Too Smart for my Own Good

A few weeks ago, my wife put something in the freezer, but managed to not close it completely. The door alarm didn’t sound as the door was “almost” closed. When we got home, I found that the freezer had started to defrost. I figured that there had to be a way to sound an alarm if the temperature increased too much. I had a Z-Wave Wireless Temperature / Humidity Sensor sitting in my server closet to alert me if the temperature got too hot, so I decided to throw it in the freezer. The specs on the device said it would get down to 14°F, but I gave it a shot anyway.

I set an alarm for > 0°F, 5°F and 10°F. To my surprise and delight, I saw that the device read down to -4°F. However, I kept getting alerted that the temperature was rising and even hit 20°F every few days. This, of course, worried me so I called for service (the refrigerator/freezer is less than 1 year old).

The repair guy came out yesterday and was very patient explaining to me a feature called “adaptive defrost”. This is where a heater in the freezer turns on periodically to defrost the freezer (raising the temperature, obviously). When the heater turns on is based on how often the door is open, how long the compressor has been running and when the heater came on last. So, the huge temperature swings is expected and normal. I kind of felt dumb for having called, but the guy did say that the display has burn in and needs to get replaced, so it wasn’t a complete waste.

I’m really surprised that when I called service, they didn’t flag this and explain the issue. I spoke to my dealer twice and Samsung twice; out of 4 reps, no one mentioned it. I guess they aren’t trained in troubleshooting and find it costs less to just send someone out.

In any case, now that I know the reason for the temperature changes, I set my alarms for 25°F and 30°F and will see what happens; that should be high enough to know if the door was left open.

Electronic Mail Is Still Useful

In an article I read the other day, the author quotes the CEO of a newsletter company (which some might call a spammer) saying:

“Email is a 40-year-old technology that is not going away for very good reasons — it’s the cockroach of the Internet.”

This got me thinking about how people use email and why some people are not effective at using email.

I’ve been using email on the “Internet” for almost 25 years, have written 2 email clients ([Eudora](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eudora(emailclient) for Newton and Mark/Space Mail), and have worked on a third ([Eudora](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eudora(emailclient) for Mac), so I think I have a little experience using email. With all the new fangled communications means such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instant Messaging, some would say that email is dead. I’d argue that email is more useful than ever and that people need to be trained (or re-trained) on how to communicate. The ease of some other mechanisms has made people lazy. I’ll just go ahead and list some of my ideas that I believe helps in business communication; personal communication is different, but some of these ideas can apply there as well. Most of my items apply to composing messages, but I also threw in an item about receiving email.

  • Email should be treated like any formal communication. If you want a good response, in particular for business purposes, write your email like it is a term paper that you’ll receive a grade.

  • Don’t use abbreviations like LOL, OMG, etc. They make you look dumb when communicating with customers, co-workers, business partners.

  • Proofread your email. Check your spelling and punctuation. You never know who will read your message or how they will judge you. Remember that a lot of business email is forwarded; more than just the recipient may see it.

  • Slow down and take your time to compose your message. For some messages, I’ve spent hours composing the message and then have someone else review it before sending. You can’t unsend a message, so if you write it quickly, it may come across in the wrong way.

  • Don’t write or respond to email when you’re angry; you may regret it later. Your tone can come across in the message.

  • If you want an answer from someone, make your case, then clearly list your question or questions(s) on separate lines. I like to make my questions into a list so that someone that responds can respond inline with answers. No matter how much you think your ideas are great, if you don’t get to the point, you’re not going to receive a meaningful answer. A former boss told me to ask questions like I was talking to a 3 year old (my son was that old at the time). While I don’t completely agree with it, I think that simplifying questions in certain cases will make it easier to get an answer.

  • Don’t assume that your audience has the same context you have. In many cases, the people you are sending email to may only know a little bit about your problem and don’t know all the other working parts. So, make it easy for you to get a response by narrowing down your email to question(s) that the audience can answer.

  • Don’t address your email to a mailing list if you want a response. Address your message to one or more individuals that can give you an answer; copy appropriate mailing lists. Using the shotgun approach to email may make you look and feel good, but is not very effective.

  • Learn to use Bcc. You look like an idiot sending email to 50 people when a reply isn’t relevant to all 50 people.

  • Trim down the cc and to lists on replies removing people that aren’t relevant.

  • Know your audience. Sending email to some email list at a company is usually a bad idea. The list could have 2500 people on it who have no idea what your email has to do with them. You may think it is relevant, but others may not care. For instance, if you’re changing the schema on a database, sending it to thousands of people, many of whom don’t use the database, is going to annoy people.

  • Get to the point. Long email messages are either skimmed with the reader not getting the whole point of it or are skipped. The reader’s time is precious; treat it as such.

  • When you receive email, remember the delete key. Check the subject and maybe the first paragraph and delete email that isn’t relevant to you; you’ll be able to get through your pile of email quickly. You don’t have to reply to every message.

I believe that there is no other electronic communication means as effective as email; however, people have gotten lazy and made it less useful. A work day doesn’t go by that I don’t have to write email; if my email isn’t effective, I can’t do my job.

I’m sure people won’t agree with everything I’ve said, but some of these tips help me every day. Any comments?

Review: Harry’s Razors

About a month ago on the MacBreak Weekly podcast, I heard an advertisement for Harry’s razors and decided to take a look. I was intrigued that the cost per blade was about half of what I was paying for my Gillete Fusion even when I bought them at Costco. The starter kit included a handle, 3 blades and shaving cream for $15 (I opted for the polymer handle). They also offer a 30 day money back guarantee which meant I couldn’t pass it up.

I’m all about saving money in particular on recurring expenses, so I was hoping for a shave that was as good as the Gilette Fusion. When I started my first shave, I put on the shaving cream and thought that it was way too thick, but shaved anyway. The shave seemed much closer than my Fusion; I didn’t clean how I shaved, I just changed the razor and the cream. After about a week, I returned the unopened package of blades I bought from Costco ($52 for 14 blades) and ordered 16 blades for $25 (free shipping on orders over $10). I was hooked.

I tried another shaving cream with the razor and realized that even though the shaving cream is thick, it works quite well. I’m going to order some more shaving cream as I think the combination works quite well.

I was so pleased that I bought my dad the Winston set (aluminum handle) for father’s day. Like me, he was impressed with the shave. However, unlike me, he doesn’t shave as often and already has a stash of Fusion blades, so he’s not going to be a convert for awhile.

Pros

  • Fast shipping
  • Very cost effective after initial handle purchase
  • Shaving cream works well.

Cons

  • Shaving cream is a bit thick
  • Requires some planning so that you have blades on hand

Summary

While my initial reason for purchasing was to save money, the shave is so much better than what I’ve had in the past. I’m not turning back on this and it is my hope that they stay in business. The major razor manufacturers have had such a monopoly that they have been charging exorbitant prices for far too long.

For anyone (mostly men, I guess), that use a razor like a Gillette Fusion, I’d definitely give it a try. No risk and you may just be impressed with the results; at a minimum, you’ll be impressed with the cost savings.

(The link to Harry’s is an affiliate link; if you order through it, I get free blades, but no one has paid me to write this.)

Review: Studio Neat Cosmonaut Stylus

A few weeks ago, my wife were in the dollar store (I needed a bag of salt to mix in with vinegar to try to kill some vines) and I saw that they had touchscreen styluses. I haven’t used a stylus on a device in years and decided for $1 to give it a try. I started using it and was surprised (not sure why) that it required pressure to use due to a capacitive touchscreen versus a resistive touchscreen. I was intrigued enough to purchase a Studio Neat Cosmonaut stylus based on a number of reviews.

The stylus is big and thick and is more like a big piece of chalk than a pen when makes it easy to grip. Like the cheap one I tried out, it does require you to apply some pressure when using. This means that my iPad has to be on a solid surface or grasped well in order to recognize the movements. It doesn’t work so well if my iPad is on a stand and I lightly touch it.

I know that the iPad wasn’t designed with a stylus in mind, but using the stylus is great for reading articles (my iPad is mostly a consumption device). I can keep my dirty paws off the screen and easily browse.

The stylus isn’t cheap by any means, but feels solid. Only time will tell if the springy tip lasts. It looks like it could get punctured, but as long as I don’t do anything crazy with it, it should be fine.

Pros

  • Solid feel
  • Comfortable grip
  • Tip works well

Cons

  • Cost
  • Unsure about the reliability of the tip

Summary

Not everyone needs a stylus for an iPad, but if you primarily use your device for reading/consumption, a stylus brings an interesting experience to the device. Even though I’m mostly using the stylus for reading, I’ve been working on a presentation built in Keynote on my iPad and using the stylus isn’t bad, but doesn’t help when I need to use 2 finger gestures. If a stylus interests you, I’d definitely try out some less expensive options before this one. I am please with the purchase and am using it daily, it seems like more of a luxury item than a necessity.

Delivering on what was promised

In October, I purchased a 50″ Vizio TV to go in our freshly remodeled home. It had all the standard TV features, but 2 that interested me were the “apps”, in particular Amazon Prime streaming, as my Apple TV didn’t do that and the WiFi direct remote. the Amazon Prime app turned out to be such a dud that I ended up buying a Roku box primarily for that feature. However, the WiFi direct feature was one that I really wanted so that I didn’t have to aim the remote at the TV. This became even more important due to a poor design decision where Vizio basically put the IR receiver on the bottom left of the TV. Since our TV wasn’t mounted above a fireplace, the IR window wasn’t really visible, so the IR remote didn’t always work.

When we got the TV, the WiFi direct feature was promised in a firmware update. I waited and waited and waited. I contacted Vizio a few times and was told that they were rolling out the update in waves. I read on forums that some people had the newer firmware and some were still waiting. Newer TVs that people bought had the newer firmware.

This past Friday, I finally got real tired of waiting and called Vizio support with the same story. When the rep said that I’d just have to wait, I said that I’d contact the Vizio CEO and attorney general because they advertised a feature that wasn’t available. In addition, I’d file a suite in small claims court. Those would be drastic measures, but after waiting 7 months, I thought it was about time to resolve this. The rep was very nice and said he’d transfer me to executive services. After a few minutes, he came back on the line after talking to upper level support folks and walked me through a firmware update as they flagged my TV as getting it. We tried it a few times to no avail. He talked to another person who said to wait about 20 minutes and the TV will get the update and if it didn’t to call back.

I went about my business and turned on the TV later and almost fell down when I saw that the firmware update with the WiFi direct remote was enabled. Support had told me numerous times that there was nothing that they could do to get the update pushed to a TV which turns out to be a complete lie.

Now my TV has all the features that were advertised. It is interesting to note that Vizio is no longer advertising WiFi direct as a feature for the remote. I guess if companies are pushed hard enough, they’ll do what is right for the customer.

Tweaking a web server with Nginx

A few weeks ago, I started playing with nginx as a replacement for Apache. The exact reasons I decided to do this are a bit unclear, but I think it had something to do with me playing with node.js and MongoDB. The initial setup was pretty smooth and the configuration files are much easier to understand than Apache for my sites. However, I also decided to offload the PHP processing to php-fpm and that’s where the problems began. My VPS is pretty lightweight and doesn’t have a lot of RAM. My blog was running out of memory all the time and php-fpm stopped responding.

After a lot of tweaking to reduce memory usage, I managed to stabilize the system and get much faster response times for my blog; it doesn’t get a lot of traffic, but I think I’ve done a decent job with performance. If I ever get hit with a massive load, I’m sure my server will keel over.

Is there a real reason to use nginx vs Apache? I’m sure some people will say yes, but for me the jury is still out. Things are going smoothly, but was it worth the trouble? I have no idea.

Drones and Privacy

A few months ago, I received a DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter for a present. For most people, a quadcopter is called a drone. Call it whatever you want, it is a fun toy for me (tool for others). I have it outfitted with a GoPro camera and a video transmitter so that I can see what is going on during flight. In a conversation with my in-laws where I was showing my father-in-law how it flies, my mother-in-law indicated that she thought the devices were creepy because they can be used to spy on people. This is the same thing that the media is playing up and catering to the fears of people.

The quadcopters are first off, noisy, you can’t sneak up on people and take a picture; you know they are coming. Second off, the cameras on these copters aren’t all that great for details. The GoPro is a decent camera, but if you want to take a picture of someone in a house, you’re going to have to have the copter right at a window. Third, if you live in a 2 story house, it’s likely that you can already see in your neighbor’s yard. We live on a hill and can easily see into our neighbor’s backyard from our backyard.

In the current state of copters, I find it quite hard to really invade someone’s privacy without them knowing. Also, as I’m just learning to fly, I only fly on my property. When I get more experienced, I’ll goto a park and fly; flying over people’s houses may not be the smartest thing to do.

Time will tell what lawmakers decide to do to this new found hobby of mine.