Web Power Switch 7

Web Power 7

Over Christmas vacation I had a network outage that left me without remote access to my home network for a week. While I was at my in-laws, unable to connect to my server or cameras, I started researching options for out-of-band management of my home network. I started with cellular devices like this, but they all seemed to be GSM (2G) and most carriers are shutting down those older networks. I decided instead to go with a “smart” power strip, the Web Power Switch 7, which can power cycle devices plugged into it based on network connectivity criteria.

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Trackr Bravo

Trackr Bravo

There’s no shortage of Bluetooth trackers out on the market. These are small devices you can attach to your car keys, wallet, pets, etc. and then pair to an app on your smartphone so you can presumably find them when they’re lost or misplaced. I recently picked up three TrackR Bravos (one for my keys, one for my wife’s keys, and one for my daughter’s wallet) to see how they would work.

The Bravo is one of the smallest of the trackers out there, barely larger than then user-replaceable CR1620 battery that powers it. It’s metal, and comes with a ring for your keyring, and a small adhesive sticker if you’re going to mount it on something instead. A small blue LED also doubles as a button for pairing or finding your phone (more on that later). Set up is fairly straightforward: install the Trackr app on your phone, create an account, and step through the wizard for pairing the Trackr Bravo with your phone over Bluetooth.

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iPhone 7 Plus

iPhone 7 Plus

Right after Thanksgiving my iPhone 6 Plus started exhibiting the symptoms of touchscreen disease: the screen would just stop responding to taps (unless I turned it off and back on again), would scroll erratically (or not at all), and had a slight yellow tinge around the edges. I toyed with the idea of getting a “new” device from someplace like Gazelle or eBay, but decided to just re-up with AT&T. After figuring out their byzantine terms and condition for the AT&T Next program, I placed my order for a new matte black 128gb iPhone 7 Plus and had it a few days later.

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A week without remote access … (the blog is back!)

In case you hadn’t noticed (and if not, why not? 😉 ), windracer.net was down for the past week. This was because my cable modem decided to lock up just hours after I left town for Christmas in north Florida with family. I called Spectrum (formerly Brighthouse Networks) from my in-laws’ house hoping they could reset the modem remotely, but the tech informed me the modem was fine, it must be my router. Grrr.

So this past week away from home was a real eye-opener to me on how reliant I am on internet access for the house. I couldn’t check on my cameras, my home automation schedules didn’t run (so no randomized indoor lights, no Christmas lights or landscape lighting, etc.), I wasn’t getting e-mails from my servers, couldn’t remote in to anything, my domains were down … the list goes on! So over the Christmas break I did some research on out-of-band access options that would allow me to get into the home network in case something like this happens again. I originally was looking at cellular devices like this, but they all seem to be GSM (2G) and most carriers are shutting down those older networks. So I decided to go with a “smart” power strip, the Web Power Switch 7, which can power cycle devices plugged into it based on network connectivity criteria. For example, if it can’t ping the internet, it can power cycle my cable modem (which would have fixed the problem I had this past week). I will, of course, write up a review once I receive it and have a chance to configure and set it up.

When I finally got home today, I checked my router and it was fine! But it was reporting a problem on eth0 (which is the cable modem). I rebooted the cable modem, and everything came back online! So it was the modem after all, despite what Spectrum had told me. Hopefully the Web Power 7 helps me to avoid these long-term internet outages in the future!

ActionTec ECB6200 MoCA adapters

ActionTec ECB6200

I was doing a bit of a network re-org and realized that the old MoCA adapter that connects my home office to the network was only a 100mbps ethernet connection. Since everything else on my network is now gigabit (except for the occasional exception like my PiDP-8), I decided to upgrade to ActionTec’s ECB6200 MoCA adapters.

These units support the MoCA 2.0 specification which allows for theoretical throughput of 800mpbs via two 400mpbs bonded channels (while still being backward compatible with MoCA 1.1 devices) and gigabit ethernet. I figured swapping out the two ECB2200s (one in my office, the other in the computer closet before the cable modem) with the ECB6200s would be plug-and-play easy.

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Yelling at the Yakkety Yak (but it won’t talk back)

Ubuntu 16.10 (Yakkety Yak) was released almost two months ago, but I only just realized I hadn’t upgraded yet (this happened to me during the last .10 release as well). This upgrade was a little smoother than last time, but not without its hiccups.

The upgrade process uses screen to keep everything running separately in a separate shell in case you’re disconnected (I run a headless server, remember). The download of all the upgrade packages went just fine, but at the first configuration file difference (where you’re prompted to keep the maintainer’s version or your customized one), after I viewed the details of the change screen terminated and I wasn’t able to reconnect to the session! I tried sudo screen -list followed by sudo screen -d -r root/30719.ubuntu-release-upgrade-screen-window but that just reconnected me to the terminated screen session and dpkg wouldn’t resume because another process was already running. I had to manually kill all the upgrade processes and the use sudo dpkg --configure -a to resume the reconfiguration step. The rest of the upgrade went fine, luckily.

Post-upgrade, I re-applied my changes to the affected configuration files. Additionally, I had to update the Blowfish secret for phpMyAdmin to fix an error there. I also had an issue with wpa_supplicant (my server has wired and wireless NICs) that I had to fix to be able to re-connect to the WiFi network (hence the reference to “it won’t talk back” in my post title 😉 ).

Next year we’ll get 17.04 Zesty Zapus. Will Ubuntu then wrap around back to “A” names?

Thanksgiving 2016 Road Trip: Day 9

We’re finally home, back in warm, sunny, Florida.

At 8:15am we were checked out of the hotel after breakfast and on the road for the final time. We were worried there’d be heavy traffic on I-75 South around Gainesville due to the UF/FSU game in Tallahassee yesterday, plus students returning to school after the Thanksgiving break, but it turned out to be fine. We made a brief stop at Busch Gardens to pick up our annual passes (my daughter is going on a field trip there for Physics Day later this week) but were home by 11:45am. Whew!

Driving stats: 3 1/2 hours; 211 miles

This was quite the road trip:

Total drive time: 53 hours
Total miles driven: 2,955
Average MPG: 25.7
Total fuel cost: $240
Colleges visited: 5


Thanksgiving 2016 Road Trip: Day 8

Today was the long haul …

We were on the road at 9:00am, continuing our drive south on I-75 through Kentucky. Around noon we crossed in Tennessee and finally saw the sun again (after three cloudy, gray days in Ohio). About an hour later in Knoxville we started encountering heavy traffic. According to Waze there was a bad accident on the interstate so we took some back roads to route around it. This allowed us to stop at a Whole Foods and pick up a healthy lunch to each in the car.

At 5:00pm we were driving through Atlanta and we stopped for dinner in Tifton at 7:30pm. Our original plans had called for us to stop in Valdosta again, but we decided to push a little further and get as far as Lake City. We checked in by 10:00pm and were done for the night.

Tomorrow, we finally get back home.

Driving stats: 11 1/2 hours; 736 mi

Thanksgiving 2016 Road Trip: Day 7

Yesterday we spent Thanksgiving with family but today it’s back on the road as we start heading for home.

We had loaded most of our stuff into the Highlander the night before and at 8:00am we were back on the road. Being the weird road trip people we are, we started driving north, to go south: we took I-90 West towards Toledo and then I-75 North (again!) toward Michigan. Since we didn’t do our Frankenmuth trip on Wednesday, we were doing it now. We crossed the border into Michigan around 10:00am and by noon were pulling into the parking lot of Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland.

After doing some Christmas shopping in the Black Friday madness of the world’s largest Christmas store, it was finally time to head south. We took US-23 South and, keeping with our college visit theme, took some time to drive around the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. (The next day, the Ohio State Buckeyes would defeat the Wolverines in double-overtime).

We left UM around 2:30pm and crossed into Ohio two hours later. Then it was back on ol’ familiar I-75 South. At 7:00pm we stopped just north of Cincinnati to meet some old college friends for a leisurely dinner (at Marion’s Piazza again!). Afterwards, back on the road, we stopped at Graeter’s in northern Kentucky around 9:45pm for dessert since we had been snubbed on the way up. 45 minutes later we were checked into our hotel for the evening in Florence (y’all). Tomorrow will be our longest driving day.

Driving stats: 10 1/2 hours; 606mi

Thanksgiving 2016 Road Trip: Day 5

Originally we were going to go to Frankenmuth, Michigan today to visit Bronner’s, but we decided to move that to Friday during the drive home. Instead, we took it easy this morning and then took I-90 East to downtown Cleveland to (again), see some of our old haunts.

This included: lunch at the West Side Market, driving past the waterfront icons (the Factory of Sadness (oops, I meant FirstEnergy Stadium!), the Great Lakes Science Center, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), and a photo opp with the Cleveland sign (one of three installed during last summer’s Republican National Convention). We also stopped briefly at Tower City Center (it was rainy so the ice skating rink in Public Square wasn’t open), and drove past Quicken Loans Arena, home of the 2016 NBA Champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

On our way back to the west side we stopped at Malley’s to pick up a jar of our favorite fudge sauce. The jar we bought last Christmas was confiscated by the TSA when we forgot we had it in our carry-on luggage. Since we’re driving this trip it should make it back to Florida safely (unless we eat it before then).

For dinner we met the whole family (including the people we hadn’t yet seen) at Red Robin. Afterwards, my brother took me to an awesome bar called 16-Bit. A bar filled with classic arcade games? Hell yes! We spent a few hours playing old favorites like Gauntlet (“warrior needs food, badly”), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Spy Hunter, Donkey Kong, and my personal favorite, Galaga (I had over 100,000 points before my brother got to play his first life, ha!).