New Toy: HP Stream 11-r020nr Notebook

I just bought myself an HP Stream 11-r020nr Notebook.  It’s got an Intel Celeron CPU (1.66GHz, 2 cores), 2GB DDR3L SDRAM, 32GB flash drive, and an 11.6″ display with onboard video.  These specs were kinda underwhelming ten years ago, but today they’re downright pitiful – and it’s not even upgradable.

So why did I buy this tricycle of a computer?  Because it’s was cheap at only $180+tx and it comes with Windows 10, so altogether it should be adequate to the purpose, and that purpose is online banking.  That will be the singular purpose of this machine.

I’ve been doing my own online banking and portfolio management for many, many years now, generally using my home desktop machine.  I also use that machine for everything else as well – email, web browsing, etc. – and although I have it somewhat secured it’s not very secure, and as such it’s not a suitable platform with which to manage my life savings.  I knew what I wanted to do but I didn’t want to do it; then I reached my tipping point after reading about GozNym.

The solution is to have a separate computer with which I do the financial stuff, and only that stuff.  No web browsing, no email, no video or game playing, just using the browser to go to specific financial websites.  Nothing else.  Very little uptime and limited exposure.  On the flip side, it cost me some coin and using it is an awkward PITA.

I thought about using my 10-year-old Acer TravelMate TM4072WLCi – hey, it still runs! – but no.  I need a Windows OS to run Password Safe and so I’d have to replace WinXP.  Win7 is being phased out by MS and replaced by Win10, and buying Win10 standalone costs $100 or so – but I doubt it would recognize the hardware.  I have WinXP drivers, but would they work with Win10?  Doubtful.

All I’m really trying to do with this new notebook is to make myself a more elusive & harder target, and when you come right down to it those are bedrock principles of defense.


New Toy: Kenmore 1.6 cu. ft. Countertop Microwave

In the 1980’s my parents got a microwave oven, an Amana Radarange.  They replaced it and gave it to me, and although it took a longer time to cook than when new it otherwise worked fine until a couple of years ago when the buttons became iffy and I had to retire it to the curb.

Then I got a Haier for a Benjamin and it also served me well enough, I guess.  Beeped too much, it did.  Beeped when you pressed a button, any button.  Beeped three angry times when you pressed the wrong button, as if to say, “No, you can’t enter a new cooking time, I just finished cooking and you must acknowledge this by opening the door or pressing <Clear>!” (not the best microwave oven anthropomorphization, granted).  Beeped proudly four times when it finished cooking (and if it had legs I imagine it would do so while strutting like a rooster).  Such an attention whore, it would beep impatiently three times every couple of minutes after that if I didn’t open the door or press <Clear>.  Chatty bastard.  I would have clipped a wire to the speaker had I the audacity to open it up, or, you know, set it on “mute” had I the option.

It otherwise performed well until a couple of months ago when I noted that the plate was turning around in a somewhat herky-jerky fashion.  Odd, that.  Closer inspection revealed that in the tracks of the “turntable guide roller support” (aka the round-around circle with the little wheels) there was a spot of bubbled-up paint, and rust.  Well, that won’t do, so I cleaned it and then coated it with clear nail polish and hoped for the best.

Worked for a while, it did, and then not so much.

So I bought an ounce of clear nail polish and tried the same thing again, expecting a different result.  That worked out even less well; very slow to dry, a persistent odor of chemical nastiness, and to my dismay, the rust problem continued to worsen.  I also noticed that rust was appearing in the microgaps where the walls of the oven met.  I’d had this thing for less than two years, and I’d bought it new.  Apparently leaving condensate water to stand is not conducive to microwave oven longevity.  Who knew?

Enter the new kid: a Kenmore countertop (model 73169), 1.6 cubic feet and 1100 watts.  Kenmore is a Sears brand, and they don’t make microwaves; from what I’ve read they select a model from an established manufactured, slap on their badge, and Presto! it’s a Kenmore now (OK, OK, Presto doesn’t actually make any products for Kenmore, it was just a joke).  Kenmore, because the sale price was not hideous, and for now I’m done with Haier.

The interior capacity is cavernously enormous; 1.6 cubic feet and the glass plate is, what, 12 or 14 inches across?

– “Gee, you’ve got a big microwave!” “Gee, you’ve got a big microwave!”
– “Why’d you say that twice?”
– “I didn’t!

It looks easy enough to keep clean, which I’ll be doing assiduously with a retired dishrag.  Learned my lesson on that, damn straight.

The thing works OK, too, but curiously it sometimes pauses the cook cycle as it counts down.  That is to say, when I set it to cook on full power for some minutes it will, at some point, turn off the microwave emitter yet continue to keep the interior light on and spin the plate.  It looks busy, but it’s not – I can hear the fan spin up to a higher rev and I can see lights in my kitchenette get brighter when it does this.  I think what’s happening is that the humidity sensor has detected a dropoff and so it cuts power for a spell.  This behavior is similar to some preprogrammed functions but is not documented per se, insofar as I can tell, hence my speculation.  Also, if it’s been doing that on-off thing, it turns off the emitter for the last 18 seconds or so of the cooking time.  Regardless, the food does get cooked in less time than the cursed Haier, so there’s that.

It does seem to cook more around the edges, and sure, what with the microwave emitter being on the sidewall of the unit that might be expected, but the same could be said of the Haier unit I had and the heat distribution was more uniform in that unit and every other similar microwave oven I’ve used.   I suppose the internal reflectivity must be different in some way that’s undescernable to me.

Unfortunately, the round-around circle with the little wheels came broken in the box, so I called up the folks at Kenmore and told them of my trouble.  They shipped out a replacement which arrived within a couple of weeks.

Oh, and it beeps.  A beep for every keypress, five beeps when finished, and then, blessedly, silence.


New Toy: Azpen A727

Last Friday at work I was presented with a coupon from a local Micro Center for an Azpen A727 tablet for $20.  I didn’t own a tablet, but then again I don’t have WiFi at home so I had to think it over.  On the one hand: tablet for $20!  On the other: what the hell would I do with it?

“$20 tablet!” won that debate.  I figured I might be able to use it at work, or if I travel.  I’m going to a wedding in late July, and off on a business trip to Little Rock, Arkansas for a couple of days in September so I’ll probably be able to use it at the hotels.  Whatever – $20 tablet!  So after work I plugged the address into my GPS and off I went.  Sure enough, tablet for $20, no hassle, no upsell, no problem.

I figure $20 doesn’t even cover the BOM, so how bad could it be?  Well, not too shabby.  The screen ain’t no “retina” but it’s bright & pretty.  The camera is low-res & choppy, but for $20, who cares?  I think the whole “$20!” thing is going to arm-wave away whatever shortcomings it has.

The screen is way small to RDC into our terminal server to access our ERP suite, but it can do it.  Unfortunately the MS RDC app doesn’t seem to close properly when I log out, but whatevs.  I’m still figuring out what to put on it to make it useful.  Firefox, Chrome, Google Translate, Google Earth, Gmail, Quickoffice, maybe Skype.

Tablets have been around for years and I ‘m fumbling around – I feel like a cave man.


UPDATE [2014-08-28]:

Not having much of a need for a tablet I haven’t used this much, but here are some observations:

– My SanDisk 32GB Class 10 MicroSD doesn’t work. Oh, the tablet recognizes it, can “format” it, but it can’t see any files or folders.

– My Samsung 32GB Class 6 MicroSD seems to work OK. Well, sort-of. At first the tablet had trouble with seeing folders, but after I issued a Format command, all the folders I’d put on it were there. So the card wasn’t formatted, but it works fine now.

– Connecting to the drives (internal and MicroSD) is unintuitive. The drives show up as “Removable Storage” on my Win7 workstations but they are inaccessible. On the tablet you have to drag-down the top-left status indicators, select “USB Connected / Touch to copy files to/from your computer”, then touch the button “Turn on USB storage”. Tablet access to the drives is limited when you do that (so, for example, the camera won’t work because it’s got nowhere to drop a picture file); best to transfer the files and then disconnect.

– Azpen Technical support responded to my email in a timely fashion and gave me instructions on how to access the drives (as above), so that’s a plus.

– With only a 7″ screen typing is cramped. It’s easier to sync my Firefox or Chrome and call up a bookmark than it is to type an URL. Typing in passwords is challenging.

– Crashes are occasional.

– I can’t turn off the sound. Oh, I can turn off system sounds, but when I peck at the onscreen keyboard it still clicks.

– Google Earth knows exactly where I am, despite no GPS listed in the tech specs. I have no idea how that’s possible.

– Clicking on the “User Manual” icon invariably generates the following message, “Unfortunately, User Manual has stopped” <OK>. No, that’s not OK.

– The image quality of the camera is piss-poor:

Azpen A727 - Piss Poor Camera

New Toy: Black Box G1W Dashcam

A couple of weeks ago I was commuting to work in the morning, driving at some 45 or 50 MPH in light traffic, when a tire blew out on a dumptruck about 100 or 150 yards ahead of me.  I heard a “boom” and up ahead what I could see were slowing cars, the dumptruck, and a lot of dust or smoke.  Glancing about I couldn’t see that there were any cars askew from a collision, and it was unclear to me quite what dramatic thing had happened.

I saw that the dumptruck was taking the next exit, which was also my exit, and as I approached the off-ramp I had to navigate around debris – shards of metal and rubber.  The dumptruck had pulled over to the side and as I passed it I saw that the front left wheel well had been partially blown out and shredded.  This tire hadn’t just blown, it had detonated.

It got me thinking that it might be time to get a dashcam.  I’ve been sniffing around the market from time to time since the Russian dashcam clips started hitting Liveleak but they’ve always been a bit too pricey for me.  What I found was this review and other corroborating reviews elsewhere which convinced me to make the splurge.  The G1W is made by several different manufacturers using the same design and I just picked one (“Black Box”).  This post isn’t really a review, either, so go click on those links to get an idea of what the unit can do, and if you’re unfamiliar with the feature sets of dashcams I would recommend starting with this.

The unit is quite small, which is a darn good thing because it’s got to be mounted to the windshield and you want minimize the amount of visibility that it obscures.  I put mine so that it’s almost on the centerline of the car with the suction part of the mount occluded by the rearview mirror, and the G1W visible is positioned just below it to the left.  The USB charging cord I looped up around the rearview mirror mount, across the to the right between the roof and the sunscreen flap, then down the side tucked into the gap between the dash and the door frame, then looping under the dash and around again to the center console where the cigarette lighter power port is located – with room to spare on the cord.  Yes, that’s a lot of cord, and what that does is to give you the flexibility to route it out of the way, which was one of my concerns about getting a dashcam.  I really didn’t want to have an ugly and annoying  power cord dropping from high up on the windshield down to the center console, and the way I have it now the cord is practically invisible except where it drops down from the roof to the underdash.

The mount is, well, OK.  Small enough, and it has a ball joint for good directional pointing, but the weak spot is the clip that holds it to the device.  This thing is destined to break if used frequently, but really the dashcam should be mounted semi-permanently – you only want to remove it if you want to keep it from tempting thieves.  That might be more of a problem if I lived in Manhattan where street scum will break your window to swipe a box of tissues, but where I live it’s actually pretty safe.

Interestingly (and in contrast to this review), my experience with the 720p @ 60 and 30 fps has been poor, with choppy framerate and visual artifacts, but the 1080p @ 30 fps is really excellent.  Also, the audio, while leaving much to be desired, is quite serviceable.

Dashcams are a liability protection device, for the most part, so I didn’t anticipate how much I’d enjoy it.  After the first trip I made with it – a commute from work to home – I used Microsoft Essentials Movie Maker to glom the video segments together, and then I just watched the whole thing, except for a couple of periods of heavy traffic.  I started out just evaluating it for sound and image quality with the particular settings I was using but I found the experience of watching a video of my driving was somehow intriguing.

I had to make some ancillary purchases as well – a few 32GB Micro SD cards, a couple of USB Micro SD card readers, matte black nailpolish, and a power-adapter splitter.  Um, yeah, about that nailpolish: I need to do something about the reflections off the top of my GPS onto the windshield because it’s visibly annoying in the video, and also to make the G1W a little more stealthy I’m going to black out the front “IR” LED light and the silver around the lens.  That should leave plenty left over for me to do my nails proper and go clubbing all Goth’d up.

New Toy: WearEver 12″ Stainless Steel Sauté Pan

I’ve had a Calphalon hard-anodized 12″ sauté pan for some years now, and it’s served me fairly well.  It came with a clear tempered glass lid which I’ve used on a few occasions (to my surprise), and the pan heated food evenly enough, I guess.  I’ve never worked with high-end kitchen equipment so I suppose I can’t really say.  I got it as a gift from my parents, and it was one of the nicer pieces of kitchenware kit I’ve owned.  That, and the J. A. Henckels bazillion-piece knifeware set I bought a decade ago – a mistake, actually; nice knives, but I’ve found that I only need a Chef’s knife and a paring knife.  At least the knife block has horizontal slots.  But I digress.

The non-stick qualities of “non-stick” cookware always leave me thinking there’s much room for technological improvement in this area.  Let’s start with this: “Non-Stick” is aspirational, not literal, in that it does not mean nothing will stick.  When I caramelize onions or fry up some cubed animal meat I can guarantee there will be sticking and lots of it.  Besides that you can’t heat it much above 400°F without ruining it, you can’t scrub it with anything aggressive, be it chemicals, tools, or even intent.  Even with care the surface will erode, which is what started to happen to my Calphalon pan.

I sent it back to the manufacturer for warranty repair, and, to their credit, I just got an email from their Customer Service department which says they’re going to ship a replacement within a month  Sure, this whole process is taking two months from start to finish, but I really didn’t expect them to honor the warranty.  I thought they’d deny it on the grounds that I got it too hot or abused it in some other way.  I thought I took pretty good care of it, and apparently Calphalon agrees.

In the meantime I’d already bought a replacement: the WearEver 12″ Stainless Steel Sauté Pan A8340765 (2100065552).  I thought about getting cast iron but I didn’t want to mess with seasoning it, as seems to be a thing with them.  I’ve never quite understood how you’re supposed to clean it and keep it seasoned, since cleaning removes the seasoning.  Also I surely didn’t want to have to use a mitt every time I had to grab the hot handle (what a PITA).  What I liked about this WearEver pan is that the handle is reasonably insulated, it should stand up to some harsh cooking and cleaning, and it’s a nice bright! shiny! silver.  Also, I have an aluminum WearEver colander which was my grandmother’s, and after her years of use, and my years of use, I’ve found it to be sturdy and longlasting.  It has outstanding performance characteristics (i.e., lightweight, keeps the food in, lets the water out, doesn’t melt or break, which is pretty much all I expect from a colander).  Based on my experience with that colander I was favorably disposed towards their product line, so they got my business.

After I got it I gave it it’s first job: a pound of bacon.  Yay, Bacon!  A treat for me, too since bacon has doubled in price since the financial crash of ’08.  Well, as expected this Wearever pan surely isn’t non-stick, but between the sheen of fat on the cook surface and a pair of chopsticks I was able to manage, in that it did stick but not like it was glued.  It just needed some persuasion.  I can do that.  I also got a metal spatula to supplement the trusty plastic one I’ve been using forever, so that should help matters along.

Cleanup was only a little more problematical but I have an ample supply of Bar Keepers Friend which did the job just fine after a soak in hot water.  Oh, and as a bonus, the lid from the old Calphalon seems to fit adequately well, so there’s that.

New Toy: Hanns-G HL273HPB 27″ Monitor [Updated 2015-09-17]

I’ve had an NEC AccuSync 120 for some years now.  It cost me a bundle and it was worth it.  Sure, it was large and heavy but it’s been a workhorse.  They don’t make ’em like they used to – literally, as they just don’t make CRT monitors any more.  They’re all flatscreens now, and I’ve avoided flatscreens for years.

It’s the viewing angle; it sucks.  I could be looking at my CRT monitor from a 75° angle and aside from the inherent geometric distortion in looking at it that way, the colors were spot-on, with no variation.  With these flatscreens I can bob my head whilst sitting in front of the thing and the colors change.  I’d hoped the relentless march of technology would put an end to this impediment but it looks like manufacturers have made only modest improvements; IPS technology is the current alternative but the slower response time seems like it would make for pretty crappy video performance.

Still, my old CRT was just that – old.  And it’s been showing it’s age.  Some moiré effect with certain colors which no amount of settings tweaking could eradicate, an almost imperceptible blurring when viewed up-close, and there there were the occasional fits of screensize twitching which made me think the old girl was on her way out, only to have it go away like nothing was the matter (“I’m fine now – really!”).  I knew it was time to start the process of assessing the market for a new toy.

That process concluded with my purchase of the Hanns-G HL273HPB, a 27″ LED LCD which has some nice specs, or at least so says the manufacturer.  I got it on “Cyber Monday” last year for what seemed like a good price for such a thing.

When it arrived I was a little disappointed; the colors were somewhat washed out.  After a day or two I played with the controls and found that the brightness was set by default to 100%; I backed it down to around 60% and, boy-o-boy, that did the trick.  The viewing angle is, well, sufficiently broad so as not to be problematical.

As a bonus, at last I’m able to hook my monitor up to my video card with a purely digital connection; since 2008 it’s been digital from the card but converted to analog for the old CRT.  It took me a while to figure out that I needed a DVI-I plug (amongst the pleothora of DVI variants), and once I hooked it up I could actually see an improvement.

[Update: 2015-09-17] This monitor worked well until today, and then *blink* it died this morning; it looks like the LED backlight gave out.  Disappointment – two years is an unacceptable lifespan.

New Toy: La Crosse 513-1211 Clock

I recently bought a couple of these La Crosse 513-1211 clocks  – one for my living area, one for my sleeping area – because, well, I have this clock-lust thing going on. I get an inordinate amount of satisfaction from a clock that tells me the right time.  Not some approximation; I mean the exact time.  Sure, the solution is a synchronized atomic clock, but the expense!  the maintenance hassle!  and they’re not exactly off-the-shelf at Amazon (yes, I’ve looked).  The next-best compromise is a clock which does the synchronization alone – every night, with the NIST broadcast time server (WWVB) in Fort Collins, Colorado.  My wristwatch does that (Casio Wave Ceptor DataBank 150) and it has given me much satisfaction.

I’ll give it this: setup was easy-peasy, and, well, these giant clocks do work.  The one in the living area synchs nightly, but the one in the sleeping area can sometimes get spotty, probably due its facing the wrong way (North, as opposed to West or East, in the direction of the tower).  The temperature readout is also accurate, and I’ve confirmed that by way of an independent measure (OK, I used a digital cooking thermometer in a glass of standing water).  The viewing angle is about what you’d expect, but without a tritium backlight it’s only good if the ambient light level is enough to read a book.  Of course, with a tritium backlight I’d want a sturdier case, and sadly the case of the clock is amazingly cheap-o for something so hideously expensive.  It’s made of easily smashable plastic, the battery contacts are standard, and everything about the build quality says the engineers were tasked with keeping the BoM low.

Oh, and it comes with an alarm function.  For a large, wall-mounted clock this seems superfluous, although it does have cheap-o little swing-out legs for standing it upright.  At any rate, with all the buttons on the back, I imagine silencing the alarm in the morning would be – challenging.

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is*?  Why, yes.  Yes, I do.