Saturday, December 16, 2017

How to Keep Logged onto an Xfinity Internet Hotspot Using a WISP or Wifi as WAN router

I am a Comcast customer.  Hey, when Comcast's TV and Internet service work here at my house, I am pretty satisfied.  But the fact remains that their customer service sucks big-time, and they are "America's Most Hated Company" according to this survey:

But I digress.  More on how to make things right when Comcast hoses you later. 

In this post, I'd like to point out one big benefit of being a Comcast broadband customer.  If you are a Comcast broadband customer, then you are able to login with your Comcast account to any Xfinity (same as Comcast) wifi hotspot that you can find.  These Xfinity wifi hotspots are everywhere, including residential neighborhoods.  This is because Comcast, when it rents a modem and wifi router to a customer, automatically turns on a publicly accessible wifi hotspot on that router.  The network name is Xfinity, and if you wander around any neighborhood  where Comcast supplies broadband to customers, then you will see these hotspots on your phone, iPad, laptop, etc.  If you have a Comcast account, then you can log into these Xfinity hotspots and get data over wifi.  Never mind that most customers do not realize that they are hosting a public wifi hotspot at their home; Comcast doesn't notify its customers that this is happening. 

This is great if you are traveling.  Even better, I have stumbled onto a device that can receive an Xfinity Internet signal (where I have no internet otherwise) and get internet thereby (not fast, but enough to get my email and browse the web).  Recently, a relative passed away, and I was asked to put in security cameras in the house, even when there was no internet or phone operational in the house. 

The device I used is called a Wifi as WAN, or WISP router.  A WISP router takes a wifi signal from one source, then creates its own wifi network.  There are many of these out there, but I've been using the TP-Link CPE210 and TL-WA7210N Outdoor Wireless Access Points/WISP routers.  They have been working astoundingly well at this vacant house.

The CPE210 is the newer and more reliable WISP router.  It receives an Xfinity signal from somewhere in the vacant house's neighborhood (at least 100 yards away) and rebroadcasts the signal as a wifi signal in the house.  It's been working, with no human intervention, since mid-September of this year -- over two months -- to send signals from a few IP security cameras in the house. 

The WA7210N unit is older and worked at the house for a month before needing a reset; it's happened twice, and having to reset the unit is a bit of a hassle.  Both of these units receive an Xfinity signal and will go for weeks and months without requiring someone to log in to the Xfinity login page again.

Again, to use the jargon I encountered while trying to find a device that could do this -- these TP-Link WISP routers are able to keep an Xfinity internet connection active without having to continually log into the Xfinity web authentication page. 

I did do the following items to ensure that the TP-Link WISP routers kept the Xfinity internet signal on as much as possible. 

I.  I did set up a Windows laptop in the house to automatically open up a web page every 24 hours using Windows' Task Scheduler:

I also set the laptop to sleep after 10 minutes of inactivity. 

II.  I was concerned that there might be a time limit where Xfinity would disconnect from my TP-Link WISP router, as described here:

I therefore set the TP-Link CPE 210 router to ping the Google DNS server every 300 seconds (five minutes), to keep the Xfinity connection alive.  The TP-Link WA7210N router does not seem to have this capability.  I also set the TP-Link CPE210 to level 21 of radio power (it was set at the maximum 27 setting). 

By the way, the TP-Link WA7210N router works, but after a month, it seems to need a reset.  Here are the instructions on how to reset the router:

TP-Link TL-WA7210N reset instructions:

If TP-Link 7210 stops working, here's the way to get back into the admin page:

1.  While the unit is powered on (using a good Ethernet cable), it will likely show all four wifi signal strength LEDs as on. 

Reset the unit -- use a paper clip and press in the reset button while the unit is on.  Press in for 10 seconds or more until all lights turn off.  Remove the clip and in a few seconds, all wifi signal strength LEDs will likely turn back on. 

Note that once I connected a PC or Mac to the LAN port on the POE injector block, the LAN light on the TP-Link turned on. 
Also, one Ethernet cable could not power the TP-Link on at all! 
Note that I had to use the TP-Link Ethernet to USB cable.  I had to unplug it and put it back in for the MB Pro to recognize that there was an Ethernet cable plugged in. 

2.  After reset, you need to manually assign your PC a static IP address, for example. It won't get IP address automatically because there is no DHCP service on TL-WA7210 by default.
I used the MB Pro and chose Location Untitled:
Configure IPv4: using DHCP with Manual address
IP address

3.  Then connect your PC to the TL-WA7210N via a cable, log into TL-WA7210N which is

I was then able to log in. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Don't Buy a Ryobi String Trimmer

For the first time since I was a teenager, I found myself weeding and whacking a yard this summer. 

At my place, I  used an old corded Black and Decker string trimmer and a new Black and Decker cordless string trimmer.  Both of them work great, and putting new line into an old spool, or replacing a spool, are easy processes.  I just spin new line onto an old spool, thread it through one hole, and I am done.  The line feeds out automatically on both the old and the new trimmer, and I rarely have to take the spool out unless I try to cut something that is too thick and tough, like a big blackberry vine. 

I also helped a friend in Portland weedwhack his yard this summer (hey, I am a nice guy) and used his corded Ryobi string trimmer.  He warned me ahead of time that putting new line in the Ryobi was a pain in the neck.  Sure enough, trying to put new line (as opposed to buying a pre-threaded spool) was incredibly difficult.  I had to thread the line both ways and put both ends through a hole in the spool.  I could not simply thread a bunch of line on the spool until it looked full -- no, I had to cut a length of about five feet of line in advance and guess whether it would be too long.  It took me a full hour to figure out and thread the line.  I would not recommend a Ryobi trimmer at all.

Here are directions on how to re-string a Ryobi weedeater, from:

You have to be sure to cut no more than 25 feet, or you will find yourself screwed.  With the Black and Decker, putting new string on a spool is so much easier!  Just wind on as much string as you want and until the spool looks full, then pop it in. 

Reel Easy String Head


Stop the engine of a Ryobi string trimmer that has a Reel Easy string head. Disable the machine by disconnecting its spark plug wire, unplugging it from an electrical outlet or removing its battery.


Cut a 25-foot-long piece of 0.095-inch-diameter monofilament trimmer line from a roll, using a utility knife or scissors for cutting.


Rotate the knob on top of the head until the arrow on the knob lines up with the arrows on the head. Feed one end of the 25-foot-long trimmer line through the hole on the side of the head, and pull the line through from the head's other side until you have two equal lengths of line, or string.


Wind the knob until only 8 inches of string are left on both sides of the head. Wind counterclockwise if your trimmer has a curved shaft, and wind clockwise if it's a straight-shaft model or a brush cutter.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Ditch Your Landline, Save $40 Per Month by Using Google Voice and an OBihai Adapter

I've been using Google Voice for years now, and it is a great, free service.  It used to be called GrandCentral.  Google Voice gives you a universal phone number.  Once you have a Google Voice number, you can give that one number to everyone, and your GV number will forward calls to your cell phones and landlines as you choose.  Google Voice also transcribes voice messages so you can get emails with a transcription of a voice message.  It has tons of other features like the ability to block phone numbers.  Folks can send texts to your Google Voice number, and you can send and receive texts using your email rather than your phone app.  All calls and texts using Google Voice to the US are free (and I believe Canada).  International rates are pretty reasonable. 

I've had one number for Google Voice for years now.  I've also kept a landline with my office number for 20 years.  This landline has been with AT&T for 20 years, and they kept increasing the charge on it -- the last bill was something like $40 just to have a landline, with "long-distance" charges and taxes extra!  I kept it so I could keep the phone number.  Also, with Google Voice, I could go to the GV website, select or enter a phone number to call, and GV would call my landline and place the call -- the call would be place by Google Voice but would ring my landline, and would be at no charge.  It was a good arrangement, until I could not take AT&T continued rate increases. 

I did some research and bought an Obihai adapter -- here's the official name: OBi200 1-Port VoIP Phone Adapter with Google Voice and Fax Support for Home and SOHO Phone Service. 

WOW!  The Obihai adapter was super easy to set up and works great.  I was and remain stunned at how easy this adapter was to install and how well it works.  This little box (about $50 from Amazon) connects via Ethernet cable to my router, and my usual landline phones connect directly into it. 

There's only one port to plug your phone line in.  Here's a tip: phone wires in most houses are two-way.  The source can be plugged into any wall jack, and the other jacks will get the phone signal.  I therefore simply connected the phone port from the Obihai to a phone jack in my guesthouse, and then plugged in my Panasonic's base station up in the main house into the home phone wires.  I've used a Panasonic cordless phone system with my landline for years.  Everything worked fine!

From the Obihai instruction pages:
Note: You do not have to plug the Obi device into the point-of-entry for the phone line; you can plug it into any phone jack in your home to connect it to your home phone network.

Now, I have one physical phone/base station (and the wireless handsets connected to it) that rings differently for three GV phone numbers coming in.  Line 1 is the GV number for my wife's phone.  Anyone ringing her GV number rings on this line at home as well as her cell phone.  Line 2 rings my GV number as well as my cell phone, and has a different ring tone so I know that it is my line.  Line 3 rings my office phone number and has yet another ring tone.  If someone leaves  a voicemail, that voicemail will be transcribed by Google Voice; and I will get those transcripts via email. 

If I want clients to capture and see only my office phone number, I dial "**3" before dialing the client's phone number. 

Everything works almost exactly as it did before, except I can't have GV connect my calls using a computer any longer -- I have to physically dial a number.  I am sure that if I care enough, I could figure this out. 

I wanted to save my work phone number, as clients still use it.  I therefore had to convert my office phone number from a landline to a Google Voice number.  It was a hassle, but a couple of websites described this process:
Google doesn't normally allow you to port a landline phone number to Google Voice. This step-by-step primer shows you how you can do it.
As of today we're saving $45 per month by using Google Voice and an OBi VoIP bridge for our home phone!

The process was a series of simple steps.

Check Phone Number Transfer Capability
Purchase pre-paid "burner" phone or sim card and VoIP bridge
Transfer your number to pre-paid phone
Transfer your number to Google Voice
Setup the OBi VoIP device
Configure Google Voice

I did run into a problem that was really just something where I could not wrap my mind around the concept. 

I have had a personal GV number, let's call it 831-375-5555, for years.  It is linked, as all GV numbers are, to a GMail address and also a Google Voice web page.  On the GV page, I could set phones that would receive calls to this GV number, such as my landline, a cell phone, and other options like Google Chat. 

My wife had her own personal GV number. 

In the past, if someone called my wife's GV number, the landline would ring.  The same if someone called me.  When I was gone on a month-long shoot, I'd go into GV settings and turn off call forwarding to our landline.  But I could no longer do this with the Obihai!  I wanted someone calling my wife's GV number to also ring the old landline number, just as before...Duh. 

I did an embarrassing amount of research on this.  My question was how to have a Google Voice number ring another Google Voice number.  It was generally deemed impossible. 

I finally figured out that even though the Obihai adapter had only one phone port, it could handle three GV numbers -- perfect for my situation.  Within the Obihai's setting page, calls to my GV line, my wife's GV number, and my old landline number (now a third GV number) would all ring the same physical phone handsets, but have different ring tones.   Like I said: Duh. 

One last note from a forum:
One word of caution concerning the Obi ATA and Gmail. As I mentioned above, the forwarding phone called Google chat "drives" your Obi ATA and also the Call Phone feature in Gmail. However, only one of these services can be active at a time. If you notice that Gmail rings with incoming calls and not your Obi, log out of Gmail and that will allow the Obi to ring. Do the reverse if you want to use your computer as a phone in Gmail but your Obi rings instead.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Ordering from and using Store Pickup? Choose a Store with the Pickup Area in the Front

Ordering from and using Store Pickup?  Choose your store carefully if you don't want to wait in the back for an hour just to pick up a package!

Walmart is competing with Amazon for your online shopping business.  Walmart offers great prices sometimes, with significant discounts for store pickup.  What this means is that you can order an item online, and when you get the notice that your order is ready for pickup, you go to your chosen store and pick up the item. 

Sounds easy, right?  Wouldn't Walmart want to make this a painless experience for the customer?  Of course it would not.  It turns out that different Walmart stores have their online order pickup counters in different parts of the store. 

I ordered a set of IRIS 4" x 6" Photo and Craft Storage Boxes, that hold bare 3.5 inch hard drives perfectly (thanks, Jack and Sue Drafahl for this recommendation!).  Walmart sent me an email that the order was ready for pickup at the store I had chosen, which was close to my summer home in Olympia.  To be specific, this was the store on Martin Road in Lacey, WA. 

This particular store has its online pickup counter all the way in the back of the store.  I had picked up orders from this store, and the one in Marina, CA before.  Both stores had the online pickup counter in the back of the store, and without exception, every time I had gone there to pick something up, it had taken lots of waiting, asking passing Walmart employees passing by for help, pressing the "service" button at the counter numerous times, and wandering around the back of the store seeking help -- before I could get someone to help. 

This time, I set the stopwatch on my phone.  There was no one there.  I repeatedly pressed the "press this button for service" button over 15 minutes, to no avail.  I asked four employees passing by if they could call for help so that I could get my order.  No one came.  I noticed that Walmart had hidden the phone behind a wall, whereas it was previously on the counter, within reach of customers.  Obviously this was a known issue and the management had decided to move the phone out of reach of waiting, irate customers rather than to address the problem -- which had a very simple solution that I won't even bother to describe.  Nope.  Both Walmarts close to my homes have chosen to make the online pickup experience an excruciating exercise in waiting, isolation, and frustration by simply never having anyone in the area to help you. 

Did I mention that I set the stopwatch on my phone to see how long the process took to get my order?  It took 40 minutes before I was able to get my order and start my exit from the store.  In that time, I tried everything, even shouting in the store for service.  Three employees came in the back area and told me that I could not get the order myself (when I tried to point out the box with my name clearly printed on it); that I could not use the phone to call the manager or for help; etc.  Only the third employee could finally figure out how to work the cash register so that I could get a receipt and be on my way. 

Well, here's the surprise and the reason I tried and online store pickup again.  I happened to be in the Tumwater, WA Walmart, about six miles from my Olympia house (the Lacey Walmart is 4 miles in the other direction).  I noticed that the Tumwater store had online pickup in the FRONT OF THE STORE, right in the customer service area! 

I placed an online order soon after noticing this, and when I got the notice that my order was ready, I went to the Tumwater store to pick up my page.  WOW!  I had to ask someone to help me -- the folks at the customer service desk were so seemingly intent on repacking their items or something that they seemingly did not see me -- but once they got to me, I was able to get my order very quickly.  No frustration.  Almost no waiting. 

Have you noticed that every time you buy something or do something these days, the company ask you to fill out a survey asking how they did?  I never fill these out, because good customer service is so dead simple and easy to figure out most of the time.  In this case, it's pretty easy to figure out that you should order and use Walmart's store pickup ONLY if there's a store near you that has the online pickup area at the front of the store, near the customer service counters, where there are always employees ready to help you.  Avoid any store where the online pickup area is in the back, unless you like waiting in dead zones for 30 and 45 minutes at a time. 

PS If you order something from online, and you decide you don't want to go through the agony of waiting in the back to pick up from the store, you can just not follow through on your order.  From what I can find, you won't be charged if you don't show up.

Here's what Walmart's website says:

"Once your order arrives and is scanned in at the store, you will have 14 days to pick it up before it is returned to the distributor. If it is returned to the distributor, we will issue a full refund."

Ways to Extend Internet Coverage Through Two Structures; Wirecutter Reviews are Awesome!

I have been trying various methods to cut the cable TV cord here in our place at the Monterey area. 

My office and "man cave" is in the guest house, about 100 feet from the main house.  I've put up an antenna to get local TV stations over the air (OTA) which I describe in another blog post.  In the guest house, I have a Windows laptop acting as a DVR, using a SiliconDust HDHomeRun TV tuner and Windows Media Center.

I wanted to connect both houses' computers on a local network, so that my wife could share files with the main Mac in the guest house, and so I could watch WMC-recorded shows and downloaded movies on the Windows laptop in the living room that is connected to an HDTV.  This proved to be a difficult, months-long process. 

I've always used Powerline Ethernet adapters from Zyxel, Netgear, and TP-Link from the Mac in my office to certain outlets in the main house.  The problem is that the connection was pretty slow, and inconsistent through the main house.  I believe that this is because the main house's wiring is both old and passes through breakers to get to the guest house.  Most of the outlets in the main hours are still 2-prong outlets, which cuts the performance of these Powerline Ethernet adapters in half.  The only outlet that works well enough so that my wife can watch Hulu videos on her Mac in her home office in the main house happens to be in that room.  None of the other outlets worked well. 

I next turned to's reviews.  This site is AWESOME.  I've followed a few of their recommendations for products recently, and the recommendations have worked out spectacularly well.  Wirecutter recommended the TP-Link Archer C7 (v2) router, along with the TP-Link AC1750 Wi-Fi Range Extender RE450. 

I've had other routers and range extenders that worked OK.  My old router was a Netgear 3700 and I really liked it, but upon reading wirecutter's review, I realized that it was an old router that used the "wireless N" band rather than the 'wireless ac" band that could reach far longer distances.  Sure enough, after updating my router and range extender to the TP-Link ones, I got great, strong, and fast wifi signals at the main house due to these great range extenders. 

I had to buy an AC wifi USB dongle for my Windows 7 laptops, which are all about 4-6 years old and did not have ac-band wifi capability.  These cost about $10 from Amazon and worked well. 

I was still not able to transfer files quickly from the laptop in the guest house to the laptop in the main house.  It was not a problem with the laptop acting as a served up files just fine to my Macs in the same room.  I eventually put in an Ethernet cable from the main house to the guest house (I had to learn how to drill and install cables through outside to inside walls, and to crimp Ethernet connectors on Cat5e cable, all easily learned on YouTube).  Surprisingly, the laptop in the living room still could not quickly download or even see files on the server laptop.  I tried some suggestions on internet forums and turned off energy-saving mode on the Ethernet adapter in the laptop.  That did the trick!  I am able to record shows on the WMC laptop in the guest house, and watch pre-recorded shows on the laptop in the main house.  I can transfer files from one house to another quickly also.  It's pretty cool.  I am sure that I can make things speedier and better by using a NAS unit, but this is working for me now just fine. 

Now that I have good Internet capability in the guest house and the main house, I look forward to using the antenna to get local stations (the four major broadcast networks) and using streaming packages like Netflix, Playstation Vue ,and SlingTV. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Adding a Bluetooth Keyboard in Windows 7 - When Standard Instructions Don't Work

I have a few bluetooth keyboards lying around, some four years old or older.  I've never really had the time to use them much, and the pairing process was almost always a hassle.  On one of my laptops, an MSI machine running Windows 7, I spent over an hour trying to get a bluetooth keyboard to connect to the laptop -- finally realizing that the laptop did not have Bluetooth!  The MSI is about four years old, and it's astounding to think that the manufacturer did not put in Bluetooth on the machine.  Sure enough, though, I looked up my machine on the web, and discovered that it likely did not have Bluetooth. 

Windows 7 machines are awful about telling you, quickly and simply, if you are connected to a good wifi signal or not; if your wifi is on or not; if you have Bluetooth capability or not.  I have four Windows 7 laptops, and most of them have a function key that turns wifi on and off, but looks like a Bluetooth symbol.  One of the laptops has a function key that turns both wifi AND Bluetooth on and off.  For all my machines, if the function key has been used to turn off wifi or Bluetooth -- then it's impossible to turn wifi or Bluetooth on any other way, such as through Windows. 

It's ridiculous. It should be far easier to figure out if wifi or Bluetooth are available on a machine, and if they are turned on or off.  It should also be FAR easier to select a wired Ethernet connection for internet access, or a wifi connection.

On to my recent experience.  I pulled out one of my dusty Bluetooth keyboards (a Motorola keyboard, designed to be used with Android phones).  I spent a good 30 minutes trying to pair the damn thing with Windows the usual way:

  1. Turn on your Bluetooth device and make it discoverable.
    The way you make it discoverable depends on the device. Check the device or visit the manufacturer's website to learn how.
  2. Select the Start button  > Devices and Printers.
  3. Select Add a device > select the device > Next.
  4. Follow any other instructions that might appear. Otherwise, you're done and connected.
Your Bluetooth device and PC will usually automatically connect anytime the two devices are in range of each other with Bluetooth turned on.

As usual, the instructions from Microsoft did not work.  I continually got a window that looked like this, but the window flashed by in an instant, too quickly for me to enter the code shown, and then I'd get an error message.  I tried the above directions about a dozen times, and even pulled out a Samsung keyboard and tried it.  The other options in similar-looking windows that appeared did not work either.  I even progressed to the point where I was allowed to enter a pairing code, but the Windows machine never showed what I was typing on the keyboard.

I've previously added and used Bluetooth keyboards on Macs, iPads, and another Windows 7 machine, so I knew that it could be done.

After numerous attempts, I discovered a site that gave an alternative method:

Here's what they suggested, and this worked easily:

In short, instead of following the usual pairing instructions, right-click on your device and select Properties.  Check the box for drivers, and the driver should download.  After that, your keyboard should work with your Windows 7 machine, no pairing needed!

Here's the instructions from the website:
To start, open up the Control Panel, and go to “Hardware and Sound”. Select “Add a Bluetooth device”:

When Windows is searching for your Bluetooth devices, put your keyboard into pairing mode (press the button). When it shows up in the list, don’t double click it! Instead, right-click on the keyboard device and select “Properties”:

In the window that opens, “Keyboard Properties”, wait a couple seconds for the services panel to load. Once it has loaded, check the box for “Drivers for keyboard, mice, etc. (HID)”. Click on “OK” to close the window.

Windows will load the drivers for your keyboard. After everything settles down, your keyboard should be working with Windows. Try typing characters into Notepad, to make sure it’s working properly. Congratulations!

I also discovered another website that gives similar instructions on how to connect a BT keyboard without pairing:

1. Right click on the Bluetooth icon at notification area and select “Add a Device”.
2. If the keyboard is not discoverable, press and hold the Bluetooth Connect button located at the back of the keyboard.
3. When the keyboard is found, right click on the keyboard and select Properties.
Add a Device Properties

4. There will be a checkbox “Drivers for keyboard, mice, etc (HID)” under Bluetooth Services. Check it and click the Apply button. Wait for the installation to complete and then only click the OK button to close the window. 

Read More:

 I had the same problems as this website describes! 

Here are some of the problems which I’ve encountered when trying to connect a bluetooth keyboard to Windows 7. The Bluetooth keyboard is discoverable but then fails to connect with the error “Adding this device to this computer failed” with two different error messages:
Adding the device failed resulting in an unknown error. The reported error code is: 0x80004005. Contact your device manufacturer for assistance
It took too long to add this device. Devices usually stay in discovery mode for only a short period of time to prevent power drain. Try adding the device again.
Read More:

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Review of Lawn Sprinkers and User Guide to a Gideon Two-Port Water Timer

I (well, not me but a gardener) put in new topsoil and grass on the side of my summer house in Washington state.  I've never done anything lawn- or garden- related before, so this was a new experience. I was stunned at how much water I had to use over the past six weeks. 

For new grass growing from seed, you are supposed to keep the top 2 inches of soil moist at all times.  I had to do this for the past 6 weeks.  I started by watering manually, then experimented with a bunch of different sprinklers.  The side lawn was pretty much rectangular except for a part at the end.  It was difficult for standard, cheap oscillating sprinklers to cover because tree branches hung over the center part of the lawn.  The lawn was about 60 feet across and perhaps 15 feet wide.

The best sprinkler was a pulsating sprinkler, an old Melnor that the previous owner left me.  It was all plastic, but it worked great -- you could adjust the feathering, the distance, and the circular area that the water would cover.

I let the water from one hose go through a "Melnor XT Mini-Turbo Oscillating Sprinkler with One Touch Width Control & Flow Control, and Rotation".  This is a "different" looking sprinker, and it has what Amazon calls "4 Way Ultimate Adjustment."  It was just OK, but better than other sprinklers.  I could adjust the width, distance of the spray, and how far the watering pattern would go back and forth -- but it was a finicky unit.  I spent hours getting the unit to work just right, and it would still leave dry spots of soil right in front of it.  The best part of this small unit was that the water could pass through it to the above Melnor pulsating sprinkler.  Using both of these let me water just about all of the new lawn. 

I tried other sprinklers and was disappointed.  I tried two different (inexpensive) oscillating Gilmor sprinklers from Lowe's and had to return both of them.  The Gilmor sprinklers, including a Melnor pulsating plastic sprinkler, would not work if connected in series with one hose.  My water pressure was fine, and the Melnor XT Mini-Turbo (what a ridiculous name) worked just fine.

To get the very final section of my lawn watered, I bought a "Melnor XT Turbo Oscillating Sprinkler with One Touch Width Control, 2 Way Adjustment."  I could adjust the width and "back and forth" pattern of this sprinkler.  This one also had dry spots and was not perfect, but I did get it to water the area that I wanted.  Instead of placing it in the center of the lawn, I had to place it on the side, because the water pattern always went off to the side (on the return stroke) rather than evenly on the sides of the sprinkler as you would expect.  I put this sprinkler on a separate hose, from the same water outlet.

I then bought a Gideon Two-Port Water Timer and set the timer so the bottom two sprinklers (on their own separate hose) starts at 6PM for 20 minutes.  Then the top sprinkler starts at 630PM each day for 20 minutes, watering the top of the lawn.  This way, each "section" of sprinklers gets the full water pressure available while it is on.

The Gideon timer has been working fine for a week.  I did look online for a user guide but there are none to be found, and the website is really sad.  It seems that the manufacturer is just a distributor of gadgets; no user guides at the website.  I've scanned the user guide for anyone who needs it; here it is.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

PUMP YOU UP! Ways to Pump Up Your Inflatable Stand-Up Paddleboard (SUP)

I bought a Tower inflatable Stand-Up Paddleboard (SUP) a couple of years ago.  It's a great, fun thing to use in the water.  I am not a master by any means, but I can stand up on it and paddle a while.  It tracks fairly well and moves well through the water.  I enjoy it more than my heavier West Marine Pompano 120 Sit-On-Top Angler Kayak -- which is a really nice kayak (more on this later) but weighs 60 pounds, and being so long and inflexible, is cumbersome. 

Paddleboards, at least in warm weather, are just more fun than kayaks.  I enjoy having contact with the water, and being able to jump off the paddleboard and climb back on.  My chocolate Lab, Moose, loves sitting on the paddleboard -- it was incredibly easy to train him to sit on there. It's pretty easy to get him onboard when he swims up (he does require firm assist from me to get up); the worst part is when he scratches my tender areas when clawing his way up, or when he shakes the water off himself -- no one likes getting sprayed by water! It's hard to get him to leave.

I've found that paddling while standing is a bit hard, but do-able even with Moose onboard.  I usually play around, however, by simply sitting on the SUP with my feet facing forward, as if I were in a kayak.  For some reason, paddling this way does not kill my back -- whereas when I am in a kayak, my back quickly starts hurting unless I have a seat for support.  I also paddle on the Tower SUP while kneeling. 

One nice thing about the Tower SUP is that it is inflatable, and it is light.  I can deflate it, and take it anywhere, even in a small car.  It weighs 26 pounds, and even inflated it is relatively easy for me to carry the SUP under my arm, over my shoulder. 

Here's what I recommend for inflating a Tower inflatable SUP.  I've spent hours figuring out the best way to pump up my Tower SUP, and my recommendations below should work for any inflatable SUP that is rated for a pressure of 10 to 15 PSI. 

Tower supplies a hand pump for its inflatable SUP (I bought the Adventurer 2 package).  Forget using the hand pump.  Trying to inflate your SUP with the hand pump will lead to exhaustion and back spasms.  The only good thing about the hand pump is that it will inflate the SUP to the proper pressure -- which is a pretty high pressure.  Tower states that you cannot possibly overinflate the SUP by using the hand pump, which is likely true.  This is because pushing on the hand pump gets progressively more difficult as you approach the target of 10 to 15 PSI. 

I tried the hand pump and gave up after pumping away for 20 minutes and barely seeing the SUP rise.  I then bought an electric pump and a foot pump from my local Walmart.  Neither of these worked, because all pumps are rated to different PSIs.  The electric and foot pumps that you will find in retailers like Big 5 and Walmart are generally for pumping less than 1 PSI, and will work only to inflate swim toys.  My Tower SUP (supposedly) needs to be pumped up to 10 to 15 PSI, so that it is absolutely rigid. 

I started researching online, and there are electric pumps made to inflate inflatable SUPs, and have a rating of 15 PSI and higher.  They are generally in the $100 to $150 range.  My concern was both the price and the fact that these pumps generally require 110V AC current to work.  I want to be able to drive to a river, and pump up my SUP in a wilderness area without any electricity around.  I could use a pump that works off a 12V DC source like a car battery.  Those pumps, too, cost over $100. 

I started foraging around in my garage and discovered that I had an old foot pump from an inflatable Sea Eagle Kayak (it's for sale, unused BTW).  I love foot pumps.  I love them because they pump a high volume of air, can pump up to a high PSI, and you can use them anywhere -- they don't require a car battery or AC current as a power source.  This foot pump is called a Bravo 7.  It had the right connector on it (a Halkey-Roberts twist-lock valve).  I am able to pump up my SUP with this Bravo 7 foot pump in about 10 minutes, maybe less.  It is not hard at all. 

My first pump, the one from Sea Eagle, broke after a year of light use (the side material separated from a clamp).  I bought another one at West Marine for $30:

I used the first pump with my SUP for the past year and had no complaints.  I had been pumping air using the Bravo 7 until the foot pump would just not pump any longer.  I was probably stressing the pump, finally causing the flexible material on the pump to separate from the clamp holding it to the pump.  My SUP was nice and rigid, but not quite as rigid as it could be.  I took a pressure reading, and using the foot pump, it was only inflated to 2.5 psi.  Again, I was perfectly happy using my Tower SUP inflated to 2.5 psi. 

After the pump broke, I had the time to do more research.  I discovered that the Bravo 7 pump only inflates to 5.8 PSI.  Amazon has a listing for a Bravo 9 pump, which pumps up to14.5 psi.  West Marine has two other Bravo foot pumps.  The Bravo 2 is only rated to 2.9 psi.  Their Bravo 10 is rated to 11.6 psi and costs $70...I think.  I am not sure which is the "heavy-duty foot pump" for $70, and why the "medium-duty foot pump" for $75.  These pumps, from the photos on West Marine, don't seem to come with a Halkey-Roberts connector either.  It would be easy to transfer my old connector from my ruptured pump to a new one (the hose diameter would have to be the same) but still...

I did not want to spend $70 on a pump that might fail.  I did not want to spend $100 on a pump that required AC current.  I eventually bought this $18 adapter:

Electric Pump Valve Stem with torque tabs "Patent Pending" for FAST Inflation with Wakooda and Halkey Roberts H3 Inflation Valves

This is simply a Halkey Roberts H3 valve that has a Schrader inflation valve on it.  Schrader valves are the same kind of valves found on car tires and most bike tires.   I already have a portable tire inflator that works off my car battery (BTW, I’ve found that these draw an incredibly high current, well over 10 amps, and won't work when connected to AC 12V power adapters, battery chargers; and will fry the fuses if connected through a cigarette lighter adapter inside the car). 

I connected an inexpensive Campbell Hausfeld tire inflator unit to this Wakooda Valve and it worked great.  It pumped my SUP up to 5 psi in about 5 mins (after the SUP was already at 2.5 psi using foot pump).  I don't think I need my SUP to be 10 psi but might try that.  Using a higher quality tire inflator would probably inflate the SUP to 5 or 10 psi even more quickly.  Anyone using a power inflator like this should keep a very close eye on the pressure, as it will be possible to blow the SUP up past its pressure rating very quickly.

Here's what an Amazon reviewer wrote about another inflator valve:
The gauge is somewhat flimsy and I don't really use it, but the adapter is a perfect fit for my inflatable TOWER Paddle boards. I now use my air compressor to inflate the boards firm to the touch (< 10 minutes), and then only need about 20 more strokes with the high pressure hand pump to achieve 10+ psi. WARNING: be careful with an air compressor, it's easy to over-inflate once you reach the pressure zone.

Kayak choice:
I still like my kayak.  It allows me to go much faster and farther than I can on my SUP (I am not very good at using either of these vessels).  I did a lot of research and chose my present West Marine Pompano 120 kayak based on the following Amazon review (thanks, Amazon reviewer!).  Here are some excerpts from that review:

Perception Sport Pescador 12 Angler Kayak review from Amazon:
"...This kayak is by far the best deal on a high end kayak out there's one of the few kayaks out there that is at a price point that let's starter's (sic) and people on a budget get into the sport but at the same time is such a high quality and nice yak that you don't realy ever need to upgrade from it ..

"...The best thing about this kayak is that it is actualy (sic) a re-named 2008 Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120 with a different label and actually built by the same company as the Tarpon 120. ...

"...this is because Wilderness systems/Perception are owned by the same company which is confluence water sports...instead of throwing away the mold for the old Tarpon 120 they re used it with the Perception brand calling it the "Pescador" and are selling it for almost half the price as the Tarpon 120...

"...West Marine also sells this kayak occasianly (sic) and will match any competitor's price...west marine also sells another kayak that is made by confluence that is identical in design to the tarpon 120/pescador called a "pompano 120"....comes with nice accessories like anchor system,extra rod holders,scupper plugs etc but unfortunatly does not come with the nice pescador seat..."

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

USPS used my photo of a great white shark for the artwork for one of their new shark stamps

Always happy to see my photos being used, although not always willing to toot my own horn -- USPS used my photo of a great white shark for the artwork for one of their new shark stamps:
@USPS to issue #SharksStamps:

The real thanks always goes to the dive operators and shark experts, in this case the Solmar V staff and crew, and Lawrence Groth (one of the real pioneers of shark diving at Guadelupe and the Farallon Islands).

Also, National Geographic Australia recently published one of my African wildlife images.  It's funny, since this is one of the few of my African wildlife images published -- lots of competition!:

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Thanks to Auto Repair Shops That Trust Their Customers

Precision Auto Care
274 West Main Street
Woodland, CA 95695 

Dear Sirs: 

On Thursday, June 1, I was driving my Honda Odyssey from Washington State to my home in Monterey, California.  My power steering went out in Dunnigan, and my AAA insurance agent recommended your repair facility.  

Your receptionist took my call and very helpfully allowed me to speak to one of your mechanics, Hector.  Hector talked me through the issue, and with his help and expert opinion, I decided that I could risk continuing to drive all the way home, rather than stay overnight to have your facility repair the power steering pump the next day.  Indeed, I made it home without the power steering working, and the problem was indeed a faulty pump. 

I want to thank you for having a great policy in place, so that you would allow one of your mechanics to talk to a stranger who needed an opinion.  It saved me from having to stay overnight in a strange town, and finding a hotel that would put me and my dogs up overnight -- which would be incredibly difficult.  The fact that your mechanic took the time to spend three minutes on the phone to go over some basic troubleshooting saved me a huge amount of hassle and time. 
I had called my usual auto facility in Monterey first, and despite being a customer for over 20 years, they would not stick their necks out to help me make a decision, nor allow me to speak to a mechanic.  The guy who answered the phone knew me, knew that I was a customer of 20 years, and had enough knowledge to help me with the issue.  However, citing insurance liability, he told me that he could not tell me much, and he did not tell me enough to allow me to make my own decision. 

I am thankful that there are still some service facilities that are willing to help out a driver in need.  No thanks to my auto repair guys in Monterey, who I am very disappointed with (and when I complained to the owner, he seemed more concerned that I was criticizing his guy on the phone, rather than the fact that his policy was terrible). 


Norb Wu
Norbert Wu Productions

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:

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?

PS: I see this Freedomspot Netgear Zing:

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. 

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:
      Let me know your thoughts. We are here to help out however we can.

Ron Bell

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

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

(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

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

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:

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  (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

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.