Saturday, June 24, 2017

One Tube of LifeSeal Sealant Stays Fresh for Ten Years

I have about 30 types of glue and sealant in my garage.  I've had to use these tubes of stuff for anything from creating a surf housing out of plexiglas, to fixing a hole in my boat or drysuit, to the usual home maintenance stuff. 

Recently, I had a small job sealing a hole in my house.  I found these three tubes of sealant that I had used over the past 10 years.  I had used all these tubes of sealant about 10 years ago, then sealed them up and never used them again.

Of the three tubes, only BoatLife Life Seal was useable.  This is great stuff!  It had not hardened at all around the cap, so I could use it immediately.  It still worked just fine.

The other two products, GE Silicone II and DAP Auto/Marine Sealant, had frozen up completely.  I cut into the bottom of the tubes (you can see this in the photo), and they were solid.


Saturday, June 3, 2017

Alternatives to Comcast TV and Internet

I cut the cable TV cord at my Washington State summer house and put up an antenna.  It gets the five major networks, in really nice HD.

I also stopped using Comcast for my Internet at my WA state summer house.  The blog post below describes the options anyone might have if they want to stop using cable Internet for a while.


A neighbor near my Washington State summer house recently wrote:
"I've had enough of Comcast and all thier bull s***. I ca'nt find anyone who offers internet out here.
Do you have any ideas on how we can get internet?."


I wrote back:

I had enough of Comcast too!  ...

I have some solutions for you, but what has worked for me may not work for you. 

First thing was getting rid of cable TV and putting up that giant antenna.  It gets all five major networks, which is fine with me.  However, it is getting stations from 30 to 42 miles away, and it cuts out during low tides.  The TV signals travel across water better.  I am bringing a new TV antenna (smaller) that I've just had good luck with here in Pacific Grove, where I am also fed up with Comcast.   I want to test it against the giant one.  (Conclusion, the giant antenna works better than the one I tested in PG). 

That leaves internet.  You told me once that you streamed Netflix.  That could be a problem, because streaming video takes up lots of data.  I've been getting by in Olympia by using and buying cell phone data from Verizon and Sprint networks.  AT&T and T-Mobile cell networks don't work well at my place.  I have 500Mb of free data on every Freedompop hotspot and phone that I carry with me, and I have about four of them.  But those all together are only 2.0Gb per month. 

I used to get by just fine for a few weeks in Olympia with just 2Gb per month, but it's been getting harder and harder to do so.  A lot of these computer and tablet manufacturers automatically upload updates to, for instance, an iPad -- and those updates might be 1.5Gb in size.  That's most of my free allotment right there.  Web pages are getting more and more dense with data. 

I have written about Freedompop and their free phones on my blog.  They actually really are free, and I bought two wifi hotspots from them recently for $20, and they work great.  But you have to be really careful with them or they will getcha on data overages (but there's a setting where your data just turns off if you go over a certain amount).  They use the Sprint network.  I get Sprint just fine at our Olympia house but I also have an unobstructed path to the water to where I put the hotspots.  They are the kind of service that will getcha unless you are careful and know all the rules. 

Here are some of my blog posts on Freedompop:
http://norbertwu.blogspot.com/2015/11/sprintfreedompop-nexus-5-phone-suddenly.html

http://norbertwu.blogspot.com/2016/08/freedompop-phone-gets-suspended-if-you.html


I bought an iPad with a Verizon modem, that I use as a wifi hotspot, because the data plan is good and Verizon's network is strong at our house.  I will buy 1Gb or 2Gb of data at a time, which is about $25 per month.  That data expires after a month if I don't use it. 

Both Verizon and Sprint have unlimited plans now (again).  Verizon has been losing customers and so is trying to get back customers.  Now might be a good time to get a cell phone and an unlimited plan with Verizon, perhaps.  If you get service with Verizon, make sure to buy a phone that allows  you to use the phone as a wifi hotspot.  I am not sure if Verizon allows this or has a fee to do so.  You could do the same with Sprint.  If you get a phone with a big data plan, and can use your phone as a wifi hotspot, that might solve a lot of your problems (unless, again, if you stream a lot of videos).  One hour of video streaming can use up 500Mb to 1Gb of data. 

If you get a cell phone as a wifi hotspot, I have various routers and repeaters that can take that signal and spread it around your house, if you need a stronger signal. 


Cell data, however, is super-expensive compared to cable internet from Comcast or AT&T.  Luckily, here at PG, we have the choice of both.  I may go with Comcast for 12 months, then switch to AT&T for 12 months.  That makes me a "new" customer every 12 months with the other company, so I call in after 12 months and get a "new customer" deal.   I just switched from AT&T, and they gave me something like 200Gb of data per month with their internet service.  I probably used 60Gb of data or more each month that I was with AT&T, which is way more than Verizon or Sprint would allow me to use.  I can get by with just 2Gb to 5Gb of data at Olympia each month because I don't watch videos online (I use the TV antenna) and I am real careful not to allow updates to my laptops or ipad.  I update those items when I get to a place like a hotel, or home, where I have truly fast, near-unlimited data. 

When I switched back to Comcast in March here in PG, they promised that my TV service would remain exactly the same.  I've had the same service with them for years, called Limited Basic, around $30 per month.  After the switch, I got a bill, and suddenly there were all these new, unannounced charges.  Broadcast TV fee $5 monthly.  DTA fee for each TV, $4 to $11 per month depending on whether you want HD.  Installation fee.  Incredible, fraudulent!  I got so mad that I've now gone through three TV antennas and over 30 hours of walking around my property and two roofs trying to get the best signal.  I finally found a good antenna that gets the four major broadcast networks, and am looking forward to telling Comcast to f*** off next year.  However, I will still need to get internet from somewhere, and will probably switch to AT&T for a year. 

For Olympia, I am happy living with few bills and not having to deal with Comcast.  Their customer service in Olympia was ridiculous one time.  They would not allow me to return their box, and keep my TV service going for another week.  I had to throw a hissy fit before they took the box back .  It was their damn box, I did not need it to view TV programming over their cable, and they would have charged me if I did not return it.  They were arguing that I could only return the box the day that I cancelled TV service with them. 


How about satellite internet and TV? 

http://www.reviews.org/internet-service/best-satellite-internet-providers/


PS: I see this Freedomspot Netgear Zing:

https://www.freedompop.com/offer/netgear-zing-free-trial?ftm_source=google&ftm_medium=cpc&ftm_campaign=SHOP_Hotspots-NA_US-ENG_DTM_USWLS_NB&ftm_placement=-&ftm_term=-&ftm_network=search-g&ftm_content=112646612479-1o1&ftm_adgroup=US_WIRELESS_SPRINT&ftm_device=dto&ftm_devicemodel=&gclid=Cj0KEQjwxPbHBRCdxJLF3qen3dYBEiQAMRyxS4v5QzK1VZWoq9CoTHMl4f63-xVEnheIPWH0MeVJwR4aAj5u8P8HAQ

I have two of these hotspots.  They work well but always give battery error warnings -- but still work.  $20 for one of these is a good deal, as long as you don't sign up for any BS plans -- just the free plan. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Use a $45 Digital Temperature Controller to Maintain Temperature in Your Hot Tub

If you have a hot tub that has a problem maintaining temperature, then read on. 

Summary:
I've had a two-year long, sporadic project to get an old hot tub working so that it would maintain a setpoint of 104 degrees-- it would not maintain temperature and would shoot up to 109 degrees F after maintaining a setpoint of 104 degrees for a while.  I did a ton of research, writing and calling, trying to find someone to fix the damn thing   It was ridiculously difficult to get information and help.  The rare store that would talk to me would recommend that I replace a $600 controller (plus $400 to install) even though they didn't know if that is the problem.  I ended up getting a $45 digital temperature controller from Ebay (also available on Amazon), wiring it up, and putting it on a timer.  It works great! 

*****
Disclaimer: WARNING:
This post is meant for informational purposes only! To better your knowledge on the concepts of electricity, electrical circuitry, entertainment component circuitry and all other wiring methods. DO NOT ATTEMPT ANY WIRING OF ANY KIND if you lack the knowledge and understanding required. Otherwise personal injury and/or death as well as property damage or loss could occur.

Electricity is dangerous and can cause personal injury or DEATH as well as other property loss or damage if not used or constructed properly. If you have any doubts what so ever about performing do-it-yourself electrical work, PLEASE do the smart thing and hire a QUALIFIED SPECIALIST to perform the work for you.

NEVER WORK WITH LIVE VOLTAGE. Always disconnect the power source before working with electrical circuits.

When performing electrical work, ALWAYS READ AND FOLLOW THE MANUFACTURERS INSTRUCTIONS AND SAFETY GUIDELINES. Always follow your local electrical code and requirements which are specific to local areas.

This information is provided for the use of individuals as they see fit.  ANY HAZARD CREATED IS THE SOLE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE USER.


*****
I have a summer house in WA state.  It has an old Sonoma Hot Tub redwood spa.  I hired a local spa services person to put in a new skid (heater, pump, filter, and controller all mounted on a semi-removable skid) in 2013.  The pump/heater is a  HydroQuip HT-500T.  Starting in 2014, the temperature would swing from 104 degrees (where I set it) to 109 degrees F without warning and without changes to the temperature dial.




I called and wrote about two dozen spa repair places.  The skid is theoretically a good idea -- I can disconnect the PVC pipes and bring the skid in to be repaired.  In the real world now, however, no one wants to work on something like this.  To me, it's a fairly simple setup -- there's a pump, a filter, a heater, and a controller.  To just about all the stores within a 60 mile radius, this is a hot tub that they don't want to work on, and they don't want customers to bring in something like this.  They only gave me the option of having a technician come out, at the cost of a $240+ round trip service call, to fix it on-site. 

Obviously, stores selling hot tubs now only want to sell all-in-one units, where a technician HAS to repair a hot tub on-site.  I was disappointed in all the spa stores in Olympia and the surrounding areas.  Even the stores that were highly rated on Yelp had no desire to help.  I'd reach a front line salesperson on the phone, and no one from the service department ever called me back. 

The only person in the state of Washington that was any help whatsoever was Ron Bell of Hot Tub Essentials.  Here's what he wrote, which I post here in case it's of help to anyone else with an older hot tub:

Mr. Wu,

     I will start off by suggesting you change out your water ... we do coach our customers to change approx.. every 6 months due to the build up of unused sanitizers etc.
    
     Secondly let me say, that those older mechanical thermostats have always had a notorious behaviour of sensitive temp changes on the dial.

      Possibly try these tips:
If you have no control over the temperature of your hot tub, here are a few things to look for:

-Ensure the high speed pump is not running for long periods as the friction of the water will raise the temperature.

- Measure the ambient air temperature of the spa cabinet. If you think the temperature is too high, leave the door open to confirm the problem. If the problem goes away when the door is open, use a timer on your spa pack or increase the ventilation of your spa cabinet. If the ambient air temperature is very low, increase the insulation around the equipment. Be careful not to place the insulation too close to the equipment, as this could be a fire hazard.

- Check the pressure switch and make sure the setting isn't too sensitive.

- Make sure the filters and skimmer baskets are clean and not causing a flow problem.

- Check for loose connections on the heater circuits.

- Check the thermostat. Makes sure the probe is all the way in the thermal well and the capillary is not kinked. If all else fails, replace the thermostat.

      It may be time to update to a new digital style of pack system. They are actually quite reasonable price wise, and fairly simple to install.
Depending on the option demands of your spa, a pack such as this may be a perfect fit for you:
 http://www.hottubessentials.com/hydroquip-6100-spa-pack-cs-6100-u.html
      Let me know your thoughts. We are here to help out however we can.

Regards,
Ron Bell
www.hottubessentials.com

I really appreciated Ron's reply and tried his solutions that I was capable of, but he was incredibly difficult to reach after that.  I emailed him, and he was always "out of town" or "had just gone home for the weekend."  His assistant wrote me once that I should try replacing the thermostat, and that it would be a simple matter of hooking up two electrical connectors.  I asked if he could point me to the web link so I could order such a thermostat, and he never bothered replying.  Evidently selling small items like a thermostat does not represent enough value to any hot tub place for them to bother replying to anyone.  I was also just stunned when I finally reached Ron Bell on the phone one Friday morning.  We talked, he did not remember my situation, and asked me to re-send my email.  I did so, called him back at 2pm, and his store told me that he had already gone home for the weekend.  I was just stunned that someone would ask me for more information and then leave for the weekend without returning my call.  This was the kind of customer service I got from just about every person in the hot tub business that I talked to. 

I started looking farther afield, and found some folks in the Seattle area that seemed like good possibilities.  I spoke to this spa repair person on the phone, and he was helpful, but gave a lot of technical information that was over my head.  When I emailed him, offering to hire him for his advice, I never heard back:
The Hot Tub Guy: look him up on Yelp, his name is Scott...


I started researching forums on the web.  If you've ever done something like this, you will know that finding answers on the web -- if you are a novice -- can be incredibly difficult and time-consuming.  However, I had no choice. 

I found wiring and other diagrams for my model of hot tub controller (which turns on the heater and pump) online at a website called Aquaman.  I also found the thermostat for my controller:

Thermostat, Mech, 5/16" Probe - 18" Capillary (34-0030)
Hydro-Quip Thermostat, Mech, 5/16" Probe - 18" Capillary
Single pole rated at 25 amps with max temp rating at 107°F. Best results are obtained when the bulb is installed in a dry well or groove tube at or immediately before the heater. This is a safety device! If it is found to be out of calibration, do not attempt to perform a field adjustment! Replace bad thermostat with a new one Capillary Length: 18" Bulb Thickness: 5/16





Hot Tub Essentials had this to say about thermostats (they sold a generic one):
Standard Mechanical Thermostat
This classic design will fit most spas. The temperature probe (sensor) is 3-3/4" long by 1/4" thick and on a 36 inch malleable coil. If you don't require the entire length, simply leave it partially wound up.

The thermostat probe should fit completely inside the thermal well. It is OK to replace with a smaller thermostat probe, but not a larger one. If it protrudes outside the thermal well, it should be insulated.

An easy way to insulate the back of the thermal probe is to cut a slit in a Styrofoam cup. Then fill with spray foam insulation and cover the rear of the hot tub thermostat probe.


I bought the thermostat from Aquaman.  It was not a difficult thing to replace.  One mistake that I might have made - but did not -- was to take the entire controller and heater apart, thinking that the thermal probe might go into the heater itself.  Fortunately, I took out the thermostat unit itself along with the thermal probe before dismantling the entire controller, which would have been a huge mess and mistake.  I discovered that the thermal probe went into a cylindrical hole inside the heater (the thermal well!), and was not immersed in water. 

After trying the new thermostat, I discovered that the controller still did not maintain the temperature of the hot tub.  Also, the controller had a mode where it was supposed to turn on only at certain times.  That timer mode did not seem to work now. 

I decided to try a digital temperature controller.  One forum said that he had bought a digital temperature controller and hooked it up to control the temperature in his hot tub -- exactly my problem.  He used this temperature controller:

Docooler® Digital Temperature Controller Thermocouple with Sensor (-58~194°F) 10A 110V
https://www.amazon.com/Docooler-Temperature-Controller-Thermocouple-58-194-F/dp/B00F05UI8O/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1495992302&sr=8-7&keywords=docooler

This temperature controller sells for less than $16!  It would need some wiring done, but this was a lot better than paying a hot tub service technician $240 just to come out to look at my hot tub for 30 minutes, much less paying someone $1000 for a new controller that may or may not work. 

This would have been perfect for my needs, but I knew that my hot tub skid drew more than 10 amps.  For some reason, there are many temperature controllers on Amazon (such as Inkbird) but all are only rated to 10 amps.  My entire skid was hooked up to a household GFCI outlet.  It had tripped the outlet a few times but generally had run well. 

I knew nothing about household AC wiring until this project.  I did use to know some things, but that was 30 years ago.  I started doing research, and I learned that household GFCI outlets are rated to 15 amps.  Sure enough, when I got to our house, I looked at the outlet and it was rated to 15 amps. 

I therefore bought one of these controllers, rated to 30 amps:

Thermostat Heat Cold Temperature Controller 30A Air condition Spa Pool Hot Tub
http://www.ebay.com/itm/Thermostat-Heat-Cold-Temperature-Controller-30A-Air-condition-Spa-Pool-Hot-Tub/121092751235?_trksid=p2060778.c100290.m3507&_trkparms=aid%3D111001%26algo%3DREC.SEED%26ao%3D1%26asc%3D20160727114228%26meid%3D4d467bef50244150a175fc7279f7d5b9%26pid%3D100290%26rk%3D1%26rkt%3D3%26sd%3D121092751235

(This temperature controller seems to work well, and the Ebay seller sells a lot of these and has high ratings.  However, I had to return a duplicate order to them, and they are based in Canada.  They made the return as difficult and time-consuming as possible!). 

Nevertheless, this controller has worked perfectly so far (after I experimented with the settings for a good two days)!  Here are the details:

Dual Mini Temperature Controller Thermostat for Controlling temperature on any Heating or Cooling device  in the temp range -22 to 230 F (-30  to 110 C) with High output 30 Amp 

It displays and control your true temperature and alarms with a BUZZER (AUDIBLE) in an over heating or lower heating emergency. It has a set point and also alarm set point  from -22 to 230 F (0 to 110 degrees C)

We also add one water proof temperature sensor for using in water. The sensor detects changes so quickly, you can see the temperature rise and fall degree by degree (with 0.1 degree resolution).

The Controller has  30 Amp relay output, so you can control your heater or cooler by your controller .

This Temperature Controller helps you to control the temperature (accurately with 0.1 degree) and time (minute) on your cocking machine.
Following you will find some of this controller advantages,
1-it is accurate controller with 0.1 C or 0.1 F resolution controlling
2-It is compact size and easily can install
3-It has built in relay , so it doesn't need additional relay or SSR.
4-it can be easily programmed and wired
5-it equipped with 2 type  timer too. For example if you fix your set point between 68 to 70 Fahrenheit and your timer on 15 minutes
   First Type timer: when push start switch , the heater will work and when the temp reaches to 68 Fahrenheit then Countdown timer will start and keep        temperature between 68 to 70F for 15 minutes (you can change this time by setting) and then the controller will turn off the heater after 15 minute automatically.So you are not worry about turning off the heater.
 Second Type timer: when push start switch , the heater will work and Countdown timer will start too for 15 minutes. The temperature  controller try to reach 68F and will  keep temperature between 68 to 70F and after 15 minute from start  the controller will turn off the heater Automatically (you can change this time by setting) .So you are not worry about turning off the floor heater.
6-Configurable between Fahrenheit or Celsius
7-Equipped with buzzer alarm for high or low temperature alarm setting

***
Disclaimer:
DO NOT ATTEMPT ANY WIRING OF ANY KIND if you lack the knowledge and understanding required. Otherwise personal injury and/or death as well as property damage or loss could occur. WARNING


To wire up this controller, I bought a 14 gauge extension cord from Lowe's for the input and output.  I would have been safer buying a 12 gauge extension cord (rated for 15 amps), but the controller is only on for a few hours a day.  The wires do not appear to be hot when the controller has been running.  I used 12-gauge stranded wire for the other connections, and Wago connectors to connect all the wires (a great find for me):

Wago 222-413 LEVER-NUTS 3 Conductor Compact Connectors 50 PK
https://www.amazon.com/Wago-222-413-LEVER-NUTS-Conductor-Connectors/dp/B000JJPA66/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1495993407&sr=8-1-spons&keywords=wago+connector&psc=1

I did not know the below, since it's been so long since I've wired anything up.  Here are notes from the web if you are wiring up one of these controllers: 

For household AC circuits:
The neutral is the longer, fat prong in an outlet, the narrow prong is hot. 
In my extension cord, which thankfully followed industry convention: the black wire is hot; white is neutral, green is ground. 

I followed the directions from thermomart, and also consulted this Amazon review for the Docooler temperature controller (thanks, Amazon reviewer!):


























From the Amazon reviewer: Your hot wire from the wall should go to port 1 and 3. Neutral from the wall should go to 4 and neutral of the receptacle. Port 2 should go to the hot of the receptacle. ground from the wall should go to ground of the receptacle. Do you have an ohm meter? You can check to make sure that your wires are connected to the proper pins of your receptacle and cable.
See here: http://cdn.instructables.com/FD5/BGJG/GZLW99UC/FD5BGJGGZLW99UC.LARGE.jpg





From another reviewer: 
To hook up the unit I split an extension cord and put the temperature controller in the middle, which the following instructions detail: I purchased a http://amzn.com/B0002J1KRQ  (just an extension cord, but heavy gauge, 18AWG $5.69 ) and cut it 1/3 of the way down from the female end. The only other parts needed are an extra piece of wire the same gauge as the wire in the extension cord 1.5" long and one wire nut (Norb says use the awesome Wago Japanese wire connectors instead). After cutting the extension cord and I then cut back 1.5 of an inch of the main insulation (on both pieces of the extension cable) exposing the 3 insulated wires per piece of cable. Next I stripped all of the insulators back 1/4 of an inch to exposes the wires (3 per piece of cable and twice on each side of the extra wire). The neutral, white, wires I joined together and mounted into terminal block 4. The male cable's (the one that plugs into the wall) black wire and one end of the extra wire were mounted into terminal block 3. The other end of the extra wire was mounted into terminal block 2. The black wire from the female side of the extension (part the crock or other device plugs into) was mounted into terminal block 1. The green (ground) wires from each side of the cable were connected with a wire nut. The two ends of the thermocouple were mounted into terminals blocks 5 and 6. I looped the ground up over the screw extrusion where the back plate mounts and screwed down the back plate (this holds the ground line up and pins the extension cable up into the back and force the ends of the now pieced back together extension cord out of each end of the temperature controller. 

*****
After some hiccups, the digital temperature controller has been working perfectly!  The temperature probe is in the same thermal well as the old mechanical temperature sensor, and it gives temperature readings that are spot on.  The skid is behind a wall, about 4 feet away from the hot tub, in a basement.  Therefore it is in a cool environment.  The temperature in the thermal well therefore drops very quickly.  It will go from 104.5 degrees to 98.5 degrees in as little as 12 minutes. 

I've settled on the following settings for the controller:
setpoint = 105 degrees (the hot tub will be about 104 degrees at this setting)
HC = H for heating (the controller turns ON when temperature is lower than the setpoint minus the differential
d = differential = 10 degrees (controller turns ON when temperature in the thermal well reaches 95 degrees). 
PT = 0 (this sets a delay so that the controller only turns on after a time set by PT, to avoid turning a compressor or controller on and off too quickly.

Those are the settings that I've used, after much experimentation.  I am using the controller in its most basic settings -- adjusting only the setpoint and the differential temperature.  The controller goes off and then on every hour or so, and this is controlled by setting the differential higher or lower. 

I turned off the alarms, and I tried, but never figured out, the countdown timer (also, every time I tried to set the countdown timer, the entire unit would reset, quite a hassle).  At d=10 degrees, it takes from 30 minutes to an hours for the controller to turn back on after reaching the setpoint of 105 degrees.  The hot tub loses about 1 degree per hour, and it heats up at the rate of about 2 degrees per hour. 

I could let the controller run all day, and this would keep the hot tub at 104 degrees all day.  Rather than do this, I've put the hot tub on a standard mechanical timer.  (I have it on an Intermatic 2-prong timer now, but will be ordering this one, that has a 15-amp rating and is 3-pronged):

Century 24 Hour Plug-in Mechanical Timer Grounded
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00MVFF59S/ref=ox_sc_act_title_1?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=AARY1ZSUT9VPR


The timer turns on from 7AM to 11AM, heating the tub from 100 degrees (it has dropped to 100 degrees overnight) to 104 degrees.  It then turns on again from 6pm to 9pm, heating the tub from about 101 to 102 degrees (which it has dropped to during the day) to 104 degrees.  I generally use the tub after 10pm, so this timing schedule works well.  Obviously if you prefer using your hot tub at different times of the day, you may want to adjust the timer settings, or keep your tub at a set temperature all day, 24 hours a day.  You can do either with this temperature controller. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

HDTV Antennas for Free, Glorious, High-Definition Televsion -- Ditch Comcast!

I recently switched to Comcast for my Internet service here in the Monterey, California area.  When I switched, Comcast promised that my TV service would remain exactly the same.  They gave me a good rate for having both Internet and TV service.  I've had the same service with them for years, called Limited Basic, around $35 per month.  Limited Basic service gives me the five major networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, and PBS) and it's enough for my wife and me. 

After the switch, I got a bill, and suddenly there were all these new, unannounced charges.  We have a CableCard tuner system for our first TV in the house, and two DTAs (Digital Transport Adapters) for two more TVs.  There was a DTA fee for each TV, $3.99 to $10.99 per month depending on whether you want HD.  There was a surprise $29.95 installation fee. 

We faced a yearly increase of $263.76 for the exact same services that we had in the past.  I generally have been satisfied with Comcast, but my experiences with them in the past three years (at my California home and summer home in Washington state) has shown me why "Comcast Is America's Most Hated Company" (http://www.pcmag.com/news/350979/comcast-is-americas-most-hated-company). 


I was not going to stand for this.  So I decided to put up an antenna on our house to get the five major network stations. 

I should explain what modern-day TV antennas do.  If you are within range of some TV broadcasters, then a TV antenna should be designed to bring in either VHF and/or UHF signals.  The best antenna brings in both VHF and UHF signals.  VHF is generally channels 7 and below; UHF is higher.  I will leave it to you to research this more.  In my area, I wanted to receive channels below 7.1 and above 7.1, so I really needed an antenna that would bring in both VHF and UHF signals.  If you can manage to research over-the-air TV signals (OTA), then you will find that TV shows from an antenna are in excellent, glorious HD quality -- better HD quality than the compressed signals that you will get from Comcast or DISH Network.  And the stations are free!


I got so mad that I've now gone through three TV antennas and over 30 hours of walking around my property and on my roof trying to get the best signal.  I finally found a good antenna that gets the four major broadcast networks, and am looking forward to telling Comcast to f*** off next year.  However, I will still need to get Internet from somewhere.  I will write about this in another blog post. 

I live in Pacific Grove, California.  The nearest broadcast antennas are in Salinas, 23 miles east of us.  The website tvfool.com has traditionally given great information about TV stations, channels, and their direction and distance from any address that you put in.  Sadly, this site seems to be on the outs; it appears that the person in charge of the site is not maintaining it.  I used to post questions to the forums, for instance, and can no longer post. 

Here are the antennas and various resources that I used:

1.  Solid Signal (http://www.solidsignal.com/) markets antennas.  They responded to my question that I sent to them over their website.  They recommended the Antop AT-414B UFO Smartpass Omnidirectional Amplified HDTV Outdoor Digital Antenna with 4G LTE Filter - 65 Mile Range.  I bought this antenna for $84, and it was on sale at several retailers including Amazon, newegg, and of course, Solid Signal.  I was surprised at the immediate and copious amount of marketing emails that I subsequently received from Solid Signal -- they sell all kinds of electronic gadgets, not just antennas.  They were like some kind of frenzied Fry's Electronics or out-of-control Radio Shack. 

The Antop antenna looks like a miniature model of the Star Trek Enterprise spaceship.  It comes with a 30-foot length of coax cable, and you have to use an electronic amplifier "in front" of your TV. 




The Antop antenna surprised me.  It actually received the five major networks that I wanted to get -- the problem was that it only received 3 or 4 channels wherever I located it.  I spent 16 hours walking around my house and on my roof, trying to find the best place to mount the antenna.  I'd find a place where the antenna would get all five networks, but later in the day, I'd only get 3 or 4 stations.  The antenna, frankly, drove me a bit crazy because it was so inconsistent.  I ended up returning it, regretfully -- because it ALMOST worked. 


Another vendor, Antennas Direct, also replied to my questions.  It took them a week, but they recommended their Antennas Direct ClearStream 2V Antenna with Mount (60 Mile) × 1.  I bought this antenna from Radio Shack online, believe it or not. 

Radio Shack pleasantly surprised me.  I bought the Clearstream antenna from them because the website stated "free shipping and returns on this item."  When I tried to return the antenna to Radio Shack, their process was a bit slow (everything was done through email and had to be approved) but I've received a prepaid return label, took the package to my local Fedex Office store, and got a full refund as promised. 


The Clearstream antenna had basically the same performance as the Antop UFO antenna - maddeningly inconsistent.  It also appears somewhat cheaply made.  It took me about 45 minutes to put the thing together, and it seemed like nothing more than chicken wire arranged in a grid along with antenna (VHF) sticks that you'd find on old TV antennas. 


My third and final choice of antenna, and the one I ended up keeping (I actually bought another, to put on the guest house at our property), was suggested by Winegard technical support.  I've had a Winegard FV-30BB FreeVision Indoor/Outdoor HDTV Antenna for a few years.  This is a GREAT antenna, small, portable, and capable of pulling in faraway stations.  I used it at my summer house in Washington State to try out OTA television a couple of years ago.  I then bought a really big antenna to pull in stations in Tacoma and Seattle, over 40 miles away.  I say all this because I've had good experience with Winegard products.  This unpowered Freevision antenna pulled in just about all the stations that the Clearstream and Antop antennas had. 


Winegard tech support recommended the Winegard FlatWave Air FL6550A Amplified Digital Outdoor HDTV Antenna (4K Ready, High-VHF, UHF, Black) - 60 Mile Long Range.  I bought one from Costco.com (online) because it had free shipping and free returns (I'd have to bring it in to a local Costco store).  I liked this antenna so much that I bought a second one (from Amazon, this time). 



This antenna is a largish black box.  It looks like a 2-foot square Apple TV.  It's sleek, black, and works well.  It looks better than the chicken wire Clearstream and the UFO Antop -- I'd be fine putting this anywhere around the house.  It is designed to be mounted on the eaves of a roof, not necessarily on a standard antenna mast. 

However, I found that this antenna, like the others, did not do well if mounted on a roof, unless it was mounted over six feet above the roof.  All antennas worked best on the ground rather than the roof, in a relatively open area with a relatively clear view of the east and north (where the station's broadcast antennas were located).  Signals seems to bounce off the walls of our houses, so that I'd get one station very dependably in the narrow space between our buildings, but not on the roof! 

I did finally find an area on my roof where the Winegard FL6550A antenna could find all five broadcast networks.  It's been working great.  It does have a USB power injector that needs to be place so it can transmit 5 volts to the antenna.  Winegard tech support told me:

"The FL6550A has an amplifier that is internal to the antenna. The device that goes in the coax line simply inserts power into the line to power the antennas internal amplifier. It should be installed between the splitter and the antenna, however if you can locate a splitte

You can therefore split the antenna signal into two coax cables either in front of or in back of the power injector, as long as the splitter can pass the 5V voltage up to the antenna.  I tried a few splitters, and the Linear 2512 ChannelPlus DC & IR Passing 2-Way Splitter/Combiner ($5.46 from Amazon) did seem to work (I still need to do more testing on this; it seemed to NOT pass one channel but did pass the others).  The other splitter that I tested was a CHANNEL PLUS 2532 2-Way Splitter/Combiner ($2.82 at Amazon).  This splitter/combiner did NOT work behind the power injector.  You could use this splitter, however, downstream of the power injector to split the antenna signal to two TVs. 


It turns out that the Antop ANT414 UFO antenna and the Clearstream 2 antenna had near-identical performance.  They picked up the same (incomplete) number of stations at the same locations.  The big difference is that the Clearstream 2 antenna did not need any power or amplifier to supply a signal to a TV tuner. 

The Winegard FlatWave Air FL6550A Amplified Digital Outdoor HDTV Antenna performed better than the other two antennas, pulling in all five channels that I wanted, and more.  It was so good that I bought a second one. 


r with one side is power passive you can install the power inserter after the splitter."

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Great Place to Have Camera Gear Repaired

A few months ago, I wrote about the incredibly crappy customer service that I got from Nikon.  I am a "Nikon Professional Services" member, and you would think that I might get some kind of respect or service as an NPS member.  You would be laughably wrong. 

I had just bought a used Nikon lens and wanted to know if this was a "US" lens that Nikon would repair if need be.  Nikon refused to tell me.  They told me that I would need to send the lens in to one of their repair facilities in order to get the answer to my question.  Ridiculous!

I just discovered a facility in Culver City (thanks, photo forums) that repaired a Leica and Canon lens for me.  I was thoroughly impressed by their communication and service, and so I recommend them here.  If you have a Nikon or Canon lens or body that is either "gray market" or "US-warrantied", I am pretty sure that Steve's Camera Repair will be able to service your lens or body, with speed, efficiency, and quality. 

Here's their contact info:

Steve’s Camera Service Center
4355 Sepulveda Blvd
Culver City, CA 90230
www.stevecamera.com/contact

Monday, February 27, 2017

Products With Bad Batteries: Don’t Make the Mistake of Buying Them

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 I've been meaning to write a post about batteries for a while.  I think about this theme every time I use a product where the manufacturer has gotten cheap and used low-quality batteries -- and the product is dead, useless because of the cheap batteries. 

If a manufacturer makes a good product, that product will contain high-quality rechargeable batteries that hold a charge for more than a few days, even several months. 

On the opposite end, I've bought too many products where cheap, low-quality batteries have obviously been used.  These items end up showing their low quality.  When you need to use them -- they aren't there for you.  You therefore have to keep these tools or gadgets on the charger all the time, and they eventually cost you a lot more than products with high-quality batteries.  

My biggest disappointments have been Garmin nuvi GPS units, which seem to be made of very low-quality components.  Oh, how can I forget laptops from HP and Asus, which make me tear my hair out when I use them?  

Here's a list of some products and their makers where the batteries would go dead after being unplugged from the charger for just a day or two. 

I've been increasingly surprised and disappointed at the low build quality of my Garmin nuvi units.  A 1350 model that I bought five  years ago is no longer usable, as it will not accept my finger touches on its touchscreen.  It is maddeningly unusable.  I bought this for my wife, who treats all gadgets with great care.  (From my Amazon order history, I see that I bought a StreetPilot c330 GPS Navigator back in February 2008.  We've come a long way). 

The new 2595 LMT model that I bought last year has a very mediocre battery life, losing its charge completely after just a day or two.  It's evident that Garmin has cut corners by putting crappy, inexpensive batteries into its nuvi units.  These batteries will lose their power if they are sitting in the car for just a couple of days.  A device with a better quality battery will hold its charge and power on after sitting for one or two months, maybe more.  C'mon, Garmin.  Your GPS units cost a lot, and surely you can put higher-quality components in them. 

The only device that I've ever had damaged while traveling was a Garmin, which suffered a cracked screen when I had to check in my rolling carryon.  None of the four smartphones in that carryon got damaged, nor did any of the four hard drives suffer any damage.  I've never had anything else in my carryon or checked baggage break, after 30 years of traveling.  Well, I am sure I have, but that would have been my fault -- and I can't remember. 

One of my biggest disappointments was trying to use iPod touches as a music player when swimming laps.  I bought FOUR iPod touches in all, selling all of them.  Every one of them would lose a charge if I let the iPod sit for more than a day.  The iPod were devices from hell.  If I sat them on my desk and looked at them every day or week, they'd keep a charge for over a month.  Once I was satisfied that the battery was OK in the iPod, I'd seal it in the waterproof pouch for swimming the next day, and when I'd be in the pool ready to use it -- SURPRISE!  The iPod had run out of battery power.  I f***ing hate Apple iPods.  They are over-designed, with batteries that are too thin. 

Surprisingly, the iPad mini 2 that I have works just fine and seems to hold a charge for several days.  The iPad 2 and 3 that I owned before this mini worked fine for two years or so, and after that, their batteries would not hold a charge for more than a day or so. 

Be careful of buying used Apple iPod touches and iPads.  They are overdesigned, and they use very thin batteries that probably only have a life of two years or so. 

On the other hand, I've recently bought four-year-old used MacBook Pros and Airs, which still have good batteries, and are simply awesome machines. 

I had an Asus Nexus 2nd generation tablet that was even worse.  The battery in this otherwise fine tablet can't sit for more than 12 hours before it loses its charge. 

I have four Windows 7 laptops that do various tasks around the house, such as serving as a Windows Media Center DVR.  The Asus is a real piece of s***.  This Asus laptop was the most expensive Windows 7 laptop I ever bought.  It had fine specs, so I thought that I was getting a great deal. The touchpad has never worked right.  I started using it seriously for a while, had to buy a separate mouse to use it.  The battery dies almost instantly -- it won't hold a charge.  Then the hard drive starting giving me problems.  Even worse, when the hard drive started acting up, I got a mysterious message from the Asus laptop (well, I guess I have to blame Windows) and chose the wrong option, erasing and reformatting the hard drive.  The hard drive did the same thing a week later. 

My HP Envy laptop worked for a year, but then the battery on it died.  The battery would not hold a charge.  I bought a replacement battery on Amazon, which was just as bad.  Don't buy a battery from Amazon seller ZTHY TECH. I bought the battery in August 2016, but it's going to be too much trouble to rip it out of the Envy and ship it back.  Oh, and the HP Envy's hard drive died within the first week of purchasing it.  After a huge amount of hassle, HP took the laptop and replaced the hard drive (something I could have done easily myself).  The hard drive that they put in started acting up a year later, and I had to replace that one too.  The Envy is now in storage, as is the Asus. 

I have an MSI laptop, and a Fujitsu laptop.  Both are inexpensive Windows machines with i3 processors.  I think that the MSI laptop's battery is bad now.  Who knows about the Fujitsu.  I am wondering what the hell I was thinking by buying four Windows laptops.  At least they are Windows 7 machines. 

My LG G3 phone has such a large screen that it sucks up the battery.  I loved my G2 phone.  The G3 phone is ridiculous, and a real disappointment.  Maybe the battery is high quality, but the engineers who designed this phone did not put enough thought into it.  If I am driving and using an app like Waze on the phone, it sucks up so much power that the phone will steadily drain EVEN IF I have a charger attached to it!  As a result, the phone is almost useless. 

Finally, I've now built up a collection of eight vacuum cleaners across our main home and our summer home (and several storage areas).  The newer Black and Decker handheld vacuums that state they have lithium batteries are great and will hold a charge for weeks:
Black & Decker HHVI320JR02 Dustbuster Cordless Lithium Hand Vacuum

I bought an old B&D Dustbuster that has to be plugged into the charger all the time, and is therefore useless.  The Eureka 96HX Quick-Up Cordless 2-in-1 Stick Vacuum had the same issue and is retired.  Lastly, if you are looking for a small handheld vacuum, definitely get one with a battery (and a good battery).  I bought the Eureka 71B EasyClean Corded Hand-Held Vacuum, and I just never used it because of the hassle of having to hook up the cord.  I use the newer Black & Decker cordless vacuums all the time, and they are great tools for all kinds of things (like cleaning the dust out of my computers), rather than useless objects rotting away in storage. 


Before my readers say that all I do is complain, I would like to point out some super awesome products that have only been great. 

My Panasonic wireless phones. These phones are amazing.  I can walk 50 yards from the base unit and still hear people talking on them clearly.

Most of the Panasonic gadgets that I've bought in the past 30 years are still working. 

My Macbooks (and other Macs); all 2012 or 2013 models, are simply awesome machines.  If you are buying a used Mac, note that Mac laptops will show the number of battery cycles if you call up the System Profiler.  

My small 2000-watt Honda generator: I had to use this for two days during a power outage.  It powered two refrigerators, ran a microwave and espresso machine, charged all my phones, and powered my MacBook Pro for 12 hours on half a gallon of gas.  

A paired set of Makita tools -- a drill and nut driver -- that I bought from Home Depot during a Black Friday over four years ago.  The batteries that came with this set hold a charge for a year or more.  Just fantastic quality.  

My 3-year-old chocolate labrador retriever, Moose, has an all-day battery that recharges in 5 minutes and goes all day, all the time.  I expect his battery to last 12 to 15 years.  


Monday, February 6, 2017

Getting "Live file system repair is not supported" Errors When Using WD Hard Drive with Mac

I've used dozens of hard drives with my Macs.  I highly recommend the OWC
NewerTech Voyager S3 hard drive bays, where you can put a bare hard drive into the bay, which then works with Macs or PCs through USB 3, Firewire, or eSATA. 

Here's an example:
https://eshop.macsales.com/shop/NewerTech/Voyager/Hard_Drive_Dock

I use the S3 USB3.0 dock with my Macs, and they work great.  They are fast and reliable. 

I bought a WD 3tb desktop hard drive a few months ago, and I've had a really difficult time getting it to work with my Mac.  I tried transferring files to it all weekend, and for one reason or another, the transfer process would get interrupted about 4 hours into the process.  The drive would not act right -- I could not open it to view files, or it would show that no files had been transferred, or I could not eject the drive. 

I had to restart my Mac three times and tried reformatting the drive, and checking its health, using Disk Utility.  This took all weekend, a real waste of time. 

I kept getting the message "Live file system repair is not supported".

****
Forums on the web showed that this many other folks have the same problem.  Here are some quotes:

https://discussions.apple.com/thread/5739421?tstart=0

Force ejecting the drive, shutting down and restarting provides a temporary fix (Disk Utility checks out the drive fine) but the problem comes back on a regular basis now.

I am also now seeing this problem after upgrading to Maveriks (sic). Time Machine stops working with an external USB drive (Seagate) and Disk Utility can't repair the drive with the error "Live file system repair is not supported".

I just thought I would share my solution. I was having the same issues, but I turned off file sharing and it repaired the drive with no issues. Once it was done I turned file sharing back on.

+1 for turning off Sharing.

****
I figured that this drive was defective, which was surprising.  Western Digital's drives are generally considered to be very reliable. 

I ran WD's Mac-based "WD Drive Utilities" app on the hard drive.  They never used to have an app like this for the Mac, so I learned something today.  It showed that the drive was fine. 

I did not believe this, so I took out my Windows 7 laptop (an HP Envy that has caused me a lot of trouble, more on this later) and ran WD's "Lifeguard Diagnostics" utility on the drive.  The quick tests showed that the drive was fine, so I ran the 6- hour sector diagnosis.  Six hours later, I got the message that all sectors on the drive were fine. 

From the forums above, I had seen the note that turning off file sharing in System Preferences had worked.  I doubted this and never tried it (because I've had File Sharing on when using dozens of other drives and never had a problem), but I stumbled onto this possible solution:

In Disk Utility, partition the drive as Mac-journaled (this is what I did, other formats may work)
Select the drive and choose Get Info (cmd-I or File--.Get Info). 










The Get Info window for the drive will appear.  I've never see this before, but under General: there is a checkbox and the words "Shared folder."  I unchecked the box, and I am hopeful that this solved this bizarre problem.  We shall see; I am two hours into a cloning operation and it is fine so far.  We'll see in three hours. 

Here's another thing I found:

So, if you have a disk greater than 2TB you cannot have Disk Utility format the boot sector as an MBR type (i.e. MBR would be grayed out).  If you must have an MBR formatted disk drive you will need to purchase a 2TB or smaller disk drive.
(MBR formatting is an option when partitioning hard drives; it allows the drive to boot up Windows machines).