Never enough charging ports

This past summer my family went on a vacation to the Grand Canyon and a few other destinations in Arizona (yes, it was hot!). For the driving trip we packed a lot of devices. Between the 3 of us, we had 3 iPads, 3 iPhones (my son just uses one for its camera), 2 Apple Watches, AirPods, a mobile hotspot, and an Anker PowerCore 26800 Power Bank. After I bought and reviewed the Anker 5-Port USB charger several years ago, I realized that the Anker 6-Port USB Charger was a better device as it didn’t add much bulk to the 5 port and gave me an extra port. Since then I’ve bought a few of the chargers and put one along with cables in a small bag I take when I travel. While I don’t need to charge everything at once, 6 ports just isn’t enough to keep everything charged especially since the power bank uses 2 ports to charge faster. After we got back from the trip, I ordered another charger.

With 2 6-port chargers, I think that I’m all set for awhile. If I plug in everything at once (which I’ll rarely do), all the devices will use 12 ports! That’s kind of sad and amazing at the same time that we travel with some much technology. I just have to remember to bring enough cables to charge what needs to be charged. In my opinion, there is no reason to ever travel with smaller chargers even if they are a little more compact. I travel alone, I’m going to have 6 devices with me. Yes, I’m addicted to my gadgets.

A year of being self employed

Where has time gone? I meant to write this article in December as it marked a year of me being self employed this time around. Anyone that has browsed my past articles will see that I’ve gone back and forth on being happy working for a company. Will this time being self employed be different? Will I be successful and happy?

I believe that in any professional service work, having good clients is the key. For the most part, I’ve always had good clients and worked with good teams. For the last year, I’ve had a great client.

Being self employed may sound glorious to those working for companies, but I always have concerns about being a one man team. I’m sure that others in the same position share the same concerns:

  • I can only accept as much work as I can do personally. While I could subcontract out my work, I’ve never really felt comfortable doing that as I get my contracts based on my own work and not the work of a team.
  • Having one main client means that if the client goes away, I’m left high and dry and have to immediately find another client.
  • Taking time off is somewhat tricky as I don’t have anyone to back me up and I feel guilty about it.
  • Who is going to help me if I get stuck on a problem? I can search the Internet for solutions, but have you looked at the Internet lately? 😀

With the ability to purchase health insurance on the open market now, I’m not concerned with getting health insurance. This used to be a big concern of mine. The cost of health insurance on the open market is quite high but, I’m lucky that I can afford it.

In the last 15 months, my large client has been great. I’m treated as part of the team and the team is made up of really good people. I don’t feel stressed and manage to get the work done when needed. I do feel guilty about taking time off (I’ve taken a few days off), but no one minds which is a huge relief. Being always reachable is both a blessing and a curse; I can’t be completely disconnected from work but my client can feel comfortable knowing that I can be reached. I really can’t ask for anything more from a client.

People think that being self employed offers a lot of freedom. In reality it offers the perception of flexibility. I still have to get up every morning and work as I have commitments to meet and have to meet with my team. This is no different than working for a company. Given that, why don’t I just work for the company? That’s a good question. I feel that I’m in charge of my own destiny. Is that really true? I have no idea.

HAM Radio in today’s world

When I was in middle school, our principal came to talk to the science club about HAM radio (yes, I was in science club). The most interesting part of his talk was when he demonstrated making a phone call via a phone patch. Since it was amateur radio, the phone call could be heard by anyone monitoring the frequency so it wasn’t a replacement for the phone. However, this made an impression on me, but not enough to get licensed.

Eleven years ago I was part of CERT (and still am) and someone offered a course to become licensed as an amateur radio operator. As the FCC had dropped the requirement for morse code for the Technician license and was dropping the requirement for the higher level classes as well, passing the test was less difficult. The question bank for all the classes is published which makes it easy to study. I passed and was issued the call sign KI6FRM. I did nothing with my license until two years ago when I was laid off from work. I had nothing to do so I decided to study for the General Class license. I spent about a month reading and studying the ARRL General Class License Manual. In addition to reading the book, I used an iOS app to take practice test after practice test until I had high confidence that I could pass. I passed and still did nothing with the license. I bought a BaoFeng BF-F8HP radio which is a cheap Chinese radio and figured out how to program it with CHIRP. I listened a bit, but never pushed the transmit button.

Fast forward another year and a half. I’ve been searching for a hobby for awhile and as I approached my 45th birthday, I realized that I’ll be “retiring” in 20 years and will have to find something to do with my time. HAM radio popped into my head and thought that I might as well try to pass the Extra Class test while my brain still worked and I could memorize the answers. I studied the ARRL Extra Class License Manual and used an iOS app by the same author as the other app (the app is functional, but not pretty). I was extremely nervous as there is a lot of material that I just couldn’t wrap my head around. While a lot of the material was familiar (I have an engineering degree and studied electronics), I didn’t know if I would be able to do it. My wife kept telling me that I had nothing to worry about; she was right, I passed on the first try and only missed 5 (you can miss 13 or 50 and pass)!

This time I’m determined to do something with my license. After my license came through the FCC, I decided to get a vanity call sign. The FCC dropped the fee for doing it a few years ago, so what did I have to lose? As an extra class operator, I had a lot more choices for call signs. Many people seem to like keeping their region in their call sign (California is region 6), but I just wanted something that sounded cool. My wife thinks that I’m a dork or a geek and keeps comparing HAM radio to CB by saying “breaker, breaker 1-9”. I’m OK with that, so I applied for and was granted KD0RK. Yup, I’m KD0RK and proud of it.

Now that I’m licensed for all amateur frequencies, I’m trying to put together all the pieces. There is a lot of information out there and a lot of different ways to use amateur radio. I’m particularly interested in emergency communications, so I’m exploring a radio (HT) to purchase and have my eye on the Icom ID-51A Plus2. This radio is a 2m/70cm radio (VHF/UHF) and only requires a technician license. I did purchase a Diamond Original X50A Antenna to help with my radio and am waiting to try it out.

My plan after getting used to local communications (through repeaters and such) is to explore HF. This is what interests me because I’ll be able to communicate without the Internet and talk to people all over the world. I read stories about HAM radio use in Puerto Rico after the hurricane and would potentially like to help out with something like that in the future. However, HF brings another aspect to the hobby that I have to learn including what antenna to get, what radio to buy, what frequencies to use, how does the weather affect propagation (yes, the manual went over this, but until it is used it is just theory), etc.

Back to the title of this article. Does HAM radio have a place in today’s society? I think it definitely has a place in emergency communication when cell phones may not be available or the circuits are simply jammed. In addition, while some think that the Internet has brought people together by always being in touch, I think written communication is less personal than voice communication. People seem to have no problem bullying others in public forums, but would likely never say what they write to someone. Is that true? I have no idea, but I’m willing to give it a try. A lot of aspects of radio communications have been replaced by the Internet, so many people don’t think it has a place. When the Internet comes crumbling down, what are we going to do? 😀

Scott

KD0RK

A year with my Impreza

It’s hard to believe that I bought my Subaru Impreza a year ago! My initial impressions of the car were pretty good. Now that I’ve put about 10,000 miles on it, I am convinced that I made the right choice with the car. We’ve taken it on a few road trips pushing, but mostly I’ve driven it around town.

I’ve never owned a “sports car” and this may be the closest I come to one. This car is truly fun to drive. I’ve been playing a lot with the paddle shifters especially going down mountains. Also, being closer to the ground, I definitely feel the acceleration.

Tech wise, CarPlay is now a requirement for every car I get. The interface is clean and Apple updates it periodically with new features, something car manufacturers are not known to do with the infotainment systems. Up-to-date maps and navigation alerts such as alternate routes and accidents are handy. My only problem with CarPlay is that I have to wait for the infotainment system to fully power up before I plug in my phone, otherwise CarPlay fails to start. However, I’m testing a theory that the Subaru STARLINK app crashes when I connect my phone to the car. The app is useless and I’m not sure why I left it on my phone until this week.

I was concerned about the smaller cargo capacity especially going on trips and camping, but those concerns have so far been unfounded. I’ve managed to cram everything in the car without having to use the roof box I bought. The gas mileage has been pretty good with some trips giving me close to 38 mpg. Unfortunately most of my driving is city driving and a hybrid would have done much better in those circumstances. If Subaru had a hybrid Impreza, I’d definitely be interested in that.

The car has had a few recalls which is expected on a new platform and I hope I get years of continued service out of it.

Overall this car was a very good purchase. It may not be for everyone; it is the right car for me!

Digitally Preparing for an Emergency

The recent fires in Southern California have me thinking about what would I do if I had to evacuate. I’d grab the family and the dog, but what else? While I have a collection of personal mementos such as product boxes from my career, I’d probably just take my Eagle Scout award which is sitting on a shelf in my office. What about all the documents in my file cabinet? They could be important in the future.

Eleven years ago, I started on a journey to scan everything and go “paperless”. I’ve been pretty good at scanning in things that come into the house, but missed a number of documents over the years and never went back prior to eleven years ago. This week, I’ve gone through my entire file cabinet and used my Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 to finish the task. I put all the documents into Paperless for easy organization. In addition to all the paper, I used the scanner to scan over 1000 photos! The scanner is a workhorse and scans in everything I throw at it. Some would have used a professional service for the photos to save time, but I just plugged away and used the ScanSnap at 600 dpi to scan in the photos.

Now that I have all my photos and documents in a digital form, the question about what I’d take in case of fire gets a little easier. I’d grab my MacBook Pro and my Akitio Thunder2 Quad with 24 TB of storage. This drive has all my media as well as backups from all the computers in the house. Of course, I need to bring a Thunderbolt 2 to Thunderbolt 3 dongle and a cable!

Would I be devastated if something happened to my house and belongings? No doubt I would, but as long as my family is safe everything else is just “stuff” and by going digital with my documents, I have peace of mind that I at least have copies of important documents.

A new diet

Several years ago I wrote that I went gluten free to help with some intestinal issues. Doing that combined with my ulcerative colitis medicine has kept me in check for awhile. Unfortunately things changed earlier this year and my colitis acted up.

When I was fighting my latest flare up, my wife suggested I look at changing my diet again. She is a great wife and did research to see what diets could help people with ulcerative colitis. She found the Specific Carbohydrate Diet and while it seemed quite restrictive, I felt like I didn’t have any other choice. I started this diet about three months ago and have been quite good at closely sticking to it. The basic gist of the diet is to eliminate grains, beans, and complex sugars. Looking at my diet prior to this, I had been eating a lot of grains, beans and definitely a lot of complex sugars!

The hardest part of the diet started out being the sugars as I love sweets. I’ve replaced sugars with lots and lots of fruit as well as nuts. Luckily I live in San Diego and fresh fruit is pretty plentiful all year round. Going to the store is a different experience as I closely look at labels and look for things that really shouldn’t exist in my food such as sugar in the Kirkland Salsa or rice in the crunchy snap peas.

One side effect that is probably pretty obvious is that I lost over 10 pounds on this diet not that I needed to do it.

People have asked me if I feel better because of the diet. I guess the diet and the medication have made me feel normal again. I’ve always had a lot of energy and been pretty fit so that hasn’t changed. I have no plans to get off this diet as it seems to be agreeing with me. Watching what I put in my body is definitely not a bad thing and has made me more closely examine the labels for foods to see what hidden ingredients lie in our processed foods.

Developing Consumer Apps (MyNumberBlocker)

I love writing software and routinely create programs to meet my needs. In many cases my applications are very focused and have a market of one, so I don’t bother polishing them or releasing them. There have been several exceptions to this including ReceiptWallet (now called Paperless and NotifyMail (NotifyMail was not quite consumer friendly, but did well in the enterprise). My latest application, MyNumberBlocker follows in the footsteps of my other apps in that it is very focused. This app is a one trick pony, but it solved my need to block the increasing number of phone calls that look like they come from the same prefix as my phone.

When I started MyNumberBlocker, I was able to get it running very quickly and decided that I could use it as an experiment to see how the current App Store operates. As an individual I’ve only put one app on the Apple App Store and that was many years ago. Making the app user friendly wasn’t difficult, but took me awhile because I like tackling different types of problems and presenting a user interface with instructions was not fun. Another challenge was setting up a website and putting together some instructions.

I know that MyNumberBlocker isn’t going to bring in enough money to change my life so I’ve set a very modest sales goal. The next step is figuring out how to market the app with little to no marketing budget!

TV Analysis Paralysis

When I started to see rumors about the 4K Apple TV, I decided that I wanted to jump on the 4K/HDR bandwagon. While there is nothing wrong with my 4 year old Vizio TV and 5.1 soundbar system, I enjoy watching TV and wanted better picture quality (yes, I know I need content and will pay an additional $2/month for Netflix 4K). Since I have been generally pleased with my Vizio M Series TV, I was looking at getting the new M Series that did 4K and HDR. With that decided, I wanted to move to a slight annoyance I have with my current setup.

This annoyance is minor and has to do with controlling sound. Since the Apple TV and my TV support HDMI CEC (consumer electronics control), I can turn the TV on and off with the Apple TV remote. Furthermore, the Apple TV remote can control the volume on the soundbar via IR. This setup works, but requires that I aim the remote at the soundbar to control the sound and sometimes takes a few tries because something is in the way. I had heard about HDMI ARC (audio return channel) which would let me plug a soundbar into the TV via HDMI and route all the audio that way. In addition to just routing the audio, this would give me CEC for the soundbar bringing my dream of one remote to control everything. Off I went to look for a soundbar that met this criteria. I picked up the Vizio SB4051-D5 at Costco and it appeared to meet my needs. I was able to control everything from one remote and was even able to change the volume using the Apple TV remote app on my phone or iPad.

My joy faded fast when I started looking at putting 4K/HDR into the mix. The Vizio M Series TV has 4 HDMI ports, put only HDMI 1 supports HDMI 2.0 which supports the latest 4K/HDR standards. In addition, only HDMI 1 supports ARC for audio. OK, no problem I thought; plug the Apple TV into the soundbar and the soundbar into the TV, all via HDMI. This works fine for HD, but once I got down into the specs, I realized that the soundbar would have to pass the 4K/HDR video signal to the TV. None of the Vizio soundbars do this today. Soundbar goes back to Costco.

Now I’ve resigned myself to waiting for better options. However, in the meantime, I started looking at a company I’d never heard of, TCL and their P series TV. With 3 HDMI ports that support HDMI 2.0 and 1 of those supporting HDMI ARC, it looks like I still may well be able to realize my goal of 1 remote; the Apple TV would plug into HDMI 2 and a soundbar into HDMI 1. In addition, the TCL has Roku built in; I used Roku prior to the Apple TV and was generally pleased with it, so that’s a bonus.

Where do I stand? Well, I’m going to take a closer look at the TCL TVs and just sit tight for awhile before I make a purchase. I am still going to look at a new soundbar after I get a new TV.

Any advice on new, budget 4K/HDR TVs?

Writing Enterprise Software

Up until a few years ago, I spent most of my career writing software that was used by consumers. This was very satisfying as it was easy to explain to others what I did and in many cases, they’ve heard of the software such as Eudora, PayPal, or eBay. With the rise of the smartphone, everyone and his dog is learning to write software and hopes to strike it rich on the App Store. Many developers, it seem, think that the exciting software to write is this type of software where the developer can earn a name for herself or himself.

Through a few changes in my positions at a company, I started working on retail software that would be used by store associates and would never be seen by consumers. At first this seemed pretty boring as enterprise software is typically very utilitarian and doesn’t get to use many features of modern smartphones. Now that I am fully immersed in enterprise software, there are some key advantages to it over writing consumer software.

  • All devices running the software get the same app version using MDM (mobile device management); no worrying about people running old software.
  • Limited number of users makes it easier to train people to use the software.
  • Bugs can be fixed and features added very quickly without App Store approval process.
  • No one writes reviews of the software that hurt your feelings!
  • You don’t have to worry about marketing a $0.99 app and the race to the bottom in pricing.

With more and more iOS devices being used in enterprise, there are huge opportunities for development. It may not get me fame or fortune, but it is currently my path to a decent living!

Credit Card Fraud

I’ve had a credit card since I was in college; when I first got one, my dad instilled in me that a credit card is basically cash and that I should never spend more than I have. Credit cards, to me, have two main advantages over cash; first, I don’t have to carry much cash and second, there is a little consumer protection in that I can dispute a charge if there is something wrong with the goods or services. Given that, I use my credit card for almost every transaction I can both online and in stores (it doesn’t hurt that my current card gives me cash back and has extended warranty protection).

With the amount that I use my credit card, it really didn’t surprise me the first time a fraudulent charge appeared on my statement. Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to be on the merchant side of credit card processing and have seen how credit card numbers are mishandled.

In the last few years, I’ve learned a lot about credit card processing from my work at PayPal and now my work on retail systems. As part of my work, I had to create test credit cards to run on the processing equipment; I used numbers that passed the Luhn algorithm and wrote the numbers to mag stripes on blank white cards (they couldn’t be mistaken for real cards). This process taught me how easy it is to take a real credit card number and burn it onto a card so that it could be used in a store. The chip technology now in cards is designed to prevent this type of fraud.

The most recent time my card number was compromised was last month when I got an alert about several charges in New York at a restaurant and a hair salon. These charges were done in-person where the card number was written to another card. The merchants did a manual swipe and didn’t bother looking at the card to verify the last 4 digits matched the imprinted digits.

The only way to put more of a dent in in-person credit card fraud is to completely stop processing swipes; the problem with this is certain cards such as prepaid cards don’t use the chip. This, of course, doesn’t help online fraud. Banks have gotten much better at detecting fraud early but unfortunately by that time the damage has already been done.