replacing stuff

So I seem to have wound up replacing a bunch of stuff this week. It started with my landlord coming in to replace my air conditioning unit on Monday. They’ve needed to do that for quite a while now. That’s kind of a long story, but suffice it to say that, after around four hours of work, they managed to replace my A/C unit and thermostat. The A/C unit seems to be working fine. I can’t really say much about that, other than that it’s keeping the apartment cool and making less noise than the old one was. I’m curious to see whether the new unit has any effect on my electric bill. I can’t imagine that the old one was very efficient. I’ll look at my electric bill next month, but it’s getting into autumn now, so the bill would be going down anyway.

The thermostat is kind of interesting. The old one was a very old analog thermostat. The new one is a fairly low-end Honeywell digital thermostat. It’s programmable, but doesn’t have wifi support or any of that stuff, so you have to program it by pressing buttons on the unit itself, which is pretty annoying and time-consuming. I’ve got it running under a program, for now, but I may give up on that and go back to just nudging it up or down occasionally, like I used to do with the old thermostat.

Having the new thermostat and A/C unit has gotten me mildly interested in maybe getting a fancy thermostat with HomeKit support. But then I remind myself that I’m a single person in a one-bedroom apartment, which I almost never leave these days. So I really don’t need a smart thermostat.

The landlord was kind enough to leave the manual for the thermostat behind, so, as I normally do with these things, I wanted to put it in a folder, label the folder, and file it in my filing cabinet. I bought a Brother PT-1950 label maker in 2007, when I first got on my GTD kick, and I’ve been using it to label stuff since. But when I tried to use it to label my new “thermostat” folder, it didn’t work. I first thought that the batteries were dead, so I hopped on Amazon and ordered some new AA batteries. Then I remembered that I had an A/C adapter for the label maker, and tried that. I got an “EEPROM error”, which, according to the internet, means that I need to get the label maker serviced. Given that it’s more than ten years old, I decided to just trash it and get a new one instead. I looked at the Wirecutter reviews for label makers, but rejected their recommendations and bought a Brother P-Touch PT-D210 instead. It was only $35 from Amazon, and I was pretty sure that it used the same cartridges and A/C adapter as my old one.

It arrived today, along with the AA batteries I’d bought. The first problem was that I hadn’t noticed that this label maker uses 6 AAA batteries rather than the 6 AA batteries required for the old one. So I had to run over to ShopRite for AAA batteries. The second issue is that it uses slightly different tapes from the old one, so the half-used tape in the old one will have to get tossed. The new one came with a starter cartridge. Also, I have a spare cartridge from the old one that’s new enough to be compatible with both old & new label makers, so I have a full cartridge ready for when the starter one runs out.

So that was a long digression, all caused by wanting to print a label for a file folder. But now I have a fancy modern label maker, and I’m all set to start labeling stuff again.

Meanwhile, at work, we were notified recently that our company will no longer allow removable storage to be used on work computers. This isn’t a big problem, since I don’t normally have to use removable storage. But I do have a USB drive hooked up to my desktop that I was using for File History backups in Windows 10. (I’ve never needed to go back and pull anything from history, but I liked having it.) So now I need to give that up. Since I can’t use the drive at work anymore, I briefly though about bringing it home and using it to replace the drive I’m using for File History on my home PC. But of course it’s company property (even thought it’ll probably get recycled when I hand it back to help desk). And it’s a few years old. And a new 2 TB drive is only $60 from Amazon. So I went ahead ordered one of those yesterday. And that showed up in the mail today too.

The old drive I was using for File History at home had been acting up. It was still working, but I’d have to unplug it and plug it back in regularly to get it going. And it was almost full. It was a 640 GB drive that I bought from NewEgg in 2011, for $35. (I think it might have been refurbished.) Anyway, I guess I’ve gotten enough use out of it.

I had a second external drive hooked up to my home PC. That one was a 1 TB drive that was more than 10 years old. The only thing I had on it was a Macrium Reflect backup from 2018. I’d been wanted to do a new full image backup, with Macrium or something else, but every time I’ve tried that with my current PC, something went wrong. So I gave up on the idea at some point. I now rely on Bvckup, running daily backups to a second internal HD, which I started using in 2019, and the File History backup mentioned above. I hadn’t been having any issues with that 1 TB drive. Of course, I wasn’t actively using it, but it was recognized by Windows, and I could see the files on it. But, after I disconnected the old 640 GB drive, the 1 TB drive also stopped working. All I can think of is that I somehow shorted something out when I was removing the 640 GB drive. I spent some time troubleshooting it, but eventually gave up.

So now I just have a single 2 TB backup drive, which I haven’t hooked up yet, since it only showed up about 30 minutes ago. I’ll try to hook that up tomorrow, and hope it works.

I’ve got a box with two dead hard drives and a dead label maker in it, ready for the next Somerset County electronics recycling day, which will probably be Oct 2. And now I’m seeing other stuff around the apartment that I should probably replace. But I’m holding off, since replacing one thing seems to lead to a domino effect where I have to replace other things and buy other accessories and so on. So I guess I’ll keep using my 30-year-old toaster over for a while longer.

AirPods Pro

I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I just bought AirPods Pro for myself. I already have regular AirPods, bought in November 2019, and Beats Solo Pro, bought in February. So now I have three pairs of wireless headphones. I really resisted wireless headphones when they first became popular, preferring to stick with wired ones. And it bothered me greatly when Apple discontinued the headphone port on the iPhone. But now I guess I’m all in.

I use my old AirPods all the time, and I really like them. I mostly use them for audiobooks and podcasts, but music sounds fine with them too. I use them for TV watching too, via the Apple TV.

I bought the Beats Solo Pro because I wanted noise-cancelling on-ear headphones that would sound better than the AirPods. I don’t use them that often, but I do like them. The noise-cancelling is good, as is the sound quality. (I used them to drown out some noisy passengers on the train this weekend, and that was great!)

I’d resisted buying AirPods Pro up until now, since I’d tried them out in an Apple Store once and they didn’t seem to fit my ears well. But I figured I’d give them another shot. Costco had them on sale for $190, and it’s easy to return stuff to Costco, so I went ahead.

My initial impression is that they fit my ears well enough, but not perfectly. The left one is a little loose, but the right one is just about perfect. I guess I’m using the medium tips. (Whichever ones were on them out of the box.) The noise cancellation is OK, but not nearly as good as the Beats Solo Pro. The sound quality seems to be a bit better than the old AirPods, but probably not quite as good as the Beats. So that means that I should probably hang on to those too.

I’m not sure that there’s any point in hanging on to the old AirPods now. I’d thought that maybe I’d use those for podcasts and more casual listening, and use the AirPods Pro for music, but I guess they’re comfortable enough that I can just use them all the time and get rid of the old AirPods. Hopefully, I can find a new home for them. They’re still in good working condition, so I don’t want to just send them in for recycling if I can avoid it.

On a related note, I’ve been listening to some of the new Spatial Audio stuff in Apple Music recently. I think the hype around it is a bit overblown. But it’s interesting. I still haven’t found a song or album yet where the spatial audio stuff really blows me away. But there are a few I need to give a close listen to. Spatial Audio works on all three of my wireless headphones. It probably works best on the AirPods Pro, but I’m not really sure. I really don’t just stop and listen to music much anymore. I’m usually listening to it in the background while I work, or while I’m out for a walk. I really need to do some deep listening. I may write another blog post about Spatial Audio and the other stuff going on with Apple Music, but I’ll save that for another day.

unnecessary headphones

Over the course of this pandemic, I’ve tried hard to be mindful about not going overboard with random internet shopping. And I think I’ve done OK. In terms of major purchases, over the last year, I’ve bought a new laptop (replacing one that was ten years old) and a new Apple Watch 6 (replacing a Watch 3). I’ve signed up for Disney+, Hulu, and Apple Music. I’ve bought a handful of Blu-rays that I didn’t really need. But that’s about it.

All of which is preamble to admitting that I saw that Woot had the Beats Solo Pro headphones on sale for 50% off last week, so I went ahead and bought a pair. I can’t really make a great case for buying these, even at half-price, honestly. Since I’m stuck at home most of the time, I’ve been doing fine with my AirPods. But I’ve had the thought in my head for a while that I should pick up some noise-cancelling headphones. The idea was that they’d replace the old UrbanEars headphones that I keep in my backpack, and which are now in pretty bad shape. My main use case for them would have been on train rides into NYC and on airplanes, neither or which is going to happen any time soon. (Every time I think it might be safe to start visiting NYC again, there’s some bad news, like the new variants that are going around right now.)

So, anyway, I now have a new pair of headphones that I don’t really need. But it’s been fun playing with them. I’ve never tried noise-cancelling headphones before, so that’s been interesting. I’ve read up on what noise cancellation can and can’t do, so my expectations weren’t unrealistic. One day earlier this week, there was a lot of noise outside, as the town was working on removing some snow. I put the headphones on, and they completely removed the sound of the snow removal equipment, except for the back-up beeper. So that was cool. I’ve also found that they can remove the sound of my humidifier and my air cleaner entirely. The humidifier is pretty quiet, so that’s not a big deal, but the air cleaner is a bit noisy.

Having read some reviews of the Beats Solo Pro, I’d say that they pretty much correspond to what I expected of them. (Here’s a review from iMore, one from The Verge, and one from MKBHD, who doesn’t usually like Beats.) The sound is good, but not amazing. They’re a little uncomfortable, but not unbearably so. I’m not sure if I could wear them for an extended period. I’ve heard that they loosen up a bit after you’ve been using them for a while, so maybe that’ll help.

The H1 chip is probably the best reason to choose these over other wireless noise-cancelling headphones. (It’s the same chip that is in the AirPods.) They pair seamlessly with my iPhone and Apple TV (and probably with my iPad and Mac, though I haven’t bothered trying yet).

Overall, I don’t think I’m going to get a ton of use out of them while I’m still in pandemic mode. For most of the use cases where I’m currently using my AirPods, I’ll likely keep using them. The AirPods are fine for podcasts and audiobooks. And they’re probably better for wearing outside, when I’m on a long walk, than the Beats would be. For listening to music, I generally use my Sonos speakers or regular stereo system (if I’m in the living room) or the speakers on my desktop PC (if I’m in my bedroom working). There are a few cases where I might want to listen to music with the Beats rather than over my speakers or with the AirPods. But the tradeoffs (comfort and convenience, mostly) will probably keep me using the AirPods and/or my various speakers most of the time.

So, yeah, I didn’t need these headphones. But for half-price, I don’t see them as a bad purchasing decision. I’ll get enough use out of them, I think, before the battery goes bad and/or they fall apart.

Evernote, and Apple, and other stuff

In my last post, I mentioned that I had not yet upgraded to the new version of Evernote on iOS, Windows, or Mac, nor had I been prompted to upgrade. Yesterday, the iOS client got pushed down to my iPhone. And I was prompted on my PC to upgrade to the new Windows client. (I skipped that and stuck with the old version for now.)

The iOS client is fine. I don’t have any issues with it. It looks good, and it’s no less functional than the old client, as far as I can tell. It’s not particularly fast, but neither was the old iOS client. So I went ahead and updated it on my iPad too. It works fine there. So no problems with iOS.

For Windows, I decided to upgrade it on my Lenovo laptop and play with it a bit. I’ve honestly barely used that laptop since I bought it back in June. So it seemed like a good place to try out the Windows client without having to worry about messing up my regular setup. The new client works fine, and I think I like a few things about it more than the old client, but I’d need to work with it some more to be sure. It seems to be a little slower than the old Windows client. And the font looks a little weird, but that might just be that I need to tweak the display settings on the laptop. There’s a dark mode, and I’ve found that it works better for me than the light mode. Overall, it definitely seems to be less configurable than the old version, but there’s nothing in particular that I want to change, and can’t.

On another subject: I’ve upgraded both my iPhone and iPad to iOS 14. I waited for 14.1 to come out before upgrading. I’ve had no issues on either the iPhone or iPad. I’ve messed around with widgets a bit, but I haven’t gone nuts with them. For now, I’m just leaving them on their own screen. There’s not much else in iOS 14 that I’m really interested in, but I do want to try out the “headphone accommodations” feature at some point, given that I’m partially deaf in my left ear, but have (fairly) normal hearing in my right ear. Maybe it’ll help.

Upgrading the iPhone triggered the notice to upgrade my Watch to watchOS 7. That turned out to be quite a problem. The update needed 3.1 GB of free space, and I didn’t have that much. In the past, rebooting the watch would often clear enough space to run an update, but this time I had to go as far as un-pairing and re-pairing it. That basically wipes it and leaves you with a fresh OS install, so I then had to go back and reinstall apps and redo my watch face customizations and reset all my preferred options. And it turns out that watchOS 7 doesn’t really do much for you if you have a Series 3 watch, like I do. I was hoping for at least the handwashing timer, but you need a Series 4 for that.

So that’s got me thinking about picking up a new watch. And, of course, with the iPhone 12 out, I’m a little tempted to trade in my phone too. Both my phone and watch are a little less than two years old, and I like to hold on to these things for three years minimum, if I can. So I probably shouldn’t be thinking about buying new Apple gear. But, hey, in a year when I couldn’t travel at all and haven’t had to spend hardly any money on gas or car maintenance, why not blow a few bucks on unnecessary Apple hardware?

And on one last Apple-related note: I got a lot of enjoyment out of my Apple Music subscription today. The new Bruce Springsteen album came out, and I listened to that twice. And there’s a video interview with Bruce that I watched. (Or mostly just listened to, since I was working at the time.) And a new Jeff Tweedy album came out today, so I listened to that too. And I discovered the “My New Music” mix today. Apple already knows enough about my musical taste to put together a pretty good mix, including new AC/DC, Elvis Costello, John Cale, Pixies, and Bob Mould. So I’m feeling pretty good about Apple Music right now.

more odds and ends

I’m kind of exhausted now, and I kind of want 2020 to just be over. But it’s not. I’m doing my best to stay positive and keep working and exercising and eating right (and I am doing all that), but I’m getting a little frayed around the edges. Anyway, here’s another round-up of (mostly) bad news. Writing helps me process things and clear my head. I don’t necessarily expect anything here to be useful to anyone else, but writing it down helps me.

More #MeToo

Well, the #MeToo stuff in comics is really starting to snowball. After Cam Stewart, Warren Ellis, and Charles Brownstein, now it’s Scott Allie’s turn. Allie was an editor and writer at Dark Horse. He was the editor on all the Hellboy and Hellboy-related books for a long time. And he’s written a few also. I’ve been a Hellboy and BPRD fan since Hellboy #1 from back in the 90s. I didn’t really know anything about Allie, other than just knowing his name from the credits and letter columns. So I can’t say much about him. I don’t think there’s any indication that Mike Mignola knew anything about this, so that at least is something. I’d hate to have to lose my respect for Mignola. (And I do have a good bit of respect for him.)

And back to Brownstein: He was apparently involved in another incident, about ten years ago, involving a CBLDF employee, who was then essentially forced to sign an NDA. So things are looking worse for them. I’m not quite ready to burn my CBLDF t-shirts, but I’m not going to be wearing them in public anytime soon either.

New Toys

I don’t think I’ve even turned on my new laptop yet this week. I’ve been doing a bunch of React stuff on my MacBook, and all of my actual work on my work machines, of course. So I haven’t had time to do any setup on the Lenovo.

I have had time to mess around with my Echo Dot a bit though. I’ve discovered that it’s pretty good as a speaker (given it’s small size), but not if you’re using it via Bluetooth. So if you’re playing stuff over it via the usual Alexa route, it sounds pretty good. But it’s not really worth trying to use it as a Bluetooth speaker. So I’ll yell “Alexa, play WQXR” if I want to hear some classical music while I’m working and that works out fine.

React

Speaking of React, I’ve been reading the second edition of Learning React via my ACM O’Reilly subscription. It’s an “early release” version, so it’s a little rough, but it’s more up-to-date than any other book on React that I’ve seen. I’m at a point now where I’m not sure if I should keep working my way through books and videos or if I should stop reading/watching and start actually working on a project. I think I might need to finish the Learning React book at least. I’m still having trouble getting at the big picture with React. I’m learning little bits and pieces, but they don’t all fit together in my head yet.

Reopening NJ

Somerville is really hopping this week, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. Mostly nervous, I guess. All the restaurants are doing outdoor dining, which means that they’ve annexed about 90% of the sidewalks. So a walk down Main St right now is kind of an obstacle course. And the obstacles are people sitting at outdoor tables, talking, eating, and not wearing masks. My early morning walks are still OK, since there are only one or two places open that early. But I’ve been avoiding Main St on my afternoon walks. Still, though, it’s kind of fun to see the outdoor dining. And it’s nice to hear people talking and laughing and all that. I just wish I could shake the idea that one of them is going to spray COVID-19 all over me.

Meanwhile, the Bridgewater Commons is going to reopen on Monday. I don’t think I’ll be going back there any time soon though. Maybe I’d risk a trip to the Apple Store if I really needed something, but only as a last resort. I just ordered two new pairs of shorts from the Macy’s web site, and I think that’s all the new clothes I’ll need between now and the end of the year. Macy’s and the Apple Store are really the only places at the mall that I frequent, so I don’t think I’ll be tempted to go over there.

And Yestercades is reopening too, on July 2. This seems like an even worse idea that reopening the mall. There’s no way they can keep all those arcade machines clean. And that place is really too cramped for social distancing. I don’t know, maybe they’ve figured out a way to make it work. I can definitely say that I’m not going back in there anytime soon either.

I may be more stressed now than when I started writing this post, which is not how I wanted this to turn out. Maybe I should spend the next hour listening to this public domain recording of the Goldberg Variations. That’ll help me calm down.

 

odds and ends

OK, after this morning’s depressing Warren Ellis post, here’s some lighter stuff. Just a mix of stuff I’ve been meaning to mention, for one reason or another.

Google AdSense

I added Google AdSense to my blog back in 2010 and removed it in 2016. But I never closed out my account. So I did that this week. Now, I can finally get the $15 that Google owes me. (Normally, they don’t pay out until you hit $100, but if you close your account, they’ll pay out any balance, if it’s over $10.) I wonder how many small bloggers like me are still bothering with AdSense. For a while, a lot of people thought they could make good money by running a blog and putting AdSense on it. I’m wondering if any of them really did.

New Toys

I haven’t made much more progress in setting up my new laptop. I was too busy yesterday to even turn it on. Hopefully, I’ll have time to do some stuff with it this weekend. I did also just get a new Amazon Echo Dot (with clock). I don’t really have a good excuse for buying it. I had an old iHome alarm clock / iPhone dock on my nightstand that I couldn’t really use anymore, since it doesn’t fit the newer iPhones. And that was fine, really, since I don’t really need a clock on my nightstand. These days, I just plug my iPhone in, and use Sleep Cycle as my alarm clock. But, I don’t know, I guess I just wanted a small clock there that could play music or NPR or whatever. And it was only $35. I already have some experience with Alexa, since it’s supported on my Sonos speakers, but I turned off the mics on those, since it was getting accidentally triggered too often, and I didn’t really find it that useful. I’m going to play around with it some more on the Echo and see if there’s anything fun or useful that I can do with it.

Learning New Stuff

I finished the SharePoint Framework course that I was working through. That’s given me a good start, but there’s still a lot I need to figure out. I’m almost done with the React course on SharePoint that I’ve been watching and working through. Most of that course uses an online JavaScript environment, found at jscomplete.com, so you don’t need to set up your own dev environment. But I’m now at the point where I really do need to set up a dev environment to get any further. I considered a lot of options, but settled on using Homebrew on my Mac to set up Node.js. And I’m using Visual Studio Code as my text editor. So that’s good enough for now.

I may need to play with Node Version Manager at some point, but for now, I think that would be an unnecessary complication. And, on Windows, I want to look into setting something up under WSL2 at some point. Microsoft, helpfully, has a guide on how to do that. But, again, I’m probably not ready to dive into that just yet.

So that’s my “odds and ends” post for today. I could write up a bunch of other stuff, but it’s probably best if I stop for now and go eat some lunch. Then maybe take a nap.

new Lenovo laptop

The new laptop that I ordered on Sunday showed up today. It’s a Lenovo Flex 5, from Costco. I don’t have much to say about it yet. It’s about what I expected. It seems to be pretty solid, but it’s definitely from Lenovo’s consumer side rather than their business side. It’s got a touchscreen, and it can be folded all the way back so it can be used as a tablet. It didn’t come with a pen, but it appears to support pen input. I don’t know much about Windows 10’s pen support, but I might look into it, just out of curiosity.

The keyboard is okay, but not great. And the layout is sensible, but of course it’s at least slightly different from my other two current laptops (my personal MacBook Air and my work HP laptop), so I’m going to be stumbling on key locations, but that’s life. The camera works, but apparently can’t be used with Windows Hello. (That’s fine. I don’t really need that.) It’s also got a fingerprint reader that I haven’t tried to set up yet.

The laptop didn’t have too much bloatware on it. During setup, Lenovo gives you the option to install a few things that you really don’t need, so I appreciated the opportunity to decline those. I did have to uninstall two separate McAfee products though. I got a few essentials installed on it today (Evernote, 1Password, Firefox, Notepad++, and a few other things). And I got it updated to Windows 10 Pro (from Home). I’ll probably install some dev tools on it tomorrow and/or over the weekend. And maybe Steam too, so I can play some games.

I have a couple of other topics I wanted to blog about too, but they’re totally unrelated to this, so I may write them up separately later or over the weekend.

SharePoint, React, Laptops, and so on

I mentioned a while back that I’m trying to learn about the (relatively) new SharePoint Framework (SPFx), for a project at work. I’ve made some progress with that, but I still have a way to go. I’ve done 5 of the 8 modules in this course from Microsoft. And I’ve watched a couple of Pluralsight videos, one from Sahil Malik and one from Danny Jessee. I’ve been doing that mostly on work time, since it’s specific to a work project.

SPFx relies on a number of related technologies, some of which I know and some of which I don’t. (And the ones I know, I don’t necessarily know that well.) So I decided to start digging into some related stuff, on my own time. I know pretty much nothing about React, and it looked interesting, so I decided to start learning that. I’ve watched one short Pluralsight video, that just gives an overview without getting into specifics. And now I’m working through a four-hour video course that goes into a little more detail. There’s a whole skill path for React on Pluralsight that would take about 40 hours to watch, if you went through it all. (And of course it would be much longer than that, if you actually followed along and worked through projects on your own.)

I got side-tracked off of React at one point when I was watching one of the Pluralsight videos on my old ThinkPad, and the battery suddenly died. I’ve had that laptop since 2011, and it’s starting to show its age. I’d only been watching the video for about 30 minutes, and the battery should have had a full charge when I started. So I started thinking about either replacing the battery on it, or just getting a new laptop. Replacing the battery on that particular model is really easy. And there were a bunch of options for a replacement battery on Amazon (though most of them looked kind of sketchy). But I started thinking about how old the laptop was, and how iffy off-brand replacement batteries can be. And I also started wondering if that laptop was going to be able to handle some the stuff I’m going to want to try out soon, like WSL 2. I’ve been hearing about that for a while, and it’s now been released as part of the Windows 10 2004 update. The old ThinkPad, surprisingly, has been able to keep current with Windows 10 updates so far, up to version 1909. But I have my doubts about whether or not it’s going to be able to deal with 2004. So, reluctantly, I started shopping for a new laptop.

This is a pretty common thing with me: I start trying to learn a new technology, and I get side-tracked shopping for a new laptop, or some new piece of software, or something. Anyway, I spent way too much time on that yesterday. This morning, I finally settled on the Lenovo Flex from Costco, for $750. It’s a bit of a compromise, since I’ll need to upgrade it to Windows 10 Pro, but I can still do that for $40 with my Microsoft company store access, which should still be good for the next week or two. Also, it’s a 2-in-1, which I don’t really need or want, but most Windows laptops seem to be touchscreen 2-in-1 models now, so I’ll give it a try. On the positive side, it’s got 16 GB of RAM, a 512 GB SSD, and an AMD Ryzen 7 CPU. (I haven’t really been keeping up with CPU news lately, but it looks like the AMD Ryzen 7 4700U is pretty good.) So I think it should be able to handle my fairly modest needs. I always feel a little guilty when I spend money on new hardware, but I’m trying to remember that, this year, I’ve spent nothing at all on travel, and I’m not likely to. If I’d gone to WonderCon this year, that would have cost me well over $1000, for hotel and airfare alone.

I was going to remark that I’d made it through a whole post without referencing COVID-19, but the travel comment above kind of does reference our current situation, so I guess that’s not true. COVID-19 definitely did affect my laptop shopping. In normal times, I probably would have gone out to Costco yesterday to see what laptop models they had on display. And I might have taken a trip to Best Buy too. Costco is still open, but I don’t really want to go there unless I have to. And Best Buy of course is still closed. So I settled on a mail-order laptop from Costco. They have a good return policy, if I need it.

New Year’s Day 2020

It’s almost 8 AM on New Year’s Day, so it’s time for my annual New Year’s self-review post. This has become a tradition for me; here’s a link to last year’s post, which includes links to a few previous years. This year is also the start of a new decade. I had a few thoughts on the past decade that I posted on Christmas, so I won’t rehash all of that here.

Health, Weight, and Sleep

I’ve got a bit of a headache this morning, and I’ve been fighting a cold (or something) since Thanksgiving. So I don’t feel very healthy. I have an appointment with my doctor on Friday, so hopefully he can let me know if I’ve got a big problem or just a stubborn cold. Looking back at last year’s post, I see that very little has changed. My average weight may have gone up by a pound or two. I’m usually coming in at 136 or 137 now, rather than 135, but that’s fine. My doctor would actually like to see me put on a few more pounds.

I’m continuing to track my weight and diet with Lose It every day. And I’m continuing to use my Apple Watch to track my exercise. I manage to fill my exercise ring on most days, and I generally fill my move ring about five days per week, on average. My move goal is currently at 500.

I’m still using Sleep Cycle to track my sleep. I guess I’m doing OK with sleep, but I do have some rough nights. I bought a bottle of melatonin gummies on Amazon a year ago, and I take two before bed occasionally. I think it helps. I don’t use it too often. Taking melatonin is probably safe, in moderation. I thought about getting a new mattress last year, but I’ve held off. I might go ahead with that this year.

I mentioned last year that I’d gotten a prescription for progressive lenses from my eye doctor. I did get that filled and I’ve been wearing those new glasses all year. Honestly, they haven’t helped much. I had my yearly checkup a few weeks back, and he suggested maybe trying computer bifocals, but I didn’t want to have to pay for another pair of glasses so soon, so we decided to wait and maybe try that next year.

I also mentioned last year that I should go get my hearing checked, and I never did that, so that should probably be near the top of my to-do list for this year.

Work and Professional Development

There’s not much to report on this. I’m doing fine at work. I got a very good performance review for 2019. I did a fair bit of work in Azure over the last year, so that was interesting.

Here’s a list of tech books that I read last year, from my Goodreads history:

  • ASP.NET Web API Security Essentials
  • Beginning Azure Functions: Building Scalable and Serverless Apps
  • C# and XML Primer
  • Instant Nancy Web Development
  • Learn Azure in a Month of Lunches
  • Take Control of Catalina
  • Take Control of Photos
  • Take Control of Upgrading to Catalina
  • Take Control of iOS 13 and iPadOS 13
  • The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master

That’s a pretty random list, but there were a few good ones in there. I think that I read all of those via my O’Reilly subscription that I get through my ACM membership, so I’m getting some value out of that.

I’m also still paying for a Pluralsight subscription. Checking my history there, it looks like I’m getting some value out of that too. Here’s the list of courses I watched in 2019:

  • IIS Administration Fundamentals
  • Microsoft Azure Developer: Create Serverless Functions
  • Getting Started with OAuth 2.0
  • Implementing and Managing Microsoft Azure Multi-factor Authentication
  • Microsoft Azure Developer: Securing Data
  • Fiddler
  • Microsoft Azure Developer: Implementing Application Logging with Diagnostic Logs
  • Instrument Application with Azure Monitor Application Insights
  • Microsoft Azure Developer: Monitoring Performance
  • Play by Play: Care and Maintenance of Development VMs
  • Beginning PowerShell Scripting for Developers
  • Managing Azure AD
  • Play by Play: Azure Beyond Websites
  • Play By Play: Azure Deployment with Scott Hanselman

Again, kind of a random list, but I learned some stuff.

For 2020, I’d like to learn a new programming language, but I’m not sure about which one. I’ve considered trying to learn Rust, but I’m not too enthusiastic about it. Maybe I should try to learn Swift? I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it.

Finance

I did a year-end financial review last weekend, and I’m in pretty good shape. I still kind of want to do a one-time sanity check with a good financial advisor, but I didn’t get around to that in 2019, so I should really try again in 2020. I also see in last year’s post that I wanted to read this book last year, and didn’t get around to it. So I should probably do that.

Reading

I wrote up a post just a few days ago on my reading plans for 2020, so I won’t rehash that. But I’ll go ahead and post a few book lists that I culled from my Goodreads year in books. I read 115 books this year, according to that. Most of them were comics / graphic novels.

Here’s a list of the stuff I read from The Great American Read list last year:

  • Catch-22
  • Gilead
  • Looking for Alaska
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • The Help
  • The Intuitionist
  • To Kill A Mockingbird
  • War and Peace

War and Peace took a lot of time to get through, so that was really my main reading accomplishment for 2019. I only read a few fiction books that weren’t related to my TGAR group:

  • Angels and Visitations
  • Pump Six and Other Stories
  • Zoo City

Of those, only Zoo City is actually a novel. So War and Peace, and the other TGAR books, really swallowed up a lot of my reading time. For non-fiction, I did get around to reading 10% Happier and Search Inside Yourself, both of which I’d mentioned in last year’s post as wanting to read. (I can’t say that I really stuck with my meditation practice in 2019 though. That’s something I may want to try again in 2020.)

Hardware

I got an iPhone XR about a year ago, along with a new Apple Watch. And my MacBook Air is only about a year and a half old. I bought a pair of AirPods in November, and they’re working fine. So I’m pretty well set for Apple gear. I’m not planning on giving Apple any more money in 2020, at least for hardware.

And I talked myself into buying an Xbox One back in May. At this point, I’m mostly just using it as a DVD and Blu-ray player. When I bought it, I kind of knew that I was going to be playing games on it for a couple of months, then lose interest, and that’s pretty much what happened. But it’s a decent Blu-ray player, so it’s not like it’s just gathering dust; it’s getting some use.

A friend bought me a new TV for Christmas, so I now have a new 43″ LG TV. That spurred a couple of related purchases, including a stand and a DAC so that I can route the digital audio output to my old analog receiver. It might spur one more purchase: a 4K Apple TV box. My current Apple TV box is the older one, that only outputs 1080p. (It looks like they still sell that one, as the Apple TV HD.) So maybe my earlier statement about not giving Apple any more money for hardware this year isn’t quite correct.

Summary

I have a bunch more stuff I’m thinking about, and that I could include here, but it’s now almost 10 AM. So I should wrap this up and maybe go out for a walk and get a cappuccino and a croissant from Starbucks or something like that.

 

backups (and maybe upgrades)

I haven’t upgraded my MacBook Air to Catalina yet, but I might do it soon. I should probably wait for 10.15.2, really, but 10.15.1 might be good enough for me. I did a full backup with Carbon Copy Cloner today, and also ran a Time Machine backup, so I’m ready, I guess.

Between CCC and Time Machine, I’m pretty well covered on the Mac. I’ve been having trouble finding a good backup solution for my Windows 10 desktop machine though. After my problems from last last year and into early this year, I’ve been trying to find something that works well. I’ve had problems with both Macrium and Acronis, which seem to be the two best consumer-level Windows backup tools out there. I gave Arq a try, back in February, but had some issues with it and didn’t go back to it. And I gave Macrium one more try in September and couldn’t get it to work.

I do keep most of my important files in OneDrive, so I’m not really too worried about losing anything. And I have File History set up and working. (Though the drive I’m using for that is a little finicky.) So I’m mostly covered there. But I wanted to get something a bit more like a full backup going.

I tried something called Bvckup today, and it’s not exactly what I’m looking for, but it worked well, and it might be close enough. It’s more of a file sync program that a backup program, so that’s the main issue. It doesn’t create full system images, or even compressed files. It just mirrors one folder to another folder. I have it set up to copy all of the data folders from my hard drive to a second drive. I’m excluding my Windows and program folders, but including pretty much everything else. The backup ran pretty quickly, considering how much data it had to copy. It hit two errors, but reported them clearly in the log and proceeded past them without any issues. The two errors were CRC errors on a couple of fairly random PDF files. Both files were in OneDrive, so I replaced the copies on my hard drive with good copies from OneDrive.

I’m a little worried about these random errors, but I hope they’re just leftovers from the mess in November 2018 (or the related mess in January 2019). Anyway, I’m going to try to get regular backups going with Bvckup now. I’m on a two-week trial. If things work out, I’ll probably spend $50 on the pro version. I may also swap out the drive I’m using for File History with a slightly more reliable one. (Drives are cheap enough that I should be able to talk myself into dumping the slightly dodgy one…)

I’m also getting close to finally giving in and paying for a cloud backup solution. If I do that, it’ll almost definitely be Backblaze. If I were to decide to run it on both my Mac and PC, though, it’ll be fairly expensive, so I don’t know about that. I’m thinking about it though.