Building out the Backyard 01

On the heels of last years epic renovations – Pool, Lenai, Driveway, Retaining Walls and Front Lawn and Irrigation system, we’ve embarked upon a less ambitious project  to address the area behind the Lenai which comprises the bulk of our back yard.

This time we’re working with Brian Plett of Blaydes Landscaping. He is local here to my subdivision. No web page I’m afraid so I can’t link you to him.

I took a few before pictures to get a sense of how things look as viewed from the house:

 

Work began in a relatively small way, the bobcat will be here tomorrow and that’s when the work can begin in earnest. Today was mostly some cleanup and roughing in the irrigation system.

 

 

Lights installed on far side of Lanai

Building out the Backyard 02

Which is Better, UPS or FedEx (SmartPost)?

So, I’m a member of Amazon Prime which means that anything that ships from Amazon comes automatically with 2 day delivery. This is pretty sweet.

A couple of days I shot a note to Amazon because I was a bit disappointed that one of my orders did not arrive when it was supposed to. It arrived two days later. This is not a big deal but I found it a bit annoying that clearly the delivery service (FedEx SmartPost) was – according to their tracking information – basically sitting on the package at their facility (local to me) for two days. Amazon no longer seems to send out mini-surveys asking when shipped items have arrived so I wanted to let them know that one of their shippers appears to be sleeping on the job.

As I look back at some previous orders it seems that UPS has been consistently on time while FedEx… well maybe not so much.

The funny thing is, partly due to their advertising efforts and partly due to past experience, I hold FedEx in higher esteem of the two.

In what turned out to be a kind of mini-test, I ordered two items from Amazon on Wednesday. It happens that one (25 LB Uninterrupted Power Supply) was shipped via UPS, the other (2 lbs Brass couplings) shipped by  FedEx Smartpost.

You look at the tracking information and you can see that the FedEx package actually arrived in Marietta before the UPS package arrived in Roswell. Both of these points are the last hops before delivery. The UPS package arrived today a bit after 3 pm and is sitting here beside me. The forecast for the FedEx package is to arrive maybe sometime before 8 pm on Sunday (two more days).

I’m glad I’m not counting on the second package being here for the weekend…

Sametime High Availability problem using Round Robin DNS where at least one server is down for an extended period of time

There is an issue where people will begin having issues accessing Sametime if one server in a Sametime HA environment is down beyond a certain length of time when the Server Community DNS is set up as round robin.

Essentially either the clients or the servers “forget” about the downed server. You are OK for up to some number of days where they recognize that the server is a ST server but no longer available. After that some cache is cleared and this problem arises.

This is why normal HA works just fine (when a server goes down for just a few minutes or hours) the servers and / or the clients are able to ignore the proffered IP address since they are aware that the server is not longer responding.

If you are taking a server out of service for longer than a week (or the period within which you will be recycling all of the other servers in the community), remove the downed server from the round robin DNS until you are ready to put it back into service.

New Tires for the CR-V from NTB

I have a 2009 CR-V.

Yesterday I decided to replace the tires at NTB (National Tire and Battery) and elected to buy some Cooper Discoverer LSX Plus tires.

I went to register the tires on the Cooper site and found that I have 3 with one DOT code  (UP2Y 1BT 4111) and 1 with a slightly different code ( UP2Y 1BT 4211). I’m pretty sure that this is fine. It tells me that the tires were made one week apart and that they were made about 2 years ago.

What I’m concerned about though is that my receipt from NTB shows a DOT number of UP9H CL7 1513. This tells me that they are claiming to have sold me a set of tires that was made a little less than 3 months ago.

Am I going to run into issues over this? i.e. if the tires decide to pull a Michelin and fail prematurely I suspect that this will affect any pro-rating that I receive.

Any advice on how or even if I need to do anything about this?

Fastlane Stained Stainless Steel handle – a small miracle

After a few months of going around with Endless Pools and the folks at DesJoyaux, the DesJoyaux folks hit upon a workaround if not a solution for my issue with the handle on my Fastlane turning a black color.

As you can see from this “Before” picture the handle (and portions of the stainless steel cage below that protects the impeller) was a murky black color. I was unable to wipe it off to any meaningful degree yet enough would come off if you touched it to get on your hands or your bathing suit.

Several weeks ago, Billy Fowler from DesJoyaux said he thought he had hit upon something that might be of use and suggested two cleaning agents to try. He very generously offered to take back any chemical left if I found them to be ineffective which tells me that he is standing behind his research.

Basically I dumped some of this “StainFree” product from “Natural Chemistry” into a bucket with about a quart of water, donned some rubber gloves and used a rag to wipe the handle. After two or three swipes I saw the stainless steel shining through! It’s much more of a chemical reaction than an elbow grease effort. If I soaked the rag and basically squeezed it around a discolored portion of the handle the improvement was immediate. A bit of rubbing helped a bit but as soon as the chemical was spent there was no amount of rubbing that would improve it any more.

 

Here is the after picture. I cleaned the handle, pulled the top off the unit and replaced the sacrificial anode (which was designed for  outboard engines) with a much smaller one but which was purchased from Endless Pools.

Now the question remains: Is this a permanent fix that resolves a one-off issue or will I need to periodically revisit my stainless steel pieces?

Back in the saddle again

I kind of dropped out of much of the social network scene with the exception of trying out Yelp! and FourSquare’s “Check-in” features. Those proved to have some value by actually providing a free dessert here or a discount there.

As for the value of living one’s life online, I see great value on sharing your escapades, trials and tribulations with your family and friends – especially those who are geographically separated from you. But I balance that with the privacy and safety of those with whom I may share time and experiences.

Not to mention the challenge of being a professional in a large company and projecting an image that is consistent not only with my current career state but also with any and every other career movement that I may make both within and possibly outside of my current place of employment. Who knows what I’ll be doing in 15 years. The only thing I know for sure is that these posts will still be available in *some* form over which I can either wax nostalgic or cringe that I thought it would be a good idea to post that publicly.

That said, forgive some dummy posts I’ll be making shortly as I test some unifying software. While facebook seems to be the primary portal for communicating with folks, it is terrible for use as a repository. I can’t find anything I liked in there or anything in the newsfeed that I thought was interesting in the past to save my life. So I’m trying to make a two-way tie between FB and my personal blog where postings in one consistently end up in the other.

Message to Elan Financial (They Manage EmigrantDirect’s Visa)

I sent the following (in two parts) to Elan Financial. Am I being unreasonable?

I am writing to express my dissatisfaction thus far with Elan Financial services who are managing my EmigrantDirect Visa card.

1) When received my first statement in January I immediately went to the Elan Financial website and signed up to have my bill paid in full each month from my bank account. According to a recent exchange I had through this messaging system I apparently should have been aware that, even after having double checked that the payment date was showing as February 6 (two weeks in the future), Elan’s system would not actually make the withdrawal since, inexplicably, this is not enough time for a financial institution in the 21st century to set up such a connection.

I saw no indication on the website that I was to ignore the listed payment date and go ahead and send in what to me would seem to be a duplicate payment via snail mail.

I am astonished that a financial company, managing the credit card portfolio for an ONLINE ONLY Banking service, is incapable of both setting up a funds transfer in under 6 weeks and is further incapable of communicating that fact on the website through which the financial arrangements are being made.

2) A few days ago I received a letter from Elan welcoming me and letting me know that I should activate my card and that my reward rate would be at 1% – no mention of the 1 1/4% that I signed up for and am ostensibly receiving. This was a bit confusing since I have actually been using the card for a month and a half now. Has Elan reneged on the original offer? Is Elan unaware that I am using the credit card?
3) Coincident with the above welcome letter I received a notice from Elan’s collection department whining about my not having paid my first bill. This in spite of the fact that I have been in contact with Elan via this secure messaging system and had clearly set up my account to fully pay my bill fully two weeks prior to the first due date. Can it really be that Elan’s various departments have no contact with each other nor do they have access to my account records?
4) My first attempt at crafting this secure message on the Elan website was lost when the website timed out after 15 minutes of “inactivity” and did not even retain a draft of the message. I again emphasize the primitiveness of a system, in 2013, that would be so unyielding as to not allow the customer a chance to either confirm that they are still using the site or to at least provide a mechanism to retain the work in progress. The page literally vanishes and is replaced with one showing that the session has expired. Also Elan’s website limits these messages to 3500 characters but does not actually tell you this until you submit and then doesn’t tell you by how many characters you have exceeded the maximum.
5) My recent communication with Elan regarding the minimum amount of points required to obtain a statement credit resulted in the unhelpful response that I should phone the rewards department during business hours. Ignoring the fact that the reward website needs to actually say what the minimum rewards amount should be rather than simply responding “You do not have enough rewards points to purchase this item”, I emphasize again that it is no longer 1980 and that email is a common and acceptable way to communicate. One of the reasons I deal with an ONLINE BANK is so that I can communicate asynchronously and not waste my time on hold waiting for a representative to get around to working with me.
I need the following from you:
1) Acknowledgment that my bill will be paid by your online system as it currently indicates that it will on March 6
2) Acknowledgement that my rewards rate is at 1 1/4% as was agreed upon with my initial application
3) Acknowledgement that I will not be fined or assessed any fees as a result of my trusting Elan Financial’s website when it indicated it would withdraw funds through a system that I, in good faith, set up weeks ahead of the payment due date.
4) Confirmation of the number of reward points required to redeem a statement credit.
I await your reply,
Marc

Got a new Nexus 7 Tablet for work

I’m amazed that my new user experience with it has been night and day vs with my iPad or iPhone. Absolutely nowhere near as intuitive. And this after owning an HTC EVO for two years (jailbroken, using both HTC android and cyanogen mod). I’m no newbie to these things and I found the layout on the Nexus 7 gave me pause.

Maybe it’s a different paradigm? I have to imagine that the interface’s panels are meant to be somewhat Windows 8’ish and I haven’t even thought of touching that OS yet… Still learning the nuances of OS X…

Installed “The Nest” today…

I’ve named it “HAL”.

Nest Learning Thermostat – 2nd Generation T200577

It can definitely beat out regular thermostats and I’m pretty sure it can outdo your programmable thermostat if you’re relatively active (in and out, temperature up and down a lot) or even if your schedule varies day by day.

Between the “airwave” technology that should maximize cooling dollars and its built in intelligence to figure out how long it takes to heat/cool your place, I’m expecting HAL will be able to cut our costs a little bit (I had my previous thermostat fully programmed) and maximize comfort by tracking our real use patterns and setting itself accordingly rather than the broad patterns that I set on the previous thermostat.

Oh, and did I mention, there’s an app for that? You can check out and control your house HVAC from your smartphone or anywhere with web access.

If you’re looking for an otherwise excellent thermostat, I’ve got an American Standard Gold XM Control 803 thermostat that  I’m willing to let go cheap…

High CPU with iTunes 10.7 – Resolved… Sort Of

** Updated 12/2/2012 **

Just upgraded to iTunes 11.0.0.163 and the issue has not improved at all. I reenabled my Wi-Fi sync and it seemed to take a while longer before the AppleMobileDeviceHelper.exe started consuming CPU like crazy (about 5-6 hours) but consume it did. Also the iPhone and iPad completely don’t see the server so Wi-Fi sync is still broken. I’ve disabled that mode of syncing again. I suppose it will have to be an iTunes 12 fix?

** End Update **

So, it turns out that disabling sync over Wi-Fi eliminates the high CPU consumption issues with both the AppleMobileDeviceHelper.exe and ATH.exe

This is relatively painless to do since the Wi-Fi sync stopped working with the 10.7 iTunes update on the Windows 7 (64 bit) release anyway.

I’ll leave this disabled until the next iTunes update. It’s a shame because the Wi-Fi sync is a pretty slick feature.

To disable, just plug your iDevice into your computer and, in iTunes on the Summary page, uncheck the “Sync with this computer over Wi-Fi” checkbox and click apply