08 January 2016

Being Your Own IT Department Can Be a Drag

I am the person in our household who understands computer and networking technology best, which seems pretty laughable. It is not that I understand these things well, but that even though my husband is an engineer, he's not that kind of engineer. Also, he doesn't apply himself to understand computers and networking--he doesn't need to. At work he has a real IT department to worry about that stuff and at home he has me.

So when the problems of last week recurred (my docked Windows laptop couldn't get to the Internet through its ethernet connection), it was on me to fix. Victor had already complained that his laptop was unable to get to the Internet via our home wireless network; I discounted his complaints because all my devices managed to access the Internet via wi-fi just fine and he has a cellular connection that he can use when wi-fi is unavailable.

This morning, testing revealed that while my iDevices (including the iMac) connected to the Internet--wired and wi-fi--the Windows laptop couldn't do it, nor could the Roku.  I didn't take the time to check the Apple TV--we use it very little.  But I guess--since it is an iDevice--that the Apple TV would have worked fine. I recall that was true last week.

Many power downs and power ups later, there was still no positive change. Except one: my laptop's wi-fi connection returned!  Mystified by why or how, but even though the connection returned the laptop could not reach the Internet through the network.

Changing Ethernet cords around didn't do any good, either; nor did (for example) connecting the Roku directly to the router instead of to an Ethernet switch. Since the problem came and went, I wondered whether the router, which is a few years old, might be going bad.  So I switched it with the router provided by the cable company.

The substitute router worked seamlessly for the iDevices and didn't make a bit of difference for the other devices. Worse--it broke Sonos.

It is another bad-weather day, and I would have been inclined to think that's what caused the trouble, but Victor was so disdainful of this conjecture when I brought it up a last week that I did some googling on the subject and learned that he is likely correct to be disdainful.

The inconsistency of the problem was particularly aggravating. The Power Over Ethernet adapter in the dining room worked fine (that's where the iMac is connected) while the one in my office (where my laptop was connected) was failing to convey the Internet signal.

Another thing bugged the hell out of me.  When I manually connected to "My Network" it became "My Network 2" after connection. There is no "My Network 2."  This had happened when I tried to troubleshoot Victor's laptop also.

Then I thought about what had changed recently. One thing is that I have been beta testing some software. That didn't seem relevant to network issues. The other thing is that I added a new Apple Airport Express to our network to support AirPlay with Sonos.

And suddenly, I thought, that's it. The Airport Express creates a wireless network; it's creating some kind of interference in the dining room (where it was connected to a Sonos speaker) and the non-iDevices are trying to get Internet from there  instead of the router, as if the Airport Express were a network extender.

This proved to be the case. Once I disconnected and unplugged the Airport Express from the Sonos device and restarted everything, everything functioned properly.

Except Sonos.  To bring back Sonos, I had to revert to the original router. Some day I will devote some time to figuring out why that is.

Another day I will also devote some time to understanding why the Airport Express should have caused a problem when (I am pretty sure) I had turned off its wi-fi broadcasting capability.

But enough hours have been spent on all this today. I would much prefer if I had someone knowledgeable to call on when stuff like this happens.  All this technology is fabulous when it works. When it doesn't it's incredibly disruptive.

I had so many things to do today and now I just want to go lie down.  

07 January 2016

Goodbye, Unlimited Data

When I first got an iPhone, more than five years ago, AT&T was the only cellular provider partnering with Apple, and they offered an unlimited data plan for it. Later, as additional carriers partnered with Apple offering different deals, AT&T stopped offering unlimited data plans to new customers; however, I was grandfathered in as long as I didn't change plans or carriers. I was pretty proud of having been smart enough to have an unlimited data plan even though the achievement had nothing to do with smarts and everything to do with timing. I stuck with AT&T through multiple iPhone replacements in part to preserve my access to an unlimited data plan.

Recently I AT&T alerted me that the cost of my plan (which had been the same for the entire time I've used an iPhone) is going up. This prompted me to check out other options, and it turns out that AT&T is now offering a 2GB data package that costs substantially less than I now pay for unlimited data.  When I checked, I learned that my average monthly data use is less than 1GB; I approached 2GB in only one billing period in the past year.

When I was new to smart phones, an unlimited data package seemed like a great option because I had no idea how much data I would use and was afraid of being dunned crazy amounts of money for using Google on street corners. Now that I know I rarely exceed 1GB data a month, I don't need to pay more for the "insurance" of unlimited data.

So, goodbye unlimited data!  

04 January 2016

Yet Another Purple Carrot/Meal Kit Delivery Update

We are still pretty big fans of the Purple Carrot though we continue to be troubled by all the packaging materials and the fact that the stuff is being sent to us from halfway across the country. The quality of the recipes is just excellent, and almost every recipe includes a new (to us) ingredient or technique, making our membership feel like a cooking class.

For example, we had not cooked much before with tofu products, and never with seitan, so it's nice to have excellent recipes that highlight really tasty uses for these products. A technique that surprised and then excited us was searing portabella mushrooms in a pan alongside a cut lemon.  The lemon's juice makes its way into the mushrooms without your squeezing it; you end up with a beautiful charred lemon for garnish and a remarkably delicious pan-grilled portabella mushroom.

There has been a lot of variety in the recipes so far, which has makes cooking (and eating) more exciting.  A lot of international influences (from Japan to Morocco to New Orleans) are evident, as is a bias toward seasonal ingredients (such as root vegetables and winter squash in December).  And it is a great convenience that hard-to-find ingredients not stocked at the local grocery store (such as fresh curry leaves) are included in the box.

Still, even with a somewhat relaxed holiday schedule, we fell behind, so I have put the delivery service on hold to give ourselves a chance to catch up. There are two meal kits in the fridge right now, and I have plans to make a meat-based dish (the traditional Eastern European Jewish cassoulet called cholent) tonight since the temperature has dropped so much lately.

Because of our travel schedule, we will probably keep The Purple Carrot suspended till the second part of February, at which point we may finally check out Lighter, A review I found online made it sound somewhat more personalized than Purple Carrot--you can tell them what you already have at home (for example, a can of pinto beans, or ground turmeric) so they don't send you unnecessary stuff.

I had researched other services such as Meez and Blue Apron, but these don't interest me as much, both because the vegan offerings are not as attractive and (at least in Meez' case) they use prepared sauces.  That makes me feel like I'm not doing the cooking. While I understand it's a convenience intended to make my own cooking go quicker, I'd rather take more time and cook it all myself.