Tag Archives: Reviews

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!

Review: Running Buddy smartphone pouch

For many years, I’ve been using a Wahoo Fitness Sportband to hold my iPhone when I run. I’ve replaced it a few times and try my best to keep it in good shape. It appears that rinsing it after I run and adjusting the strap caused my last one to wear out prematurely. I can’t say that I’ve been disappointed with it, but when I heard a recommendation for the Running Buddy on MacBreak Weekly, I figured I’d give it a try.

The Running Buddy is a pouch that clips to my shorts using very powerful magnets. The pouch holds my iPhone 6s pretty snuggly the magnets ensure that it won’t move. When I first put my phone in the pouch and started running, I had my doubts about it as I thought my phone would fall. It was a weird feeling having the pouch on my waist. After a few miles of running, I forgot that I was still wearing it. One thing to note about the pouch is that if your shorts aren’t tight, then the pouch with your phone will pull down your shorts!

I’ve been running with the pouch for a few weeks and I can’t quite say if having the phone on my arm or on my waist is better. The pouch is slightly more comfortable as I don’t have pressure on my arm, but the pouch rubs against my stomach. The armband’s neoprene got quite disgusting because of the sweat. The different material of the pouch seems like it would repel sweat better.

I’m going to keep using the pouch as I’m starting to get used to how it feels.

Pros

  • Convenient way to hold iPhone while running.
  • No unsightly tan lines on my arm.
  • No pressure on my arm.
  • Material is easy to wipe off and doesn’t appear to retain sweat.

Cons

  • Feels kind of weird on my waist.
  • At first it feels like it is going to fall off.
  • Can’t glance at information on screen.
  • Unknown longevity as the part that comes in contact with my waist and shorts gets covered in sweat.
  • Material rubs against my abdomen and could cause irritation.

Summary

This case is an interesting solution to holding my phone. For people walking, I can definitely recommend it if you don’t have pockets or the pockets aren’t convenient. For runners, I think it takes getting used to and if you don’t like armbands, it is definitely worth a try.

Review: Western Digital MyBook Duo

Last year I was looking at options for adding storage to my Mac Pro that I use as a media center, Jenkins server, DVR, and security camera monitoring. The Mac Pro has a 1 TB SSD but storage is eaten up very quickly with everything running on it. I wanted at least 8 TB of usable storage and while I could use a RAID, I was more interested in configuring drives as JBOD (just a bunch of disks).

I decided to get the WD 8TB My Book Duo as the price was reasonable at the time and I could configure it as JBOD. I would have preferred Thunderbolt 2 but for the price I went with USB 3. When I got the drives I configured it as JBOD and then partitioned the drives. I was curious to know if I could take the drives out of the case (Western Digital makes it easy to do) and just connect them individually to my computer without the Western Digital case. Turns out you can’t. The case does some magic to manage the drives. I was disappointed in this as it now became a potential point of failure where I couldn’t just take the drives out if the case failed.

The setup worked fine for about a year and then I started noticing that sometimes I’d see error messages on my Mac Pro about the volumes unmounting. I tried plugging the case into a different USB port, but still saw these issues at times. Things started getting worse and I decided to see if the actual drives or the case was failing. I took the drives out of the case and put them in a Thunderbolt dual bay drive dock. This, of course, caused me to lose all my data because I didn’t have the special WD magic sauce on the dock. It appeared that one drive was fine and the other drive was on its way out. I used the one drive and a second 2 TB drive in the dock for a few weeks and didn’t have any of the problems I saw before.

In order to get warranty service on the Duo, I had to send it all back. Since I didn’t know the state of the data on the drives I wanted to do a secure erase on the drives. I individually did a secure erase on the drives which worked fine negating my previous analysis that one of the drives was bad. I put the drives back in the case, reconfigured them then did a drive check using the WD utilities. The drive check failed which indicated to me that the case and not the drives were bad as I had just done a full secure erase which writes zeros to the drive.

The drives and case are now on their way back to Western Digital for warranty repair/replacement. While I don’t know if I had bad luck with this, I’ve moved on to a different case which doesn’t add magic sauce to the drives. Definitely a much more expensive solution than the MyBook Duo, but I trust it a lot more than I do the WD case.

Pros

  • Reasonable price.
  • Easy to setup.
  • 3 year warranty.

Cons

  • Crappy WD software to configure.
  • JBOD configuration doesn’t let you remove a drive and use it in another mechanism.
  • Failed after 1.5 years.

Summary

If you’re looking to add storage to a machine, I’d steer away from this case. In addition, Toshiba drives have been rated better for long term quality and in this case where the drives are running 24/7, spending some extra money on better drives will give me a little peace of mind. If the case simply allowed the drives to show up separately and not add the WD magic, I might have just chalked this up to a drive failure and given it a second chance. However, since all my data is locked into this case, I can’t recommend it. Once my case and drives come back from warranty service, I’m not sure what I should do with it. Any ideas?

Review: BottlePro 2 – Adjustable and Extendable Car Cup Holder Adapter

Earlier this year I was given a Hydro Flask as a gift for being a Den Leader in my son’s Cub Scout Pack. Why did I need another water bottle? After ignoring it for awhile I decided to see what made it so special. I filled it up with ice and water. It held water and ice, no big deal. The next day I hadn’t finished the water and found the water to still be very cold. Since I like drinking cold water, this was the reason to use the water bottle. My only problem was that it didn’t fit in my cup holder in my car due to its large size.

After a few months of putting the water bottle on the floor in the back seat and having it roll around where I couldn’t use it, I decided to look for a solution. A quick search on Amazon came up with a number of options. The option I chose was the BottlePro 2 – Adjustable and Extendable Car Cup Holder Adapter. This bottle holder was designed to adjust to different cup holders by twisting the bottom and came with something that resembles a can coozie to make the fit a bit tighter.

I’ve been using this for a few months now and have absolutely no complaints about it. It does what it says and appears to be well made.

Pros

  • Adjusts to fit different cup holders.
  • With coozie on, it doesn’t rattle around.
  • Easy to get bottle in and out.

Cons

  • It sits very high because the entire bottle is basically sitting on top of the cup holder and not in it. (Not a flaw in the product, just how it works.)
  • Price is a bit high.

Summary

If you have a large bottle and want to have easy access to water in your car, this product is a winner. I would also recommend getting the Hydro Flask Hydro Flip Lid so that you don’t have to keep unscrewing the lid.

IMG 5710

Review: ZTE Mobley

Several years ago, I worked for a company that sold Sprint service. As part of my job, a “perk” was a company issued phone and then when the MiFi mobile hotspot was released, I got one of them for experimentation and use. (I use perk lightly because having a company issued phone or device is more of a tether keeping you connected all the time.) When I left the company in 2010, my boss said that I could use the company discount to purchase a device and plan; I purchased a MiFi and had a $45/month plan for 5 GB of data. After about a year, I realized that I wasn’t using the device much and cancelled the plan.

For the most part, I haven’t had a need or desire for a mobile hotspot and my iPhone’s mobile hotspot has worked fine when I needed it. Over the last year or so, I’ve heard advertisement after advertisement about “built in 4G/LTE” in cars which seemed like a way just to keep the kids in the back quiet and I ignored the ads. Earlier this year, I saw that AT&T was dropping the price of their “Connected Car” plans to $20/month for unlimited data (22 GB, in reality and then de-prioritization). Now things were starting to get interesting in pricing.

AT&T offered this plan on cars that had built in cellular, as well as with the ZTE Mobley which plugs into a car’s OBD-II port. The only problem with this, for me, is that I have an Automatic plugged into the port and only being able to use the device in the car had limited utility. Luckily, I read on forums that people were buying adapters to plug it into USB or AC. Since the cables looked like someone hand made them, I decided to make my own so that I could choose the parts. I picked up an OBDII Connector Cable Pigtail and a 5v to Dc 12v USB Converter (I picked this one because any heat generated from the electronics wouldn’t be right at the end of the cable). I soldered the pieces together and had a USB to OBD-II power cable.

I purchased the Mobley outright ($99) with no activation fee. When it arrived, I plugged it into my cable and into USB and it powered right up without problems. My first few uses of it were when I went to the car dealer and had to wait around; I plugged it into a USB battery (at peak power consumption, it uses something like 700 mW). It performed quite well and I got acceptable speeds without having to worry about jumping on an unknown WiFi network and dealing with my VPN.

The next test was when we drove about an hour to go camping; my wife was in the passenger seat and my son was in the back seat. My son had an iPad and was entertained for the trip. My wife started out the drive just saying that she would use her phone, but about 10 minutes down the road, she asked my son to hand up her iPad. From that point on, I think the hotspot gained a permanent place in our longer car rides! This past week we went on a driving vacation and covered about 1500 miles. The hotspot powered up when the car started (it was plugged into one of the USB ports; my car has 2 USB ports, but I bought a 2 port cigarette lighter to USB adapter, so I had a total of 4 ports) and was available wherever we had AT&T coverage which turned out to be maybe 75% of the total time in the car.

In one of the hotels we were staying, I was able to get over 20 Mbps down which to me is amazing considering my first cable modem was 5 Mbps down and the first cellular data links I worked with at QUALCOMM were 9.6 Kbps.

Screen Shot 2017 07 19 at 8 49 03 PM

While $20/month seems like an unnecessary expense for times that I won’t use it, I can justify the expense.

Pros

  • Easy to use (just plug it in and connect to WiFi).
  • Coverage wherever AT&T has coverage.
  • Hard to use up 22 GB a month in normal usage (we used about 17 GB on our last trip and that was using it in the car and hotel).
  • Device is reasonably priced ($99).
  • Monthly fee is reasonable ($20/month).
  • Automatically turns on when power is applied.

Cons

  • Have to buy or make a cable to use outside of the car.
  • Limited to 5 devices at a time. This seems like a lot of devices, but we had a total of 6 and some devices always stay connected to WiFi causing me to have to block/unblock a device).
  • Doesn’t support carrier aggregation which would support higher data rates.

Summary

As much as I didn’t want to think that a mobile hotspot would fit into my usage, it has proven to be an excellent device. I’m sure that my review (except for the auto power on) would be the same with any mobile hotspot, but the price of the device and the price of this plan make the ZTE Mobley a keeper. Even though you can turn your phone into a hotspot, it doesn’t stay on all the time and uses data from your plan. By having a separate device, you don’t have to worry about going over your usage and being throttled and don’t have to worry about turning on the hotspot.

I would be interested in trying out the other mobile hotspots that AT&T has to offer as they would look neater than my soldered set of cables and be more compact, but I have to check the terms and conditions to see if there is a problem moving my SIM to a different device and keeping the same plan.

Review: Apple AirPods

When Apple announced the AirPods last fall, I wasn’t impressed as I already had Bluetooth earbuds that I used for running that worked quite well. It took me a few weeks to realize the advantages of them over other ear buds such as no on/off switch, take one out to pause, pairing across all devices, easy charging, convenient carrying case, etc. After that, I was convinced that they were the sleeper hit of the event.

Once the AirPods became available to order, I immediately placed my order; the price didn’t phase me. When I received them a few weeks later (I didn’t get in on the first batch), my excitement quickly turned to disappointment. They appeared to be plagued with problems such as dropping constantly on phone calls and popping while listening to music on my walks. I found forums posts where people had similar issues and I went ahead with Apple’s online support so that they could get it on record that there was a problem with my combination of devices and AirPods (iPhone 6s, first generation Apple Watch). None of their suggestions worked, but I didn’t really expect them to as I had tried what others suggested in the forums.

Several weeks later, I received a call from Apple wanting to see if I had time to follow up with a support person collecting information for engineering. Sure, I said as my AirPods were basically useless at that point. I spoke with an Apple person for well over an hour during which the AirPods dropped and switched to the iPhone’s speaker many, many times (once every few minutes). I didn’t hear back from Apple, but saw some forum reports indicating that the beta iOS versions fixed the problems (I don’t normally install beta iOS versions on my device). When iOS 10.3 came out, I immediately installed it (I backed up first because the APFS update kind of scared me). I was more than pleasantly surprised about my AirPods; they now worked exactly as Apple had described. Over 2 months after I bought them, they had become completely usable!

Now that I had working earbuds, what impressed me with the AirPods? First off, charging is easy and convenient. Next, the charging case makes it easy to carry them. There is no on/off switch and taking the AirPods out of my ears pauses the music. They are so convenient that I find myself listening to music more when I walk the dog.

Pros

  • Convenient charging/storage case.
  • Fits well in my ears.
  • Easy to pair with all my devices.
  • Acceptable sound quality (I’m not an audiophile so it works for me).
  • Taking the AirPods out of the case immediately turns them on.
  • Removing one AirPod pauses the music.

Cons

  • Initial issues delayed my full use of the AirPods.
  • There are cheaper ear buds on the market.
  • Easy to drop or lose.
  • Batteries won’t last all day.

Summary

I’ve tried a number of Bluetooth ear buds and headsets over the years and besides my Plantronics BackBeat Fit that I use for running, I haven’t managed to keep using any one for all that long. I’m cautiously optimistic that the AirPods are going to be my ear buds of choice for the foreseeable future. While they are not the cheapest ear buds out there, I think that all the pros outweigh the cost.

Review: Ubiquiti UniFi Security Gateway

Sometime after I reviewed the Ubiquiti EdgeRouter Lite, Ubiquiti contacted me and offered me a few products to test and review. One of the products they sent me was the UniFi Security Gateway. At the time, I set the box aside as it didn’t have all the features of the EdgeRouter Lite. In January when my father was having trouble with his Internet, I put the USG into service. For that application, it was ideal as it integrated with the rest of the components and was simple to manage.

After the success of that install, I was kind of jealous and decided to purchase a USG and see what it would take to replace my EdgeRouter Lite; the UniFi team has done a lot of work on the controller (the GUI to manage the device) since I was originally sent the device. Replacing a router should not be rocket science. Unfortunately for me, my network is a little bit customized. Going from the EdgeRouter Lite, I had to move over the following:

  • Dynamic DNS (for my external IP address)
  • IPv6
  • VLANs
  • Firewall rules for the VLANs
  • OpenVPN server
  • Static DHCP entries
  • Static DNS host entries

Some of this is available in the controller, some of it isn’t.

The first step was to adopt the USG into my controller. I followed the instructions on how to integrate the USG into an existing network. Unfortunately, I was unable to adopt (meaning the controller can manage the device) the USG. I tried a few times with no success. Next I looked at an article that allows me to configure the USG to find the controller (instead of the controller finding it). I followed the SSH instructions and issued the commands:

    mca-cli
    set-inform http://ip-of-controller:8080/inform

This worked and I started getting somewhere. (After reading some more posts on Ubiquiti’s extremely helpful forum, it appears that an old firmware may have had issues adopting and that upgrading the firmware before adopting may have helped.)

After the USG was adopted into the controller, I plugged in the WAN connection, rebooted the cable modem (so that it would pick up the new MAC address) and was able to connect to the Internet. If I had a simple network, I’d be done, but nothing is ever easy for me.

Next up was setting static DHCP entries. While the current controller doesn’t let you assign DHCP entries until after a device has been seen, all my devices were online and showed up in the controller (I have UniFi switches which makes the controller populate with all devices it sees) using the addresses I had assigned from the EdgeRouter Lite. It was a simple matter of selecting each device, clicking the “Use fixed IP address” checkbox and clicking Apply. (Note there is a bug in the UI where the checkbox doesn’t stay checked even after applying.)

Screen Shot 2017 03 06 at 11 08 48 AM

Perfect, so now that was out of the way (tedious, but reasonable), I could move on or so I thought. The controller lets me assign static IP addresses for clients; switches and access points are not considered clients. I needed static IP addresses for the switches and access points so that I could use SNMP monitoring on them; the package I’m using, Observium uses host names to address the devices; in order to use host names, I had to first give devices static IP addresses. This is where the messiness begins. Ubiquiti has an article on how to customize the USG and have the changes persist across reboots. (The EdgeRouter Lite just lets you configure it using the command line and the changes persist.)

You start the process by doing something like this:

    configure
    set service dhcp-server shared-network-name LAN_10.0.1.0-24 subnet 10.0.1.0/24 static-mapping UniFi-LR ip-address 10.0.1.131
    commit
    save
    exit

and then

    mca-ctrl -t dump-cfg

At this point, you have to pick through what was dumped and only choose what you entered manually as the json file you create gets merged in with what is produced from the controller. This isn’t necessary if you have a standard config and the controller has all the options you need.

I then repeated this process for IPv6, static DNS entries and my OpenVPN server configuration.

There is a GUI for configuring the firewall and I setup rules that prevent IoT devices from talking to my LAN, my cameras from talking to anything except 1 device, and a few other rules. This was straightforward, but a little different than on the EdgeRouter Lite.

Screen Shot 2017 03 09 at 2 13 16 PM

Now that I had the USG setup like my EdgeRouter Lite, what did I get? The hardware is virtually identical, so I didn’t gain performance. The main thing I gained was being able to look at my entire network in 1 place. In addition, I get the ability to remotely manage/monitor my network through the UniFi cloud. Did I mention the pretty picture with the circles?

Screen Shot 2017 03 06 at 10 59 55 AM

People are going to ask, why go with a USG over an EdgeRouter Lite. Here’s my rundown:

USG

  • Easily integrates with other UniFi equipment.
  • Simplified configuration.
  • Remote access via UniFi mobile app.
  • Firewall configuration is slightly easier than on ERL, I think.

EdgeRouter Lite

  • UI has some more advanced configurations like being able to change any option using the configuration tree.
  • Firewall configuration in UI allows you to apply rules directly to VLANs.
  • Configuration via command line is a one step process; make change and save it vs USG which has multiple steps.
  • Core operating system is newer than USG.
  • Static DHCP reservations can be made prior to a device being on the network.

Conclusion

Pros

  • Easy setup for simple networks.
  • Full view of entire network in one spot.
  • Remote access to router from UniFi mobile app (using the UniFi cloud).
  • Easy configuration of firewall entries.

Cons

  • No IPv6 DPI (deep packet inspection).
  • DPI works across all interfaces and may not give you an accurate representation of WAN traffic (which is what interests me).
  • Not all configuration options are available via the GUI.
  • Initial setup into a non-trivial existing network is painful.
  • WAN speed test is only useful for up to 150 – 200 Mbps (according to a forum post; I have 300 Mbps down and can only get about 130 Mbps shown).
  • JSON configuration for command line options is a bit awkward as you have to use the command line first, export the options and then pair down the result to put in the JSON config so that settings persist.

Summary

As I’ve written about in the past, the UniFi line of networking products is easy to use and everything works well together. The USG fits in well and despite my rough start with it, I’m pleased with it. While there wasn’t a huge leap from the EdgeRouter Lite to the USG, being able to see my entire network configuration in one place makes it easier for me to manage. In the future, I plan on adding more firewall rules and possibly more VLANs to separate out more IoT traffic (a day doesn’t go by where you don’t here about some IoT device doing something shady).

If you already own an EdgeRouter Lite, moving to a USG is a tough decision. You gain no new functionality or performance, but an interface that works with other UniFi hardware. If you don’t already own an EdgeRouter Lite and either plan on getting UniFi access points or switches, I think it is a no brainer to get a USG. If you aren’t using other UniFi gear, a USG itself won’t buy you a whole lot. With the USG, I’m able to define VLANs once and have it apply to the WiFi access points and the switch ports; with the EdgeRouter Lite, I had to define VLANs in both places for proper routing.

UniFi employees are quite active on their forums and have posted their roadmap. I really like some of the features and their openness is refreshing. The features won’t really change how I use the device, but will help reduce the number of command line changes I have to make.