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Everything stated on this site is, of course, MY opinion / statement / thought, unless specifically stated otherwise. You knew that.

 

PLEASE NOTE: I'm *slowly* combining my blogs into this single site. If you are looking for Lotus Notes content from my old site, please EMAIL me at: jrlitton at gmail dot com and tell me the link or the content you were seeking. I will try to email you the content within a day.

- Joe

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Wednesday
Jan022019

Farewell 2018; Hello 2019

I'm dusting off the ol' blog. And wow , I see that it's been 2 years since I used this thing! Well, I'm working on some Google certifications and want to chronicle some of that (my Google Administrator certification expires in a few months and needs to be renewed, and I'm studying up for the Google Cloud Platform Architect cert). So yes, I'm still working as a geek, and hope to blog some about the latest forays in tech.

Shirley's dental tech contracting kind of dried up a few years ago. But she's been keeping uber-busy, caring for one or the other grandson for a number of hours a few days a week, and spending many, many hours each week using her extreme sewing skills for Days for Girls (if you're not familiar with the org, and I certainly was not, please do check the site; it is a truly amazing organization).

And we're both continuing to work on our fitness, and entering what I believe is our 9th year of veganism.
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But for this post, I'm mostly just tossing out some random bits as a summary of Litton life during 2018 (click on the thumbnail image to see any image larger). Here we go...

I find the Hawaiian language beautiful. In Jan 2018, I posted this attempt at singing in Hawaiian - a song that has been recorded by many Hawaiian artists. Vocal volume is a little low; maybe it's better that way ;) 
Wahine 'Ilikea ...Some of you know that I used to teach guitar lessons and play / sing in the bars at night (decades ago). I've now fallen in love with the ukulele and it has become my main instrument.

In Apr, a number of colleagues came to Tampa for some work meetings. This pic is of a couple of my fellow miscreants: Holger (originally from Germany, but now with our São Paulo, Brazil office), and Marie - from our Virginia office. Weather in many places in Feb is nasty, but this pic was taken at Mango's Tiki Bar nearby, whilst enjoying the Florida "winter" weather and a libation or two...

I also uploaded another uke video - my attempt to play one of my favorite instrumentals from Troy Fernandez (from his Kauau Crater Boys days): Guava Jam

And in April, Shirley taught me how to use the drill press. In her words, "Joe could've avoided his permanently disfigured broken finger last September (2017) if he'd only used the drill press, instead of a hand drill - which caught and wrenched his finger in a spiral. "OMG! That's SO easy!" he says. Yes. That's what I said last September."

 

 

 

 

 

A big highlight for the year for us was a trip to Ireland in May with friends Chris, Kelly, and Evan Collins. We stayed a couple of nights in Dublin, doing a Vegan Food Tour, the required tours of the Guinness brewery and of Jameson's, along with plenty of walking about and pub visits. Then it was up to Northern Ireland. Shirley and I took the train to Belfast, stopping for a few hours to do a tour to learn history of The Troubles and see and learn about the various murals about the city. Then train up to Coleraine and time with our good buddy Steve, who was kind enough to serve as tour kind for our band of misfits (the Collins family hired a car and drove up from Dublin). Steve is a wealth of information and history, and we are deeply grateful for the hospitality and kindness shown.

I'm short ...5' 4" (163cm). This door at The Brazen Head pub (est. 1198 in Dublin) is from back when folks were proper height and doors were made to fit :)

 

 

 

 

 

 


Steve suggested we book our stay at The Royal Court in Portrush up at top of the island. Here is one of the absolutely fantastic views of the North Atlantic from the hotel. We and the Collins gang used this as our base whilst exploring the beauty of the area.

 

 


There was so much beautiful scenery, it's a bit terrible to only include a pic or two. This one is Dunluce Castle, which was amazing to explore.

 

 

 


I'm pretty sure law dictates that one must visit the Giant's Causeway at least once in one's lifetime. Here are Shirley and I standing on part of the famous rock formations. Yes, I married a taller woman; the camera angle may exaggerate the difference (slightly).

 

 

 

After Northern Ireland, we parted ways with the Collins clan and took a train down to Dublin, hired a car and drove down to spend the night at Kinnitty Castle (of course, making stops along the way, including a slight detour to see Trim Castle.  

Kinnity Castle. How cool is that, staying a night in a castle?

 

 

 

 

 

This is what my eyes saw when waking in the mornning in our upper floor ("attic") room. Absolutely lovely!

 

 

 

 

Then it was back up to Dublin and back home. But ... before leaving Dublin, we had an afternoon and evening, since we weren't leaving until the next morning. So we had some drinks at Darkey Kelly's and enjoyed the original songs of Tony Floyd Kenna and friends (and he was kind enough to invite me to do a few tunes, and Shirley sang harmony on the first one - so she is now an international performer). Good times!

Tony getting started early in the evening. The place filled up, so we were grateful that bartender Mo reserved us a spot (we'd been there for a couple of hours earlier in the day before popping back to our hotel a couple of doors down to rest up for the evening).

 

 

 

We pretty much spent June missing Ireland. But I went back for a long weekend in Sept to do a marathon (hiked it) along the Causeway Coast. More on that and a few other bits in another post. I want to at least get this much posted.
Cheers :)

Monday
Dec192016

We've Cut the Cord

For quite some time, we've been paying US$194 per month to the local cable company for TV and Internet services. It's the same exact amount each month (to be precise, it's been $193.92. We also have an Amazon Prime membership which includes some video streaming, but I don't include that in the total, since we'd signed up with Prime early on - before they included any media. And we subscribe to Netflix, so that adds $10.69 (including tax) to the monthly bill. So our total for connection and content has been $204.61.

That is WAY too much! I've loosely explored cord-cutting (dropping Cable TV) in the past, but I finally decided that we needed to get this expense reduced appreciably.

Many friends and family shared ideas and experiences, and the Internet provided far too many choices regarding just how one might do this.

Our requirements:

  • Be able to watch local broadcast channels - the local affiliates of the big networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, PBS)

  • Be able to record shows from those channels

  • Be able to watch English Premier football (soccer)

  • Have access to a number of cable channels that we enjoy (e.g., HGTV, DIY, Comedy Central, Travel Channel, etc)

  • Ideally be able to record some of the streaming content from those cable channels

  • Access to HBO

  • Fairly easy to use. For us, this means some type of system where I can write up a little cheat sheet - a card I'd print about the size of an index card - to indicate how to watch or record which type of content

 

I'm not going to list everything we researched. A quick web search will give you more than you probably have time to read. For us, the system we've implemented is comprised of the following pieces:

The above are one-time purchases. Monthly costs are:

  • Broadband Internet service - 100Mbps, with wifi. ($64)
    Once I configure our own wifi I'll drop that little bit of the service, and the rate will be $60/month

  • DirecTVNow - 100 channels plus HBO ($43 - including tax)
    This is the various cable channels we like, including the NBC channels that show English Premier League. As a bonus for us - since AT&T is our mobile service provider - we can stream any of the content on our phones for zero data charge.

  • Netflix ($10.69)

So the bottom line:

  • We were paying $206.61 per month

  • We'll now pay $113.69 per month (soon as I configure our own wifi)

  • SAVINGS: $92.92 per month. That's not quite my dream of saving $100/month, but pretty dang close!

The one-time purchases total at $440. WIth monthly savings of $92, that means that in just under 5 months, the savings will have covered the cost of the new bits, and thereafter we save $92 per month.

Additional details:

  • The HD antenna is mounted in a window in an upstairs bedroom (we live in an attached home - 8 townhomes per building. The bedroom that we use as a fitness room had the best reception). This antenna brings in High Definition broadcasts from the local network affiliates. I drilled a hole through the exterior wood-frame wall of the bedroom upstairs, bored a hole through the masonry wall downstairs, and then routed a coax cable from inside the bedroom, out the wall, along the ceiling, down the exterior wall, and into the living area to hook to the TV. I already had the tools to put the ends on a coax cable, the hammer drill to bore through the stucco and cement block, various caulk and fasteners, etc. If one did not have those tools, it would have been a very challenging task.

  • PlayOn TV was a one-time lifetime license. The software is Windows only, and requires a PC with a quad processor and enough disk space to store recordings. My main PC has a peppy CPU, 32GB of RAM, 1TB hard drive internal, and multiple external, so that's no worries. I've set up a few shows to record automatically (Big Bang Theory, Daily Show with Trevor Noah, etc), and that works quite well. We can manage the recordings from an app on our Android phones (I assume they have iOS apps as well), and can stream to the TV via Chromecast (we already had the Chromecast)

  • TiVo has multiple models, and multiple competitors. The Roamio works with the HD antenna, also works similar to a Roku for managing streamed content from Amazon, Netflix, etc), and the $350 price we paid include lifetime TiVo guide subscription, so it is truly a one-time payment.

  • DirecTVNow can be accessed on PC, Tablet, or phone. It does not work on our Chromebooks, and I've complained to them about that. It's $35 for 100 channels. HBO is $5/month (as is Showtime if one wanted that). This is an introductory offer, since the streaming version of the product has not been around more than a couple of months; "full" price will be $60 I believe. They say that those who sign on for the intro deal will keep the lower pricing. They also say that they'll have Roku compatibility very soon; that'd be nice, as we currently stream via Chromecast, and direct ethernet connection from router to Roku and then HDMI to TV would be ideal. And they're supposed to offer a DVR feature sometime in 2017 -- which I interpret to mean by 31st Dec 2017 :)

The TiVo remote also controls TV power, and allows us to control the volume (via our Yamaha amplifier). But we do still need to use the Yamaha remote to switch among HDMI feeds (TiVo, Chromecast, Roku, DVD player). It's not absolutely ideal but still pretty easy.

In our case, we typically only watch TV in the main room. We don't have a TV In the bedroom, and the TV in the "Dungeon" (the upstairs exercise room) is used mainly to play workout DVDs. But I will hook up another Chromecast to that one so that I can watch football (soccer) matches whilst running on the treadmill. Others will have different needs, their own preferred solution, their own budget. But at present, I am extremely happy to have made the decision and cut the cord!

Pics:
That white rectangle in the top left of the window is the HD antenna. I do still need to fasten the antenna cable to the window well and do a few other finishing bits.

 The box on the bottom right with the green light is the TiVo Roamio.

Here's the antenna cable (coax extension) out the upstairs wall and along the roof...

 

And now ...time to pour a beverage and kick back :)

 

Friday
Feb052016

In search of the perfect smartwatch

Oh, and I'm possibly getting back to blogging :)

I currently own and use several wrist-worn devices, including (left to right) 3 watches: a Pebble, a Mio Alpha, and a Polar -- and my Fitbit Flex:

This is rather ridiculous. The Pebble is my daily wear watch, as it displays the time, and offers notifications from various phone apps (caller id, text messages, Facebook, etc.). The Mio watch is a fantastic heart rate monitor for running and biking - but is terrible for weighlifting and HIIT workouts (Hi-Intensity Interval Training). So for non-running workouts, I have a chest strap heart monitor that works in conjunction with the Polar watch.

The Fitbit Flex is very simple; the "display" is just 5 dots. The more dots that display, the closer I am to my daily goal of 10,000 steps. And I love the vibrating alarm that will wake me without disturbing my wife. There's also quite a bit that I can track via a phone app (or web app). But even after the years that I've had the Fitbit, I still struggle to master just how to properly activate it to see my progress; it requires some magical sequence of just the right tap-tap-tapping - and perhaps burning some sage or something. I rely more on the phone app to view / manage Fitbit data and functions.

And so, even though each of these has value in its own right, I wonder if technology has yet reached the point where I can find my ideal watch / fitness band. My requirements (in particular order):

  • Android compatible. I am not at all an Apple fan, and will only consider something from Apple if it interfaces flawlessly with Android and does not require me to have any manner of Apple account or iTunes, etc.
  • Displays the time
  • Allows me to change the watchfaces at will. I prefer an analog clockface most often, but at night prefer a digital display
  • Backlight
  • Audible and vibrating notifications, with the ability to manage those the same as I do on the phone. For example, I'd want the morning alarm to be vibrating only. Most notifications, if active, should be silent and without vibration, but I'd want calls / texts from certain Contacts to be able to alert me with an audible tone and/or vibration
  • Step-tracker
  • Caller ID
  • Mic and speaker. Yes, I want the Dick Tracy watch phone :) And I want to be able to say, "OK Google, send a text to so-and-so", and speak my message
  • Reliable heart rate monitor for running, walking, resting, and HIIT workouts
  • Ability to view / manage data via phone app and via web app
  • Battery that lasts at least a day (if quick-charge is available), or a battery that needs only infrequent changing.
  • Water resistant. Water proof would be nice, but I mostly just want something that is sweat proof, and can handle being out in a Florida tropical rainstorm.

Nice to have would be GPS, compatibility with Runtastic, and some manner of social networking (I really like the Fitbit community features).

SO ... I'll be doing my own research of course, but I am eager to hear from others. Anyone have any rave reviews to share - or any horror stories?

Saturday
Jan032015

Best heart rate monitor for running: MIO ALPHA

I've been using heart rate monitors for years when working out. Until purchasing the Mio ALPHA almost 6 months ago, a chest strap was always part of the solution. The problem was that the chest strap - regardless of the brand / model (various Timex and Polar and perhaps other) would always give out within 6 months or less. This was not a case of the battery needing replacement, as I'd typically have to change the battery more often than that. The strap was, I think, basically killed by my profuse and corrosive sweat :)

Aside from the hassle of having to replace the straps, I hated wearing the chest strap on long runs (which is when I most wanted the heart monitor to function). I'd constantly have to be adjusting the strap, and sometimes they seemed to just get too soaked or otherwise decide to stop transmitting to the watch.

Then my geek buddy Stephen Wissel told me about the Mio. Stephen (a German in Singapore) rides his bike. A LOT! And he'd been using a MIO for a while. This device has been glorious for me. It requires no chest strap, instead magically detecting one's pulse using LEDs and an "electro-optical cell". OK, I don't really understand how it works, but I find it very comfortable, I no longer hassle with chest straps, the watch is easy to recharge (every couple of weeks for me, although I could probably let it go longer between charges), and for my monthly half marathon races, it has performed flawlessly.

My only complaint is that when I'm doing weight-lifting or HIIT workouts, it doesn't seem able to keep detecting my pulse. I think there's too much wrist movement. Experimentation with location and snugness of the watch has still not yielded the desired results. But that's OK. I mainly use the watch to let me know when I need to slow down a little in order to make through a long run without running out of gas!

At the end of each workout, I can review the duration of the workout, the average heartrate, and the amount of time during which I was exercising within my desired range. I then enter those stats into a spreadsheet where I track my workouts. Yeah ...kinda geeky.

Friday
Jan102014

Washer Repair: $170 for the part. At least saved paying a service fee.

Yup, constant party here. Friday night, so took a little time out to fix the washer. It's a Maytag Model MAH5500BWW , a front loading machine that has been great for 10-15 years (we're not sure just when we invested in high quality laundry gear). But early this week it started getting wonky. The signal (the beep of selectable volume and tone that can be set to sound when a load of wash is done) started having a mind of its own. It would randomly sound different tones when we were running the washer, and then started doing it even when the machine was turned off - as long as it was plugged in. It didn't matter if we turned the signal off; it would come back on in mere moments.

These machines are quite modular. The downside of that is that when something like this goes wrong, one must replace a large (spendy) component. The upside is that this means that the repair is quick and easy. SO... I ordered a new Touchpad and Control Panel from RepairClinic.com http://www.repairclinic.com/PartDetail/Touchpad-and-Control-Panel/22003238/824620 

Yes, it was US$163 plus shipping, but they sent it right away, it arrived today, and as the pictures show, the repair was, indeed, fast and simple. We've got a load of laundry running now with zero problems :)

Here's the patient before surgery. YES, I disconnected it from power before mucking with it.

Using a little mirror, I was able to locate the 4 small Phillips screws holding the plastic housing to the base, and the 2 smaller hex head screws holding a metal panel to the rear. All 6 had to be removed.

With the screws removed, the Touchpad could be pushed back to free it from the base, and then tilted forward to rest on top of the washer.

After removing 4 more Phillips screws, and unplugging the modular connector ribbon, the Control Board could be separated from the Touchpad / Control Panel. 

Then it was just a matter of attaching the Control Board to the new Panel, reattaching the ribbon cable, fitting the new Panel back onto the base, screwing the metal plate (2 small hex screws) into the rear of the base, and screwing the 4 Phillips screws back into the top of the base. Plugged it in and it's working like a champ again :)