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An electrifying car story—part three

This is Part Three of a five-part series on our Tesla Model S. In Part One, I covered why we chose the Model S, the cost of the car, and a bit about Tesla the company. In Part Two, I listed some of the things I love about the car; today’s Part Three has more of the loves, as well as the not-so-loves. Part Four will discuss what it’s like living with an electric car, and my thoughts on the future of auto electrification. Finally, Part Five will provide an unexpected ending (of sorts) to the series.


Continuing with the things I love about the car and its infrastructure, and then getting to the not-so-loved things…

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An electrifying car story—part two

This is Part Two of a five-part series on our Tesla Model S. In Part One, I covered why we chose the Model S, the cost of the car, and a bit about Tesla the company. In today’s Part Two, I’ll discuss some of the things I love about the car; Part Three will have more of the loves, as well as the not-so-loves. Part Four will discuss what it’s like living with an electric car, and my thoughts on the future of auto electrification. Finally, Part Five will provide an unexpected ending (of sorts) to the series.


What I love about the car

Everything. OK, that’s not true. But there is a huge list of stuff that—even after nearly three years—helps make any drive in the Tesla an enjoyable experience. The list is generally ranked by order of importance to me, though a lot of these would be ties if I had to absolutely rank them. Most of these things are particular to Tesla’s cars (and some to the Model S in particular), though a couple are generally true of any electric vehicle.

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An electrifying car story—part one

Coming up on three years ago, in June of 2016, I replaced my Subaru Legacy with an electric car. Not just any electric car, but a Tesla. Our Tesla is a 2016 “original nose” Model S 90D, which roughly translates to “a very expensive, quite large four-door sedan with about 290 miles of range, all-wheel drive, propelled by a couple of powerful electric motors.” This is not only the most expensive car—by far—we’ve ever owned, but (spoiler alert) it’s the best car we’ve ever owned.

I’ve been writing this post—off and on—almost since the day we bought the car. So why has it taken so long to publish?

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Use SQL to show MySQL tables in decreasing size order

Earlier today, I noticed that the robservatory database was massive—over 1GB in size, which it shouldn’t be anywhere near (it’s usually around 100MB). This is over the database size limit at my host, so I couldn’t add any new content (nor could visitors comment, create accounts, etc.)

My host offers phpmyadmin acccess, so I connected to the database to try to figure out what was going on. Using phpmyadmin, you can browse tables, perform SQL commands, and export and import data—it’s a must-have tool for managing remote databases.

The first challenge was to figure out which table was causing the problem. To help with that, I wanted to see which WordPress tables were the largest, as that should be a good hint. A web search found lots of possible solutions, but I liked this one the best. Within that thread, I slightly modified one of the queries to do what I wanted:

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How to add fixed headers to a variable-width table

I’ve been updating my A useless analysis of macOS (OS X) release dates post for nearly 13 years now (OMG). Over the years, the one thing that’s bugged me was that I couldn’t find a good way to have fixed column headings on that post’s incredibly long scrolling table.

I’d search occasionally, and find various solutions—some using two tables, some using JavaScript, some using pages of CSS, etc. But either I couldn’t get them working, or they didn’t work with variable-width tables, or they didn’t seem worth the effort it looked like it would require to make them work.

But now…

Hooray for fixed headers! Read on if you’d like to use this trick yourself…

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Someone intercepted my login info in DirecTV’s iPhone app

This morning, I launched the DirecTV app on my iPhone (connected to my home network via wifi).

On launch, I saw a login screen that looked slightly different than usual; the app had been updated recently, so I assumed it was the new login screen. But when I entered my user name and password (on the first attempt), I saw the screen to the right…

At this point, alarm bells went off. Not just because it was my first attempted login, but also due to the grammar of that last sentence:

“Please, contact AT&T operator.”

That’s wrong in many ways—and there’s no provided method for contacting an AT&T operator. I now believed I had been scammed: Somehow, a fake login page was injected where the app would normally display its login screen. As soon as I pressed Enter after entering my password, I’m sure my username and password were sent off to some server somewhere.

I immediately opened the DirecTV web site on my Mac, logged in (using my supposedly-locked account and current password), and changed my password. That all worked, and I received the email stating I’d changed my password, so I’m pretty sure my account is fine. (And I use unique passwords for each service, so the one that was probably compromised is useless to the hackers.)

But the bigger question here is what happened and how did it happen?

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2011 pocket camera vs. 2017 iPhone 8 Plus

While working on some photos this weekend, I noticed that I’d taken two nearly-identical photos of the Enola Gay at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center—nearly identical, but separated by four years:

Click once for larger, then click the icon in the upper right of the pop-up for largest vesrion.

The left image was taken in 2014 with a 2011 Pansonic Lumix DMC-ZS10 pocket camera (specifications); the right image was taken in 2018 with my 2017 iPhone 8 Plus. (Interesting to note that I didn’t bring my DSLR on either trip…the best camera is the one you have with you, right?)

Neither of the above images has been edited, beyond whatever algorithms the cameras use when saving the photo. Frankly, I was amazed at just how much better the iPhone 8 Plus photo is compared to the one from the Lumix: The Lumix photo is skewed heavily blue, edges aren’t well defined, and detail in shadow areas is obscured. The iPhone’s image is perhaps just a bit towards the yellow end of the spectrum, but it’s miles better than that of the Lumix.

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When good cables go bad

Last Thursday, my daughter and I left to run a few errands. We weren’t gone all that long, but when we got back, we found that the microwaves had lost their time setting, and the fridge’s alarm light was blinking—signs of a power outage. In addition, the internet was offline, which was a bit odd. (My computers and the router/switch are on battery backups, and they didn’t show any signs of having rebooted while we were out.)

I fixed all the clocks, and then power cycled the router and the internet came back. But not for long—a few minutes later, it vanished again. I pulled the WAN cable from the router, waited a few seconds, and connected it again. This time, the net stayed with us for a couple hours. Then it vanished again. I repeated the process, and we had net again…for a while. This continued through the day—sometimes we’d have connectivity for hours, sometimes for minutes—until I got frustrated enough to troubleshoot.

I took my laptop out to the Frontier FIOS box on our garage wall, and connected directly to the FIOS box. I started some large downloads along with a streaming movie, and let them run for an hour or so: No problem. This seemed to point to a cable issue.

Our FIOS box is connected to a long Ethernet cable (red line in the image at right) that runs around the semi-L-shaped house, then under the house, and finally enters the office, where it ends in a wall jack. A shorter cable then goes to the router; I replaced that one first, but we were still getting dropouts. Sadly, that meant the long cable appeared to be damaged.

To test this, I made a long-but-direct cable and ran it from the FIOS box, across the driveway, and through the front door then into my office—definitely not a long term solution, as I had to choose between network connectivity and a locking front door! But using this temporary cable, we didn’t have any outages at all the rest of the day.

Thursday evening, I made a much longer cable, hung it on our Christmas hook lights over the garage, and then around the front of the house (just lying on the ground) to the office—just so we could have both a locking front door and internet connectivity. This line worked fine all day Friday, verifying that the old line was having issues.

Thus, my weekend activity was set…ugh.

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Review: Olala 10,000mAh Power Bank

For those not aware, I have something of an addiction to portable power packs—with two kids and who knows how many devices, it seems someone somewhere is always out of power.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been testing an addition to our stable of such products: Olala’s $32 10,000mAh Power Bank.1I received the Power Bank at a greatly reduced cost, but my review is based solely on its performance and my impressions of its build quality.

This shiny piano black unit looks great (though that shiny finish is a fingerprint magnet), and its smooth surface means it easily slides into a pocket in a backpack. Four blue LEDs let you know how much juice you have left. Unlike some battery packs, this one is Apple MFi Certified, meaning Olala has gone through the necessary steps to certify that their device meets Apple’s standards. (You can search for MFi certified devices in case you’re ever curious about a given accessory developer.)

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Solving a wavy issue with a Sony 4K Blu-ray player

We’ve had our 4K Vizio M70-C3 TV for about 2.5 years, but we just added a Sony UBP-X800 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player last October. We have a few 4K movies, plus what we watch on the Apple TV and Amazon Prime Video. Stuff mostly looks great, but when watching The Martian the other day, I noticed this odd “wave” effect in the background, whenever the camera panned across a scene. I wrote it off as a one-time thing, until yesterday.

I was trying to watch the extras (which are in 1080p) on the new Black Panther 4K disc, and I noticed the exact same problem. This time I filmed a bit of it with my phone:

Needless to say, this makes it really hard to watch anything—it’s not only distracting, I actually start feeling queasy after a while. After testing a bunch of settings in both the TV and the Sony player, I found the cause: The Sony player’s 4K upscaling. With it disabled, everything looks normal. Turn it on, and any 1080p content gets wavy when panning. Problem solved!

But what about The Martian, which was 4K to begin with, but still had the waves? That was, ummmm, most likely user error: I must have loaded the non-4K disc in the player, as when I tested it yesterday with the 4K disc, everything was fine. Oops!

I have no idea if I have a defective player, or if it’s a limitation on the upscaling, or if it’s just a strange issue between the Sony player and the Vizio TV. Regardless, if you happen to have a similar setup and are seeing annoying waves when the camera pans, try disabling the 4K upscaling feature.

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