New Server!!

Today is a wonderful day!

After a decade of using the low end, entry model 212J Synology NAS I’ve finally splurged and gotten a state of the art server. I bought the 212J about a decade ago because I had always wanted to host my own blogs and thus not have to pay some company to host them for me. As I knew nothing about running a server, or even if I could do it I went with the cheapest option. Over the past decade I’ve taught myself and have come to rely on it as my blogs are not only a very important part of my life they are in-fact a recorded history of it. This is such a treasure to me and it was all hosted on a cheap server that could have failed at any moment.

The 212J was faithful although with updates threw some major fits in the past 10 years which could have destroyed my blogs. The most recent tantrum was in the past update where my CPU shot to 99% usage and made the NAS almost completely unusable. This was scary but with patience and a lot of tinkering I was able to figure it out. It was this however which convinced me to finally splurge for a new NAS as well as learn all the things I needed to know to ensure I had it set up like a pro and not an amateur. I had stumbled my way through a decade in getting it to work and had not realized that I was on the edge of a cliff once step away from seriously damaging my blogs.

In technical terms I did not understand RAID nor how to have a perfect backup of the blogs. I used SHR without data protection in the storage. I learned that the pros will always RAID configurations which means the data is always written immediately and simultaneously to two disks in case one fails. Then the other disk will immediately keep the data available until the bad disk is replaced. As I didn’t understand RAID or SHR I only had my blogs on one disk.

Now I did have backups of my blogs but they were not sufficient. I had simply exported the blog from WordPress as well as the content folder which kept the pictures. What I didn’t understand is I also needed a backup of the SQL database because it is that database that lets the blog know which posts to put that media in! Yes, I would still have my writing, and I would still have the pictures, but the blog wouldn’t know which pictures go with which posts. I had tried backing up my SQL before but would always get a timeout because of my slow server and there was a setting or two that was not correct.

With my new 920+ on the way I spent a week studying how RAID and SHR works, and consulted websites on how to ensure everything was set up perfectly. I owe a debt of gratitude to for creating a site which easily explains everything along with pictures! Often websites will get directly into Terminal commands for the complicated things and the Terminal is pretty much only for the pros. Now I have WordPress in Raid 1 which is two drives mirroring each other all the time.

Simply getting a new blog is not why I’m pleased with myself however. I had been stressing for weeks over being able to transfer my blogs and actually getting them to work on the new server. Mind you I had spent a decade tinkering and often getting stuck for months and even over a year in the beginning. But all that tinkering as well as this past weeks study paid off. I was able to transfer everything over in about 6 hours. It took that long because I did get stuck a few times which I’ll explain. Warning, technical WordPress, SQL stuff ahead!

First I downloaded everything and was even able to download my SQL databases. I preferred to transfer manually as I was somewhat familiar with it, plugins rarely work perfectly for big projects like this and the amount of pictures was immense. I tried it myself at first, but kept getting an error that WordPress couldn’t connect to the database. That kept me stuck for a while but then I realized I shouldn’t be trying to do it with Maria 10 as I had used Maria 5 before. I had tried upgrading to Maria 10 before but could never get it to work. When I finally just used Maria 5 it worked. I’ll come back to this.

The next place I got stuck was in making a secure connection. I didn’t want Google telling visitors my site was un-secure and even worse stopping them with a warning to not proceed! I had transferred the certificates correctly and after a while realized I just needed to assign the right certificate to the right blog. That is to say not all blogs on one site’s certificate.

So I was able to get it working with Maria 5 but I was determined to get Maria 10 to work. The forums all told me it must be something to do with the settings in the WordPress config file but my database, user name and password were all correct. After much searching I was finally able to find the answer. It was like finding a nugget of gold after hours of coming up with nothing but dirt. The problem was that Maria 5 uses “localhost” in the db_host line. The forums were telling me to put in the actual internal IP which didn’t work. The nugget of gold was to put in “localhost” followed by a string I didn’t understand but it made Maria 10 work! I was overjoyed.

Since I’ve decided to dedicate two drives under Raid 1 to WordPress I needed more drives for everything else. I spent a little more and have two 1 TB drives arriving today. Then I’ll be able to install Note, Surveillance Station and also take a peak at all the other applications I’ve been thus far unable to use due to the limitations of my 212J

Today is a good day!


Data Catastrophe Close Call

I almost had a data catastrophe last week which is worthy of its own post. It all comes down to not being able to remember a password and this is the second time this year I’ve almost had a catastrophe like this.

The first time was when I woke up in the middle of the night, couldn’t fall immediately back to sleep and decided to check my phone. I saw that it was due for an update so without thinking when ahead with it. Now with a system update you’re required to put in you pin instead of a bio-metric after restart. I had not considered this and there is something about the night which changes your mindset and thoughts come in a bit differently than they do in the day. I have put in my pin to unlock my phone thousands of times but I kept getting it wrong!

After three or four tries I sat up and started to panic. I went to my computer but did not record my latest pin in my password database! OK, so then I really started to panic. I remembered messaging my pin to my wife once so she could unlock it and take pictures of me doing something. I woke her up, we checked through her messages from me but it was not in there.

Disappointed and scared I went back to my computer and looked up what to do if a pin had been forgotten. Other than resetting your phone the only other trick was doing a remote unlock through Google. I tried this but did not have that setting turned on in my phone!!! Normally I would have but I believe there was a security override since I also use the phone from work and there may be some software that doesn’t let me turn that setting on since work e-mail is also on the phone.

Anyway, after 10 wrong passwords my phone was going to erase all the data and I only had three tries left. That would have been horrid to me not because I didn’t have an old backup but because it literally takes about a week to set everything up the way I like it. I’d have to log into everything again, change a million settings and I also use authenticator apps for many two step verifications and that would have been lost as well! So yes I was extremely panicked.

Anticlimax here but I got it on my second to last try. I then wrote that pass code down in a number of places.

But that was the lesser of the two possible catastrophes, an even worse one happened on Friday. It follows the same pattern regarding a password. I’ve learned that with main passwords used everyday I eventually don’t think about them, my fingers just automatically put them in. However, if I have a “brain hiccup” and miss one little piece of that password then I’ll be in trouble. I’ll be in trouble because my fingers will make the same mistake and I’ll then start thinking about it. Once I think about the password I’ll realize I really cannot visualize it I just have to let my motor memory do its work. But as the motor memory makes more mistakes those mistakes start to override the correct password!

The only solution is to go take a break, do something else and try not to think about it. I’ve found this is impossible because I’m petrified of losing all my data!

What happened last week is that I had another virtual happy hour with old friends I haven’t seen in many years. I had too much wine and when I went to open the file which contains all my data I kept getting the password wrong! All of my data is in a VeraCrypt container. Everything. Is. In. There! And as for backups those are all in VeraCrypt containers too! OK, no problem, I had too much wine, I’ll remember it in the morning.

Morning comes and my mind is very hazy. I go to the computer and type in the password. Wrong. I try again. Wrong. I tried twenty more times and all were wrong. However, unlike my phone the data there is no program which will automatically erase my data based on a number of failed attempts.

I was only a little concerned at this point because I remember I had given that password to my wife and let her know it was extremely important. I had put it in her password manager myself. Well guess what. Never rely on a wife as a password backup. She has a ton of passwords in her password keeper but not the one I had given her. I was a bit shocked to tell you the truth. Give a wife a super important password, it will eventually get lost as it slips out of mind as time goes by.

Now I was panicking. The more mistakes I made the more I started second guessing myself. I was terrified because that is 26 years worth of data in there. That data is a record of my life! And needless to say it contains my password program which of course contains all my passwords.

All of my data, gone, in a blink because I couldn’t remember the correct password!

Again, an anticlimax. I calmed my mind, I tried different combinations of upper versus lowercase letters and after about 80 failed tries I got it to open.

The experience scared me so much I have now adopted the old school method of writing it down on paper and hiding it in a secure location. I have also given it to my wife (again!) and told her to keep it as though her life depended on it. I told her that this is what she would need if I die and showed her how to get into my computer and use VeraCrypt. I don’t want her snooping either so gave her the warning to only use in case of emergencies because if she presses a wrong button when using VeraCrypt then it would erase everything. This is true but what I didn’t mention are all the backups I also have.

However, I have also ordered another external drive and have decided to keep a copy of a backup that is not encrypted. I got a little scared reading the forums where a few commenters said VeraCrypt messed up and their data got lost. VeraCrypt has worked perfectly for me for years and I’m sure those commentors just weren’t smart enough to use VeraCrypt but it still spooked me. That data is my life and I would be absolutely devastated if it ever was lost. So the last fail-safe I think I need is to create an un-encrypted backup. I have three other backups one of which is in Ohio in case the house were to burn down. But I had not considered forgetting my password or if VeraCrypt should suddenly go bonkers. As of Friday when I receive my 2TB external I’ll have all my bases covered.

Holidays Internet Journal

New Year’s Day 2020

It is 7:35 on New Year’s Day 2020.

I always have this image that the holidays will be a relaxing time. I imagine myself sitting on the couch reading a book with a fireplace on the TV and some Christmas music in the background. What I always forget is that they are always very busy and stressful. The schedule changes but my activities increase.

Here are a few of the activities in no particular order:

  1. Buy Christmas presents
  2. Decorate the house
  3. Go get a picture with Santa
  4. Write letters to Santa and get them mailed to the USPS Santa service
  5. Do the Portable North Pole Santa video
  6. Go to holiday parties
  7. Go see the Nutcracker
  8. Do year end backups of data.
  9. Fix all the things that needed fixing but there was no time.
  10. Play with kids during any free time
  11. Set up new devices brought by Santa
  12. Take holiday trips and attend family events.

The list goes on and what I’ve found is I actually have more free time at work than I do during the holidays. I’m also still technically working except for Christmas and New Years although there really isn’t anything to do. It does add a little stress being “on call” rather than being completely off which you never can be in this line of work.

The holidays have been productive however and I’ve accomplished what I set out to do. The main thing was to take the family back to Ohio as my kids had only been there when they were very little and don’t remember much. There were two family events, my cousin’s wedding reception followed the next day by my Aunt’s 70th birthday. Kai and Mark got to spend a lot of quality time playing Fortnite which was unexpected as he had previously not been allowed to play. The second he got the OK I helped him get all set up (micro SD card, skins etc) and now he is good to go. I was hoping he would be able to play the game as it is a great opportunity to actually talk and connect with his cousin through the game as we live thousands of miles apart. If it wasn’t for Fortnite the next time they might talk to each other could be a year or even a couple of years away.

The second thing I wanted to do was to update my kid’s tech. The main thing I want them to do is take pictures and video of their lives so they can look back on their own childhoods. I really wish I had more than just one video and one low quality recording of my own childhood. With their phones especially, they can take pictures and video which auto backup to their own Google accounts. However, updating to new devices can take a while as there are the settings, transfers, automation, backups, logins, updates and so on to get it all working. It takes time.

The last activity of the holiday season was going over to our family friend’s place where we caught the final sunset of 2019, had nice wine and conversation and the women watched Kohaku, the end of year Japanese TV show.

Last sunset of 2019

Well, with all this activity, travel and stress I’ve come down with a cold. It started yesterday with a sore throat and become full blown by the end of the day. As an added bonus one of my eyes turned red which sometimes happen when I get a cold and must be a viral thing. I wasn’t going to miss the gathering last night but my energy was completely gone by 9:30 and I had to tell the wife we were leaving although she wanted to watch 20 more minutes of Kohaku. I told her she could take an Uber but I was going. We all still have a bit of jet-lag from Ohio so it really was more like 12:30 AM for me. I took NyQuil and had a good night’s sleep but I’m still very tired this morning. The question is if I’ll actually rest today or take down the decorations.

I also have another activity and this is one I really enjoy. While home my Mom asked me to delete the data in a few of her old computers so she could safely get rid of them. I had a nice surprise when I realized one of them was my old computer from my time in Japan from 2001 – 2003. Now, I love to digitally record my life – as this blog attests – and finding an old computer is like finding a gold mine. It is an old Dell Inspiron 8000, big and bulky and one where I had password protected my Windows account. I was determined to get into it but didn’t have much time to try while in Ohio so I lugged the huge thing back to California.

I did manage to get in but it was a little tricky, especially since my buddy Horacio had helped me partition the drive to half Linux. When you boot it up the first thing you see is the GNU Boot Loader and so it took me a minute to figure out how to get into the Windows Safe Mode option screen. Reading the forums I figured out I should be able to by hitting F8 immediately after selecting Windows over Linux. It took a few tries but I learned it would work if I hit F8 approx 2 milliseconds after selecting Windows.

In the Windows Safe mode screen I could select Administrator, then users and just remove the password from my own account. I had tried this from the regular login screen by hitting CTRL, ALT, DELETE, DELETE, which takes you to a screen where I could type in Administrator but that didn’t work due to “account restrictions.” However, logging into Windows through administrator while in safe mode worked!

I had to go through all of this because there is no way I’ll ever remember my password from 2001. My password hint was “What is my favorite?” I tried a bunch of things but knowing me I probably just put that to ‘throw off the hackers’ should I have ever lost my computer and the real password being just a combination of letters and symbols. Little did I realize one could just go to safe mode and through the Administrator account for full access.

Opening up my old computer was wonderful and brought back a lot of memories. Here is a screenshot.

My desktop from 2003

To my delight I was greeted with my computer saying “ich will” from Rammstein. I really liked playing with my computer and getting it to do different things. The internet was still very new and exciting then and I was enthralled. Looking at the desktop I see old programs such as Kazaa, the forgotten file sharing service, Trillian the instant messenger and my PalmPilot desktop sync. I’m currently looking for my old PalmPilot which was indispensable to me and getting around the Tokyo metro. This desktop truly is frozen in time and it will be fun exploring it more.

The only slight disappointment is that I’ve been very good at transferring my data ever since the late 90s and so I already have all the pictures and videos. There was only one I did not currently have and had been searching for over the years and was delighted to find it. The other good find was a program that kept all my passwords. Of course it itself is password protected but perhaps since it is so old there will be a trick to force it open. I’d like to see if any of my old accounts still work on any services that are still around.

Closing the computer I was also treated with a nice surprise by Agent Smith saying “Goodbye Mr. Anderson.” Boy do I miss the old days. I think I might be one of a small group of people on this Earth who can actually have a look back in time due to the preservation of old data. I continue to be fascinated by the passage of time and feel I’m surrounded by those who are only cognizant of the present moment, with any memories being nothing more than white and black flashes. With this data especially, the past for me is more like a full color, surround sound IMAX movie. It is not only the memories I remember but the feelings and mindset as well. I can pick up with a friend of 20 years ago just as easily as with a friend I just saw yesterday. At 42 I’ve learned this is a rare talent.

Well, the family is now downstairs and my concentration broken. I’d like to get a post up with reflections on 2019 and thoughts of what 2020 will bring but now is not that time.


Smart Home Networking

*Note. This post started out as a regular journal entry but then ended up a home networking post.

The time is 6:09 AM on Saturday December 21st, 2019. I always wake up early, usually around 3:30, 4:00 AM. When I do the decision has to be made if I should actually get out of bed or go back to sleep. In recent weeks I’ve been able to get out of bed easily and get a lot accomplished in the morning.

The early morning is my favorite time because it seems the whole world is at peace. There is only the sound of the wind and waves outside and inside everything is still and calm.

This time of year is also one of my favorites. It is when many of my customers shut down and so there is very little work to be done if at all. I have never felt the need to take PTO this time of year because there really isn’t much to do so why waste perfectly good PTO? The main part of my job is to engage with corporate customers and I certainly am not going to contact them when nobody wants to be contacted right now. Yesterday, I received approximately two e-mails and so I used the time to get a lot of chores done that needed doing.

I cleaned the fish tanks, fixed a gap where rainwater could come into the garage, took delivery of the new oven and set it up, set up the new Nest Protect alarm and organized old papers and files in my office.

I always think that the holidays are going to be a relaxing time where I could just sit in my office/shed, read, write, and reflect on life. However, I am always proved wrong and the time actually becomes busier than usual. In addition to the work holiday party there was a school concert, The Nutcracker which a family friend was in, karate holiday party, customers getting things in at the last minute, and plenty of unforeseen chores.

One item that was definitely unforeseen was the need for a new stove as I broke the old one. It was definitely a hard lesson for me and one I’m still a bit in disbelief about. I had wanted to repair one of the igniters that wasn’t functioning and opening up the top learned just how cheaply made insides of ovens can be. Looking inside I saw that I’d have to replace the entire ignition control which controlled all four igniters. There was simply no way to unplug the one igniter and by a new one as all igniters were attached to the control with some sort of hardened gel. Even though it looked to be an extremely cheap part, it was a specialty part only available from the manufacture so of course they would gouge on price. One of those would be $80 – $100.

But the igniter wasn’t the part I broke. Just by opening up the top of the stove, not one, but two of the gas lines that go from the regulator to the burner cracked. They are made of metal and I learned how brittle those things become and how easily cracks appear at the bend points. A cracked gas line is nothing to try and fix and so looking for a replacement things only got worse.

I had thought I could easily find a flexible gas line on Amazon but no. I had to study the oven diagram and found what I needed but then there was another problem. The picture of the part had two threaded ends where the lines I just pulled out of the stove had a threaded male ending and a nut on the other end. All sources of information were giving me the wrong part, even when I called the manufacturer directly. Those operators aren’t oven designers, they are just looking up parts the same way I am on the internet!

So now, even if I did find something on the internet it would be generic, cost a lot of money and most likely take three weeks to ship. If I called a repairman it would be the same scenario above but with the added $300 or so on top due to labor costs. It was then I knew a new stove was the only logical answer. But when I explained to my wife and she chatted with her friends it was just “husband tried to repair the stove and broke it.” Explaining that this really wasn’t my fault is pointless,,,, the husband tried to fix something and he broke it.

We now have a Samsung Flex Duo and I owe the credit card company an additional $2,600. We went with the more expensive model as it is the appliance we use most and the new functionalities such as a powerful 22K BTU burner, dual ovens and wifi connectivity are great.

I’d like to say something about the connectivity piece since home networking is still very new and can be very clunky. Home networking can be done by a monkey IF all of the devices are from the same manufacturer. However, Google does not make TVs, washing machines or stoves and Samsung isn’t Google, so this means connectivity isn’t going to be seamless. I’ve learned that even if Google supports a manufacturer’s products, all of the products do not integrate with Google Home. Not even all products by Google integrate with Google Home (Next Protect currently does not).

When we were looking at the ovens another model advertised that it worked with Google Assistant. However, it was the cheaper model and we wanted the more expensive Samsung. I have a Samsung phone and know their Smart Things will work with the stove but would the stove work with Google? As it turns out it currently does not. I have connected Smart Things to Google and Google Home can easily see our Samsung T.V. but it does not give you the option to integrate the stove even though upon linking up it tells me there are three devices (T.V., stove and my phone) that are available. Upon connection I can only see and control the T.V. from Google.

I guess that really isn’t a big deal as it could be a safety issue and Smart Things will give us the control and notifications we want. But while I’m griping another issue with Google Home is that even when they do support another manufacturer you often have to tell Google Assistant to “talk to manufacturer X.” Then a different voice from manufacturer X will come on and ask what you need. That is an extra step that makes simply pressing a button (the old fashion way) more convenient than a voice command.

One example of this as well as good one to illustrate frustration is the MyQ garage door app. I have a Craftsman which abandoned their own app for MyQ. In the forums there is a lot of frustration in actually getting it to work and I understand their pain. Older folks like to read manuals and if they follow the manual then they should be able to get something to work. Well, with apps, tech, updates and so on the manuals are only about 70% helpful and there are plenty of pitfalls. It took me about 3 hours to get MyQ working with my garage door because there was some sort of trick, or weird anomaly in the process. I’ve forgotten what I did but yes, it was really frustrating.

MyQ is in partnership with Amazon to allow the delivery person to put your package in your garage. The deliveryman will receive a one time code to open and shut the garage door. I’m trying this out today although we’ve never had a problem with package theft, it still caused me anxiety when I ordered expensive things and they were left on my porch when I wasn’t home. Now I can have the anxiety of a delivery person stealing things out of the garage, or going into my home or not shutting the garage door! Well, I’ll start locking the door from the garage to the house and perhaps that will help things a little.

Let me get back to the stove for a bit as there was another frustration. Since my old stove broke so easily I wanted to make sure I registered the stove with Samsung. However, they don’t provide any materials with the manual explaining where to go and what to do. OK, no problem, I’ll just go to their website. But the website told me my model number wasn’t correct even though it was. I learned that I had to go to a separate website entirely and the “Model Code” is not the same thing as the “Model Number.” Now I like computers and am determined to figure something out when I put my mind to it. But it took me about 30 minutes to figure out how to get my stove registered with Samsung so I would imagine that 90% of purchasers will not successfully register their appliance with Samsung. The process isn’t streamlined and they really should only have one website when registering a product and put a card with the instructions letting people know how to register!

One other unexpected chore was that I need a new flapper for our toilet. It seems when it rains it pours and when one thing breaks so will three more other things at the same time. Our toilets are not wifi connected (unfortunately) but we do have the high-tech Toto washlets! 🙂 Thank God it wasn’t the electronics that broke but the low-tech flapper. I ordered another from Amazon and it is this cheap flapper I’m using as the test run for the Amazon/MyQ garage delivery. Can you imagine if I ended up getting all the stuff in my garage (or home!) stolen because I had a flapper delivered in my garage?

The other thing that almost broke (again) and is much more scary is my main computer. It is about 10 years old now and there appears to be a loose connection somewhere inside. Sometimes the monitor won’t come on and sometimes Windows will freeze upon loading. If I open it up, blow out the dust and push on all the connections I can get it working again. One of these days, if I ever have any spare money it would be nice to replace that old desktop with a powerful laptop. I do not see any extra money for such an expense in my near future… but at least my wife is happy with the new stove!

OK, wife and son are up now and my peaceful morning time is over. Time to end this post.

*Note: I’ve seen some chatter from people older than I about how home networking is dangerous! They have the idea some nasty hacker is going to come to your house and using his high tech hacking tools will open your door and then proceed to steal all your stuff!!! Yea right. It is still much more effective just to bring a hammer and crowbar I’m afraid. If you’re worried about high-tech theft then better to worry about all the highly personal information we are giving Google. That should definitely keep you up at night much more than a hacker coming to steal your stuff!!! Better for the “hackers” to just scare you by saying they have video of you watching porn and to send them Bitcoin if you don’t want it released to everyone you know. Good thing I’ll be rich enough to buy them all off just as soon as my Nigerian prince deposits $10 million in my bank account!


Google Home

I’ve always enjoyed technology and have often been a first adopter before new tech really goes mainstream. As I’ve gotten older my enthusiasm for always learning new things has waned a bit. I think this is because I have so much more technology in my life and technology is improving and changing at such a rapid pace. There is always something new, something to update, a new way of doing things that you have to keep current on.

My most recent interest is slowly building my own “smart home.” I would say this is generally easy, even for a beginner but only if you have one or two devices and stay within the same ecosystem (Google, Apple, Amazon etc). It is when you mix/match, have multiple users and continually add that things can become a bit complex. I’m someone who can generally figure out the tech stuff and have had many triumphs over “professionals” when there is a tech problem. For Google Home, there were two issues that had me stumped which I just figured out today.

The first and most confusing was understanding the “Primary Account” in Google Home. There is nothing that signifies which account is the primary and seemingly no way to easily change it if it did visibly display. Reading the forums I learned that the very first account that sets up the Google Home is the primary. When I set up my Google Home I set up two users, my wife and I, and through trial and error I must have unknowingly made her primary. I did this by setting it up with my own account, adding her, then deleting myself and adding again through her as I thought this might fix an issue or something.

I was clued in about this whole Primary Account issue when I couldn’t get “continued conversation” to work. I had it selected on my Assistant but it didn’t work with my Home Hub or Mini. The reason is that my wife was the Primary Account holder. When I checked “Continued Conversation” in her Google Assistant settings I could see the Hub and Mini. To make myself the Primary I had to delete her out completely then re-add. This is a pain, something that is probably confusing many and Google should fix.

The second thing I learned was that you don’t need a different “Home” for different rooms. You create one Home then add rooms in it. The setup process was confusing enough for me to have one “Home” for the kitchen and another “Home” for the bedroom. Nope, one “Home” and all the rooms in it. I can’t believe I had it wrong for so long and again, if it confused me I can imagine this error is repeated a lot.

I am feeling accomplished now that I’ve got Google Home squared away and even ordered two more Minis since it is Cyber Monday and are on sale.

Now the next step is to work on some actual code so I can get my Doorbird video to display on the Google Hub when someone presses the doorbell. It is possible using Home Assistant which I have running on Raspberry Pi but I haven’t been able to get it to work yet. It would be much easier if Google would just integrate with Doorbird and I could thus find Doorbird in the Google Home settings. Oh well, that is a problem for another day.