developed, we no longer need a lot of artificial lighting (except when shooting for HD) and a camera capturing a person or persons can literally be anywhere, and be relatively unobtrusive. I've come away very impressed with Wallander, although developing Alzheimer's in three episodes is a bit much, well done though it is. And it is a lot better than the crap the American networks throw at their viewers, although some of it continues to be wildly popular. Just dunno why.

The Durango air intake is stabilizing, it is interesting to see how the engine is apparently adjusting since I reset the PCM, a.k.a. the ECU. Why the Engine Control Unit had its name changed to Powertrain Control Module is a bit beyond me, I guess the PCM controls the automatic gearbox as well. At any rate, the engine is stabilizing, which, amongst others, means it is getting noisier, which the internet boards seem to think is normal with a straight-in-and-out air intake. The roar when I put my foot down on the highway is rather fun, I suppose, that's new. I've not yet gotten a meaningful reading for the engine's efficiency, although a long run on 405 seems to indicate a mileage improvement, but it is too early to make a definite diagnosis. Another week or so, I think, fill 'er up, and then I'll do another week with the OBDScope software.

Couple weeks, I'll be housesitting again, and later in the year likely another stint in Thailand. I've not written that up in a trip report, as yet, as it involves a friend, and I have never involved other people in my blogs. I could ask approval, and have 'em vet the copy, but I've never done that. Only last week, an ex told me she worried about my using the photography and video I have of her, and that made me laugh - if I've not done that in the past decade, why would I suddenly start? Truth is, it is so easy to screw somebody up, or over, but I don't see how you get anything out of that. No, vindictive I am not, somebody screws me up I'll get right back to them, and that is it, off you go. Besides... anyway, never mind.

June 10, 2014: Roaring down Route 99

Keywords: Blackberry Z10, Blackberry Link, Nokia C7, Dodge Durango, OBD II, air intake, cooling
High Velocity air intake Durango original air intake Durango A bit of light at the end of the tunnel.. I am still working on the air intake, as it is a bit of a DIY unit without much of a manual, but I think I am just about there. As I mentioned, I wanted to make sure I could capture engine readings, and eventually managed to get OBDScope running reliably on a Nokia C7. While I bought that new, this proves that you can buy a used cellphone and use it for a particular piece of software, because running engine diagnostics on a cellphone that you use for everyday functionality like taking calls, email and perhaps navigation is not a good idea, if not a downright headache. This works brilliantly - I normally use the C7 as my home phone, and on the road for navigation, but I have found the navigation app on my new Blackberry Z10 is a worthy substitute. And after a fair amount of detail work, rerunning hoses and leads, and verifying everything is where it needs to be, the air intake is working well. I had to make some adjustments to install the air temperature gauge, which gets pulled back out of the intake if you leave the wiring the way it was installed at the factory, and I found the plastic vacuum hose that came with the intake is cheap crap, it kinks within hours, but Prestone makes a perfect fit sturdy rubber hose you can pull off the rack at your auto parts store.

Apart from a finicky Bluetooth connection on the Nokia I am using for diagnostics, I think I am more or less done with the air intake. I need to make a few more miles before filling up the tank and establishing the MPG rating, but this morning I reset the PCM (Powertrain Control Module, the "brains" of the engine), which is now learning about the new air ratios and temperature and stuff. She runs nicely, I do notice a loud roar when accelerating on the highway, but that is as it is supposed to be. Other than that, the engine is quiet and runs smoothly, slightly louder than before. I do notice that the coolant temperature is slightly higher, but with less fluctuation - and that could mean I have more horsepower, which means less "strain" on the engine. The diagnostics tell me that when I accelerate up to highway speeds, the air intake temperature drops some 15 degrees, which is what a "cold air" intake is all about, I suppose. The whole "cold air" story is a bit of a misnomer. In the olden days, the air would be preheated in the carburetor, by a warm coolant line from the cooling system, as carburetors were prone to freezing - but those days are long gone, fuel injected engines don't have the type of fuel evaporation carbureted engines did.

Anyway, I'll tell you more once I've done some miles with the new intake, especially once I fill her up 'll be able to tell if there is a significant difference. Two things I know are very different: the engine can "breathe easier", gets more air; and I think there is more vacuum being drawn, and I don't know what the effect of that will be, I don't even really know what the vacuum is for - although, having replaced the PCV valve, I know vacuum lines suck a mixture of combustion gas and exhaust that "leaks" past the pistons into the crankcase and mixes with oil vapour back into the combustion zone. Kinda fun stuff, I am learning how modern engines work. Look at the new and the original air intake, above, and you'll see how large the difference is. All that extra plastic is there to reduce engine noise; amazingly, the nozzle that serves as the actual air intake faces a hole in the fender wall that has no connection to the outside. I do think that removing all that plastic will allow the cooling to run more efficiently, the passenger side of the engine was rather tightly packed...

Then, I almost accidentally looked at a share function on my new Blackberry Z10 - and found that, using Blackberry Link, I can access stuff on my laptop from the handset over the mobile network, using Blackberry's own secure network. Totally cool. While I understand Android and iOS have the capability too, the Z10 offers to install the link software the moment you connect the handset to a PC, it initially behaves like a USB drive, and once you've told it to go ahead the process is transparent, fetches the latest update during the install, and from that point on you can back up the handset to the PC, copy your pictures and videos over, and store or access anything you need on the handset. I keep forgetting to run a full test, I'll make a note for Monday, when I am the other side of Lake Washington.

June 4, 2014: Is the NSA listening to my Durango?

Keywords: Edward Snowden, NSA, Glenn Greenwald, Blackberry Z10, Nokia C7, Dodge Durango, OBD II, air intake, cooling
dental visit Before I move on to more mundane matters, Edward Snowden's defense of his actions sounds very much like a contrived and well rehearsed story to me, the kind of stuff Putin is known for, too. Snowden took off from his Hawaii station without even telling his girlfriend, holed up in Hong Kong, part of the PRC, where he knew the US government would not be able to even talk to him, and then headed for Moscow, where it looks like emperor Putin thought it was a good idea to put one over on the Americans. In the interim, Glenn Greenwald, a former Washington D.C. attourney living in Brazil, working for the Guardian, was recruited to interview him, even going so far as having his Brazilian boyfriend act as a clandestine information carrier. None of that boils down to being a patriot. Yes, it would have been hard to "spill the beans", but many of us know what the American security services get up to, and know that it isn't always kosher, and there are careful and safe folk working for the Washington Post or the New York Times Mr. Snowden could have spoken to with minimal risk. I fully assume that Snowden and Greenwald have been handsomely maintained by the Guardian, nothing wrong with that, and Greenwald's new blockbuster book, and speaking fees, will have certainly taken good care of both of them. There is little in Mr. Greenwald's background that could have provided him with informed insight in the workings of the security services, and with his US dollar journalistic work, and his boyfriend's income, Brazil is a very cheap place to live. I even am inclined to think Snowden didn't have that much "inside information" - he wasn't at the CIA for long enough, and folks like Snowden who have secret clearance become contractors to parlay their position and clearance into a lot more money than a civil service position would have paid. It is all a boringly common scenario.

I am still struggling with cellphones, to a large extent - the Blackberry Z10 somehow wiped out my Gmail contacts database, thankfully I had transferred the database from the BB Torch, and this is when you find out Google has made it as hard as possible to restore address books without losing half the data. Then, I find that only a Finnish application running on the Nokia C7 does a reasonable job of downloading engine data from the car's Powertrain Control Module, formerly known as ECU. But it keeps losing the Bluetooth connection, and I've been working for days on figuring out the correct settings, given that the C7 doesn't have that much of a processor.

Three days later - a Monday - I have finally gotten the Nokia OBD app to work properly, two full captures, one to Bellevue, one from there. Perfect. As it turns out it makes the Bluetooth talk to the OBDII dongle and a Nokia GPS antenna at the same time, which means it gets a location - even altitude - reading with every record. Impressive. The amount of information the OBD port retrieves from the ECU is stunning, and having it in a spreadsheet format, rather than something customized, is brilliant. So - I've done a full (60-ish mile) measuring run, and I've finally got all of the bits I needed - the Intake Manifold Air Temperature Sensor fits nicely in the air intake, they've done a reasonable job, the rest - mount, vacuum tube - I can't really test until the existing air intake is out, what with the sunny weather I'll likely start on that tomorrow. The way it is now set up I can put the old air intake right back, if something doesn't work, and because I have the manifold pressure and air temperature readings I can do a more or less immediate comparison. On one of the Dodge boards, an "expert" wrote that all these intakes do is make more noise, and that may well be the case, but when I see the air volume is restricted by the baffles, and the intake air temperature goes quite high, perhaps... Something quite clear is that the existing air intake completely obstructs cooling air over the top of the engine, and that is made even worse by a sealant strip at the top of the hood. There should be a lot more airflow once all that stuff is removed. What the designers clearly haven't realized is that if you restrict the airflow over the top of the engine, and remove any air exits behind and above the engine, you restrict the amount of air the engine gets to breathe. I have noticed the firewall, A/C ducts and even the instrument panel get quite warm during normal operation, and I can only assume that is because there isn't cooling air coming to the top or the back of the engine, it all goes down. I should soon be able to see if I have that right, anyway.

Why all the fuss? As I was fixing my engine, last year, I got interested in the design process of engines - so many bits appear to have been bolted on as new technologies or new regulations happen. My old Camaro had a mechanism in the gear change that made it automatically go from first to third gear - it was explained to me this was to make the car comply with emissions regulations. Weirdly, you could bypass this if you went high into the RPMs, which, in my book, would have been non-compliance, but apparently the Fed thought that was fine. Similarly, I've found the 4.7 litre V8 in the Durango is designed to run very hot, this to get to a combustion that is as complete as possible. The consequence, as you can see in the Dodge forums, and as I experienced driving cross-country with a trailer, is that the car overheats easily as it gets older, and gunk builds up in the cooling system and the oil pan - oil plays an important part in engine cooling, though more so in European engines than in American engines. So I am working on trying to control that a bit better, using some engineering tricks, just because I like to tinker. The DOT attendant told me last year that my engine was running cleaner (actually, so much cleaner he did a double take and then complimented me, which was really cool, given I knew little about car engines) than the year before, this being after I did the repairs, so I should have some margin. Ah yes, and the PCV valve, I will replace that, now that I know what, and where, it is.

May 28, 2014: It is all about security

Keywords: Blackberry, Z10, Dodge, Durango, OBD II, OBDScope, air intake
So far, so good... The Blackberry Z10 is working fine, batteries are all run in - takes about a week per battery - only UMA (Wi-Fi Calling) gave me some problems, but T-Mobile's technical support person Don sorted that out by uploading some code, without my even having to do anything to the phone, just one reboot. Magic. And I have to unfortunately say that technical support from Albuquerque, NM, beats that from Chennai, Tamil Nadu, by a mile. There's no two ways about it - people from a different culture who don't own a car or a broadband connected computer and live in what we would call a slum without running water or inside toilets cannot meaningfully converse about tethering or UMA, however well they're trained.

I must apologize for getting all excited about some of the Z10's features, as I have no way of knowing whether or not those features have been around in the Android- and iOS spheres since 1885. They're just new to me, by comparison with relatively recent Nokia and Blackberry phones, and I don't see them on my Android Samsung either, but then that does not run the latest version. I am talking about the encrypted Bluetooth VPN, and the Ethernet/WiFi networking the phone does with PCs running Blackberry Link on the same subnet. Those are, to a network nerd like myself, brilliant new tools, tools that provide a type of security not built into iOS and Android. iOS is all about the "closed shop" Apple wants, while Android concentrates more on collecting the user's personal information, which Google then sells to third parties. Even my Blackberry Playbook tablet does not need to use public internet in Starbucks - it will tether to the Z10 over Bluetooth, providing a secure, safe internet connection your average hacker doesn't even know to look for.

The Blackberry, to me, is all about security - even the Z10 fits in a holster on my hip, where it is reasonably impervious to both phone snatchers and getting dropped, and less susceptible to being put on a restaurant table, where it can be forgotten or stolen. Then, Blackberry's networking is built around data security - even the new smartphones use Blackberry's own secure network to manage the data connection the phone uses. The risk inherent to corporate and institutional use of the internet is such that I do hope enough IT folk continue building secure solutions around Blackberrys. Especially the ability to connect tablets and laptops via a secure encrypted Blackberry VPN is the best thing since sliced bread to me. BYOD? I don't think so. There is no rationale for putting everybody's toy on your corporate network. None.

On a different note....

Snags and delays abound with the Durango air intake manifold replacement - I haven't been able to get my diagnostics software to work reliably, and it looks like the intake manifold temperature sensor needs to come out of the throttle body. As I think that could damage it, I am ordering a replacement, so I don't get stuck with a dud engine - I noticed the local parts stores don't stock them, kind of brilliant you can check these things at their websites, these days. Always make sure you can put the original parts back in the car - for the air intake setup, if the new air intake affects the emissions, I may have to put the old intake back to keep the State of Washington happy - amazingly, the vehicle test center is within walking distance - and so I'd rather have that in one "plug-in" state. This way, I can leave the temperature sensor where it is.

I did find OBD II engine monitoring software that does seem to work, surprisingly, for my older Nokia C7 mobile phone - a device I normally use as a GPS unit, due to Nokia's excellent worldwide maps and free guidance software. The monitoring app, OBDScope, outputs the data from all PIDs it can see, 24 in the case of my Durango, to a comma delimited file, so it is easy to look at the entire run in a spreadsheet, afterwards. Rather than averages, I've gotten it to output two readings per second, pretty good for a relatively slow processor, the averaging I can do in the spreadsheet, although it does provide an MPG calculation online I have yet to set up.

May 17, 2014: And on to Other Projects

Keywords: Blackberry, Z10, Dodge, Durango, OBD II, OBDWiz, air intake
Blackberry Z10 alarm cradle I even managed to eventually find a cradle, so I can use my Blackberry Z10 in night mode, as an alarm clock, with just the phone alert turned on. I've gotten used to that, over the years, although my last Blackberry, the Torch 2 9810, didn't have the cradle capability. So I am happy...

High flow Dodge Dakota 2003 air intake for 4.7 liter V8 My next project is a new air intake assembly for the Durango. When I was servicing its 4.7 litre V8, last year, I noticed that the air intake assembly has an enormous amount of air filtering and noise reduction. That works well, at least the noise reduction does, I guess this being an overhead camshaft engine makes it noisier than what the Americans were used to - by the time this model Durango was built, Daimler had taken over Dodge owner Chrysler, and that brought a whole bunch of German engineering to these shores. Anyway, we'll find out soon enough - I need to do some video taping and data recording, but then I will install a high flow low resistance intake and see what, if any, the difference is, from intake manifold pressure to noise level. I'll post it all here.

This week (May 13) was the first week I really had the opportunity to test my engine repairs - by the time I finished working on the cooling system everything seemed to be working fine, but September, up here in the Pacific Northwest, isn't exactly hot, so I couldn't test properly. But by the time I left Bellevue today, it was 81°, pretty much the same warm sunny weather that made my engine run hot last year.

I'd had overheating problems with the engine before, all the way from Fredericksburg, VA, to Bellevue, WA, in 2011, when AutoNation Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram Bellevue conned me out of close to $1,000 to replace the radiator, and the engine immediately overheated again. A mechanic friend of a friend figured out it wasn't the radiator at all, but the A/C compressor, which had seized, and that made the belt slip. That belt, in the Durango, drives the water pump as well as the fan, and so the engine doesn't get sufficient cooling, this exacerbated by the A/C heat exchanger, which, for reasons I don't really understand, is mounted in front of the radiator, where it adds heat where you don't want it - in my book, engine cooling comes first, then you start figuring out what else there is to cool, and how to do that. But even after the mechanic friend had replaced the A/C compressor, the engine kept running hot, although it no longer red-light overheated, so I set about figuring out what else was pear shaped.

It was a long litany of bad maintenance I ran up against, combined with a 4.7 liter Dodge engine engineered to run hot, because that is the way Dodge made the engine comply with Federal emissions clean air regulations - more about that later. To begin with, the replaced A/C compressor had not been charged properly, something I found out is a pain, and takes a long time, and really only can be done properly when the weather is hot, so the A/C works its tail off. Did that. Then I figured that when the mechanic friend said the belt didn't need replacing maybe I shouldn't have taken him at his word, and then I discovered a replacement belt cost only $18.44 on Amazon, so I bought that, and guess what: the old belt, which had probably done 90,000 miles, had stretched, and the new belt stopped all slippage I had encountered.

But that wasn't all.

I decided to replace the spark plugs, figuring they'd had 90,000 miles too. Again at Amazon, I found Bosch spark plugs that, according to the online documentation, were designed to run cooler than the factory installed Champions - they do this, allegedly, by conducting heat away from the combustion chamber more efficiently. Installing them, I discovered the existing Champions had not been tightened properly, and that could not have helped matters. Then, because I had had to remove much of the air intake and throttle body in order to replace all of the spark plugs, I discovered the air intake and throttle body weren't sitting in their seals properly, and were leaking excess air directly into into the air intake. So I fixed that, too, and the engine has run very smoothly since, even more so since I've flushed the oil a couple of times, discovering in the process the workshop in Virginia must have never properly drained the oil pan, as there was plenty of crud in there. I am now running on a regular / synthetic oil mix, a trick I learned from Alfa Romeo, which used to have a similar own brand mix in its 3 litre performance engines. I capped it all off by replacing much of the coolant, and properly bleeding the cooling system, not something I know had been done, discovering, in the process, that the radiator cap was not maintaining pressure properly, so I relaced that too, and reb-bled the cooling system.

Last but not least, I am now reinstalling the OBDWiz software that came with the OBD II engine monitor. Took me a couple of test drives before I had it running right, I remember now I had the same issue when I first bought it. It provides so much data that I will be better able to compare the old and new air intake performance, the Android monitor I normally use doesn't have that detailed a readout, although it does provide detail in real time. Now to do some trial runs, do data collection, and then I can start swapping out the air handling system.

April 30, 2014: Blackberry II

Keywords: Blackberry, Z10, T-Mobile, 4G LTE, Apple, UNIX, X-Windows, Samsung, BIS, BES
Blackberry Z10 taken with and without flash About the first thing that happened after I posted my below Blackberry piece was a response from a kind soul who thought I should switch to an iPhone (and throw out my Nokia and Galaxy and Windows PCs and and switch to Apple devices - to be honest, if I wanted to switch to a UNIX computer with X-Windows, which is what an Apple computer is, I could do that in a heartbeat, I worked on those as a developer for decades). That meant, of course, that the respondent hadn't really read my blog entry, as I did mention that I had actually bought the Blackberry Blighter, but underneath that, the person mentions, in machine-like fashion, all of the vapid marketing arguments Apple throws at the peeps. Yes, you can turn off and wipe a stolen iPhone remotely - but you can do that with an Android device and a Blackberry, too. Yes, there's Facetime - but Skype is vendor-independent - when is the last time you've seen a Facetime interview on broadcast television? And to be honest, you could throw out the "Apple" and put in "Samsung" and you'd have exactly the same marketing blurb. Most importantly - the consumer gets a "free" high end phone from the carrier, provided they extend their contract until 2084 or therabouts. And partake of the latest 1289G service plan, because that is "required" for these handsets.

Setting up the Z10, the first thing I noticed is that you can remove any and all apps you don't want. With Galaxys, iPhones and Nokias, there are quite a few apps that are "locked" in place, either by the manufacturer or by the carrier. Not so with the Blackberry, which lets you unclutter the screen to your heart's content. Wonderful. On my Galaxy it leads to five screens of mostly useless crap, which Google and Samsung think serves a purpose.

It is an issue, this marketing. Both Apple and Google have well over a million apps in their "stores". Do your math, and you'll find that in order to look at and test most of them, assuming you take 20 minutes or so per app, you'll need over 20 years of your life - continuously. Don't do this, and you may miss the majority of apps you might want or need to use... And it is important to emphasize that both the iPhone and Android devices require you to use their manufacturer login to use the device. Blackberry does not,a Blackberry will work regardless of whether you have a Blackberry ID, or use it. And if you do, Blackberry does not track your whereabouts more than necessary for BIS or BES to work, and certainly does not sell your information. Important to me, even if I no longer need the communications security the Blackberry offers, especially when traveling overseas. By the way, the Z10, and other new Blackberry handsets, no longer need BIS - BES is the secure network that Blackberrys use when a corporate owner runs its own Blackberry network.

Back to the Z10: there is an almost complete lack of buttons on the bezel. Most handsets have shortcut buttons all over, and I always end up accidentally pushing something and not knowing what I did. The Z10 needs to be able to be pushed into its holster, so this is a smart design - the button at the top is a wake-up or turn-off button, while those on the side are volume buttons that activate only when you play music or video, and otherwise do nothing - IOW, you can use the Z10 as an Ipod. Other than that, the Z10 isn't a "phablet" - it is not enormous, which I like - but then, I have a Blackberry Playbook tablet as well, which has a 7" screen, as opposed to the 4.2" screen the Z10 has, the handset itself has a 5.5" diagonal. The bezel, criticized by some, makes it possible to hold the phone by its edges without accidentally activating anything - touch screens that come right up to the edges of the handset make it hard to hold it.

Something I do miss is the ability to read and write email for the handset on the Playbook tablet - as I recall, that was the case when the Playbook was first introduced, but whether Blackberry will add it this time around... the Playbook, through the Blackberry link, does handle SMS and BBM messaging, and will let you answer calls into the Z10's speaker or headset mode, which is a cool new feature, answering calls without having to pick up the handset.

More about the Z10 as I discover it, and I'll come back on Blackberry as and when I get a better feel for where the company is heading. I am glad it "stuck in there", but I can't say I am seeing a well defined future, which is a shame, if you consider how well architected and designed their handsets are. Blackberry has unparallelled global network expertise, something it really never has been able to advertise... I recall getting off a plane at Tokyo Narita airport, and getting 3G roaming service on my Blackberry, when absolutely no other handset you could get in the West could do that.

T-Mobile, on "seeing" (in its systems) the activation of my new handset, turned off my data servioe - I had taken great care to not change my service as I put through the order, something you are able to do if you change handsets you own - BYOD, bring your own device. While that wasn't nice, Janet in Albuquerque, NM (I am so happy not to have to deal with Janet in Chennai, Tamil Nadu) sorted me out quickly and brilliantly, and I ended up with a $30 unlimited data package over 4G LTE. Teehee.

April 17, 2014: Another Blackberry, or...?

Keywords: Blackberry, Z10, Torch 9810, T-Mobile, Nokia, Android, 4G LTE, UMA, WiFi Calling, Bluetooth, VPN
Blackberry 9810 and Z10 in holsters I normally have a backup for each vital piece of equipment - cellphone, laptop, etc. So, as I only have the one Blackberry - my last upgrade had a $50 discount provided I returned the "old" Blackberry I replaced - I had been thinking about getting another. An issue with Blackberry and T-Mobile is that only the Blackberrys T-Mobile sells itself have the AWS frequencies necessary to support 3G and 4G, not to mention its WiFi Calling (UMA) feature. I had been looking at the refurbished Z10s available from T-Mobile's website, but at almost $300 I found them a bit steep for my wallet, even though a new Z10 lists at $468. I was waiting for them to come down when RIM announced they would not renew their T-Mobile contract, and so April 25 turned out to be the cutoff date.

Like it or not, I ended up parting with $324, to make sure I had another Blackberry - part of the reason, if you're wondering, is that I have a Blackberry Playbook tablet, which talks to the handsets, so wanted to stay with the brand. Another reason is that I do not like the way Google has implemented Android - a phone whose every keystroke, call, location, word and sentence is reported to, and used by, Google is really a bit steep. I have a Galaxy in the car, one I use as a dashcam and engine monitor, it reports the car's location when I am not driving it, I don't have a problem with that level of reporting, but the idea that Google knows what I tell my friends, has their numbers and locations, and knows when I stop at what Starbucks for a coffee is way too much for me. It is actually anathema to me why there isn't more noise about this - the majority of consumers do not seem to care. As an aside, the picture on the right shows the way the Blackberry is worn, traditionally, in a belt holster that switches the handset to standby mode automatically. I love that - you never leave your phone somewhere, and it is hard to snatch,something that seems to be an increasing problem in major conurbations. One the left the Blackberry Z10 I just got, on the right my May 2012 Blackberry Torch 9810.

Starbacks Chaoyang Beijing For those interested, my T-Mobile lines are now all "paid up" - none are subject to contract any more, and I own the handsets on them. Unlike other carriers, T-Mobile switches its subscribers to month-to-month service when their contract is up, and they do not owe money on handsets, always has done. That means I don't have the very latest greatest Galaxys or iPhones, but then I really don't see what they would bring me. What apps I actually need I have on my Blackberry Z10 or Nokia C7 - one of the nice aspects of this is that I can use my Nokia as a GPS device, with Nokia's excellent maps, while still being able to use the Z10 to make calls while I am in the car. The concept of getting a super expensive smartphone on which I then have to do everything - dunno, ever tried to take a call while you're using your GPS device, which is downloading email at the same time? I can tell you, as a seasoned developer, that the people who write these apps do very shoddy work, don't test except on the highest end devices, and generally have little understanding of data security. I don't even want to get started on the amount of personal information they do not need their apps insist on, nevertheless - setting up LinkedIn, the other day, it insisted on having access to my phone book, and the details of my T-Mobile account - why?

I am not a good reviewer of smartphones, if you're looking for that, anyway - I have little interest in the gazillions of "apps" that are available, and think the news website reviews of apps are ridiculous - you can usefully review software if you use it all the time, for, say, six months, otherwise you have no idea how well it handles data, how good or bad the updates are, and so on. A friend show me an Andoid app that shows you crime in your local area, the other day - to be honest, that's something you can get from your local cop shop, carrying it around in your phone is completely useless, it isn't as if crime statistics change every other day. Similarly, I was using the Caroo vehicle performance monitoring app, only to find that update 11 or 12 no longer provided meaningful MPG numbers, for whatever reason, and the makers concentrate so much on large sized smartphones the app can no longer handle smaller screens, and that it was no longer possible to file reviews, because Google no longer lets you do that unless you do it via Google+. The latter is truly dysfunctional - you'd think that app reviews are important to all users, so if you restrict the number of people able to post reviews, your purpose is no longer information sharing and user support.

So, while in the olden days having the latest greatest handset on a carrier subscription might have made sense, today this Z10 gives me all the networking I need, considering my plan includes overseas service, high speed networking (4G LTE), Bluetooth tethering, and UMA (a.k.a. WiFi Calling), all without surcharge. It is something we've waited for for many years, mobile carriers in the United States, unlike their overseas counterparts, have been using partial surcharges for just about any service they could, from 4G to overseas email, etc. T-Mobile has broken that mold, although it remains to be seen whether the mold will stay broken, or is just a sales gimmick.

For any business, being the largest is an expensive exercise, because everybody is competing with you, and growing larger than largest only works by investing disproportionally. There is a segment of the population that will automatically gravitate to "largest", but then there is a segment of the population that will sit down with the calculator and figure out which service gives best value - the largest rarely do. Yes, getting service on the Queensboro Bridge is really important if you're a limo driver, but beyond that, if you can save $12 per month by not having service on the Queensboro bridge, but you have good service in Queens and Manhattan and on Roosevelt Island, saving $12 just might be acceptable.

Perhaps T-Mobile has understood that offering things others don't pays off, down the road. I've stuck with T-Mobile for a couple of reasons. First of all, they offer UMA, which meant I could make free calls to North American destinations from any WiFi network, whether at home or in Beijing, and additionally gives an encrypted VPN connection for data, at least on my older Blackberry using BIS. Secondly, for a monthly charge of $15 I could use unlimited data and email while traveling overseas, something I could turn on per trip. Nobody else offered this combo - especially UMA, which effectively turns every Starbucks on the planet into a free calling zone for the price of a cup of coffee (in Beijing, add an egg salad sandwich, which is otherwise impossible to get in China) is brilliant. I am afraid I don't actually have a picture of a Chinese egg salad sandwich, but I do have one of a Starbucks cappucino with a Starbucks fried egg breakfast sandwich, and yes, that was taken at the Beijing Chaoyang Starbucks, next to Sanlitun, as you can see from the mug they believe in customer service over there.

So, briefly back to the Blackberry Z10, and my first impressions... The thin battery lasts a day, barely, but a spare is just $7. There are barely any buttons on the casing, and none that are essential, which is magic, because I have (had) quite a few phones that let you accidentally push buttons without realizing it. And by now, "bedside mode" has been implemented, so I am not losing my trusted Blackberry alarm clock. While I have not been able to get the Bluetooth modem up, the Z10 has Bluetooth tethering built in, as wel as Hotspot functionality, and those works very well indeed - there are both a Bluetooth VPN and a Bluetooth Personal Area Network available, still working out how all that works. All that, by the way, is included in my T-Mobile plan, which is not bad at all.

Tuesday February 18, 2014: Windows is losing it

Keywords: Microsoft, Windows, Google, Motorola, Lenovo, IBM
Toshiba laptop Whether I contracted a virus, Microsoft distributed a contaminated update file, I made the same mistake myself on both my Vaio and my Lenovo, I'll probably never know. I had to completely reinstall both of my systems, not in itself a huge deal as I like maintaining that skillset, and have a very complete backup system. The reinstall even managed to fix some problems I was seeing on the Lenovo since I had upgraded that to a terabyte drive, problems likely due to the way I had tried to clone the original 500GB disk to the terabyte version. Since the reinstall, the disk is much happier, and I am able to run normal maintenance and diagnostics on it, as well as automated compression, something the new disk refused to do, so something worked.

One thing I have not done is re-upgrade to Windows 8.1. Having used that for six months or so, I found some of my old trusty windows tools were removed - no more Windows Image, no more performance measurements, and, in general, Windows 8.1 is aimed more at tablets than it is at laptops. Especially the inability to do a full Windows image, so you can reinstall your system, is a major bitch. While you can kind of kluge it using WBAdmin under Windows Powershell, that won't back up your disk hierarchy or your boot partition under 8.1, the mind really boggles what made Microsoft take that away. Not upgrading is not as easy as it sounds - once you're up under Win8, a banner will come up "inviting" you to upgrade to Windows 8.1, a banner you cannot turn off or bypass. It directs you to go to the Microsoft Store, which is on your desktop, from where you're supposed to upgrade. Turning off the reminder is not possible (unless you go into Windows' innards to change settings). Having done that update before, you lose so much functionality, not to mention being forced to connect to Microsoft with your Microsoft email address, that I have decided to decline for now - I need (and paid for) an operating system, not a personal information collection engine.

At any rate, whatever the problem was, I have now reinstalled both my computers, one with Windows 7, one with Windows 8 - the Windows 7 variant because I have several software packages that won't run under Windows 8, unless I spend money I don't have to upgrade them. Besides, when I ran Windows 8 on the Vaio I had to tweak a lot by hand, and noticed that, amongst others, the DVD drive would not get recorgnized. Before too long, the Vaio will expire - the motherboard battery died already - and then I'll be able to upgrade whatever I buy next to Windows 8 Pro, all payed up, backed up and waiting to be used.

So: Google sells Motorola, and Facebook makes massive profits on "mobile advertising" using bandwidth its users pay carriers and ISPs for. It all just boggles my mind. I never really understood why Google bought Motorola, at one time a serious contender in the mobile market, but then ours is not to reason why, Google branches into lots of fields just to test the waters, or so it seems. But then the mobile advertising... of course, I have to realize "mobile", these days, means smartphones that are almost as large as tablets, and tablets that are almost as large as laptops. And, probably, very many users have just the phone, or just a simple phone and the tablet, because having a PC as well likely gets a bit expensive. If you grow up "on" the smartphone you can pretty much do everything on that. Just because I don't means I haven't transferred certain functions to the mobile world. I do have Microsoft Office on one of my mobiles, I've just never had any inclination to use that on a small screen. All it gave me was an understanding why Microsoft eventually bought Nokia. Even Skype runs on my Nokia, which I think I got just before I moved to Washington State. That's right, I got the C7 in 2011, because it came with a free navigation application and free maps. I didn't want to drive right across the country with just one older (2007) GPS phone, and no backup.

Lenovo, the Chinese chappies who now bought Motorola, are a truly fascinating outfit. Buying IBM's PC division, back in 2004, was a bit of a coup, but they've gone from strength to strength, this without the apparently "tainted" financing that hampers other Chinese companies, Huawei is a good example. I am writing this on a Lenovo laptop, still with much of the IBM Thinkpad engineering that made that line such a hit, but too expensive for Big Blue to maintain.

But I cannot help but wsonder whether Nokia will leave Microsoft the same way Motorola left Google. Between the Surface tablet and Nokia, it seems Microsoft is positioning itself to become a player in the mobile space, but then Apple and Google, both of which have based their operating systems on UNIX, seem to have solid control in the mobile world, and all I can see for Microsoft is its bloated Windows operating system, great on servers and PCs, not so great on a small mobile device. The Windows 8.1 "hybrid" iteration is so horrendous I am not using it.

Wednesday January 28, 2014: From China to Sochi, they want your money

Keywords: Microsoft, Windows, shellfish, Safeway, Express-Scripts, medication, BBC
Frozen shellfish from China Those intrepid Chinese export lots of foods, especially fish, in bulk, and recently I've noticed bags of mixed frozen seafood, with crab, mussels, shrimp, clams, a mix of shellfish, quite reasonably priced, around $6 per bag or so. You defrost the bag in the fridge, and then you can do whatever, here is an example of a simple mix of seafood and veg. Season to taste, it is quickly cooked and should be healthier than burgers 'n stuff. As you look at what the Chinese make and export, you can tell their response to the global recession is one of innovation - until they came up with this I'd never seen mixed seafood like this, they tried it out last year, now there is a freezer section for it. The crab? Not surimi, but the Real Thing. That should send some seafood lovers running for Safeway, where I noticed it.

Urg. I think I need to reinstall Windows on that fancy new big disk, because I can no longer install updates. That's kind of the news of the week - I tried everything I know how (and there are a lot more tools today than even a year ago, to the point of confusion), but nothing worked. I have a sneaking suspicion that some of the changes Microsoft made to create Windows 8.1 to facilitate faster disk management may have something to do with this, possibly in combination with the way I moved my Windows install from the old disk to the new. When you try to use WBADMIN to create a system image, you find that it is no longer possible to create a full "bare metal" image, one that will let you fully reinstall. The command string that forces WBADMIN to back up your main partition as well as your boot partition no longer works. So what you end up doing is reinstalling Windows, and then moving the C: partition image back. Several folks on the Microsoft forums think that works, and it did - except now I've got a problem, although I don't know if that is or is not related. I did find a spurious user on my system that I can't place. That's always a problem - that could be a virus trying to "own" bits of the OS, it could be my other system, since I have now mounted my main disk on the other PC - perhaps I should not be doing that, and just export individual directories, rather than the entire root of C:. Hmm. Let's do that first - I mean, I do have to reinstall, but I might as well see what is different when I turn off the main "share". Windows is such a mess, after all of Microsoft's attempts at creating its own networking environment, over the years. Urgh.

Not, otherwise, a brilliant week for me. Especially having a hard time with the medicos and pharmacies - Medco, now Express-Scripts, in particular gives me a hard time. The latest episode has it that, as of last January 1st, Medicare D patients have to confirm they want a medication after it has been prepared. To make things hard, Express-Script's call automation does not work properly, and that means you get only the tail end of a voicemail message, without any indication who it is from - I'll see if I can post a link here.

Because Express-Scripts' subsidiary Accredo makes nuisance calls by the dozen, this to try and force the patient to order medication ahead of time, so they can bill your employer sooner, they use dozens of rotating numbers without caller ID, so you cannot program in who calls you. The consequence is that you don't get Express-Scripts' messages - "we can't by law mention your medication in a voicemail" - and they will not email about this. They will email you if your doctor has not renewed your prescription, they will email you when they ship something, but they will not email you if you need to confirm something. Especially their service calling you, for months on end, about medication you no longer take, is astonishing. They will happily ship you conflicting medications, even though, as a pharmacy, they are supposed to prevent that from happening, something high street pharmacists do routinely. I ought to really do some research about how much medication they ship unnecessarily, and, if they can manage it, without an order from the patient, a.k.a. the consumer.

Sochi. Watching Justin Rowlatt and Anita Rani trundle all over Mother Russia on BBC, I wonder, as I often do, how much Western folk really understand about Eastern cultures. Not just Russia, when I watch the China reporting I get the same feeling, both countries with a Marxist underpinning, both countries with a strong Asian ethnicity, which is very different from ours. I don't really have the words to explain this - that's an unusual thing for me to say - I suppose I could write a book, but I always feel that if you need more than a couple of paras to explain your point, you've just lost 98% of your audience. It is something I learned long ago, working in the Dutch journalistic elite, you're preaching to the converted, which is, basically, indescribably boring. Perhaps that is why the Jew does a mitzvah, when the deed counts, not the word. I've always liked that about Judaism, it is a practical religion, not that philosophical.

This disconnect is clear, though - and I must say again that our propensity to talk about democracy as if it is something we invented, and have ownership of, annoys the heck out of me. I think it is probably one of the most ill-defined philosophies extant, and when I see how our version of it shuts out vast armies of impoverished citizens from the basic needs of human society - basic technology, advanced education, medical care, healthy food - I can't say we do much better than all these folk we look down on.



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