Friday, July 8, 2016

A List of Book Recommendations


A good book recommendation is a great gift. Here are some of my favorite authors and books. 

I don’t include books and authors that are incredibly popular and well-known, such as Hemingway, Steinbeck, JK Rowling (Harry Potter), JRR Tolkien (Lord of the Rings trilogy), and others. 

Neal Stephenson is one of my favorite authors. He is revered by SF fans but is much more than that, more of a historian with a science bent. A quick read and one of my all-time favorite books is Snow Crash. Cryptonomicon is an absolute masterpiece: long, convoluted, but ultimately well worth the effort. I've not been able to get through his later very dense three-part novels like The Baroque Cycle.  Reamde is a light book, somewhat entertaining.

Anything by Michael Lewis (Moneyball, The New New Thing, The Big Short) or Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers, Blink, The Tipping Point). They write nonfiction about things that you would normally take for granted or not think about.

Anything by Richard Preston, a great nonfiction writer.  I picked up his book The Hot Zone and was immediately hooked.  I was fascinated by The Wild Trees, about folks who explore the redwood canopy in Northern California.  I bought his book First Light, about astronomers, but have for some reason not "gotten into" this book like his others. 

Cormac McCarthy is a genius: All the Pretty Horses, The Road, and No Country for Old Men (which the movie follows very closely).  Great writing about characters of the American and Mexican West. 

Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun "is a long, magical novel in four volumes." Shadow & Claw contains the first two: The Shadow of the Torturer and The Claw of the Conciliator.  The four books in this series are excellent, different. 

Mystery/crime novels, not serious reading: anything by Michael Connelly. Start with The Poet, and you may likely want to read the rest of his books. 

Voyage of the Narwhal by Andrea Barret: History of the Franklin expedition, told in an interesting and riveting way.

A Fish Caught in Time by Samantha Weinberg: well-written book about discovery of the coelacanth, a prehistoric fish thought to be extinct. 

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn: absolutely bizarre, but a good read. 

Worst.Person.Ever by Douglas Coupland.  Hilarious light read.  (Thanks F-Bomb for the recommendation)!

Isaac Asimov is too well-known to be included in this list.  But I have to give a shoutout to his Foundation Trilogy, which I read every eight years or so.  It's a masterpiece. 

Recent good reads:
Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan: excellent memoir about a journalist's lifelong love of surfing.  This book won a 2016 Pulitzer Prize. 

Scott Turow's Innocent was surprising good.  His other books put me to sleep. 

Neil Young’s Waging Heavy Peace autobiography rambled, but was worth a read. 

Jared Diamond: Guns, Germs, Steel.  I listened to the audiobook version while swimming laps.  It was interesting.  I am not sure I would have been able to stay awake if I read the text. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Using a Windows Laptop as a Media Center


Here are some tips when using a Windows laptop connected to a large-screen HDTV. 

I have a Windows 7 laptop connected to a 50-inch HDTV in my living room and office, and it serves as the media center.  Movie files and TV shows are played from this laptop, and I can stream video from Amazon or Netflix.  The laptop even serves as a DVR using a program called Windows Media Center (WMC).  
 


1.  How do I turn off my laptops display when plugged into my television?
I prefer to have my laptop closed when connected to my 50" plasma HDTV.  I have long been able to do this with my Mac, but until last week, never figured out how to do this with a Windows 7 laptop.  Here's the solution, from a forum:

"Another way (if you use a separate keyboard and mouse) is go to power options and change closing the lid action from "sleep" to "do nothing", that way you can simply close the lid and carry on watching on the TV. It's also useful for extending battery life when just listening to music (just flip the lid down and you've got the screen off but the music still plays)."

Here's a screengrab of how to do this -- thanks for the website:





2.  My Windows 7 laptop is the computer that connects to the TV in my office and living room.  I often will have a file on my Mac that I'd like to transfer to my w7 laptop.  Here's how to do it:

This web page describes the process:
https://support.apple.com/kb/PH13881?locale=en_US

From the above page:
Set up sharing on a Windows 7 or Windows 8 computer

To share a folder, right-click the folder’s icon, then choose Share with. Choose “Specific people,” then follow the onscreen instructions.

You may need to disable the Internet Connection Firewall in the Advanced pane of the device’s properties. If you can’t disable the Internet Connection Firewall, make sure TCP port 445 is open. For more information, refer to the manual and onscreen help that came with the Windows computer.

You may need to restart the Windows computer after setting it up.

If you have never set up the Windows computer for sharing, open Network and Sharing Center, then follow the onscreen instructions to set up a new network.



3.  I run a free Microsoft program called Windows Media Center (WMC) which is included with Windows 7 machines.  I have had WMC on my Windows laptops for several years.  A Windows 7 laptop thus serves as a DVR.  It records shows flawlessly from over-the-air (OTA) using an antenna, and from Comcast's unencrypted basic cable stations.  I use SiliconDust HDHomerun tuners.  The tuners take a TV signal from cable or antenna, convert it to a digital IP signal, then WMC in a Windows laptop is able to tune into specific stations.  Great TV guide listings.  It's basically a Tivo or a Comcast DVR that I don't have to pay monthly fees for. 

With a Windows laptop with WMC, I can view live TV wirelessly, or view the programs recorded on a DVR via wifi. Xbox 360s serve as "extenders" so you can see WMC content (live TV, recorded shows) on other TVs in the house.

Unfortunately, with Windows 10, WMC is no longer included in Windows.  I believe that you can download it for free and install it, however. 

Use Cell Phones as Security Cameras

Use Cell Phones as Security Cameras
I have been using Freedompop cameras for the past three or four years.  This service is great!  You buy a refurbished phone from them, and they give you a free allowance of 500Mb of data (actually, more like 400Mb) per month along with 200 calls and 500 texts.  If you use more, you have to pay.  They are sneaky -- no doubt about it -- but if you learn how to disable their premium services and automatic data top off, then the service really is free.  They use the Sprint network. 

I bought an HTC Evo Design phone when I first started with this service, and I've been buying a new phone every six months or so for both my wife and myself.  The phones work just fine wherever there is a Sprint signal. 

I have three or four Freedompop phones sitting around, unused.  I learned that I could use these phones with Android apps that turned them into security cameras. 



1.  The first app that I tried was Salient Eye.  This is an elegant little program.  the baic version is free to use.  You simply install the app on an Android phone, and then the app uses the phone's front or rear camera to detect motion.  When motion detection is on, and motion is detected, the app can sound an alarm from the phone, send an email alert, send a text alert, and create an "event page" that contains anywhere from three to three hundred high-resolution images.  These images are immediately uploaded to Salient Eye's servers. 






I bought the $14 per year Salient Eye remote app to control several cameras.  With the remote app on my usual phone, and another Android phone with Salient Eye (server) app on it, I could turn the slave phone on or off remotely.  I had up to three slave phones in various places, all ready to detect motion and create event pages. 

It's a great app, in theory.  However, I cannot recommend this app.  The problem is that it requires a wifi signal to work well (this is what the app developer told me).  If there's only a cell signal, then the slave phone, upon detecting motion, may create an event page that includes dozens and even hundreds of images.  Those images are all high-resolution.  The developer told me that they do not wish to create event pages with low-resolution images -- they want high-resolution images in order to get details of any intruder.  However, each event gobbled up 15 to 25Mb of cellular data.  For two phones, when they detected motion (falsely, perhaps due to changing light levels in a room) -- they created event pages and exceeded my data allowance within a few minutes!!  This was terrible and frustrating, and therefore using Salient Eye with my cell phones made no sense at all. 

I tried using this app for months, testing various locations, phones, and settings.  I finally gave up after one phone went through 1.2Gb of data in a few minutes on a motion detection event.  Yes, that's 1.2Gb of data.  I had to pay Freedompop for going over my data allowance for the first time in three years.  Normally Freedompop locks my phone if it goes over 420Mb or so -- which I like, since I know to stop using data on that phone.  In this case, Salient Eye used up my data so fast that Freedompop was unable to turn my data off in time. 

There were other problems, probably related to the fact that the Sprint network signal around my garage where I had the phones was not strong.  The slave phones would lose the cell network signal, and I would have to physically go to the locations to reset the phones.  This happened constantly, so I could not trust my phones with Salient Eye to keep an eye on my remote locations for more than a day or so before they went down. 

I contacted Salient Eye's development team.  They refunded my annual fee for Salient Eye remote, but I asked them for answers to my questions in hopes that I could get this app working.  They gave me some answers, but nothing helped.  I did not really get the feeling that they cared too much about solving problems. 

a.  The good: easy to set up and understand, sends email alerts as well as texts, can be turned on and off remotely, can see event pages of images remotely. 

b.  The bad: phones set up for motion detection often get disconnected.  The dealbreaker is that motion detection events can run through 25Mb to 1.2Gb of data within a few minutes.  Yes, that's 1.2Gb of data. 


2.  I next tried an app called Alfred.  Alfred is just as simple to set up as Salient Eye.  It produces videos of motion events, as opposed to stills.  The resolution of the videos is fairly low, but it's probably enough to identify intruders. 

Alfred, so far, is usable with my cell phones.  I can log into my slave phones from the Alfred app on my main (master) phone, or on the Alfred website.  Each time Alfred detects a motion event, my master phone gets an alert, and I can view the video that shows motion.  It works pretty well at detecting motion, and each motion event uses up about 1Mb of data.  This is small enough so I can set a phone running Alfred at a remote location, and it can run all month without going over my data allotment of 500Mb.  Alfred seems to maintain its network connection far better than Salient Eye -- nearly every time I check my slave phones on my web browser, they show up as connected.  I can then log in and see what's going on in my remote locations in real time.  


This is the web page for the Alfred app.  I have three slave phones serving as motion detectors.  Only one slave phone is currently turned on and acting as a motion detection camera.  

For both Salient Eye and Alfred, if it is dark, the cameras can't see anything.  For my areas, I have a light connected to a motion sensor, so the light turns on. 

The big failing with Alfred is that it does not send email alerts when motion is detected!  When a slave phone detects motion, then I only get an alert on my master phone.  I asked Alfred's tech support if they could allow email alerts, but they did not think that this feature was useful enough to put in.  What if I am out of the US and can't use my cell phone?  An email alert would solve this problem, and I could forward email alerts to someone else who is housesitting. 

Another issue I have with Alfred is that there's no way to turn it on or off.  You click on the app icon, and it's on -- and there's no way to tell if it is really on or not.  If you enter the room that it is monitoring, there's no way to tell if it is on or off, and it is unnecessarily difficult to turn it off.  You just see a black screen. 

In conclusion, the Alfred app is reasonably robust, it maintains a cell phone network connection pretty well, and I recommend it.  It could be improved but it is a great start.  

Clicking on the icon showing shaking heads on the Alfred web page takes you to this page of motion events.  Clicking on a still image shows the video of the motion event.  



 

Miscellaneous Windows 7 Computer Tips: Stop Windows 10 and Adobe Reader Updates; Make Windows Update Behave

Miscellaneous Windows 7 Computer Tips
I have been a longtime Mac user, but I have several Windows laptops running Windows 7 around the house and office.  Sometimes it's easier just firing up a Windows laptop and running a Windows program, than it is to run Windows on a Mac using Parallels. 

Here are a few tips about Windows machines that I've gathered. 

1.  Stop those annoying Windows 10 updates.  Download the small program never10.exe from here:
https://www.grc.com/never10.htm

From the website:
Never 10 is an easy to use utility which gives users control over whether their Windows 7 or 8.1 machines will upgrade themselves to Windows 10.

You can read more on the website. 





2.  I got tired of Adobe Reader constantly asking to update.  The way to turn off this annoying notification is below:

STEP 1: Open Adobe Reader, Click Edit then Preferences.
STEP 2: Now Click on the Updater Section and choose “Do not download or install updates automatically”

I do this only for my Windows machines that I use as media centers -- I have no important or private work or personal files on these machines, and I just don't use Adobe Reader on these machines much.  I do not recommend turning off updates for any software or machine unless you know what you are doing. 


3.  I have been baffled and frustrated for the past ten years at my Windows update settings.  I've always set my machines up so that I would have the choice of when to update them.  Yet, nearly every time that I've restarted a machine, I'd have to wait anywhere from five to 30 minutes for the machine to install updates.  I can't believe that businesspeople put up with this crap.  What if you are headed off to a meeting, in a rush, and you accidentally restart your Windows laptop -- and then are forced to wait 20 minutes for the updates to install?  The only alternative is to force your machine to shut down, which might irreparably damage your machine.  If you are relying on your laptop for a business presentation and force it to shut down -- you might not be able to get your laptop up again in time for your presentation.  If you let the updates run, you might find that your machine no longer works the way you want it.  I just can't believe this. 

I finally got fed up with the behavior of Windows Update and did some research.  Here's what I found on various forums. 

These folks describe the same problem that I had:

"I should have mentioned these systems are both running Win 7 Home Premium (x64) and to perfectly clear the choice in Windows update they had selected was “Download updates but let me choose whether to install them”, but the pre-selected updates installed automatically when they attempted to shut their systems down."

"My choice of update options for years has been to “Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them”. However, when I turned off my machine last Thursday (2/18), it gave the warning to not shut down while updates were installed. I was frustrated, so I went to bed and left the machine alone until the next evening. When I re-started the machine, it again told me that it was finishing update installation. I was perplexed that this had happened, so I checked control panel, looking to see what updates had been installed. NONE WERE LISTED! I even checked to see if any restore point had been created, and none had."

Here's the solution:

When you choose “Download updates but let me choose whether to install them”, this actually means “download the updates in the background and, if I don’t uncheck them, install them when I reboot”.  This is NOT the behavior that I and other users likely want. 

Instead, on Windows 7 machines -- choose the setting “CHECK for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them”.  This way Windows will not update. 











"Exactly right! Don’t give MS a chance to get its foot in your door. If you let them download the updates, they nag you until you install them. It’s best to just have them “check”, and then choose what you want or don’t want. It still works that way on my Win 7, but I never know from one day to the next what’s gonna happen!"

THIS (“CHECK for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them”) is the correct way to do it. You get the notice in the try and then you review them and download them when YOU (and not MS) are ready. I have always used this technique. Why let the system ever download anything if you “may decide not” to authorize installation? Maybe it is my old timer remembrance of 180MD HDDs or metered dial-up modem connections, but I always wanted to review what was downloaded first."

Of course, you should check regularly:
"Then, on regular intervals, make the time to reconfigure and check, assume you feel it’s necessary to check for updates at all any more – and I question that more and more as time goes on. Microsoft is way beyond turning the corner to acting just like what we used to consider malware. Never forget what a “PUP” is (look it up)." 

Moto E Verizon phone for $10 at Page Plus! (refurbished); Use on Puppy Wireless $80 per year Plan

I have spent a lot of time researching the most inexpensive phone plans out there.  It's become a bit of both an obsession and a hobby for me, since I travel so much.  Getting cellular data and voice access in a somewhat remote place like my summer house in Washington State -- and saying adios to Comcast --- has been a big impetus. 

For years, I got by with a voice-only plan from Verizon.  I bought a Samsung Gusto 2 flip phone from Walmart, which was a Verizon phone.  I paid $10 a month (paying $30 every three months) and I got Verizon's voice service, which is the best, widest cell phone network in the US.  That worked out to be $120 per year.  I am not sure if this plan is still available.  I know that the phones are no longer readily available (seniors like these phones because they are simple).  Puppy Wireless is selling this phone for $100.  I have one that I can sell to anyone for $25. 

My wife had an AT&T GoPhone for years, which was $25 per quarter.  Calls cost 10 cents per minute, as did texts.  This phone and AT&T service were OK, but the service did not work at my summer house in Olympia, and other places where Verizon's network came in strong.  One great thing about the AT&T GoPhone was that it worked (most of the time, but inconsistently) in Mexico this past February. 

About nine months ago, I stumbled onto a couple of tips on phone forums.  One forum recommended Kitty Wireless, a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) which provides Verizon service under its own plans.  Kitty Wireless started a new branch of their service, called Puppy Wireless.  They have an annual plan for Verizon 3G phones only that costs $80 per year.  Calls are 4 cents per minute, as are texts.  Data costs 4 cents per Mb.
I use the plan only for voice calls, but in a pinch, I can always use the data capability on the plan.   $80 per year gives me 2000 minutes, or 166 minutes per month -- plenty for me.  I use my FreedomPop phones for all applications where I need data -- Gmail, Waze, GasBuddy, Yelp, etc. 
I discovered this tip:  To see if a phone or hotspot uses Verizon towers: enter the zip code of 27016. This town only has Verizon towers so any other provider will not work there.  

Moto E phones that are CDMA capable (eg, Verizon 3G capable) will work on Puppy Wireless' annual plan.  I bought two Moto E phones from Straight Talk, and they work just great on this annual plan.  They are great little phones.  The voice quality is great, and the ability to use them on the Verizon network is awesome.  The battery life is great also -- I carry these phones in my backpack and only have to charge them once a week or so.  

The Moto E phones can be so inexpensive that I bought another two to use as music (mp3) players.  I just bought another one from Page Plus.  Page Plus is a Verizon MVNO, so their Moto E phones that they are selling now for $10 should work on the Puppy Wireless plan, above.  



Walmart is selling Straight Talk Moto E phone for $20.  These are brand new and not refurbished.  I can't guarantee that these are Verizon CDMA phones -- but using the zip code trick above should help in figuring if these phones will work on Verizon towers. 
Check this deal out at:
http://www.walmart.com/ip/Straight-Talk-Moto-E-XT830C-Prepaid-Smartphone/39443649?u1=VjMxb05nb0xNb1FBQWVQcTBGNEFBQUFS&oid=368707.1&wmlspartner=NKa3hZyYoHA&sourceid=41338016390473888458&affillinktype=10&veh=aff


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

UnderCover Anti-Theft App for the Mac Starts Acting Up: The Problem and Solutions

By the recommendation of my friend Eric Cheng (a photographer, techno genius, and now a drone genius) I bought the UnderCover App for my Macs several years ago.  It was one of the first anti-theft applications for the Mac.  I've been impressed with it. 

Their website is at:
http://orbicule.com/undercover/mac/


From their site:

According to a recent FBI report, 97% of all stolen computers are never recovered. Many people we know have had their Macs stolen, often in 'safe' situations. That's why we developed Undercover: a unique theft-recovery application designed from the ground up for Mac OS X.

Undercover transmits location information from the stolen Mac. This information includes the coordinates from wireless location tracking, and the internal and external IP addresses, enabling the police to accurately trace the Mac's physical location, in collaboration with the Internet Service Provider.


I don't know how Undercover compares to other apps like Lookout or Prey.  I can tell you that it seems to work fine with my Macs,  unlike some free tracking apps that I've used (and paid for) which never seemed to work when I was testing them.   

Recently, however, on one of my Macs, I started getting notifications from Undercover every time I woke my Mac up from sleep.  It became incredibly annoying.  


I wrote them and (as always) very quickly received a reply:

Hi Norbert,

Thanks for reporting this! If the registration screen keeps popping up even after entering your account's details again, it's best to verify that Undercover has no problems uploading information to your account at undercoverHQ.com: has it recently submitted a location? (You can check that in the Info tab, under Status > "Located...ago".)

If that all looks OK, the easiest way to prevent the registration app from coming up again would be to remove it (this won't do any harm: you no longer need that app, as your Mac is registered just fine):

- Choose "Go To Folder" from the Finder's "Go" menu
- Enter the following path: /usr/local/uc/bin
- Remove the Undercover Registration app in this folder

Do not hesitate to contact me if you have further questions!

Kind regards,
Winnie


For me, the last step worked.  Thanks, UnderCover. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Hot Tub and Spa Maintenance: Simple Ways to Keep Your Water Sparkling Clear


I bought a hot tub for the first time six years ago. I was apprehensive about how much maintenance it would need. Never fear, after five years of experience, I can say that hot tubs these days require surprisingly little maintenance and chemicals. Here's what I do to keep the water in my hot tub (spa) sparkling clear.

I have a fairly small, 275-gallon spa made by Sundance. I've had absolutely no problems with it, except in year three; I noticed a small, slow leak forming. I used the product Leak Seal by Leisure Time, and for once, this product actually worked. I have not had any more leaks for the past two years.

Perhaps the most important thing that I do is ask anyone using the hot tub to shower first.

If my water is clear, then I do the following:
1. Once or twice each week, add 2 oz. of shock (I use Leisure Time Renew Non-Chlorine Shock).
2. At the same time, I will add ½ oz. to 1 oz. of Clorox Bleach.
3. I will check the pH of the water, using Nature2 W29300 Spa Test Strips.

4. When the hot tub is filled for the first time, and for the first few months, I will include a Nature2 Spa Stick Mineral Sanitizer. To tell the truth, I don't know if this spa stick does anything, but my feeling is that it helps keep the water clear and helps keep the pH and other chemistry levels from bouncing around too much. I only use this spa stick for the first six months or so per water change.

5. If the pH levels, or other levels are off, I put in the proper chemicals. Most of the time, I won't have to add any chemicals other than the shock and chlorine for weeks and even months.
Usually, this is all I have to do for a couple of months. At some point every two or three months, the water starts getting cloudy or green more quickly. At this point, I will switch filters. I have four spa filters, both paper and polyethylene, which I rotate. When one filter is dirty, I will spray it off and let it dry. This goes into storage, and the next filter in line goes in the hot tub.

With the above procedures, I usually keep the water in the spa for a good two years before emptying the spa and refilling it. I empty and refill the spa when the water starts turning green or cloudy very quickly after being shocked – and after I've cleaned the filters, below.

Cleaning the filters is necessary but does not work that well. I just try to spray the outside of the filters with a garden hose and a hose attachment. All this does, really, is spray off some of the algae, hair, and skin particles. Most of the hair and dirt seems to be driven into the inside of the filter by the hose. I will try to spray the filter with a 50% bleach/50% water solution and then let it dry. Each filter will last 2-3 months before I have to rotate it – so I'll go through four filters every 9 months or so. Each filter can go into the hot tub twice with the above rinsing. After that, I've discovered that filters lose their effectiveness. I recently treated all my filters with Leisure Time Filter Clean, and this really worked well to clean the filters.

Sometimes after the above weekly treatments, the water will turn cloudy or green quickly. If the water is green, this means that algae is somewhere in the system. I'll replace the filter (if the water is green, usually the filter shows algal growth), and I will add up to 1 oz. of Clorox bleach to the water. The bleach is basically the same as chlorine, and it kills algae cells. I will wipe down all corners and sides of the hot tub with a bleach solution (1 part bleach to 16 parts water); this kills algae growing on the sides of the hot tub.

Do NOT use more than one ounce of Clorox bleach or chlorinator – using more can damage the finish of your hot tub. For all the above, check with your spa manufacturer or retailer – they may recommend that you NEVER use chlorinator or Clorox bleach.

Once in a long while, the water in my hot tub has remained cloudy despite my best efforts. When this happens, using Leisure Time Bright and Clear works wonders. It clears the water right up.


About Spa Chemicals:

I mention Leisure Time products a great deal in this blog post. I am not a shill for this company – I have just found that their products work well for me.

You can buy all kinds of spa chemicals, but in my research online, I've discovered that many household chemicals can be used in place of “formal” spa chemicals, and they are much less expensive.

1. Chlorine bleach (Clorox) can be used instead of pool chlorinator.
2. To raise pH of water, use baking soda instead of buying a pool chemical called “alkalinity increaser.” Baking soda works just like the stuff that you can buy from Leisure Time is just baking soda, from what I understand. Here's what one forum poster wrote:
Use baking soda instead of Alkalinity Increaser: Alkalinity Increaser" can cost $3/lb. A 4lb bottle will cost $10-$12 dollars. This infuriates me because the ONLY ingredient is Sodium Bicarbonate--Baking soda. Just get Arm and Hammer Baking soda instead!!!

3. Raising alkalinity of your water also raises pH – it is difficult to just raise pH and not alkalinity. One Internet poster states the following:
To raise the pH you need sodium carbonate (soda ash). Buy it in bulk if you find you need it. I buy 50# bags for 13 dollars from my pool distributor.
I found soda ash on Amazon (used for tie dyed shirts) but I am hesitant to use it much, because it hardens into a hard concrete-like paste when I add water to it. I sure don't want this hardening on the pipes in my hot tub.

4. To lower the pH in my hot tub, I've used Leisure Time's Spa Down. It is so inexpensive that I have not looked into household alternatives.

5. For this hot tub, I have not been concerned about adding calcium – but another, older hot tub uses test strips that do measure hardness and calcium levels. I've therefore added Leisure Time Calcium to this tub. Here's a note on the Internet that I found:
Be sure to also make sure your hardness level is correct 250-400ppm. Otherwise the water will take it from the parts in your tub it can, namely the heating element and seal to your hot tubs pump. Of course it is the same chemical as we use in swimming pools so buy that larger cheaper package. Calcium Chloride.


Some more tips:
Most hot tubs these days can be switched from 110V to 220V for power for the pump and heating. I highly recommend that anyone with a hot tub hire an electrician so that the hot tub can be powered from 220V rather than 110V. First, make sure that the hot tub can be powered from 110V and 220V (it was simple to change this on our hot tub). Having the power outlet changed to 220V wherever your hot tub is located can be done, but it can cost $1500 or more to get this done.

When the hot tub was powered by 110V, it took a long time to heat up. It took about 1 hour per degree to warm up the hot tub on 110V. If I were filling the hot tub, it could take a good 24 to 48 hours for the water to heat to 100 degrees. With 220V, the hot tub water heats up far more quickly – about 6 degrees per hour. So with 220V, I can leave the hot tub on 96 degrees all day, then just turn it up to 103F about an hour or two before using the tub, and it will go up to 103F that evening. I can't do this with 110V.

Cleaning filters:
Soak your hot tub filter in a 3-gallon bucket of hot water. Add a quarter cup of chlorine bleach to kill any germs and to whiten your filter.
Thoroughly rinse the filter with a hose. Be sure to wash out all traces of chlorine bleach especially if you use an alternative spa treatment like Baquacil.

Keeping Your Hot Tub Cover New:
My vinyl hot tub cover is expensive, and I don't want to have to replace it often. Every two months I wash the hot tub cover with a soap solution (just dishwashing soap solution) and then I spray it with a product called 303 Aerospace spray protectant. This stuff supposedly protects the vinyl from getting aged too quickly by UV and sunrays. My cover is five years old and going strong, so I guess that this stuff works.