Merry Christmas To All

We’ve been live streaming our Christmas tree since before it was called “live streaming.”  Back in the days of “webcasting” it was a hassle.  In these modern times, all it takes is some duct tape, a few cable ties, and converting an old wireless WRT54G router to a switch to make a hard wired connection possible.

So welcome friends and family to our tree for Christmas 2013.  Leave your comments for anyone in the household here.  I’ll make sure Eric and Sandy see them.


Watch live streaming video from treecam at

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Dépaysement: Bonjour iPod

Dépaysement translates roughly as “change of scenery.”  It translates even more roughly as “The feeling that comes from not being in one’s own country.”

I am an American in Canada.  It takes some getting used to.


Canadian iPod packaging

Canadian iPod packaging

Thanks to The Huffington Post (believe it or not) for this.

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My Life In Tech: Why I Need Wi-Fi Smoke Alarms

Nest smoke + CO Alarm

Nest Smoke + CO Alarm

The people in charge of nagging us about testing our home smoke alarms don’t need to nag me.  In addition to testing the smoke alarm twice a year when we change the clocks, I conduct frequent unscheduled tests.

When we moved into this house, there was a smoke alarm in the hallway outside the doors to the three bedrooms and the main bathroom.  It’s as far away from the kitchen as you can possibly get.  Whoever installed it cut a hole in the ceiling and wired it up.

I removed that smoke alarm at some point when it failed the Daylight Saving test, capped the wires, and replaced it with a battery operated model.  I’ve replaced the smoke alarms several times over the years, but unless  I want to do some serious ceiling repair, I have to install the new alarm exactly where the old one was.  And I am ill-suited for serious ceiling repair.

It doesn’t matter what brand or model smoke alarm I install, the smoke alarm will always go off when I make chicken curry.  It will also go off when we cook a whole chicken in the oven in a cast iron fry pan, even though we have the stove fan on high. I’ve just come to expect it.

This thing is loud enough to wake the dead.

When the blaring starts, I walk the length of the house to the back room, drag a chair into the hallway, climb up and unmount the smoke alarm.  I then remove one of the batteries and leave everything on the chair in the hallway as a reminder to put it all back together and screw it into the ceiling again when the smoke clears.

I need these.



Lately the smoke alarm has started sounding when I’m in the shower.  Something about cooler weather, all the windows being closed, and science.  I know I can prevent this by turning on the bathroom fan and/or taking shorter showers.  The problem is that I usually shower first thing in the morning, before coffee.  I’m doing well if I can remember how to turn on the shower, never mind remember to turn on the fan.  And I am ill-suited for shorter showers.

Last week I got in the shower and was part way through the Shampoo Terminal Loop (Wash-Rinse-Repeat) when the smoke alarm went off.


I got out of the shower, wrapped a towel around me, and went for the chair.


The chair had the big old 3-in-1 printer that I was going to take to recycling on it.  I had to get a step stool from the laundry room at the other end of the house, and drag it back down the hallway to the smoke alarm.

By now the dog was up and howling along with the alarm.

Up on the top step of the step stool, I reached up to twist the smoke alarm off its base.  It turns out I don’t have quite enough going for me that I can reach both my hands over my head while standing on a step stool and also keep a towel on.  So at that point I was standing on a step stool with a towel around my feet and cursing at the smoke alarm while the dog stood there barking and looking at me the way dogs look at naked people.

That’s when my next door neighbor walked by, heard the smoke alarm and all the barking, and decided to look in the window to see if we needed any help.


“You folks all right?”

“Yeah, thanks.  I got this.”


The idea of being able to wave at the smoke alarm to tell it Shut up! I’m just taking a shower, dammit, is even more appealing now.  Also, you control it with a smartphone!  Is there anything not to like about this?

Right now … it’s vaporware.  But it’s coming.  You can pre-order.  I am holding out to see if my neighbor will just order it for me.  Until this thing is real, I’m going to try the shower cap trick.




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Dépaysement: Here’s to us and those like us.

Dépaysement translates roughly as “change of scenery.”  It translates even more roughly as “The feeling that comes from not being in one’s own country.”

I am an American in Canada.  It takes some getting used to.


Canadian Whisky, American Whiskey

BC Liquor Store

Thanks to The Huffington Post (believe it or not) for this.


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My Life In Tech: Why I Won’t Buy Seagate Hard Drives

Dead Seagate Hard Drive

He’s dead, Jim

When hard drives fail, all is not always lost.  Sometimes you can recover that data and put it on a working drive.

Over the years I’ve seen a lot of Seagate hard drives fail.  I haven’t seen the same thing with Western Digital hard drives.  I won’t recommend Seagate drives, internal or external, to customers.  They are just not reliable.

I had two external Seagate drives here this week, both from the same customer.  He got them from a friend who’d had them connected to a Windows computer.  The reported trouble was that they weren’t being recognized by his Mac.  “No problem,” I thought.  “I’ll just make sure they’re formatted NTFS, find out what version of OS X he’s running, and make sure his Mac can recognize a 2TB and a 3TB hard drive.”  How hard can that be?”

The drives showed up.  One was fine when connected to a Windows machine, but the only thing on it was the installation folder for Devil Program From Hell, the Seagate backup software.  The other one wasn’t at all fine, and it beeped for a minute or two then went still.  It wasn’t recognized by any of the computers I connected it to.

Once in awhile these crappy Seagate external drives will let you recover the data.  Sometimes it’s just the interface that’s broken, and if you get to the hard drive itself you can recover the data.

Not when they’re beeping, at least not this one.

Now, hard drives do not beep, so this sound was kind of surprising.  It turns out that sound is made by something mechanical crashing into something else mechanical.  If you want to see what that looks like, check this video.

I took the case apart and extracted the hard drive.  (There”s a helpful YouTube video on how to do that without wrecking the case here.)  Then I connected the drive to my computer with a USB to SATA cable.  Then I sat there and listened to it beep some more.


I think all they had on there were movies or tv shows.  But I’ve seen these Seagate External Hard Drives fail before when used for backup drives.   Please don’t buy these drives, it only encourages the Seagate people to make more of them.  If you have customers using them as backup drives or as the only place where they’re storing important data, please get the customers to let you replace these drives with something else.  Do it soon.

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