The Day When All Tech Went Boom

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of tech.  Though I’m more of a fan when tech works the way it’s supposed to, and isn’t plagued by glitches, or just plain meanness when it comes to working properly.  But today sort of took the cake when it came to tech and me.  And of course, it started early.

When I got to work, there’s a small terminal that I use to bring up reports and print them from the prior day’s information that needs to be catalogued.  I got to work at 7:30a and the last time the terminal had seemingly done anything was an hour prior.  As I went to type in my username and password, I got nothing.  Bupkus.  Nothing was being printed on the screen from the keyboard.  Now with the terminal, it’s basic 1970’s technology in a room of computers that are most definitely from the 21st century.  Yes, it’s a dinosaur held over from a bygone era.  But it’s necessary, as I’m not permitted access to the more reliable (and newer) computers.

Unlike most computers, where there’s a reset button, or the ubiquitous Ctrl+Alt+Del combination would bring solace, this terminal has only an On/Off switch that can be used.  Turn it off, wait a minute and turn it back on.  Usually one gets back to the beginning but today was going to be different.  Three times I tried, and nothing happened.  Sure, there was a green backgrounded ‘CRT’ legend in the middle of the monochromatic screen, but no soap.  I informed the proper person that there was an issue, expected to come back later to find it was fixed, and went on my merry way.

By lunchtime, I had a message from my wife telling me that the automated litter box wasn’t working correctly.  The power light was blinking red, and it wasn’t running or cleaning the box.  I have a security camera set up in the basement to be able to see it at any given time, and checking my phone determined that the rake was stuck in the ‘up’ position near the waste container and wasn’t moving.  Texting back to my wife, I asked her if the box was on or off, since I couldn’t see the light from that angle.  She said she turned it off, as it didn’t seem to be working, so it was better to not have power running to it.  I told her I’d fix it when I got home, rather than having to describe how to fix it herself.  She was grateful and on went my day.

By afternoon, it was getting closer to quitting time.  I happened to see my old bakery manager at the store, and she motioned me over.  Apparently she’d been having issues with her router, and needed technical assistance.  Over the years I’ve fixed her computers, and I even recall setting up this particular router when she got a new one and seemed unable to get it going on her own.  She wasn’t distraught, but she was insistent that she needed assistance sometime today,  I told her I was getting off work soon and I’d see what I could do to help.

Finishing work I headed home and had the litter box fixed in about five minutes.  As I suspected, the rake was stuck because it was trying to lift too much weight.  With each new model that the company puts out, it seems to be using less and less power in their motors.  When it can’t lift the weight anymore it reverses and leaves the pile near the waste box, and continues to pile things up until it gets stuck.  Then the little red light comes on and one hopes that the human will find it before there’s a huge mess.  Depending on where the box is, that’s not always the case.  But I got it fixed and on to the next issue.

My wife informed me as I came upstairs that the Amazon Shows that are upstairs (she has a ‘5’ and I have an ‘8’ on our respective nightstands) were not communicating and when she attempted to have them play music, they responded with something that she couldn’t hear.  Or understand.  So I traipsed upstairs, got them both working and came back down.  At that point I asked if she was interested in taking a little trip with me to see what I could do about the router issue.  My wife hadn’t seen my bakery manager in many years and didn’t mind tagging along.  Too, she had some wine coolers that she decided to bring with her and share while I worked.

The issue with the router wasn’t really all that difficult.  The biggest hurdle for me turned out to be that the router wasn’t hard wired to a computer.  Apparently she was using the router wirelessly to her iPad, her phone and her Kindle, and just needed someone to ‘talk’ to the router to get it reset and protected.  I ginned up a couple of secure passwords, logged into the router’s onboard menu and within about 20 minutes had everything secured.

Upon coming home, it was time to relax.  I wasn’t expecting anything else technical to break and I was blissfully rewarded when nothing did.  June is over, Thursday is over.  On to July.  We’ll see what that month brings.

Technically speaking Part III

Now that I have the router up and running, it’s now time to decide where the best place to put it.  Since we moved into the house, the router and modem have been in close proximity to the main computers here.  That is, in the addition off the main house in the back of the property.  For whatever reason, it’s really been the place that we spend the majority of our time, year in and out.  Which is weird sometimes, considering it’s a 3 1/2 bedroom house, on two stories.  We don’t have children, so 2 1/2 of the bedrooms have become de-facto storage space.

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D-Link DIR-868L router

Getting back to the issue though, our WiFi setup has been incredibly wrong since the beginning.  If you consider how WiFi works through a router, the antennas send out a signal in all directions, as long as you have them pointed in the correct configuration.  The old D-Link router I had for the past 6 years had an omni-directional antenna, in that it was encased inside the housing and wasn’t visible. 

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TP-Link Archer A8 router

 

Most routers have the ubiquitous 3-4 (or nowadays more) antennas and most people (me included…yes guilty) leave them in the standard up position without even considering that they can be directed where you want your WiFi signals to go.  By all that I understand, generally you want your router to be in the middle of the action, where you spend the majority of your time, so that you can get the biggest bang for your buck in terms of WiFi coverage.  Otherwise, you’re going to have to invest in things like Access Points, repeaters, even possibly a second router to adequately cover your house and property.  Of course, it’s not as simple as that (it never is, right?) because in most instances you don’t just have a router, you have to consider where your modem is, whether it’s fiber, cable or even DSL (I’m guessing satellite is probably similar, but I’ve never had a satellite Internet downlink).

In my case, the modem sits next to the router.  When we upgraded to fiber 4-5 years ago, the installer asked where to put the modem.  At the time, I had thought probably it would have been a better option to put it in the middle of the house, near the west facing exit door, but our computers are here in the addition, where the router would be.  The house was built in the 19th century (1838), so it wasn’t designed with electricity in mind, let alone hi-speed Internet connections.  Consequently, when the house was wired sometime in the 1950’s (I’m guessing based on the age of some of the outlets) there wasn’t a lot of thought put in to where those outlets needed to go.  So it was very haphazard.  Over the last 20 years we’ve been upgrading outlets as needed, because the very idea of re-wiring this house might end up costing us more than the property is valued at.  Too, to do a proper re-wiring, one needs full access to walls and such, to pull wire.  So we’d have to basically demo the interior to a degree that makes my eyes water.  Most people’s houses it wouldn’t be an issue because drywall isn’t all that expensive.  Plaster on the other hand?  Double your price estimate.  Or triple it.  There aren’t many qualified plasterers these days.  Believe me, I know.

As of right now, my plan is to put the modem and router more central to the middle of the house and run either Cat 5e or Cat 6 cable back to the addition to a switch so both of the desktops can be hardwired to the router.  Hopefully that will assist with the remainder of the house being covered by both the low speed WiFi (2.4 ghz) and the higher 5 ghz connection.  After I’ve had it connected and running for awhile, I’ll give another update.

 

Testing out the new equipment

This would be the third dash-cam that I’ve purchased since they became a ‘thing’ several years ago.  The two others I had, died almost immediately after being installed in our various vehicles, they were (for the most part) basic pieces of junk with extremely basic capabilities, but were priced as if they had more ‘oomph’ than they actually did when used in the manner to which they had been advertised.

My wife asked me a couple of months ago if I was interested in getting a dash-cam.  After regaling her with the stories about my previous attempts, she was unswayed so she went ahead and purchased one that was touted to have ‘4K’ video capability, and could use a 128GB micro SD card for storage, allowing about 10 hours of video time either in 3, 5, or 10 minute increments.

Naturally once it had arrived and I went to put it to use, I discovered it really didn’t have the touted 4K capability, it’s a simulated 4K on playback, the guts of the camera can’t produce that quality.  So basically it’s false advertising, but sending it back would mean incurring a shipping fee (they’re going to get you coming or going) so it was better just to make it work and wait a year or so until a new one comes out that actually does have that capability, though I don’t honestly think we need one.

We’ve just gotten back from vacation, and I was testing it out on the road, so to speak.  The first storage card I had for some reason didn’t work, even after I formatted it several times both on my computer and through the unit itself.  For whatever reason once it was used by the unit it was unreadable, so I endeavored to get a new card before we left to go visit family in the Hudson Valley of New York, where I grew up.  Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to get one until we’d been in Poughkeepsie for a day, so I missed out on some decent opportunities to record video of places that were familiar to me, and yes I’m still kicking myself about that.  Too, when I finally did get the card and inserted it into the camera, I completely forgot about formatting the card, and even if I had, I never plugged the unit in so it wouldn’t have recorded anyway.  Took me a few tries before I actually got it to work, and was able to confirm that it was recording by removing the storage card and attaching it through a reader to my smartphone, which was easily able to transcribe the video and play it. vlcsnap-2019-11-18 This is a shot of us going over the Mid-Hudson Bridge (the locals call it that, and always have.  In 1994 it was renamed the ‘Franklin D. Roosevelt Mid-Hudson Bridge‘ in honor of FDR, but like the Tappan Zee downstate being renamed after former Governor Mario Cuomo, it’s still referred to by its old name by anyone local) yesterday morning.  It’s a pretty crisp and clear snapshot from the video, and I doubt anyone could tell the difference between a HD image and a 4K from this vantage point.  I certainly can’t.

I expect it’s going to take a little more trial and error before I’m completely comfortable with having it in the car.  I expect also I’m not going to be recording video daily, although I believe the intent of dashcams is having it on all the time in case something does happen, as one isn’t likely to turn it on just before something unfortunate occurs.  Better safe than sorry, right?  And in the event of an accident, even if it ended up being my fault (anything is possible) it’s better to have evidence just in case something could be seen another way.  So for the time being, it’ll stay in the car.  At least to justify the 10 minutes it took me to install the long power cord along the visor and around the interior in order to hook it into the car’s power system.