Microwaves

(another break from the political news) Well we’ve had two of them break in the last six months, so time to actually spend some time shopping for the. Three big sources are Amazon reviews (I know they are biased for small things, but people do not often give away microwaves for reviews ;-), Wirecutter’s home site called Sweethome as a meta site and Consumer Reports (although they do not often correlate well with Amazon). So here’s an analysis for on the counter microwaves. Note that there are actually very few real microwave makers left, most are rebadges of GE or Panasonic or LG, etc.:

Sweethome. GE JES1656SRSS (or Amazon) at $150 or the newer $200 JVM6175SKSS. This is ironically the exact model that we already have in our house. After years of hard use, it started to vibrate and rattle and stop heating. But wow was it dependable. Looking at the Amazon reviews, there are not many on this model, although Home Depot has lots of good ones, so a decent choice. The $150 model seems pretty good and I’m not sure there is really any real difference.

Amazon. Panasonic NN-SN936B. The GE gets only 3/5 starts on Amazon, the winner there seems to be the Panasonic with 4.5/5. But beware this thing is big: 37 pounds and 22 inches x 14″ for the 2.2 cubic foot one. Even the 1.6 cu foot version is still 21 ?” so it will not be a good fit for a standard 22″ wide cabinet in the US.

Consumer Reports. They like the LG, but on Amazon, folks complain about how noisy it is.

Commercial Microwaves

Finally in looking more at Amazon, I looked at a few “commercial-grade” microwaves. Given how much we use it to see if they are worth it. The main thing is that they are theoretically longer life and they are easy to clean since there are no rotating parts inside. (There is also a restaurant supply store called webrestaurantsupply.com with a long list but they are poorly rated by reselleratings.com):

Panasonic NE-1025F. They don’t have fancy controls but a six minute timer and instead of a rotating dish, the microwave tube itself rotates, so much simpler to operate.

Panasonic NE-1054F. This does have electronic controls and is a higher grade but more expensive at $250. It is 20 ?” x 11″ so somewhat smaller than the 1025F.

Battery Buying Guide

It’s a sad day when the best battery reviews are found buried in an Amazon rating, but there is someone who actually went ahead and tested batteries but:

  1. AAA Alkaline. AC Delco. the no-name AC Delco came up on top and for less than the cost of Amazon Basics even?
  2. AA Alkaline. Duracell Quantum. Then there are AA batteries where BatteryNinja and Consumer Reports says the Duracell Quantum AA are the longest lasting, although the Costco ones are half the price and a good value.
  3. AA NiMh rechargeable. Everready. Finally if you want rechargeable, it looks like the Eveready has the best ones according to Wirecutter.

Vuescan hanging on Minolta DiImage 5400 on MacOS Sierra

Seems like there is some sort of strange bug in the USB driver on MacOS Sierra and Vuescan. I’ve been having trouble with hangs for a while and this seems to have gotten worse with Sierra, although El Capitan had the same issues. The calibrate for this 35mm image scanner takes forever.

Sigh. Old hardware doesn’t ever seem to work at some point. Looking at Vuescan, I do not see anything that can help, but I may switch back to firewire to see if this helps. I switched from Firewire (on an old iMac 2008) because I was having troubles with that driver. But with Sierra, it looks like Firewire 400 does not work anymore. The only thing that seems to help is a reboot of the system.

It could also be that it has to do with the hardware itself. The little door at the front can get stuck in the open position and it requires a paper clip to push it back in. Hardware from the last decade was like that!

As another aside, I did see that I should use the Vuescan dedicated Filter/Infrared Clean instead of ICE to get rid of scratches.

Best WordPress hosting

Well with my troubles with Bluehost, time once again to see who the best hosting partner is. Now that Bluehost is owned by a mega-corporation, I wonder what else is out there. A quick test at webhostinghero.com does show the speed issues with this site.

Bluehost has been pretty decent to me, it’s about $12/month and allows unlimited storage (not really, they complain if you are over a certain limit and threaten to close you :-), unlimited email, websites, ssh access as well. The main issues are their Cpanel is pretty confusing and their documentation is a mess plus they only have chats and no trouble tickets. Also their shared hosting is very slow. On the plus side, their email seems to work pretty well and they give you decent control.

There is of course GoDaddy which Blake runs and they’ve been doing better, but what do the reviews say? They are actually quite fast, but have DDNS attack set at 25 concurrent users, not a big deal for me, but nice to see they are doing well.

A top real performance review shows they like InMotion, SiteGround and A2 Hosting, so it might be time to do some trials and see where it leads.

One problem by the way is that all the reviews are biased because of the various bounties that hosters put out there. But SiteGround could be the alternative company that makes sense particularly with great support.

One issue is that they only do WordPress or website hosting, so I need to find another place to get email services.

The big problem is that the internet is filled with spam on reviews or just ones that seem to disagree with users. For instance, PC Magazine did a review and feature-wise they liked Hostgater and Dreamhost. Hostgater like Bluehost offers unlimited storage and email. They also like 1&1 for WordPress hosting with unlimited data and sites. But who knows how good this review is given the scathing comments about 1&1’s product and Dreamhost and Hostgater.

On the other had, InMotion Hosting is only average according to PC Magazine, but the user comments gives it great reviews. And WebhostingHero seems to like it too. Plus it also offers email hosting which is nice and much cheaper than Google hosting.

Bluehost mail blocked because of an expired Spam Experts trial

I spent a couple of days tearing my hair out. Word to the wise, if you are on bluehost and hit the Spam Experts trial (which I gather I did at some point). What happens is that when the trial ends, it silently queues all your mail into the spam experts and no mail at all flows into your domain.

You do not get any notice or warning and there is nothing on the console, but the good folks in tech support finally figured it out. Net, net, when you have a problem like this, then you want to make sure that all spam filters are off including the pay ones.

As an aside this blocked all mail on the inbound, so all forwards were also backed up silently./

Best 9V Batteries, SATA SSDs and HDDs

(A small refuge from all the political news), here are the latest recommendations:

  1. 9V Batteries. if you use them in smoke detectors, etc., then you want one with lots of charge. But Powerstream.com recommends the Energizer Industrial has 450 mAH or the Rayovac Industrial Plus. They have nearly 50% more charge of a Duracell Coppertop.
  2. SATA SSDs have just about disappeared as a high  performance product with the advent of NVMe and m.2. But there are still differences. The 850 EVO remains one of the top performers and the 1TB version is just $350. Plus it has a 10 year warranty Finally for budget use, the Toshiba OCZ Trion 150 is just $250 for a 1TB version.
  3. Finally if you need some hard disk drives for your server or NAS, then right now the Storagereview.com folks show that 8TB is now the new sweet spot and that the new 10TB are just coming out. Wow, what an increase in density!

The picks here are a little confusing, but the Newegg and Amazon reviews are a good guide to reliability as is the warranty period. While a little more expensive, the 5-year warranty

OBD and other car strangeness

Well figuring out how to get useful data from your car is definitely an obscure art. Here are some notes for noobs:

  1. There is a standard connector for all cars after 1996 which is called OBD. (Onboard Diagnostics), you have you to google your car to figure out where the port is. But it is usually under the steering wheel (Honda Fits) or in the left change area (Mazdas) or somewhere under the dash (BMW).
  2. There are a huge number of OBD readers but the best ones transmit via Bluetooth or Wifi. The really neat ones use Bluetooth LE so you do not even have to pair your phone to them. There are cheap knockoffs that cost $12 on eBay, but the most reliable according to the folks at Harry’s GPS Timer cost about $80-90.
  3. Some devices work with IOS, but many do not (there is something I haven’t had time to research about the way Apple handles Bluetooth). The Kiwi 3 is really nice, it uses Bluetooth LE and just seems to work out of the box. The GoPoint BT1A uses Bluetooth as well, but you do have to pair it which is a bit of a pin. The OBLink MX is Android only and also requires pairing.
  4. The controllers themselves either use the ELM 372 processor or their own (GoPoint has their own). Those with the Elm will find that it is using a simple serial protocol using the venerable AT command set.
  5. On the actual bus there are some standard PIDs (Performance IDs) and they are in two flavors. There are problem codes indicating and internal fault and continuous codes for monitoring data in the car itself. These are called P-codes and C-codes.
  6. The codes themselves have a standard set, but there are also extensions per manufacturer, you have to use various sites like carobdcodes.com to figure out what they mean.
  7. You then buy some software for your phone that reads these values and puts up a cool display and also produces raw data in CSV form for later analysis. Our good buddies told us about Harry’s Lap Timer which although somewhat arcane works pretty well. It dumps data either via email or onto a Dropbox account. It also records video from the camera’s phone and can also connect to GoPros so you get that cool multiple camera  view. You can even run multiple phones and have them mounted.
  8. You want a really good mount if you are driving. Harry’s likes the RAM mount system

Apple iTunes and App discounts

OK, there are a couple of ways to save some money:

  1. Cashback Monitor will tell you click through sites with discounts. Right now Top Cashback is offering an 8% discount if you click through to the App store on a Mac. pretty good.
  2. Once you click through, you should if you’ve been thinking ahead, you should take advantage of various promotions for buying Apple Gift Cards. For instance at CostCo, you can use your Chase Freedom card (5x multiplier in 4Q2016) to buy $100 worth of iTunes gift cards for 5% off, then you use that.

Total discount would be 11% for Chase Freedom, then 5% then 8%. So you do the math!

MacOS Finder Shortcuts and DxO Strangeness

Two quick notes. Since upgrading to MacOS Sierra, I’ve found that DxO in both its version 10 and version 11 is a little strange so some quick notes:

  1. The main window seems to get stuck in a highly vertical view. You have to click between the crop and move buttons and then drag the zoom window on the left to get it to pop back to a full view of the image.
  2. The little toggle buttons in the menus are now overlapped with the title text so you cannot see the toggle buttons. Just click through as the title text is transparent.

Then the second thing is that I’ve been using raw Finder to preview lots of images. If you hit the space bar while highlighting an image, you get an instant preview. Moreover a search for keyboard shortcuts has me so happy there are zillion of them with some of the most useful being:

  • Cmd-1, Cmd-2, Cmd-3, Cmd-4: Changes finder views
  • Right arrow and left arrow: in list view, this goes up a directory and down
  • Space: gives you quick preview on highlighted file. When you hit the space, you can then hit the down arrow and see the next one. If you do not want the item, you can hit the delete key.

 

Ubuntu and PC hardware problems

Well I guess if you’ve built 20 machines by hand, it is inevitable you are going to get hardware problems and boot problems. Here are some and what to do to solve them:

  1. Ubuntu 14.04 gets stuck in a logon loop. I’ve had this problem twice now. You reboot your machine and then at the login screen, you type your password and it just returns to the login screen. There are two fixes. First is that you could have permissions problems with Ubuntu Desktop. The fixes are: a) make sure the $HOME/.Xauthority is set to your user name and group and not root:root
  2. Another problem could be with your nVidia drivers if you have them. There is an error complaining about Xlib: extension GLX missing no found and so you should try to sudo apt-get remove nvidia-370 or whatever driver you have and see if that helps. You can tell if your nVidia driver is working by looking at the resolution of your startup screen. In my case, it defaulted to an ugly VGA on a gigantic 2500 display. Reinstalling the nvidia drivers leads to an error at-spi2-registryd main process ended

Then there are two problems that I haven’t figured out yet:

  1. One machine does not even POST. It was working fine and then when we rebooted no video at all shows. Removing the nVidia card and booting from the onboard graphics does not seem to help. The main suggestion is reset the CMOS jumper and then remove the CMOS battery for 15 minutes. It sure might be a motherboard failure or a short.
  2. Another machine works fine and then suddenly just powers off. Or it will work fine and then when you hit the power switch nothing happens, it doesn’t spin up at all. We have replaced the power supply, removed the onboard gr