Nancy for a new age

Orange Crate Art's ongoing coverage of the Nancy comic strip -- from the acclaimed Fantagraphics book on how to read Nancy to the recent changeover of the daily strips to artist Olivia Jaimes -- convinced me to start reading the strip. (See all his Nancy posts on his Pinboard page.)

I read this week's strips and also like what he praises: its dryness, its cleverness, its hipness to what a kid and an audience would know about the current world. Tom the Dancing Bug's sarcastic awareness of comics tropes seems an influence, also.

OCA also alerted me to the AVClub article on the controversy surrounding the changeover to Jaimes from the former daily artist Guy Gilchrist, who is still doing the Sunday strip. Fans tend to the conservative, so it's understandable that those who knew what to expect from a daily Nancy strip now don't know what they're going to get. But that's what I find exciting.

 

 

Soviet film posters of the '50s and '60s

The Guardian web site runs an online gallery of pictures or images on a theme. The movie posters here reflect the thaw under Khrushchev, though some of the movies themselves continued the East vs. West propaganda struggle and the rightness of the Soviet path. A few evoke Socialist Party poster images but you can see the designers straining for a bolder, more experimental style.

They don't quite shake a literalism to the human figure and most lack a strong central image to anchor the composition. By contrast, Saul Bass's striking poster designs for Vertigo and Anatomy of a Murder make bold statements that stop you dead and evoke a sense of the movie without directly illustrating an event. The Soviet posters feel more tentative, yet there is a quiet mood and craft to some of them that invite the eye to stop and linger. 

I love the red and black contrasts of 25 Baku Commissars, the scratchboard effect of Black Sunglasses, and the leaf-print/snowflake designs surrounding the couple in Young and Green.

But if I had to pick one to take home with me and put on a wall, I think it would be Black Seagull: the image's woodcut nature, the contrasting black-and-yellow palette, the stiff lines of the dress folds indicating movement, the primacy of the female image as the plane draws near -- they all get my attention.

Black seagull

Don't fight the system -- create a new one

You never change anything by fighting the existing. To change something, build a new model and make the existing obsolete.
— Buckminster Fuller

A friend of a friend is a priest in a progressive area. He is very innovative in his methods to help people in his community who are in need. 

In cases of injustice, his attitude is to not fight the system, because that just causes the system to entrench further and – worse – it defines what you’re doing in terms of the system. The established system controls the terms of the debate.

Instead, he prefers to create his own system, with its own approaches and strategies. If you create a new system that is in integrity with your values, and it produces better results than the old system, then you (and maybe others) will use the better system more often. The new system takes over without a struggle and the old system loses its authority. No battles are needed, only preferences expressed.

It takes more creativity and courage to work this way. You are deliberately stepping outside everyone’s boundaries of certainty into the chaos of uncertainty. Yet, it’s from that chaos that new, creative thinking arises.

Bringing this down to the level of my obsessions, I see old systems at work in the self-improvement realm with established diets, fitness regimens, productivity, etc. New systems come along – like the Bullet Journal – to become established systems in their own right. 

I have tended to follow established systems due to the lure of the “sure thing,” only to often experience mixed results. I’m glad I did them, because I learned more about the domain and how I operate within those rules. And sometimes, that system produced exactly the results I wanted.

But in other areas, I think I may be better off walking in uncertainty and seeing what new thinking emerges.

DSL woes v -- The End (...for now?...)

I made a few changes a week ago when the connectivity was poor. I basically reset everything to zero -- no customizations, no trying to tweak performance. I did this so that, if I called Frontier tech support after the weekend, I could tell them the system was running as specified by them. I did not want anything in place that they could object to.

  • On the modem, I reverted the DNS server URLs to the ISP defaults.
  • On the Airport, I cleared the custom DNS server URLs (going to CloudFlare and Google Public DNS). The Airport is now using the ISP defaults.
  • On the Airport, I reverted the wifi channels back to Automatic.
  • I unplugged the Airport, then unplugged the modem, let them sit idle for a while, plugged in the modem, let it boot up and connect, and then plugged in the Airport. (Not sure I got the order right there, but that's what I think I did.)
  • I also got a 1-foot cable to connect the modem to the DSL jack. I had a 10-foot cable before. I don't believe the length of the cable has anything to do with connection speed, but again, I wanted to remove any objections that Frontier tech support might have had to my setup. In my magical-thinking mode, the long looped cable may have picked up interference from the ancient power strip I use or maybe other cables it rubbed against. Anyway -- no problems with old, long cords.

Within a day or so, the connection stabilized. I still check Speedtest and Fast.com and the speeds are variable, but I more often see 1.5-2.5 Mbps than not. That's better than before, believe or not. Liz reports experiencing slowdowns when she works from home but the system does not fall over.

Network Logger Pro has recorded no total outages and far fewer DNS outages.

Did all my spells and incantations help? Or was it just the Frontier network going through a little crisis of faith and now it's back on its feet thanks to the love and support of its family and friends? We may never know. 

I do know that this latest round of self-reflection and meditation forced a few beneficial changes to our physical netowkr setup, and the connection is back to "good enough" (i.e., no more than two pauses, if any, while streaming Netflix to the Apple TV). 

I will continue to run Network Logger Pro for another week and Speedtest when I am suspicious.   But no more active tweaking of the system unless I encounter a real problem.

 

Alan Ayckbourn: Advice from Harold Pinter

I think Norman’s background is deliberately sketchy - I’m less interested in his genesis than his impact. Blame my mentor at the time, one Harold Pinter, who directed me early on when I was playing Stanley in his deliberately opaque The Birthday Party. I too was mystified as to where my character had come from or even, after the play had ended, where on earth he went. So I asked him. Harold looked at me for a second and then gave me the immortal note, “Mind your own fucking business.” I sort of knew what he meant and, after over 40 years of directing, it’s one I rather wish I’d had the courage to give at times!

We recently finished a rewatch of the 1977 TV adaptation of The Norman Conquests by Alan Ayckbourn. The three plays make a great weekend of viewing for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. We watch them every 5 or 6 years; the familiarity is there, but the details have been forgotten so there are always fun little surprises. The acting and comic timing is crystal-perfection.

How to Clean Your Gmail Autocomplete List • Productivity Portfolio

When I was at UNC for a couple years I sent and received emails from my Gmail account to lots and lots of people I will never see or hear from again. 

This was annoying me recently, when I had to ignore lots of obviously irrelevant-to-me-now email addresses. Where was Gmail finding this stuff -- from my old emails?

In a way, yes. The Productivity Portfolio explains that Gmail creates a new Contact record for every email you receive from or send to someone. The workaround is to find the Contact record and delete it. 

Very handy to know, particularly for when friends change work addresses.

Creating random passphrases for stronger passwords

At home on my iMac, when I need to create a strong password, I use 1Password's generator, specifically where it generates a string of random words. The longer the passphrase, generally, the harder it is to crack.

But I don't have 1Password on my Windows computer at work. And I like to mix things up also. 

Prior to using 1Password, I used a Diceware passphrase. Throw five dice to generate a totally random 5-digit number. Match the number to the list of 7,776 short words or word-tokens, and you have a long password that is easier to remember and type, while harder to crack. 

Since I don't have five dice, I used Random.org's dice-throwing routine, either from its website or iPhone app.  

So throwing 15152 gives you "brawl," 26232 is "fork," and so on. Separate five or six words with a non-alphabetic character, begin or end with a number or !@#$^*(), and I have a strong password that's also easy to type on a mobile keyboard. 

Diceware's was admittedly an odd list, with some obscure words, numbers, single letters (g), single letters with apostrophes (g's), or very short "words" (fy) that do not add to the passphrase complexity and are hard to remember on their own. 

Into the breach steps the Electronic Freedom Foundation's new wordlists to create random passphrases. The long word list is now composed of full recognizable words, without apostrophes, and that are easy to remember and spell. 

The EFF's page has all the information on the reasoning behind the new list along with shorter lists that use only four dice. It also links to the classic XKCD comic explaining the benefit of long passphrases.

 

Windows: My startup.bat file

@echo off
:: source: https://www.computerhope.com/issues/ch001678.htm :: to add a pause, insert CHOICE /N /C YN /T 5 /D Y >NUL :: Using the choice command included with these versions of Windows you can delay a batch file anywhere from 0 to 9999 seconds. :: In this example, we illustrate a five-second delay. If you want to increase or decrease this time change the “5” to a different value.
@echo off
:: source: https://www.computerhope.com/issues/ch001678.htm :: to add a pause, insert CHOICE /N /C YN /T 5 /D Y >NUL :: Using the choice command included with these versions of Windows you can delay a batch file anywhere from 0 to 9999 seconds. :: In this example, we illustrate a five-second delay. If you want to increase or decrease this time change the “5” to a different value.
@echo off
:: source: https://www.computerhope.com/issues/ch001678.htm :: to add a pause, insert CHOICE /N /C YN /T 5 /D Y >NUL :: Using the choice command included with these versions of Windows you can delay a batch file anywhere from 0 to 9999 seconds. :: In this example, we illustrate a five-second delay. If you want to increase or decrease this time change the “5” to a different value.
@echo off
:: source: https://www.computerhope.com/issues/ch001678.htm :: to add a pause, insert CHOICE /N /C YN /T 5 /D Y >NUL :: Using the choice command included with these versions of Windows you can delay a batch file anywhere from 0 to 9999 seconds. :: In this example, we illustrate a five-second delay. If you want to increase or decrease this time change the “5” to a different value.
@echo off
:: source: https://www.computerhope.com/issues/ch001678.htm :: to add a pause, insert CHOICE /N /C YN /T 5 /D Y >NUL :: Using the choice command included with these versions of Windows you can delay a batch file anywhere from 0 to 9999 seconds. :: In this example, we illustrate a five-second delay. If you want to increase or decrease this time change the “5” to a different value.
@echo off
:: source: https://www.computerhope.com/issues/ch001678.htm :: to add a pause, insert CHOICE /N /C YN /T 5 /D Y >NUL :: Using the choice command included with these versions of Windows you can delay a batch file anywhere from 0 to 9999 seconds. :: In this example, we illustrate a five-second delay. If you want to increase or decrease this time change the “5” to a different value.

8.htm :: to add a pause, insert CHOICE /N /C YN /T 5 /D Y >NUL :: Using the choice command included with these versions of Windows you can delay a batch file anywhere from 0 to 9999 seconds. :: In this example, we illustrate a five-second delay. If you want to increase or decrease this time change the “5” to a different value.

:: evernote start “C:UsersuseridAppDataLocalAppsEvernoteEvernote” Evernote.exe

CHOICE /N /C YN /T 5 /D Y >NUL

:: firefox start “C:UsersuseridAppDataLocalMozilla Firefox” firefox.exe

CHOICE /N /C YN /T 5 /D Y >NUL

:: outlook start “C:Program Files (x86)Microsoft OfficerootOffice16” OUTLOOK.EXE

CHOICE /N /C YN /T 5 /D Y >NUL

:: workrave start C:UsersuseridDocumentsApplicationsWorkravelibWorkrave.exe

References

Surviving the Ordinary: Why We Need Memoirs of Regular Lives | Literary Hub

So why do we need this book?

Mary Laura Philpott’s article looks at books of the ordinary lives that most of us lead: birth (or not), love (or not), marriage (or not), and death (oh yes). As much as the sensational books grab our attention, it’s the quieter books about quieter lives that can speak more loudly to us.

I have read to Liz before her bedtime for many years, and we’ve found that the best books for that are memoirs of ordinary people, but with a twist of some kind.

 Philpott worries for her own book of memoirish essays and whether its normality will speak to readers. Her hope for why readers may find it of interest rests on the concept of “relatability.”  

People come in all the time seeking not just an entertaining read, but (sorry, here comes that word) a relatable one. They pull down books in which they find some version of themselves as they are now or were in the past or hope to be one day. They start out seeing themselves in others; then they see the other in themselves; then they’re able to see themselves and their own futures differently. I’d say these books transform people, but it’s more that the books help people along while they are already transforming.

Perhaps. I would say instead that way down deep, in a place before words are formed, we know that we are all connected, we are all One Self. A good ordinary memoir cracks open the door to that place and reminds us of that truth.  

DSL woes iv

Still getting frequent, brief DNS outages. The speed is noticeably slower for long periods, but with a few periods where we get close to our provisioned speed. The connection is more stable than it was before Saturday's visit. We have not had any periods of complete downtime.

I am close to saying that this is about as good as it will get.

So, as my friend Peter is fond of saying after a grinding life event: What have we learned from this? 

Do as much work as I can to define the problem before I call tech support

I'm fortunate that our setup is simple: a DSL jack, a modem, the Airport Time Capsule. It was easy for me to directly hook the iMac to the modem so that I could tell tech support it was not the wifi. I left them no room to argue about wifi settings; when we deal with a wired connection, the troubleshooting is much simpler.

Use tools to gather evidence

Using Network Logger Pro, I collected a week's worth of outage data to prove to Frontier that we had a problem and that it was not my equipment causing it. 

Also, using Speedtest (the web site or the app) to do spot checks helped because that's what Frontier tech support uses. 

I like having logs and data showing that I'm getting x number of outages and only y mbps at specific times of day. Anecdotal "It just feels a lot slower" evidence does not help anyone.

The modem itself has its own stats and logs, also, but they're way more technical and I'm not sure they'd do me much good.

Accept that what I can do is limited

Rebooting the modem and/or router is the universal antidote because it solves most common ills. But for us, rebooting worked until it didn't. Getting rid of an ancient DSL filter and upgrading to a new modem helped. Hardware-wise, that was about it.

Of course, you can input different DSL addresses but that's no guarantee that the situation will change (and if you don't flush the DNS cache, then it may take a day or a reboot for the changes to take effect). I've also read that your ISP's default DNS servers may even be faster sometimes.

For wifi, you could use some tools to maybe find some less-crowded channels or change the router's DNS addresses, but again -- that's about it. The change in speed could be noticeable, but I think most likely the bump will be slight.

Beyond these simple tactics, I believe what I can physically do to improve a connectivity or outage problem is limited. Networking is arcane, dark-magic stuff; I chose to stop my research with SN ratios and Line Attenuations because it was clear to me that going deeper was not helping my understanding or the situation.

Call the ISP's tech support and get a trouble ticket

In the end, it came down to me calling the ISP, being persistent in making my case, and getting a trouble ticket. Once I had that trouble ticket, I was reassured that I'd get attention focused on the problem.

This takes time; maybe an hour on the phone with the first call, maybe a couple of hours with the technicians. I don't believe there's another way.

In all, we had three visits by four different Frontier technicians. And the final resolution was ... to replace the modem. So it goes.

All the guys who came to look at the problem were knowledgeable and each advanced the game a little at a time (changing the DSL filter, rewiring the box, double-checking the modem's settings). They have more sophisticated tools than I do to check the lines and they troubleshoot these problems all the time. So I relied on their experiences and instincts.

But ...

Run Speedtest several times before the technician leaves

This was a great piece of advice I picked up in my researches and I kicked myself when I forgot to do this.

The technicians need to see for themselves whether their work made a difference. And until we agree there's a positive change, then the ticket remains open.

In the end, it's up to the ISP (and me)

The ISP controls all the hardware from the street to my house and they're even responsible for the modem. 

My physical location from the switch, the wiring in my house -- some things are beyond my control. But the things I can influence, I want to influence.

So the next time I start experiencing problems, I will gather evidence and then call them: Here's what my logs are showing. What speeds should I expect, given our provisioning? What are Frontier's parameters for acceptable performance, using Speedtest as a guide? How many outages, and for how long, does Frontier consider acceptable? Are there any settings I can tweak on my modem that would help?

It's the ISP's responsibility to ensure I get the speed and service I'm paying for. It's my responsibility to be a partner in helping to solve the problem and to make sure the ISP does not stop focusing on the problem till it's solved to my satisfaction.

How To Access The WiFi Scanner In macOS Sierra - Let's Talk Tech

I was looking for a wifi scanner to check whether there were less cluttered wifi channels in our area. Specifying a less-populated channel can reduce interference and provide a more pleasing experience.

Lo, there is a Wireless Diagnostic utility included with macOS. It takes an Option key press on the wifi icon in the menubar to get to it, so it is definitely non-obvious -- why does Apple hide this kind of thing? 

The instructions on Let's Talk Tech page are clear and short. The utility told me the best 2.4 and 5 GHz channels to specify, and we're trying them out now. So far, so good, though the 5 GHz recommendations seem to change whenever I check them. 

   [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="1382.0"]<img src="http://tempblogfood.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/07f5c-wifiscan.jpg" alt=" The panel on the right shows all the wifi networks in our neighborhood, the wireless protocol they're using, the band (2.4 or 5 GHz) and, most important, their channels. The summary in the left panel recommends the best channels that&nbsp; take advantage of less-populated bands. " />  The panel on the right shows all the wifi networks in our neighborhood, the wireless protocol they're using, the band (2.4 or 5 GHz) and, most important, their channels. The summary in the left panel recommends the best channels that&nbsp; take advantage of less-populated bands. [/caption]

Self-Improvement's ultimate goal? Creating James Bond villains

 Credit: [filmonic.com/top-10-ep...](http://filmonic.com/top-10-epic-james-bond-villain-deaths/) Credit:filmonic.com/top-10-ep…

One of my first coaches observed that the end result of self-improvement and motivational techniques is to create James Bond super-villains. Bond, on the other hand, embodies the exact opposite of those aspirational ideals.  

Consider: what marks the extreme Bond villains such as Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Dr. No, Hugo Drax, and Raoul Silva?  

  • They are ambitious. They think big, dream big, plan big.  
  • They take action on their vision.
  • They are single-minded in the pursuit of their goals and put in the hours to achieve those ends. (Work-life balance must be an adorable middle-class concept to a guy like Blofeld.)
  • Those big plans require extraordinary self-discipline to achieve. No villain binges Netflix. 
  • They are persuasive leaders who inspire loyalty, or at least command the loyalty, of other powerful people. 
  • They have no hangups about money, either getting more or hanging on to it. 
  • They leave no money on the table. They take the money and the table and then sell the table to get more money. 
  • They don't care what people think or say about them. 
  • They have no issues with negative self-image or negative self-talk.
  • They don't second-guess themselves. 
  • They set SMART goals and employ mind-boggling Gantt charts to help them achieve their (to them) utterly reasonable visions. A secret missile base inside a dormant volcano doesn't just grow itself, you know. 
  • They exercise a tremendous organizational prowess to run tight, clockwork-precise organizations employing dozens or hundreds of people. 
  • They have no conception of "leaving their comfort zone" because their comfort zones cover a lot of ground. 
  • They have no filters on their personality, thinking, or behavior -- they are who they are, like 'em or not. 
  • They do not ask for either forgiveness or permission. 
  • They think outside the box. 
  • They think win. Win. Win. 
  • They feel free to do whatever they want to do. 

Look at that list. Self-help books and motivational speakers by the hundreds build careers teaching only one or two of these attributes to their audiences. There is absolutely no reason in the world every villain on Her Majesty's Shitlist should not succeed with their diabolical plans. 

Yet into every scenario blunders that damnable James Bond: emotional, impulsive, instinctive, reactive; an opportunist who improvises without doing proper research; who acts inconsistently, impulsively, rashly; who is suspicious of everyone around him when he's not manipulating them; who works hard instead of smart; who destroys years of delicate and methodical preparation in a few loud explodey minutes.  

The Bond villain is ruthlessly, terribly orderly and methodical, a top-down thinker, patiently building his organization step by step, consolidating gains and reversing losses. He's even planned for his escapes in case things go wrong! Isn't this type of worldly success and behavior what traditional mainstream self-help and motivational literature -- especially those books sitting on the "Business & Economics" shelves -- holds up as the ideal?  

James Bond, on the other hand, is the (secret) agent of chaos and destruction whose job is not to change the world, but, in a sense, to protect the status quo. Is he really the guy we're meant to emulate?  

Of course, there are downsides to being a villain, too. 

DSL woes iii

Every couple of years something goes wonky with our DSL connection and it requires major intervention. A couple of years ago, I had two Frontier technicians in my office talking to a third who was at the local switch.

Yesterday, I had THREE Frontier technicians in my office. One of them was the first guy who came out over two weeks ago.

Restricting them to just the iMac connected via Ethernet to the modem sped things up a bit — no futzing with the Airport wifi settings.

After all three tested and tried their ideas, they wound up doing what I thought they’d have to do: switch out the modem for a newer model. In this case, an Arris NVG443B modem, which is a brand I’ve never heard of before.

So far, so good. There were some teething problems early on as reported by Network Logger Pro, mainly Domain Name Server (DNS) outages. Network Logger has not reported any total outages since before the technicians came.

After an evening of iPad-surfing, Liz reported pages taking a long time to load, but they eventually did load and there were no outages. So the connection seems stable, though slower.

I ran the macOS-based Speedtest app and was discouraged to see our 3 mbps provisioned download speed drop to 1 mbps or less on several tests. Even though we experienced outages before, we got close to 3 mbps when the connection was up.

Update: I got 2.8 or 2.9 mbps late last night, but am barely scraping 1.5 this morning.

According to the modem’s built-in xDSL stats page, it’s seeing a downstream rate of 3360 kbps (so, about 3 mbps) and an upstream rate of 863 kbps. 

Hm. The modem seems to be receiving data at the provisioned rate, but on my Ethernet connection, I’m seeing 1 mbps or less. 

Hm. Network Logger Pro is showing now only DNS outages since the Frontier guys left. Fewer than before they arrived, but still...should I be seeing DNS outages at all?

On the old modem, for the last few years, I’d replace the default ISP DNS addresses with the Google DNS addresses or OpenDNS addresses. Supposedly, those server addresses resolve the domain names faster than the ISP’s DNS servers do. (There’s also a new entrant to the DNS space called Cloudflare.)

After some Googling around, here’s what I am doing, using Kim Komando’s DNS article as my guide. 

  1. Removed the Google DNS numbers from Airport Utility and the macOS Network System Preferences pane. They automatically reverted to the ISP’s DNS servers. It seems you can set the new DNS addresses at the modem, router, or device level. I'm keeping the modem's DNS settings untouched for now; I don't want to give Frontier ammunition for saying I mucked up their modem settings.
  2. Flushing the DNS cache (for both computers and browsers) was a new idea for me. Flushing the cache on High Sierra required a special syntax. This required me to log in as the administrator on my Mac to run the Terminal command, since having a separate administrator account is considered good practice.
  3. I downloaded Kim's recommendation of namebench, whose purpose is to discover the fastest DNS servers for your geographic area. I ran it but I would not recommend using it. It was last updated in 2010 and there are few recent references to anyone using it. Namebench recommended Ultradns-2 as the fastest DNS address server, but I will likely go with Cloudflare as primary and Google as secondary, since they're more recent and up to date.
  4. I added 1.1.1.1 (Cloudflare) and 8.8.8.8 (Google) as DNS addresses to the Airport. So our wifi devices should be OK. 
  5. For my iMac, I'm connected to the modem via Ethernet, so I'm using Frontier's default DNS resolvers. 
  6. Liz and I will do our normal surfing to see if speed and stability are better. 
  7. If the speeds are still slow, place another call to Tech Support.

I’m not a tech guru by any means, and network stuff brings me to my knees. What I’ve been documenting in this series is what I know to do, given my paltry knowledge and Googling around. How do normal people deal with this stuff?

Update: Komando wrote about Netflix's Fast.com site. I'm checking its results against Speedtest to see if they agree.

 

For further reading

The Literary Hub’s daily newsletter and Austin Kleon’s weekly newsletter are delights to receive. 

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]