Quarterly inventory – 2023 Q3

Dear FutureMe,

Today would be a good day to do a quarterly inventory.

How is your personal life going?

How is your work life going?

How is your Volunteer Service life going?

Personal Life

Not really a whole lot going on. My mom did want to move in to a senior assisted living facility, so we took a tour and got a complimentary lunch. However, the place charges $8,000 per month which is $96,000 per year (and the move-in fee is one month’s rent, so $104,000 for the first year). Although my mom has some money, this was too rich for her blood. The residents we met loved the place. They say it is like a cruise ship that is parked. I was mildly interested to see if they are publicly traded, but alas they are not. Their headquarters are in Seattle WA, but they are privately held.

Happy that I have a Nextcloud server running on a tiny PC here at home. I had to configure pfSense to do Dynamic DNS to map the server name to my home IP address. The Internet gateway had to be beaten into submission to pass outside traffic in: pfSense had to carefully map the listening IP address and port (with an SSL upgrade) on the public Internet to the inside address and port. Running physical hardware is I think a better option than renting a Linode. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Linode running my email server on my own domain. But for serving up a calendar, address book, to-do list and media files – oh so many media files – the Linode would have been rather expensive. $110 later, I’ve got a (refurbished) 16 GB RAM Intel Core i5 running a cool 12 watts at idle. Storage is over on the Synology NAS (not exposed to the Internet). 12 watts isn’t as low as a Raspberry Pi, but still, it’s pretty good.

FINALLY! My new cell phone has an address book with entries. The entries are stored on the Nextcloud server, which is nice. I’m having to use Nextcloud email to get access to the address book contacts; and I’d prefer Roundcube, but that they are there at all is good. When I added them to Nextcloud email, it did create Birthday entries on my calendar which is sweet.

I’ve been trying to get Home Assistant, running on a Raspberry Pi 4, to connect to the files on the Synology, but it doesn’t work. I’m pretty sure it is that the Synology requires SMB 3, and Home Assistant isn’t specifying vers=3.0 correctly. It could be something else though, which is extremely frustrating that I cannot tell what the hell is what.

Been playing a lot of Factorio. Did get Elder Axe’s blueprint used and fully implemented; it is probably the best blueprint I’ve used so far. That said, it is missing a few assembly machines, and only has a single yellow science and a single purple science, so progress toward artillery was extremely slow. Bulked up my defenses and let the game run over night and during the day when I’m not at home. Still needed to manually craft some materials (low density structures) for yellow science bottles to be produced in less than a week’s time.

Work Life

The email retention project will soon be winding down. There was some kerfuffle because Opentext (who bought Micro Focus and GWAVA, who bought Attachmate, who bought Novell) wants to increase the yearly charge a huge amount, and we have documentation that their records are screwed up. They are claiming some people are new, when I show we paid for them three years ago, so they are not new. The whole mess though did kick us in the butt to export everything out of the server so we can power it down and delete it. That would free up 15 TB of storage, which is a reasonably large amount.

I did get to fix a broken system where server templates run a script on startup that send an email to a Mediawiki server, and the body of the email becomes the documentation for the new server in the wiki. Fixing that was cool, because it was a nice feature way back when, to get some documentation simply because the new box powered up and asked the server team member to answer a few questions. It’s not 100% solid though, as I just learned of two servers, and they are not in the wiki. 🙁

Volunteer Service Life

I’ve registered for a couple conferences; one is out of town with a hotel/motel. I also get to go to an Election Assembly, although a friend booked the motel. I’ll drive as we carpool three people. I get to man a Public Information booth at a health fair here in a couple days. One person on the Board of Directors for our local 501(c)(3) is ineligible to run, and another has announced that he may not run for health reasons. That leaves me and two others as elected members. Maybe one other person is interested in running? I also attended a technology workshop via Zoom, and heard that apparently I’m a “dark knight”. I’ve done technological stuff (it’s just WordPress), so like a knight, I’ve shown up to save the day: but I’m a dark knight because zero other people understand the dark arts I’m using to keep the website running. Did I mention that it’s just WordPress? But if I were to get hit by a bus, people might feel helpless to continue on (which would be a shame, since it’s just WordPress).

At Microsoft, some stupid people are in charge

I got prompt to try out the New Outlook (preview release). Sure, why not? Probably some of our clients are going to upgrade, and it would be good to know ahead of time what they will encounter.

I chose the button to “switch” and got a prompt to import the old settings. Sure, go for it. I got a progress bar as it imported.

I don’t know if Microsoft invented the progress bar; probably it was on the Apple Lisa (and before that, the Xerox Alto). The first one I ever saw was on Windows, though. They are fundamentally a good idea, and a kindness to the user. “We know this is taking a while, so here’s an estimate of how long it’s going to take, with real time updates.”

And they can be tough to do, too. The amount of time it takes to project when a thing is done isn’t necessarily known ahead of time. Just figuring how long something might take could be as long as simply doing the thing. If you have to traverse a list to find out how long the list is, and the amount of time to work on each item in the list is small, you might have been better off just working the list in the first traversal, and not bothering with the progress bar.

Turns out, the “progress bar” in the new Outlook import settings dialog box is not a progress bar at all. It’s a flag wave. It does nothing except to waste your time and try to keep your attention.

Back in the 1990’s, there was a Spanish language television show, the Xuxa Show, which used to employ people to stand in the background and slowly wave flags. That’s all they did. You could tell the flag wavers were bored. They needed to keep the flags (slowly) waving, but they brought nothing to the show except (visual) background noise. It was known that people’s attention can be grabbed by seeing movement. Since the show was aimed at children, the audience was known to have short attention spans. How to increase attention? Wave a flag.

It’s stupid, but it works.

Someone at Microsoft decided that this import settings dialog box should have a flag wave; but wait – we’ll make it even better: we’ll disguise it as a progress bar!

The flag wave kind of an insult to the audience though. You aren’t worth actual content, but we want to keep you staring at the screen, so here’s a waving flag. I also see this in a lot of news type television shows, where the camera slowly slides around or gradually zooms in. It’s like the Ken Burn’s Effect, except they attempt to be so slow that you don’t notice it consciously. When I do notice it, I’m annoyed. It’s a cheap trick and an insult.

So I’m annoyed that someone at Microsoft proposed a flag wave instead of a progress bar, and, they disguised it as a progress bar, and no-one at Microsoft has enough respect for their end users to say “stop it!”

Quarterly Inventory

The time frame is October through December 2022

Dear FutureMe,

Today would be a good day to do a quarterly inventory.

How is your personal life going?

How is your work life going?

How is your volunteer service life going?

Personal Life:

  • Amazon Echo purge
    • I decided to abandon Amazon Alexa because they insisted on pushing advertising into my morning wake up routine. My morning wake up routine exists because I want to wake up grateful and happy. Playing a wake up song and then violating my peace with your advertising produces anger, not peace and grattitude. so, I’m out. I unplugged all my Amazon Echo devices and sought replacements.
      • Mycroft was no good.
        • The Raspberry Pi image they have doesn’t do audio levels right.
        • They have a terribly overpriced Raspberry Pi which does, so maybe that’s why the community version sucks.
        • They require a cloud login to use the service. Not a fan.
      • Apple Homekit is not great.
        • The microphone on the HomePod mini is super sensitive, which would be good if the software behind it wasn’t weak.
        • The software behind the HomePod is a low effort undertaking. Way too often I get an idea of something to ask it, and it (essentially) replies with you should do that on your iPhone. Mostly, it successfully controls the smart lightbulbs; and that’s about it. As an example, tomorrow morning I would like a reminder that I’m going to breakfast with my son at 7:00 AM. With the Amazon Echo, this was easy. With the HomePod, I get “your iPhone is not available. Check that it’s powered on and it’s software is up to date.” Both those things are true, so something else is wrong. Or really, the HomePod just isn’t going to store reminders and I should be doing these things on my iPhone. But even if I did a reminder on my iPhone, I’d need to be near it to get it. The Amazon Echo devices were a far better implementation of basic functionality.
        • I set up Automations on an iPad to light up a Bluetooth -enabled television sound bar. Automations don’t work well with Bluetooth, and putting the question to Reddit /r/Shortcuts got my post deleted by the mod because he doesn’t like the question being asked so often where the answer is “yes, Apple does not do this well”.
          • Something you can try: if the device (in my case, an iPad) can be put on the Settings –> Bluetooth –> list of possible connections screen, and just sit there, then Shortcut Automations on the iPad can light up the various Bluetooth devices within reach. But if something (like an errant Shortcut Automation) takes screen focus away, then the next Shortcut Automation which tries to light up a Bluetooth sound system, won’t, and you’ll never get the audio you wanted. If you wander over a few hours later to where the iPad is, you’ll see whatever caused your apparently really bad at multitasking iDevice to lose track of Bluetooth connections.
      • I put an image of Home Assistant on my Raspberry Pi.
        • So far it looks like it might work out best. I do have a problem though; I had set up my WiFi using Steve Gibson’s Three Dumb Routers scheme. Yes, it is secure. Whoops: my Home Assistant box needs to be able to talk to the Internet of Things (IoT), so it is on the IoT network (the “S” in IoT stands for “Security”). But I would like to be able to configure it from my main machine here on the secure network. I litterally cannot get there from here (which is a good thing). I’m going to have to put my network training to use for this home project.
  • The Helm email appliance company business exit
    • I got an email they are going out of business; I have until December 31 to find a replacement.
    • I built a replacement Dovecot + Postfix server.
      • It would have been on Amazon AWS Lightsail, but:
        • Amazon commits the crime of false advertising with their Lightsail lowest tier boxes. They advertise a 512 MB RAM machine, but deliver a 474 MB RAM machine. Mail-In-A-Box refuses to install on a 474 MB RAM machine, so the easy way to transfer my mail services to be on my own machine was out.
        • Opening a technical support ticket got me nowhere because the help desk person doesn’t actually know, and his backline support told him lies about kernel memory consuming RAM; that’s why the machine doesn’t have the full amount. I work in an environment with 600+ virtual machines and have spun up almost 70 of them myself, on Xen, KVM, and VMware. I know what virtual machine provisioning does and looks like. Amazon chose to underprovision by 9.25% so they could stuff more VMs on a blade. I’m not nearly as annoyed that they underprovisioned as I am that they lied to me about it.
        • Fine. You’re going to lie to me about your business practices? I’m out.
      • Now, I’m a Linode customer.
  • A thief stole a Christmas package off my doorstep.
  • Christmas was in Coos Bay, which meants an all-day drive Friday, Christmas with the whole family on Saturday and Sunday, and then an all-day drive back on Monday. The In ‘N Out at Redding California was not, because the place was packed, both times. Costco gasoline up there was almost 10% cheaper than in Visalia, which surprises me. Of course the gasoline in Oregon was cheaper still.
  • Haven’t played video games, but have been watching television instead. Never had watched the Harry Potter films, so am slowly going through them. On number 3 right now.

Work Life

  • Exterro has been terrible. It got listed in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant. I can see in global search-and-redact brief moments of shine and wonder. But implementation had been terrible. Even after months of project implementation, the Go Live date came and nothing worked right the first time for several weeks. Product support is out of Calcutta India, which means every support request we make takes 24 hours to turn around. Most often, the front end help cannot help, so they have to take screen shots of what is wrong and submit that to back end support. That’s going to burn another 24 hours.
    • Lately, they aren’t even acknowledging problems I’m presenting them.
  • Waterford Technologies MailMeter has been a much better project implementation.
  • 1301 days until retirement.

Volunteer Service

  • Currently recording Secretary for the local 503(c) corporation; if I don’t get the meetings minutes done quickly, it stresses me out all month.
  • I have three other service positions going on. One of them means travelling to Sacramento and other places.
  • Currently going to six meetings a week; sometimes seven if a friend asks for a ride to a meeting.
    • Sunday morning: central service representative
    • Sunday evening: technology chair (I bring gear that lets the meeting be online and in-person, beyond just an iPhone. Using a laptop and a PTZ camera, Zoom attendees can be on a monitor in the room, and we have a wireless speakerphone which lets everyone be heard).
    • Monday Night: no service position
    • Tuesday Night: treasurer
    • Thursday night: no service position
    • Friday night: general service representative
    • Monthly, as opposed to weekly meetings:
      • First Wednesday, General Service meeting
      • Second Tuesday, Central Service meeting and board of directors meeting.
  • I was also a volunteer at our New Year’s Eve event. My first duty was to be stage manager. Then, I set up coffee, I set up games in a room for game night (although Bill H. came by on purpose, we only had a few people drop in and take a look). I helped with getting the appetizers put out, and then helped in the kitchen with slicing the deep pit barbeque beef and slicing and plating cake and pie. Lastly was cleanup with the take-away of New Year’s Eve balloons glitter: never again. Didn’t get out of there until 1:30 AM.

Irons in the fire:

  • I owe an article to the newsletter.
  • TRA web site to replace Mike K’s web site.
  • Move my volunteer service web site from Amazon to Linode
    • Also, I need to upgrade PHP and the Bitnami base makes that tough. Worse, the database will need to go from ASCII to UTF, which tripped up the migration tool I was using.
    • Add input forms to the web site and convert to three pages: newcomers, members, and information for professionals.
  • Newly elected as Registrar, I need to plan an event which is tentatively scheduled for February 25.
  • World Ag Expo volunteer service.
  • What I would really rather play with: Tilt Five Augmented Reality glasses; mine came in. 😀
  • It’s time to back up my main machine, too.