Apr 6 2013

Nice move Home Owners Insurance

Last year’s premium: $1076.00
This year’s premium: $1428.00

That’s a 33% increase year over year. I called up MetLife and asked them what the reason for the increase was. I was told that 1) 6-7% account for inflation and 2) insurance premiums in New Mexico were “adjusted”. Funny that they are always “adjusted” upwards and never downwards.


Mar 19 2013

Not going to run out of disk space anytime soon

Yes, I admit it openly: I’m a hoarder – data hoarder that is.

Weeks ago the 3 terabytes in one of my servers were 90% consumed. Yes, there is lots of junk on it, but also a lot of data that I want to keep. The server is accessible from all devices in the home network and I make good use of it. I always eyed a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device as a remedy to my storage requirements. With the new job (more on that in another post) I also get to juggle with more data than ever before. Just to give you an idea: the main database I’m dealing with on a daily basis is around 9GB and I have multiple versions of it around.

My employer agreed to purchase a Drobo 5N NAS for me. All I needed to do was to fill it with disks. I purchased 4 3TB Seagate disks (Barracuda ST3000DM001 to be precise) and stuffed them into the unit. Because of the way that the Drobo handles disks and disk space, I ended up with a bit over 8TB as usable space. After some spring cleaning I also shrunk the data from the server down to a more manageable 1.5TB.

So far the NAS has been working flawlessly and I get close to the maximum transfer speed I can get on a Gigabit network.

drobo


Mar 18 2013

pfsense gateway grouping

Why didn’t I do this sooner? I have two (wireless) Internet connections here at home: one through Cybermesa and another one through CNSP (yeah, Santa Fe ISPs do not care about their web presence ;-) ).

My main router in the garage has two network interfaces. One of them receives the Cybermesa connection and the 2nd interface is serving the home network. This router is also running pfSense.

Up until this morning the CNSP connection ended up serving a wireless access point, which I could reach from the house.

At any time you could either be connected to Cybermesa or CNSP, but not both of them at the same time.

gateway-grouping

The router happens to have a wireless card built-in. This card is usually used to create an access point directly on the router. I never used it, because I already had a different wireless network setup. However that card can also be run in “Infrastructure” (BSS) mode, which allows pfSense to use a wireless signal just like another cable, DSL, etc. connection.

That coupled with pfSense’s “gateway grouping” allows me now to connect to both ISPs at the same time from the same router. The result is a load-balanced dual connection with fail-over capabilities or in other words: when one connection is busy, the other one is used. If one connection goes down, then all traffic is automatically routed over the other connection.

And the most beautiful thing is that it happens for all devices in my home without any further modifications.

Yep – I’m a geek sometimes …


Feb 5 2013

The Receipt

I just got my new PNM electricity bill. For the first time in more than a year I owe them money (it’s usually a refund because of the solar installation). Here’s the receipt for running fans and de-humidifiers in my home for about a week:

pnm


Feb 4 2013

Automatically arm/disarm motion/sound detection on the Foscams

I mentioned recently that I installed some new wireless cameras to “see” future water leaks earlier, especially when I’m away from home.

Those cameras offer actually quite a nice set of additional features. Two of them being: motion and sound detection. You can setup the cameras to automatically send emails (with camera snapshots attached) whenever the cameras “hear” or “see” something. That’s great, because then they can act like a security system as well.

Only problem is that you need to remember to turn on motion/sound detection when you leave the house and also remember to turn it off when you return to the house. Ok, so make it a habit to change the setup of the cameras upon departure/arrival. Here’s the next problem: it takes too long. If you logon to each individual camera and change the alarm settings, it takes entering username/password and several clicks to arm/disarm. Way too much work:

alarm

I looked at several Android Apps (tinyCam Monitor among them), but they also don’t seem to make “arm/disarm cameras” a single-click option.

I ended up reverse-engineering the Foscam camera protocol and created two simple scripts, which would automatically arm/disarm the cameras. Part 1 was done.

Next I needed a solution that would execute those scripts automatically. For that I installed the (excellent) AutomateIt app on my Samsung Galaxy SIII. AutomateIt allows you to have your device automatically execute certain actions when a specific event is detected. Most often this is used to lower the volume when earplugs are connected, switch off the ringer during the night, etc.

However it also has a “proximity” event. This event is fired when you get close to a location or leave an area. I defined my home as the proximity location, created one action that is executed when I leave my home and another one that is executed when I get close to my home:

device-2013-02-04-100547

device-2013-02-04-100621

Now all I have to remember is to bring my mobile phone whenever I leave the house. And that’s something my 45+ y/o brain can handle.


Feb 1 2013

Dream vs. Reality

I dream about school ever once in a while: forgot to do my home work, forgot to study for a test, sitting naked in class and nobody else notices – the usual. Early this morning I had another dream about school. I don’t remember the details, but when I woke up I could vaguely remember that it had to do something with school.

Imagine how surprised I was, when this was the first e-mail message I found in my Inbox:

new teacher

For a moment I really wondered whether I was still dreaming …

I let Janet know that I won’t be attending class anytime soon ;-)


Jan 28 2013

I hear you want to send Euros to the US

euroYes? Then you may want to follow my roller coaster ride.

My story starts before our Germany trip when my parents tell me they have some Euros that they want Pia and I to have as a gift. Thank you very much! Now how do we get the money from Germany into my US bank account?

Attempt #1: We had used wire transfers in the past and my mom tries to send the money using the exact same instructions we had used successfully before. This happened in advance of our trip and mom is annoyed with me that I don’t tell her about the arrival of the funds. I check all possible accounts and even call E*Trade to find out where the money is. It’s nowhere to be found, but returns a little while later back into my mom’s account, because the “recipient’s account (mine) cannot be located”.

So what worked before suddenly no longer works. Mom and I talk on the phone and agree to tackle the problem once we get there. Keep in mind that sending the money and returning the money costs fees each way, so mom receives less money in her account after the ordeal is over.

Attempt #2: Paypal! Let’s use Paypal! Dad loves Paypal for everything he does on EBay and I see that “Send Money” on the site offers a “Personal” category, which allows you to send gifts. The difference between “Purchase” and “Personal” is in the percentage that Paypal takes as a cut (2.9% vs. 3.9% – see here).

paypal

Problem is that the “Personal” option does not appear on the German version of Paypal. We agree to do a test transfer just to see what percentage would be charged.

Sure enough the test shows that 3.9% are taken and after emailing Paypal customer support we hear that “Personal” transfers from Europe to the US are not yet available (funny enough the first time we contact customer support, the agent is surprised about the 3.9% himself and thinks there is a bug).

So I reject the test transfer and 5 days later (!) my dad’s money is back at Paypal.

Scratch that idea, let’s just get the cash from the bank and we’ll take the bills with us. We verify that I’m allowed to bring the amount of Euros back into the States.

Now fast forward to the present. I’m back in Santa Fe with Euros in my wallet and no local bank account.

Attempt #3: As I always wanted to have a local bank account as a backup, I head over to Del Norte Credit Union last week. I open a savings/checking combo (can’t just have a checking account by itself) without any problems. When the teller asks me for my minimum deposit of $5, I tell her that I have a bit more and present her with the Euro bills. “We don’t do foreign currency exchange!” is the next thing I hear. “I thought you are a bank?” I respond. Not in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that a bank does not do foreign currency exchange. I submit and tell the lady I would try to exchange the funds elsewhere and then deposit them.

Attempt #4: Same day I run over to the nearest Wells-Fargo branch and ask them if they can exchange the money for me. I’m told that only the main branch on Washington Ave. will do exchanges. Running out of time that day and decide to take care of it this week.

Attempt #5: It is Monday morning and I enter the main Wells-Fargo branch with my cash. A display shows their buy/sell rates. Official exchange rate: 1 euro = $1.34. We sell: 1 euro = $1.41. We buy: 1 euro = $1.25. Say WHAT? That’s a whopping 7% deduction! WTF?!?! Knowing that all banks will be in sync with the exchange rate I go ahead and initiate the exchange.

Here’s what the lady wants to know: two forms of ID, address, phone number, Social Security Number – I feel like a drug lord attempting to launder money from a recent coke deal. On top of the less than favorable “buy” rate I’m also assessed a $5 fee for the transaction. Whatever!

She counts the bills and punches the total into the computer. A second later she turns to her supervisor and asks him over for assistance. I’m informed that the amount of money I’m trying to exchange crosses a certain threshold and that they can only exchange X dollars worth of Euros, with X being 2/3rd of what I have. “What do we do now?” I ask. “You can make two transactions.” I hear. “And you’re charging me the $5 twice?” I ask. “Yes” is the response. “Nope – I’ll go elsewhere” is the last thing they hear from me before I grab my useless bundle of Euro bills and head out.

Attempt #6: I head down the road to US Bank, because they are close by. After waiting in line for a while, I ask them about foreign currency exchange and they say “No, we don’t do it, but you could try Wells Fargo bank just up the road”. I think my face shows the frustration …

Attempt #7: Why didn’t I think of this sooner? Bank of America. AMERICA. They should be able to help me. Right? I enter the sacred halls at the corner of Paseo and St. Francis. “Foreign Currency Exchange?” – “Sure!” – “You have a limit of X dollars?” – “No!” – my faith in BofA is restored. Why did I not come here in the first place?

It’s the first time the teller sees Euros and she pulls up the cheat sheet “how to tell if those bills are not fake” on her screen. Each bill is inspected and found to be original.

Half way through the process she asks me for my bank card. “What bank card?” I ask. “The one for your BofA account” she responds. When I tell her (and her supervisor who has joined us already) that I don’t have an account, I’m informed that only BofA account holders can exchange money.

“Fuck it!” I think, “well, then let me open an account” I say. “You can’t exchange the money on the same day you open an account” is the next statement I hear. This is followed by my puzzled “Why”, which in turn gets a “Bank policy” response.

Again I grab my envelope with the Euro bills and leave the premises.

Attempt #8: In my mind I already picture myself doing the exchange during an upcoming trip to the San Francisco Bay Area in February in hopes that the banks there would be more accommodating.
As a last resort I go over to Los Alamos National Bank on Cerrillos Road. Everything works out there, but only because our Home Owners Association has an account which I have signature authority to. If it wasn’t for that account, I would have been allowed to exchange up to a max of $1000 per transaction.

I finally got the funds exchanged, still at the dismal rate of $1.25 per Euro. Per http://www.oanda.com/currency/converter/ even the Exchange Sharks at European airports charge less than that.

In the future I’ll make sure to exchange the money in Europe and only import US$, because that’s all banks here seem to be able to deal with.


Jan 26 2013

No more leak surprises (I hope)

My home is still a freaking mess: walls are cut open, it’s dusty everywhere, furniture has been moved to other rooms and what’s left in the living/dining room is covered in plastic wrap. The latter makes a really nice crumbly, swooshy sound whenever the slightest draft hits it.

I was really lucky that the leak was detected early and that the pipe did not burst completely. Had water leaked at full speed, the damage would have been considerably more severe.

The insurance adjuster was here on Thursday, surveyed the damage and what has been done already. He took tons of photos and measurements and will compile a report that, along with the remediation company’s estimate, will be presented to the insurance company. That should happen early next week; then we can finally start patching the holes, stucco the affected areas, re-finish the concrete floor and bring back the rugs. I’m not holding my breath that this all will be done by the end of next week, but we’ll see.

While still in Germany, I vowed that this would not happen again and in case it should happen again, that I would be able to detect a leak sooner during my absence.

Step 1 is completed: I added two wireless cameras which I can access remotely. The cameras can be panned and tilted and allow me to survey a large area of my home. They even support remote audio, which allows me to hear what’s going in the house (wonder if I would have heard the wooshing of the water). Here are two snapshots of the cameras:

cam1

cam2

The first image shows the situation in my “living” room.

Motion and sound detection will be activated whenever I leave the home for a longer period. This means that if the cameras detect motion in my home or “hear” something, I’ll automatically get snapshots from the cameras sent to my primary email address. This will even work in the dark, because the cameras operate in the Infrared spectrum as well. If you’re interested, the cameras are Foscam FI8910W models.

Step 2 will be completed once the dust settles (literally). I will ask the plumber to install a new water meter in my utility closet in the garage. The Aquacue barnacle, which currently sits in our well house, will be attached to that new water meter. I will also install an automatic water shut-off valve that detects continuous flow for a certain period and automatically shuts off the water main. Some solutions are listed here: http://www.plumbingsupply.com/prevent_water_damage.html.

That should do it!


Jan 25 2013

Pia’s Germany Presentation part II

A few days ago I shared Pia’s prezi about Germany. This morning she presented in front of her class. To make it as authentic as possible, she even wore her Bavarian Dress (“Dirndl” is what it is called in Bavaria). Her voice is a bit on the soft side, so you may have to crank up the volume:


Jan 22 2013

Dragon Box

There are tons of educational titles on the Apple iTunes store and Google’s Play Store for Android. A long time ago I read a review of “Dragon Box” and bookmarked it. While we were in Germany I actually purchased the app and installed it on Pia’s iPad. Dragon Box is a Math Game. Kids are gently introduced to Algebra and get to solve equations. In the beginning you solve equations using pictures and as you hit the more advanced levels the pictures are replaced by numbers and variables:

dragonbox

In the above, you have to try to have “x” alone on one side of the equation.

Pia mastered this in no time. She finished the standard package already and is almost done with the bonus package. She did not know that she was solving equations, but something will be stuck in her head and will help her to find easy access to Algebra.

Dragon Box gets my “highly recommended” if you’re looking for that kind of app.


Jan 22 2013

Pia’s Germany Presentation

For school Pia had to prepare a presentation about a country where her ancestors came from. She got the assignment when we were still in Germany, so it made sense to do the presentation about Germany as well. My brother reminded me about prezi.com and we created a short presentation there, because I was tired of using PowerPoint all the time. Here’s the result (you may want to go full-screen using the rectangle button on the bottom right):


Jan 14 2013

Really? Sigh …

As you can tell from my previous post, I’m not currently in Santa Fe. I’m not at my house. And it is very cold. Here’s a view of my living room from Sunday afternoon:

And a view of the entrance area from Sunday evening (hint: the blue things and the holes in the walls are not part of my normal decoration):

The freezing temperatures caused a water pipe going to an outside spigot to burst. Instead of just wasting water to the outside (and potentially creating a beautiful ice sculpture), the water longed for warmer temperatures a decided to flood the house instead. Oakley noticed it (thank god!) when she returned to check on my house. She called in the water damage troops and they did not waste time and attempted to dry out the house as quickly as possible. Yesterday the plumber was here and he fixed the root problem and tomorrow (my today) they start patching things up again.

I mentioned over email that I feel like watching a bad horror movie where your own home gets dismantled and you can’t do anything about it. Not a good way to start the new year, but I’m grateful that I had somebody check on the house and act fast to try and minimize damage. Thanks Oakley!

On a positive note, it seems to have paid off to invest some time and thought into my document filing process. While in Europe I wanted to give my Homeowners insurance a heads-up about the damage. Normally an insurance policy is something that’s buried deeply in a filing cabinet in your home. As I scan, convert-to-PDF, full-text index and store on Google Docs all incoming paper/electronic documents, I found the latest revision of the policy within a few minutes and was able to contact them with my policy information (the blue thumbnail below is for the latest version of the policy from 05/2012). I have not heard back from them, but that’s a different story.

gdocs-docs


Jan 14 2013

Pia (and I) in Germany

piaingermany

Pia and I are currently in Germany for my mom’s 70th birthday in a few days. As school started already I did not want her to miss too much of class and asked her teacher to send us homework assignments via email. That seems to work pretty well. On top of that I offered that Pia (and I) would write a blog entry for every day of our trip. If you’re interested, you can see the entries at http://piaingermany.wordpress.com/.


Dec 30 2012

Dell Inspiron 2330 Intel HD Graphics Adapter Weirdness

Our kitchen PC died a few weeks ago. It was a Sony All-In-One Vaio, which we purchased (refurbished) almost 7 years ago. It had a good run and worked just fine in the old home in Tesuque as well as my current home. One day Pia fired it up and it shut down immediately. Any attempt to resurrect it was fruitless and we considered it a complete loss. I still have to rip out the old harddisk to get some stuff of it, but otherwise it’s going to see the PC recycle center soon.

We started to shop for a replacement, because the PC was an essential tool in the kitchen. Netflix for Pia’s entertainment and web browsing in general for the rest of the family. I honed in on a Dell Inspiron 2330, because Sam’s Club offered it for $300 under Dell’s list price.
On 12/23 the new member joined the family and everything was fine initially. That was until I ran Windows Update. Something was installed that made the unit forget about the graphics driver. At times it would boot up and show a screen resolution 1024 * 768 (1920 * 1080 is the preferred resolution). Going to Win8′s Device Manager would either show a missing graphics driver or a “Unknown Device”. The graphics driver was partially (broken) installed and only reinstalling the driver would fix things (until the next reboot). This appeared in the System Event Viewer (“Installation Failure: Windows failed to install the following update with error 0x800F0217: Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. – Graphics Adapter WDDM1.2 – Intel(R) HD Graphics.” to make Google index the words):

winupdate

Some update was trying to install, but it did not succeed and left the system in a state where no graphics driver was loaded and were stuff was displayed “black letters on a black background” – in other words, a hard reboot was required to show something on the screen.

I just spent quite some time with Dell Support and was quite surprised how knowledgeable the other party was. We looked over a ton of things and attempted to diagnose the problem. While on the call, I realized that MS had labelled a graphics driver update as important. It’s this one:

update

This update was downloaded soon after I got the PC. Every time Windows Udpate ran, the OS tried to reinstall this driver and it failed (see Event entry above). I right-clicked on the update and selected “Hide Update” (and did the same with another AMD display driver update in the Optional section). Since then we are good: no longer does the PC lose its display driver information and it survives reboots just fine.


Dec 28 2012

Google Voice transcribes German …

My brother left a message in German/Bavarian on the phone. Google Voice transcribed it. We laughed – a lot!

gvoice