FIOS Gig-Ethernet Installation

My DSL line served me well, almost 20 years. It lived through 4 different ISPs, each getting bought and sold along the way, but always the same circuit. When it was first installed I felt like the fastest man on the Internet. 1.5M downloads, 786K uploads, low latency.

That was a long time ago. The past 8 years or so has seen a series of noticeable problems. Verizon was clearly allowing the copper to degrade. Length tests from the switching office originally were a DSL happy 13,000 ft. Over time they creeped up to 18,000, then 24,000, then a DSL very unhappy 28,000. Noise problems on the line caused more frequent service calls and modems were being replaced regularly. Streaming video kind of demands 3M downloads to get started with decent picture quality.

Verizon now no longer supports copper in my neighborhood. We had to switch by August 1, and spent some time comparing the Verizon FIOS offering to the Xfinity coax based networking. I had a bias to Xfinity from another property (the IOS app is good, 25 M/sec was good), but we went with Verizon out of a lower cost bundle of services. I didn’t really pay attention to the speed of networking since I knew it would be much better than what we had, but we apparently purchased Gig-Ethernet.

The installation wasn’t entirely smooth. I felt sorry for the team pulling the cable; typical DC summer weather and they were out there 5 hours fishing the cable under the driveway. The installation the next day was a debacle. After disconnecting the copper the fiber-optic cable couldn’t be lit up because the connection in the switching office for us was occupied already. No explanation about that housekeeping error, but not the technician’s fault. Day three to finish up installing, the voice line is all messed up. Probably the wiring in the house was old and degraded, but only the kitchen phone works now forcing another upgrade to a wireless hub setup.

First thing; a bandwidth test. I ran Ookla’s and was expecting around 50 M/sec which is what I remembered from researching costs before committing:

Ookla for Wifi

Wow, a lot more than 50! I showed the number to the technician who said it was gig-ethernet, I should be seeing well more than that. The 124/148 down/up was through wi-fi only, so hanging around the bandwidth limit of that technology. I repeated the test from a desktop wired computer and it was closer to 100 (went down). Then I realized I didn’t have any gig-ethernet switches in the house. When your running 1.5 DSL there isn’t much need to replace switches, and most of them were around 15 years old when 10/100 felt like an upgrade.

I have two switches; one at the router and another in the office where there is a cluster of machines and printers. The simple Netgear PROSafe GS105 is a low-cost switch, and is able to deal with some of the ports being 10 or 100 or 1000 without throttling down all of them. Test results are now quite different:

Ookla for Wired Cat 5e

This is crazy bandwidth for desktop computing. The theoretical 1000 Mbps limit is not being hit, but the likely culprit could be less-than-Cat6 wires, or even the limit of what the port on the computer is taking in as it runs its network drivers. Gig speeds should allow 20 HD movies to be watched simultaneously in the home, so it’s radical overkill for almost any home use with a modest number of people in the home.

No complaints on the product; more than happy with the experience before we even get into the 250 channels of TV and voice service in the bundle.

The installation could have been much cleaner. The issue with the port being available for us on the second (and what should have been the last) day of install is just a dumb mistake. But, the copper was disconnected before this was discovered so we had no service until the installation was completed the next day. Verizon might want to think about verifying the fiber is lit before disconnecting anything. I don’t think it was a block to the FIOS install to leave the copper POTS in place until the cutover.

And, we’ll likely be cheaper in the end. The monthly FIOS bill is less than the old voice + DSL + Tivo bills together.

AcuRite 01517 Weather Station Installed on a Mast

We have the AcuRite Wireless Weather Station 01517, kind of a “middle tier” station that includes wind and rain gauge, but does not use Wifi or connect to the Internet to report data.  It talks over radio frequency to a base station inside the house which has about an 8 inch LCD color screen for monitoring data.  While not a real high end (or real expensive) unit, it has a ton of features like tracking record and recent highs and lows as well as predicting weather after it “learns” general air pressure in the installed location.  We’ve been really happy with it, and it seems to run a long time on 4 AA batteries, communicating data back to the base every few minutes.  Its weather predictions are pretty accurate (not too far in advance, however).

We had mounted it to the house on our deck, which creates accuracy problems with wind speed and direction.  Everything else was fine, but I wanted to mount it away from the house to get it away from wind deflection a large structure causes.  My brother-in-law suggested a ham radio mast as something affordable and easy to install.  So, here are the parts I used and how I mounted it.

The mast I selected is a Channel Master CM-1830 telescoping mast.  It is made up of three 8 foot sections of galvanized steel with guide-wire mounting points on the top of the sections and bent bolts to lock the mast sections when extended.  As such, you could use this for 8, 16, or 24 foot applications.  When you look at competing products you will see a number of them, and many of them have very negative reviews.  I think this is from going cheap and not noticing some of the products are fiberglass construction which has way too much flex if you don’t use guide-wires.  This unit is definitely sturdy enough to carry a bit of weight, although when extended there is only a few inches of overlap inside the sections and they do lean a bit when extended.  For right now I have it mounted 16 feet with one set of guide-wires.  Instructions recommend guides at each section, and after lifting into place I would agree.  While its on the ground it seemed like it didn’t need it – the sections are thick and strong.  However, when extended you can see the play in the mast.

If you check on Amazon you’ll see recommended a bottom mounting plate to create a stableIMG_0958 platform.  I went cheap as it was another $30, but might be worth the price if you are planning on leaving the mast installed a long time.  Instead of a real base mount, I used a two foot section of epoxy coated rebar I found at Home Depot for 2 or 3 bucks.  The ground is pretty soft in the location because of a drainage problem, so I used some paving stones and tile to create a flat, strong surface and prevent the mast from sinking into the ground.

At the top of the shed (about seven foot up) I mounted the mast to the shed using clamps I found in the plumbing section, copper clamps for 2 inch pipe.  I had purchased this before the mast showed up, they are a little small for the job as you can see…they are not quite flat against the wall.  But they hold it tight.

IMG_0961I mounted a small piece of wood wrapped in vinyl to get the pipe out away from the flashing on the shed.  This was just scrap wood that I wrapped with exterior vinyl tape (3M white) so I didn’t have to paint it or worry about wood rot.

I need a step ladder to get to the top of the first section.  When I have to replace the batteries I can lift the post up a little and pull out the bolts that secure the extension, then slide it down where I can easily reach the sensor.  I marked the location of things so I can raise it back into position and find the holes easily.  Its a little heavy, but I didn’t think it was trouble to deal with manually raising and lowering the mast.  I’m only pulling out one section to get it to 16 foot.  If I decide to raise it higher I’ll need to attach another set of guide wires and make sure I raise the highest section first.

I also needed to orient the weather station so it faced south.  There is a small solar cell that runs a fan to circulate air though the weather sensor when the sun beats on it, as well as making the wind direction indicator orient correctly.  Once it was spun into the right direction I tightened down the clamps on the top of the shed to keep it from spinning.


Mounting the unit on top was a little rigged.  The sensor came with a plastic mounting bracket that fits into a small hole on the bottom, about 1.5 inches in diameter.  This wouldn’t work with the mast.  The antenna mast is for an antenna (duh), which usually come with their own clamp to grip the outside of a mount.  I purchased a small piece of PVC water supply which was 1 inch inside diameter and the outside was about a perfect fit into the whole on the sensor bottom.  Two small holes on the sensor were guides to drill and two small screws to hold it in place.  The PVC pipe was two feet long so the sensor wasn’t going anywhere once the pipe was slid into the top of the mast.  However, it could spin out of orientation like this.  I drilled a small hole in the side of the top of the mast to take another screw and hold it in place from rotating on the mast.

The guide wires are from a 100 foot piece of 20 gauge galvanized cable, about $10.  The small cable clamps are from the hardware store.  You normally use a small metal ring for the cable to ride across to prevent wear, but I couldn’t figure out how to get it through the holes of the mast ring (you can see there are two rings above because I didn’t extend the top section).  I figured the mast ring was smooth enough, but time will tell.  I cut the cable into three sections while the mast was not extended and attached one end.  Then I extended the mast and attached the other ends to three heavy duty screw eyes I mounted on edges of the shed and a fence post to triangulate.  I went around a few times to tighten the cables prior to final tightening to check the mast was a level as I could get it.  I don’t think its super-important, but gave it a good shot.

IMG_0959There’s the finished job.  Sturdy, away from the house, not too much of an eyesore (a matter of opinion, of course).  If I decide its still interfered with by the shed I can crank it up another eight feet.  From a weatherman’s perspective I’m sure they would say its still to close to structures, but this was the furthest away I could get it and still have it in range of the base station and not have to look at it from the back of the house.  About $150 in parts (not counting the weather station), and I can take most of it with me if I move.  Its all galvanized steel so it should hold up to the weather.

The one improvement I would do would be to attach cable turnbuckles so that I could tighten the guide wires a little more.

GoDaddy Unexpected Database Changes

GoDaddy seems to have moved some servers unexpectedly. A number of my web sites (WordPress) all went offline.

I wasn’t sure of what the cause was when noticed – I couldn’t remember all those database passwords to get into PHPmyAdmin to figure out what was going on and GoDaddy has no contact mechanism now except calling them over long distance (and waiting a long time on your dime). But, here was the fix.

Once I got home to the machine I do technical things on I was able to load in the database file for WordPress; wp-config.php, you’ll see a statement like this:

define('DB_HOST', '');

This needs to be compared to the database location filed in, navigate to “manage” your hosting services, click on the databases, and a list of databases is displayed.  Scroll through to find the right one (if not sure, compare the database name to a line where this is specified in the same wp-config.php file), and click on it to open up the details page for that database.

There is a button on the top right that shows code samples for referencing the database. You should cut and paste the server value out of here into the define statement above, then replace the server file with this edited copy of wp-config.php.

A lot of WordPress details shift over time, so this information might get stale.  But, The database connection string is a fundamental piece of a WordPress site and they have been consistent about this being in wp-config.php as long as I’ve been using WordPress, so this info should help quickly fix the database in the future.

Side issue, my GoDaddy services are an affordable solution but no Email capability for support is pretty weak.

GoDaddy WordPress Service

I’m in the process of relocating my travel log from Blogger to another folder I’ve set up with a copy of WordPress.  I did this all from the GoDaddy account management page.  They’ve really improved their management tools, and it was completely easy to do.  The only mistake I made was getting impatient with the time it was taking, changing the database password, which then got the script GoDaddy was running out of synch.  It might have been easier to change the database password back, but instead I edited the configuration file.  Six of one kind of thing.

Kudos to GoDaddy for improvements to the management tools.  Last time I used them they seemed like an unrelated assortment of acquired things.  It was much more seamless using it this time and save me a lot of keeping track of things.

A Test of MapPress Easy Maps

Related to an earlier post on Google Maps, which changed to something unusable for me, this is a test of a WordPress widget for imbedding a map in WordPress content.  If this seems usable, I will most likely migrate my travel log out of Blogger to a site here in my lschofield domain.  This will give me some control over this map content and hopefully insulate me from Google changing their product.

[mappress mapid=”1″]

Seems pretty straightforward and easy to use.  I couldn’t figure out how to search in the widget for anything other than an address, but I’ll keep playing with it to see if I can figure more things out.  There is a pay version available also, which is more full featured.

Changed Twitter Widget

I just disabled the widget Twitter for WordPress on my personal WordPress site, and replaced with the one Easy Twitter Feed Widget.  I preferred the Twitter for WordPress I was using; it was simpler configuration and didn’t try and have a lot of its own formatting so it was easy to fit in as a menu item with the other sidebar items.  You’ll notice the Twitter feed here on the Technical Journal contains very tiny versions of my Twitter account icon, for example, which Twitter for WordPress did not.

However, Twitter for WordPress stopped working with an upgrade to WordPress.  The Technical Journal was upgraded a while ago and I tried a number of widgets and settled on this “easy” one.  Now that the personal journal has been upgraded the Twitter feed stopped working as well, so I had to do the same trick.

I don’t hold it against the Twitter for WordPress authors – not a lot of incentive for them to keep up with WordPress upgrades for a free sidebar plug in.  Their last update was 2009.  So, thanks to them for their hard work, and thanks to Easy Twitter for their hard work as well as we move forward together.

Google Maps Changed, Now I Have To

Google has changed their maps program (browser version) in a pretty substantial way.  For a while, they were running “classic maps” next to the new map function, so there was no reason to explore the new version.  Now, they’ve shut down the classic version and only support the new version.

I haven’t spent much time with the new version; it seems to be part of their path of building content from us so they can more effectively sell advertising (the UI experience seems to be more about adding personal content).  Visually it looks a lot more like something on a smartphone or tablet than something you would use on a computer.  But, they’ve removed features that I had relied on to build content.

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 11.02.57 AMSpecifically, I had personal maps with saved locations of points of interest, and I would zoom and orient them in a way to see the map and the location pop-up.  Then, I would embed the HTML to display this in a small window on other web pages.  This functionality is now gone; you can share maps with others by posting them to Facebook or Email, but specific HTML is not there any more.  No one seems to know a workaround on their support forums outside exporting the raw KVM data and importing it into another mapping program.  As of now, my embedded maps are just somewhat zoomed out images without any of my placement they used to have.

There’s only so much complaining to do.  Google has a track record of pulling product they are not making money with, and I didn’t pay for the service, so no point in engaging them in a conversation about it.  I’m forced now to find another mapping service, which is time consuming.  I may just go to static map images if I can’t find a useful embedded service.

Omni Graffle Stencil for Scrum Boards

Stencil SnapshotI was building some image files of scrum boards I’m using to help manage things, and wondered if there was something in Graffletopia for this.  Graffletopia is a fantastic resource for OmniGraffle users, and OmniGraffle is a great program for creating image files.  The simple description is that its a Visio-like drawing tool that uses a drag-and-drop stencil/template metaphor as its user interface.  I prefer it to Visio; its affordable and renders really sharply when pasted into other applications from its OS X platform.  And, Visio is not available unless you are running Microsoft Windows.

The stencil is simple; the “board” which lets you move tasks from left to right to show progress, and the “post-it notes” where you can write the task, along with a place for date and “owner” (or some other tag you find useful).  I used a couple different colors, some people like using colors for categorization, and I placed the background as a group and a distinct box in case someone wants more stages than the three simple ones I have.

Finished Image from Stencil

I was a little reluctant to post this to Graffletopia because of the trivial nature of the stencil.  However, I thought if you searched Graffletopic for “agile” or “scrum” something should come up.  Leave a comment or Email me if you have questions.

Scrum Board stencil

In Flight WiFi on Southwest

Traveling for work, and in the middle a big crunch so I spent the 8 bucks to use the in flight WiFi Southwest has as a service on most of their newer planes.  Two flights, about 5 hours in the air, so $1.60 an hour to stay connected seems acceptable.  I’ve mostly ignored paid WiFi services; its actually nice to be a big disconnected on a flight and there’s usually nothing that can’t wait a bit until I’m off the plane.

The connection experience is easy, just like a hotel.  You turn on the WiFi, get redirected to a page to select the service, put in your credit card and hope the person sitting behind you isn’t peeking over your shoulder while you enter the card number.  Southwest also uses this mechanism to distribute in-flight entertainment, skipping the murky 5 inch LCD screens other carriers place on the seat in front of you.  The video experience actually seems better when you have your own screen, but no options for those that don’t being a pad or laptop with them on a flight (or charge up their batteries enough, why no power jacks on these planes!).

The Internet experience is acceptable for some things, but not for others.  Any content heavy web surfing is very sluggish, and some streaming services are blocked.  The corporate things are annoying – through the VPN, plane WiFi, transmission to the ground somewhere, creates a lot of technology jumps for data packets.  Takes a little more than a minute to download a 1 Meg document, feels a lot like dial up Internet if you can remember those days so long ago.  Like OK bandwidth but poor latency.  Sharepoint crashes half the time when trying to edit a document.

I’m guessing over time the technology will increase capacity over time, but for now (and for me) this is an “if you have to” purchase.

Disabling Caps Lock Key in OS X

I don’t see much of a need for a caps lock key.  It’s pretty rare for me to need to type a continuous string of upper case letters, I don’t think I can remember needing this unless I rewind the memory tapes all the way back to terminal sessions where the application or compiler didn’t recognize lower case characters.  And, how long ago is that?  VMS v5 or something?  Way, way back.

So, no need for a keyboard with a caps lock key.  However, the caps lock key is still there like a useless partial rib.  And, it only comes into play when I accidentally hit it while reaching for the “A” key.  I was wishing there was a way to disable it, and keyboards don’t seem to be built in a way where you can pry off the key caps with scissors.  In a pure “duh” moment, I went into the keyboard preferences and found that OS X provides a mapping function for all the modifier keys.

Screen Shot of OS X Preference App for "Keyboard"
Screen Shot of OS X Preference App for "Keyboard"

Caps Lock is sitting there as a choice, and the pull down lets you remap this to another modifier function for real fun, or just disable it like I did.  Caps Lock on my keyboard is now truly a useless appendage.

The only lost function was that Caps Lock was the key I used to verify that the keyboard was correctly connected to the computer through either the USB cable or Bluetooth connection.  This is the only key on a normal Apple keyboard with an LED that activates when you press it, which is very useful for figuring out if the keyboard is really plugged in or that its batteries are working.

Happy again, and no more ACCIDENTALLY SHOUTING in messages to anyone.  One of these days I should go through all the OS X preferences and see if there are other controls for the little things that bug me.