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Showing posts from 2016

Mesh WIFI networking is AWESOME... bullshit

I was on Ars Technica today reading about heavyweight mesh WIFI networking gear that promises better WIFI in your home.

The article makes some excellent points against these products, but it hides the failings deep.  I guess writers don't want to knock their advertisers.  Here I point out Ars' hidden arguments against these mesh networking products.

1. The Ars Technica article says, "like I discovered when I tested Eero for the Wirecutter, multi-hop here works, but it’s best avoided if you don’t absolutely need it". Stated more simply: avoid Mesh networking unless you absolutely need it or don't care much about performance.

2. The article says "some client devices actually perform worse when overwhelmed with too much signal."  Actually, all client devices perform worse when overwhelmed with too much signal.   Unsurprisingly, noise in the radio spectrum is a serious problem when dealing with radio communications.  The more powerful transmitters you have …

On the failure of democracy

Democracy cannot succeed if people and politicians set up government policies along the idea of majority rule.  Instead, you have to go back to the guts of it all: happiness for the people.

With a concept like Brexit, where roughly half the population of the UK want to leave the EU, and the other half do not, compromise is in order.  Brexit shouldn't mean Brexit, and to run with that conclusion is to blindly follow a nascent and unrefined buzzword.   Is Brexit going to hurt the UK?  Then just maybe you need to REFINE the theme.

"Oh, but a majority voted for Brexit".  Bullshit!  They voted for all different things, and for all different reasons.

Brexit SHOULD mean fucking fixing the problem so that WAY MORE than 50% of the population is better off, and the few others should at least not be harmed.

That's what democracy is SUPPOSED to be about: compromise, make the imperfect world a little better, and repeat forever.

The US has the same problem.  The gun lobby can'…

Tracking Spending - and a Strategy

I don't like spending good money on stupid crap.  And so I have a new strategy that I've developed to help me keep it in control:

Basically, I keep track of my monthly recurring expenses across a ton of categories, such as:
Cable TVInternetInsuranceElectricityNetflixMortgageetc.  If prices go up, I make a note of it.  If prices go down, I make a note of it too.  My goals?
Financially respond to every price increaseReduce at least one recurring cost every month So earlier this month, I knocked down my cell phone costs from $70 to $40 a month (win!).  I also eliminated my iTunes Music subscription, which I didn't use much, from $15 a month to $0.  Another win!

Earlier this year, I changed from my old employers healthcare plan (a "COBRA" plan) to a healthcare market place plan, saving me $260 a month (!).  And some people complain about Obamacare.

I also updated my auto/property insurance, which increased by $14 a month, but which gives me about 5x the coverage.


My Ugly, Old MacBook

I have an ugly MacBook.  I like it.

I bought my current MacBook for a mere $40, cleaned it up, and then upgraded its RAM and stuck in a 1 TB SSD drive.

But it's still ugly.

The prior owner sold it to me as broken.  He was a heavy smoker of something, and the machine was a disgusting disgrace.  It had scrapes and stickers on the back of the display and on the case.  Everything was covered in a thick grime. And the keyboard smelled bad.

The only things to repair was the magsafe connector and the battery, and while doing that I cleaned out a lot of the disgusting. The tough sticker adhesive, burn marks, and scrapes are still there, but I put a cheesy case on it to cover up most of that. And it has a dead (always red) pixel in the middle of the display.

But it's a good computer. It is reliable, and it's reasonably fast. The whole working setup cost me about $300, but that includes the 1 TB SSD which was more than half of that cost.

Why dump it? A new, non-upgradable low-end Ma…

New Car versus Old Car

As I said before, I'm a car guy.  I love cars.  They are awesome fun, and many are beautiful works of art and engineering.

My car is beautiful.  My car is reliable, and it costs very little to own it.  I'm going to keep it that way.

Many years ago I bought a new car.  I put 168,244 miles on it, and then I sold it to a friend.  Then I bought a used car.  I kept it for four years.  Then I bought another used car.  I still have that one, 17 years later.  And I have no plans to replace it.

Some day my old car may suffer a catastrophic failure, or get wrecked.  It may get to the point where repair is an economic impossibility.  Then I'll replace it.  Until then, it's my car.  And I'm keeping it.

Yes, I do have to have my car maintained, and that costs real money.  Hoses, belts, brakes, tires, alternators, water pumps, and so-on can cost $1000 a year.  But the fact is that $1000 a year is a hell of a lot less money than the cost of a $30,000+ car.

Furthermore, I'd li…

The Smartphone Industry Isn't Green.

Google and Apple.  They're doing us wrong.  They don't build things to last.

Let me take that back.  They -do- build things to last.  But they withdraw security patching from their products way too early, making older devices a literal danger to use.

I love my iPhone 4.  But it is stuck at iOS 7, and who knows if it has dangerous vulnerabilities.  It is unclear if Apple is watching over iOS7, and it is a safe bet that Apple will never release a security patch for their older devices even if dangerous vulnerabilities are known to exist.

Don't get me wrong: I think Apple is right to leave the iPhone 4 at iOS 7.  After all, the iPhone 4 was designed and developed long ago.  Technology has moved forward, and no one in their right mind can expect an old device to run the latest and greatest operating system.

But I'm not talking about that.  I'm talking about security patches for over a million useful, active devices that are "stuck" at iOS7.  The security of a…

Lance J., the Anti-Sales Guy

I now see all these friends and family who get entrapped in a salesperson's bullshit.  I'm tired of it.

I'm fine with people selling products.  I'm fine with people over-paying for a product because that product is great, convenient, or well-supported.

Unfortunately, the majority of corporations ask their salespeople to sell product using lies, distortion, and manipulation.  It's bullshit, it's wrong, and I'm gonna stop it.

I hear it all the time:
Auto Repair Industry:  Your brakes are down to 2 mm, so driving could be dangerous.  We can't be responsible. (Using Fear)Mobile Telephone Industry: You should get a bigger mobile data plan because you use more than simple email. (Using Fake Advice)Cable TV Industry: If you sign up for Cable TV, Internet, and Telephone, your monthly bill will actually be a little lower than if you just signed up for two of them. (Using a Fake Bargain)Electronics Retailer: The $30 gold plated HDMI cable will give you a better p…

Our New Lighting Strategy Saves Us 70% on Electricity Costs

I'm responsible for managing the energy use at my condominium complex. 

My mission is to always minimize our energy costs to in order to help keep our association fees low.   By strategically using LED lighting, we have been able to reduce our lighting costs by 70%.


We have a bunch of common area lighting that, for safety reasons, needs to be on 24 hours a day.

However, our lighting doesn't have to be super-bright.  It needs to be strong enough so that people can safely use the common areas, and safely enter and exit the building.

Over the past decade we have used 14 watt CFLs in all of our fixtures.   With a 25,000 hour service life, each CFL bulb lasted about 3 years (there are about 8750 hours in a year).    Some CFLs died sooner, and some lasted much longer, but given that the bulbs are lit 24 hours a day, they don't see the stress of being switched on and off.

But even with CFLs, we were still spending about $3000 a year on electric power (or $250 a month).  S…

Leaving Sprint for Huge Cost Savings

So my friend is under a Sprint contract, and it's killing him.  He pays $145 a month for service for two lines, and he has 8 months left on his contract.  That is $1745 a year!

He came to me because he wanted to upgrade his phones - he has two iPhone 5c's with 8 GB of storage - not enough - and so he was thinking of signing up with Sprint for another two years to get "new phones".  Stop!  Stop the contracts!  $1745 a year is a LOT OF MONEY.

So we have THREE problems:
He is under contract for 8 more months, at $145 a month.He has two phones that are too limiting for his day-to-day useHe has two phones that are locked to the Sprint network We have FOUR goals:
Reduce money being sucked out the doorGet phones that are not so limitingGet phones that are not locked exclusively to SprintGet out of any "contracts"Stage 1: New phones!

So our first step is to get new phones - phones that will work with Sprint or any other carrier.

Well, not NEW phones, but good and af…

Buzzing Mac is actually my Mighty Mouse

My Mac started to make this crazy buzzing sound, and it was bothering me for several days.  At first I thought it was the hard disk drive failing.  Then I thought it might have been the internal fan getting worn out.

Then I realized it was my Apple Mighty Mouse.  It was buzzing.  Making a racket.

Imagining how a mouse would buzz, I first thought it might be an internal electronic component about to fail.  But then I learned that the Mighty Mouse has a tiny a little speaker which makes a "click click click" sound as you rotate its tiny trackball.

That little internal speaker is now clicking all the time, dozens of times per second.  And the left/right trackball movement seems non-functional.  Ug, its REALLY ANNOYING.  The mouse is about 6 years old, so it could be an internal failure related to age, or it might have gotten a little, um, wet.

I'll open it up soon to see if there is anything I can do.  If not, maybe I'll just cut out the speaker circuit.  Alternatively,…

My MetroPCS Experience and Review

I decided to try out MetroPCS.  I have been paying AT&T about $70 a month since the advent of the iPhone 3G.   Competitors offer less expensive plans.   Now is the time for me to look for alternatives.

My approach for selecting a new carrier is to (1) Figure out what level of service I need, (2) Figure out what quality and features I will be happy with, and (3) locating the low cost provider given that.

Any plan I sign up for should closely consider my usage.  I went to my AT&T account on-line and looked at the use of my AT&T plan over the past 18 months, and was able to determine my usage pattern.  With this information, I can find the most affordable plan for me.

Voice Max of 300 minutes per month Texts Max of 50 texts per month (thanks to iMessage!) Data Max of 5.5 GB per month (outlier) Data Max of 2.5 GB per month (typical)  table 1: my usage pattern

What I want out of a mobile phone service

Everyone has different interests when it comes to service quality and features. 

In t…

Extending Battery Life

So you have a smartphone or laptop that you've owned for a year or two and the battery seems to lose charge very quickly.  However, some batteries in a friend's identical device seems to have lasted for years longer!  So what's the deal?

The deal is that modern devices use lithium-ion batteries, and it is very easy to mistakenly misuse a lithium-ion battery. 

What?  A misuse a battery?  How does THAT happen?

The common killer of lithium-ion batteries is heat.  Heat just sucks the life out of a lithium-ion battery, and they never, ever recover.  My goal for battery care is to always avoid unreasonable heat.  So here's the short list of the rules I follow for long battery life:
Never leave a device in a car.  Cars interiors can get very hot.  If I leave my device in the car even once for 15 minutes, where the temperature can get over 120 °F, I have forever stolen some life out of my battery's soul.Never leave a device in the hot sun.  This is really a variation of the…

Powerful Utilities for Mac Performance and Optimization

A lot of people as me about the best utilities to install to improve Mac performance and reliability.   This is a great question, and I'm going to answer that here.

I use just about the oldest supported Mac, and it works great.  But it has taken some work to make it great.  If you have a slow Mac, it is likely easily fixable!

Here is my step-wise procedure for trying to address a slow Mac:

Common Mac Performance Issues

There are a few common things that greatly slow down your Mac:
Out of Date softwareLack of Disk StorageSick Hard Disk DriveSlow Hard Drive Lack of MemoryBad "repair" software My Speed-up-that-Mac procedure
Restart.  There's nothing like a restart to clear out memory.Empty Trash, which frees up some disk space. Software Update.  OS updates and core applications should be kept up to date.App Update.  Applications and  Plug-ins should be kept up to date.Disk Utility First Aid/Repair. Networking: Restart all networking equipment (wifi router, modem)Restart …

Update on MacOS Sierra

At this time we have installed Sierra on about 50% of the Macs we maintain, and so far it is going well.  Performance and reliability seems on-par with El Capitan:
No kernel panicsNo significant bugs/failures or "first party" app crashes No app compatibility issuesNo performance issuesNo data migration issues (we use Migration Assistant)  Here is our hardware minimum:

4 GB of RAM.  We have Sierra running well on machines with 4 GB of RAM.   Although the majority of our Macs have 8 GB, 4 GB is totally acceptable.  We haven't had a machine with less than 4 GB of memory for several years.

As we've said earlier, if you're upgrading from less than 4 GB of RAM and need to buy new RAM, we suggest buying 8 GB.

Amount TodayAdviceRough PriceLess than 4 GBGo to 8 GB$40 4GB +Do nothing$0

Non-Traditional Drive.  As of earlier this year, we no longer have any traditional hard drives in our Macs.  All of them have been upgraded to either a hybrid drive ("SSHD"), or a…

Faster Internet and the Bullshit of Cable Modem Marketing

People assume that a blazing fast 340 Mbit/second cable modem will give them better performance than an 80 Mbit/second modem.  "4 times faster!  8 times faster!"

All of that talk is simple marketing garbage, a hold-over sales pitch from the days of dialup modems.

The fact is that the Internet doesn't work like that.  You will likely get the same exact performance with a low-cost standard cable modem versus an expensive fast modem.

The reason?  Internet bottlenecks.  The Internet is a vast, shared network, and there are plenty of bottlenecks on every network path. With your 340 Mbit/second modem, you'll know that your modem is no longer a bottleneck.  But there are more than a dozen network devices between your computer and Google and so your cable modem is likely never the slowest device on the network.

What other devices are slowing things down?  First, there is your home WIFI.  Then there is bandwidth that your ISP provides to you.  Then there is the network equipm…

Apple's Self-Driving Car

Today it was reported that Apple's Self-Driving Car project is going through some significant challenges - with some layoffs, reorganization, and perhaps a change in focus.

But let's be realistic here: Self-driving cars are very hard, on the order of magnitude of the Manhattan project... or maybe harder.  An incredible amount of new science, AI, and associated engineering needs to be solved.  It isn't a "simple" hardware/software engineering exercise like creating the first iPhone, or implementing the Android OS from scratch, or implementing Twitter.

It took about 40 years for the helicopter to go from concept to production, as a lot of science and engineering had to happen before a helicopter could be a reasonably safe way to travel.

The idea that a self-driving car project wouldn't go through significant struggles and major changes in direction is fantasy, as that even happens with simple projects, such as the creation of another new fighter aircraf…

MacBook: burnt out magsafe connector repair

My MacBook (A1342 model from 2009-2010) stopped working, thanks to a cheap knockoff magsafe charger. The magsafe connector looked burnt with heat-distorted melted plastic and some black carbon surfaces.  Plugging in the charger resulted in no lights and no action.  My MacBook was dead.

First I tried to clean up the connector with some Q-Tips, tooth picks and solvent, but that did little, as seen in this "after" picture (below).   The heat generated by the aftermarket charger permanently deformed and distorted the MacBook's magsafe connector.  Clearly the damage was significant.

Looking at iFixIt, I determined that it would not be difficult to replace only the magsafe connector with the right tools.  I hoped and prayed that the problem was isolated to the connector assembly and not the logic board.

I bought a replacement magsafe connector assembly (available from Amazon) for under $20 and started to replace it by following the instructions on iFixIt, using a proper tool k…

The Trick to Properly Fixing the Rubber Feet of a MacBook Pro

A black rubber foot of my trusty old MacBook Pro finally broke off, and I didn't like how it made the laptop wobbly.  A fix was needed, and quick!

First I bought some replacement feet, the kind that just stick on.   These feet are nice because there is no need open up the machine to fix a broken foot.  They're very inexpensive, and the ones I bought have adhesive tape already applied - just peal and stick.  I bought feet like the ones found here.

I have read many complaints about how the adhesive doesn't stick, but I think that's because people don't know the two tricks required to get the new feet to stick properly.

Important Trick 1: Make sure to remove all remnants of the old foot - including the pieces in the hole.   My factory-installed foot was attached both mechanically and with adhesive, but when the old foot sheared off, some pieces of the old foot remained in the hole.  Those plastic bits would have prevented the new foot from seating properly.  I used t…

Not the End of an Era: the continuing life of a 2009 MacBook Pro

The 2009 MacBook Pro's days are numbered.  As you likely know by now, the 2009 MacBook Pro will not be supported by Mac OS Sierra.  I have one of these beasts, and it is a wonderful machine despite 7+ years of heavy use.

But that doesn't mean my 2009 MacBook Pro is dead or will become immediately useless.  Quite to the contrary, I expect to use my MBP securely for several more years.

Mac OS X El Capitan will continued to be supported by Apple with security patches for some amount of time.  How long?  My research shows that Apple supports a deprecated operating system for at least two years after the release of its subsequent operating system.

So if Sierra is released on October 1st, 2016, El Capitan will be supported by Apple until at least October 1st, 2018.

Then what?  Well, by rights, most people should no longer use El Capitan as it becomes security-obsolete.  But some more technically-minded people might have some options:
Hack Sierra onto the machine.  This may extend the…

Maxing out your White 2009 2010 MacBook for Performance and Longevity

Even in the later half of 2016, the 2009 & 2010 white MacBook can be a fantastic laptop if upgraded with modern parts.   Here's the deal.

I am responsible for maintaining a small fleet of these MacBooks, and have found that it is very easy to upgrade these MacBooks to perform in a manner competitive with a new, $1000+ laptop.

The upgrades I typically perform on these MacBooks are Memory, Storage, and Battery.  Depending on your needs, this can typically cost from $25 to $125 if you buy and install the parts yourself.   This is a great way to get another 3 or more years out of your MacBook.

Let me be clear:  I am talking about the white plastic unibody polycarbonate MacBook from 2009 and 2010, as exactly pictured above.  Check out "About this Mac" under the Apple menu of your Mac to verify that you have a "Late 2009" or "Mid-2010" MacBook.

Here are the details of the upgrade parts I usually use:

Memory Upgrade: Typically about $35 ($25 - $35 de…