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DSL woes ii

Last night, I purchased and installed from the Mac App Store the program Network Logger Pro ($9.99). 

Despite my belief that the Airport Time Capsule is not the problem with our connectivity, I still had to consider the possibility that it might be. So I started researching wifi problems with Airport Time Capsules. I compiled a small checklist of wifi settings to try in the Airport Utility (such as changing ipv6 to "link-local only"). 

I also discovered that the ATCs have a lifespan of 3-5 years -- not only for the hard drive, but also for the wifi components. Apparently, they get hot and wear down over years of being on all the time. So the ATC could be part of the problem after all. That is disappointing, but good to know. Time to start pricing another external drive and a new wifi router.

But let's take the ATC out of the equation: if I was relying just on the Frontier modem, would I still  experience network outages?

So I started looking for programs or terminal commands I could use to create a log file to show that the outages are coming from the modem, not the ATC. It was during this research that I discovered Network Logger Pro. 

Therein followed a series of brainwaves.

  • Brainwave #1: I already have an extra-long Ethernet cable running from the ATC to the back of the iMac, so that I don't need to be on wifi. 
  • Brainwave #2: The modem has an Ethernet port.
  • Brainwave #3: If I connect the iMac to the modem via the Ethernet cable, then I'm bypassing the ATC and getting the data directly.
  • Brainwave #4: With the ATC out of the equation, the Frontier tech guy has one less confounding variable to deal with.
  • Brainwave #5: If the modem-to-Mac connectivity is solid and steady, then the problem is the ATC. If the modem-to-Mac connectivity is choppy, then -- if the line and signal are all working correctly -- then the problem is the modem. (Just thought of another variable -- the Ethernet cable. But it's not pinched or bent anywhere, so that shouldn't be a problem.)

It takes a while for me to put things together...

I installed Network Logger Pro, which has graphs and stuff I can't begin to decipher. 

  <img src="http://tempblogfood.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/2e4c1-network-logger-pro.jpg" alt="" />

Now that my iMac is slurping data directly from the modem, Network Logger Pro records in its log the network up- and downtimes. Yes indeed, connected directly via Ethernet to the modem, I can see that I'm getting outages of several minutes at a time. 

  <img src="http://tempblogfood.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/2c5fd-log.jpg" alt="" />

So now I can call the tech guy, show him this log, and make the case that we should try a new modem. Once we're sure the modem and line are working well on my iMac, then we can tackle any wifi problems the ATC may have.

Update: the Internet went down as I tried to post this from home. So I'm posting this from work.

 

Lenten learnings and Eastertide challenge

For Lent, I gave up listening to podcasts and adopted Mark Forster's Fast FVP at work

Fast FVP worked great and accommodated a couple of enormous changes that occurred to me at my workplace. 

A pile o' podcasts also silted up such that I could spend the next 50 days listening to them all. But I did get back to listening to audiobooks and other long-form items and webinar recordings I'd put off for "later."

Accd to the calendar I'm referencing, Eastertide runs from April 1-May 20. So here's what I'd like to do:

  • Continue using Fast FVP at work
  • Use the Next Hour (or other No-List system) at home
  • Interleave one audiobook a week with my podcasts. I usually listen to these things when I'm commuting or doing the dishes, so I can get through an 8hr audiobook in about 7-10 days. So maybe alternating weeks of audiobook and podcasts. We'll see.

 

DSL woes

We've had very patchy Frontier DSL connectivity for over a week now. 

It's uncanny that the DSL can work so flawlessly, so invisibly, that we take it for granted. But when connections are dropped and apps that normally update instantly instead stall out, then frustration rises.

I should say that everyone I've dealt with -- Frontier's telephone customer support and technicians -- have been polite, respectful, and seem knowledgeable as they work through their troubleshooting steps.

Here's what has happened since that first call:

  • The first customer support person did all the standard checks and nothing worked. She created a trouble ticket. (We've learned from past experience with Frontier that a trouble ticket number is crucial to getting some action taken.)
  • The first technician checked the lines and the signal was strong. He replaced the ADSL filter on the phone jack in my office (the only phone jack we use in the house).
  • He helped me set up a newer-model modem we got from Frontier in 2016 during another patchy DSL period. The connectivity problem at that time mysteriously resolved itself so we kept on with the old modem. If it ain't broke, etc.
  • Even the technician had trouble activating the modem. So it was good I didn't try it myself.
  • He introduced me to Speedtest.net, which Frontier techs like to use to test the line. I installed the free Speedtest app for my iMac, also. Works great.
  • I had 10 trouble-free minutes of internet and then it slowed and got patchy again.
  • We tried accessing either the Airport Time Capsule and the Frontier modem's wifi networks, with disappointing results. The Time Capsule has been our default wifi/router for the past three years and has given us no trouble.
  • Called customer support this morning, fiddled with the modem settings per her instructions, and no joy. (She suggested I replace the 10' cord running from the jack to the modem with a 6' cord. The sys admin guys at work laughed their heads off when I told them that.)
  • The second technician met me at the house a couple of hours later (same-day service!). He rewired the box outside so only the one phone jack is connected to the DSL line. Prior to that, all four phone jacks in the house were receiving data.
  • Both technicians reported that the signal coming to the house and from the jack is strong.
  • The second technician's hypothesis was that the Frontier modem installed last week had wireless turned on, and its signal was interfering with the Airport Time Capsule's signal. So when we experimented last week with first one wifi signal and then the other, we made the problem worse because those signals were colliding and slowing all traffic down. He turned off the Frontier's wireless signal.

The connection is still patchy, unfortunately. When the connection is up, the speed is acceptable. But the connection is not stable; we're losing connectivity a couple of times an hour -- sometimes a brief hiccup, other times for 20 minutes -- which renders the download speed (we're provisioned for 3 mbps) a moot point.

Today's technician really thought the problem was the Time Capsule. I pushed back on that. Why would it suddenly go wonky after three years of no problems?

Our set up is this:

  • Phone cord from the jack to the modem. 
  • Ethernet cable from the modem to the Airport Time Capsule. The TC broadcasts the wifi signal.
  • Another Ethernet cable from the TC to my iMac. This effectively wires my iMac to the modem; I can turn off the iMac's wifi and still access the internet.

I prefer having a wired connection to the modem so I can verify whether the patchy connectivity is coming from the wifi or the modem. If Liz's iPad loses connectivity, I can verify via Speedtest whether I've also lost connectivity. If I have, the problem is the signal from the modem, not the Time Capsule.

Liz and I are both getting our internet via the Time Capsule (she via wireless, me via wired), so it could be the weak link. But I'm more suspicious of the Frontier modem. We're an Apple household and I'm frankly loathe to believe this problem lies with the Time Capsule.

Connectivity is better today than yesterday, but not as stable as it was two weeks ago. We will give it a day or two under the normal stresses of email, transactions, streaming video, downloading, etc. 

Until I can take my connectivity for granted again, I will likely roam the Frontier for some time to come.

Pervasive language

We saw a trailer for an R-rated movie, and one of the rating justifications was for "pervasive language."

"So that means it's a 'talkie'?" my friend said.

Apparently this odd wording has been remarked on since 2005 or so, but I had not noticed it till then.

Following is a paragraph from a 2009 MovieChopShop post on the MPAA's vernacular:

And we all know about their little one-fuck, two-fuck rules that bump a PG-13 straight up to an R.  But why does Reservoir Dogs have “strong language” while The Departed has “pervasive language,” and Pulp Fiction has “pervasive strong language,” when they really all seem like they might as well be about the same?

The Merriam-Webster site says pervasive can be neutral ("a pervasive sense of calm") but "is most often used of things we don't really want spreading throughout all parts of something," such as "a pervasive stench."

The M-W site ends with a shoutout to the MPAA:

... Beginning in the early 1990s, the MPAA started giving the R rating to movies with "pervasive language." Most movies have language throughout, of course. The MPAA is using the phrase "pervasive language" to refer to the frequent use of a particular kind of language: profanity.

Strong language? Profane language? Bankrupt language for an obsolete and purposeless ratings system?

Creating a recurring email message in Windows Outlook 2016

The Situation

At my day job, there's an email I need to send every week. Same subject, same message. The recipients stay mostly the same, though sometimes there are changes in the lineup.

I don't want to have to manually create this email every week. I want the computer to do what computers are supposed to do: remember and do stuff for me so I don't have to remember and do it.

We use Outlook 2016 on Windows 10. Outlook lets you create recurring appointments, recurring reminders, and recurring tasks -- but not recurring emails. Fair enough. The other recurrences only bother you, but sending recurring emails can bother lots of other people.

Because our workstations are locked down, I cannot easily install any macro or automation software that could help me with this situation.

Two Solutions

So here are two solutions I cooked up using just the tools available to me from Windows 10.

The first one made me feel like the Professor on Gilligan's Island creating a catapult from bamboo and coconuts. The second one is plainer but gets the job done.

Neither of these are exhaustively tested or vetted procedures, so use at your own risk.

Solution 1: Fully automated

1. Create a contact group

Create a contact group in Outlook containing the message's recipients. Let's call it Recurring email group.

If the recipients list changes in future, then you only need to add or drop names in this group and nowhere else. The email template we create next will still work fine.

2. Create an email template

Microsoft describes the procedure in more detail, but here's the short version.

  1. Create an Outlook email with the text of the recurring message and the subject line.
  2. In the To: field, enter Recurring email group.
  3. If you usually include a signature in your emails, then do not include it in this template. Outlook will add the signature automatically when the new email is created.
  4. Save the email as an outlook template file (*.oft). For the purposes of this exercise, let's call it Recurring email template.oft.

By default, templates are saved to C:UsersusernameAppDataRoamingMicrosoftTemplates.

You can specify a different path but it's easier to just accept the default; if you specify a different path, make a note to yourself of the file's location because you will need the file path in the next step.

3. Create a batch file

I couldn't believe this is what I had to resort to, but it was. God bless batch files. Still incredibly useful little tools.

  1. Open Notepad (do not use Wordpad or Microsoft Word, use Notepad).
  2. Add the following lines to the batch file:
@echo off 

cd C:UsersusernameAppDataRoamingMicrosoftTemplates 

start "C:Program Files (x86)Microsoft OfficerootOffice16OUTLOOK.EXE" "Recurring email template.oft" 

There are many ways you could write the batch file; for example, I could have entered qualified paths to both the .exe and the .otl. In this case, I did what made sense to me to do.

Save the batch file to a folder on your hard disk. An obvious place is your C:Usersusername directory, but anywhere will do. Again, remember where you saved it because you need it for the next step.

Before you go any further, double-click the batch file and make sure it works as intended (a new email is created with the contents of the template file).

4. Create a recurring task in the Task Scheduler

Here's where our elaborate little Rube Goldberg contraption1 comes together.

  1. From the Start menu, open Windows Administrative Tools>Task Scheduler. (If you don't see an icon for the app, then try some of these methods to open it.) The Task Scheduler sports a most horrific UI. Fortunately, we won't be here for long.
  2. In the right panel, under Actions, create a Basic task.
    1. The trigger is the time you want to send the email, such as every Friday at 11 a.m.
    2. The action is to run the batch file. Navigate to the batch file and select it.

You can search Google or YouTube for more help on the Windows Task Scheduler.

5. You're done!

Now, every Friday at 11 am, the Task Scheduler will fire off the batch file, which calls Outlook to open the template file, and a new email will open up -- ready to go -- for you to review and send.

6. But just in case...

There are lots of moving parts to this contraption. Glitches happen and a component may not fire off correctly.

So, set a reminder in your calendar for an hour or so after the email is supposed to be created, something obvious like "WAS THE EMAIL CREATED??".

Aside: What methods didn't work

  1. Getting Task Scheduler to simply open the template file. The Scheduler wants either a program or script; specifying the .oft file is not enough, even though the file is associated to Outlook.
  2. The Task Scheduler would not accept a qualified path to outlook2016.exe (which took a while to find, BTW) with the .oft path as an option.

It was when these two obvious ways did not work that I hit on the batch file method.

Solution 2: Manual but maybe more foolproof

  1. Create the contact group, as above.
  2. Create the email template file, as above. Open up a File Explorer window so you can see the .oft file you created.
  3. In your Outlook folder hierarchy, create a new folder called "Templates" or something equally brilliant.
  4. Drag the .oft file from the File Explorer window to the "Templates" folder in Outlook.
  5. Set a task reminder or calendar reminder for the date and time you want to send the email.
  6. When the reminder fires off on the date and time you selected, go to the Outlook "Templates" folder and double-click the email template. A new email will open up with the template's contact group, subject, and message you specified.

The second solution is more manual, but also less prone to gremlins in the system. Outlook task and calendar reminders always perform solidly.

We just spent hours to save minutes. You're welcome.

  1. Search YouTube for "mouse trap game." I was amazed at how many videos there are. Not just of the board game contraption, but many animations recreating the action of the trap. ↩︎

Avoid The "Just One More Thing" Impulse

I have been posting a business/productivity/mastermindish type article every Sunday on LinkedIn for a few weeks now. 

Usually, I take a post or part of a post I've published here first, revise it, clean it up, and post it. 

The "Columbo" post is from an idea I read somewhere on Mark Forster's site, though I cannot now find the reference. I put a structure around it, added the Columbo references, a dash of 3 Principles, and there it was.

I had wanted to present this video compilation of Columbo's "just one more thing" tactic, but the studios restricted the video's playback to YouTube only. Shame.

So the only video I could really link to that worked with my article was the following short (under 10 seconds) video illustrating what you need to do when you hear that "just one more thing" gremlin in your ear.

[youtube=://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yM8ixOCpdxw&w=640&h=480]

 

 

Jimmy Dean on luck

A great reminder to stay a little bit awake as I move through the day.

You gotta try your luck at least once a day, because you could be going around lucky all day and not even know it.
— Jimmy Dean